See That Shiny Thing Over There

The uproar over Transgender bathroom usage is just another example of the evangelical right refusing to deal with their own sin.

At least that is what I quipped on Twitter earlier today.

Another way of looking at it is that humans always find it easier to pop zits rather than attend to the lack of hygiene which causes them in the first place.

In Matthew 23 our Lord is occupied in a long, biting polemic against the leaders of the Jewish Church. These men were tasked with shepherding the people of God in holiness and righteousness. Yet, instead of keeping with the commands handed down by the LORD, first to Adam and then in their codification at Mount Sinai to Moses, the scribes and Pharisees were engaged in the acts of what Christ describes in vs.23-25 as:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.

Verse 24 gets to what is at play in the opening sentence of this post.

The evangelical world is engaged in (and has been for a long time) a fight against the gnats of whatever the most recent epoch-ending issue is while swallowing the camel of worldliness, Phariseeism, and Antinomianism. (Phariseeism, or Legalism, and Antinomianism are not enemies, but partners in the same denial of Deuteronomy 12:32).

This is not to say the gnats are unimportant. Notice what Jesus says in the passage above.

The problem is not the tithing of the anise and the cummin, it is the fact the weightier matters of the Law are being left undone. We live in a weird and a culturally seismic time. Serious scholarship is required and must be directed at the real struggles the Church faces in the 21st Century. But this is not really the critique of this post. I am not advocating tossing out the gnats and ignoring their need to be strained. It is a both/and issue, not an either/or one.

To define things a bit more let us go back to the above passage. What exactly is Christ talking about when He discusses the “weightier matters of the Law judgment, mercy, and faith”? John Calvin in his commentary on this passage makes two points, first about the general mindset of this kind of hypocrisy and then on the what exactly the weightier matters include:

Christ charges the scribes with a fault which is found in all hypocrites, that they are exceedingly diligent and careful in small matters, but disregard the principal points of the Law. This disease has prevailed in almost all ages, and among all nations; so that men have, in most cases, endeavored to please God by observing with exactness some trivial matters. Finding that they cannot entirely release themselves from all obedience to God, they have recourse to this second remedy of expiating any heinous offenses by satisfactions which are of no value.

And

Christ therefore affirms that he has no intention to lessen the authority even of the smallest commandments, though he recommends and demands due order in keeping the Law. It is therefore our duty to preserve entire the whole Law, which cannot be violated in any part without contempt for its Author; for He who has forbidden us to commit adultery, and to kill, and to steal, has likewise condemned all impure desire. Hence we conclude that all the commandments are so interwoven with each other, that we have no right to detach one of them from the rest.

Here Calvin goes to great lengths to both defend the use of the Law and its right application to the Christian life. One of the points that you find regularly at play in what he says is the constant lie that we are far too good at telling ourselves: “I am not trying to be a mix-gender human going into a bathroom not made for me. Yeah my sanctification!”

And this is the kind of thing Pharisees are great at displaying for others to see. Thank the Lord I am not like that guy over there while I drown myself in hypocrisy.

Of course if we just focus on the way this applies to evangelicalism and the 7th Commandment a whole book could be written without problem. Whether it be no-fault divorce, pornography, flagrant 2 Cor 6:14 violations, questions around modesty, etc…

But I want to go something even more basic, or foundational if you will.

To be frank, since I am running out of steam, God is more concerned with whether or not you are ignoring His 2nd Commandment by integrating Ashteroth poles and man-made idolatries into His Worship than if your neighbor uses the wrong bathroom at Target. He cares deeply about the observance of His 4th Commandment. Are you making your neighbor work on the Sabbath for your pleasure or your failure to plan accordingly on the day before? It would be wise if the evangelical world spent 10% of the amount of energy it devotes to .01% of the American population to the weightier matters of the Law.

It would of been wiser for Jehoram to be more concerned with the sin of his father Jeroboam than the rebellion of the Amorites. If Ahab was concerned with what Jezebel would say when he returned from Mt. Carmel imagine the true fear that gripped his heart at death because of his dereliction of duty?

