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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Commenting and commentaries

"It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others." - Charles H. Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries

In the context of making this statement, Spurgeon was speaking of commentaries. He said that it was "the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries." He further agreed, "If there were any fear that the expositions of Matthew Henry, Gill, Scott, and others, would be exalted into Christian Targums, we would join the chorus of objectors..."

Long ago, I heard that someone had said, "Commentaries are like sheep. They follow one another and they all go astray." I think there is truth in that statement. Many commentaries are merely rehashes of what someone else has already said (and said better). And often the very verses on which we need help are the very ones on which they failed to comment!

I fear the unteachable spirit of which Spurgeon speaks is a much worse blight on the churches than all the bad commentaries that have ever been written. If we truly believe that the apostles committed to faithful men all things whatsoever Christ taught them, who in turn taught those things to others who were able to teach others also, and so forth, then it behooves us to humbly sit at the feet of commentators, past and present -- whether that commentary is from behind the pulpit or on the printed page. Yea, and then search the scriptures daily, whether those things are so.

"What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?" - I Corinthians 14:36

Monday, January 30, 2006

Simply Believe

Many years ago the late William Gadsby, Baptist preacher in Manchester, England, was going into the country to preach, and as his practice was in his younger days, he was walking. He was soon joined by a "simple faith" believer. Religion soon became the subject of their conversation.

Mr. Gadsby maintained that true faith was not man's work but the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God's people, and that without this there can be no real satisfaction for a quickened soul, one who hungers and thirsts after an assurance of his salvation. His companion, however, maintained that it was the duty of every man to believe.

"There is the word," said he, "and we are to read it and take comfort from it." After walking for some miles the two men came upon a little roadside store, with a swinging sign above its door, "Refreshments may be had here."

"I am very tired," said the stranger. "Let us go in here and have some refreshment."

"Oh, no," said Mr. Gadsby. "You see, there is the sign, the word. Let us read it, take all the comfort and refreshment we need from that, and pass along. For, according to your doctrine, that is sufficient!" — Copied from The Gospel Standard, 1874

We must have a revealed and experienced Christ and salvation in HIM. Just making a mental assent to the promises in the Bible will not suffice. The spiritually dead must be brought to life by God the Holy Ghost, and then brought by the Spirit to an enjoyment of God's great salvation by grace! We have so much of a dead-letter profession in our day. — Wylie Wayne Fulton (and thanks to WWF for the above story)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Mercy of God in Christ

The following is transcribed from page 2 of “The Missionary Baptist” (Aug. 2, 1917), H. M. Allen of Carthage, Texas, editor.

From the Brethren

Dear Bro. Allen: -- Some twenty years ago or more, in my deep meditation of God’s love for humanity, I composed a hymn, which to my way of thinking is full of the gospel, but I have never offered it for publication; and as I regard you as a good judge of gospel hymns I will send it to you, and if you think it worthy you may print it in your paper, and have it printed in some song book if you think it worthy.

I wish to say to Bro. Kinsey, that in giving his prescription for ministerial success he failed to prescribe any remedy to ease the conscience of the preacher while he is using it.

Yours fraternally,
M. L. Vaughn

(Note by editor: The class of preachers who use Bro. Kinsey’s prescription are not supposed to have any conscience. A conscience would be very much in the way of the success of some people.)

Hymn
The Mercy of God in Christ

“Oh why, my God, is thy delight
Among the sons of men?
Thy precious love so full and bright,
While sinners we have been?

You gave Your darling Son to die,
Poor sinners to redeem.
He came to John and was baptized,
In Jordan’s lowly stream.

When He ascended from the waves,
He heard His Father’s voice
Proclaiming, 'This is My dear Son,
My everlasting choice.'

He taught repentance and belief, --
An humble heart of love,
To gain that happy home of God,
In that bright world above." -- M. L. Vaughn

-------------------------------------------------------------
If we know what the gospel is, the foregoing hymn is truly a gospel hymn. The sixteen stanzas, or lines of which it is composed have alternately four and three iambic feet, and may therefore be sung to any common meter tune. Until some one furnishes us with a tune better adapted to the words we may sing the hymn to the tune of “Amazing Grace”.

[These last lines evidently written by the editor, rlv]

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Do we have apostles today?

Who were the apostles? Were there only twelve? Is there more to the apostles than just the first century? Was there a secondary group of apostles in New Testament times? If so, do modern traveling preachers/church planters correspond to these secondary apostles? Are there "technical" and "non-technical" uses of the word "apostle"? What about references to James the Lord's brother and Barnabas as apostles? How many apostles are named in the Bible? I would like to get your comments.

A list of all who either were or could be construed to be apostles.

The Twelve [Matthew 10:2ff; Mark 3:14ff; Luke 12ff.]
1. Simon, who is called Peter
2. Andrew, Simon’s brother
3. James, the son of Zebedee
4. John, James’ brother
5. Philip
6. Bartholomew (perhaps the same as Nathanael)
7. Thomas
8. Matthew the publican (Levi)
9. James the son of Alphaeus
10. Lebbaeus Thaddaeus (Judas the brother of James)
11. Simon (Zelotes) the Canaanite
12. Judas Iscariot

Other Apostles
13. Matthias [Acts 1:23,26; 6:2]
14. Paul [Acts 14:4,14; Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:1]
15. Barnabas [Acts 14:4,14; I Cor. 9:1-6]
16. James, the Lord’s brother [Gal. 1:19; I Cor. 9:5]
17. Silas (Silvanus) [I Thess. 1:1; 2:6; II Thess. 1:1]
18. Timothy (Timotheus) [I Thess. 1:1; 2:6; II Thess. 1:1]
19. Apollos [I Corinthians 4:6,9]

Other Possiblities
20. Andronicus [Romans 16:7]
21. Junia [Romans 16:7]
22. Epaphroditus [Philip. 2:25-30; messenger, apostolos]
23. Two Unnamed Brethren [II Cor. 8:18,22,23; messenger, apostolos]

There are three lists of the Twelve apostles in the Gospels. There is also a list of the eleven (the 12 less Judas) in Acts 1:13. In every list Peter is always first and Judas is always last (except Acts, because Judas isn't listed). The order of listing the other apostles is not the same in each list. Though the order is not the same, each list breaks down into three groups that include the same four individuals in each group every time. The first name in the grouping is the same in all cases.
1. Peter, Andrew, James, John
2. Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas
3. James the less, Judas Lebbaeus, Simon Zelotes, Judas Iscariot

