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 to Irenaeus:

"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).

Monday, March 30, 2009

On degrees

"To-day, one cannot pastor a church of 25 members without at least a ThD. You will also notice that these degrees are broadly advertised as well.

"Perhaps if we went back to the simple men of old along with the book of old and the gospel of old we might again experience the Holy Spirit of old enacting in all our hearts and lives anew and burst out in triumph in our society."
-- Jim on The Baptist Board 12/29/2008

Saturday, March 28, 2009

O LORD, I will praise thee!

Isaiah 12:1-6 You will say in that day: "I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation." With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: "Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. "Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel."

1 I will praise thee every day
Now thine anger's turned away!
Comfortable thoughts arise
From the bleeding sacrifice.

2 Here in the fair gospel field,
Wells of free salvation yield
Streams of life, a plenteous store,
And my soul shall thirst no more.

3 Jesus is become at length
My salvation and my strength;
And his praises shall prolong,
While I live, my pleasant song.

4 Praise ye, then, his glorious name,
Publish his exalted fame!
Still his worth your praise exceeds,
Excellent are all his deeds.

5 Raise again the joyful sound,
Let the nations roll it round!
Zion shout, for this is he,
God the Savior dwells in thee.

By William Cowper (7s.)
Olney Hymns, Book 1. Hymn 58

Friday, March 27, 2009

In memory

John Audrey Simmons August 13, 1931---March 25, 2009

Southwest Texas Convention

With lots of things going on, I forgot to mention our singing this weekend (d.v.).

Saturday & Sunday, March 28-29, 2009
Bethel Primitive Baptist Church
FM 713
McMahan, Texas
Saturday, 9:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Sunday, 9:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
2006 Cooper Revision

Thursday, March 26, 2009

“We” and “Us”

I Thessalonians 4:15 - For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 
I Thessalossians 4:17 - Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 
I Corinthians 15:51 - Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed 

Some infer from Paul’s use of “we” that he believed Christ would come in his own lifetime. But he says he does not know when he will come (I Thess. 5:1-2). Some would not go so far to say that it meant Paul thought Christ would come in his own lifetime, but that it is proof His return is imminent – could happen at any time. 

In two “us” usages Paul numbered himself among those who could be raised from the dead (I Cor. 6:14; II Cor. 4:14). Cf. I Cor. 15:51; Phil. 3:10-11; II Tim 4:6. So isn’t it likely that we should be careful not to assume too much when Paul uses “we” and “us” in this way? Is he possibly identifying with his readers? Using “editorial we”? Something else? 

I Corinthians 6:14 - And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power. 
II Corinthians 4:14 - Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. 

Gordon “Fee explains that Paul’s use of ‘we’ simply means that Paul was currently a part of the group he was speaking of and if the parousia happened in his life, he would experience this transformation. The use of ‘we’ really only means that Paul was among the living when he wrote this letter. If Paul expected the parousia in his life time, we cannot determine that from this passage.” 


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Word today

Nosism (NO-siz-em) noun: The use of 'we' when referring to oneself.

Nosism is also called the "editorial we" (because used by editors) or the "royal we" (because used by royalty). One web owner explains his use of 'editorial we' thusly, "The editorial 'we' is used to express the belief that others guided by the Spirit of God may share" in his view and purpose.

Though he was wrong, Mark Twain once said, "Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial 'we'." Good humor, but he left out the fact that God can use 'editorial we' and can inspire anyone He wants to use it as well.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Savannah State and feet washing

Nearly two years ago, I mentioned an incident concerning Savannah State University kicking a group off campus for hazing, etc. The group members were washing the feet of new members! Well I had not heard of the resolution of the matter, so I went searching. What I found can be read HERE and HERE. The university settled and allowed Commissioned II Love back on campus. Though they were careful in not awkwardly admitting wrongdoing too loudly in the public arena, "Savannah State spokeswoman Loretta Heyward said the university has not changed any of its policies related to student organizations as a result of the lawsuit." If they have not changed any policies AND let the group come back, obviously they were wrong.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mitchell and McBeth

In 1987 Leon McBeth wrote "that Baptist commitment to religious liberty might be weakening. Baptists who bore the scars of religious persecution struggled to attain religious liberty; it remains to be seen whether Baptists who live in comfort can preserve it." -- H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1987, p. 282

