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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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Building Altars to the Lord

Quoting Dr. Sidney Greidanus, professor of preaching emeritus, Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan:

Have you ever been to Europe and seen the many beautiful cathedrals there? People who see them are impressed by their sheer size. Generation after generation worked on these monuments; sometimes for hundreds of years. It is clear what was central for these people: the worship of God. Life revolved around the Christian religion. The cathedral was the highest building in town; it was also located in the center of town. People were baptized there, worshiped there, confessed their sins there, married there, and were buried there. Worship of God in the cathedral was the focus of their lives.

But what are the highest buildings in our cities today? Not churches but the high-rises of banks and multinational corporations. And these towering high rises also reveal what is considered important in our society. You see, a shift has taken place in modern culture. Life is no longer centered on God and his church. The center has shifted to banks and multinational corporations, the sponsors of materialism and consumerism.

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Religious Freedom Versus White House War Of Regulations

The church/state debate continues to heat up in spite of the recent unanimous 9-0 margin, when the Supreme Court overruled the idea that the federal government can tell a church who it must employ as a minister if the church violates anti-discrimination employment guidelines. The White House claimed that there is no special protection for clergy in our Constitution. However, the Supreme Court ruled that it “is hard to square with the text of the First Amendment itself, which gives special consideration to the rights of religious organizations. We cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.”

Now, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law on March 23, 2010, seeks to force Catholic universities, hospitals, and charities to give insurance to their employees covering contraception — even though this violates the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The policy says that Catholic hospitals can only invoke the “conscience clause” — and get an exemption on the new rules — if they turn away patients of other faiths. Catholic hospitals have never turned people away because of their religious beliefs. Instead of asking “”Are you hungry or sick?” The Church would be forced to ask “”Are you Catholic?”

Arlington (Va.) Bishop Paul Loverde called the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services order “a direct attack against religious liberty.” Bishop Alexander Sample of Marquette, Mich., stated: “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.” This is not just a Catholic issue; there is growing concern in other denominations that this is an assault on religious freedom.

Let us take a look at what the First Amendment actually says:

I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

We often hear about “”a wall of separation” between church and state in America. However, this phrase cannot be found in either the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. The phrase occurs in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to an assembly of Baptists in Connecticut. The quote is usually used out of context.

The real purpose of the “Establishment Clause was to prohibit Congress from imposing a national religion upon the people; and to prohibit Congress (and the Federal government generally) from meddling with existing church-state relations in the several States. Thus the “Establishment Clause is linked directly to the “Free Exercise Clause. It was designed to promote religious freedom by forbidding Congress to prefer one Christian denomination over another Christian denomination.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was not intended as a declaration of governmental hostility toward religion. The phrase “”prohibiting the free exercise thereof” was meant to keep Congress from ever meddling in the disputes among religious bodies or interfering with their mode of worship and seeking to regulate the many ministries of the church.

Since Thomas Jefferson quote is the source of much of the negative political view of religion as expressed by the political left in our country, we would do well to find out what else Jefferson had to say about the First Amendment Establishment Clause:

“In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general [federal] government. (Jefferson, Second Inaugural Address, 1805)

“[O]ur excellent Constitution . . . has not placed our religious rights under the power of any public functionary. (Jefferson, Letter to the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1808)

“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions . . . or exercises. (Jefferson, Letter to Samuel Millar, 1808)

It is clear that Jefferson believed the First Amendment did not allow the Federal Government to limit, restrict, regulate, or interfere with public religious practices and religious institutions. The intent of the First Amendment’s “establishment” clause was, according to Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, “. . . to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects.” This is confirmed by the preliminary draft of the First Amendment proposed by James Madison to the House of Representatives in 1789:

“The Civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.

President James Madison also appointed Joseph Story (1779-1845) as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Joseph Story continued on the bench for 34 years, until his death in 1845. Joseph Story wrote tremendously influential works, including: Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 1833; and A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States, 1840. The following are a few of Justice Story‘s quotes about the “Establishment Clause:

“Probably, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the Amendment to it now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the State so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship.