Verses outside the four gospels that refer to apostle(s): Acts 1:2,26; 2:37,42,43; 4:33,35-37; 5:2,12,18,29,34,40; 6:6; 8:1,14,18; 9:27; 11:1; 14:4,14; 15:2,4,6,22,23,33; 16:4; Romans 1:1; 11:13; 16:7; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 4:9; 9:1,2,5; 12:28,29; 15:7,9; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 11:5; 11:13; 12:11,12; Galatians 1:1,17,19; Ephesians 1:1; 2:20; 3:5; 4:11 Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:6; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:1,11; Titus 1:1; Hebrews 3:1; 1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; 3:2; Jude 1:17; Revelation 2:2; 18:20; 21:14.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Kelleyites - an Arkansas Baptist division

For the history lover: A little history on a little known group of churches in central Arkansas - the Church of Christ Instrumental, or Kelleyites

Willard Hughes, a former member of the Kelleyites, wrote a booklet not to "prove the validity nor expose the error" of these churches, but simply to record their history and practice. His use of the term "Kelleyite" is not derogatory, but used for the purpose of clearly identifying those of whom he speaks. Their official name is "Church of Christ." Eld. E. J. Lambert, whose father was a minister of the Kelleyites, consistently refers to them as the "Church of Christ (Kelly Division of Missionary Baptists)" in his book "Tried in the Furnace". Hughes found them referred to as Kelleyites in official documents of the Works Project Administration (WPA) in the 1940's.

The Kelleyites owe their name and origin to Samuel Kelley. Kelley was born in 1817 in what is now Pike Co., Arkansas. But in early adulthood, he moved to Illinois. In Illinois, he first connected himself to the Methodists. Later he joined the Baptists and was ordained by them in 1838. Shortly after this, he returned to Arkansas. A difference in practice between the Baptists with whom he was connected in Illinois and the Baptists in Arkansas was a contributing factor to the rise of the Kelley division of the missionary Baptist church.

Kelley was a prominent and successful citizen by the standards of his day. He lived in Pike Co. and later in Howard Co. He was elected to at least one term in the State Legislature. His church was a member of the Red River Association. In 1856, he preached at the meeting of the Caddo River Association. In this sermon, he preached the doctrine of apostasy, or falling from grace. The next morning the Caddo River Association passed resolutions against Eld. Kelley, his doctrine of apostasy, the fact he had not been baptized by a Baptist, and also withdrew fellowship from the Red River Association. The next year the Red River Association excluded Samuel Kelley and his followers.

Kelley preached between 1857 and 1870 wherever he could. In 1870, Kelley convinced the Philippi Baptist Church to adopt open communion and change their name to the Philippi Church of Christ. Many Baptists in the mid-1800s referred to themselves officially as the "Baptist Church of Christ". So this change was merely dropping the name "Baptist". The Philippi church withdrew from the Caddo River Association that year, and the Association also withdrew from them. This should be considered the official date of the division of the Kelleyites from the Baptists. Persons such as Eld. Lambert considered them still to be missionary Baptists. Other churches were organized or adopted the doctrine and practice of the Kelleyites, and this movement grew for a time. Later the movement would decline, and now survives with 5 churches in Hot Spring and Clark Counties in Arkansas. Perhaps the ecumenical nature of the doctrine, rather than lack of evangelization, led to the decline.

The major differences doctrinally between the Kelleyites and the missionary Baptists of Arkansas at the time of their division was that the Kelleyites held final apostasy (or falling from grace), open communion, and alien baptism. They are similar in doctrine and practice to the Free Will Baptists, but evidently never had any connection with them. They also hold feet washing as an ordinance. This is an issue that would separate them from most present-day missionary Baptists in Arkansas (SBC, ABA, BMA, etc.), but would have been of little consequence in the mid-1800's. According to Hughes, they also have three offices: pastor, elder, and deacon. A large number of Baptists in Arkansas might now be in agreement with the Kelleyites on two of the three major differences that existed: alien baptism & open communion.

Welcome, Church of Christ - Instrumental: A Study of the Kelleyites by Willard D. Hughes (Missionary Baptist Seminary Press, Little Rock, AR, 1977).
Tried in the Furnace by Elder E. J. Lambert (Print Shop, Gordonville, PA, 1955).

Monday, January 23, 2006

Singing at Southwestern, Fort Worth

What: Sacred Harp Singing
When: Saturday, January 28, 2006, 9:30 a.m., D.V.
Where: Southwestern Seminary, Fort Worth, TX, Cowden Hall
Why: You'll love it!

More info:
William J. Reynolds Singing

"On Jordan's stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye..." - Sam­u­el Sten­nett

Sunday, January 22, 2006

At Ease in Zion

"Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria..." Amos 6:1

At ease = secure, careless

Two complimentary and parallel truths expose the error of complacency, this false sense of security -- God's children are temporary residents of this world (e.g. Heb. 11:9,10), and Christ's Kingdom is not of this world (e.g. John 18:36). God's children are foreigners, aliens, wanderers, strangers and pilgrims in this world. Their citizenship is in heaven, but they sojourn here as ambassadors for Christ -- in the world, but not of it. Jesus Christ's Kingdom is not earthly, but heavenly; it is not fleshly, but spiritual. Therefore, love not the world, neither the things of the world. Be not entangled with the affairs of this life. Lay not up treasures on earth, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.

Two contradictory actions often derive from the error of complacency, not understanding the relationship of Christians to the world -- to hunker down and be like the world or to try to "Christianize" the world. Obsession with accumulating wealth, bank accounts, houses, and lands may be evidence of the former. Efforts to make "Christians" by legislation -- as opposed to waiting on God to make them -- are often fruit of the latter.

Which kingdom do you love, work for, fight for and stand for? Many times those of us denominated Christians fight for our religious liberties, yet do not enjoy the spiritual liberties we have in Christ; we fight abortion and homosexuality in the world, while carnality and spiritual adultery go unrebuked in the church; we worry over America's debt and deficit, and remain unmoved by our own spiritual bankruptcy; yea, we fight to get prayer back in the public schools, while seemingly content that it has left our homes and churches!

"Poor and afflicted, Lord are thine;
Among the great unfit to shine;
But though the world may think it strange,
They would not with the world exchange.

Poor and afflicted, yet they trust
In God, the gracious, wise and just;
For them He deigns this lot to choose,
Nor would they dare His will refuse.

Poor and afflicted, oft they are
Sorely oppressed with want and care;
Yet He who saves them by His blood,
Makes every sorrow yield them good.

Poor and afflicted--yet they sing,
For Christ, their glorious, conquering King,
Through sufferings perfect, reigns on high,
And does their every need supply.

Poor and afflicted, filled with grief--
O Lord, afford us kind relief,
To cheer the heart that heaves a sigh,
And wipe the tears from every eye.

