Saturday, 29 March 2008

Our good deeds cannot cleanse us

The lesson of Haggai's third prophecy (in 2:10-19) contains a classic lesson for all time, presented in the forms of the Old Covenant.

When a priest had a (ceremonially) holy garment on, through carrying the sacrifices, would a thing that the garment touched become holy? No. (Verse 12)

When a priest was (ceremonially) unclean because of contact with a dead body, would a thing that he touched become unclean? Yes. (Verse 13).

The same principle worked with the people. They presumed that their labours in rebuilding the temple would make them acceptable to God, though they had not repented of their sins. (Zechariah 1:1-8 shows us Zechariah's preaching at the same time, which brought them to repentance). Instead, the opposite was the case. Their sins instead made their service regarding the temple unclean, and unacceptable.

Our good deeds do not make our persons acceptable to God. Instead, the because of our sinful hearts, everything we do is defiled.

The world is full of people who think that they're as good as anyone else, and that God should accept them because of it. The opposite is true. God sees the selfishness in our hearts, and because of it everything we do is defiled, and he cannot accept any of it.

That's why we need Jesus Christ. His life was perfectly pleasing in God's eyes, because everything he did sprung from a pure motive - to give his Father glory. Nothing about him was tainted in any way with sin. He is the one who is holy, and whose holiness can be gifted to us. He died on the cross for sinners, and all who believe are accepted, not because they make themselves acceptable, but because of him. That's also why Christians need to carry on their Christian lives where they begin them - at the cross. Our services as Christians do not bring us any nearer to God or make us any more pleasing to him; rather we must daily repent for the sin we bring into them, and receive new grace from Jesus Christ, and thank God that through him our feeble deeds are indeed accepted.

Wars of the multi-cultural gods

I've found this news story, running for most of a year now, pretty hilarious: "Hindu monks serve papers on RSPCA".

On the one hand, we have the animal rights brigade who felt sorry for a cow in pain, and obtained a police warrant to enter a Hindu temple and kill it. On the other hand, we have the Hindus themselves, to whom cows are sacred, and for whom to kill one is abominable sacrilege.

Two religions, one ancient, one modern, coming into conflict in a multi-cultural society. A parable for our times!

Multi-culturalism is in the final analysis an idea that is only compatible with poly-theism. No society can ultimately accept multiple cultures unless it also accepts multiple gods. The way that a society operates must be based upon some kind of ideas about reality and reality's ultimate rulers. Many different ways of operating equals many different rulers. The UK's liberal elite want to be multi-cultural; which means they want to have lots of gods. Unfortunately the gods have a nasty habit of falling out with each other. In this case the Nature goddess sacred cow cult who wishes to relieve the pain suffering heffers had a bit of a barney with the bovine goddess of the rival sacred cow cult. The cow lost, or won, depending on whether you think it's too sacred to suffer or to sacred to be put out of its suffering, but its lawyer is mounting a come-back account. Oh the folly... but how we laughed!

In the pantheon of contemporary deities the Nature goddess ranks much higher than her rival, so I don't give the lawsuit much of a chance. Hopefully though there'll be a few more amusing twists in the plot first!

Friday, 28 March 2008

What the state funds...

What the state funds, the state encourages.

It's a simple enough formula, but the left-wing consensus that dominates UK politics still doesn't get it. Take, for example, pre-school breakfast clubs. The state observes that too many parents don't give their children a good enough meal before the day starts. So, being secularists who find it really hard to think much beyond "the man with the big stick telling people what to do", they decide to make it their problem - and encourage schools to start laying on breakfast for pupils.

What's the effect of that likely to be?

a) The parents who didn't take care to give their children breakfast are shamed into doing so, or...

b) Those parents are now even less likely to take responsibility, because someone's doing it for them now.

And of course, what about those parents who were only just managing to take responsibility when no other provision was available - what will they do now that someone else is offering to do some of their task for them? Obviously, when the state comes along and says "I'll do that for you" whereas before it had been saying "that's your responsibility - not mine", the net effect will be that more people let them, take less and less personal responsibility, and make the original problem much worse.

Over the last generation, successive governments in the UK, in the good liberal cause of not wanting to seem like they (the horror!) disapprove of people who don't want to take their responsibility to get married seriously or who would prefer just to indulge whatever perverse sexual cravings seize them, have increasingly removed the privileged status that marriage has enjoyed in society, and handed the same privileges to anyone and his dog who wants to go make whoppee together. All the while, of course, whilst re-assuring us that they are "family-friendly" politicians, and making sure that lots of publicity shots of them standing outside Number 10 smiling with their children get into the papers. You know who I mean!

The result? Not very hard to predict: "Marriage rate hits lowest point since records began". Over recent history and particularly the last decade, the state has been aggressively funding homosexuality and single parent families, because it felt like the nice thing to do. And what the state funds...

Some conversation on how we know God's word

I copied this comment, from Matt, from the post that it was attached to ("Enough rope to hang themselves with").
I read your article in evangelical times on the question of being good whilst being an atheist and was impressed by the logic that either atheists are immoral or nothing is (morality only having possible origin in God himself to be more than a fiction) so I looked up this blog.
Thanks Matt. I wrote several posts on the atheism theme at the time I was writing the ET article. I wasn't expecting that to come out yet. They've given me permission to reprint it here after some time has passed.
I also appreciated these comments about God's word being self-evident (from the little I know about Francis Schaeffer this seems similar to his position) because it is often so hard to explain to myself and others why I believe. You're right, the Bible just speaks truth if we listen. I suppose the question is really if people want to hear or not at the end of the day.
That God's word is self-authenticating is the historic Protestant understanding, and is written in lots of the historic confessions of faith - including the one that Dr. Schaeffer subscribed to (the Westminster Confession). I've really appreciated the little of Dr. Schaeffer's work that I've been able to study. If you Google for "Riddlebarger academy Schaeffer" then that should bring up an excellent and easy to listen series of lectures that Dr. Kim Riddlebarger in the USA did describing Schaeffer's life and thought. His great point was to challenge unbelievers to justify their approach to life. Unbelievers often act as if their own approach to life had no assumptions behind it and no burden of proof to carry - as if Christians alone had that responsibility; Dr. Schaeffer encouraged Christians to demonstrate that Christianity gives a coherent explanation of human experience, whereas unbelief cannot even begin to. If you search back in the series of earlier posts here you'll see how strong an argument I think that is.

As a Christian you can give a rational and self-consistent explanation for:
  • Why the universe exists
  • Why the universe is orderly
  • How complex, self-reproducing life forms can exist
  • Why right and wrong can exist
  • Why human beings assume that right and wrong matter
  • How there can be universal values that transcend all human individuals and cultures
  • How human beings can be self-conscious, thinking and morally accountable beings
  • ... and many more things besides.
Unbelievers behave day by day as if the above things can all be taken for granted - yet without them having to give us any explanation for them. Bizarrely the more militant of the unbelievers do all that whilst claiming that the mantle of being logical, scientific and rational for themselves! Ho hum.
However, one question springs to mind. If we believe the bible primarily because it 'speaks to our consciences', are we able to infer from this that it also posseses 'historical reliability' in the conventional sense or must we do personal research of the kind you mention to make such a claim with any integrity?
I think this is a really good question. I think firstly I want to say in response that I don't think I could say that I believe the Bible "primarily because it speaks to [my] conscience." If only this were true, then we would have a world full of believers, but it evidently isn't so. The Bible speaks to the consciences of people in the pew week by week, and yet somehow they go home with it having had precious little effect on them. The position I tried to take in the previous post was that the Bible's witness, interacting with our minds and consciences, leaves unbelievers without excuse; but yet they are still left unbelievers unless something more happens. That's their fault; their resistance of God's word is sinful, and incurs guilt and judgment; but it isn't sufficient in practice. As Paul says in Romans 8:7-8, those who are in that condition actually cannot please God, or desire to obey his laws; to receive the truth, however clearly it is declared, goes against their nature and is beyond their capabilities.

I quoted the beginning of the answer to the question in Keach's catechism before. The full answer reads like this:
"Q. 5. How do we know that the Bible is the Word of God?

A. The Bible evidences itself to be God's Word by the heavenliness of its doctrine, the unity of its parts, its power to convert sinners and to edify saints; but the Spirit of God only, bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in our hearts, is able fully to persuade us that the Bible is the Word of God.

