Showing posts with label Church history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Church history. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Punchard and Congregationalism

According to Wikipedia, "The idea that each distinct congregation fully constitutes the visible Body can, however, be traced to John Wyclif and the Lollard movement which followed after Wyclif was removed from teaching authority in the Roman Catholic Church." The Catholic Encyclopedia says, "The earliest literary exponent of Independence was Robert Brown, from whom the dissenters were nicknamed Brownists."

In contrast to these statements, in his books A View of Congregationalism and History of Congregationalism George Punchard compiles biblical and historical evidence of the practice of congregational church government, long before John Wyclif or Robert Browne.

About George Punchard:
PUNCHARD, George, editor, born in Salem, Massachusetts. 7 June, 1806; died in Boston, Massachusetts, 2 April, 1880; graduated at Dartmouth in 1826, and at Andover Theological Seminary in 1829. From 1830 till 1844 he was pastor of a Congregational church in Plymouth, New Hampshire; associate editor and proprietor of the "Boston Traveler," of which he was also a founder, from 1845 till 1857, and again from 1867 till 1871. He was secretary of the New England branch of the American tract society, and the author of a "View of Congregationalism " (Andover, 1850), and a " History of Congregationalism from A. D. 250 to 1616 " (1841 : 2d ed., 3 vols., New York, 1865-'7).

Monday, April 15, 2013

Another Problem of Ecclesiology

Last year I wrote a reply to Daniel Wallace's post on The Problem of Protestant Ecclesiology. I subscribed to notification of replies on that thread. Over a year later Wallace is still facilitating much tooting of the long horn of those in support of the apostolic succession of either the Catholic, Orthodox or Anglican churches. This subject is approached with a great deal of pride, based on antiquity, universality, and consensus. History proves they're not as old as they think, at least not in the sense of a proven apostolic succession or resemblance to the New Testament church. The fact that there are three of them (and many more) demonstrates that talk of universality and consensus is also cheap.

Many appeals are made to the church fathers. Each seems to see this as an almost unassailable position. In reality church fathers are embraced and discarded according to their affinity to a particular tradition. Augustine for Catholics, Anselm for Anglicans, for Orthodox, none of which would likely embrace Coptic Saint Samuel the Confessor. And Arius is a church father as well, regardless of who doesn't want to claim him! Alternately some are revered as church fathers and then anathemized, or vice versa.

The appeal to traditional interpretations of "the church" should be compared to traditional interpretations of the elders of Israel, and then compared to the example of Jesus and his Apostles. They accepted and believed the Old Testament canon while rejecting the traditions and interpretations that had grown up from the "Israel fathers".

These churches may claim that their doctrine (in exclusion of the others) is semper eadem (always the same) or quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus (what has been held always, everywhere, by everybody). Once you exclude as churches everybody who does not always agree with you, I suppose it is easy to claim this is true. One among the Orthodox wrote that "Every church believes the same thing while leaving room for regional differences in praxis." But this reveals they in fact don't believe the same thing, unless they don't believe what they practice. Friendship and acquaintances with Roman Catholics exposes one to wide diversity of theology and practice, regardless of what "the church" says they believe.

The ecumenical councils are accepted as examples of an exercise of church consensus, continuity and infallibility. Yet, there were disagreements in the councils, on which councils are ecumenical and on which portions of the councils are to be accepted. Of the early ecumenical councils, Oriental Orthodoxy recognizes only the first three, Eastern Orthodoxy seven and Roman Catholicism eight. Consensus is not achieved by achieving consensus, but by excommunicating those who deny the consensus. Might makes right and vae victis (woe to the vanquished ones)!

Comparison of the growth of the acorn of the New Testament church into an oak tree reveals some things that have grown into a giraffe. Praying to the dead, the veneration of images, the perpetual virginity of Mary, the monarchical papacy and such like expose a different creature to our sight. But "none of this moves them" who are reinforced by their church's infallibility. But hold on, in the next post we will investigate a stain attached to all these churches which they cannot wash away, try as though they might. Even babes recognize, despite all rhetoric to the contrary, that something doesn't add up to New Testament Christianity here!

Monday, March 18, 2013

10 things related to the Bones of Peter

Roman Catholics and non-Catholics have debated about whether Peter is buried in Rome, or whether he ever went to Rome. Catholics see proof of such a claim as support for their idea of Peter as the first pope. Non-Catholics believe that the absence of Peter's bones in Rome weaken the Roman Catholic claims. In actuality, there are two different debates. The physical/historical fact of Peter being in Rome, if in fact he was, would not prove the existence of the papacy or that he was the first pope. Whether Peter's bones are in Rome is an archaeological and historical debate. Whether he was the first pope is a biblical and theological debate.