Poor and afflicted--yet ere long,
They'll join the bright celestial throng,
And all their sufferings then shall close,
And heaven afford them sweet repose." - Thomas Kelly

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Existence of God

God is from before time to after time -- from eternity to eternity. God is the all mighty, all power, all knowing, the Great I AM. God is in everything about us -- the very breath in our nostrils is from God. The Apostle Paul said it is in God that we live and move and have our being in the world. Some people praise Him and some people can do nothing but damn Him, but God still exists and looks upon us all. God is awesome. Romans 1:16-20 - Bobby Budd, January 1995

Friday, January 20, 2006

Seeing spots

A man who wears glasses with spots on the lenses will see spots everywhere he looks.

Probably all of us approach the Bible "seeing spots". When we read the Bible we see what we already believe. Several years ago, I discussed infant baptism with an individual who clearly had deep respect for the Bible. Yet he was like the man who had spots on his lenses. Everywhere he looked he saw infant baptism!

May God clean our lenses and help us see through the spots. We cannot approach the Bible with a truly open mind. We all come to it with presuppositions based on what we've been taught. But may it please the gracious Lord to reveal Himself to us through His word, and may we come to understand this -- even the things most contradictory to either our religious predilections or human nature are true...if that's what God says.

That reminds me of a story I heard concerning the famous "Scopes Monkey trial" (whether true or not I cannot tell). The lawyer Darrow had a man on the stand, peppering him with questions on the Bible to the point of confusion. When Darrow thought the time was right, he blurted out, "Is it true that Jonah swallowed the whale." The confused man answered, "If that's what God said."

Think about it. Yes, that is right, "IF THAT'S WHAT GOD SAID."

Let God be true, but every man a liar.

"Precious Bible! what a treasure
Does the word of God afford!
All I want for life or pleasure,
Food and medicine, shield and sword,
Is revealed
In Jehovah's sacred word." - John Newton

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Why two ordinances?

Since Jim and I discussed feet washing in the comments section of the last blog, I decided to go this direction for tonight. I realize what I will say below will open me to a lot of criticism from friend and foe, but I believe it is something that deserves more than the passing thought most of us give it.

In my opinion, to be fixated on the idea of "only two ordinances" goes beyond what we can prove by the Scriptures. Again, IMO, a certain amount of contrivance is needed to defend the "only two ordinances" position. Baptism and the Lord’s supper are not termed ordinances in the New Testament, as far as I can tell. There is a problem with most attempts to answer "why only two ordinances?" Our approach is something like this: We see that baptism and the Lord's supper are observances that stand out in significance and frequency more than any other rites or symbols in the New Testament, from feet washing to the holy kiss. Then we try to find ways to define and categorize this -- to make them stand out and explain why they do. First, it is said there are two ordinances -- baptism and the Lord's supper. Then it is said that baptism and the Lord's supper speak of who Christ was and what He did. So, ordinances speak of who Christ was and what He did, and therefore, there are two ordinances. This is a round of circular reasoning that assumes what we are asked to prove.

Because this is the prominent view today, many folks believe that all Baptists have always held that there are only two ordinances. Of the earliest known English Baptist confessions, some use the term "ordinance" and some do not. The Philadelphia Confession of Faith, first adopted by Baptists in America in 1742, added two articles to the former London Confession of Faith. In these two articles, they identified singing of psalms and laying on of hands as "ordinances".

There were other rites observed by the early church -- right hand of fellowship, laying on of hands, feet washing, holy kiss, anointing with oil, headcovering, and others. I do not see any reason that observing these, if a church so chooses, poses any threat to the value and importance of baptism and the Lord's supper. Baptists almost universally observe some form of the right hand of fellowship and laying on of hands.


Why two ordinances? Because most Baptists so define them and so say. It is Biblical enough to just say that baptism and the Lord's supper are pre-eminent in meaning and practice, without denying that other symbols had meaning to the apostles and the early church.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

One Anothering

The New Testament picture of Jesus Christ's disciples is not that of reclusive individuals withdrawn from society, but of those who are in the world but not of it. Some have emphasized going into all the world to the extreme of forgetting "one another" while going. Someone coined the phrase "one-anothering" to describe the care, fellowship and interconnectedness of the people called Christ's little flock. I recently read an online article entitled "Being the Church...Not Just Going to Church". In a day when programs, parties, games and gimics launch an all-out assault to get people to "go to church", maybe we need to remember to "be the church". May God grant some of the "one another" passages call us to this remembrance.

Wash the feet of one another
John 13:14 - If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet.
Love one another
John 15:17 - These things I command you, that ye love one another.
Receive one another
Romans 15:7 - Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.
Greet one another
II Corinthians 13:12 - Greet one another with an holy kiss.
Serve one another
Galatians 5:13 - For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
Submit to one another
Ephesians 5:21 - Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
Bear the burdens of one another
Galatians 6:2 - Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
Forbear and forgive one another
Colossians 3:13 - Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
Comfort one another
I Thessalonians 4:18 - Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
Exhort one another
Hebrews 10:25 - Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
Confess to and pray for one another
James 5:16 - Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.

"We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows,
A sympathizing tear." - John Fawcett

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Salvation personally experienced

"Anyone who cannot testify of a mighty work of God seizing and overwhelming his whole frame has not known saving grace. Those who profess that they can't remember a time when they weren't saved, need to tremble that their salvation is self-wrought and self-taught, even though their lives and works may be consistent with Biblical instruction. Have I gone too far? These distinctions are nearly incapable of verbal expression without the danger of being misunderstood, accused of some exaggeration, or actually espousing unBiblical thought." - Richard T. Smith

"The Lord will happiness divine
On contrite hearts bestow;
Then tell me gracious Lord, is mine
A contrite heart, or no?" - William Cowper

Monday, January 16, 2006

Christian culture

Disturbances arise in the minds of the children of God over reconciling normative apostolic practice and the practice of their own cultures (the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of racial, religious and/or social groups.)

Christian culture is created in Christ and prescribed in the New Testament. Though times change and cultures differ, the Christian culture is unique and exists independently. The way that Christians and churches relate to culture in any place and time may change according to those times and places. But the culture of gathering believers -- which exists outside of and independently from world governments, cultures, and standards -- is universal and permanent, having neither command to change nor necessity to conform.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Soft Pillow for a Tired Heart

Romans 8:28 is "A soft pillow for a tired heart" - R. A. Torrey

The Promise: "And we know all things work together for good"

The People of the Promise: "them that love God...them who are the called according to His purpose"

The God of the Promise: "...God..."

For us to find this passage a soft pillow for the tired heart, the God of the promise must not be the god of natural religion. Natural man approves a religion in which man is doing what he will, while God is trying to do what He can.

The God of the promise is a Sovereign God who possesses unlimited power, else He would not be able to work all things together for good. The God of the promise is an immutable God who is not susceptible to change, else we could not know all things work together for good, but perhaps wonder whether He will change His mind. The God of the promise is a compassionate and benevolent God who has a genuine care for His people, else He would not be working good. The God of the promise is a determinate God who has a definitely settled purpose, else this could not be all working according to His purpose.