“I can do all thing through Christ, which strengtheneth me.” “without Me ye can do nothing.”
"Ye can neither pray nor sing in the spirit of true worship, preach or do any other Christian duty, only as Christ strengthens you for the work. Salvation is by grace, and grace carries its own conditions and qualifications in itself; it demands nothing of its subjects but what it furnishes. It writes the law of the new covenant in the new heart, and puts it in the mind and gives the poor soul a will and desire to do the very things commanded to be done. And when he has done all that is commanded, he is taught by the Spirit and grace of God, as well as by written word, to feel and say, 'we are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do'."
-- W. M. Mitchell, The Gospel Messenger, Vol. 19, No. 5, for May, 1897

Friday, March 20, 2009

My Rock

Do rocks defend me from blasts, from whatever quarter they blow? So does my Rock! Is the blast from hell? Well, He has the keys of hell and of death! Is it from sin? He is my righteousness! Is it from Satan? He has conquered principalities and powers! Is it from afflictions? He is my sympathizing and loving High Priest! Is it from losses? He is my exceeding great reward! Is it from crosses? He makes all things work together for good to His people! Is it from anguish? He is my joy! Is it from darkness? He is my Sun! Is it from doubts? He is my Counselor! Is it from deadness? He is my life! Is it from enemies? He is my shield! Is it from temptation? He is my deliverer! Is it from false friends? He will never leave me, nor forsake me! Is it from solitude or banishment? He is everywhere present! Is it from disease? He is my healer! Is it from death? He is the resurrection and the life! O glorious refuge! O sure defense! O everlasting fortress! Here do I defy the worst that earth and hell can do! -- Selected (Copied from Shreveport Grace Church Bulletin - March 28,2009)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

If this doesn't scare you...

...nothing will.

It is "time for us to assert our ownership rights," said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the full Financial Services committee. Frank said Congress will be asking for the names of the bonus recipients — and if AIG declines to provide it, he will convene the committee to subpoena for the names. "We do intend to use our power to get the names," he said.
[copied from the internet; emphasis mine] See also The Kabuki theater of AIG outrage

While Frank and his cohorts assert their "ownership rights", it will be interesting to see whether they use their power to "get the names" of congressmen and presidential candidates who accepted campaign contributions from AIG. Will they assert their ownership rights and ask that they also give back the money? If Barney Frank and his assertion of ownership rights scares you, remember...

"My kingdom is not of this world" has never looked sweeter, and is among the very few thoughts in my mind that affords me comfort in my latter days. For those that think the current outrage over $165 million payouts will rectify the trillions (TRILLIONS) of outflow this pure socialist government is wasting will help, forget it. We are doomed as a human government!!!

Dear friends, take refuge in our eternal Rest, Jesus, for His kingdom is free to all those who are led to follow him. All the rest can go follow Dodd, Frank, Acorn, the labor unions, and Democrats in particular and Republicans in general. Their whole kingdom is weaved by curious fabric, for they have practiced to deceive. Sadly, many are deceived.
[Elder James Poole on the Predestinarian forum, 18 March 2009]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What's that smell?

The bad odor most people associate with natural gas is not the gas at all; it is Mercaptan, an odorant added to odorless gas.

Once it was not so...until after a tragic East Texas disaster considered the worst known school disaster in history. On March 18, 1937, a natural gas leak built up under the New London school. When ignited by a spark, it blew the school off its foundations. It came back down in a mass of rubble that killed about 300 people -- more than half of the schools' teachers and students.

Not long afterward, the 45th Texas State Legislature enacted House Bill 1017. This bill gave the Railroad Commission "the authority to adopt rules and regulations pertaining to the odorization of natural gas or liquefied petroleum gases," the commission archives states. "On July 27, 1937, Gas Utilities Docket 122 was adopted and the commission began enforcement of odorization requirements for natural gas." An East Texas disaster started a trend in odorizing natural gas that has probably been adopted around the world.

One can stroll many a rural East Texas cemetery and feel the sorrow of a community that lost a number of children in a short span due to some outbreak of disease. A tour of the
Pleasant Hill Cemetery -- with tombs of over 100 people who died on the same day -- is a quite eerie experience. A short version of the New London story is HERE. Those who perished are memorialized HERE.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Luck of the Irish

It's funny how Washington politicians are painting on their faux righteous indignation against AIG executives who received bonuses at the US taxpayers' expense. Yet they don't mind taking money from us! (both for their own overmuch salaries and for their pet projects)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Barber on theological triage

In the past I have blogged on Theological triage -- good or bad idea? and Categories of truth (see links below). The entire post below the links are comments by Bart Barber, which gives some of his interesting thoughts on the subject.

