Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pulling down strong holds: Systematic theology

(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) – II Corinthians 10:4

One strong hold that must constantly be pulled down is doctrinal error. Sadly, sometimes our own doctrinal error becomes our own strong hold! A strong hold is a fortress or strong fortification. (Un)Spiritual strong holds are strong fortifications which oppose and exalt themselves against the truth of the cause of Christ. A strong hold that is both a creeping error and insidious enemy is “theological systems”. What appears to be our friend often becomes our foe.

Every time I warn against the errors of systematic theology I receive a strong push-back against that warning. Please hang to your hats until I have my say! Let me first define what I mean by “systematic theology” and then address the problem itself. Systematic theology as a discipline formulates or arranges a rational account of the parts of biblical teaching into an orderly whole. Systematic theology as study takes all the information about a subject and organizes it into a system. For example, the entire Bible's teaching about the church forms a system of doctrine or teaching called ecclesiology. The entire Bible's teaching about angels forms a system of doctrine or teaching called angelology. And so on. Now what could be wrong with that? Surely the Bible is not a contradictory mass of random texts, but a congruent whole of consistent thought.

First, notice that systematic theology is a work of man rather than a work of God. A cursory comparison of Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem or Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof quickly reveals they do not look anything like the Bible! The Bible is God revealing to man; systematic theology is man trying to understand what God wrote. So far, so good. The difficulty lies ahead. Often the Bible student falls for the error that systematic theology is some kind of body of revealed truth. Nay! God forbid! The Bible is the body of revealed truth. We begin to understand that the underlying problem is not systematic theology in and of itself, but man and his use of it.

Second, learn that systematic theology is not some body of truth but a task performed by the Bible student in developing an understanding of God’s revealed truth. It is a task that is never finished! This task is ongoing; our views must constantly be updated by the word of God. We do not know it all, so we are continually learning. Just when we think we have it all figured out, something in the Bible twists out of shape the nice neat organization we had formulated to keep all things in order. Let the Bible do the twisting. Don’t fight for your system; believe the Bible. May our walls of error fall down flat.

Third, know that the task is your task. The goal of Bible study is to find the intended meaning of the author and take it at face value -- not wrest it to fit our theological systems or some present-day standard. Upon professing faith, most of us were handed a theological system within which to work. First joined a Reformed Church? You start with Calvinism as your system. Saved and baptized at a Free Will Baptist Church? You begin with Arminian undergirding. These variants are kinds of “systems within systems”. Within the overall category of soteriology (systematic theology regarding salvation) one may fall in these major camps or in between or outside of them. Regardless of background, the new believer usually begins Bible study by trying to interpret within and fit everything into the theological system he or she inherited. But our beliefs must be our beliefs and not those handed to us. One of the greatest deficiencies of systematic theology is that one borrows and holds it rather than owns it.

Fourth, be warned that our systems are often our undoing in understanding or not understanding the Bible. We must learn to come to the Bible text for that text to speak to us, rather than conforming the text to fit our presuppositional system. Many “systems within systems” become our strong holds of defense of what we believe. Everything in the Bible must fit neatly in its place within the system. Something else cannot be true, because it does not fit the system. Well that sounds right, because the Bible does not contradict itself! Yes, we can rightly believe that the Bible does not contradict itself. That does not mean the Bible cannot contradict our system. Remember, God wrote the Bible. You developed your system (or had it handed to you). Only one is inspired and without error.

There are many strong holds, theological systems developed as logical systems for the depository of truth. Calvinism, Arminianism, Dispensationalism, Amillennialism, Landmarkism, Universalism. One of the most brazen systems I have ever seen is that of "Conditional Time Salvation". It is a subset of Calvinism under the broader system of soteriology. It posits two salvations, one eternal and one in time. Eternal salvation is unconditional and without reference to man, carried out by God unknowingly. Time Salvation is conditional and entered in to by man of his own will, and includes all passages of scripture associating repentance and belief with salvation. Under this system, all sorts of Christ-rejecting unbelievers can unknowingly have eternal salvation and enjoy the felicity of glory in heaven. To the “true believer” (in it), it becomes almost unassailable in its strength against all texts of scripture to the contrary. We proudly lean back and puff out our chests. We could believe no such thing. But this is just one example. The "two wine theory" is another such system. Start with belief that there are two wines and good is always grape juice and bad is always fermented -- and you'll always see that everywhere you look. Start with the Bible and you just might be surprised. One’s own system never looks as unscriptural as the systems of others, but it just may be.

