Drinking Deeply

Thursday, June 28, 2007 at 9:45 AM

Fighting words (3)

I promised a response to Jeff, and I think I'm going to put one together now. I'd rather do a short one right now then plan to do a longer one and never get to it.

In my previous post, "fighting words (2)" Jeff made the following comment, and I'll try to respond as clearly as I can -
I think all this talk about words is really a red herring. The Church is not entrusted as the guardian of the words "Christian" or "evangelical". If everyone started used the word "Christian" to mean "soccer fan", things would be a little confusing for people living across the usage gap, but eventually we'd find a less ambiguous name for our religion and move on. (Maybe "Yeshuans".) At least that's my perspective--do you think there's really something important about those particular sounds? I think that's just a distraction.

What's really at issue is heterodoxy--what you call "theological adultery". The real problem is not what people with outlandish theological views call themselves. It's the views themselves, or the views in conjunction with claiming fellowship with the body of Christ--not what label they use, but what community they identify with.
Yes, I think I understand you, and I agree. The specific sounds are really irrelevant. To today's culture the term is Christian and Evangelical, to the 1st century greek, the phrase was "followers of the way." But here's the question, to take a modern day application, nowadays many associate "Christian" with Republican. Does that mean Christians should pack up their bags and use a different term?
Now, here too we disagree pretty deeply. I think there are two distinct issues here. One of them is group identification. Now, insofar as we have reason to set a bar at all for whom we call our siblings, I think we should set it low, open the gate wide, eat with the prostitutes. My mention of the ancient creeds was meant to gesture at one such low bar of common faith. (And certainly the bar for this can't be so high that "disagreeing with the Bible" in any detail is enough to disqualify someone from fellowship. Can it?)
But Jesus didn't eat with all the prostitutes, he ate with the repentant ones. In the same way, why should we allow unrepentant people to call themselves members of the body of Christ? There are stern warnings in Scripture about church discipline (1 Cor. 5, Hebrews 12:12-17), similarly there are stern charges in the OT about the purity of the body, since this is the body of Christ.

And regarding ancient creeds, their original intent was not to lay down a groundwork of unity that all of Christendom could agree with, but rather to divide the orthodox from the heretics. Yes, the writing of them was an act of unity, but it was a unity against falsehood, not a unity that welcomed all comers. In the same way, Christians today are to be continually on guard against heresy in the same way. When it becomes serious enough, the Church must be clear about what is Christian (or evangelical) and what is not.

And yes, I agree with you that one minor disagreement with the Bible is not enough to bar fellowship. My point was that the bar should not be set apart from Scripture, which I think you would agree with.
But then there's a completely separate question: how should we respond to bad doctrine? You and I share a love for the truth, and especially the truth about the gospel of God, and I agree with you that it should be honored and defended. I admit that I often have a harder time identifying sound doctrine when I see it, but that only gives me more incentive to hammer it out and test claims to see how they stand up. And where I'm in error, I passionately want to be corrected with love and rigor. And similarly, when I see others spout what I take to be dangerous nonsense, I want to do my part on the side of edifying sense. So yes, when people say false things, argue! Win them over--not by name-calling, but by the evidence of reason and revelation--and by the power of the spirit. (Or be won over, if it turns out they're right!)


But I don't think we should be wasting our time ruling who's in and who's out of the fold. We should be vying for truth. The important question isn't which doctrines count as "Christian" or not--it's which ones are right! Let's not muddy the waters by fighting for words, or group labels, but rather fight for truth.
Ok, I think I agree with your sentiment here. Yes, let's fight for truth and not just for words. But I think Douglas Wilson's original point, and mine too, is to answer the question, "what happens when we know what truth is, but people persist in error and even go so far as to call error, "truth" "?

The answer is church discipline. And it's the physical casting someone out of the body of Christ (after the proper steps of course), that helps the body of Christ preserve and protect it's purity. So when someone comes out calling himself a Christian but ends up denying the Trinity, the reality of sin, and a few other important biblical concepts, we should speak up and say "hey, that person isn't Christian, this (points) is what true Christianity actually is."

(On a related note: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/72)
Interesting post. I would not agree. There seem to be clear Scriptural standards that make some beliefs (and I would add on, "acts") heretical -> to the point where a Christian must divide from them. Titus 3:10 points to such ideas - As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him. The Bible does put a burden upon individual believers to remove themselves from false teachers (or remove the false teachers).

Sorry for the delay in response.

