Thursday, March 23, 2017

Don't let the sun go down on your wrath

Question: What does “let not the sun go down upon your wrath” mean?

The most common explanation of this phrase is “don’t go to bed angry” (also, “don’t sleep on anger,” “suppress it speedily,” “put a strict time limit on it,” or “it should not be prolonged beyond the sunset”).  This is further morphed into the idea that conflicts must be resolved before bedtime. What is that the correct or best understanding?

In a series of moral exhortations about putting off the old man and putting on the new man, Paul stated, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath (Ephesians 4:26).” A close inspection suggests that Paul alludes to Psalm 4:4 from the Greek Old Testament, which reads (as translated into English),[i] “Be ye angry, and sin not; feel compunction upon your beds for what ye say in your hearts. Pause.”[ii]

Comparing some of the texts (for those to wish to do so)
Psalm 4:4 Greek Septuagint - καὶ γνῶτε ὅτι ἐθαυμάστωσε Κύριος τὸν ὅσιον αὐτοῦ· Κύριος εἰσακούσεταί μου ἐν τῷ κεκραγέναι με πρὸς αὐτόν.
Psalm 4: 4 Brenton Septuagint Translation - Be ye angry, and sin not; feel compunction upon your beds for what ye say in your hearts. Pause.
Psalm 4:4 Wycliffe Bible - Be ye wroth, and do not ye sin; and for those evils to which ye say in your hearts and in your beds, be ye compunct.
Psalm 4:4 1599 Geneva Bible - Tremble and sin not: examine your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.
Psalm 4:4 King James Version - Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.
Psalm 4:4 New International Version - Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.

Ephesians 4:26 1550 Stephanus New Testament - οργιζεσθε και μη αμαρτανετε ο ηλιος μη επιδυετω επι τω παροργισμω υμων
Ephesians 4:26 Wycliffe Bible - Be ye wroth, and do not do sin; the sun fall not down on your wrath.
Ephesians 4:26 1599 Geneva Bible - Be angry, but sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath,
Ephesians 4:26 King James Version - Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:
Ephesians 4:26 New International Version - “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,

Since Paul’s exhortation alludes to Psalm 4, it should be considered in deciding the full meaning Ephesians 4:26. Because the Lord has set apart him that is godly, David knew the Lord would hear his call (verses 1, 3). Due to that knowledge David resolves to stand in awe of God, tremble before him and not sin in his anger at the lying vanity surrounding him (v. 3). In doing so we should stand in awe before God and look within ourselves – talk to ourselves. Though we may joke about people being crazy if they talk to themselves, the fact is we often need to have a dialogue with our soul (Cf. Joseph Hart’s A Dialogue between a Believer and His Soul for a poetic example of the concept).

All anger is not bad or wrong. Righteous indignation is a true concept. Jesus speaks of being angry “without a cause” – indicating we can be angry with cause (Matthew 5:22). If we commune with our own hearts on our beds we will likely most often find our anger is a human reaction that is sinful, without a cause. Let’s not be guilty of excusing ungodly reactions as righteous indignation.

If we have been angry, the close of the day must bring reflection upon it. Says Charles Spurgeon in The Treasury of David, Psalm 4, “Stay, rash sinner, stay, ere thou take the last leap. Go to thy bed and think upon thy ways. Ask counsel of thy pillow, and let the quietude of night instruct thee!” John Calvin rightly notices “…in solitude, we can give to any subject a closer attention…”[iii]

The apostle is not putting the onus on us to resolve every personal conflict before the sun goes down, or before we go to bed. That may not be possible (e.g., the other person may not want to resolve the conflict). But the going down of the sun and the laying down of our heads is a perfect time for reflection, for prayer, and, if need be, repentance.

The text teaches the limitation of anger, even when it is proper. Sundown was the time when one Jewish day ended and a new day began. End your day well! Start your day out right! The big picture of Ephesians 4:26b is: Resolve your anger. Don’t nurse it. Even if it is legitimate anger, don’t let it fester and grow into sin.

Don’t get angry and sin…but when you do sin, reflect and repent.