(1 Cor. 2:6,7,13; Ps. 119:18, 129; Acts 10:43, 26:22; Acts 18:28; Heb 4:12; Ps. 19:7-9; Rom. 15:4; John 16:13,14; 1 John 2:20-27; 2 Cor. 3:14-17)"
This answer gives four reasons by which the Bible shows us its identity as God's word: 1) The unique nature of the teachings within it 2) Its astonishing coherence despite the wide variety in its human authorship 3) & 4) The remarkable effects it has in changing the lives of those who aren't Christians and then continually changing them after they have become Christians - a power that is not limited by time or culture. There's no book anything, even remotely like this, in the world. As such, it bears out its own claims about its divine authorship. Nevertheless, the human condition is so bad - dead in sins, blind to the light, and without any ability to turn ourselves to God - that it is only by a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that we come to acknowledge the reality of the Bible's status, as we experience the living power of it and provides the irrefutable proof. I know the Bible is the Word of God, because I've personally experienced the salvation that it speaks of.

Often with unbelievers I think the best thing to do if they ask why we should believe that the Bible is God's word is to challenge them to read it. Some of them will refuse or come up with implausible excuses as to why they can't, thus showing that their problem isn't in their minds, but in their hearts and wills. I had an e-mail exchange with an atheist over a year ago who was really confident that the Bible was nonsense, but when I challenged him as to if he'd ever read it the best he could do was mumble that 25 years ago he had made an attempt but not got very far!! If the Bible really is God's word, then reading it
has to be the best persuasion; our arguments are like trying to explain a really sharp sword to them, when it would be much simpler to plunge the thing in and say "there - you can feel that - that's what I meant!" Then they can have the Holy Spirit himself persuade them. Spurgeon's classic quote: "Defend the Bible? I'd rather defend a lion! Let it loose!"

When we've experienced the salvation and the Saviour that the Bible tells us of, we can then look into what the Son of God believed and taught about the Scriptures' historical accuracy. I think I've said enough for now though.

It's Friday...

It's Friday - time for another photo or two of the weird and wonderful sights to be seen on the way to morning Bible Study!

By the side of the road: a car yard full of VW Beetles, and VW campers. My camera isn't wide-angle - there were plenty more than in the above shot. In the bottom-left of the picture is the rickety bridge/smelly ditch to cross to get into it. The tracks on the mud seem to indicate they drove at least one across it!

What makes this sight so striking is that round here isn't a place full of rich car hobbyists. It's a place full of 10-year old Japanese imports being shaken to pieces on baaaaad roads. On the other hand it is a main road from the airport, so lots of people have to come through at some point. It's a place where people rent road-side space to scratch out a living. Whatever, then, was this collector of VW Beetles doing? Where do they go when he's finished with them? Who pays him? Does he renovate them and export them to collectors in the West? I couldn't figure it out. I'd never seen a Beetle being driven here on the road...

... until now!

Thursday, 27 March 2008

What's wrong with this picture?

What's wrong with this picture? (I'm not talking about lack of fossil evidence, or the inclusion of Homo Habilis, which is now widely regarded as a non-existent species).

Ape progression

More here. On the assumption, though, that the general idea of the above picture (knuckle-walkers turning into modern man) is correct, we have another question.

What's wrong with racism?

Arguments for paedocommunion - a response (3)

The substance of my argument isn't, I believe, affected because Joseph's necessary clarification does not make a material difference. When we examine the kind of "ownership" which Christians, through their union with Jesus, have of the earth, it still fits into the category I was talking about.

Israel were promised and possessed the land of Canaan in an absolute historical and outward sense. What I mean by that is that their king was the sole lawgiver in the land, and no-one else had any legitimate territorial claim. Accordingly, the Israelites moved in and carried out God's justice against those who defied God's word - they were evicted! The space was literally sacred space; and the unholy were forbidden.

There is a sense in which we can say similar things under the New Covenant, but only by "spiritualising" the language. We don't mean that we can legally evict Mr. Smith next door from his plot of land and annex it to our own property, because the fellow isn't a believer. Christians are indeed carrying out a conquest of the nations - using preaching, persuasion and prayer. The nations belong to Christ, and those who refuse to bow the knee are indeed usurpers of his kingly prerogatives; but the literal right to physically possess the space they occupy is not given to Christians. I really hope we agree on that!

What this means is that in some sense, the "privilege" has contracted. Jesus' kingdom is where Jesus is served as king; and that territory will not be co-extensive with the whole earth until the second coming. Until then, it is the Lord's will that the wheat and the tares - the ungodly and the righteous - will grow together side by side until the final separation takes place at the end of the age (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). The only way to not keep company with fornicators, covetous people, extortioners, idolaters and other enemies of God is to leave the world altogether (1 Corinthians 5:10). Unlike the Old Covenant, there is no "sacred space" that belongs to the church, and is not occupied by the world.

Hence I think that this "expanded" covenant privilege is still of the kind I was talking about. Our children today have the gospel taught to them, woven into their upbringing, are invited to feast upon Christ in it - a privilege which transcends that of mere physical eating, an automatic privilege which has fallen away. In the same way, Christians are promised that they shall inherit the earth, and indeed we already do, and this is being partly realised "on the ground" in the present age and will be perfected when Christ returns - but the "privilege" of space that is ours, always ours, only ours in the sense that Israel had it, has fallen away as part of the scaffolding that is now rendered obsolete.

Old Covenant Judaism was a territorial religion, but not an expansionist one. The evil scourge of Islam is a territorial religion, and an expansionist one, in a violent, protectionist way. I think that Joseph's comments are likely to cause confusion as to the difference between Islam and Christianity.

Arguments for paedocommunion - a response (2)

The (now finished) series of posts: Part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven. You can read the paragraphs I'm responding to now here.

I think I'd like to return the complement to Joseph by also agreeing with him. Not just in highlighting an inconsistency in how paedo-variouses argue for the idea of "expanded covenant privileges", but also in that the nations now belong to Jesus Christ.

The Old Covenant was local; the New is universal. The Old had limited territorial aims; the New does not. The Davidic King under the Old Covenant had the right, under the Covenant, to rule only over the portion of land which had been described to Abraham; King Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18ff), and his Father has granted him his request for all of the nations (Psalm 2:8). Jesus is Lord of all, and that really does mean all. Thus Joseph in Omaha and I in Nairobi can join in a glorious fellowship of those who go out and tell people anywhere and everywhere that the King Jesus now demands (not requests!) that they bow to him in repentance, and offers them everlasting life in his name.

I don't know Joseph, and do wonder if he meant more than this, but I can go with him at least thus far, in recognising that the Scriptures explicitly teach a universality of the New Covenant in this present age.


I failed to make the above observation when I said "the New Covenant fulfillment of the Old Covenant land promises should be seen in terms of a spiritual inheritance during the present time and a physical inheritance only in the age to come". It is implied by the understanding that the "age to come" is already present, though not climaxing until Christ's return; I'm grateful for being able to add the clarification . However, I don't believe that this observation materially affects the argument I was making.

I sought to explain the privileges which infants of believers enjoy in this era, as they are raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), having the gospel explained to them in its New Testament revealed clarity, as being a privilege which far transcends the previous privilege of participation in the Passover Feast. I also sought to clarify that the infants who we are particularly interested in here are ones who don't express faith - because those who do are (as we all agree) of course eligible to partake in all of the Covenant's ordinances.


Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Enough rope to hang themselves with

Presently in adult Sunday School at Nairobi, I'm taking a 4-week series on the 4 prophecies of Haggai.

God spoke through Haggai. The people listened, considered, and then changed their behaviour. They received Haggai's words as the voice of the living God.

Why did they do that? In the religious world, there have always been oracles and prophets-a-plenty. The Old Testament itself recognises the phenomena of false prophets, as a severe problem - laying down harsh penalties for them (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Nevertheless, there were legions of them, and God often declared his fierce opposition and coming judgments upon them (e.g. Jeremiah 14:14-15).

The people of Haggai's day, though, recognised Haggai as a true prophet, and obeyed his words. How did they do this? As far as we know, Haggai had never prophesied previously. He did not perform any miracles; there were no other known prophets who accredited him (Zechariah was his only contemporary that we know of, and he began preaching later), and he did not assign any reason himself as to why people should believe that he was a true prophet. And yet the people recognised him!

The answer surely lies in a crucial fact. Haggai was recognisable as a true prophet, because his words were self-authenticating. They commended themselves as the words of the living God, and needed no further justification. They chided the people for sins - sins which they could not deny. They sought the glory and honour of Israel's covenant Lord, as the supreme priority of their national life. They gave no comfort to the people in their sins in the way that flattering false prophets do; comfort came only after the fruits of repentance had been shown.

