If I had someone who could watch the church building enough hours to do it (which I don’t), I’d be in favor of opening our fellowship hall to Caney residents wanting free wireless internet access and maybe a little coffee (but not as a coffee shop), because it would help our church make contact with more people in Caney, and there is no free wireless hotspot in Caney so far as I’m aware. I agree to a certain extent with the article that it is important to build a Christian community within the church--bonds formed through corporate worship, mutual edification in Bible teaching and study, Christian fellowship, and mutual service, and corporate gospel witness (OPC FG II.4http://opc.org/BCO/FG.html#Chapter_II). But I don’t mean I’m on board with what the churches in the article are doing. The article’s focus on the outward ways these churches are attempting to be “relevant” or otherwise pander to what unbelievers want other than the gospel leaves me with the sense that these churches, or at least the article’s author, cares more about these outward means than about the truly effectual means of grace--the word, sacraments, and prayer (WSC 88http://opc.org/sc.html), used in public, family, and private worship, in preaching, catechizing, counseling, visiting, witnessing, maintained under the presbyterian form of government, and with biblical discipline (as described in the OPC Book of Church Order http://opc.org/order.html). These latter means are essential to the true life of the church; buildings, instruments, and lighting are circumstantial (WCF 1.6 http://opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_01, OPC DPW I.B.6.bhttp://opc.org/BCO/DPW.html#Chapter_I); coffee shops, art galleries, and business incubators are good works for Christians and Christian communities, but are not “the work of the church” (OPC FG II.4 http://opc.org/BCO/FG.html#Chapter_II).
Doug Pagitt is one of the thought-leaders of the Emergent Church movement, which DeYoung & Kluck's book “Why We’re Not Emergent (by Two Guys Who Should Be)” (http://www.amazon.com/Why-Were-Not-Emergent-Should/dp/0802458343) rightly labels as a new liberal theology and ecclesiology. Its difference from classical liberal theology is that it is founded on postmodern, rather than modern, philosophy. Considering this connection, I believe it is appropriate to say that this NYT article attempts to portray American churches’ decline from 1) drawing people through spiritual worship through the means of grace, to 2) megachurches’ drawing people by means of the circumstances of worship, to 3) Emergent churches drawing people by that which is not worship and not the work of the church. While the article perhaps tries not to tip its hat too far toward praising or condemning the activities of Emergent churches, yet it sounds a note of condemnation softly by including the phrase “as Spirituality Wanes” in its subtitle.
I don't know if hope is a feeling, but I'm hoping Christians recognize they should not "approve of those who practice" (Romans 1:32) homosexuality, murder, and the other sins listed in Romans 1, and that the Democratic platform explicitly approves of the practice of homosexuality and murder.
I'm hoping Christians realize that when the Democratic platform says "Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way," it contradicts Exodus 21:23, which says the man who kills a baby in the womb has committed murder, and so should die at the hand of the government, "life for life."
In context, that passage reads,
22 "When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman's husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Is the doctrine of Sola Fide biblical? Yes, despite the objections Roman Catholics raise against it. A lady asked me this today, and my response is below. She wrote,
I am struggling to understand Sola Fide and am hoping you can help me in my attempt to gain a better understanding of it. I am clear on the "dictionary" definition of Sola Fide
I must ask whether you really are clear on the definition, because there is not only one definition of Sola Fide; instead, there are at least two! Do you mean by "Sola Fide" that we are a) saved by faith alone, or b) justified by faith alone? A common problem in this discussion is that the Reformed definition of Sola Fide is not the same as the Lutheran definition of Sola Fide, and this causes people to misunderstand each other--sometimes Catholics wrongly assume the Reformed hold the Lutheran definition, and sometimes those who are otherwise Reformed actually do hold the Lutheran definition.
The Lutheran definition sometimes says that we are saved (rather than only justified) by faith alone when it equates "justification" with the whole of "salvation," because it holds that after faith, all other benefits of salvation flow from justification, so the order of salvation is faith, justification, union with Christ, adoption, sanctification. For example, Luther evidenced this mistake when he said "Works are necessary for salvation but they do not cause salvation; for faith alone gives life." (Ewald M. Plass, "What Luther says," page 1509, quoted at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sola_fide#cite_ref-21.) Luther was right to imply that our works do not cause justification (in the sense of a contributing or efficient cause), but wrong to say our works do not cause salvation (as a material or constitutive cause). Further, if as Luther said, "Works are necessary for salvation" as a (as Richard Gaffin helpfully put it in a lecture when I was in seminary) "necessary attendant circumstance" of justification, they are a cause even of justification itself, because a necessary attendant circumstance is rightly termed a "necessary cause." The failure to specify which forms of causality are excluded by the word "alone" remains even in Reformed theologians as capable as Michael Horton, as this review of Horton's Systematic Theology by Richard Gaffin demonstrates: http://opc.org/os.html?article_id=141 (titled “Covenant and Salvation,” published in Ordained Servant, March 2009.)1
The Reformed definition of Sola Fide is that we are justified by faith alone, where "alone" means "not on the ground of our own meritorious works." In other words, the Reformed definition specifies the scope of the meaning of "alone" so that the causality denied by the word "alone" is only the causality involved in the nature of a meritorious ground for justification. This sense is evident throughout the Westminster Confession's (ch. 11.1, 2: http://opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_11) and Larger Catechism's discussion of justification (http://opc.org/lc.html). In contrast to the Lutheran definition, the Reformed definition of Sola Fide does not deny, but affirms, that in addition to faith and justification, sanctification and repentance are also "saving graces" (Westminster Larger Catechism 75, 76), so while justification is "received by faith alone" (Westminster Larger Catechism 70), salvation is not by faith alone.
