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Know what you believe and why you believe it

A New Chapter in the Worship and Culture Wars

It is remarkable that debates about sexual morality (i.e., contraception, gay marriage, gay ordination, etc.) have so climaxed that some Anglicans are now considering mass conversion to Roman Catholicism. All they’ve needed is an invitation, that and the promise to be able to worship as their custom dictates, which is not insignificant thing for many so-called conservative Episcopalians. The offer came last November at the peak (thus far) of Anglican debates over homosexuality when the Pope removed the last apparent barrier to conscience and made it clear that aspiring Anglican converts no longer need to “do as the Romans do” even though they would come over to Rome.

To us, this seems like a strange but potent use of the “culture wars” and the “worship wars” uniquely combined for sheep-stealing purposes. And in today’s WSJ online “what are they doing now” article, we see that this is precisely the case. Those helping converts swim to shore on the Roman side of the Tiber river are quick to point out that being “angry about Gene Robinson” is not a sufficient reason for converting, but that seems to be the key factor nonetheless, especially when taking into account that “Anglican Use” Books of Common Prayer have now been officially revised by the Vatican and approved for special use. The upshot is that “conservatives” can now have their ethics and keep their worship too.

While this is certainly not “the end of the Reformation,” or even the end of Anglicanism, it is one more sad testimony that Gospel-doctrine is far from many Christians’ minds and that the direction- and pace-setting agenda of modern Christianity (even of the Roman Catholic stripe) continues to be morality and worship-style.

-Ryan Glomsrud, Executive Editor, Modern Reformation

Evangelism and Social Justice

[What is the relationship between the Great Commandment (to love God and neighbor) and the Great Commission (to make and baptize disciples)? In this preview of Mike Horton's newest book, he lays out the challenge our churches are facing.]

A while back I asked the general secretary of the World Council of Churches if his organization still holds to its old slogan, “Doctrine divides; service unites.”  Chuckling, he said, “Good grief, no.” He went on to relate that the group has learned over the decades that service divides.  Some think capitalism is the way forward, while others insist on socialism.  The pie cuts a thousand ways.  “But then we’ve found that when we go back to talking about the Nicene Creed or some such thing, there is at least a sense of people coming back into the room and sitting down with each other to talk again.”

In a recent issue of Christianity Today, Fuller Seminary president Richard Mouw relates the story of his article submission to the flagship evangelical magazine, then under the leadership of Carl Henry. Henry himself had challenged evangelicalism to engage with social concerns in his book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947).  However, he told the young  graduate student that he needed to tweak some of the arguments in his article.

Though grateful that Henry was considering the article, Mouw recalls, “I was also troubled by the change he was proposing.  This was a period in my life when I had often felt alienated from evangelicalism because of what I saw as its failure to properly address issues raised by the civil rights struggle and the war in Southeast Asia.  As a corrective, I wanted the church, as church, to acknowledge its obligation to speak to such matters.”

Henry wouldn’t budge.  Where Mouw insisted it was the church’s duty to address these issues directly, Henry wanted him to say it was the Christian’s duty.  The church has a responsibility to proclaim God’s Word, even with specific application, wherever it speaks.  It has the authority from God to announce a final judgment of oppression, wanton violence, and injustice and to call all people (including Christians) to repentance and faith in Christ in the light of this ultimate assize.  However, “The institutional church,” said Henry, “has no mandate, jurisdiction, or competence to endorse political legislation or military tactics or economic specifics in the name of Christ.”

Henry quoted Princeton University ethicist Paul Ramsey: “Identification of Christian social ethics with specific partisan proposals that clearly are not the only ones that may be characterized as Christian and as morally acceptable comes close to the original New Testament meaning of heresy.’”  At the same time, Henry argued that evangelicals are not only authorized but commanded to proclaim God’s clear “No!” to excessive violence, racial injustice, and other serious moral crises.  God’s Word shapes the moral conscience of its hearers, but where it does not offer specific policy prescriptions, the church has no authority to speak.

Drawing on his Reformed heritage, especially the legacy of Abraham Kuyper, Mouw points out that there is an important place for Christians thinking and working together to apply biblical teaching to such issues, he concludes, “Henry was right, and I was wrong.”

Today, “Deeds, not creeds,” is likely to be heard most frequently from the quarters of evangelical Protestantism as it has been now for a century in mainline Protestantism.  In part, this is an understandable reaction to an apparent lack of concern for bodies, and not only for human bodies but for the creation itself.  If salvation is all about the soul’s escape from the body and this earth will be destroyed (both ideas being explicitly rejected in Scripture), what’s the point of getting all worked up over social injustice?

As we become more aware of global warming and its attendant threats to our whole planet, it is theologically erroneous and spiritually irresponsible for churches to remain silent on God’s command for stewardship.  Anchored not only in the past work of God (creation) and his ever-vigilant providence, the church’s hope is oriented toward the restoration of the whole creation (Ro 8:20-25).  However, is the church competent to deliver pronouncements on specific policies?  And in doing so, is it possible that the church loses its legitimate authority by over-reaching, rather than encouraging its members to pursue their own research and form their own personal and public policy agendas on the specifics?