God's words though Haggai were self-authenticating: they glorified God, humbled man, called for sin and repentance. As such they appealed to every man's conscience, and insisted on the same response as if God himself had appeared and uttered the words in person.

This is what God's word is like. Ultimately we receive it, not because we've personally visited the various libraries of the world and satisfied ourselves that indeed there do exist fragments of the gospels from the 1st century, and that they've been transmitted faithfully over time, and that we've investigated 100% of the historical matters that they touch on and found them to be accurate, and so on and so forth. We don't receive God's word because the church, or respected Christians, vouch for it. These things have their place and value. Nevertheless, their value is not in establishing that God's word truly is God's word. God's word speaks for itself, addressing human consciences and the reality of human fallenness and sin in a way that nothing else does. Hence the in Keach's old catechism, the answer to the question on this topic begins like so: "Q. How do we know that the Bible is the Word of God?
A. The Bible evidences itself to be God's Word by the heavenliness of its doctrine, ..."

What this means is that God has given those who hate him enough rope for the rebel to hang themselves with. No audible voice speaks from heaven; no fire or miracles appear when the pages are turned. Those who wish to deny God are allowed some space to come up with their excuses, and so by their works we know them. Nevertheless, hang themselves they do. Conscience already speaks to them of guilt that they cannot take away by their own efforts, andon the great day of judgment, they will have no possibility of denying that the Bible accurately and uniquely describes human wickedness, and the only possible remedy for it in the face of God's awesome holiness. Despite this, they ignored it, and they will need no further condemnation.

Embryology bill latest

The Christian Institute has produced an updated briefing on the UK's proposed embryology bill.

Read it here:

Arguments for paedocommunion - a response

Joseph Gleason, a church planter in Omaha, Illinois, who I think was the original author of the words that I took as a launching point for the recent discussion of paedocommunion, has been by, and taken the time to write a few words in response.

You can read the whole thread, complete with comments from others, here:

Here's what Joseph had to say (emphases his):
What interests me here is that I agree with David. I think he makes a valid point. This is one reason why I think many paedobaptists are inconsistent when they argue for paedobaptism in such a way, because they do not also apply that same logic to paedocommunion and the land-promises to Israel. To resolve the tension, one must either become a Baptist, or affirm that the land promises still physically apply to the Church TODAY . . . not just spiritually, but physically, and not just post-second-coming-of-Christ, but in the here-and-now.
Indeed, the land promises made to the OT Church (Israel) were not removed from the NT Church. Our promised land includes the little postage-stamp of land we call "Israel", and the promise has expanded, much farther past those old boundaries.
For the Church, the entire planet earth is our promised land. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will take dominion over it, prior to the return of Jesus. It took Abraham's descendants centuries to fully realize the fulfillment of the OT Israel-boundaries land promise. It is taking the Church thousands of years to realize the fulfillment of our NT no-boundaries land promise. But like Abraham and his immediate descendants, we progress toward the goal.
God promised Abraham (and thus the Church) that he would be heir of the entire world (Romans 4:13).
I'll give us all a bit more time to chew that other, and aim to post my own response later in the week.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Essential Reading!

New from Evangelical Press:
Growing leaders in the church
Gareth Crossley
ISBN 978 0 85234 553 5
Large paperback, 304 pages, £9.95 / $19.90
Growing leaders in the church - book cover
Effective leadership is vital for the health and welfare of the church of Jesus Christ.  A local assembly of believers cannot function in a god-honouring manner unless it has a godly and caring leadership.  When church leaders do their work well, the church will be well.  The health of a congregation depends upon its leaders.

‘This book is designed to ‘train the trainers’, that is, to equip present and future church leaders for their God-given task.  It is not intended as a substitute for the kind of the theological training offered by Bible colleges, but deals with practical issues of church life, in a living church setting, on which it is rarely possible for theological colleges to provide specific guidance.’
Having worked under Dr. Crossley for over 3 years, I know that he not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk. Gareth is a model of industry as well as integrity, and produced this book during the busy-ness of preaching every week in two church plants, caring deeply for the flock of God in those places, and the countless other projects he had been solicited for involvement in based upon his reputation for hard work and fruitfulness over the 45 years in which he has been in gospel ministry. The work of identifying and training new leaders has been on his heart for many years, and this book is surely the fruit of plenty of hands-on experience as well as study.

Buy it from here:
(I have no idea why the website says "added to our catalog on Wednesday 09 May, 2007" as Gareth didn't finish writing it until the second half of last year!)

Why are there so many religions in the world?


Why are there so many religions in the world?

  1. Because man was created as an incurably religious being; it's hard-wired into his nature. Even in a fallen world, born in separation from God, he can no more lose his religious nature than he can decide to grow a tail or become a duck-billed platypus.

  2. Because man, having rebelled against God, finds the true religion too God-centred, too humbling to his pride and unsatisfying to his selfish desires. Seeing as he can't serve nothing, he has to devise something else to serve instead. Nothing else works, though, so no one alternative that one group of men settle on will manage to satisfy every other group. Even militant atheists, once analysed, turn out to exhibit all the essential behaviour of religious believers.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Bad arguments for infant communion (part 7)

Part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six.

If we're going to think clearly about the actual nature of the New Covenant, we need to face the "you can't have your cake and eat it" problem.

Professing Calvinists, such as the paedo-communionist writer whose words we started out with, have faced up to this problem when talking about the sovereignty of God in salvation. Given that universal salvation is a Biblically incorrect teaching, there are only two possibilities for the death of Christ. Either Christ made a perfect atonement for a limited number of people so as to guarantee their salvation, or he made an incomplete atonement for all people though without guaranteeing the salvation of anyone in particular.

Either the atonement perfectly saved the elect, or it made everyone savable without definitely saving anyone. It was perfect in power, or universal in scope - but not both. You can't have your cake and eat it. Charles Spurgeon memorably summed it up like this:
Now, beloved, when you hear any one laughing or jeering at a limited atonement, you may tell him this. General atonement is like a great wide bridge with only half an arch; it does not go across the stream: it only professes to go half way; it does not secure the salvation of anybody. Now, I had rather put my foot upon a bridge as narrow as Hungerford, which went all the way across, than on a bridge that was as wide as the world, if it did not go all the way across the stream. (
It's the same with the New Covenant. Either the New Covenant is perfectly salvific though with a restricted membership, or it can have a wide membership but still leave its members' salvation in doubt. Either Christ can perfectly mediate on behalf of all and only those who are in covenant with God through him, or he can mediate on behalf of a much larger number, but with a mediation that's only partly effective. Unless you embrace an error such as baptismal regeneration, such that all of those who go through the right automatic ritual get to heaven, you can't have it both ways.

In my view the sacramental theology of Reformed advocates for paedo-communion is at odds with their Calvinism, and needs further reforming. There's one thing I'm sure of - that the Scriptures teach a perfect mediation on behalf of Christ. Thus, I believe that Spurgeon's article is not only good in refuting Arminianism. I can say also that automatic infant covenant membership is like a very wide bridge with only half an arch. It doesn't go across the stream, but only half-way; you join the covenant and Christ becomes your covenant mediator, but sadly can't promise that he won't end up dropping you in the middle of the river. I would rather put my foot upon a bridge as narrow as Hungerford bridge (which if you've seen the other posts this last few days you might have guessed I've paddled under!) which goes all the way across. I'd rather have our Jewish friend sad because his children don't get to join in quite as early as they used to do. Rather that than have them fill their faces yet knowing that they, like I, were after all only members of a covenant which at last might leave us lost. Another faulty covenant like the one that went before, having an imperfect mediator and imperfect promises.
"Thank You, Lord Jesus, for fulfilling the OT Feast of Pentecost on this glorious day today! For many years my family and I have celebrated the Feast of Pentecost in Your Presence, rejoicing before You, in eager anticipation of today. Thank You, Lord, that my little children can also be filled with this same Holy Spirit as they also are taught the gospel and believe it, and come into covenant union with the perfect Mediator, Jesus Christ. Thank You Lord that, unlike the days before, everyone in this covenant knows the Lord and will enjoy him forever and that this promise is not restricted to one tribe or nation, but is given freely to everyone, young and old, who believes. Thank You, Lord!"
(The end!)

Bad arguments for infant communion (part 6)

Part one, part two, part three, part four, part five.