Theological triage -- good or bad idea?
Categories of truth

You cannot perform theological triage on the lordship of Jesus Christ without severing His will into pieces and picking and choosing what you want to do. You will find out what he says and you will do it all because you know your life is totally dependent on Him.

New Testament Christianity has no secondary doctrines when it comes to the lordship of Jesus Christ. That's why I say Baptism is not secondary nor is it tertiary. It is essential.
Founder's Blog

I acknowledge the value of "theological triage" in (a) as an imperfect metaphor, (b) to be used in an external sense, (c) regarding the relative severity of the effects of disobedience in any particular area of what Christ has commanded.

The metaphor is humanly devised and therefore imperfect. The strength of the metaphor, I think, is that "triage" as a medical procedure is employed only in a crisis situation when one cannot possibly treat everything. The desire of the medical staff, however, is to treat every injury and remedy every illness.

Should one, however, take triage to mean some strange state of denial in which one dismisses certain legitimate injuries as non-injurious and unworthy of available treatment, then we've moved from triage to something far less reasonable.

It is plainly obvious that everyone on the Baptist Identity side is not only willing to do something akin to "theological triage" but is constantly engaged in the actual practice. Here's the proof: They all regard Mormons as heretics and Presbyterians as genuine Christians in unrepentant sin and error. You may disagree with the classifications, but you cannot say that they are the same thing, nor can you deny that we make the distinction.

Your statement, then, that BI people have rejected theological triage is therefore an empty one.

You can easily demonstrate that some folks in the Baptist movement have objected to the way that some people have tried to APPLY a concept of theological triage. For example, Wade Burleson's and Morris Chapman's (see his speech in San Antonio) application of the concept has been to deny the appropriateness of separating over "secondary" or tier-two doctrines. This is not Mohler's schema, and he explicitly said so in San Antonio. So, for those who use "theological triage" to eliminate tier two and have only the first and third tiers, yes, the Baptist movement rejects that approach.

Also, because the concept of "theological triage" is human and not divine in origin, somebody needs to counter-balance the idea of triage by reminding us that Jesus expects us to obey all of His commandments.

To employ another imperfect analogy, consider the task of parenting. I expect my children to obey everything that I command them to do. If, by practicing "triage," they should be referring to a process by which they will determine when to obey me and when not to bother, then it is disobedience even to embark upon such an enterprise.

However, this does not mean that I regard all of my commands as equally important. "Clean up your room" and "Don't play in the street" are two commands with vastly different levels of importance to me. Part of their maturing as human beings, and therefore part of my goal as their parent, is for them to learn that the consequences of playing in the street can be far more severe than the consequences of failing to keep their room clean.

And in this second sense, we can see that there is no "internal" validity to playing "triage" but there is some "external" validity to it. Internally, my children are to do no triage at all; they are to do what I tell them to do -- everything that I tell them to do. Externally, if my son sees his sister playing in the street and I'm not around, he has permission to grab her, push her, pull her by her hair, hit her, kick her, punch her, do almost anything to get her out of the street when a car is coming. If, on the other hand, he punches her in the face for her failure to pick up her toys, then he's going to be in trouble. On the other hand, he has my blessing to tell Sarah that she's sinning by refusing to clean up her room and to do whatever he might to persuade her (rather than force her) to be obedient.

I think that this analogy applies quite well to explain my attitude toward "theological triage."
-- By Bart Barber, First Baptist Church, Farmersville, TX

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ministers and marriage

Getting out of the Marriage Business by Keith Edwards is an interesting post on whether or not "it’s time Christian clergy got out of the marriage business."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New-time quotes, and one old

"Sorry, we don't hold hands with the devil to reach people with the gospel." ~ Jim1999 on the Baptist Board

"The ability of a church to grow is directly related to two things--the work of the Holy Spirit and the fidelity to the scriptures." ~ Tom Butler on the Baptist Board

The German poet/philosopher Goethe said, "Theories are gray while real life is green."