The biblical evidence for Peter being in Rome is scant. Taken overall, if he were there it is not likely he spent much of his time there.  Yet historical tradition favors the idea that Peter went to Rome and was martyred under Nero. There is a claim that the tomb (and bones) of Peter have been identified. Much of this is set forth in John Evangelist Walsh's The Bones of St. Peter. On the other hand, a reviewer of this book wrote that it "unintentionally describes the rough treatment of the investigation, its poor planning and commission, the ineptitude of some participants and the shear, disquieting lack of professionalism." Certainly the discovery of Peter's bones in Rome was not without bias! Whether Peter traveled to Rome is attested in history and tradition, but cannot be proven biblically.

1. Paul is silent with respect to Peter being in the city of Rome. Covering quite a period of years, Paul wrote one letter to the church in Rome, and at least five written from Rome (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon and II Timothy). In these letters to the church at Rome or writing from Rome to others, Paul never mentions Peter. (Yet both Paul and Peter mention one another in one letters.) In his last days, only Luke was with him (II Timothy 4:10-11).
2. The letter to the disbursed Hebrews was written from Italy (Hebrews 13:24). Peter is not mentioned. (I list this separately because of disagreement whether this epistle was written by Paul.)
3. Paul’s journey to the city of Rome is recorded by Luke in Acts 27 and 28 without any mention of Peter.
4. Peter was an apostle to the Jews (Gal. 2:7-8) and Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13). The city of Rome is a Gentile city. (This does not mean Peter could not have gone there, but only questions whether he would have extended his stay there permanently.)
5. The word "Rome" occurs only nine times in the English New Testament -- Acts 2:10; 18:2; 19:21; 23:11; 28:14,16; Romans 1:7,15; 2 Timothy 1:17. Peter is never mentioned in connection with it. But in I Peter 5:13 Peter tells us that he wrote that letter from the city of Babylon. In "Was Peter in Rome", Catholic Answers magazine states that "Babylon is a code-word for Rome" and points out this kind of use in the writings of early Fathers. I agree that "Babylon" does often stand for Rome in the Scriptures (cf. Revelation 17:5)

In 1968 Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) officially declared the tomb of Peter had been conclusively identified. This probably settles the issue for Roman Catholics. But if Peter were not the first pope, Pope Paul VI didn't speak ex cathedra and this remains an open question for non-Catholics.* For those answers we look to the Bible.

While Peter's life and death in Rome (or not) may prove interesting historically, it is not crucial to the issue of whether the papacy was instituted by Christ. This should be settled not by history or tradition, but by God's revelation through His inspired apostles and prophets.

1. Peter was married (1 Corinthians 9:5; Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38). Popes take the vow of celibacy. 
2. The Roman Catholic Church misinterprets Jesus' promise of Matthew 16:18-19, believing that the church is built on Peter and that he has divine authority above all others. Regardless of one's interpretation of these verses, it must be fairly acknowledged that whatever power is given to Peter in Matthew 16 -- the power of binding and loosing -- is equally distributed to all the apostles in Matthew 18:15-20. This is fact, is given to all the church (v. 19-20).
3. Latecomers may view Jesus distributing exclusive power to Peter, but the apostles did not understand such an occurrence to have transpired. They continued to strive over who should be the greatest (cf. Matthew 20:20-24; Mark 9:33-34; Luke 22:24). Jesus did not resolve the issue by referring back to any occasion in which He made Peter the greatest. Rather He gave an example of Gentile hierarchy and plainly stated it should not be so among them (cf. Matthew 22:25-28; Luke 22:25-27).
4. The New Testament does not emphasize Peter as a supreme leader. At the council in Jerusalem, Peter does not speak ex cathedra, that is, from the chair for the church** above any of the others (e.g. Paul, Barnabas, James) and final decision is made by the apostles and elders, with the whole church (Read Acts chapter 15). In Acts 11 Peter had to give account to the church at Jerusalem for his preaching to the Gentiles. In a weak moment for Peter in Antioch, Paul withstood him to his face (Galatians 2:11-14). It seems odd, too, if Peter were pope, that the Bible would give a greater historical account of the ministry of Paul, and include a much greater body of his work in its inspired oracles.
5. The Roman Catholic Church sets up a division in the body of Christ based on leaders, contrary to I Corinthians 1. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you...” This was on account of the church divided into following men. “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:10–12). Setting up Peter in authority and following his successors to the exclusion of others amounts to saying, “I [am] of Cephas.” For this the Corinthians were rebuked.