[i] English Translation of the Greek Septuagint Old Testament, by Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton, 1851; Greek: καὶ γνῶτε ὅτι ἐθαυμάστωσε Κύριος τὸν ὅσιον αὐτοῦ· Κύριος εἰσακούσεταί μου ἐν τῷ κεκραγέναι με πρὸς αὐτόν.
[ii] Psalm 4:4 (KJV): “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.”
[iii] From Calvin’s Commentaries, translated by John King

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Righteous indignation

So-called experts vary in their categorizations of anger types, their concepts and their number. Some forms of anger are normal and healthy. Even though unpleasant to deal with, it may lead to the quick resolution of a problem. Other forms of anger pose a serious problem. “Road rage” is a type of volatile explosive anger than can be intense and destructive. Chronic anger is habitual anger that people hold on to and nurture over a long period of time. This could be those who “seem like they are mad all the time.” Most people seem to have a general negative attitude toward the concept of anger -- probably because so much anger is selfish, uncontrolled and hurtful. But all anger is not bad or wrong. The Bible says, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath (Ephesians 4:26).”

Jesus’s anger recorded in John 2:13-25 is instructive in the proper kind of and proper use of anger.

13 And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: 15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; 16 And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. 17 And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. 18 Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? 19 Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? 21 But he spake of the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said. 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. 24 But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, 25 And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.

Jesus’s anger was purposed (directed) and restrained (controlled). Many things about the way the Pharisees, Sadducees and others treated him personally could have caught his attention and engendered much anger. Rather, he directed his anger toward the abuse of the temple worship.

Jesus’s anger was premeditated (planned, planned beforehand) and judicious (displaying good judgment). Jesus took the time to make a scourge (a type of whip). The making of scourge -- both the intent, time and effort to do so -- displays not only purpose but also premeditation. He did not act rashly or explode in anger. He took his time. He made a specific tool and directed it to a specific purpose.

Jesus’s anger was righteous (without sin) and productive (got results beyond just the feeling). His action was directed against a known and overlooked moral wrong regarding the temple services.  It produced results beyond any supposed “feeling better” associated with an outburst of anger. The temple was cleansed of its abuse. Much anger has no designed purpose at all, has no moral foundation -- and after the fact the person who acted in anger does not even “feel better.”

Intriguingly, the Jews did not question the act of Jesus driving out the money-changers and overturning the tables. They only questioned whether Jesus had the authority to act (in other words, this is a question of the person of Christ). This indicates they knew the wrong and that someone had the authority to act in this manner.

Jesus was angry and did not sin. He directed his anger for a precise purpose, accomplished the purpose, explained his actions and went on with the things he came to do.

“Now that’s funny”

Original Hondo Welcome Sign

Last summer the city of Hondo, Texas came under scrunity for their welcome signs. The signs on either end of town on Highway 90 advise drivers “Welcome: This is God’s Country. Please don’t drive through it like Hell. Hondo, Texas.”

The comedian called Larry The Cable Guy is known for the phrase “Now that’s funny. I don’t care who you are.” It seems that would apply to the Hondo “Welcome” signs. Not so. Apparently any public mention of God draws the ire of the angry atheists in the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Apparently humorless heathens and stodgy skeptics are thoroughly damaged by the sign – permanently wounded with a scar that will never heal! That’s why the FFRF demands that the city of Hondo remove the signs. Standing by their theme, Hondo Mayor James Danner asserted, “There’s no way in hell we’re going to take those signs down.”

There are legitimate reasons to be angry and offended. This isn’t one of them. It is much easier to get through life with a little sense of humor. So, all you atheists out there – and any theists who might be offended by their “close to cursing” use of “hell” – just take a deep breath. Now, repeat after me, “Now that’s funny. I don’t care who you are.”

Current Hondo Welcome Sign

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Weary and sad I come

1. Weary and sad I come, Lord, to Thee,
Low at Thy feet I fall;
Oh, wilt Thou hear my penitent plea,
As I upon Thee call?