Or, alternatively, consider how real Jewish fathers must have praised God in Acts 2, after the Holy Spirit filled His Church:
"Thank You, Lord Jesus, for fulfilling the OT Feast of Pentecost on this glorious day today! For many years my family and I have celebrated the Feast of Pentecost in Your Presence, rejoicing before You, in eager anticipation of today. Thank You, Lord, that my little children will no longer be permitted to feast in Your Presence, now that the fulfillment of Pentecost has finally arrived. Thank You, Lord!
This paragraph is more of the same. Only a spiritual dullard could, when the glorious reality of the New Covenant had arrived, complain that his infants were no longer able to join in the outward ceremonies associated with the types and shadows. Only be overlooking the enormous advance which our children in New Covenant times have gained, now that they can hear and be instructed in the gospel in all of its revealed clarity, could we end up complaining about now being able to get some ceremonial food down their throats. The Lord's Supper is more than mere physical eating - when it is accompanied by a living faith in the gospel which it was instituted to commemorate. Our Jewish friend's real complaint seems to be that his little ones don't yet have that faith which qualifies them to eat.

The not eating here, is not, though, a real loss of privilege. Is not the Lord free to arrange his own covenants whichever way he pleases? On the one hand, he could administer a covenant, as I believe he did with the Old, so that there was an "easy" criteria for membership, but no automatic enjoyment of salvation privileges for those who were members. You just had to be born into the right family to be in covenant with God - but it was no guarantee of heaven. On the other hand, the Lord can administer a covenant, as I believe he has with the New, so that membership is restricted so that nobody has an "automatic" right to it (you must be born again - a sovereign work of God), but that all those who enjoy the membership are also guaranteed to be heirs of the fulness of salvation. Whether you agree that this is the way that Christ has done things or not - is he not free to do so?

If you agree that theoretically the Lord is free to administer the covenants in this way, then you've also seen through the theoretical argument presented above. There's no automatic right for the Old Covenant believer to complain that the New Covenant isn't like the Old, and whine that the Lord is being mean to his children.

The argument we've been examining hinges upon the notion of an automatic right - "expanded covenant privilege". I think I've now shown that this argument is biblically untenable.

To be continued...

What a race!

The 60th Devizes to Westminster 125-mile canoe race was won, after 17 and a half hours of paddling, by Richard Hendron and Ollie Harding by a wafer-thin margin of 45 seconds. One crew took 63,150 seconds to complete the course, whereas the other took 63,195. One crew averaged 7.126 miles per hour; the other average 7.121. The crew in third was just four minutes further back!

That's equivalent, at the pace they were going, to only a 140 metres gap between them at the end - which would be enough to see each other after over 200 kilometres of river.

You have to remember that in a timed race like this, the competitors don't all start at the same time. Each crew has made its own calculations as to when to set off in order to reach the high tide 108 miles later at the right point. Apart from a handful of crews who are in the same area at the same time and that your support crew see come through, you generally have no real idea where the competition is. Nobody does - you have to focus on your own race.

In fact, the crew that won set off 45 minutes later. As they passed through the checkpoint after 97 of the 125 miles, their chief rivals had been through there 47 minutes earlier, meaning that they were two minutes down.

Amazingly, Richard Hendron's previous victory 4 years ago (with his brother Henry), was achieved in the same fashion - winning by 65 seconds having been behind on the split timings at the last check-point (108 miles).

Not many atheists around here...

I live in Kenya, which has many fine features and I consider it a privilege to be here.

It is a country of many contrasts. There is a comfortably-off middle-class whose lives are pretty comparable to most people in the West. On the other hand, enormous numbers of people live in poverty and many areas of the country are underdeveloped, without water, electricity, etcetera. A majority of Kenyans live on less than the equivalent of 1 US dollar a day.

As such, it's a country that a Westerner like myself would need a reason to move to. There are some Westerners here for business as the economy is growing, whilst others, like myself, are here because we believe we have a life-transforming message to share with them - I'm here to make known the good news about Jesus Christ.

One group of people who seem to be completely unrepresented here, though, is atheists. No Kenyan I've asked yet can even remember ever meeting one.

Of course, the fact that someone believes that something-or-other is so good and important that they're willing to move to a country like Kenya in order to share it with others doesn't prove that that something is true. The various different religions who are represented in Kenya teach things which contradict each other; obviously they can't all be right.

On the other hand, though, it seems obvious enough that if a system of thought finds next-to-no adherents who are enthusiastic about it enough to suffer any personal cost in spreading it, then that system of thought must be suspect. If such-and-such insight is an important and life-changing truth about reality, and if there are people who've found it to be so in their own personal experience, shouldn't some of them be motivated to go and share it with others in a self-sacrificial way? It's an obvious fact of human experience that once someone really believes in something, they'll be willing to suffer a lot for it.

It only takes a little reflection and investigation to spot that atheism is a creed whose adherents almost to a man agree that it's not worth any personal discomfort to share. Many of them boldly and dogmatically insist that all talk of the supernatural is no different to believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, pie-in-the-sky hogwash, etcetera. Some of them, such as Professor Richard Dawkins (born in Nairobi!) have spent some of the millions earned from their book deals in order to spread their creed. Where, though, are the ranks and legions of noble missionaries of "free thought" who have made any personal sacrifice in order to spread it? There's not much pain involved in spreading atheism to an already secularist society from the comfort of one's spacious mansion in North Oxford, is there? Where are the martyrs who trekked to the ends of the earth to explain how liberation from religion would bring the human race on by leaps and bounds? Why is it that in third-world countries such as Kenya, it's almost impossible to find any of the "New Atheist" crowd come to share the key to reality with the suffering masses? Dawkins and co. claim to believe these things, but all the evidence of experience is that they are not beliefs that anyone thinks it's worth giving up anything to communicate. Despite spinning the story that atheism is the pinnacle of knowledge, and that dumping all thoughts of the super-natural is the key to scientific progress, true knowledge of ourselves, intellectual fulfillment and advance in the world, etcetera, those who've discovered this alleged "truth" seem, to a man, to be curiously reluctant to risk anything in order to spread this fundamental insight.

A quick tour of the atheist web brings the pieces together quickly enough. When you scratch a militant atheist in the West, you almost invariably find underneath someone who rejected Christianity and/or God at some stage in life. You'll find someone who is fighting a personal battle to justify to themselves their choice. They'll be willing to put considerable effort into it, yes. It's hard work to fight against conscience and the witness of the beautiful and orderly world around us - it takes real effort. That's why so many of them come across, like Dawkins, as the the ultimate epitome of the kind of raving, uncritical fundamentalist that puts the religious version to shame. Yes, there's effort. But are they willing to spend anything that will actually cost them something, and thereby give any kind of credibility to their claims that they have the key to reality? Not a chance.

Is atheism a creed worth giving one's life to? The clear answer from today's atheists is a resounding no.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Phil Johnson on Contextualization

Phil Johnson (John MacArthur's co-labourer, not the Intelligent Design guy) has written a great post on "contextualization", here:

It's good because it will get its readers thinking about what the true and proper aim of adopting or not adopting different practices in evangelism ought to be - to make the gospel as clear as possible - and the mistake which is often made in terms of what it ought not to be - making the gospel as palatable as possible.

A theology of endurance sports

The Bible tells us that we can and should aim for God's glory even in such mundane things as eating and drinking (1 Corinthians 10:31). It also tells us to "redeem the time" (Ephesians 5:16). What does the Bible have to say to help us think God's thoughts about endurance sports - those crazy pursuits that can involve months of training just for a single event?

Here is a totally unsystematic list of thoughts:
  • Such things are uniquely human. Birds might migrate thousands of miles, but they don't do it for sport. It's one of the evidences of our being made in God's image. We're not super-evolved plankton, but have many abilities that far, far outstrip what we would possess if we had evolved by natural selection purely for survival.

  • As such, we can glorify God by doing such things. Such things are a testimony to our creation. As we develop and use some of our latent abilities, we testify to the specialness of man, and glorify God by developing the potential that he gave us.

  • Endurance sports are very useful for developing self-discipline and skills of perseverance and determination. A hard goal is set, a long way off - and bit by bit, worked towards and eventually (hopefully) attained. Sounds a bit like life in miniature!

  • Surely such a thing needs far less justification than many other human activities. Is going for an hour long training run really time less well spent than 60 minutes watching the television, playing a computer game or reading a novel? Note: I didn't say those activities couldn't be justified! I just said that if we're going to start justifying our activities (which we should do), we should justify them all!

  • Even totally unconverted people recognise the pursuit of athletic excellence as being a worthwhile pursuit, worth admiring and rewarding.

  • In my personal experience, at the times I have been fittest because of time spent training, I'm able to do more with the rest of my time; I need less sleep and am less lethargic. Surely God didn't make us to be couch potatoes. (On the other hand, after a hard session I could be tired and find being patient much harder!).