This is very little biblical weight behind the idea of Peter living at and entombed in Rome. "It is only after the emergence and evolution of the state-church on the heels of the legalization of Christianity by Constantine, and the proclamation of Christianity as the official state religion by Theodosius, that the role and influence of the Bishop of Rome as titular head of the Catholic Church began to be consolidated." On the other hand, the grand weight of scriptural evidence denies the possibility of an authoritative Peter who was head of "The Church".

* For opposing versions of this, see Was Peter in Rome and Tracing the original tombs.
** "...its present meaning was formally determined by the Vatican Council, Sess. IV, Const. de Ecclesiâ Christi, c. iv: 'We teach and define that it is a dogma Divinely revealed that the Roman pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals, and that therefore such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves and not from the consent of the Church irreformable.'"

Sunday, March 03, 2013

12 reasons for the Church Before Pentecost

12 reasons I believe that there was a church in existence before the day of Pentecost

These reasons may seem fairly simplistic, but it doesn't take too much to satisfy a simple mind like mine!*

1. The church is referred to before Pentecost, both by the word "church" (Matt. 16:18; 18:17) and by its figurative names - flock, bride, house, etc. (Luke 12:32, cf. I Pet. 5:2; John 3:29, cf. Eph. 5:22-31; Mark 13:33-36, cf. I Tim. 3:15).
2. The English word "church" is a translation of the Greek word "ekklesia", which means a called-out assembly. Jesus disciples were both called-out and assembling with Him before the day of Pentecost (e.g. Matt. 4:19; John 1:35ff).
3. Apostles were set in the church (I Cor. 12:28) before Pentecost (Matt.10:1,2; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:13).
4. Ordinances were instituted and observed before Pentecost (John 4:1,2; Matthew 26:26-30).
5. John the Baptist prepared a people ready for the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 1:17), not for the day of Pentecost. Mark 1:1ff. indicates the gospel age began with John's ministry.
6. The church was commissioned before Pentecost: first the limited commission of Matt. 10:1-4 and then the extended commission of Matt. 28:18-20.
7. Jesus sang in the church before Pentecost (Heb. 2:12; Matt. 26:30).
8. The last days refer to the church age, and the last days were in existence during Jesus' ministry (Heb. 1:2).
9. There was church discipline before the day of Pentecost (Matt. 18:17).
10. The church had a business meeting before Pentecost (Acts 1:15-26).
11. The Lord added to the church on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41-27), so there had to exist a church for people to have been added to it.
12. There is no reason to suppose that the church could not exist with her visible Head present. Nothing in scripture says the church was or had to be started on Pentecost.

* Possibly the one thing that isn't simple enough to suit everyone is that in this view there is some chronological time overlap of the Old and New Testaments/Covenants.

Friday, March 01, 2013

5 John Newton Quotes

Best known as the author of the hymn "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound," John Newton was a prolific writer with amazing output -- not only many other hymns, but also theology, journals, letters and sermons. Here is a small taste of other things that John Newton wrote.

"Though we say this world is vain and sinful, we are too fond of it; and though we hope for true happiness only in Heaven, we are often well content to stay longer here on earth. But the Lord sends afflictions one after another to quicken our desires, and to convince us that this world cannot be our rest. Sometimes if you drive a bird from one branch of a tree he will hop to another a little higher, and from thence to a third; but if you continue to disturb him, he will at last take wing, and fly quite away. Thus we, when forced from one creature-comfort, perch upon another, and so on. But the Lord mercifully follows us with trials, and will not let us rest upon any; by degrees our desires take a nobler flight, and can be satisfied with nothing short of Himself; and we say, 'To depart and be with Jesus is best of all!'"

"I allow that every branch of gospel truth is precious, that errors are abounding, and that it is our duty to bear an honest testimony to what the Lord has enabled us to find comfort in, and to instruct with meekness such as are willing to be instructed; but I cannot set it my duty, nay, I believe it would be my sin, to attempt to beat notions into other people’s heads."