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose."

"Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower." - William Cowper

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Has God done all He Can?

"What do you mean by praying that God will have mercy upon all men, and save them with an everlasting salvation, and then tell the congregation that God has done all He can to save them, and the matter rests with them, whether they will be saved or not?...if God has done all He can, why pray for Him do more? And if He has not done all He can, why tell the people He has?" - William Gadsby

Think about it.

William Gadsby (1773-1844) was a minister of the Strict and Particular Baptists in England. For 38 years he was pastor of the Strict Baptist church at Manchester, England and was the first editor of The Gospel Standard. He compiled a selection of hymns (including his own) and published them as a hymnbook entitled A Selection of Hymns for Public Worship.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Are Arminians "Saved"?

Yep, I knew that would get your attention. Right now, some Southern Baptists are debating whether persons baptized in churches that do not believe in eternal security can serve as international missionaries. A lesser controversy debates whether those holding Arminian ("free will") theology are even saved. I ran across this curious brand of "Calvinism" on a website called Outside the Camp. I have never before heard those who believe the Doctrines of Grace (commonly called TULIP or Calvinism) express the idea that Arminians (as a group) are not saved. Would you take that position? Have you ever heard others take such a position? Those espousing this seem to come to an odd position that turns their own doctrine on its head and sounds more like works for salvation than grace!

Three Reasons Why Arminians are not Saved by Christopher Adams

Reason Number One: Arminians are not saved because they worship an idol.
Reason Number Two: Arminians are not saved because they do not believe the truth.
Reason Number Three: Arminians are not saved because they hate the truth.

Wow!??

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Southern Baptists, an Unregenerate Denomination

I am not posting this to slam Southern Baptists, but rather because I found it an interesting article that addresses the problem of unregenerate church members. Jim Elliff IS a Southern Baptist. He writes this not as a cheering outsider, but as a concerned insider.

Read this not to say, "I am not as this publican," but rather to say, "Lord, have mercy on us all." The clip below is posted to develop a taste for the entire article, which can be found from the link near the end of this blog.

"How are you doing?" "Pretty well, under the circumstances." "What are the circumstances?" "Well, I have a very effective arm. It moves with quite a bit of animation. But then I have my bad leg." "What's wrong with it?" "I guess it's paralyzed. At least it doesn't do much except twitch once a week or so, but that's nothing compared with the rest of me." "What's the problem?" "From all appearances, the rest is dead. At least it stinks and bits of flesh are always falling off. I keep it well covered. About all that's left beyond that is my mouth, which fortunately works just fine. How about you?"... Like the unfortunate person above, the Southern Baptist Convention has a name that it is alive, but is in fact, mostly dead (Rev. 3:1)...Out of Southern Baptist's nearly 15.9 million members, only 5.2 million, or 32.8%, even bother to show up on a given Sunday morning, according to the Strategic Information and Planning department of the Sunday School Board (1997).

Copyright © Jim Elliff 2005 Christian Communicators Worldwide
For the rest of the article, visit Christian Communicators Worldwide:
Southern Baptists, an Unregenerate Denomination

"Tis a point I long to know
Oft it causes anxious thought;
Do I love the Lord, or no?
Am I his or am I not?" - John Newton

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Riddle

Just for fun

I ran across this riddle many years back. I don't know the original source. Can you find the answer and appropriate Scripture references? Figure it out and leave your answer in the comments. Don't look at the comments until you have the answer.

My aunt became my mother-in-law,
My cousin was my spouse;
Which made complex relationships
For members of our house.

My sister was my wife-in-law,
If you know what I mean;
But I produced the favored sons,
Though one I've scarcely seen.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Average Baptist

The average Baptist is a plain, straight thinking person. He may be a great scholar, or a hod carrier, but, in religion, he takes on the complexion and manners of the New Testament. He believes in simplicity. He likes plain preaching and simple worship. If the choir, by any machination of the devil, falls under the lead of any professional musician and is turned to singing tunes with the delirium tremens, the average Baptist is grieved, and solaces his soul by singing 'How Firm a Foundation' or 'Amazing Grace'...The average Baptist takes no stock of Easter, and the like, not that he does not believe in the resurrection; not that people may not observe days; but, like Paul, he is skittish of these extras and prefers the plain, old, level Jordan road, with a steady incline up, all the way till it reaches the city of God." J. B. Gambrell, from The Baptist Standard, May 1907

I love Gambrell's imagery: The average Baptist prefers the plain, old, level Jordan road, with a steady incline up, all the way till it reaches the city of God. I fear (though I hope I am wrong) that almost one hundred years after Gambrell wrote this, the "average" Baptist may no longer take on the complexion and manners of the New Testament. May God help us if this is so. RLV

"How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!" - from Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, 1787

James Bruton Gambrell (1841-1921) was born in South Carolina, raised in Mississippi, lived in Georgia, and later came to Texas. He was a Southern Baptist pastor, educator, and denominational leader; editor of the "Baptist Record" 14 years; President of Mercer University; editor of "The Baptist Standard"; and President of the Southern Baptist Convention 1917-1921.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The "Urgency" of Baptism

Command, precept, and example are all in favor of baptism following profession of faith as soon as possible.

EXAMPLE

The biblical account possesses a surprising consistency -- believers professed Christ and were then baptized, without lengthy delays.
[1] The day of Pentecost -- about 3000 gladly received the word and were baptized the same day (Acts 2:41)
[2] Following Pentecost -- people were being saved and added to the church daily (Acts 2:47)
[3] In Samaria -- when they believed, they were baptized (Acts 8:12)
[4] Eunuch of Ethiopia -- believed and was then baptized (Acts 8:36,37)
[5] Cornelius' gathering -- believed and were commanded to be baptized (Acts 10:44-48)
[6] Lydia -- heard the truth and was baptized (Acts 16:14,15)
[7] Philippian jailer -- baptized the very night he (and his family) believed; didn't even seem to wait until morning (Acts 16:31-33)
[8] The Corinthians -- were baptized when they believed (Acts 18:8)
[9] Twelve Ephesians -- heard the truth and were baptized (Acts 19:1-7)
[10] Paul -- seems to be a possible exception, but notice that on the road to Damascus there was evidently none who could baptize him and when the Lord sent Ananias to tell him what to do, he was immediately baptized (Acts 9:5,9,18).