We easily underestimate the impact of the church’s theology—its preaching and practice—on the wider culture, thinking that if the church is really going to make a mark, it has to be as a political action committee.  A lot of times it is bad theology that underwrites evil practices or at least encourages passive toleration.  Slavery in Europe and the United States and apartheid in South Africa were defended in pulpits through grave distortions of God’s Word.  Yet it was by recovering sound biblical teaching that churches were able to repent.  In the case of apartheid, it was when the South African church—excommunicated from its sister Reformed churches in the world—finally confessed apartheid to be heresy that the practice lost its moral legitimacy.  Without a civil war, the nation was able to face itself and dismantle the oppressive system in courts, congresses, and commissions.  The church did what only the church can do: that is, declare its perverted exegesis to be heretical.  Yet Christians, together with non-Christians, fulfilled their vocations in the world by changing the laws and customs of their society.

I went through this reaction myself.  I felt challenged and liberated by Reformed theology, resonating with J. I. Packer’s description I heard at a conference: “Fundamentalism is world-denying and Reformed theology is world-affirming.”  In college, I began delving into liberation theologians and found much there that resonated with what I had learned from Reformed theology about the problem of soul-body dualism.  Material-spiritual reality forms a unity.  United in its creation, in its corruption, and in its redemption, the whole world is God’s domain.  Then I spent a summer at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.  Staying up late nights with human rights advocates from all over the world, my naivete crumbled as I heard eye-witness accounts of the most flagrant violations, often by regimes supported by my nation’s government.  Why had I—and so many of my American brothers and sisters—not spoken up?  In fact, why were we committed to a “My America, right or wrong!” kind of philosophy?

But now evangelicalism risks merely changing its political affiliation, tying the gospel to a different political agenda.  Many evangelicals have come to see that the movement was largely  co-opted by the Republican Party, but this repentance seems somewhat superficial when the alternative is simply to switch parties and to broaden political agendas.

[This is an excerpt from a chapter of Mike Horton's newest book (still untitled), set to published by Baker as part of his Christless Christianity and Gospel Driven Life series. We'll post more information as it becomes available. Stay tuned to the WHI blog for more excerpts like this one.]

Phil Ryken to Wheaton

The Internet has been abuzz for the last several days with the news that Dr. Philip G. Ryken, senior minister at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has been elected as the new president of Wheaton College. Apparently the news of his election was leaked to Christianity Today and picked up by other bloggers before Dr. Ryken had a chance to announce the move to his congregation. [It should be noted that the church's leadership (or "session," in Presbyterian parlance) was fully aware and had given their blessing to Dr. Ryken to pursue this new calling.]

Rather than pile on with our own view of a “scandal” that has already blown over, we’re pleased to join with the many others who are passing on their good wishes to Dr. Ryken and his family! Dr. Ryken is a contributor to Modern Reformation. If you’re a subscriber to the magazine, you’ve probably benefited from his articles over the years. If you’re not yet a subscriber, we’ve temporarily “unlocked” all of Dr. Ryken’s articles in our archives. Take a moment now to get a sense of how the members at Tenth Presbyterian, and soon Wheaton College, have benefited from Dr. Ryken’s ministry:

How Can Jesus be the Only Way? (March/April 1998)

Rachel, Dry Your Tears (November/December 2004)

A Review of D. A. Carson’s The Gagging of God (March/April 2007)

Several of Dr. Ryken’s books have been reviewed in the pages of Modern Reformation. Here are several of the positive reviews that he’s received over the last several years:

A Review of Courage to Stand: Jeremiah’s Battle Plan for Pagan Time (January/February 2000)

A Review of Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope (January/February 2002)

A Review of Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis (September/October 2004)

WHI-985 | The Book of Galatians (Pt 5)

What does it mean to walk by the Spirit? How does our sanctification relate to our freedom in Christ and justification? The hosts discuss these issues and more as they conclude their five part series through Paul’s letter the to the Galatians.

RELATED ARTICLES


Following Jesus
Michael Horton
Gospel-Driven Sanctification
Jerry Bridges
A New Creation
Michael Horton

RECOMMENDED BOOKS


The Law of Perfect Freedom
Michael Horton
Growing in Christ
J.I. Packer
Sanctification, Christ in Action
Harold Senkbeil

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Lent and the Regulative Principle

Update: We left out an important word in Mike Horton’s response below. We’ve put it in bold to draw your attention to it. Sorry for the confusion!

One of our Facebook friends asked a great question and we’ve asked Mike Horton to clarify some remarks he made in his recent Christianity Today article on Lent.