In closing, since I have the authorial skills of a junior-high newspaper writer I hope the general point has landed somewhere in the right zip-code. #oldmanrantover

The Beauty of God and Christ

Purely Presbyterian

Christ draweth with three sorts of General Arguments, in this Moral way: The first is taken from pleasure; this is the beauty that is in God, 1. That is in a communion with God. 2. The delectation we have in God as love-worthy to the understanding. For the drawing beauty of God, a word: 1. Of Gods beauty. 2. Of Gods beauty in Christ. 3. Of the relative beauty of God in Christ to Men and Angels. 1. Beauty, as we take it, is the loveliness of face and person a∣rising from 1. the natural well contempered colour, 2. the due proportion of stature and members of body, 3. the inte∣grity of parts; as that there is nothing wanting for bodily per∣fection. So beauty formally is not in God, who hath not a bo∣dy: Nor speak we of Christs bodily beauty, as Man. Then beauty, by analogy, and eminently…

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Open air preaching: problems & solutions

West Port Experiment

Die Predigt Johannes des Täufers (Bruegel)The following comes from a report of the Committee of Local Evangelism in the OPC in which Professor John Murray played a major role prior to World War II. It was drawn from this source.

There is an acute problem that confronts the open-air preacher in our day and age. The great problem is to get and hold a sizeable audience. In Whitefield’s day the masses thronged to hear his message. This is not true today; the multitudes pass us by. What is the cause? What can be done to assist in the solution of the problem?

Various factors may be said to contribute to the listlessness of those whom we seek to reach with the gospel. There are the many attractive forms of pleasure. No age of ministers has had to compete with as many enticing modes of pleasure as has the minister of the twentieth century. It is…

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John Brown of Haddington on the Old and New Testaments

“The Old Testament, published before Christ’s coming in the flesh, is the declaration of a dying Savior, freely bequeathing His unsearchable riches to sinful men, confirmed by His typical death in innumerable sacrifices and oblations, and sealed by the sacraments of circumcision and the Passover.

The New Testament, published after His coming in the flesh, is His dying declaration in which He freely bequeaths His unsearchable riches of grace and glory to sinful men, confirmed by His personal death, and sealed by the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

These Testaments are circumstantially different in their time, clearness, fullness, efficacy, extent of original publication, and in their easiness of spiritual worship, but they are the same in substance, exhibiting the same New Covenant, making over the same Savior and salvation, conferring the same right to and assurance of interest in, and actual enjoyment of, eternal salvation, and requiring the same duties of faith, repentance, love, and new obedience in their members.”

— John Brown of Haddington

 

How to Read the Bible

by Rev. Benjamin P. Glaser
Pastor, Ellisville Presbyterian Church, ARP
http://www.ellisvillepres.org

One of the most common questions I receive as a pastor is, “Rev. Glaser, how do I get the most out of my Bible reading?” It is a question even the apostles themselves wondered. (2 Peter 3:14-18). In this short article we will look at three things that can help you feast upon the meat of the gracious Word of our Triune God.

First of all we must understand that what we are reading is God’s Word. (Heb. 1:1-4, 2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Peter 1:16-21). This may seem obvious or even unnecessary to mention, but part of the problem many of us have is that we, intentionally or not, use the Bible the way we would any other book. We look for pithy statements for a greeting card or a quick verse to simply settle an argument or to find a justification for something either we would like to do or even as a club to stop someone from doing something we may not like. When we humbly present ourselves before the Word as the recipient of the Bible and not as its author, to simply use it how we please, we have a come a long way to rightly using it for both God’s purpose and for our benefit. A good example of this can be seen in 2 Chronicles 29. There King Hezekiah is in the process of rebuilding the Temple. He is careful to only do that which God has commanded to be done in His Word.

Second of all we must be careful to answer three questions before we fall into the trap of using a part of the Bible unwisely. These three are, 1) What is the larger context and background of the book/chapter/verse?, 2) What did the original author of that book/chapter/verse have in mind when he wrote it?, and 3) How, in the larger context of the redemptive story of the Bible, does God want us to apply this book/chapter/verse today in our context? Once we find the answer to these three questions we will have gone a long way in not only rightly understanding the text, but using it in the way its true author, God Almighty, intended. Another thing worth mentioning here is that the Bible was not written with the chapter and verse divisions we have now. Each part was constructed to be understood in the context of the whole book. This is one of the problems with just randomly taking verses and using them without taking into consideration the purpose the author had for them. A good example in the Bible of someone doing this very thing can be seen in the temptation narrative in Matthew 4. Satan knows the Scriptures. He takes passages and misapplies them in order to cause trouble. Now, it is not likely that any of us intend to do that, but God in His wisdom warns us in a very serious way the damage this can cause. (Rom. 16:17-20).