PRECEPT

One precept is identity. Baptism identifies us with Christ in His baptism and testifies that we are following Christ. This identification should not be delayed. Our obedience and identification prepare us to walk in newness of life. Raised out of a watery grave, we are pictorially raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Death to sin, burial of the old man, and resurrection to new life are officially announced. A second precept is gospel order. The gospel order is -- received the word, baptized, added to the church, continuing in doctrine and fellowship, and breaking of bread (Acts 2:41,42). The Lord was adding to the Jerusalem church daily, such as should be saved; then they were baptized (or else not added to the church daily, since baptism precedes church membership), Acts 2:47. To preach the duty and necessity of church membership, the necessity of baptism to precede church membership, and then postpone baptism, is to deny in practice the truth we preach.

COMMAND

Baptism is a command of God to the convert (e.g. Acts 2:38; 10:48) and to the church (Matt. 28:18-20). Should obeying God be delayed? Is not a church guilty when it encourages sloth, even inadvertently, about obeying one of God's commands? How much more, possibly, this first command? Baptism is the first act of obedience required by God of the believer. Obedience should not be delayed. The evidence is heavily weighted in favor of baptisms sooner rather than later.

I understand some of the reasons raised in favor of delaying baptism. I also strenuously object to the easy-believism pseudo-evangelistic methods that are often associated with "quick" baptisms. Nevertheless, our reasons and objections are invalid in light of New Testament command, precept, and example.

The idea is not that if one professes faith at 11:55 a.m. that he or she must be in the water by 12:00 noon. The idea is that once one has professed faith, what scriptural hindrance is there between that and his/her baptism? The eunuch said, "What doth hinder me to be baptized?" How did Philip answer? "There are too many logistical problems, we'll have to put it off for awhile"? "Let's try to schedule it so Mom & Dad can be there"? or "After you've had a few classes on Baptist doctrine, I'll get back to you"? No! It was, "if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." Philip could not baptize the eunuch until they arrived at the body of water, but when they were there, and there was a legitimate profession, there was NOTHING else that stood in the way of his baptism. If that's not a good Bible principle I don't think I'm capable of seeing one!

The order of the commission seems to be evangelism, then baptism, then instruction (Matt. 28:18-20). I am NOT saying that a person's baptism is not valid because it is delayed. I AM saying that our reason for delaying is not valid. This will succinctly sum up my position -- If a church accepts a person's profession as genuine, there is neither Biblical example nor doctrinal reason to delay baptizing that person.

"Christians, if your hearts are warm,
Ice and snow can do no harm;
If by Jesus you are prized,
Rise, believe and be baptized." - John Leland

Happy Anniversary 1937-2006

Sixty-nine years ago today, January 9th, 1937, Charlie Vaughn and Adelaide Chapman were united in matrimony in Rusk County, Texas. Sixty-nine years later they are still together in Rusk County, Texas. With the exception of a year or so during World War II, they have spent very few of some 25,200 days apart. Happy anniversary, Mom & Dad!

"Thus far the Lord hath led me on,
Thus far His power prolongs my days" - Isaac Watts

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Who Can Baptize?

Who Can Baptize? Anyone? Any believer? Any baptized believer? A church? Anybody a congregation chooses to authorize? Any ordained minister? The apostles?

We have discussed this on an e-mail list I'm on. Also a disagreement over a policy of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention about who is authorized to baptize has brought the question to the forefront in Baptist blogging communities. If one Convention of Baptists cooperating together and supporting the same program cannot agree on who can baptize, how much more so among all the different groups of Baptists?

Who can baptize? How can we know who can baptize? The Bible must decide the question. Surely the apostolic understanding of Jesus' command must inform us on who can baptize. When they undertook to obey the command of Jesus Christ, how did they perform it? Who baptized? Let us look at the command and the examples, and consider the precepts (teaching) in the Bible concerning baptism to see whether they shed light on the subject.

COMMAND (often referred to as the Great Commission)
Baptism is a command of God to be performed (Matt. 28:18-20) and to be submitted to (e.g. Acts 2:38; 10:48). The command to baptize is found in Matthew 28:18-20 (compare also Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:46-49; and Acts 1:8). The order of the command is make disciples, baptize, and teach. The fact that baptism is commanded to be performed suggests that those commanded, and no others, are the proper administrators of baptism.

Within the immediate context, most accept that Jesus was speaking to and commanding the apostles. For example, John Gill (commenting on Matt. 28:18) wrote, "…the following words were only spoken to the apostles." Most would probably agree that only the apostles were present when Jesus gave this commission (e.g.: v. 16 - "Then the eleven disciples went..."), though some in harmonizing the gospels may dispute this. If Jesus was speaking to the apostles, it is possible to understand the command in the following ways -- to the apostles as apostles; to the apostles as church representatives; to the apostles as preachers; to the apostles as individual believers. It is possible that He could also speak to them as members of the human race, but I suppose most would not think of that as applicable to this discussion.

EXAMPLE
If I have examined the Scriptures correctly and thoroughly, there are about ten examples of baptisms after Jesus gave the above-mentioned command to the apostles. Certainly this is not all the New Testament era baptisms, but I believe this exhausts the descriptive accounts in the book of Acts. In some cases, the account specifies the administrator. In others, the administrator is easily surmised, while in other cases, the administrator may be assumed, but cannot be definitely identified. Here are the accounts in chronological order: [1] Acts 2:41; [2] Acts 8:12; [3] Acts 8:13; [4] Acts 8:36-38; [5] Acts 9:5,9,18; (cf. Acts 22:16) [6] Acts 10:44-48; [7] Acts 16:14,15; [8] Acts 16:31-33; [9] Acts 18:8 (cf. I Corinthians 1:14-16); [10] Acts 19:1-7. Baptism is also mentioned in Acts 1:5, 22; 10:37; 11:16; 13:24 -- all in reference to John’s baptism.

The baptisms recorded in Acts may be reasonably, though not indisputably, categorized in the following manner:

Administrator known
Samaritans -- Philip baptized believing Samaritans (Acts 8:12)
Simon the sorcerer -- Philip baptized Simon (Acts 8:13)
Eunuch of Ethiopia -- Philip baptized the eunuch (Acts 8:36-38)
Saul/Paul -- Ananias baptized Paul (Acts 9:5,9,18)
The Corinthians -- some were baptized by Paul (Acts 18:8), though most were not (cf. I Corinthians 1:14-16)
Twelve Ephesians -- Paul baptized twelve men in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7)

Administrator assumed
Cornelius' gathering -- Peter commanded them to be baptized and probably performed it, though the text is not specific (Acts 10:44-48)
Lydia -- heard the truth and was baptized, presumably by Paul, but Luke, Silas or Timothy probably can’t be ruled out (Acts 16:14,15)
Philippian jailer -- evidently Paul or Silas baptized the jailer and his household (Acts 16:31-33)

Administrator unknown
The day of Pentecost -- the Apostles are the generally assumed administrators, though the text does not specifically say (Acts 2:41)
The Corinthians -- Paul did not baptize all of them (I Corinthians 1:14-16); plausible candidates include Silas, Timothy, Apollos and Peter.