Finally, know that we don't know everything and don't have to know everything. If we don't know what a particular book or text or  verse or word means, there is no ultimatum to make it mean something that fits neatly into our system. It is OK to say, "I don't know what this means, or how it fits in with the rest of what I believe." Just leave it alone until you receive more light. We're not trying to win a debate, but trying to understand and believe the Word of God! One may like for everything to come in nice neat packages, but God is His wisdom and sovereignty did not package the Bible that way. Perhaps there is a reason.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Feet washing and supper

John 13:1-17 1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. 2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him; 3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; 4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. 5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. 6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? 7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. 8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. 9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. 10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. 11 For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. 12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

In two previous feet-related texts I investigated from a more devotional nature. In John's account of Jesus washing His disciples' feet, I'd like to consider the timing of the feet washing. It is fairly common, perhaps nearly universal, among old-timey Baptists that observe washing the saints' feet in connection with the Lord's Supper to have the supper first and the feet washing last. I knew one Faithway Baptist minister who believed the feet washing occurred first but with deference followed the practice of his churches in observing it last. It is my conviction that the washing of the saints' feet precedes the bread and wine both chronologically and logically.

Chronologically. Some few writers, who appear determined to distance feet washing from communion, argue that the Jesus washing the disciples' feet does not occur on the same night as the Lord's Supper. While there may be some wondering, the full context of John 13 places the timing together. In his Harmony of the Gospels, A. T. Robertson writes, "It is not worth while to maintain that John in chapter 13 alludes to a different meal on a different occasion. The points of contact with the Synoptics are too sharp and clear, such as the sop given to Judas." (p. 281) Others remark that the feet washing occurred during the midst of the supper and should be thus translated (e.g. "so He got up from supper," HCSB). Because the King James and other English texts state "supper being ended," many consider the incident occurring after the institution of the Lord's Supper. While one cannot erase all doubts, there is a simple explanation that fits the text and harmonizes with the disciples singing an hymn and departing after the Lord's Supper. This is that the supper that was ended was the Passover supper, from whence Jesus constituted the New Testament supper of His body and blood. This fits theologically as well, for this was an ending of the old and installation of the new.

Logically. Not only does the actual incident precede the institution of the Lord's Supper chronologically, the symbols of its nature also logically precede it. Jesus, the Son of the Father in heaven, laid aside his beauty, glory and power, took on human flesh, and came to serve rather than be served. The ultimate end of that service was His death, giving His life and blood a ransom on the cross. He first laid aside His glory of deity and became man in the flesh, then offered His life. This is pictured vividly in the feet washing incident, as He lays His garments by and girds Himself with a towel and washes His disciples. One precedes the other, and how much fuller the lesson of these glorious symbols when they follow the order of Christ's mission!

Theologically and historically the incarnation precedes the crucifixion. Just as surely the symbols should agree with this fact.

Jesus washing His disciples' feet provided them (and us) an example to go and do likewise. It also paints a beautiful picture of a sovereign Lord who could not stoop too low to serve His people, but stepped out of heaven's glory fashioned as a man to serve, to be nailed to a cross, to give His life a ransom.

O how happy are they,
Who the Savior obey,
And whose treasure is laid up above!
Tongue can never express
The sweet comfort and peace
Of a soul in its earliest love.
--From "True Happiness" by Charles Wesley

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Six years later: Interview with Matthew Pinson on The Washing of the Saints' Feet

In 2006 Matthew Pinson published his book The Washing of the Saints' Feet. After its publication, I purchased the book, read it, reviewed it, and recommended it. Six years later I still recommend it. Six years later the author has agreed to the following interview. I hope you will find it interesting. J. Matthew Pinson is a Free Will Baptist minister & educator, and president of Welch College in Nashville, Tennessee.

R. L. Vaughn: Brother Pinson, one of your reasons for writing the book was to re-energize the Free Will Baptists' vision of washing the saints' feet. Why did you feel the vision needed re-energizing, and do you feel the book has helped accomplish that goal?