  • There is a lawful place in our lives for every non-sinful activity and experience that exists (Ecclesiastes 3:1ff).

  • I think some godly evangelicals feel guilty if they're not using all their free time in Bible reading, prayer or evangelism. I'm all in favour of more of all of those, and am sure that many ought to feel guilty about the lack of them! But:

  • God gave man a dominion mandate (Genesis 1:28), to subdue and fill the earth. This wasn't revoked at the fall; it just became impossible to fulfill properly without God's work of redemption. It is not just right, but commanded that man should develop all the gifts and potential that God has placed in human life.

  • That is, endurance sports are a gift from God, to be received from his hand with thanksgiving. Forbidding such things is explicitly condemned by God as a false astheticism (1 Timothy 4:1ff)

  • First things must come first. Sports are good, but other things are better. The Bible approves of sports, but never of sin. We must use our gifts where possible, but if God's word places a bar on us in a particular situation, to say "I'm using my gift to God's glory!" is actually rather to use God's gifts against him rather than for him.

  • Unless a change in uniform were allowed, no Christian could be a women's beach volleyball player, without flouting the Bible's instructions about modesty if we measure by God's standards. It's possible to make lots of creative excuses, but we ought to love and value the gathering of God's people more than anything in the world and that's all there is to it. "Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed." - 1 Samuel 2:30.

  • Similarly, on God's day when God's people are gathering, a Christian can never have anything that is more important than being there, or any valid reason not to be there if at all possible. Even if an Olympic Gold medal is at stake, if we measure by God's standard then the gathering of his people is still better. We need to be taught his word, to praise him, to encourage and set a good example to his people, whereas winning gold medals is entirely optional, and the fact that you can only do it once every four years makes not a jot of difference to the relative value of the two. The Bible tells us to "keep the Sabbath day holy" (Exodus 20:8), but even if it didn't then the sheer greatness of the worship of God and Christ's love to us ought to tell us what to do on a Sunday. When triple-jumper Jonathan Edwards had a dream in which someone told him it was OK to compete on Sunday, it was the night-time result of the desires he'd been indulging during the day rather than a result of God changing his mind and deciding that jumping into a sand-pit really was more valuable than the gathering of his people after all.

  • Involvement in endurance sports can become obsessive. When training, the whole life can be geared towards it - bed time, rising time, diet, social activities, etcetera. It can become an idol. Remember: it really is just a game. When there's a conflict, your walk with the Lord, your church, your family and your vocation (assuming you're not a professional athlete!) must all before it.

  • Endurance sports often remind us that it's a fallen world. After months of training, you get injured in the final week, or on the start line. Dreams are shattered. Sometimes life sucks - because we're not in heaven yet, and God had wise reasons for letting us be reminded of it.

  • The Christian life is like an endurance race. Many start, but not all finish. It's one thing to start well, but to get the prize you have to finish well. It's possible to come a long way, and receive absolutely zip for it. You must pace yourself and make it to the end (1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 12:1).

  • The sustained effort which endurance sports require can be a rebuke to us in our spiritual walk. Men go to such impressive lengths of self-denial and exertion in order to get... what? A "corruptible crown" - a medal that will not last forever, and some happy memories. What lengths do we go to in our Christian lives to make progress and extend the kingdom?

Ten Years Ago

You've been warned: self-indulgent nostalgia wallowing incomprehensible to 99.9999% of the human race lies ahead.

Today is an interesting anniversary for me. Ten years ago, Easter Saturday 1998 (which was actually 11th April that year), was the greatest, in terms of challenges and achievements, day of my life. That morning, I completed the race I had begun just under 23 hours earlier, Devizes to Westminster 125-mile International Canoe Marathon, better known to its friends as "the DW".

The Daily Telegraph ran an article on this year's race, which paddlers will be competing in as I type, here: "The DW canoe race: 'The common man's Everest'". It's so-called because it stretches all of its competitors to their limits - but you don't have to travel to Nepal and pay tens of thousands of pounds to do it.

Quoth the Telegraph article:
"It is a race so punishing and physically tough that entrants can experience sleep-deprived hallucinations, exhaustion and hypothermia, not to mention the aches, pains, cramps and sores that come from sitting in a confined wet space for more than 24 hours. Their training regime is tougher than the Lenten fast of an Opus Dei monk, and lasts a lot longer. Social distractions have to be put to one side to prepare the body sufficiently to make the 90,000 paddle strokes required to get to London. Adventurers and SAS types view it not so much as excellent training but as the real thing. To finish, they have to dig deep and call upon every reserve of mental fortitude. And therein lies the DW's appeal."
Last week with my wife I watched the movie "Into Thin Air" about a real-life attempt to climb Everest that turned into disaster. The movie began by telling us that if you don't already understand the attraction of such challenges, it can't be explained to you. I could understand what that meant.


The above photo is of myself and my canoeing partner, Peter Dove, setting off from the start line in Devizes, Wiltshire, at 8.22 a.m., after around 3 years preparation and training. The one below is of us crossing the finish line at Westminster, London, at 7.14 a.m. the next day.
In between the taking of the above two photos, quite a lot happened! We finished in 19th place after 22 hours, 51 minutes and 58 seconds, ahead of all the SAS crews who entered that year. It was the coldest night of the year up until that point, and half of the crews which began didn't make it to the end. We were the youngest crew in the race. We also beat famous polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, but on the other hand he'd only taken up canoeing a few months beforehand! Having run a marathon myself, I have the utmost respect for anyone who's completed that challenge, which is a very considerable one, but trust me: it doesn't even begin to approach the challenge of "the DW". Some people run a marathon off a few months' training; only Sir Ranulph Fiennes, teaming up with an experienced paddler, could even consider doing the same with the DW and have a hope of making it past 1/4 of the way.

Unless I go insane, I will never forget that day, and it will always be one of my most special memories. I'm so thankful that I had the opportunity to do it; thankful to God for his providence in giving me the opportunity, and thankful to all the people who made it possible, especially Peter, our coach David Ward, our long-suffering fathers and teams of supporters. Since then, the race has moved from Friday/Saturday to Saturday/Sunday, and since that time I came to the conviction not to be involved in Sunday sports. I also have responsibilities as a husband and father to young children which could by no means co-exist with the kind of training regime you need for the DW. More than that, as a Christian minister I've been commissioned with an urgent task which needs to have the absolute priority. And I live in the wrong hemisphere! So I don't expect to be able to do anything like it ever again, though if I had could have one wish to do one more thing again before I die, it would be that. Even ten years later, every Easter, like the tide a wave of nostalgia, sweet memories and longing rolls unstoppably in, and I try hard not to bore my wife with it all. Instead I've been doing it to you; but you were warned!

Two more photos: climbing the steps at Westminster: this bit is great because now that you've finished after lugging your own boat for just over 200 kilometres, race stewards carry your boat for you up the stairs! In the final photo, we've received the medals that we went all that way for.

Climbing the steps Having received our medals

Friday, 21 March 2008

The C. S. Lewis Society

Every month I get the newsletter of the C. S. Lewis Society of California. I'm not really sure how that started, but it's fascinating. Every month there are links to a vast array of really interesting information about this remarkable man.

What has really interested me lately about Lewis is how many of the arguments which today's "New Atheists" bring forward as being "science" or the latest "rational thought" he was familiar with and dismantled, and how he anticipated and wrote against the rise of an increasingly centralised secular state.

Here's this month's:

Bad arguments for infant communion (part 5)

Part one, part two, part three, part four.

"Thank You, Lord, for blessing me and my family with this great feast in Your Presence! Thank You for redeeming all of us from slavery in Egypt. And thank You for the great day that is coming, when Your Spirit will fill all of us, Your people, except for our little children. I thank You, God, that the day is coming when this feast of Pentecost is fullfilled, and our little children will no longer be permitted to feast before you as they do today! Praise the Lord!"
I find it rather astonishing that someone as erudite as David Field found the above paragraph a "nice argument" for automatic infant communion. Why?

For starters, why does our hypothetical Jewish friend simply states a falsehood. Why does he say that his little children would no longer permitted to take part in the feast? On the day itself, Peter said exactly the opposite, making clear that the commands he was giving, and the blessings he was offering, were universal:
"Then Peter said unto them, 'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.'"
Peter said that everyone - including children - who repented and believed would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Why, then, does our imaginary Jewish friend object that his little ones are excluded? Only those who don't believe are excluded. The complaint, then, appears to amount to a complaint that unbelievers won't share in the benefits of the New Covenant. What kind of complaint is that? In fact, the teaching that there is no benefit under the New Covenant for those with merely fleshly descendence from Abraham but who lack faith, is one repeatedly made in the New Testament. Do not think that you can say that you are Abraham's children, because God is able to raise up children for Abraham from the stones. You must be born again. It is not the seed of the flesh who inherit the promise, but the children of the promise (Romans 9:8, John 3:7, Luke 3:8).