"You say, ‘I have aimed to displease the Arminians’, I had rather you had aimed to be useful to them, than to displease them. There are many Arminians who are so only for want of clearer light. They fear the Lord, and walk humbly before him.  And as they go on, by an increasing acquaintance with their own hearts and the word of God, their objections and difficulties gradually subside.  And in the Lord’s time (for he is the only effectual teacher) they receive the doctrines of grace which they were once afraid of.  These individuals should not be displeased by our endeavouring to declare the truth in terms the most offensive to them which we can find, but we should rather seek out the softest and most winning way of encountering their prejudices. Otherwise we make a parade, and grow big with a sense of our own wisdom and importance, but we shall do little good. Our Lord you know taught his disciples as they were able to bear it, he did not aim to displease them thought it is pretty plain they had a good deal of the Arminian spirit in them for some time after they began to follow him. You will perhaps say, ‘An humble Arminian! Surely that is impossible.’ I believe it not more impossible to find a humble Arminian, than a proud and self-sufficient Calvinist. The doctrines of grace are humbling, that is in their power and experience, but a man may hold them all in the notion, and be very proud. He certainly is so, if he thinks his assenting to them is a proof of his humility, and despises others as proud and ignorant in comparison of himself.  I believe you mean well, but some things you have written against the Arminians manifest that you have not been aware of your own spirit. " (from a letter to John Ryland, Jr.)

"How highly does it become us, both as creatures and as sinners, to submit to the appointments of our Maker! and how necessary is it to our peace! This great attainment is too often unthought of and overlooked; we are prone to fix our attention upon the second causes and immediate instruments of events; forgetting whatever befalls us is according to his purpose, and therefore must be right and seasonable in itself, and shall in the issue be productive of good. From hence arise impatience, resentment, and secret repinings, which are not only sinful but tormenting; whereas if all things are in his hand, if the very hairs of our head are numbered, if every event, great and small are under the direction of his providence and purpose; and if he has a wise, holy, and gracious end in view, to which everything that happens is subordinate and subservient;- then we have nothing to do, but with patience and humility to follow as he leads, and cheerfully to expect a happy issue. The path of present duty is marked out; and the concerns of the next and every succeeding hour are in his hands. How happy are they who can resign all to him, see his hands in every dispensation, and believe that he chooses better for them then they possibly could for themselves!" (3 paragraphs in the original)

Christ crucified
1. When on the cross the Lord I see,
Bleeding to death for wretched me,
Satan and sin no more can move,
For I am all transformed to love.
2. His thorns and nails pierce through my heart,
In every groan I bear a part;
I view his wounds with streaming eyes;
But see, he bows his head and dies!
3. Come, sinners, view the Lamb of God,
Wounded, and dead, and bathed in blood!
Behold his side, and venture near,
The spring of endless life is here.
4. Here I forget my cares and pains;
I drink, yet still my thirst remains;
Only the fountain-head above,
Can satisfy the thirst of love.
5. Oh, that I thus could always feel,
Lord, more and more thy love reveal!
Then my glad tongue shall loud proclaim
The grace and glory of thy name.
6. Thy name dispels my guilt and fear,
Revives my heart, and charms my ear;
Affords a balm for every wound,
And Satan trembles at the sound.

5 Books for Further Reading
John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, Jonathan Aitken, Crossway, 2007
Letters of John Newton, Selected by Josiah Bull, Banner of Truth, 2007
Olney Hymns: In Three Books, On Select Texts Of Scripture; On Occasional Subjects; On The Progress And Changes Of Spiritual Life, John Newton and William Cowper, 1779 (There are numerous reprints of Olney Hymns)
Out of the Depths: the Autobiography of John Newton, John Newton (1725--1807), edited by Dennis R. Hillman, Kregel Publications, 2003
Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland, Jr., edited by Grant Gordon, Banner of Truth, 2009

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Thirty day tour of Christian history

On his blog, Timothy Paul Jones is doing a
"thirty-day tour" through the history of Christianity. It sounds like it would be interesting. The first two topics have been on why history matters and about ancient historians mentioning Jesus.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Resources for church history

Much of what I post related to history is about Baptists. But here are some links to non-Baptist related church history. These links are not endorsements of the men under consideration, neither do they imply agreement with the sources linked. But they can provide some interesting areas for reading, study and research.

Alexander Campbell/Restoration Movement Resources
Arminius/Arminian Resources
George Whitefield Resources
John Calvin Resources
John Knox (scroll to bottom for more reading links)
Martin Luther Resources
Saint Augustine's Library
Wesley Studies Resources

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Problem of Protestant Ecclesiology

I have read with interest and instruction the online writings Daniel B. Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary (even though I'm not a big fan of DTS). From elders to alcohol to head coverings, his writings have been first rate and challenging. So I was excited to see his entry into the blog world. One of his first posts is The Problem of Protestant Ecclesiology. For my Baptist readers, your first thought may be "Yes!" Certainly we have problems with Protestant ecclesiology. But be not deceived, as best I can tell, he lumps everyone who is not Catholic or Orthodox into this Protestant category – and Protestant problem.