“Temporary delusions, prejudices, excitements, and objects have irresistible influence in mere questions of policy. And the policy of one age may ill suit the wishes or the policy of another. The constitution is not subject to such fluctuations. It is to have a fixed, uniform, permanent construction. It should be, so far at least as human infirmity will allow, not dependent upon the passions or parties of particular times, but the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.

“It yet remains a problem to be solved in human affairs, whether free government can be permanent, where the public worship of God, and the support of religion, constitute no part of the policy or duty of the state in any assignable shape. . . .

But the duty of supporting religion, and especially the Christian religion, is very different from the right to force the consciences of other men, or to punish them for worshipping God in the manner, which, they believe, their accountability to him requires.

In the case of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, we see clearly an attempt by Federal authorities to assault religious freedom by forcing the hospital ministry of the Catholic Church to violate it’s own moral teachings. I wonder which protestant denomination the government bureaucrats will be coming for next?

The Nurturing Church

R. C. Sproul

Quoting R. C. Sproul

“Holy mother church”—historians are not certain who first said it. The statement has been attributed by some to Cyprian, by others to Augustine. The assertion has survived since the early centuries of Christian history—”Who does not have the church as his mother does not have God as his Father.” From its earliest days, the church was given the appellation “mother.”

The use of paternal and maternal language is an intriguing phenomenon in religion. We cannot deny the virtual universal tendency to seek ultimate consolation in some sort of divine maternity. We have all experienced the piercing poignancy that attends the plaintiff cry of a child who, in the midst of sobs, says, “I want my mommy.” Who of us, when we were children, did not utter these words? Among those who are parents, which of us has not heard these words?

The nurturing function of the church most clearly links it to the maternal image. It is in the church that we are given our spiritual food. We gain strength from the sacraments ministered to us. Through the Word we receive our consolation and the tears of broken hearts are wiped clean. When we are wounded, we go to the church for healing.

Read more here. . . .

Reformation Day Is A Time For Christians To Celebrate!

If you are not familiar with Reformation Day, it celebrates the day that the Reformation began in Europe with Martin Lutherposting his 95 theses on the Wittenburg church door to protest the selling of indulgences on October 31, 1517. Little did he realize how his 95 theses would be used by God to change the world. His desire was to see the Catholic Church reform in terms of God’s Word. His intention was to begin a

Martin Luther

discussion with other teachers in the Catholic Church. Instead, Luther was used by God to begin a reformation of the church by returning to the foundation of Scripture alone. Scripture alone taught that salvation was not earned or sold by indulgences and grace was God’s alone to give.

Martin Luther is widely considered the father of the Protestant Reformation. As a monk, Luther struggled to find peace with God. He dedicated himself to fasting, flagellation, long hours in prayer, pilgrimage and constant confession. In all these rituals, he still did not find peace with God. Later, he was ordered to pursue an academic career and in doing so studied Scripture in-depth. In his studies as a Monk and university professor, Luther began to develop a sense that the Roman Church had abandoned several essential doctrines of the Christian faith; among these was what he considered to be the chief article of Christian Doctrine: Justification by Faith Alone (Sola Fide). This doctrine states that justification is entirely a work of God (monergism) and is received by men through faith in Jesus Christ. This runs contrary to the understanding taught by the Roman Church that justification is an act of coöperation between God and man (synergism).

The teachings of the Reformation are established upon Scripture alone. These doctrines are Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and all the glory to God alone. Salvation is only found by going to Christ, not by going through the motions of external obedience. The righteousness of Christ is received by faith alone. Christ’s righteousness, not ours, allows us to stand before a Holy and Just God. Christ alone is our sanctification and it is He who has paid the ransom price to purchase us from the consequences of sin and make us children of God.

One sola of the Reformation, “sola scripture”, includes emphasis on the implementation of the entire Bible in our living out our lives. We can celebrate on Reformation Day the same truth that Luther rediscovered then: that salvation is by faith alone through grace alone.