2. Weary and worn I bring unto Thee
My load of sin and care;
Lord, hast Thou suffered my soul to free,
Wilt Thou my burdens bear?

3. I sink beneath the all-cleansing wave,
Which now by faith I see;
Simply I trust Thy power to save,
Oh, let me rise in Thee.

Rhoda K. Byrum, 1907

Calvinism-Arminianism Spectrum Chart, and other links

The posting of links does not constitute an endorsement of the sites linked, and not necessarily even agreement with the specific posts linked.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Customs of Primitive Churches, Of the election of a minister

PROP. VIII. Of the election of a minister

VIII. The election, or outward call, of a person to the ministry is an act of his church, excited by knowledge of God’s having endowed him with some,[1] and a belief of his having endowed him with all ministerial qualifications: the act admits of the following gradations; first their moving him by common suffrage to a private trial of his believed qualifications: the motion complied with, and proof given, they, secondly, vote him, by the like suffrage, to be a minister; and give him a written certificate of the vote to be a warranty of licence to preach in public, when occasion requires: next, he is ordained, and settled, of which more in the next propositions. The above transactions require several meetings of the church and party concerned, fasting; together with the presence of persons (at least of one) already in office; who shall open the meetings with prayers suitably prefaced; moved and direct the affairs decently and in order; and close the same meetings with prayers, praises, and benedictions.

1. Every minister is such by an act of his own church. No man or set of men can do that for a church. Nor yet one church for another. All Scripture examples are against these last, and in favour of the former process. Matthias was appointed a minister by his own church. The first deacons were made such in, and by their own church, Act. vi. 3. The persons mentioned in Act. xiv. 23 became elders in, and by their respective churches. The chief difference between ordinary and extraordinary ministers is, that the latter were made officers immediately by God; the former mediately viz., by means of the church.
2. The above act whereby a man is brought into the ministry, is not left to the option of the church; but is excited by a knowledge of his having some, and a belief of his having all ministerial qualifications: for as the Israelites pitched no where, nor moved any whither but as the divine pillar directed; so cannot a church pitch on which they please to be a minister, nor proceed as they think fit until God points out the man by qualifying him first for the office. These discoveries of his designation of the person command their notice, and direct their proceedings. See prop. vii, ver. 5.
3. The first part of the above act of the church is, their moving the person by their common suffrage to a private trial of his believed special qualifications, viz. of his aptness to teach; spirit of prayers; skill in the mysteries of the gospel, &c. His common qualifications are supposed to be known, viz. sense; utterance; temper; freedom from the guilt of gross sins; endowment with moral excellencies; and inclination to the office. Long acquaintance with the person affords a proof of these; and long acquainted with him the church must be, or choose a novice, which is prohibited. 1 Tim. iii. 6. But the other talents are of such a nature as to admit of no sufficient proof short of the exercise of them. Let these [also] first be proved, and then let them use the office &c. 1 Tim. iii. 10. Try the spirits, whether they be of God; for many false prophets &c. 1 John iv. 1. Thou hast tried them, which say they are apostles, &c. Rev. ii. 2. Let the prophets speak—and let the other judge, 1 Cor. xiv. 29. False brethren [viz. teachers, Act. xv. 1.] unawares brought in, who came in privily &c. Gal. ii. 4. Ye know the proof of him, Phil. ii. 22. Make full proof of thy ministry, 2 Tim. iv. 5. Ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, 2 Cor. xiii. 3.
4. The said motion accepted, and proof given, the church {act} secondly, by their common suffrage to vote the person to be a minister; and to give him a written certificate of the transaction. We read of ministers that carried letters of commendation to, and from, churches. 2 Cor. iii. 1. These [it is reasonable to suppose] were certificates of their call to the ministry, and good character; and of the nature of authority or licence to preach publicly. See 3 Joh. 9. 1 Cor. 16. 3.
5. Next, he is to be ordained, and settled. See prop. ix. x.
6. The above gradations by which a person is brought to the ministry, and settled in a church require several meetings of the church, viz. (1) A meeting to move the matter to the candidate; and after trials (2) a meeting to elect him to be a minister; at this he may be ordained, if all things allow it; if not they must (3) Have a meeting for his ordinations, which is commonly the case. At this he may also be set over the church or installed, if expedient; if not they must (4) Have a meeting to make him their bishop, pastor, or elder &c.
7. The presence of person already in office (at least one) is requisite. One may do; as may be argued from the case of Titus in Crete, ch. i. 5, and the personal directions given to Timothy, 1 Tim. v. 12. But two, or more, suit better; for then there will be a presbytery, 1 Tim. iv. 14. There is no example of a church (without any minister) that fixed a man in the office; but many examples of churches that furnished themselves with ministers with the help of other ministers. The apostles were present when the church of Jerusalem appointed Matthias, Act. i. Simeon, Lucius and Manaen were present in the church of Antioch when Paul and Barnabas were separated to the work, Act. xiii. Paul and Silas were present when the churches of Greece chose them elders, Act. xiv.
8. Those meetings should be attended with fastings; and (by means of the assisting officers) with addresses, prayers, praises, and benedictions. So Peter addressed the church of Jerusalem previous to their choice of Matthias, and prayed, Act. i. 15, 24. So the church of Antioch fasted, when Paul and Barnabas were separated unto the work Act. xiii. 2. The churches of Greece did the same with commendations to the Lord; which mean prayer, or benediction, or praise, or each. Act. xiv. 23.
9. To be continued…