Maybe our Jewish friend by "little children" means "those too young to be able to make a credible profession of faith". What, though, exactly are such little ones missing out on? According to the words we're looking at, he's missing out on "feasting". What does this mean? This is, after all, supposed to be an argument for paedocommunion. Is our friend trying to say that mere eating of the Lord's Supper, whether or not the person taking part is able to intelligently comprehend the meaning of the supper (in this case because they're too little to understand), is a spiritual benefit? Is this some kind of unrestrained sacramentalism we're face to face with here? Eating without understanding brings benefit which infants, too young to intelligently respond to the gospel, will benefit from even without the gospel? Or is our friend saying that the Lord's Supper is literally a physical feast, just as the Jewish feast days were, and that the little ones are being left out of the fun? Paul seemed to correct that error in 1 Corinthians 11 when he told the church at Corinth to stop confusing the remembrance of the Lord's death for a physical feast. Here's the beauty and also the weakness of a rhetorical argument like the one above - it means everything and nothing.

It seems then that we need to understand exactly what the anti-type of the "feasting" is. What was the actual meaning of Pentecost, considered with New Covenant eyes? The answer has already been given, in the quote from Peter - Pentecost was fulfilled in the giving of the Holy Spirit. Physical eating or being born of the right set of parents (Jewish or Christian) means nothing without this glorious reality.

And that's a reality which little children can share in - and if they do, by the Lord's sovereign grace (not through works, or anything to do with the first birth) share in it, then what loss is it if they don't eat some food at the feast? In due time they will be able to express that reality, and be welcomed to the Lord's table. Our Jewish friend, though, is not complaining specifically that his regenerate, Spirit-filled children can't partake - he's complaining that his children can't qualify simply on the grounds of being children. This brings us full circle, back to the vacuity of the "expanded privileges" point we've been discussing at length already. When rightly understood, the reality of the New Covenant building, now fully constructed, is so glorious that only a dullard who can't see the light of the sun would complain that he no longer enjoys the outward privileges of some of the scaffolding.

To be continued...

More sights you've never seen on the way to your Bible study...

It's Friday again, which means I was going to preach at the early morning Bible study. And along the way, this:

That's the "Household of Faith International Church". Absolutely fantastic. I could never attend it though, as I simply don't have sufficient faith to believe that the building isn't going to collapse on the floor if I enter it. There appear to be about a dozen rather thin branches holding the entire thing up. I hope there are no termites around!

Well, I suppose that if other people go to this church then it's at least reasonable to believe that the whole kaboodle won't topple to the ground. I'd like my faith to have slightly more solid foundations, though. You know - reasons to believe.

The thing I haven't worked out yet is why they chose to elevate this church ten feet off the ground. If it floods that badly that it needs to be off the ground (though it was the only building off the ground I could see), wouldn't just one or two feet be sufficient? Why ten? Did they figure that if the rapture comes on Sunday morning, they'll have a head-start?

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Bad arguments for infant communion (part 4)

Part one, part two, part three.
"Thank You, Lord, for blessing me and my family with this great feast in Your Presence! Thank You for redeeming all of us from slavery in Egypt. And thank You for the great day that is coming, when Your Spirit will fill all of us, Your people, except for our little children. I thank You, God, that the day is coming when this feast of Pentecost is fullfilled, and our little children will no longer be permitted to feast before you as they do today! Praise the Lord!"
If you've been following the plot so far, then you'll understand that the above piece of rhetoric with which we began this series has no more necessary Biblical logic to it than this one:
"Thank You, Lord, for blessing me and my family with this great feast in Your Presence! Thank You for redeeming all of us from slavery in Egypt and giving us this land. And thank You for the great day that is coming, when You will take it from us again. I thank You, God, that the day is coming when this feast of Pentecost is fullfilled, and our little children will no longer be given the covenantal privilege to live here as they do today! Praise the Lord!"
Similarly, we were invited to consider this fine speech:
"Thank You, Lord Jesus, for fulfilling the OT Feast of Pentecost on this glorious day today! For many years my family and I have celebrated the Feast of Pentecost in Your Presence, rejoicing before You, in eager anticipation of today. Thank You, Lord, that my little children will no longer be permitted to feast in Your Presence, now that the fulfillment of Pentecost has finally arrived. Thank You, Lord!
The counterpart of which reads like this:
"Thank You, Lord Jesus, for fulfilling the OT Feast of Pentecost on this glorious day today! For many years my family and I have celebrated the Feast of Pentecost in our promised land, rejoicing before You, in eager anticipation of today. Thank You, Lord, that my little children will no longer be permitted to feast in this land, now that the fulfillment of Pentecost has finally arrived, but will be kicked out before this generation passses away. Thank You, Lord!
I take it that the brother who composed the above paragraphs thought that they were really solid arguments for paedo-communion. What rotter could believe that God would start becoming mean to children once the New Covenant came, as if the New Covenant were meant to be worse than the Old? I take it also, though, that the same brother can see the gaping logical fallacies when the same "expanded covenant privileges" argument is used to argue that the same children ought to retain possession of the land as well?

To be continued...

Science, Creation and Evolutionism

Dr. Jonathan Sarfati has written an article which is practically a guided tour of the current state of many aspects of the creation-evolution debate, and the dishonesty of overt atheists who hide their true beliefs in order to enforce the teaching of evolution without criticism by force of law in schools.

It's written in response to the US "National Academy of Science"'s recent updating of its anti-creationist booklet. To give a flavour of how much ground it covers, here's the table of contents:
 1.  Does science need evolution? 
  •  Does medicine need evolution? 
  •  Agriculture and evolution? 
  •  Evidence for common ancestry: homologies? 
  •  Evolution of mankind? 
  •  Whale evolution? 
  •  Molecular evidence? 
  •  Evolution in action? 
  •  Mutations and evolution of bodily changes 
  •  Evolution of bodily changes: Hox genes? 
  •  Gene duplication 
  •  Have claims of intelligent design been refuted? 
  •  Eye 
  •  Practical application of evolution? 
  •  Evolution v biology 
  •  Origin of first life; Chemical evolution 
  •  Problems with panspermia 
  •  Cosmic evolution? 
  •  How old is the Earth? 
  •  Self-serving SEC definitions of ‘science’ 
 2.  Is evolution compatible with religion? 
  •  Terms 
  •  Track record 
  •  Other ‘proofs’ of ‘no conflict’ 
 Appendix  : Education and legal issues 
  •  Mandatory teaching in public schools? 
  •  Separation of school and state 
  •  American legal aspects
I particularly appreciate the following two honest quotes from the appendix, one by an agnostic and another by an evolutionist libertarian, both facing up to the facts about state schools (in an American context) a lot more frankly than many Christians seem willing to do:
‘Indeed, we believe that the penalty that is now imposed on parents who do not send their children to public schools violates the spirit of the First Amendment, whatever lawyers and judges may decide about the letter. Public schools teach religion too, not a formal, theistic religion, but a set of values and beliefs that constitute a religion in all but name. The present arrangements abridge the religious freedom of parents who do not accept the religion taught by the public schools yet are forced to pay to have their children indoctrinated with it, and to pay still more to have their children escape indoctrination.’
‘[T]he key source of the school wars we and others have experienced has always been compulsion: forcing people to either send their children to or pay for schooling that violates their convictions. When there is no compulsion, conflict is relatively insignificant. Consider other marketplaces, such as the one for religion. Do Protestants picket outside synagogues saying, “No, Jesus wasn’t just some guy, he was God!!!!” Nope. Despite the fact that people often feel very strongly about their religious views, it’s live and let live, because there is no compulsion in the religious marketplace.