Those who have a different point of view could argue against some of these as I have assigned them. The eunuch and several named in Corinth are indisputable as to the administrators. The baptisms in Samaria by Philip should be an objective conclusion, since no one else is mentioned with him. Ananias baptizing Paul seems reasonable. Most others cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and some people hold that the 'rebaptisms' of Acts 19 are not actual baptisms at all. All references emphasize the candidate -- "be baptized", in the passive voice -- except two, which emphasizes the administrator in the active voice (Acts 8: & I Cor. 1:14, 16).

The known cases show that the command was not given to the apostles exclusively, because not all administrators were apostles. The examples that are certain or somewhat certain point to church officers, ministers or apostles as the administrators of baptism. They do not show that all believers indiscriminately were performing baptisms. Those who hold that anyone can baptize might argue that the unknown cases leave room for their position. But there is only silence and no support. The Biblical emphasis is on the candidate, not the administrator. This does not mean that the administrator does not matter.

PRECEPT
Is there anything in the teaching, nature or meaning of baptism that requires an authorized administrator? These passages in the epistles address the subject: Romans 6:3-4; I Corinthians 1:14-17; 10:2; 12:13; 15:29; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:5; Colossians 2:12; Hebrews 6:2; and I Peter 3:21. I see no strong argument from the nature or meaning of baptism concerning the administrator. We, having put on Christ, are baptized into His death and raised to walk in newness of life. One precept that might be related is identity. Baptism identifies us with Christ in His baptism and testifies that we are following Christ. If we are identifying as followers of Christ, we would not want to be identified in baptism by someone who is not a follower of Christ. A second precept that might apply is gospel order. The gospel order is -- received the word, baptized, added to the church, continuing in doctrine and fellowship, and breaking of bread (Acts 2:41,42). If we consider this as a matter of continuous replication, it could be important that the administrator is within this continuum. Thirdly, we might consider the "one baptism". If there is only one baptism, should the administrator have that one baptism? Even if one admits the above conclusions (e.g., some believe the "one baptism" is spiritual rather than water baptism), at most they suggest an administrator who is a baptized believer. Many would point to Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 1 ("Christ sent me not to baptize", etc.) as portraying the administrator of baptism as insignificant. But nothing in the precepts would contradict limiting authorized administrators to persons acting in a ministerial capacity.

Can anyone baptize? NO. The command clearly WAS NOT given to unbelievers. So immediately we know the lowest common denominator for an administrator -- a believer, a follower of the way. The following we can safely assert: those who baptized in early New Testament times were believers who had been baptized and were part of Jesus' gathered church. All known cases were persons acting in a sort of ministerial capacity -- apostle, evangelist (or deacon), and one directly commissioned to baptize (Ananias, possibly an elder at Damascus). Command and example favor this as the normative practice of the church.

The "Rebaptisms" of Acts 19

Acts 19:1-7 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And all the men were about twelve.

Why did these people at Ephesus need baptism? They were baptized "unto John's baptism". A number of ideas have been posited -- because they had not received the Holy Spirit; they "were not saved"; that John's baptism was not "Christian baptism", and perhaps others. I think these are untenable, though I am not sure I can offer an alternate explanation.

The first two are usually tied together in the minds of folks that hold the idea. They did not have the Holy Spirit, so therefore they had not been born again, saved, regenerated, or whatever terminology they use to refer to faith in Christ through believing the Gospel. For example: "Rebaptism in the New Testament seemingly occurred only when a group of people never had received the Holy Spirit, who is the seal of salvation. Although the dozen people had John's baptism, they were then properly baptized as they trusted in Jesus and received the promised Holy Spirit." But this interpretation creates a problem with the Samaritan believers' experience (see Acts 8:5-17). The believers in Samaria were baptized, then afterwards the Apostles came to Samaria and laid their hands on them, and they received (same as Acts 19) the Holy Ghost. They WERE NOT "re"baptized. Compare the similarities of Acts 8:14-17 and Acts 19:6. If the absence of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit invalidated the baptism of these Ephesians, why not the Samaritans? Consider also that these Ephesians are plainly called "disciples" and "believers".

Something lacking in John's baptism is another main reason given for these folks needing to be baptized. Apparently a number of the Anabaptists so believed. The Easton Illustrated Dictionary states, "John's Baptism was not Christian baptism...those whom John baptized were rebaptized by Paul." But consider: (1). John's authority was from heaven. Compare Matthew 21:25-27 and John 1:6. (2). John the Baptist preached the Holy Ghost (of whom they professed they had not heard). Compare v. 2 & Matthew 3:11. (3). John required evidence of repentance (Matt. 3:8), and no one can experience it without the influence and work of the Holy Ghost. (4). Their answer (v. 3 "Unto John's baptism"; eis to Ioannou baptisma) implies that they were not actually baptized by John, but perhaps by someone following his teachings. (5). Apollos, a disciple of John ("knowing only the baptism of John", Acts 18:25,26) was not "re"baptized. He only needed further instruction, which he received from Aquilla and Priscilla.

If not these, then what? I would like to follow the interpretation of John Gill, who wrote, "...these are the words of the Apostle Paul, giving an account of John's baptism, and of the success of his ministry, showing, that his baptism was administered in the name of the Lord Jesus..." In other words, in verse 5, Luke is still recording what Paul is saying about people being baptized by John, rather than stating that the Ephesians were baptized. If Gill is correct, no actual baptisms occur in the Acts 19:1-7 pericope. Just discussion of John's baptism. As I said, I would like to follow Gill -- seems to wrap up and cut off any further questions about "re"baptism. I just can't see it fitting the sentence structure and context.

That leaves me with only one other option of which I can think -- these disciples in Ephesus had been baptized by someone who had heard John preach the Messiah and then picked up an incomplete message and ran with it. This person would have been unauthorized to adminster John's baptism. This is similar to the position laid out by Elder David Pyle, "...those people were rebaptized. This was done notwithstanding the fact that those people were sincere in their convictions when they were first baptized, and notwithstanding the fact that the Bible considered them to be believers when they were first baptized." I certainly hate to hang theology out on many supposes, but I've not been given a better answer.

Comments? Enlightenment?

Friday, January 06, 2006

In Memory - Mark Dudley Matlock: 1959-2006

Mark Matlock died Thursday January 5 in a car accident. He was 46 years old. He was a member of the Union Springs Baptist Church, where his father is the pastor. In addition of son to Bro. & Sis. Glenn Matlock, Mark was husband to Marilyn, father to Rebecca and Paul, brother to John and Rachel, and friend to many. May God comfort his loved ones.

"Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord..."