Lastly, it is important that we understand what the Bible is about. It is the story of man’s creation by the Triune God (Col. 1:15-17), man’s fall in the covenantal sin of Adam (Rom. 5:12), and redemption by the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:21). Our Savior is present on every page, whether as the King of Kings providentially ordering things for His glory (like in the Book of Esther), or as the recipient of the praises of David in the Psalms, which he sang and the Church continues to sing, in thankfulness for Christ’s love, or as the subject of His own life and work as in the Gospels and Epistles in the New Testament.

I hope these three short principles are helpful to you in using your Bible to grow in the knowledge of God’s grace and the person and work of His only begotten Son. When we use the Holy Scriptures rightly and truly there is nothing better for our lives, both in the here and now as well as in the life to come for those who rest and trust in the finished work of Christ.

Thinking Through the Next Evening Series

It is my general practice to preach through books. Since I came to Ellisville in the morning service we have covered:

Amos
2 Peter
Ruth
John
Daniel
Colossians
Philemon
Zephaniah
Psalms 1-20
Jude
Esther

In the evening the practice has been a bit different, going through “topical” series as well as through whole books:

Biblical Covenants
10 Commandments
The Lord’s Prayer
1 Samuel
1 John
The Live’s of the Apostles

In 2016 the plan is to start the book of Mark in the morning and spend our time there for the whole of the year, maybe going into 2017 if necessary.

Rotationally that means an Old Testament book for the evening/afternoon service. I am really struggling with where to go next in the second service.

I do not necessarily want to do a big OT book like a major prophet or one of the books of Moses, preferring not to only cover two books over 52 Lord’s Days, but could be talked into that if you can convince me it is wise.

In the comments below (or on Facebook or the Twitter feed) I’d love some ideas, help in where to go starting January 1.

Top 10 Traditions About Christ’s Birth That Are Not True

As King Grumpus makes his appearance once more I bring to you this year the top 10 (of many) traditions which have come to be held as gospel truth and inform so many of the celebrations during these months of the year that unfortunately not only have no historical factual foundation, but obscure the biblical representation of the glorious incarnation of Christ Jesus. While this post is meant to be a bit playful, it is worth remembering these verses as we begin:

“He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.” — Deut 32:4

“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” — John 4:24

“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” — 2 John 1

This list is given in no particular order, just as they popped into my head as I sat here considering these things. The sections under each one will provide a paragraph length or so explanation and a link to a short article, etc, that give some evidence to the comment. It is not meant to be exhaustive, obviously, but just as a brief word. One of the things that will become plain is that so many of these “traditions” are not really traditions at all, but were inventions of Victorian extraction that did not become a part of the wider Church celebration, some until as late as the 1950’s.

1.  Mary and Joseph were turned away from an inn.

In the nativity stories in the gospels (Matthew and Luke) there is no mention of a man turning them away. In fact, the word translated as “inn” should not be understood as referring to a 1st-century version of Motel 6, but a guest room at the house of a relative.

2.  Jesus was born in December.

The early church has several interesting reports of how the birth of Christ came to be celebrated on the 25th of December. Most of them center around the idea that Christ was conceived during the Passover, thereby placing his birth 9 months later at the end of the year. Obviously, there are a number of assumptions in this argument. First of all it would mark that Mary had a perfect 39 week and 2 day pregnancy. Second of all it only works if you follow the Gregorian calendar, which is why the Eastern Orthodox celebrate Christmas at a different time (usually in January in accordance with the Julian record).

There are of course other problems with a winter nativity and they center around two particular details. First, there would not have been shepherds out with their flocks that time of year. Just as in the America’s sheep are corralled during the winter months, not out in the fields feeding. Second, the Romans would not have called for a census during the winter when travel was precarious and many of the legions were in their winter quarters. As things work in our day, even with central heat, back in the days of Christ most activities would be pushed off to the nine months of the year when access to places were much easier and simple.