Matthew Pinson: Free Will Baptists are not isolated from the wider evangelical lack of attention to ecclesiology. Like other evangelicals, we have drunk in our fair share of consumer values and pragmatism in our attempt to grow our churches--concerned more about what will attract people than about the sufficiency of the new covenant means of grace. However, a younger generation is becoming more interested in ecclesiology, as it is in biblical theology and the Christian tradition. There is more of an interest in what Timothy George has referred to as "renewal through retrieval." Younger Free Will Baptists are not alone in this. But part of what is involved when younger Free Will Baptists engage in renewal through retrieval is the retrieval of the washing of the saints' feet. Most of the people I get emails from who have benefited from my book, used it for church Bible studies, etc., have been younger, well-educated Free Will Baptist pastors, youth ministers, etc. As we move forward, this will no doubt have the effect of helping to re-energize the vision for the rite of washing the saints' feet.

R. L. Vaughn: You also hoped that the book would help to offer that vision of washing feet to the wider Christian family. Have you seen or heard of any response of such an accomplishment?
Matthew PinsonI don't really have any knowledge of how the book has been received outside Free Will Baptists. You reviewed it, as did another feet-washing friendly Baptist, Robert Gardner, a historian at Mercer University. He gave it a positive review in Baptist History and Heritage. It was also reviewed positively in a Mennonite academic journal--I think the Conrad Grebel Review, which I think is published in Canada. It seems that there was also an Anabaptist reviewer in Europe that gave it a good review. This is all I know about its reception outside Free Will Baptist circles.

R. L. Vaughn: Have any of your views about feet washing changed since the publication of the book? If so, in what way?
Matthew Pinson: None of my main views have changed. However, I continue to develop and broaden my understanding of the concept of "ordinances" in Free Church life, especially in Baptist life. I am becoming convinced that, in Baptist life, the word and concept of "ordinance" gradually morphed from talking about simply a God-ordained church practice to being a Baptist synonym for "sacrament." This development made the subsequent jettisoning of the washing of feet by the myriad Baptists (Arminian and Calvinist alike) who practiced the rite an easier development--they simply parroted much of the sacramental language and categories of the wider non-Baptist Reformed movement, just without the deeper sacramental theology. Thus the "two sacraments" of the Magisterial Reformation became the "two ordinances" of many Baptists as they moved into modernity. This may not have happened as much if Baptists had retained the earlier usage of the concept of "ordinance" simply to mean a God-ordained Christian practice, rather than using it as a synonym for "non-sacramental sacraments." This does not mean, of course, that early Baptists did not use sacramental language (and we all know that all sorts of ritual ordinances were more important to early Baptists in England and America than they are now--rather than just being "tacked on" like they are now), even though it would still be seen as very "non-sacramental" to Reformed, Lutheran, or Anglican communicants. 

R. L. Vaughn: You included six songs in your book on feet washing. This seems unique in comparison to many such treatises. What motivated you to include these songs? Are songs on washing the saints' feet an important part of Free Will Baptist worship?

Matthew Pinson: My interest in the Christian tradition in general and the Free Will Baptist and larger Baptist traditions in particular, together with my musical interests, have fueled a fascination with the way Christians prior to recent times utilized song to inculcate doctrine. They saw themselves as fulfilling the command from Col. 3:16 about letting the word of Christ dwell in his people richly as they teach and admonish one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. The Baptists in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries led the way in the development of extra-canonical hymnody (as opposed to exclusive psalmody). But, as some research I've been doing on the English General Baptist Joseph Wright and the English Particular Baptist Benjamin Keach (both seventeenth century) has shown, they were very intent on fulfilling the command in Col. 3:16. The main reason for hymnody, as they saw it, was to teach doctrine. They would have been completely mystified by the shallowness and non-doctrinal nature of much of our evangelical church music of late. It was obvious to these people, and to most of our Baptist forebears, that the practices of the church, including things like baptism, the Lord's supper, and feet washing, should be sung about by the people of God. Yet this seems so foreign to our time.  Believing as I do in the need to renew the church by the retrieval of Christian song which fulfills the dictates of Col. 3:16, and believing that good theology is always doxological, and given that what I am writing about in this book is itself a worship practice, I thought it was fitting to publish these songs. The music to one of the songs was even originally written for the book by my friend Dr. James Stevens, chair of the Music department at Welch College.