Customs of Primitive Churches, Morgan Edwards, pages 17-19

[1] or, same?

His banner over me was love

"And his banner over me was love." — Canticles 2:4

"The identity and peculiarity of the banner is expressed in the word of our text. It is, "Love". This is his banner, and it differs from all other banners. No human force was ever marshaled for a deadly conflict under such an ensign as this. Hatred, which is the very opposite to this banner, is displayed in all the hostile movements of the sons of men. Hatred, instead of love, brought Cain into the field to slay his righ­teous brother; and hatred, instead of love, has characterized all scenes of slaughter which have drenched the earth with human gore, from the days of Cain to the present day. Hatred, instead of love, makes the feet of men swift to shed blood, because there is no fear of God before their eyes, and the way of peace they have not known. How striking then is the contrast between the banner of Christ, which waves in righteousness over the Lord's host, and that of the enemies of the Lord. All the opposition of men and devils against God and truth, and against his people, is instigated by hatred to God, to holiness, to truth and righteousness, and therefore the banner over the church is the more clearly identified, and the more readily known by those unto whom it is given, and over whom it is unfurled. His banner over them is love." -- Gilbert Beebe

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Only Through Grace

“Only Through Grace,” a song by J. P. Lane, 1909
Click on image to enlarge it

A More Sure Word of Prophecy

“A More Sure Word of Prophecy” by Don Fortner

2 Peter 1:16-21: For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

  • 1. We believe the gospel upon the divinely affirmed testimony of the Apostles (vv. 16-18).
  • 2. We believe the gospel upon the infallibly inspired Word of God (vv. 19-21).
  • 3. We believe the gospel upon the revelation of Christ in our hearts (v. 19).

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Essential Doctrines

In a post on Essential Doctrines, Mark Fenison made this point, which I find helpful.

Q. What are essential doctrines?
A. This is a question which if left to personal opinions has no unified answer. However, if left to Biblical principles I can define "essential" as follows:
  • 1. Every doctrine and practice is essential that the Scripture explicitly states or necessarily infers there are no other options, or is a "must" for eternal life or acceptable service.
  • 2. Every doctrine and practice that is essential to distinguish NT Christianity from other world religions and prophetic apostate Christianity.
  • 3. Every doctrine and practice that is essential to preserve and defend the above two essentials (inspiration/preservation and final authority of the scriptures, etc.).
"Using these principles...a precise structure of essential doctrines and practices can be formulated correctly."

Will conservatives and liberals flip?

In 2015 Rowan County, Kentucky county clerk Kimberly Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples as a violation of her conscience and religious beliefs. After landing in jail, she requested the Democratic Governor for an exemption and accommodation of conscience. Daviss attorneys argued that “Davis faces significant, irrevocable, and irreversible harm if she is forced to authorize and approve even one same-sex marriage license with her name on it, against her religious conscience.”