The greatest immediate difficulty I have with the piece is the question "What is Protestant ecclesiology?" Most probably know that ecclesiology is the theological study concerning to the nature, structure and functions of a church. But there is not one monolithic Protestant ecclesiology. It varies from church to church and denomination to denomination. Wallace, who says, "I am unashamedly a Protestant" appears to greatly prefer Orthodox and Catholic ecclesiology. The blog post is challenging and offers a critique of "Protestant ecclesiology" that should be carefully considered. What can we glean from it to sharpen our thinking on ecclesiology? What are the bones we need to spit out? I find much on which to agree with Wallace. But I also find several lines of disagreement. In my response, I contrast Baptist ecclesiology with both Catholic/Orthodox ecclesiology and Protestant ecclesiology, though some Protestants have a congregational polity similar to that of many Baptists.

Lack of unity. "we can be more sensitive to...fellowship beyond our local church" "It doesn’t matter what Orthodox church or monastery I visit, I get the same..." Too often we glory in our lack of unity, taking pride in our stand for the truth. We should stand for the truth – and unity as well. No, we should not pretend. Our unity must be in spirit and in truth. Yes, “unity in falsehood is no unity at all.” But let us examine ourselves deeply and sincerely, to know whether our divisions that exist are solidly grounded in the truth as it is in God’s word rather than our opinions, preferences, misconceptions, petty jealousies and self-interest. Congregational ecclesiology, autonomous governance and independence should be followed, but void of the “me and my church” mentality so current in our age. Let love, fellowship and interdependence between the churches be seen. Before e-mail, Facebook, instant messages and smart phones, catch the vision of band of brothers & sisters in Christ scattered across the Roman Empire who knew about one another, cared about one another, and who traveled & communicated in their limited ways in such a way that all men knew they were HIS disciples. Shame on us to withdraw into the coziness and familiarity of our local assemblies and never peer out to see our brothers and sisters.

Lack of history. "Church history for all too many evangelicals does not start until Luther pounded that impressive parchment on the Schlosskirche door." Of necessity, the children of the Protestant Reformation have embraced the universal church for their identity and found their history in the post-Reformation. The greater body of Baptists has joined the Protestants, abandoning any thoughts of ancestors before the Reformation. "we dare not neglect the last twenty centuries unless we think that the Spirit has been sleeping all that time" I agree with Wallace and the Catholics that the Holy Spirit was not asleep from the first century till the Protestant Reformation, though I deny that the Catholic (or Orthodox) Church is the church of the New Testament. It arrives too late and hardly resembles the kind of churches portrayed in the New Testament. If the Spirit was not asleep and Catholicism is not New Testament  Christianity, to whom shall we look for ancestry, identity, history and tradition? Those bold dissenters who stood their ground and walked not in their ways. But weren’t there heretics and deceivers among them? Yes, but no less among Catholicism. Both must be judged in what we know of them by the Word of God. Many early “heretics” are judged by the words of their detractors rather than their own. And all “church fathers” claimed by Catholicism and Orthodoxy do not necessarily belong to them. Some of these "fathers" lived before Catholicism and Orthodoxy existed as distinct denominations.

Lack of accountability. "we can be more sensitive to the need for doctrinal and ethical accountability" Doctrinal and ethical accountability is sorely lacking, but why must we look for it in hierarchy? Can we not mend our ways, right our wrongs and return to the doctrinal and ethical accountability of biblical times, which knows no ecclesiological structure in the nature and form of Catholicism. The Bible aside, why should we look to hierarchal structures, or claim their superiority in providing doctrinal and ethical accountability? What is more doctrinally diverse, biblically unsound and unethical than Roman Catholicism? No doubt there is a somewhat consistent sound sent forth from Rome. Has it not changed from century to century? Mine the depths of the hearts of its people. Will we not find that the doctrines of individual members diverge by race, geography, social status and other factors? American Catholic politicians are at once an example of both diversity of belief and lack of accountability. And need we mention recent priest sex scandals to completely blast the mirage of ethical accountability? Further, shall we not find some of the most biblically liberal denominations among the Protestants who govern through hierarchal means? If a local church goes astray, their influence will end not far beyond the church doors. When the top of an hierarchal denominational dam breaks, it carries most of its contents down the stream with it.