R. L. Vaughn: Were there any objections to your proposal that feet washing symbolizes resurrection, and if so, how would you answer those objections?
Matthew Pinson: I can't really remember, but it does seem that there were a few people that balked at that. If I were writing the book now, I would probably clarify a little more that it is not that the washing of feet necessarily directly represents the resurrection of Christ. Rather, it represents sanctification--which is referred to in Scripture (Rom. 6) as resurrection to new life (our identification with Christ in his resurrection), whereas justification is referred to as being planted together with Christ in his death (our identification with Christ in his resurrection). The trouble I see is that the Lord's supper doesn't seem to have a referent to sanctification (the horizontal) as it does to Christ's work an its appropriation in justification (the vertical). My use of the categories of identification with Christ in his death (justification) and my identification with Christ in new resurrection life (sanctification) should not be abstracted from the vertical/horizontal and first great commandment/second great commandment categories. I simply believe that the Lord's Supper more naturally symbolizes our identification with Christ's death (justification), our vertical relationship with God, and the first great commandment, whereas it doesn't directly picture our sanctification (Rom. 6--resurrection life), the horizontal outworking of our relationship with God, and the second great commandment. 

R. L. Vaughn: What, if anything, might you do differently if you were writing the book today?

Matthew Pinson: The things I mentioned above.

R. L. Vaughn: Is there anything you would like to add that I forgot to ask?

Matthew Pinson: No. Thank you so much for the opportunity to discuss this book.

R. L. Vaughn: Thank you so much for giving of your time for this interview, and the discussion of your book and the subject of washing the saints' feet.

Matt Pinson speaks on "The Washing of the Saints Feet" from John 13

Book review by Pieter Post
Book review by Robert Gardner

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The poor and a feet wiping

"A rich perfume on Jesus’ weary feet"*

John 12:1-8 Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. 2 There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. 3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. 4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, which should betray him, 5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. 7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. 8 For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus seemed to get herself in trouble at family get-togethers. On one occasion it was criticism from her sister Martha for sitting at Jesus' feet rather than helping serve. On this occasion it was from Judas Iscariot for wasting what might have helped the poor. On both occasions Jesus defended her. On these occasions and in John chapter 11, we see Mary loved her place at the feet of Jesus.

Before the Passover  Lazarus, Martha, Mary, Jesus and the disciples got together at the house of Simon the leper (Cf. Mark 14:1-9) for a supper with Jesus as the guest of honor. While Martha served and Lazarus supped, Mary brought out an alabaster box with a pound of costly ointment and anointed Jesus. She anointed his feet, and from Matthew & Mark we know she also anointed His head. The ever-vigilant always-pragmatic and not-so-honest Judas took time to notice and to criticize. His criticism was a facade, and yet Jesus took notice of its failure to meet the test.

The feet wiping
Jesus as the guest of honor had great honor bestowed upon Him by Mary. The ointment was costly -- Judas estimated 300 pence -- but she spared none. She poured it all on Jesus. She also did not spare herself, but made her own lovely hair the rag with which to wipe Jesus' feet. Perhaps she did not even fully understand the import of the act as Jesus expresses it -- she presupposed His death and burial and anointed Him in preview. Even the most hard-hearted would not deny the cost of anointing for burial.

The poor
Judas proposed the poor as the reason to avoid such waste, while surely salivating to secure that sum for his scrip. Jesus answer does not discourage helping the poor, but encourages us to get our priorities in the right place. Within a few days He would be dead. The poor would be around always, and "whensoever ye will ye may do them good." If we are not doing the poor good when we can, do not use them as an excuse not to do what we should.

Jesus said Mary had "done what she could." May we, by God's grace, do what we should to bestow a sweet smelling offering upon Jesus our Savior who died for us.

When Mary poured a rich perfume on Jesus’ weary feet,
Her caring filled that humble room; the fragrance there was sweet.

*from the hymn "When Mary poured a rich perfume" by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette © 2001

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A meal and a feet washing

Luke 7:36-50 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. 37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, 38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. 40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. 41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? 43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. 44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. 45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. 48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. 49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? 50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.

A meal
“In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal,” says Robert Karris, author of Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel. At least nine such accounts are recorded*. An oft-repeated complaint of the Pharisees was that Jesus ate with publicans and sinners (Cf. Luke 5:30 7:34; 15:2). “The Son of Man is come eating and drinking, and ye say, Behold, a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.” This story reminds us that Jesus not only ate with publicans and sinners, but also with Pharisees and lawyers (Cf. Luke 14:1-6). Often we only see what we want to see, only what pride and prejudices allow. The truth is that Jesus is no respecter of persons, but if any man will hear His voice and open the door, He will come in sup with him.