Underlying both the Reformed and Lutheran definitions of Sola Fide is a deeper concern to deny that the ultimate origin of man's salvation is in any way found in man himself, and the doctrine of Sola Fide is intended to protect against this error of autosoterism in the details of the doctrine of justification. The Roman Catholic view that God's grace infused into man resulting in good works forms, or allows those works to form, a meritorious ground of forensic justification and the material cause of infused justification ("justice"), despite its attempt to ground God's grace in God alone, nevertheless is in the final analysis a form of autosoterism, because due to its dependence on Aristotle's view that lower forms (entities that are "hylomorphic" or form/matter composites) are not pure form/actuality, such infused grace is not purely from God, but is also from man.
but where my confusion lies might be best captured in the following questions:
1. Is sola fide an essential element of the gospel?
Yes. Galatians 1:6-9 and 2:16 make this clear:
Gal. 1:6-9 "6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."
Gal. 2:16 "yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified."
The word "by" in "not justified by works of the law" in Gal. 2:16 is the Greek word ek, which commonly means "out of," naturally indicating here a legal basis or ground, rather than the Greek word dia, which commonly means "through" or "because of," which would more naturally indicate an instrumental or material cause. The word "through" in "but through faith in Jesus Christ" is the Greek word dia, which naturally indicates the function of a receptive instrument (not 1) a creative instrument, because in this context, faith is first “in Christ” the Savior, so implies an ultimate dependence on Christ’s power and agency rather than a creative power inherent within faith itself, and not 2) a meritorious ground, because diaindicates an instrument rather than a ground). So it is proper to limit the scope of the word "sola" or "alone" to deny that good works are a meritorious ground of justification, and to affirm that faith is the "alone instrument" (Westminster Confession of Faith 11.2) by which God's legal declaration imputing Christ's righteous standing to us is received by a believer in justification.
So Paul says the doctrine that one can be "justified by the works of the law" (Gal. 2:16) is "not" (Gal. 2:16) the "gospel" (Gal. 1:6-9), but is a "distortion" (Gal. 1:7) "contrary" (Gal. 1:8, 9) to the gospel, and results in its followers being "accursed" (Gal. 1:8, 9) by God. Correlatively, Paul says the true gospel is that justification is received by faith alone--by faith as the "alone instrument" by which justification is received.
2. If anyone rejects sola fide (and knows what they are saying) then have they rejected the gospel?
Yes. If they don't actually believe in Christ as their only Savior (and so also, at least implicitly, in Christ's righteousness alone as the ground of their justification) at some point in their beliefs, they are not saved. Yet people can be, and are, inconsistent in their beliefs, and in their profession. They may reject sola fide knowingly at one point in their beliefs, yet because they truly receive and rest on Christ's righteousness alone for justification at another point in their beliefs, they are in fact believing the true gospel, and truly believing in Christ as their Savior, and so are saved.
3. Can Acts 15:5 be used as a passage that could teach that those that knowingly reject sola fide still be believers?
Yes, they may have been believers while, inconsistent with their true saving faith, they rejected sola fide, but no, they only continue to demonstrate themselves to be believers if they are willing to be corrected when they are shown that rejection of sola fide (understood to mean justification is received by faith alone, and is not on the legal ground of meritorious good works) was an error. The individuals in Acts 15:5 were in fact in error, seeking to "put God to the test" (v. 10), as the final decision of the Council of Jerusalem later in that chapter (vv. 28, 29) demonstrates--the Council did not require the Gentiles to be circumcised as a meritorious ground, or even a necessary attendant circumstance, of justification, and salvation. Acts 16:3 teaches that Gentiles are permitted to be circumcised out of kind deference to Jews who are "weak in faith" (Rom. 14:1), but Gal. 5:2-6 teaches that it is wrong to consider circumcision a meritorious ground for justification.