‘Liberals, ironically, think that a liberal education system based on parental choice would be socially divisive. They have it exactly backwards: it is the compelled conformity of a single officially-established school system that is socially divisive. Individual freedom in other areas of American life, especially religion, is the reason we have had such a comparatively stable and peaceful society. If we got rid of the one significant remaining area of cultural and ideological compulsion, the official school monopoly, the current red vs. blue animosity would lessen substantially (though of course there are reasons why it wouldn’t go away entirely).’
The bits where Sarfati reviews the NAS's attempts to argue that evolution and theism are compatible too are also amusing, as Sarfati points out that the NAS's membership has only 7% who believe in a personal god, with more than one of the committee behind the booklet in other contexts holding precisely the opposite position to that in the booklet, i.e. that evolution absolutely rules out theism. One team who sought to investigate the make-up of the NAS wrote:
‘NAS President Bruce Alberts said: “There are very many outstanding members of this academy who are very religious people, people who believe in evolution, many of them biologists.” Our research suggests otherwise.’
Here's another great quote:
Sometimes the NAS committee is so keen to attack creation or ID with pseudo-philosophical word games that they can’t even think straight. E.g. SEC makes this blunder in two sentences:
"However, the claims of intelligent design creationists are disproven by the findings of modern biology. … (two pages later) ... Intelligent design is not a scientific concept because it cannot be empirically tested."
But if the claims of ID are ‘disproven’ by certain findings, then they must have been empirically ‘tested’ and failed this test, which is impossible if they "cannot be empirically tested"! But since these sentences are two pages apart, their attention span may have been too small to notice this blatant contradiction.
The article is full of fascinating links which further develop the various points briefly made. Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Letter from a Christian citizen

Doug Wilson's brilliant response to "New Atheist" Sam Harris's "Letter to a Christian Nation" is being sold at £3.50 each or £12 for 5 (which is £2.40 each). (Harris along with Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens is considered one of the leaders of the "New Atheist" movement). This book would be a great gift to give, and at that price you can buy in bulk. There are also a few left with the offer of a free short DVD called  "Imagine... there's no God - a challenge to atheism."

Get it from CMI, here.

Bad arguments for infant communion (part 3)

Part one, part two.

At this point, a further Baptist assertion can be made. The debate over infant communion and infant baptism is often framed by the paedobaptist or paedocommunionist in terms of "whether there is continuity between the covenants or not". This is actually a red herring. Once the paedo-whatnot has conceded that the New Covenant fulfillment of the Old Covenant land promises should be seen in terms of a spiritual inheritance during the present time and a physical inheritance only in the age to come, he can't frame the debate that way any longer. At this point, both Baptist and non-Baptist have agreed that Old Covenant promises do not have to move in only one direction and dimension (expanded privileges, nothing can be withdrawn). We have agreed that they can evolve in a complex way such that today the physical territory doesn't actually covenantally belong to anyone - that in one sense the privilege has contracted. If the paedo-baptist/communionist admits this, then he can't any more just slap down the "expanded privileges" card when talking about baptism or communion as if it were a trump suit. If the way in which the expansion of covenantal blessing works out for land is in some sense a spiritual and/or future fulfillment, then he's accepted the principle that Baptists argue for in the case of baptism and the Lord's Supper. He can no longer rule it out a priori as an illegitimate option. In other words, if he argues like a Baptist on one point, then this means that we're no longer debating "continuity or not" - we both accept that continuity is not a straightforward yes/no option. We're now debating the extent to which "spiritualisation" and "futurisation" take place and where it applies, not whether they take place at all. On this issue of the land, it's ironically only the Zionist dispensationalist who's actually taking the supposed principle of irrevocable covenant privileges and applying it consistently, though he seriously misidentifies who God's covenant people actually are.

It appears at this point that our imaginary Jewish friend, quoted in part one, is taking a rather simplistic view of things. Next, I want to examine what he's actually said.

To be continued...

A kingdom that shall never pass away

One of the most striking things about Biblical prophecy is its sheer boldness.

Most Westerners today of course aren't really familiar with the Bible, or with other religions, and tend to assume that other religions must be quite like what's in the Bible, whatever that is. This, though, isn't true at all. The Bible is quite unique in the long range promises of enormous scope which it makes. Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, to take three prominent examples, hardly make any prophecies at all.

Biblical prophecy is astonishing because its exponents, in the most dire situations where the people of Israel seemed to be completely dominated or even crushed by some super-power, boldly proclaim that all the kingdoms of the earth shall pass away but that the kingdom God is building never will. They flatly state that the nations that then existed will one day be found no more, but that all over the earth people will be worshiping the God of Israel because of the coming Messiah. "All nations whom you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord; and shall glorify your name." - Psalm 86:9. "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it." - Isaiah 2:2. The astonishing thing about so many of these prophecies is just how far away they seemed from even being slightly possible at the time they were given. It's the nature of false prophets to limit their predictions to the feasible, in case they should make their own fraud obvious.

Whether it's under the suffocating dominance of the almighty historical empires of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar, or the Medo-Persian empire, or whilst looking forward to the immense coming conquests of Alexander the Great, or under the seemingly invincible reign of the Roman Empire and its Caesars, the plot never changes. All these empires will pass away, but the work that God had begun in Israel would continue to grow and grow, until it covers the whole earth and has superseded the nations and empires of the world entirely.

Were the Biblical prophets right? Has invincible Babylon continued to do exactly as it pleased? Is Caesar still the indisputable lord of the human race? Is the unconquerable might of Rome still prevailing? If not, are God's people still here? Has the story which began with Israel continued, and gained multitudes adherents across the globe? Do peoples across the world now worship the God of Israel, because of someone who came? What does these remarkably large and accurate prophecies tell us about the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth?

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Abortion petition

"The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, now in the House of Commons, provides the first opportunity for 18 years for changing the law on abortion.

Please sign the new petition at calling on Parliament to support amendments to reduce the number of abortions in the UK from 200,000 a year and to oppose amendments that would further liberalise the abortion law.

Please also alert others to this."

For past generations, the battles against slavery and against racism were the defining battles of their time. In both cases, there was a large apathetic majority, and many sympathisers for the status quo who produced many bogus arguments for their cause.

The same is true today. The ending of the lives of babies in their mothers' wombs is absolutely indefensible, just as considering those babies as inferior beings because of the wrong ancestry, or considering them as someone else's possession are absolutely indefensible. Just because there is a "debate" does not mean that the arguments used by abortion's defenders are any less bogus than those used in the "debate" by slave masters and racists of past generations.

Legalised abortion will one day fall, just as legalised slavery and racism have. The only question will be whether it's in our generation, or whether we'll fail our tiny human brothers and sisters and leave it to others.

Federal Vision Essay Online

I've turned my series of blog posts on the Federal Vision and the language of appearance into an online essay, hopefully for greater usefulness:

Please consider linking it, blogging about it, etcetera, if you've found it useful.

Bad arguments for infant communion (part 2)

It's not too tricky to find other examples though which show that the "expanded privileges" formula is overly simplistic, and needs careful examination in each case rather than allowing a blanket application:
  • The Old Covenant believers were given a physical territory - New Covenant believers aren't.
  • Old Covenant believers had the visible presence of the Shekinah glory - we don't.
  • Old Covenant believers were defended from physical harm by an earthly king - we aren't.
Now, I don't doubt at all that any half-educated paedo-baptist will point out something about the above cases. He'll point out that our New Covenant privileges in the relevant area far exceed those of the Old; that the thing mentioned was largely external, and foreshadowed a far greater reality to come. That reality in each case would be heaven and/or the new heavens and the new earth, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or the kingly rule of our Saviour at the right hand of God. The Jew's privileges were just part of the scaffolding, whilst the New Testament church was being constructed.

To that I say, amen and amen. It's just that Baptists say the same thing about infant participation in the outward ordinances of the Old Covenant. The membership of the physical seed of Abraham in the covenant was a shadow of the spiritual seed of Abraham. It was part of the scaffolding, because it maintained the existence of a people of God on earth despite rampant apostacy, ready for the time of the coming of the Messiah. It ensured that there would be a distinct people for Christ to appear amongst - and other purposes.

The privileges enjoyed by my children are vastly greater than those enjoyed by those of the Old Covenant, whether they eat or drink something or not. They have the glorious truths about the Lord Jesus Christ and his saving work taught to them daily. Though they may not eat the bread and the wine, it's biblically indefensible to hold that they're worse off than the Jews when they are presented with message of the cross and the resurrection without types or shadows clouding the view. Sometimes when I read such "expanded privileges" arguments as quoted in my opening post, I wonder if the person making such an argument really realises what he's saying. Has he become a full-blown sacramentalist who thinks that hearing the gospel is only a minor consolation compared to being able to eat bread and drink wine? Or does he think that Baptists leave their children in the car park when they go to church?

I'd challenge any paedo-communion-ist who affirms that the inheritance that we promised us in the gospel is greater than the physical land possessed by the Jews, and who affirms that the indwelling of Christ in believers is a greater privilege than the Shekinah glory in the temple, as to why he cannot also affirm that being raised and instructed with the gospel in its New Testament clarity is a far greater privilege than it was to eat the Passover.