3. Three Kings came from the East to see Jesus and their gifts point to His work.

One of the most popular Christmas carols consists of the travels of three kings from “the Orient” named Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar to see the newborn Jesus and that their three gifts mark out Christ’s kingship (gold), His divinity (frankincense), and His suffering (myrrh). All of the detail’s of the kings are made up tradition and none of it is to be found in the biblical record.

4.  Jesus didn’t cry.

This one also concerns a popular carol and hymn. As an side it is not an accident that many of the untrue traditions have come to us through these man-made hymns. In the carol “Away in a Manger” there is a line:

“The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.”

Many theologians have marked this song since its first appearance in the late 1800’s as unacceptable for this reason alone. Not only does it make a docetic statement about Christ, but the saccharine nature of the hymn is another example of the milieu that birthed the words. Now the rest of the verses of this hymn are not exactly much better, being full of the sappy Hallmark view of the Lord’s birth. You can tell that it originally was written as a bedtime song for little kids (notice the rest of verse two) originally written by universalists.

5.  The common nativity scene.

More than likely you will see advertisements for live nativity scenes and/or see the manger set up out in front of many churches in the coming weeks. It is worth remembering that none of them will be accurate either in their historical details or by the biblical record. First of all the manger was not in a separate barn or a stable. The way Hebrew houses were built consisted of two floors. On the second floor were the living quarters and underneath at street level was where the animals lived. This is where Jesus was born (see the inn article under #1) and where the manger would have been in the stories of the nativity. Second the magi and shepherds were not in the same place at the same time. It is also doubtful that the shepherds brought their sheep with them to see Jesus and His parents. The appearances of ox’s and other animals are also not likely.

6.  Snow fell when Jesus was born.

It really does snow in Israel and so if Jesus was born in December it is not impossible that snow was present in Bethlehem. However, since He was not born then it makes the likelihood of snow pretty small and this is also something you see in the aforementioned misguided creches. Carols like “See Amid the Winter’s Snow” do it explicitly, but others keep the winter theme quite strong. See “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, Silent Night! Holy Night!”, “Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning”, and others. It seems odd to sing things that are not true about Truth itself.

7.  Santa is ok, because he’s really Saint Nicholas.

Probably just as strange as the recent trend of Christian celebrations of Christmas adding a creation of the Coca-Cola company to December church activities is the memeable story of Saint Nick punching Arius in the face (which didn’t happen) and therefore becoming in and of itself a reason for Santa being acceptable for church celebrations. It seems odd to celebrate a non-existing violation of the 6th Commandment around the same time you are exalting the God-man who said to turn the other cheek.

8.   Chrismon trees represent eternal reign of Christ

As with each of the last four of these they represent a fairly common Christian practice of reverse engineering reasons for bringing in wholly cultural practices and giving them a theological spin of some sort. The second one has to do with the Christmas or Chrismon tree. Growing up it was the practice to have a large evergreen in the sanctuary during the days of Advent. The reason I was given, and is certified by my research, is that the pine tree represents eternity (evergreen, get it). One could think of a number of better examples that could point one to the everlasting kingdom better than a tree which does not exist in most of the world. It does not seem very ecumenical with our brothers and sisters to make a Western cultural artifact a center of the worship of our common Lord.

9.  Holly points us to crown of thorns and berries to His blood

The reasons for the holly likewise eminent from a wider cultural practice and then are given theological significance. The holly is given a two-fold duty in its place in the worship of Christ during advent. Much like its arboreal cousin holly is not the best example of the sacrifice of the Savior. Jesus Himself already gave us a symbol of His broken body and shed blood.

10. Lighting candles on Christmas Eve

Last, but not least, is the practice of turning out all the lights at the end of a Christmas Eve service and everyone lighting a personal hand-held candle while singing Silent Night. Now, the only reason I can think of for doing this is that one would not want to wake the little baby in the manger. But as with the rest of these 9 there is absolutely no biblical record of this being a part of Christ’s incarnation in Bethlehem. But to be serious here for a moment the mindset behind the lighting of the candle is to represent the coming of the Light of Lights into the World. Life the previous three this final example is better given for the Christian not as the human mind can create, but as God has given.