The Governor refused accommodation, stating “the legislature has placed the authority to issue marriage licenses squarely on county clerks by statute, and I have no legal authority to relieve them of their statutory duty by executive order.”

Now in 2017 the roles are reversed. A Democratic prosecutor, Aramis Ayala, “surprised many of her own supporters when she announced this week that her office would no longer seek capital punishment in a state that has one of the largest death rows.” Rick Scott, Republican governor, “promptly transferred a potential death penalty case — the killing of a police officer and a pregnant woman earlier this year — to another Florida prosecutor.”

Lawson Lamar, former State Attorney, said: “Anyone who raises their hand and takes the oath to be State Attorney must be able to go with the death penalty even if they feel it's distasteful.”

It appears that liberals and conservatives are defending conscience when the thing defended suits their conscience, and arguing that one must fulfill their oaths of office when it doesnt suit their conscience. 

The liberals and conservatives have flipped their views in these cases.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Balthasar Hübmaier

Balthasar Hübmaier, according to Vedder:
The ethical tone of Hübmaier’s writings also marks him for distinction among the writers of his age. He is scrupulously fair to his adversaries—always fair in intention, and usually fair in deed. He never charges misconduct and heresy upon his adversaries with that light-hearted carelessness of fact which is characteristic of his age and of most of its writers—of Luther and Zwingli, for example.
And the difference in tone between his controversial writings and those of the period is marvellous. To read an average pamphlet of Luther’s, written to confute some adversary,—Wider Hans Wurst, for instance, or Contra Henricum Regem,—and then to turn to any writing of Hübmaier’s, is like escaping from the mephitic odours of a slum into a garden of spices. It is not merely that scurrilous abuse has been exchanged for courteous speech,—the whole atmosphere is different. There is a “sweet reasonableness” in Hübmaier’s attitude toward men and truth, a confident belief that he is right, but a genuine willingness to be instructed, which is rare in any age and was unique in his.
Of a brilliant English scholar it was said, as his fitting epitaph, “He died learning”; and of Hübmaier it may be said with equal truth that each year of his life saw him take a long stride forward, not only in knowledge of the truth, but in that love that is not easily provoked and thinketh no evil.
--Henry C. Vedder, Balthasar Hübmaier: The Leader of the Anabaptists (New York; London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons; Knickerbocker Press, 1905), 157–158

Early Christians on Religious Liberty

This is a quick gathering and posting of some quotes from early church fathers related the topic of religious liberty.[i] It would have been done much better by those more familiar with the “fathers”. Some quotes are posted twice (from different translations). Many think that the Christian vision of religious liberty is a modern construct, but these quotes demonstrate contrariwise.

Justin Martyr (ca. 100 – 165 AD): For the coming into being at first was not in our own power; and in order that we may follow those things which please Him, choosing them by means of the rational faculties He has Himself endowed us with, He both persuades us and leads us to faith. And we think it for the advantage of all men that they are not restrained from learning these things, but are even urged thereto. For the restraint which human laws could not effect, the Word, inasmuch as He is divine, would have effected, had not the wicked demons, taking as their ally the lust of wickedness which is in every man, and which draws variously to all manner of vice, scattered many false and profane accusations, none of which attach to us. (The First Apology, Chapter 10, translated by Marcus Dods and George Reith)

Tertullian (ca. 160 – ca. 240 AD): “Let one man worship God, another Jupiter; let one lift suppliant hands to the heavens, another to the altar of Fides; let one – if you choose to take this view of it – count in prayer the clouds, and another the ceiling panels; let one consecrate his own life to his God, and another that of a goat. For see that you do not give a further ground for the charge of irreligion, by taking away religious liberty, and forbidding free choice of deity, so that I may no longer worship according to my inclination, but am compelled to worship against it. Not even a human being would care to have unwilling homage rendered him.” (Apology, Chapter 24, Translated by S. Thelwall)

Tertullian: “We are worshippers of one God, of whose existence and character Nature teaches all men; at whose lightnings and thunders you tremble, whose benefits minister to your happiness. You think that others, too, are gods, whom we know to be devils. However, it is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that every man should worship according to his own convictions: one man's religion neither harms nor helps another man. It is assuredly no part of religion to compel religion – to which free-will and not force should lead us – the sacrificial victims even being required of a willing mind.” (Ad Scapulam, Chapter 2, Translated by S. Thelwall.)