A feet washing
At this meal with the Pharisee appeared an uninvited guest – a sinful woman with a dark reputation. Surprisingly the woman weeps profusely and begins to take those tears as water to wash Jesus’ feet. Her hair supplies the rag to wipe them, and with her lips she vigorously kisses those sacred feet. An ointment that cost her greatly is then applied to Jesus’ feet. Simon, the host and a Pharisee, is flabbergasted, privately thinking ill of Jesus – if he really were a prophet, he would know the sinful reputation of this woman and not let her near him, much less wash and kiss his feet. But Jesus did know this woman and her sins (Cf. verses 47-38). Knowing Simon’s thoughts, Jesus puts forward a parable illustrating the source of the woman’s actions – she loves much because she has been forgiven much! The woman, the forgiven, worships Jesus without words. Jesus, the forgiver, justifies her actions by His words. She stood forgiven. She could go in peace. “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God.”

May we feast with Jesus, may we worship at His feet.

Jesus! What a friend for sinners!
Jesus! Lover of my soul;
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Savior, makes me whole.**

*Luke 5:27-32 (Matthew Levi, a publican)
Luke 6:1-5              (In the corn fields)
Luke 7:36-50          (Simon, a Pharisee)
Luke 9:12-17          (5000 fed)
Luke 11:37-54 (A certain Pharisee)
Luke 14:1-24          (A chief of the Pharisees)
Luke 19:1-10          (Zaccheus, a publican)
Luke 22:7-20           (With the twelve)
Luke 24:13-32 (Cleophas and other disciples)
Luke 24:41-42 (With the eleven)
(And many many other lessons involving eating)

** Hymn by J. Wilbur Chapman

The Two Debtors

Luke 7:40-42  40 And Jesus answering said ... I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. 41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?

1. Once a woman silent stood
While Jesus sat at meat;
From her eyes she poured a flood,
To wash his sacred feet:
Shame and wonder, joy and love,
All at once possessed her mind,
That she e'er so vile could prove,
Yet now forgiveness find.
2. "How came this vile woman here?
Will Jesus notice such?
Sure, if he a prophet were,
He would disdain her touch!"
Simon thus, with scornful heart,
Slighted one whom Jesus loved,
But her Savior took her part,
And thus his pride reproved.
3. "If two men in debt were bound,
One less, the other more;
Fifty, or five hundred pound,
And both alike were poor;
Should the lender both forgive,
When he saw them both distressed;
Which of them would you believe,
Engaged to love him best?"
4. "Surely he who much did owe,"
The Pharisee replied;
Then our Lord, "By judging so,
Thou dost for her decide:
Simon, if like her you knew,
How much you forgiveness need;
You like her had acted too,
And welcomed me indeed!
5. "When the load of sin is felt,
And much forgiveness known;
Then the heart of course will melt,
Though hard before as stone:
Blame not then, her love and tears,
Greatly she in debt has been:
But I have removed her fears,
And pardoned all her sin."
6. When I read this woman's case,
Her love and humble zeal;
I confess, with shame of face,
My heart is made of steel;
Much has been forgiven to me,
Jesus paid my heavy score,
What a creature must I be,
That I can love no more!

Written by John Newton: Copied from The Christian's Duty, exhibited in a series of hymns, 1791, No. 206

Monday, October 22, 2012

Washing feet blog posts

This morning I preached from the text in Luke 7:36-50, the sinful woman washing the feet of Jesus. Over the next few days I want to post on the subject of washing feet. This first post is links to blog posts on the subject, and my final post will be an interview with Matthew Pinson, president of Welch College and author of The Washing of the Saints' Feet.

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

Feet Washing is not about Washing Feet
Have You Washed Her Feet Lately?
New book, available in July
Once I had a glorious view
The Case for Feet Washing
The Creator On His Knees
The last day of Jesus’ life on earth…what did he do? Why did he do it?
This Do in Remembrance of Me
The Washing of the Saints' Feet book review
Washing Feet – Sharing in Jesus
Waste is Such a Beautiful Thing
What takes the place of foot washing?
What was He thinking?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Is God unmindful


"They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt-offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind" (Jeremiah 19.5).

God needs no defense from guilt. He stands in no need of the pleas of His creatures to absolve Him of wrong doing or abetting the same by simply not acting.