To summarize. What I'm arguing for, and what I think Douglas Wilson is arguing for, is that Christians are to speak up and reject falsehood, to defend the church and body of Christ from all lofty opinions and arguments set up against the glory of God, and this includes the group-identification of "Evangelical" or "Christian." Why do we blindly allow other people to take the term that has been used for centuries and sneak in false teachings under that label? So we should fight, refuting and rejecting falsehood, casting out and repudiating false teachers when the claim the label of Christian but in fact are not.

I agree that the first step is to fight to understand truth, "what is it?" But having defined it, we must fight for it, defending it from all comers.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007 at 11:36 AM

This is why I love the OT

The more and more I spend in the OT, the more I realize how incomplete my picture of the NT is without understanding the OT. Check this out -

Ezekiel 47, after a long vision on the new temple of the Lord, he describes a river flowing from the temple (emphasis added)

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. 8And he said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea;[b] when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh.[c] 9And wherever the river[d] goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea[e] may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. 10Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea.[f] 11But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing."
Now, look at Revelation 22 -
1Then the angel[a] showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life[b] with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Is that awesome or what?!

Now here's the rub. Ezekiel 47 references clearly to a temple, and a temple with very specific dimensions (see the earlier chapters). But Revelation 21 states very clearly - "22And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb."

So does this refer to two separate occurrences or just one? Is it plausible that what Ezekiel describes as a temple is actually the city in Revelation? There are measurements for both... I wonder if anyone's ever tried to compare them...

haha, whoa

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Thursday, June 21, 2007 at 12:06 AM

A prophet has no honor in his hometown

This was probably as theological as I got in the last three weeks because of work. Someone emailed me wondering how I dealt with my own unbelieving family and I wrote back. Here's what I wrote, edited a little bit and maybe expanded a little.

One slight caveat. I offered this advice not really as a person who has a great relationship with his family. I get along with them and love them, but I'm not able to worship alongside them and it is evident we do not share the same goals in life. So I'm not a model citizen.

But, as it seems to be with many things, I often have the words but not the actions. I know what the right answers are, and it remains mostly to put it into practice. So I offered the advice as a means of rebuking myself as well. Let me know what you think, and if you have anything you can add from your own experience or knowledge of Scripture.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

With regards to my extended family, I guess I have it a little bit easier since they're all in Taiwan. The only time something came up was when my grandmother died and I was back in Taiwan. They wanted me to bai bai, honoring the dead through like a special prayer. I really couldn't do it, so they were a bit annoyed, thought I was disrespecting my grandmother. For me, as I was/am rather sure that she died an unbeliever, I was reminded of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, who begged that a messenger be sent so that his brothers would not suffer as he does. I can't see how affirming a false religion would honor her in any way.

With regards to what you're dealing with, it seems like you know the answer. Repent of your sins of doubt, anxiety, and unbelief, and trust in God, who loves you and sustains you. How can man (even your own family) even come close to harming you? Jesus said many a time that a prophet has no honor in his hometown, and while we're not prophets, many times the principle remains. I face my most difficult challenges from my family. Many times because I'm such a sinner and they know how much of a hypocrite I am. Have faith in a faithful God!

My advice (if I may be so bold to claim that term) is two-fold.

1) Figure out what you'd say to people who ask and simply say it. Don't be afraid of saying that you're a Christian, unless you really aren't one (because then you'd be bearing the name of the Lord in vain), but rather trust the Lord. You'll be challenged and persecuted, but there is nothing that quite matches with the glory of God that will be enough to stop you.

2) Serve your family. The way that my family has started turning around is that I've started actually taking an active role in being a member of the family (I'm still really messed up here, but it's a God driven change, however slowly). Small things like helping your parents clean up the house, setting up the table, washing the dishes, taking care of your sister, or whatever. When you're able to truly love your neighbors out of a genuine love for God, there's a great deal of credibility that comes alongside of it. Be a woman of godly character. Keep your promises, own up to your mistakes, don't lie, don't cheat, don't steal. If you're able to act in such a godly manner around your family as you have around people in RUF (and I know, that's incredibly hard! It's so easy to love those who already love you), then your parents would be honored to have you as a daughter and miss you when you leave. My mother confessed as I was leaving last summer that I would be greatly missed when I left, because I was the only one that helped her out. It's just too bad I didn't start doing that until last year, because I was such a sinner. But God is gracious none-the-less.