Tertullian: “It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that every man should worship according to his own convictions. One man’s religion neither harms nor helps another man. It is not the nature of religion to compel religion. Religion ought to be adopted voluntarily and not by force.” (Ad Scapulam Chapter 2, Translator unknown)

Tertullian: “It is the law of mankind and the natural right of each individual to worship what he thinks proper, nor does the religion of one man either harm or help another. But, it is not proper for religion to compel men to religion, which should be accepted of one’s own accord, not by force, since sacrifices also are required of a willing mind. So, even if you compel us to sacrifice, you will render no service to your gods.” (Ad Scapulam , Chapter 2, translated by Arbesmann, Daly, and Quain, as quoted in Religious Liberty and the Early Church)

Tertullian: “Moreover, the injustice of forcing men of free will to offer sacrifice against their will is readily apparent, for, under all other circumstances, a willing mind is required for discharging one’s religious obligations. It certainly would be considered absurd were one man compelled by another to honor gods whom he ought to honor of his own accord and for his own sake." (Apology, Chapter 28; translated by Emily J. Daly and Edwin A. Quain, as quoted in Religious Liberty and the Early Church)

Tertullian: “But you had best see to it whether this does not concur to the making up of another article of irreligion against you—namely, to deprive men of the liberty of worshipping after their own way, and to interdict them the option of their deity; so that I must not worship the god I would, but am forced to worship the god I would not; and yet it is agreed upon on all hands, that forced or unwilling services are not grateful either to God or man; and for this reason even the Egyptians are tolerated in their superstition, which is the very vanity of vanities : they are permitted to make gods of birds and beasts, and to make it capital to be the death of any of these kinds of deities.” (Apology, Chapter 24, translated and annotated by William Reeve, The Ancient and Modern Library of Theological Literature, Vol. 31, 1889)

Melito of Sardis (d. ca. 180 AD): “But this request alone we present to you, that you would yourself first examine the authors of such strife, and justly judge whether they be worthy of death and punishment, or of safety and quiet. But if, on the other hand, this counsel and this new decree, which is not fit to be executed even against barbarian enemies, be not from you, much more do we beseech you not to leave us exposed to such lawless plundering by the populace.” (Apology to the Emperor, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book IV, 26:6, translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert)

Origen (ca. 185 – 254 AD): “For Christians could not slay their enemies, or condemn to be burned or stoned, as Moses commands, those who had broken the law, and were therefore condemned as deserving of these punishments...” (Contra Celsus, Book VII, Chapter 26, translated by Frederick Crombie)

Cyprian (ca. 200 – 258 AD): “What is this insatiable madness for torture, what this interminable lust for cruelty?...why do you apply tortures to me...Why, when I pronounce myself a Christian in a crowded place with people standing all around, and confound you and your gods by a clear and public pronouncement, why do you concern yourself with the weakness of the body, why do you contend with the feebleness of earthly flesh? Attack the vigor of the mind, break the strength of the mind, destroy faith; conquer, if you can, by discussion, conquer by reason. (Chapter 13) “Indeed, if your gods have any divinity and power, let them themselves rise to their vindication, let them themselves defend themselves by their own majesty...You should be ashamed to worship those whom you yourself defend; you should be ashamed to hope for protection from those whom you protect.” (Chapter 14) (Treatises, Ad Demetrian, Chapters 13-14 in Treatises, The Fathers of the Church, Volume 36)