"Too often the small church is seen as a problem to be 'fixed'." ~ bapticus hereticus, February 16, 2009 on Bart Barber's
An Exemplary Pastor

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Someone said that you only need two tools in life - WD-40 and duct tape! If it doesn't move and should, use the WD-40. If it shouldn't move and does, use the duct tape.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Syrophenician Woman

A recent opinion post on Associated Baptist Press made quite a splash. The author of the opinion clearly ditched the view of Jesus as sinless Son of God for Jesus the racist who was gradually learning better. That is part of the background of this post. [ABP is now Baptist News, and the story has moved HERE.]

A collated reading of Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30
Then Jesus arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid; For a certain woman of Canaan [the woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation], whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came out of the same coasts and came and fell at his feet: and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But Jesus answered and said unto her: Let the children first be filled. It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. And she said, Yes. Truth, Lord: yet the dogs under their masters' table eat of the children's crumbs which fall from the table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.

The above is a collated or combined reading of Matthew and Mark from the King James Bible. I hope no one is troubled by it. The intent is to not to create a new version, but just to get the full description of the historical accounts while saving a little space.

Many people find this story problematic when they first encounter it. To call this woman a dog and refuse to help her? Where else is one so rebuked by Christ for coming to Him? For some it is only problematic to their understanding, for they believe God is sovereign and what He does is right regardless of whether they understand it. For some it is problematic to their faith, for they presuppose certain things are right and God's actions must fit into this concept.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Notes on the text
a certain woman of Canaan, the woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation. Some critics have complained about the tri-fold description, while themselves using such descriptions for others. The three descriptors may be nationality (Syro-Phenician, as opposed to Lybo-Phenician perhaps), religion (Greek, heathen, of a different religion) and "race" (Canaan; or just that she resided in the regions called Canaan).
would have no man know it: but he could not be hid. Here speaks the language of accommodation; the language of God as man; anthropomorphism, the perception of human qualities in divine beings. This is how it appeared from all human recognition and understanding.
a woman of Canaan...came out of the same coasts. If Jesus went into the land of Tyre and Sidon, this appears to be the only time He went into Gentile territory. In my opinion, it is more consistent with the text and the "limit" of His mission that He only went very near to the border of that land, but was still in the land of Israel. The woman came out of the coasts/borders of Tyre and Sidon and came to Jesus. As Jesus needed to go through Samaria, so He deliberately placed Himself in this woman's vicinity.
his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away. At first Jesus answered not a word (cf. John 8:6). Her continual crying brought the disciples distress. Whether they wished her sent away full or empty it is not clear, but sent away nevertheless! She crieth after us. She bothers us. She annoys us. She brings us too much attention.
I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. This first address is to the disciples rather than the woman. They were involved in this limited sending (cf. Matt. 10:5) so should be aware of it. Hidden from them was what Simeon saw in the babe in the Temple (cf. Luke 2:3). Jesus' answer silenced the disciples, but not the woman. We ought always to pray, and not to faint.
Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. Strong in faith, nothing doubting. Instead of being perplexed with doubts, by faith throw yourself at Jesus feet for mercy, "Lord, help me." So will I go in unto the king, and if I perish, I perish (but I will perish there; cf. Esther 4:16).
It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. To be more offended than the woman is to not have a proper view of the helper, to not have an importunate need, and to be more set on fault-finding than truth-finding. If a 21st century reader is more offended than the "offended party", then he lacks the great faith that resided in that party. He was "Lord" when she asked for help and still "Lord" after He seemingly refused it. Jesus' answer was devastating, but not derogatory; trying but yet the truth. Those who deserve nothing will appreciate anything. "Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face."
And she said, Yes. Truth, Lord. The humble acknowledgement of the importunate. Complain on, O complainer. Deny on, O disbeliever; but this woman says "TRUTH!"
the dogs under their masters' table eat of the children's crumbs. (These dogs were household pets, not wild scavengers; pets that were near the children under the master's table.) Something in what Jesus said and how He said it dropped a crumb of hope for the helpless woman. Under the Master's table a glimmering faith picked up the crumb and cherished it. I shall not be sent away empty for there is enough in the Father's house and to spare (cf. Luke 15:17).
O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour. Does the text not reveal why He came to the borders of Tyre and Sidon. The disciples understood a get-away. But the woman who heard He was there got what she wanted.
And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower. The healing was immediate.
And when she was come to her house, she found. The immediate healing of the daughter was first viewed by the mother on her arrival, though she doubted it not.