If you could help me by answering these questions I believe that it would benefit me greatly and I would very much appreciate it.
I do hope this has helped you, and welcome further questions if I can be of further help.
I don't leave my faith behind in the marketplace, and neither should you. "Faith without works is dead." (James 2:26) What is work without faith? Pagan.
The quote regarding judge Kane and the Newland case below is interesting in connection with the current discussion of Reformed two kingdom theology and the differences between Sabbath worship and 6-day work. I expect the legal arguments against the Newland family/Hercules Industries cannot hold up in court. From http://www.frc.org/washingtonupdate/kane-no-crutch-for-obamacare,
"In keeping with the President's support of the narrow freedom of worship, versus the freedom of religion, the government's attorneys argued that men and women who enter the marketplace must leave their faith behind. 'As a for-profit, secular employer, Hercules cannot engage in an exercise of religion.'"
I believe this indicates not that US law is generally opposed to biblical morality, but that there is a real battle in our society between citizens pushing an agenda of secularism and citizens seeking to practice biblical morality. The solution Kane is following is correct--within its rights as a family-owned business, despite its unbiblical Roman Catholic opposition to all contraception, it is practicing biblical morality by refusing to pay for abortions, by refusing to pay for those parts of ObamaCare, and is doing so in accord with its own articles of incorporation, which wisely were written with the prescience to protect the company and strengthen its position in just this sort of situation.
Business owners, are you taking similar steps now to practice Christianity in your business? Or are you capitulating to a murderous secularism, and paying for abortion?
Yes, I'm stirring the pot today, and of course, willing to be corrected where I'm wrong.
Tim Black Pastor, Caney Orthodox Presbyterian Church Owner and Web Developer, Always Reformed Web Development. I prefer to hire Reformed Christian subcontractors, unapologetically!
We showed the video and used the printed study guide, one chapter per week, at our Wednesday night Bible study & prayer meeting recently. It worked well in that format. Several points of review:
In general it's very well done--a correct presentation of scripture, theology, and church history, making good use of the Westminster Standards and Three Forms of Unity (and the London Baptist Confession, but it isn't given the most prominent position), in an attractively produced video.
To my surprise, I learned that its host, Eric Holmberg, was also the host of the video called "Hell's Bells" back in the early 90's. He claims to be an ordained minister (I don't know in what denomination, but I have no reason to doubt the claim), and has lots of videos on YouTube under the username "VorthosForum," in some of which he's doing street evangelism / street preaching.
Many of the people in the video are professors or students at Knox Theological Seminary, so they lean in the direction of Evangelism Explosion and postmillennialism (and maybe theonomy?), though those emphases are not very evident in the video. So, though I have nothing against Evangelism Explosion, I would hesitate to recommend our church members go and read more works from each of those professors with an uncritical eye, yet I have no serious qualms about the accuracy of their presentation of Calvinism itself.
I wasn't excited about the presence of many Calvinistic Baptist speakers in the video, but I recognize that may help Calvinism gain traction with Arminians by helping to give them the impression that Calvinism is not restricted to NAPARC churches alone, but is maintained by other kinds of Christians too.
A fellow OPC pastor who is studying for a D.Min. at Knox said he wished the presentation of Calvinism was more focused; I agree. Yet the presentation is still quite good.
The DVD is a very appropriate way to promote the Reformed faith to friends--give them the DVD to watch at home, or invite them over to watch it with you. It doesn't have to be posed as a Bible study; it's just watching a DVD together. I do think Bible studies are one of the best outreach methods we have today, but for those who don't like reading books as much as watching a DVD, and who have worries about the commitment involved in a Bible study--and that probably amounts to the majority in today's culture--a DVD may be just the right vehicle for reaching them.
The study guide is well-written, but doesn't include questions for discussion. Rather, it is mostly a transcript of the video, and it includes blanks for key words which you can fill in as you watch the video. It does include occasional topical excurses whose content is not found in the video. At some points I found that the video and the study guide did not actually present the content in the same order, but that wasn't too bothersome. At some points I also found the video's transition between one chapter and the next went by without my noticing the transition; that problem can be fixed by paying careful attention to the playing time of each chapter, which is written at the beginning of each chapter in the study guide.
For those who do like to read books, I recommend Joel Beeke's "Living for God's Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism," for two great reasons: 1) Beeke's presentation is more squarely in line with what NAPARC churches consider to be consistent Calvinism, so can be recommended without hesitation, and 2) (which is almost the same point) Beeke's book shows that Calvinism is much more full-orbed than just the 5 points of Calvinism--it is richly biblical, deeply orthodox, fully faithful Christianity. Its chapters are numerous but manageable in length: each is 10-15 pages long, and ends with study questions. I'd be interested in other people's reviews of Beeke's book; I'm trying to find the best way to use it in our congregation.