Lactantius (ca. 250 – ca. 320 AD): “Religion being a matter of the will, it cannot be forced on anyone. In this matter it is better to employ words than blows…Religion is the one field in which freedom has pitched her tent, for religion is, first and foremost, a matter of free will, and no man can be forced under compulsion to adore what he has no will to adore...Of what use is cruelty? What has the rack to do with piety?... For nothing is so intrinsically a matter of free will as religion”. (Divine Institutes 5, translator unknown)

Lactantius: “Who is so insolent, so lofty as to forbid me to raise my eyes to heaven, to impose on me the necessity either of worshiping what I do not want to or of not worshiping what I wish?” (Divine Institutes 5.14, translated by Mary F. McDonald)

Lactantius: “For who is so arrogant, who so lifted up, as to forbid me to raise my eyes to heaven? Who can impose upon me the necessity either of worshipping that which I am unwilling to worship, or of abstaining from the worship of that which I wish to worship?” (Divine Institutes 5.14, translated by William Fletcher)

Lactantius: “And nothing can be more true than this, if it is referred to those who refuse no tortures, no kind of death, that they may not turn aside from faith and justice; who do not tremble at the commands of tyrants nor the swords of rulers, so as not to maintain true and solid liberty with constancy of mind, which wisdom is to be observed in this alone. For who is so arrogant, who so lifted up, as to forbid me to raise my eyes to heaven? Who can impose upon me the necessity either of worshipping that which I am unwilling to worship, or of abstaining from the worship of that which I wish to worship? What further will now be left to us, if even this, which must be done of one's own will, shall be extorted from me by the caprice of another? No one will effect this, if we have any courage to despise death and pain.” (Divine Institutes 5.14, translated by William Fletcher, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7)

Lactantius: “There is no occasion for violence and injury, for religion cannot be imposed by force; the matter must be carried on by words rather than by blows, that the will may be affected. Let them unsheath the weapon of their intellect; if their system is true, let it be asserted. We are prepared to hear, if they teach; while they are silent, we certainly pay no credit to them, as we do not yield to them even in their rage. Let them imitate us in setting forth the system of the whole matter: for we do not entice, as they say; but we teach, we prove, we show. And thus no one is detained by us against his will, for he is unserviceable to God who is destitute of faith and devotedness; and yet no one departs from us, since the truth itself detains him. Let them teach in this manner, if they have any confidence in the truth; let them speak, let them give utterance; let them venture, I say, to discuss with us something of this nature; and then assuredly their error and folly will be ridiculed by the old women, whom they despise, and by our boys.” (Divine Institutes 5.20, translated by William Fletcher, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7)

[i] These quotes do not imply endorsement of all posited by these authors, but demonstrate the concept of religious liberty was on their minds. For example, written sometime before 180 AD, Melito’s statement to the emperor demonstrate that he did not believe either pagans or Christians should be persecuted.

Patrick of Ireland on Religious Liberty

Okay. Patrick of Ireland did not write a treatise on religious liberty. Or specifically mention it in his writings. But it is St. Patrick’s Day. And what I have below is a quote from Patrick of Ireland (from two different translations). In his letter to the soldiers of Coroticus Patrick asserted that Christians should be able to exist and worship free of molestation, appealed not to authorities but directly to the guilty parties, and showed that those who had molested Christians were guilty before God and that God, not Patrick, would take care of it.

“That is why I will cry aloud with sadness and grief: O my fairest and most loving brothers and sisters whom I begot without number in Christ, what am I to do for you? I am not worthy to come to the aid either of God or of human beings. The evil of evil people has prevailed over us. We have been made as if we were complete outsiders. Can it be they do not believe that we have received one and the same Baptism, or that we have one and the same God as father. For them, it is a disgrace that we are from Ireland. Remember what Scripture says: ‘Do you not have the one God? Then why have you each abandoned your neighbour?’”
From Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus © 2011 Royal Irish Academy

“Because of all this, my voice is raised in sorrow and mourning. Oh, my most beautiful, my lovely brethren and my sons ‘whom I begot in Christ,’ I have lost count of your number, what can I do to help you now? I am not worthy to come to the help of God or men. ‘We have been overwhelmed by the wickedness of unjust men,’ it is as if ‘we had been made outsiders.’ They find it unacceptable that we are Irish. But it says ‘Is it not true that you all have but one God? Why then have you, each one of you, abandoned your own neighbor?’”
From Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, translated by John Skinner in his book The Confession of St. Patrick