Huldrych Zwingli

History records that Luther, Calvin and other reformers were not greeted with open arms in appreciation for their work. In fact, they faced much opposition. Many were martyred for holding to reformation principles. Let us mention three of the most well-known men here:

Huldrych Zwingli was a contemporary of Martin Luther and the leader of the Swiss Reformation. Although much less recognized, Zwingli was developing many of the same conclusions concurrently with Luther. Zwingli was killed in a battle against the Roman Cantons at Kappel am Albis in October of 1851.

John Calvin is the much celebrated father of Calvinism and much of what we now call Reformed Christian theology. While, today, Calvin is often singled out for his teachings on election and predestination, most of the earlier reformers held to this view as well. The overarching theme of Calvin’s teaching was an emphasis on the sovereignty of God, or that God is absolutely sovereign in all things. His book, Institutes of the Christian Religion, and his commentaries on the books of the Bible are still used today (especially by me!).

John Knox was the leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland and a student and contemporary of John Calvin. Prior to his instruction in Geneva, he was an influential reformer in the Church

John Knox

of England. During one of his frequent exiles he settled in Geneva where he was instructed in the particulars of Calvin’s Reformed theology and Presbyterian church government. Upon returning to Scotland, he was influential in the Scottish Reformation and in creating the Kirk (now Church of Scotland), instituted after Scotland’s break with Rome in 1560.

While the Reformation continues to have profound and lasting impacts on the political, economic, social, literary, and artistic aspects of modern society, it is at its heart a religious movement. The Reformation was the great rediscovery of the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

The truth of the gospel — is that God offers forgiveness and salvation not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has already done for us. The Holy Spirit used Martin Luther to restore the gospel to its rightful place as the cornerstone doctrine of Christianity. Martin Luther and the other reformers came to understand that if we sinners had to earn salvation by our own merits and good works, we would be lost and without hope. However, through the working of the Holy Spirit, the reformers rediscovered the truth of Scripture.

True Christianity Requires Correct Opinions

Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield

Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield graduated with highest honors in 1871 at the age of nineteen, from the College of New Jersey, later to be named Princeton University. In 1872, while in Heidelberg, Germany, he decided to enter the ministry. He then entered Princeton Theological Seminary and graduated with the class of 1876. In 1878 he took a position at Western Theological Seminary as instructor in New Testament language and literature. He left the seminary after nine years to take the chair of Systematic Theology at Princeton University. Warfield believed that God’s authoritative agents in founding the Church gave the Scriptures as authoritative to the Church which Jesus founded. All the authority of the apostles stands behind the Scriptures, and all the authority of Christ behind the apostles. The Scriptures are simply the law-code which the law-givers of the Church gave to the church. In the following essay, Warfield explains why the doctrines taught by the Scriptures are so important:

A recent writer opens his book with the words: “The present generation is impatient of theological distinctions.” He lets the cat out of the bag when he begins the next paragraph with the words: “There is a good deal of common sense in this reaction against the theological hair-splitting of former times.” He has, perhaps not unnaturally, mistaken his own opinion for the general judgment of the day. The truth is that the world, even in this generation, is made up of a good many people; and a good many varying points of view may be found represented among them. Some are very impatient of theological distinctions, and some are very patient of them: the most are patient to a fault with those they themselves wish to make, and quite impatient of those made by others. The fact is, of course, that everybody makes and must make theological distinctions. Men differ only as they make sound or unsound distinctions, and through these distinctions embrace and live by truth or error.

It is easy to say: “We refuse to believe that a man’s opinions on the minute details of history or metaphysics are sufficient either to admit or to exclude him from the Kingdom of grace and glory.” But when we have said that, we have already expressed a portentous opinion. We have also made a tremendous theological distinction; we have made it most unsoundly; and, as a consequence, we have cast ourselves into the arms of the grossest error, which must mar all our life. The truth is that a man’s opinions on matters of historical fact or of metaphysical truth—call them opinions on minute details or not, as you choose—are absolutely determinative of his whole life. . . .