Let us examine the text and its context and see what is there. Jeremiah 19 is just as much a part of the Bible as John 3.16 or Romans 8.28 so we shall review it accordingly. Verse three tells us to whom the Lord sent Jeremiah, His prophet. He was sent to the kings of Judah , and the inhabitants of Jerusalem . Jehovah had, at that particular time, no complaint with the heathen nations around about Israel . The complaint in Jeremiah 19 was with Judah in particular. (It is interesting, however, that He calls Himself the God of Israel, as though there had never been a division among the tribes.) God’s message to Judah was attended with certain unusual effects; whoever heard the message would experience having their ears tingle. The injunction God laid against Judah pertained to their exceeding wickedness; wickedness such as was hitherto unknown among the fathers (verse four). Their trespasses were alarmingly insidious; so much so, God demanded their attention on the matter. You may be sure He got it. Their sins were enumerated as follows:

• They forsook God.
• They estranged the place, apparently meaning the valley of the son of Hinnom, which was by the East gate (Verse 2).
• They burned incense unto other gods.
• They filled the place with the blood of innocents.
• They built the high places of Baal.
• They burnt their sons with fire.

None dare deny the enormity of the crimes catalogued against the kings of Judah and Jerusalem . They were clearly odious. By any standards they were exceeding wicked. To burn your offspring with a consuming fire as a sacrifice to idols bespeaks wanton abandonment of all compassion and devotion. Further, it denotes full apostasy by the perpetrators. None but those with depraved minds could entertain such practices.

Jehovah made three pronouncements concerning Himself and His relation to the events following His description of Judah ’s sin:

1. “Which I commanded not.” Thus, Judah had no command to hide behind.
2. “Nor spake it.” Judah had no word from God to plead.
3. “Neither came it into my mind.” Finally, it would be inconsistent with the nature of God to even think of granting them such sordid privileges.

Item 3 seems to turn even the most placid religionists into near infidels and God-limiters of the first sort. Their beliefs (or disbeliefs) on this range anywhere from one extreme to another but always have as their aim a denial God knew about this particular sin. More particularly, since God did not know the events, they deny God predestinated or decreed any of these acts, either directly or permissively.

Just what are the possibilities we may draw from the pronouncements God made, and how then may we best sort out the truth from error? There appears to be only two major possibilities. The first is, God was truly unaware or unmindful of their conduct and thus, “Neither came it into my mind” meant God never knew about this sin, at least until it was committed. This would mean that God was deficient or lacking in the knowledge of all things. His omniscience was less than real omniscience; God did not know all at all times. Such a god is no god at all. He is only a being somewhat superior to other beings but, nevertheless subject to limitations as all other beings.

The second plausible possibility is this: it never entered God’s mind to command or speak to these sinners relative to these matters, no; not even to suffer such to be done. Simply put, in the language of man, God said He never, ever, thought of commanding them to practice this wickedness. Had God commanded them so, the command would correspond to His commands to them involving matters of sacrifices; that which was allowable and that which was not. No such command was ever given. They were without excuse.

If one accepts the latter possibility, he avoids becoming embroiled with additional and more complex questions regarding God’s omniscience. For instance, how can an omniscient, or all-knowing, God not know something; in this case the horrible sins of the citizens of Judah and Jerusalem ? If there is a basic premise regarding God which practically all sane persons accept, it is that God is all-knowing. Nothing escapes His wisdom, prescience, observation, knowledge or understanding. All things are naked and open before Him; past, present, and future. God knows all, God sees all. Is a god of lesser capacity worthy of the name, God? Preposterous! 

If by the expression, “neither came it into my mind” means God did not know about the events from some period prior to their actual transpiring, then was God less wise before He learned of them? Conversely, was He more wise, then, after He learned about the events? Could such a thing be possible?

Is God a learner of events as we creatures are? Does He build upon His base of wisdom as events take place like mortals do? Is it possible to say that God did not know of these atrocities until they were committed without at the same time saying God increased in His omniscience with the passing events? What else can we conclude from the noxious idea that God was growing in learning when He said “neither came it into my mind”?

The Word of God says, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world (Acts15.18).” Can this event, where God comes to these sinners and condemns them for this awful abomination, be excluded from His works? How could God know of this action of His from before the foundation of the world and yet He not know what the action would involve? Is it possible that He just knew that something unknown but wicked was going to transpire but that He would have to wait until the event developed to know the details of what He eternally knew of only generally? That may not be blasphemy but it is a second cousin to it.