Lack of ecclesiology and lack of humility. "evangelical scholars have noted that the problem with Protestant ecclesiology is that there is no Protestant ecclesiology." Here I don't agree word for word. But the sad fact is that for too many, ecclesiology has been relegated to the theological corner, a minor matter that should be stored away lest it be found disagreeable. The replies to Wallace’s post suggest a number of Protestants, Baptists, and/or non-denominationals may be looking for “something more” and ready to gravitate toward the comfort of Orthodoxy or Catholicism. Regular perusal of Baptist discussions on the internet has awakened me to just how disconnected we Baptists have become from our moorings. Once Baptists and their ecclesiology seemed almost inseparable. No more. Coupled with this lack of knowledge is the lack of humility concerning it. "be more sensitive about the deficiencies in our own ecclesiology” We need a real sense of humility. Let us not be proud purveyors of knowledge God has revealed. While knowing there are deficiencies in the ecclesiological systems of others, let us be mindful of the inelegant deficiencies in our own. Do we understand what our ecclesiology is? Do you put it into practice? Alan Knox has well said, "A person’s professed ecclesiology is often different from that person’s actual ecclesiology. The best way to determine what someone actually believes about the church is to observe how they live as part of the church."

What I disagree with most are the elevation of liturgy, the lust for hierarchy, and recognition of Catholicism & Orthodoxy as The Church, coupled with looking to their traditions for history, identity, faith and practice. Some of these have already been addressed, so I will not cover the same ground again. "embrace some of the liturgy that has been used for centuries" Where is the “liturgy” of the Bible that looks like the liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church? That case must be made before Bible-believers blindly follow and embrace it. To “get the same message, the same liturgy, the same sense of the ‘holy other’” may sound wonderful. Oh, that our churches did not have the confusion Wallace describes! Truly you don’t know what you’ll get when you show up at a church with “Baptist” on the door – fundamental truth from the word of God or a freak show from the imaginations of men? We need to meditate on and apply Paul’s injunction – the same in all the churches. But getting the “same liturgy” and “same message” from church to church is not a virtue unless it is the same as the Bible’s!

Nearing his conclusion, Wallace writes, “The ideal church can’t exist.” Any assembly of sinful creatures will not be ideal. But far too many churches have no goal, no sights set to reach for an ideal church – even if they even think there is such a thing! The "ideal church" is the church relationships, nature, functions, faith and practice of the churches of the New Testament. Sure, the New Testament churches were not literally pristine, because they were composed of redeemed sinful creatures too. But in the midst of it all there is an ideal picture of truth presented in God’s revelation. Our daily goal should be to be more and more like the churches of the New Testament. (Then we might be more “the same”.)

Wallace’s solutions fall into three categories: (1) be more sensitive about the deficiencies in our own ecclesiology; recognize that the two other branches of Christendom have done a better job in this area; (2) be more sensitive to the need for doctrinal and ethical accountability, fellowship beyond our local church, and ministry with others whose essentials but not necessarily particulars don’t line up with ours. (3) begin to listen again to the voice of the Spirit speaking through church fathers and embrace some of the liturgy that has been used for centuries.

My suggestions are: (1) be more sensitive to the deficiencies in our ecclesiology, and look to the word of God and the Spirit of God for illumination. Read what others have written. Spurgeon once said, “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.” All truth is God’s truth, so learn it where you find it. But don’t model your ecclesiology after “other branches of Christendom” whose ecclesiology is not modeled after New Testament ecclesiology. Search the scriptures whether these things are so. (2) be more sensitive to the need for doctrinal and ethical accountability, fellowship beyond our local church, and ministry with others. Look for New Testament models of doctrinal and ethical accountability. Add to your doctrine of church autonomy the New Testament examples of relational interdependence and fellowship between churches. Discard the “us four and no more” mentality to embrace God’s larger work that He is doing. Decide at what point and why the New Testament Christians divided. Ecclesiologically, embrace no more than God embraces, and reject none He receives. (3) begin to listen again to the voice of the Spirit speaking through church fathers. But find out who are “the church fathers.” And subject all they say to the mirror of God’s word. Paul and the Bereans would expect no less.

No, we should not neglect the last twenty centuries, or despise all that went before us – lest we imply that the Spirit was sleeping all that time. But, “it must all be subject to biblical authority.” I am compelled to reject some of Dan Wallace’s thesis because I do not see the biblical authority behind it.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Church unanimity

The experience below is an example of an historical occurrence of a church moving in unanimity. Names, places, etc. were removed, but the sense still available, I think/hope.

"When I first came...the churches here practiced unanimity in all cases, except the exclusion of an unrepentant member, in which case he could not exercise a veto by his vote over his own case. It takes only ONE vote to table an issue here. So in effect, the nay vote is a veto.