He who adopts this definite set of metaphysical and historical opinions is so far on his way to being a Christian. He who rejects them, or treats them as indifferent, is not even on his way to being a Christian. This is not to say that Christianity is just a body of metaphysical and historical opinions. But it is to say that Christianity is, among other things, a body of metaphysical and historical opinions. It is absurd to say that a man can be a Christian who is of the opinion that there is no God; or that no such person as Jesus ever lived: or who does not believe very many very definite things about the really existing God and the actually living Jesus. . . .

No man can have faith, or hope, or love, who is not consciously in the presence of an object on which his faith and hope and love can rest. He must be of the opinion that the object exists, and that it is such as to justify or even to command his faith, hope, or love. It sounds very well to rail at “opinions” in contrast with “solid substantial religion.” Did “solid substantial religion” ever exist apart from the “opinions” which lie at its basis? A man who is of the opinion that there is no God will not manifest “solid substantial religion” in his life. . . . “Faith” in Jesus-in his blood (Rom. iii. 37) and his righteousness (2 Pet. i. 1) —cannot possibly get itself born except on the basis of quite a body of very definite and very definitely held “opinions.” No man can live a Christian life who is not first of “the Christian persuasion”. . . .

Whatever we may say of a so-called Christianity which is nothing but “opinions,” there is no Christianity which does not begin with opinions, which is not formed by opinions, and which is not the outworking of these opinions in life. Only we would better call them “convictions.” Convictions are the root on which the tree of vital Christianity grows. No convictions, no Christianity . . . Ignorance is not the mother of religion, but of irreligion. The knowledge of God is eternal life, and to know God means that we know him aright. (“Faith & Life”)

Christianity And Humanism

Dorthy Sayers

After 12 novels and several collections of short stories, Dorothy L. Sayers announced that she intended to stop writing fiction and to turn to more serious subjects. Sayers viewed all life in terms of the incarnation. She lectured and wrote on the imperative need to make Christian dogma meaningful in ordinary life. In this essay, she stresses that it is fatal to allow people to suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling and that it is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vague, idealistic aspiration. She believed Christianity to be a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine steeped uncompromising realism:

A young and intelligent priest remarked to me the other day that he thought one of the greatest sources of strength in Christianity today lay in the profoundly pessimistic view it took of human nature. There is a great deal in what he says. The people who are most discouraged and made despondent by the barbarity and stupidity of human behavior at this time are those who think highly of Homo Sapiens as a product of evolution, and who still cling to an optimistic belief in the civilizing influence of progress and enlightenment. To them, the appalling outbursts of bestial ferocity in the Totalitarian States . . . are not merely shocking and alarming. For them, these things are the utter negation of everything in which they have believed. It is as though the bottom had dropped out of their universe. The whole thing looks like a denial of all reason, and they feel as if they and the world had gone mad together.

Now for the Christian, this is not so. He is as deeply shocked and grieved as anybody else, but he is not astonished. He has never thought very highly of human nature left to itself. He has been accustomed to the idea that there is a deep interior dislocation in the very centre of human personality, and that you can never, as they say, “make people good by act of parliament,” just because laws are man-made and therefore partake of the imperfect and self-contradictory nature of man. Humanly speaking, it is not true at all that “truly to know the good is to do the good” ; it is far truer to say with St. Paul that “the evil that I would not, that I do”; so that the mere increase of knowledge is of very little help in the struggle to outlaw evil. The delusion of the mechanical perfectibility of mankind through a combined process of scientific knowledge and unconscious evolution has been responsible for a great deal of heartbreak. It is, at bottom, far more pessimistic than Christian pessimism, because, if science and progress break down, there is nothing to fall back upon. Humanism is self-contained—it provides for man no resources outside himself.