Instead of complaining & condemning, hawing & hemming, explaining away the Lordship of Christ, realize God moves in mysterious ways; His ways are not our ways. The Syrophenician woman caught a crumb many theologians have missed.

Jesus commended the woman's faith. Jesus cured the woman's daughter. Surely she could not have hoped for more.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Smith Memorial Singing

The 30th Annual Smith Memorial Singing will be held tomorrow (d.v.), March 7th at the New Harmony Community Center, northwest of Tyler, Texas. The Community Center is located on FM 724 in the New Harmony Community, between State Hwys 64 & 110. More info: Myrl Jones, (903) 593-0955. (1991 Revision/Cooper Revision)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Scriptural preaching, without notes

Most preaching seems to be done from a full outline of what is to be preached, or a printed manuscript of the entire sermon. Preaching without notes is to enter the pulpit with only a Bible – no notes, manuscript, or predetermination of what will be said. In his book A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, John Broadus asks, “How can a man pray that God will guide him through a forest, when he has already blazed the entire path, and committed himself to follow it?”

What it is not (or ought not be).
Preaching without notes is not preaching without preparation. Some who preach without notes advocate preaching without any preparation whatsoever. If they mean by this not preparing an outline or manuscript, I agree. If they mean by this not studying the bible, I emphatically disagree! No man should enter the pulpit without prayer (Acts 6:4) and Bible study (II Tim. 2:15). Both of these are commanded by God. God by His Holy Spirit will direct a man of God in what to say, but failure to pray and study the Bible is disobedience and presumption – not faith.

Preaching without notes is not inspired preaching. In the early days of the church, God inspired men to preach, prophesy and write correctly without any mixture of error. No preacher today has that kind of inspiration. But we do have the Bible and the divine guidance by the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. Though a preacher cannot speak with inspired apostolic authority, he can speak for God from the Bible as he is guided by the Holy Spirit.

Preaching without notes is not memorizing a manuscript and reciting it. It is extemporaneous preaching – preaching with a head full of study, a heart full of prayer, a spirit full of confidence in God seeking the divine guidance of the moment to bring the message of God rather than the message the preacher wants.

What it is (or ought to be).
Preaching without notes is preaching following the New Testament example. No example can be found of Jesus Christ, His apostles or preachers speaking while reading notes, outlines or manuscripts. Shouldn’t biblical Christians prefer to develop the style of preaching found in the Bible?

Preaching without notes is liberating to the preacher. It frees his mind from following his own predetermined course. It allows for the principle that the Spirit helps us with our preaching. It even frees the preacher’s eyes from a written page and allows him to look up at his hearers rather than down at a page.

Preaching without notes is consistent with the call to preach. Preaching is of divine appointment (I Tim. 1:12; II Tim. 1:11; et al.). Most anyone can read a manuscript, and with training most people can arrange an orderly discourse. If preaching is no more than that, why is there a divine call and gift to preach?

Preaching without notes is practical. Preaching without notes is adaptable to all times and situations. Preaching with notes or manuscript may be done only when one has previously prepared. If called on unexpectedly, the noted preacher must frequently decline. But we are to be instant out of season as well as in season, always ready to give an answer to any man at any time.

Some objections.
“I might forget what I want to say.” Certainly you might. If I forget something I want to say and say something God wants said instead, we will be none the worse.

“By using notes I can organize my thoughts, as well as control the length of the sermon.” Yes, but it was not organization of thought, but the power of the Holy Spirit that blessed Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost. God never emphasized organization and education – but yield to Me and preach My Word.

“I know godly men who preach with notes and have been blessed of God in their work.” Yes, I agree. In July of 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. He reputedly stood motionless in the pulpit, holding a candle in his right hand and his sermon manuscript in his left hand. As he read, he was interrupted by outcries – some sinners fell to the floor, some clung to the church pillars fearing they might slip into Hell. Yet if we reason that we should use a manuscript because Edwards did, we could also reason that we should become Protestants because Edwards was. God will do as He pleases. But we should seek the best light we have and obey it.