"...Church...wanted to have electricity in their meeting house so that they could have night meetings...When the motion was made and seconded, and the votes were called for...nodded her head 'No'. The deacon was moderating, and therefore tabled the issue; and went on with other things in their conference. A few months passed, and the dear sister told of her earlier experience, and how her family had taken their Aladdin Lamp to meeting, and what a wonderful service they all had. Suddenly, it crossed her mind: they had done that before there was electricity available. She asked the deacon to bring the issue off the table; which he did, and the motion was passed with unanimity.

"I a young man, that there was never anything so pressing that it could not wait until all the saints were brought to agreement. And with all my heart I agree with that practice."

Should a church move in unanimity rather than the rule by majority vote?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Declaration and Address

Members of the Restoration Movement are recently celebrating Thomas Campbell's "Declaration and Address". It was written in 1809 and was the founding document of the Christian Association of Washington. The Christian Association was a forerunner of what is now called the Restoration Movement.

Declaration and Address

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

180 persons called Albigenses

180 persons called Albigenses, burnt without the Castle Minerve

"In the year of our Lord 1210, a large sacrifice of believers, called Perfecti or Albigenses took place near the castle Minerve; so that at one time about one hundred and eighty persons, men as well as women, who, forsaking the Roman antichrist, desired to adhere steadfastly to Jesus Christ and His divine truth, were publicly burnt; these, having commended their souls to God, are now waiting for the crown and reward of the faithful." -- For the rest of the story, see
HERE. The entire Martyr's Mirror of the Defenseless Christians online is HERE (first published in 1660 by Thieleman J. van Braght, a Dutch Mennonite pastor).

Monday, June 08, 2009


Holleman Cemetery, Smyrna Church and Oak Flat community annual homecoming will be held at Smyrna Baptist church building on Sunday June 14 (d.v.). Starts at 10 a.m. There will be singing, fellowship and food. Donations are received for the upkeep of the cemetery.

A History of Smyrna Baptist Church, 1873-2008: 135 years in three southern Rusk County communities is a republishing and updating of J. W. Griffith's Centennial + 5 published in 1978. The book contains 116 pages, with history of the church, people and some additional pictures not in the 1978 work. The link above will allow a viewing of the first 20 pages of the book.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Congregational history

According to the Roman Catholic Church, "The idea that each distinct congregation fully constitutes the visible Body can, however, be traced to John Wyclif and the Lollard movement" and "The earliest literary exponent of Independence was Robert Brown, from whom the dissenters were nicknamed Brownists." [Catholic Ency.] An interesting history of Congregationalism can be found online: History of Congregationalism from about A.D. 250 to the Present Time by George Punchard (2nd edition New York, NY: Hurd and Houghton, 1865). Punchard’s history appears to disagree with the Catholic view, and I hope to get some time to look at it later.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Benefits of the study of Church History

Some good points, in my opinion:

Benefits to be gained from the study of Church History

A. A perspective informed by a sense of continuity
1. The whole family in heaven and earth (Eph.3:14)
2. Connecting the canonical history with our own time (Acts 28ff)
3. Escape from the theological and ecclesiastical provincialism (1 Cor.14:36).
B. The encouragement of a Godly Heritage
1. The great cloud of witnesses (Heb.11; 12:1)
2. Perspective on persecution (James 5:10-11)
C. Learning from the mistakes of others (1 Cor.10:6-10)
1. A wise man learns from others’ mistakes, a fool must make his own.
2. Those who will not study history are doomed to repeat it.

From "Church History" by Steve Gregg

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Quartodeciman Controversy

Random quotes on the Quartodeciman Controversy, the first-recorded Easter controversy

Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor and a disciple of the Apostle John, observed Easter or Communion on Nisan 14. After Anicetus became bishop of Rome, Polycarp visited Rome and discussed their differences on this custom (the Sunday following for Anicetus), among other things. According toIrenaeus:

"Anicetus could not persuade Polycarp to forgo the observance [of his Nisan 14 practice] inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of the Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to keep it: Anicetus said that he must hold to the way of the elders before him."

Neither persuaded the other, but it did not cause a schism.

Polycrates (around AD 190) says he followed the tradition as passed down:
"As for us, then, we scrupulously observe the exact day, neither adding nor taking away. For in Asia great luminaries have gone to their rest who will rise again on the day of the coming of the Lord...These all kept the 14th day of the month as the beginning of the Paschal feast, in accordance with the Gospel, in no way deviating therefrom, but following the rule of faith." [Polycrates bishop of Ephesus, to Victor bishop of Rome, as quoted in Eusebius, Church History, 5.24.]

Victor, a later bishop of Rome wanted to impose the "Sunday view" on all the churches, including those in Asia who ended their fast on the 14th.
See, e.g., The Early Christians in Ephesus from Paul to Ignatius, by Paul Trebilco, Eerdmans, 2007

Note: Quartodeciman refers to the 14th (day of the month).