Biblical Principles for Church Music (3)

SUMMARY

*Jesus put His stamp of approval on audible group singing by the church in gathered worship. The gathered church should sing songs that praise God. Singing outside of the gathered church is acceptable to God as well as that in the congregation.
*The contented Christian finds reasons to praise God in all situations. Singing is appropriate on occasions that may seem inappropriate by worldly standards. Praying and singing are a powerful combination.
*Singing with a musical instrument does not inhere in the Greek word "psalmos".
*Songs should have meaningful content. Songs that are unintelligible should be avoided. Songs should engage both mind and spirit. Keep in mind the edification of the WHOLE congregation.
*The heart, more than the voice, should be "in tune". God must be the focus of the song service. The church music should aid and not impede us in worshipping God in spirit and in truth.

PRINCIPLES VERSUS LAW

Principle = a basic standard that is accepted as true and that can be used as a basis for reasoning or conduct

Law = a legal document or body of rules of conduct binding upon human society and governing activity

Many people would rather have a law than a principle because it is easier (requires less thought and less work), and, like the Pharisees, when it is performed they can feel like they have done all that God requires. What in the world do I mean? Let me give an example that may illustrate. The Baptists that originally came to East Texas did not believe that tithing was a New Testament command, but rather that it was part of the Law of Moses. Instead of teaching tithing they taught the principle of giving as God prospered and giving out of love. The law said 10%, but the principle did not tell the individual exactly how much to give; he had to work it out himself. Some (misers) did not want anything at all to be taught concerning giving. Along came preachers (first, the SBC'ers, then the BMA's & Independents) and taught that the tithe was a command for the New Testament church. At first, many fought it, but it was gradually accepted. Where once people did not apply the principle and give as they should, now many ONLY give 10% and believe they have done all God has required them to do!

I think this mentality applies in the question of church music. Some want a law that explicitly says what music may or may not be used. They are comfortable with that. Others do not want anyone to mention anything about music being good or bad. Let everyone decide for themselves and do what they want. A Biblical principle requires study and thought about how it should be applied. It places great responsibility on us. With music, if we honestly and inwardly consider principles such as the ones we have discussed here, we will at times find songs that we love and enjoy do not really fit God's principles for music. We may fight it, because there is no law that says we can't listen to it. But remember, we know these principles (at least some of them), and we will give an account to God.

Why didn't God just lay down laws for all these things? Wouldn't that have been much easier? If He had, He would have given a law for every single situation in which we might find ourselves, and we would have to know every law for every situation. Principles may be applied broadly as we run into the different situations and problems of life. This also allows us room to grow in grace, and individual soul liberty. But let's not use that liberty for license.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Biblical Principles for Church Music (2)

Matthew 26:30: "And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives." (cf. Mk. 14:26) Hebrews 2:12: "...in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee."

The "they" of the Matthew 26 is the Lord Jesus and His apostles. After the Lord instituted His supper, He and the apostles sang an hymn and departed into the mount of Olives. The Hebrews passage alludes to Jesus and prophecy concerning Him, and indicates He sang praise in the midst of the church (congregation). In light of this, and the Ephesians & Colossians passages, it is amazing to me that Baptists had a controversy over whether to sing when gathered as a church. Beginning in the old country and ending in the new, Baptists in the 1600-1700's were divided over whether or not to sing. The Philadelphia Association even added a statement concerning "Of Singing of Psalms in Public Worship" to the 1689 London Confession, concluding that it was ordained of God for public assemblies.

Some Conclusions:
1. Jesus put His stamp of approval on audible group singing by the church when He instigated and participated in it in gathered worship.
2. The tradition of closing the Lord's supper with an hymn is good one based on precedent.
3. The gathered church should sing songs that praise God.

James 5:13: "Is any among you afflicted? let him PRAY. Is any merry? let him SING psalms." Acts 16:22,24,25: "...beat them...and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight Paul and Silas PRAYED and SANG praises unto God..."
Singing is most often associated with happiness and merriment (cf. Matt. 11:17). But we must keep in mind that Christian joy differs from that of the world. In Philippi, in jail, Paul and Silas were both afflicted and merry, as revealed in their prayers and singing. Jesus sang an hymn with His disciples just before going into agonizing prayer in the garden. Paul and Silas sung in jail after being beaten and put in stocks. With the peace that passeth all understanding and joy unspeakable offered to us by our Lord, we find reasons to praise God in all situations. "Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." Habukkuk 3:17,18

Some Conclusions:
1. The contented Christian finds reasons to praise God in all situations.
2. Singing is appropriate on occasions that may seem inappropriate by worldly standards. (Might James 5 imply that singing is not always appropriate, such as singing when one ought to be calling the elders of the church?)
3. Singing outside of the gathered church is acceptable to God as well as that in the congregation.
4. Praying and singing are a powerful combination.
5. Singing with a musical instrument does not inhere in the Greek word "psalmos". (Many teach that "psalmos" MEANS to sing with musical accompaniment. It may allow for that, but does not MEAN that)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Biblical Principles for Church Music (1)

Specific scriptures from which we may derive principles for Church Music

Controversy over music has a long-standing tradition in Baptist circles. Some of the past controversies include: whether to sing or not; whether to use the Psalms or "hymns of human composure"; whether usual singing (lining out hymns) or regular singing (using musical notation); whether to use round or shaped notes; and whether or not to use instruments.

The best approach to church music is to develop principles based on the teachings of the Bible, and then apply those principles to songs and singing to determine if they are scriptural and appropriate for the congregational worship context.

I Corinthians 14:15: "...I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with understanding also."

Singing should take place with the mind engaged. Therefore, the words should be meaningful and intelligible. We should take thought of what we are singing. Meditate on it. We should not be singing by rote -- if we are not careful we are singing just by memory with no real thought of what we are saying. We also should not adopt a song merely because it has a catchy tune. The words must be meaningful. BUT, while unintelligible songs are worthless, so are those driven by intellectualism alone. Singing is a spiritual exercise, and even the best words become lackluster if there is no "feeling", no "reality", no "spirit". To sing spiritually we must first have the Spirit, and then be in a worshipful attitude toward God. The mind does not exclude the Spirit, nor the Spirit the mind.