Scriptures that might apply.
One cluster of scriptures often submitted to the discussion are: Matthew 10:19-20; Mark 13:10-11; Luke 12:11-12; & Luke 21:12-15. “It is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.” A careful examination shows that these have a more specific application than a pastor preaching to his flock. Those who were delivered up to the authorities would have words given to speak by the Holy Ghost without having taken any forethought as to how they would respond to the charges. Yet these passages can yield to us a principle of God speaking through His people in this age. Matthew 10:19-20 applies this principle to the limited commission to the church during Christ’s earthly ministry; Luke 21:12-15 applies it to the destruction of Jerusalem and possibly the time before Christ’s return; Mark 13:10-11 applies it to the time preceding the coming of Christ; Luke 12:11-12 speaks in broader and more general terms. Therefore a principle of God giving words to speak to His people runs the gamut of the church age.

A few have suggested Luke 24:29 (Tarry ye...until ye be endued with power from on high) in connection with preaching without notes. Though power from on high is needed in our preaching, this verse refers to what would transpire on the day of Pentecost.

Some of Paul’s passing remarks concerning his preaching have some import on the matter. “...the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” I Cor. 1:21. “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” I Cor. 2:4. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God...” II Cor. 10:4. It is inevitable that it must be admitted that arranging notes, outlines and preparing manuscripts (as well as the theories of proper speech, pulpit manner, etc.) arise from the wisdom of men rather than biblical precept and example. Preaching is not considered foolishness when it meets the required forms and procedures of modern speech. Practically the same materials are found in secular colleges and universities as in seminaries concerning how to prepare and deliver speeches/sermons. Let it be admitted that these materials and methods are drawn from secular sources, and it is therein admitted that carnal rather than spiritual weapons have been chosen. “Which things we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth...” I Cor. 2:13.

Another implication for preaching without notes is the evidence of the sermons of the New Testament, especially the book of Acts. The sermons are lacking the telltale signs of the modern sermon. None have a title, and can hardly be understood to have developed from an outline format reminiscent of modern scholarship.

I Peter 4:10-11 clearly identifies speaking as a gift from God entrusted to stewards to use to minister to others. It is this God-given gift that separates preaching from other forms of oratory. “Without the power of the Spirit, human rhetoric accomplishes nothing of eternal value” (Jarred Edgecombe). If scriptural spiritual preaching can be arrived at by exclusively human means (such as homiletics, speech classes, practice, imitation, etc.) do we not nullify the need of a God-given gift?

Many honest and godly men put in much time studying and preparing sermons. By doing so, they learn much and have something to say to their congregations. On the other hand, sermon preparation can degenerate into studying sermons in order to speak to others, rather than studying the Bible for God to speak to us. In the hands of some, sermons sink into the mire of catchy titles, strange stories, amazing outlines, unbelievable alliteration, and a host of other attention-getting gimmicks.

Preaching without notes is not without its abusers. Some lazy preachers use it as an “easy-out”. They excuse their slothfulness, refusal to study the Bible, and neglect of improvement and hard work with an insincere “God will give me something to say.” But God abhors laziness, and the Bible commends labour, diligence, and perseverance.

Profitable preaching without notes is possible through frequent study of God’s Word, much time spent in prayer, and openness to the leadership of God’s Spirit. It is thoroughly biblical, as well as quite practical. May we search and see whether this be so.

(Originally printed in The Baptist Waymark)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Christian apologist and obscurantist methodology

There is "often a problem with Christian apologists (or any type of apologist). Many apologists intent on defending the Christian faith (or their particular version of it) follow an 'obscurantist' methodology where all the evidence that supports their conclusions is brought to light while all that which may cast doubt on their conclusions is never revealed or is presented in a manipulated light. When their goal becomes to win an argument, truth will more than likely get lost through a polished rhetoric. In other words, truth becomes the servant of their argument rather than their argument the servant of truth. They may persuade those who are not really searching for truth (including themselves), but, in the end, they hurt their cause and dishonor Christ." -- Doing Theology is About Pursuing Truth, Not Prejudice by C. Michael Patton

Some say one needs “epistemic humility”—a real understanding that you could be wrong. But taken to an extreme, it posits Christians cannot have absolute certainty about anything the Bible says. We should study the Bible and theology in order to learn what God reveals and not simply to prop up our system.

Monday, March 02, 2009

When music takes shape

"The whole point of shape-note is not about being a wonderful, trained singer, or about demonstrating years spent learning the material you’re singing. It’s about making a joyful noise." -- When music takes shape, by Emily Burnham in Bangor Daily News 2/16/09