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A brief review of a brief book

Can the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Be Saved? John W. Robbins. Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation. 2004, paperback, 44 pages. ISBN: 0-940931-67-2. $3.95

Your first thought may be, "What is the
Orthodox Presbyterian Church, why does it need to be saved, and who cares anyway?"

Well...the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) is a Presbyterian denomination born out of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the first quarter of the 20th century. According to the Trinity Foundation, "The Orthodox Presbyterian Church was founded in 1936 by about 135 people who were offended by the lack of discipline in and doctrinal errors of the Presbyterian Church in the USA." Constituted in 1936 as the Presbyterian Church of America, the name was changed to Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1939. The OPC needs to be saved from encroaching doctrinal heterodoxy, and John Robbins, at least, cares.

Can the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Be Saved? is not a book I would normally pick up at a book store or order from a catalog. So how did I come to have and read it? The Trinity Foundation prints what they believe are "sound Christian books" and often offer them for sale at substantial discounts. After taking advantage of one of these offers, I received my books with Can the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Be Saved? as a gift of appreciation for my order. I looked at it and set it to the back.

Then, on a day when I thought Gordon Clark's Logic was "too hot" and J. Gresham Machen's Education, Christianity, and the State "too cold" -- like Goldilocks I decided Robbins' 44 page book on the OPC would be "just right".

If nothing else, perhaps the book will add to my memory what my daughter calls my "random facts". This book is probably not for the average reader. It calls for some interest in the OPC, or if not, an interest in religious controversies or random historical facts. It would be good to have a little background not only of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, but also of Presbyterian & Reformed controversies -- the Clark-Van Til Controversy, the Shepherd Justification Controversy, etc.

Robbins begins with the question at hand and the OPC controversy over justification by faith alone. Then he delves into the background of this, particularly the dominating influence of the Westminster Theological Seminary and the OPC's penchant to continue to attack Gordon Clark 20 years after this death. Robbins leads us through this forest, back to the present (which is 4 years ago), and the hope that members might wade through the propaganda and save the OPC.

I am certainly in no position to make informed statements about the OPC. This booklet by John Robbins makes up probably 98% of what I know about it. This book will be an important resource to anyone affiliated with it.

If nothing else, the book will add to your collection of random facts. But I believe there is something else. I can recommend Can the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Be Saved? to the general reader* for two reasons: (1) it speaks to the broad liberalizing tendency current among the people denominated Christians; and (2) it provides an example of the tendency of denominational leadership (of whatever denomination) to "circle the wagons" against any threat to the denominational machinery -- whether real or perceived.

*Notes: by the general reader I mainly intend persons who have no particular connection to the Presbyterian Church. The book closes with a "Reformation Day Declaration," and offers those in agreement opportunity to sign it. A list of books available from Trinity rounds the book out to a total of 60 pages.
The Trinity Foundation web site offers other books of this genre, including The Clark-Van Til Controversy, The Current Justification Controversy, and A Companion to The Current Justification Controversy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Church History links

The Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary's Kellar Library has compiled a number of Church History links that are posted HERE.

Brief information on the Welsh Tract Baptist Church, Newcastle Co., DE, is

The story of "Gospel Missioner" T. P. Crawford and his wife Martha Foster Crawford begins
HERE. I have this link for photos of the Crawfords, but I believe you must have a RootsWeb account and be logged in.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Feet washing in Kentucky

"THE WASHING OF FEET was a very common ceremony among the early churches of Kentucky. It prevailed to some extent among the Regular Baptists, especially those of them who had been brought up among the Separate Baptists, as was the case with many of the Regular Baptists in Kentucky. The Elkhorn Association decided, as early as 1788, that: 'As to feet washing, the Association is not unanimous, but agrees that the using or not using that practice shall not affect our fellowship.' Among the Regular Baptists, it was practiced partially a few years, and then went entirely out of use. It was strenuously insisted on among the Separate Baptists, and has continued to be practiced among them to the present time. The following resolution, passed by the South Kentucky Association of Separate Baptists, in 1873, shows the position of the Separate Baptists on the question of feet washing: '10. That Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Washing of the saints' feet, are ordinances of the gospel, to be kept up until the coming of our Lord and Master.' Some of the Anti-missionary Baptists also keep up the practice of feet washing to the present time. The ordinance is deduced from the example of our Savior, as recorded in the 13th chapter of John, and is there sufficiently described." -- p. 486, A History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. I, By J. H. Spencer (Ch. 25)

Much Kentucky Baptist history can be found online HERE.