Colossians 3:16: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly with all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
Ephesians 5:19: "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;"

First, notice that in Colossians singing is associated with the Word and in Ephesians with the Spirit (v.18). This is in agreement with I Cor. 14:15, and emphasizes that the Spirit and the Word are complimentary, not contradictory. The tri-directional purpose may be seen both in Colossians and Ephesians: (1) to others, "teaching and admonishing one another"; (2) for one's self, "in your hearts"; (3) to God, "to the Lord". Singing is a congregational exercise, not merely for the enjoyment of a single individual or a few individuals. Even those who can't or won't sing may be taught, admonished, and spoken to through the song. It must have a meaning, and through the song the congregants speak to one another. Though singing can and will be enjoyable, it is not merely for entertainment. One is not singing just for the benefit of others; it must come from the heart. It must come from God. Singing is worship, and worship must be real. It is more than a form. It wells up inside and flows out. The song should be in our heart before it touches our lips. Finally, the song that springs within us and flows toward others must also be directed toward God in deliberate and sincere worship, praise and honour of Him. Even though the words may be good, and we may be feeling it in our heart, in the final analysis, the song is lacking if not directed to God. All three of these elements should be present in the music of the Lord's churches.

Consider also that these passages are vitally connected with John 4:24: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."

These principles suggest:
1. Songs should have meaningful content.
2. Songs should engage both mind and spirit.
3. People should think about what is being sung.
4. Keep in mind the edification of the WHOLE congregation.
5. The heart, more than the voice, should be "in tune".
6. God must be the focus of the song service.
7. Songs that are unintelligible (whether because of senseless lyrics or sounds that overpower the words) should be avoided.
8. The church music should aid and not impede us in worshipping God in spirit and in truth.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Do shaped notes "work"?

What are shaped notes?

Shaped notes are a device created to make sight reading music easier. Shaped note-heads were invented near the end of the 18th century in the United States. A different shape is used to represent the different syllables of the scale instead of all round note-heads. "Shaped notes were invented for the purpose of making it possible for large numbers of people to be quickly taught to sing correctly in parts for harmony, to the edification of all." (Sightler, Music in the Bible)

Do shaped notes "work"?

That is, do shaped note heads actually facilitate the learning of music? Do they improve sight reading ability? By learning of music, I have in mind singing rather than playing instruments. Most shape-note partisans would readily argue that they do help. Those never exposed to the shape note tradition (if they have an opinion) or those who have rejected it, may feel that the shapes are of no help. Some who could already read music before coming to the shape note tradition might concur that they are of no real help.

Irving Lowens and Allen P. Britton wrote, "Had this pedagogical tool been accepted by 'the father of singing among the children', Lowell Mason, and others who shaped the patterns of American music education, we might have been more successful in developing skilled music readers and enthusiastic amateur choral singers in the public schools." (Journal of Research in Music Education, Spring 1953) So on might go the debate, each side presenting their theories with no experimental comparison to provide proof. A good comparison would have to take the form of a controlled study. The subjects of the study would need to be young enough not to have established patterns and preferences. Wouldn't it be helpful to conduct such a study? Just such a study was actually carried out!

In the 1950s, George H. Kyme carried out a controlled study of "shaped notes versus round notes" with an experimental group of fourth and fifth grade students living in California. Kyme carefully matched his experimental and control groups for ability, quality of teacher, and many other factors. He found that the students taught with shaped notes learned to sight-read music much better than those taught without them. The results were statistically highly significant. As a side effect of his experiment, Kyme also found that the students taught with shaped notes were more likely to pursue musical activities in their future education. Kyme proved what shape-note singers already knew -– shaped note heads improve our sight-reading and facilitate our singing. Though perhaps no particular blessing to the instrumentalist, they are a boon for the singer.

1. Music in the Bible and in the True Church, by James H. Sightler
2. "The Easy Instructor (1798-1831): A History andBibliography of the first Shape Note Tune Book," Journal of Research in Music Education, I (Spring 1953), 32. Irving Lowens and Allen P. Britton
3. "An Experiment in Teaching Children to Read Music with Shape Notes," Journal of Research in Music Education, VIII, (Spring 1960), pp. 3-8. George H. Kyme
4. Some material adapted from an article which I and many others have written on Wikipedia, and can be used under the GNU Free Documentation License: "Wikipedia content can be copied, modified, and redistributed so long as the new version grants the same freedoms to others and acknowledges the authors of the Wikipedia article used (a direct link back to the article satisfies our author credit requirement)." Wikipedia.org - Shape_note

"Shaped notes -- helpful for those who know them, unobtrusive to those who don't."

Monday, January 02, 2006

To Sing or Not to Sing?

To sing or not to sing, that is the question. You might be surprised that it hasn't always been answered "to sing".

"The earliest Baptist worship was lengthy and dealt primarily with Bible exposition. There was no singing, and Baptists put great value upon spontaneity and audience participation.

By the 1670s, some Baptist churches were singing both the Psalms and 'man-made' songs. This was quite controversial, and many churches split over the 'singing controversy.' Benjamin Keach, a London pastor, led his church to sing a hymn after the Lord’s Supper, and within a few years they were also singing during regular worship services. In 1691, Keach published the first Baptist hymnal, Spiritual Melody, a collection of over three hundred hymns." - Leon McBeth

"...Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name." - Hebrews 13:15

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A New Year's Sermon

Ever hear the expression "preaching your own funeral"? Try this.

On the first day of January in 1770, Baptist pastor Morgan Edwards preached a New Year's sermon. He chose these words from Jeremiah 28:16: "This year thou shalt die." He did not expound the text. Rather he believed that he would die within the year and was in effect preaching his own funeral sermon. However, as Martha Mitchell writes, "The year expired, but Morgan did not, thereby diminishing his credibility." In fact, he lived twenty-five years after this event. Morgan Edwards' boondoggle became, as one Quaker minister said, not Edwards' death, but the death of his ministry. Edwards resigned his pastorate and never pastored again.

Morgan Edwards was born in Wales in 1722. He received a thorough education, studying under such Baptist notables as Samuel Stennett and John Gill. He read the Old and New Testaments in Hebrew and Greek. He led in founding Brown University in Rhode Island. He pastored the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, and served as both Moderator and Clerk of the historic Philadelphia Baptist Association. His Materials toward a History of the Baptists is an important document about Baptists of his era. He died in Delaware in 1795.

Perhaps Edwards' ministry ended because of his carelessness in exposing a premonition that turned out to be wrong. On the other hand, perhaps his carelessness was ordered to end his ministry. Regardless, let us learn to carefully weigh our impulses and impressions, and be careful to value God's meaning of God’s word above our own.

However, this year someone will die. It might be someone I know. It might be you; it might be me. It is appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgment. All have sinned and the wages of sin is death. There is a time to die. Jesus has the keys of hell and death. He opens and no man shuts. He shuts and no man opens. Yes, this year someone will die.

We do not know the day or the hour our time shall come. We ought to learn to say, "If the Lord will, we shall live and do this or that." Let us not be as the rich fool, for one day we shall hear the summons, "This night thy soul shall be required of thee!" Then shouldn't we live each new day and begin every new year in the light of that knowledge?

And am I born to die,
To lay this body down?
And must this trembling spirit fly,
Into a world unknown? - Charles Wesley