(this third point wasn't in the original email, but is added here as an afterthought)

3) Join your family for long periods of forced interaction if at all possible. Maybe a car ride somewhere, don't drive alone with an eye toward leaving early, don't ditch meals with your family for church. It is those times that you're forced together that the conversations start and the glory of God can shine brightest with Good News. Now, those are also the times when I was hurt the most, simply because the opportunity to be hurt was there. But I would say it was worth it to understand what my parents were going through.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007 at 4:30 AM

Updated Discerning Reader site and some

Hey all -

Long time no update =/. I've been busy (and/or lazy). But if you're looking for something to read, check out the updated discerning reader site, an excellent resource for Christian reviews for books.

I owe a few posts. One on being Asian American, one on Douglas Wilson, and one responding to Jeff. gar, so much to do.

But speaking of Douglas Wilson, I always love what he has to say on his blog (though many times I don't understand all of it)

Check out this post, responding to those who are moving towards the inclusivist "Christian" position. The Inclusivist Snare

You should read the whole thing, but here's an excellent point that I think should be made more often, especially in missionary circles.

This relates to the central confusion in Stackhouse's version of the inclusivist position.

"All I am arguing for here is that we do not confine salvation to this normal mode, shutting off any other possibilities and therefore implying, if we don't say so outright, that millions of people have been lost forever simply because they lived in Asia, or Europe, or Africa, or the Americas, or anywhere else before gospel preaching got there."

But nobody is lost because of where they live. People are lost because they are evil -- you know, wicked. Sinful. Now it is possible to say that in a secondary sense someone might be lost because of where they live. An analogy might be death from a particular disease. When someone has a treatable form of cancer, but they live out in the bush where nobody has ever heard of this form of cancer, still less the treatments for it, why does that person die? Does he die because of where he lives? In a trivial secondary sense, yes. But the thing that kills him is the cancer.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007 at 3:23 PM

Lord's Day 34

Question 92. What is the law of God?

Answer. God spake all these words, Exodus 20, Deut. 5, saying: I am the Lord thy God, which hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor serve them; for I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his name in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy; six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt do no manner of work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man servant, nor thy maid servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.
  5. Honor thy father and they mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord they God giveth thee.
  6. Thou shalt not kill.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man servant, nor his maid servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.

Question 93. How are these commandments divided?

Answer. Into two [a] tables; the [b] first of which teaches us how we must behave towards God; the second, what duties we owe to our neighbor.

Question 94. What doth God enjoin in the first commandment?

Answer. That I, as sincerely as I desire the salvation of my own soul, avoid and flee from all idolatry, [c] sorcery, [d] soothsaying, superstition, [e] invocation of saints, or any other creatures; and learn [f] rightly to know the only true God; [g] trust in him alone, with humility [h] and patience [i] submit to him; [j] expect all good things from him only; [k] love, [l] fear, and [m] glorify him with my whole heart; so that I renounce [n] and forsake all creatures, rather than [o] commit even the least thing contrary to his will.

Question 95. What is idolatry?

Answer. Idolatry is, instead of, or besides that one true God, who has manifested himself in his word, to contrive, or have any other object, in which men place their trust. [p]

[a]: Ex. 34:28,29
[b]: Deut. 4:13; Deut. 10:3,4
[c]: 1Cor. 6:9,10; 1Cor 10:7,14
[d]: Lev. 18:21; Deut. 18:10,11,12
[e]: Mat. 4:10; Rev. 19:10
[f]: John 17:3
[g]: Jer. 17:5,7
[h]: Heb. 10:36; Col. 1:11; Rom. 5:3,4; Phil. 2:14
[i]: 1Pet. 5:5,6
[j]: Psa. 104:27; Isa. 45:7; James 1:17
[k]: Deut. 6:5; Mat. 22:37
[l]: Deut. 6:5; Mat. 10:28
[m]: Mat. 4:10
[n]: Mat. 5:29,30; Acts 5:29; Mat. 10:37
[o]: Mat. 5:19
[p]: 2Chron. 16:12; Phil. 3:18,19; Gal. 4:8; Eph. 2:12

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Friday, June 01, 2007 at 11:25 PM