An additional consideration is involved if one denies that God knew about these terrible actions. How could God address these sinners about their crimes if these same crimes had never entered His mind? Can God speak about what He knows nothing about? Did God know about the sins or not? If He did know about them, then just when did He learn of them? Was God, who is omnipresent, on the scene when the action took place to become a learning spectator, as all other beings? Did He know about them before or after they transpired? Or as they transpired? Can any of these questions be answered according to the Arminian approach without consigning God to a status of learner? Make no mistake about it. God would have to have known less before these events and known more after the same if “It never came into My mind” means He was unaware until the fact. And so, He could not have been telling us the actual fact of His person when He avowed He never changes.

The Psalmist wrote, “For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven (Psalm 119.89).” Would the word of the Lord to Judah in Jeremiah 19.5 be excluded from this citation? The simple meaning of the text is that it never entered God’s mind to command them to build altars or desecrate their off-springs in the fire.

Is God unmindful? “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4.12-13).” God discerns. Dare any say He discerns imperfectly? God discerns the intents of the heart. Those miscreants in Jeremiah 19 certainly intended in their hearts to do what they did, thus God discerned or knew before the time that which was to transpire. If He knew before, even for one second, the nonsensical argument of the Arminians fall to the dust before the feet of our Omniscient God.

Furthermore, the text says all things are naked and opened unto His eyes. Notice that it does not say they are simply open; they are opened. Opened by His power, His wisdom, His holiness, His will, His knowledge. Is God unmindful? Only in the perception of infidels.

—Elder James F Poole, a condensed version, the entire article can be found in The Remnant, September-October, 1999. Volume 13, No. 5

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.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Can faith inform our views on law and politics?

Likely Vice-President Joe Biden is being widely applauded this morning (in certain circles) for his broad liberality. In the debate last night in Danville, Kentucky, he made it clear that he would not impose his religious beliefs on others. Now that sounds right, doesn't it? On the surface, perhaps, but let's consider what the Vice-President actually said, and the implications of it.

Noting both debaters/candidates were Catholic, moderator Martha Raddatz asked “what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.” Congressman Paul Ryan went first, explaining that faith and reason both played a part in his belief system. When his turn came, Vice-President Biden stated “With regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a, what we call de fide* doctrine. Life begins at conception. That’s the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christian and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others...”

First, whether the Vice-President actually abides by his church's doctrine is questionable. The Pope not only says life begins at conception, but also concerning abortion law it is “never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it.” But that is another subject. Vice-President Biden clearly and without equivocation said that life begins at conception and that he believes that. Where he did equivocate, though, is that it only applies to his "personal life" and does not inform his beliefs about national policy or laws. In contrast, Congressman Ryan had previously wondered aloud, “I don’t see how a person can separate their private life from their public life or their faith.” Yes, how can we?

Curiously, in the case of Joe Biden, we have a man who believes that an unborn child is alive and yet we cannot protect it from murder! Why? Because "I just refuse to impose that on others." Would he kowtow so easily concerning a life that is one day old, one year old, 20 years old, 80 years old? Would he refuse to impose his belief about not murdering these on others? Why not? How can he so casually dismiss life rather than protect it just because 'life begins at conception' is a religious belief? Life is life.

I am glad that our forefathers didn't allow murder or theft simply because prohibiting it would be based on their religion. I don't believe murder is wrong because some old dead guys thought so or because it is either a personal or societal benefit -- even though both are true. I believe murder is wrong "because the Bible tells me so." Does that exclude me from sitting at the table of ideas and influence? Most certainly not! It may keep some from believing or accepting my ideas, but it doesn't exclude me from sitting down at the table.

Allowing others to have their faith and make their peace with God (or not) is a hallmark of Baptist religion. We do not impose our faith and practice on others. Yet in the moral development of a society, someone's beliefs will be imposed upon that society through public policy, laws, regulations, and community standards -- whether those beliefs are religious or secular.  Ultimately, many of us have many different reasons for believing what we believe and supporting the causes we support. In a democratic society no one is excluded from the marketplace of ideas because of their reason for believing. Whether their reasons will gain the support of the majority is another question altogether.

* In Roman Catholicism, a de fide doctrine is an essential part of faith and the denial of it is heresy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Worthless theology?