Justin asked:

Not trying to start a fight, I am trying to humbly submit this question: when did the Reformed start participating in the “we do it for pragmatic beneifts” woship stuff instead of “But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the … See Moreimaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture (WCF 21.1)”? Truly wondering how our confession just quoted squares w/ Horton’s statement in the CT article: “Unlike the Old Testament, however, the New Testament does not prescribe a church calendar”? Again, I’m not trying to be malicious, but humbly submitting myself to your guidance, how should we think about Lent in terms of WCF 21.1 and not the pragmatic benefits (which too many use to vilify so much un-godliness in the church today) of it?

Mike Horton responded:

Great question, Justin, and thanks for raising it.  You quote my statement, “Unlike the Old Testament, however, the New Testament does not prescribe a church calendar.”  Before that remark, I listed Israel’s various festivals.  My point was that we cannot use these old covenant festivals as a justification for new covenant festivals, such as Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ascension Day, etc..  In other words, observance of these Christian holidays cannot be considered as necessary for true worship.  Some (most of the Westminster divines) would eliminate (did eliminate) all Christian holidays, although they encouraged special days for thanksgiving.  The Continental Reformed tradition did not do this, however, and continues the tradition of calling stated services on these special days.  With respect to the regulative principle, it’s definitely a line-call and there are those on both sides of the issue who affirm the principle.  I hope this helps!

Join the conversation and friend us on Facebook through White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation!

Elton John on Jesus–A Candle in the Wind?

According to this CBS post in a recent interview, Elton John provocatively stated that Jesus was “a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man who understood human problems.”

At first glance, this statement borders on the absurd–how can Elton make these claims about the historic Christ, and so boldly? It contradicts the Gospel and the teachings of Jesus.

His statement, however, raises questions about how our society (in general) views love, compassion, and intelligence. By saying that Jesus was a “compassionate, super-intelligent gay man,” Elton seems to equate these attributes with homosexuality itself (i.e. if you aspire to or live by these virtues, then you are either supportive of the homosexual community, or actually homosexual).

This leaves Christians with an important question: how do we respond? Obviously, we do not believe that Jesus was gay, and we know that homosexuality is a sin. But wouldn’t a vitriolic response automatically make us seem less loving and compassionate (based on Elton’s claims)?

So, how would you respond?

Why Lent?

Mike Horton was asked to contribute to a series of articles in a recent issue of Christianity Today exploring the meaning and practice of Lent.  In addition to reading Mike’s reflections on Lent, we’ve also made available this article from the Modern Reformation archives that makes the case for using the church calendar as helpful signposts for our Christian pilgrimage.

2001-1-smallA Year of Signposts–Following the Church Calendar
(January/February 2001, Vol 10. No. 1, pages 18-19)

I realize that following the Church calendar is not the practice of some churches. However, it has been effective in many of our churches that have inherited it from ancient practice, and it’s being discovered by others today. While it should never be followed slavishly or with superstition, it helps to have signposts in the year that focus our attention on the momentous events in the life of Christ and the founding of his New Covenant assembly. It is another way of getting us to orient our Church life around the divine drama: Advent (culminating in Christmas), Epiphany (the appearance of the wise men-or, more properly, the appearance of Christ to the Gentiles), Circumcision (the beginning of our Lord’s consecration), Lent (Jesus’ wilderness temptation of forty days, culminating in Good Friday), Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. This is a marvelous tool for education over many years, as long as it doesn’t deteriorate to mere habit. Click here to read more.

WHI-984 | The Book of Galatians (Pt 4)

On this edition of the program the hosts discuss Paul’s allegory of two mountains, and two mothers in Galatians chapter 4. Why does the apostle argue that the present city of Jerusalem corresponds with Hagar, rather than Sarah? Why are the children of Mt. Sinai born in “slavery?” Though it may take a little work, understanding this allegory may be one of the best ways to understand the entire Bible.

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WHI-983 | The Book of Galatians (Pt 3)

How does one qualify for God’s heavenly inheritance? Does it come by obedience to the law, or by trusting the promise? In their continuing survey of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the hosts further outline the distinctions between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, and point to Christ alone as the ground of our acceptance before a righteous and holy God.

RELATED ARTICLES


a target=”_blank” href=”http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/an-exposition-of-galatians”>Sermons on Galatians
Kim Riddlebarger (offsite)
What God Requires
Justin Taylor & John Piper
Justification In Galatians
Charles Hill

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WHI-982 | The Book of Galatians (Pt 2)

On this program the hosts explain why Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a good place to begin in order to understand the basic message of Scripture. In this letter Paul explains the difference between the covenant of grace promised to Abraham, and the national covenant made with the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai. At the heart of this discussion is whether our eternal destiny is determined by our own efforts and law keeping, or by God’s promise to save his people “by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone.”

RECOMMENDED BOOKS


Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free
F.F. Bruce
Notes on Galatians
J. Gresham Machen
The Gospel-Driven Life
Michael Horton

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