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Practical thoughts on religious liberty and spiritual adultery

Often when we speak and write on religious liberty versus spiritual adultery we may speak in abstract terms of doctrine, without understanding or explaining how the right view of doctrine applies to our practice. There is a fine line for Christians to walk between supporting freedom of religious views and actions while not bidding Godspeed to those who do not hold the true doctrine of Christ. Trying to find exactly where this fine line is can be a matter of Christian liberty. Here are some (in my opinion) practical suggestions on dealing with religious liberty and spiritual adultery.

I have mentioned a number of times the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the Muslim mosque amicus brief. I am not a Southern Baptist and the outcome of their internal debate is not personally applicable to me. We do not support the SBC Cooperative Program or the ERLC, neither do we engage in any denominational programs, policies or politics in such ways. Nevertheless, the situation has brought forth a broad debate concerning religious liberty and spiritual adultery, not only among Southern Baptists, but a broad spectrum of Christians throughout the United States. It is a debate that should be had. [See More on Moore.] I don’t believe there is some vast sin or collusion with evil in simply presenting an amicus brief that asks a government to abide by the laws it has on the books. I don’t see this as the same as aiding and abetting the spread of Islam. That said, if I had been making the decision, I wouldn’t have filed the brief. Not filing the brief is not the same as actively working against the right to religious freedom, and entering the legal arena is not the wisest use of church time and money. [E.g., “The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends.” – Baptist Faith and Message]

A recent freedom of religion situation in Georgia involves a preacher of a different faith and practice than Baptists. Eric Walsh, a doctor who is also a lay preacher in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, accepted employment as a director for the Georgia Department of Public Health. Walsh is a highly regarded and highly accomplished member of the medical community. Shortly after he accepted the position, someone found out from his sermons online what he believed on homosexuality (among other things). The Georgia Department of Public Health retracted his job offer.[i] Despite having serious disagreements on doctrinal issues with the Seventh Day Adventists, I find no compromise or spiritual adultery in defending and supporting the rights of Eric Walsh. My support for his right to employment free from inspection of his religious beliefs does not equal support for his religious beliefs. Such support could, at least in theory, increase his ability to proclaim the doctrines which he believes and I do not. Yet that support is not spiritual adultery, but rather support of religious liberty.

Here’s an illustration of how I try to walk the fine line and reconcile the existence of religious liberty and spiritual adultery. I believe in religious liberty. I believe we should avoid spiritual adultery. I believe the group called Jehovah’s Witnesses do not hold the true doctrine of Christ. If a Jehovah’s Witness owns a mini-mart I don’t automatically refuse to shop there based on that fact[ii] – even though I realize if the owner is an active Jehovah’s Witness that he or she may use some of the proceeds from the business to support their false worship. But I am not supporting the false worship. I am simply shopping at a business, and the owners choose to do what they will with the profit from their business (as with any owner of any business). If we can’t do any business with anyone engaged in false worship “then must we needs go out of the world (I Cor. 5:10).” On the other hand, the Jehovah’s Witnesses might host a bake sale to raise money for their Kingdom Hall. I can support their freedom to have the bake sale free of molestation and with the same rights as any other group that might host a bake sale – but I won’t be buying any of their bread. This is directly and deliberately supporting their false worship. Christians may have trouble deciding and even come to different answers whether shopping at a store owned by a Jehovah Witness, buying the Jehovah’s Witnesses’s bread at their fundraiser, or supporting their right to have the fundraiser are all the same kind of relationship of the Christian to those who do not hold the true doctrine of Christ (or if they are substantially different).

[i] Walsh won a suit against the Georgia Department of Public Health for religious discrimination. Dr. Eric Walsh Exonerated in Georgia Discrimination Case
[ii] Actually I am never consumed with the idea of finding out who owns a store where I shop.