The Christian dogma of the double nature in man—which asserts that man is disintegrated and necessarily imperfect in himself and all his works, yet closely related by a real unity of substance with an eternal perfection within and beyond him—makes the present parlous state of human society seem both less hopeless and less irrational. I say “the present parlous state”—but that is to limit it too much. A man told me the other day; “I have a little boy of a year old. When the war broke out, I was very much distressed about him, because I found I was taking it for granted that life ought to be better and easier for him than it had been for my generation. Then I realized that I had no right to take this for granted at all—that the fight between good and evil must be the same for him as it had always been, and then I ceased to feel so much distressed.” As Lord David Cecil has said: “the jargon of the philosophy of progress taught us to think that the savage and primitive state of man is behind us; we still talk of the present ‘return to barbarism.’ But barbarism is not behind us, it is beneath us.” And in the same article he observes: “Christianity has compelled the mind of man, not because it is the most cheering view of human existence, but because it is truest to the facts.” I think this is true; and it seems to me quite disastrous that the idea should have got about that Christianity is an otherworldly, unreal, idealistic kind of religion which suggests that if we are good we shall be happy—or if not, it will all be made up to us in the next existence. On the contrary it is fiercely and even harshly realistic, insisting that the kingdom of Heaven can never be attained in this world except by unceasing toil and struggle and vigilance: that, in fact, we cannot be good and cannot be happy, but that there are certain eternal achievements that make even happiness look like trash. (Speech: “Creed or Chaos?”)

Presenting Christianity As Something Charming

Dorothy L. Sayers is one of my favorite mystery writers and she was also a Christian with a very keen insight into the importance of doctrine. Below, she explains why doctrine is so important:

And when he is come, he will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.(John

Dorthy Sayers

16:8-11)

Teachers and preachers never, I think, make it sufficiently clear that dogmas are not a set of arbitrary regulations invented a priori by a committee of theologians enjoying a bout of all-in dialectical wrestling. Most of them were hammered out under pressure of urgent practical necessity to provide an answer to heresy. And heresy is, as I have tried to show, largely the expression of opinion of the untutored average man, trying to grapple with the problems of the universe at the point where they begin to interfere with his daily life and thought. To me, engaged in my diabolical occupation of going to and fro in the world and walking up and down in it, conversations and correspondence bring daily a magnificent crop of all the standard heresies. As practical examples of the “life and thought of the average man” I am extremely well familiar with them, though I had to hunt through the Encyclopedia to fit them with their proper theological titles for the purposes of this address. For the answers I need not go so far: they are compendiously set forth in the creeds. But an interesting fact is this: that nine out of ten of my heretics are exceedingly surprised to discover that the creeds contain any statements that bear a practical and comprehensible meaning.

If I tell them it is an article of faith that the same God who made the world endured the suffering of the world, they ask in perfect good faith what connection there is between that statement and the story of Jesus. If I draw their attention to the dogma that the same Jesus who was the Divine Love was also Light of Light, the Divine Wisdom, they are surprised. Some of them thank me very heartily for this entirely novel and original interpretation of Scripture, which they never heard of before and suppose me to have invented. Others say irritably that they don’t like to think that wisdom and religion have anything to do with one another, and that I should do much better to cut out the wisdom and reason and intelligence and stick to a simple gospel of love. But whether they are pleased or annoyed, they are interested; and the thing that interests them, whether or not they suppose it to be my invention, is the resolute assertion of the dogma. . . .

I believe it to be a grave mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular with no offence in it. Seeing that Christ went about the world giving the most violent offence to all kinds of people it would seem absurd to expect that the doctrine of His Person can be so presented as to offend nobody. We cannot blink the fact that gentle Jesus meek and mild was so stiff in His opinions and so inflammatory in His language that He was thrown out of Church, stoned, hunted from place to place and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger. Whatever His peace was, it was not the peace of an amiable indifference; and He said in so many words that what He brought with Him was fire and sword. That being so, nobody need be too much surprised or disconcerted at finding that a determined preaching of Christian dogma may sometimes result in a few angry letters of protest or a difference of opinion on the Parish Council. (“Creed or Chaos?”)

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