To be continued...

Bad arguments for infant communion

Recommended at David Field's blog as a "fine thing", we are given the following from here as a "nicely phrased argument ... for paedo-communion":
I believe in paedobaptism and paedocommunion. But just for a moment, let's consider the alternative. If [those who reject paedobaptism and paedocommunio] ... are right, then carefully consider what was being anticipated and celebrated by God's people in the OT. How would they praise God during the Feast of Pentecost? . . .

"Thank You, Lord, for blessing me and my family with this great feast in Your Presence! Thank You for redeeming all of us from slavery in Egypt. And thank You for the great day that is coming, when Your Spirit will fill all of us, Your people, except for our little children. I thank You, God, that the day is coming when this feast of Pentecost is fullfilled, and our little children will no longer be permitted to feast before you as they do today! Praise the Lord!"

Or, alternatively, consider how real Jewish fathers must have praised God in Acts 2, after the Holy Spirit filled His Church:

"Thank You, Lord Jesus, for fulfilling the OT Feast of Pentecost on this glorious day today! For many years my family and I have celebrated the Feast of Pentecost in Your Presence, rejoicing before You, in eager anticipation of today. Thank You, Lord, that my little children will no longer be permitted to feast in Your Presence, now that the fulfillment of Pentecost has finally arrived. Thank You, Lord!

In the debates over infant baptism and infant communion, this argument is normally called the "argument from expanded privileges". Its form is something like this:
  1. The privileges enjoyed by any individual under the New Covenant cannot be less than those under the Old, because the New is more glorious.
  2. Person X enjoyed privilege Y under the Old Covenant.
  3. Therefore they must enjoy it under the New also.
When our children are involved, this argument can be worded quite emotively. The above "nice phrased argument" is an example of such. The upshot is that Baptists are baddies because they're mean to children who treat them worse than even infants under the Old dispensation were treated.

With many paedo-baptists, Baptists can use argumentation like the above as a point in their favour. Most Reformed paedo-baptists historically haven't accepted the doctrine of paedo-communion. As such, when an argument with the same form as the above is used in favour of infant baptism, the Baptist can simply re-work it to show that it just as much support paedo-communion, and if it's not necessarily valid in the one case then it's not in the other either. Obviously this doesn't work as any kind of argument with those who do accept paedo-communion!

To be continued...

Monday, 17 March 2008

Provocative thoughts on Christian education

David Field of Oak Hill College has some deliberately provocative thoughts on Christian education - well worth reading.

Get it here.

The Scandal Of The Cross

“The claim that God is to be encountered and salvation found in a crucified man — a man stripped of all status and honour, dehumanized, the lowest of the low — is the offence of the cross. This is the real scandal of particularity — not just that God’s universal purpose pivots on one particular human being . . ., but, much worse, that God’s universal purpose pivots on this particular human being, the crucified one. No wonder the rulers of this age did not recognize him (1 Corinthians 2:8). For those who see God in the image of their own power and status there could be no recognition of God in the cross.” - Richard Bauckham

HT: Of First Importance

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Seen any films lately?

Do you watch many films? My wife and I have a movie night and watch a DVD, normally borrowed from friends, most weeks. We've done this for 3 years or so now. I like adventures, my wife likes romance!

Someone lent us the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy recently. It has a rather bleak feel - there is an almost overwhelmingly powerful force of evil, countered only by a small band of friends. (Edit some time later: now that I have read the books and re-watched the films, I see that on my first watching of the films, I missed many of the subtle indications of hope).

Once you've watched a few dozen movies, some things become pretty clear.

The idea of a grand battle between good and evil is hard-wired into the human pysche. We have the idea that the world is not as it ought to be, and that it needs rescuing. We have the idea that evil is not just an ethereal and impersonal substance, but personal. We believe very strongly in some kind of perfectly pure and good hero who can pull off a wonderful rescue, even though none of us have ever met such a being in the flesh. We sense that history is not just meandering aimlessly through the shrubbery, but is heading towards a definite goal, involving a grand showdown between good and evil - in which evil will experience a final and utter defeat. If one thing is testified to with overwhelming certainty, it's that human beings believe in the reality of the unseen world - that we're not just a sack of chemicals.

Of course, there have been those who reject the Christian worldview and anything resembling it, and have put their atheistic beliefs into expression in art, culture and films. Such films have almost invariably been either dull as ditchwater, twisted and bizarre, or thoroughly repulsive; thankfully they're easy enough to avoid.

There's some kind of wonderful story in history, which human beings, no matter how godless, cannot erase their consciousness of. It keeps coming out - it has to, because we know it's there, even if the director couldn't put his finger on it and define it. There is a striving in the human spirit to get in touch with this reality, even amongst those totally clueless as to what it is.

The good news is that that story is only palely reflected in the world's films. It's better than all of them. We in the church already enjoy the mystery of the fellowship of the king as we travel along the way. Satan's strongholds are being taken down as the gospel advances, because in fact the ultimate battle has already been fought and our Lord has died and risen again. The return of the king awaits, and will be even better that we can ever imagine!

Friday, 14 March 2008

Real Peace

I live in Kenya. Here we're enjoying peace again, after the politicians came to an agreement.

It is, though, only the normal human kind of peace - which means it's a relative kind of peace. It's the kind of peace where the opposing sides have got enough of what they each wanted, and will agree to tolerate each other - until next time. There's plenty of scope for some more arguments in future. It's a peace built upon compromise - give me some of what I want, and I'll let you have some of what you want, and we'll not say too much about our former fall-out.

The peace which Jesus Christ brings is a completely different kind of peace. It's a real peace; a peace built upon a solid foundation.

Through the gospel, God and man are reconciled. The problems are not just brushed under the carpet or conveniently overlooked. Jesus Christ made a real atonement for sinners, so that God can embrace them without reservation - their wrong-doings have been dealt with. The price is paid - God has all that his holy justice and honour required. His righteous anger is appeased, and now he sees us only in Christ: seeing the perfection of his only beloved.

On man's side the Holy Spirit brings a new attitude towards God in the believer's heart. Christians are no longer doing what's right "just because they have to" or because they don't want to get caught, etcetera. The new-born child of God does what's right because he wants to. He has a new nature, and loves his Father and his Father's ways - the ways of holiness.

It's a real reconciliation - real peace, now and always. It won't flare up again, because God will finish the work he has begun in the believer. It's the ultimate peace, which will last into eternity. Is that the peace you're enjoying? We are and will, whether the politicians like each other or not.

The Apostate

But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb,
The dog is turned to his own vomit again;
and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."

2 Peter 2:22

(That's a real stream of sewage, that is!)

That's part of the view on the way back from Friday's early morning Bible study in the Kijiji slum in Nairobi.
Can you post a more interesting view on the way to your weekly Bible study?

Thursday, 13 March 2008

"For unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required"

"For unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required" (Luke 12:48)

For some a few years now, I've felt as if these words were being repeated in my ears almost constantly. It's a principle that runs throughout Scripture. We, believers, and especially preachers, are stewards (1 Corinthians 4:1ff). We have been entrusted with something incredibly precious - the words of the gospel.

More widely, we who speak English and have been brought up in the West have an incredible range of opportunities - a field so vast that it would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago. We can:
  • Send letters or e-mails of encouragement to missionaries with just a few clicks, whereas in previous centuries it would have taken months. We can even ring them up and speak to them.

  • Hear news of and send aid in minutes to needy believers in far-flung places (see the previous blog post!). Be able to have your money go an incredibly long way in helping poor believers in countries where pounds sterling stretch really far.

  • Have easy access to the most amazing range of godly and useful literature - delivered to your door by 9 a.m. tomorrow! Small books, chunky commentaries, Biblical language learning aids, etcetera etcetera...

  • Hear some of the world's most gifted preachers whilst walking to work, or jogging in the park - a few clicks and a free download away.

  • Have the opportunity to gain the highest quality educational available, and study on campus or at home.

  • Be able to communicate with almost anyone you need to, whenever you need to, wherever you are.

  • Be able to collaborate on anything you choose with anyone you need to without leaving your desk.

  • Be able to look back on 2000 years of Christian history, understand which way the wind is blowing, and act wisely.

  • Living in a secular society, we have the opportunity to show the Christian difference much more clearly than in previous years when society was nominally Christian.

  • And so on...

What a staggeringly immense amount we have been given. Christians living today in the modern west ought to be the most godly, learned and productive Christians that the world has ever seen. We've been given much - much more than our ancestors could even begin to imagine.

And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required.