Fighting words (2)

jefe posted a comment on my last post, so here's a response -
(1) I see no harm whatsoever in surrendering words to the fickle tides of usage, so long as we're willing to take the trouble to find new effective ways to express ourselves. The challenge to the Church is always to hit a moving target: to express the unchanging gospel in a language that is never the same. If we try to hold rigidly onto certain words, despite how others use them, we are doomed only to speak to ourselves. Remember the reformation debates over translating the Bible into the vernacular.
1) I agree with your sentiment. When people start using a different language to express themselves, there is nothing wrong with taking their language. But Douglas Wilson's point isn't to win the culture (though if you read his other stuff, you see that too), but it's to have something to win the culture to. When the culture co-ops Christianity, then it's not time to leave the terms "evangelical" and "Christianity" behind, it's time to defend them so that the boundaries are clear that if the culture wants to come, it comes on God's terms and not theirs.
(2) Better to argue over doctrine than over labels for doctrine.
2) When people start defining themselves as evangelical when they clearly are not, or, when people who call themselves evangelical clearly drift out of it, it becomes a matter of church discipline. If I called myself a Christian and started committing adultery, my church would be absolutely right in rebuking me and showing me to the door. Same thing if I start committing theological adultery. It's not the label as what is wearing it, and that's doctrine.
(3) But the fights Wilson talks about are not really fights over words---words like "Christian" or "evangelical". He's really talking about group-identification. His distress is that people who disagree with him (more or less radically) are calling themselves the same thing he calls himself. Perhaps he should change the usage he has control over--his own--rather than the usage he doesn't control? Annoying to have your trademark stolen, but these things happen. It's hardly on par with rape.
3) This is a call for church discipline, and to the extent that the Church (capital 'C') disciplines its members, it controls the usage. To take an Old Testament example, if Israelites started one day to intermarry with Canaanites, is there warrant to discipline them out of the body of covenant believers? They are bearing God's name in vain.

Whether or not it's rape, it certainly is gross idolatry, which is spoken of as being on par with sexual immorality. As we stand by and watch as people in our churches do it to the church that Christ dies for it demonstrates a real lack of love, whatever we say. Thus the rape analogy. If I love someone, I stake my life on it.
(4) Unless he has something slightly stronger in mind. Could he be using these words as code for "the elect", "the brethren"? Then again, what's at issue is not the words, it's who belongs to this group, whatever it's called. And if that's what he means, I have even less patience. You may disagree strongly with the open theism, you may hate it, but is it even plausible that believing in open theism jeopardizes one's salvation? Does it contradict anything in the ancient creeds?
4.1) The issue is "what group has the right to call itself Christian or Evangelical?" The answer is "the group that is composed of Christ-followers and are centered upon the Good News." When someone continues to use the terms but deny their very meaning, I'm not going to walk away without a fight. Tolerating someone take on the name of the Lord in vain is irreverent. Allowing someone to take it away from me is stupid.

4.2) You say "is it even plausible that believing in open theism jeopardizes one's salvation? Does it contradict anything in the ancient creeds?" and that's another thread. But let's take a basic example to allow me to express why I feel the same outrage at open theism. What if, in my response to your comment, I referred to you as a "she", assumed you were an undergraduate at Duke University (certainly not a bad school), were majoring in biology, and so on? Would you be offended? Would it be appropriate to consider myself in a close intimate relationship with you?

In the same sense that you could rightfully say that I wouldn't have a meaningful relationship with you if I didn't understand you to such an extent as to mistake your gender, your age, your school, your major, and a whole other slew of facts, I think open theism strikes at the very heart of the character of God, and thus is idolatry, worshiping a false God.

4.3) And when did disagreeing with an ancient creed mean false Gospel? Isn't false defined by disagreeing with the Bible? Were Arians worshiping a false God prior to the decree that Arians were heretics?
(5) We are not the border patrol of the Kingdom.
5) I don't agree with you here at all, and I don't think you do either. If you truly believed what you were said, why did you post your comment? But isn't it your concern that the body of Christ represent itself as faithfully as possible that leads you to post what you write? For that I commend you and welcome the discussion. But if you think we shouldn't be having this discussion, then why post at all?

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at 7:46 AM

Fighting words

Douglas Wilson on words
The astounding thing about all this is the fact that there is so little controversy about it in the evangelical world. Our complacency shows nothing more clearly than how cold our love has grown. If a man were to see his wife being attacked by rapists, all his professions of love and deep concern are meaningless unless he fights for her. Under such circumstances, a refusal to fight does not stem from a love of peace, but rather from the now-revealed contempt he has for his wife. In the same way, a refusal to discipline is nothing but a manifestation of contempt for that which we refused to protect through the needed discipline. Bringing us back to the point, a refusal to fight over the meaning of words betrays, ultimately, a contempt for the Savior. Of course we need fewer church fights over the replacement for the choir director, or the color of the carpet in the fellowship hall. But we need many more church fights over the meaning of some precious and important words.

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