If your theology (study of divine things or religious truth) does not affect your philosophy (system of principles for guidance) and your practice (what you do and how you act), then your theology is worthless to you.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Touch not the Lord's anointed

A number of so-called Baptist ministers insulate themselves from criticism and correction by demanding the flock "Touch not the Lord's anointed." Then turn around to boldly criticize, correct and abuse the Lord's anointed, his flock. Thomas Williamson wrote about this, concluding, "The command, "Touch not the Lord's Anointed" is for today. In 2 Corinthians 11:19-20, Paul warns against religious leaders who would take advantage of believers: "For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face."

Today, among some preachers, it is considered a mark of distinction that they are able to bring their followers into bondage, devour them, take of them, exalt themselves, and smite or abuse their followers. They brag about this sort of thing in their preacher's meetings, and conduct pastor's schools to teach others how to do it and get away with it. But notice what Paul calls such men - he calls them Fools! In the context, it is clear that he is not talking about laymen abusing preachers, although that is also wrong. Here he is talking about preachers who abuse and misuse laymen, and according to Paul, such preachers are fools."

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Curious story of church music and a tucking comb

It was at this meetinghouse [of Hickman Creek Baptist Church, Smith County, TN], and under this preaching, when a small boy, I got my first ideas of divine worship, and of Jesus Christ as a Saviour for sinners. And this fact may account for some notions that cling to me at the present time. The first pastor I remember to have met and heard at Hickman Creek was a tall, gray-headed gentleman by the name of Durham. It was under the ministry of this aged servant of God I first witnessed the exhibition of instrumental church music. It was very simple and primitive in its order. The instrument was not an organ, nor melodeon, nor violin, nor flute, nor drum, nor horn. It was a cheap and portable concern, that the pastor carried in his pocket, which at the proper tune (time?) he played himself, thereby saving the expense of a salaried performer.

When the hymn was announced Father Durham drew from his pocket a lady’s tucking comb, to one side of which a piece of brown paper had been adjusted. While the congregation struck the air of the tune, he sung the same notes through the comb, which being reflected by the paper, and broken into diverging and crossing volumes by the intervening teeth, produced a monstrous jingle of sounds, that supplied the place of bass, treble, alto, and all the imaginary notes. Whether scientific or not, the primitive church instrument sent out a novel clatter of sounds, which to my uneducated ear seemed wonderfully melodious.

Little did I dream at that time of living to be a grown-up man; of being transported from those native hills and dropped down among cities; to tread the threshold of majestic Gothic temples, and see the tucking comb transferred from the preacher’s pocket to a spacious room in the gallery, and expanded into the beauty and grandeur of the church organ, with its thundering sounds.

I will not undertake to give an opinion as to the comparative merits of the various instruments of church music. Let those who believe in instruments do this, if they choose. After some years of experience I decidedly prefer congregational singing to all the instruments in the world. Some might attribute this to erroneous education, or the lack of education. Be this as it may, I would rather listen, especially on the Sabbath, to some forty or fifty clear toned human voices, such as may be heard in some of our African churches, where praises spring up from the very bottom of the heart, and pour out in solid sluices from wide mouths; where time is kept not by the rules of gamut, but by the spontaneous swinging of their bodies as they heave to and fro beneath the pulsations of spiritual emotion; I would rather listen to this than to the finest organ in America. What dying Christian in his dissolving hour would not prefer the vocal praises of one single kindred spirit, making melody from the heart, to all the heartless instruments in the world?

[Excerpt from reminiscences of Hickman Creek Baptist Church in Middle Tennessee by a contributor signed “R. J.”. Found in Samuel H. Ford’s Christian Repository, April 1860]

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Why art thou cast down?

Why art thou cast down?

Be still my heart! these anxious cares
To thee are burdens, thorns, and snares,
They cast dishonor on thy Lord,
And contradict his gracious word!

Brought safely by his hand thus far,
Why wilt thou now give place to fear?
How canst thou want if he provide,
Or lose thy way with such a guide?

When first before his mercy-seat,
Thou didst to him thy all commit;
He gave thee warrant, from that hour,
To trust his wisdom, love, and pow'r.

Did ever trouble yet befall,
And he refuse to hear thy call?
And has he not his promise past,
That thou shalt overcome at last?

Like David, thou may'st comfort draw,
Saved from the bear's and lion's paw;
Goliath's rage I may defy,
For God, my Savior, still is nigh.

He who has helped me hitherto,
Will help me all my journey through;
And give me daily cause to raise
New Ebenezers to his praise.

Though rough and thorny be the road,
It leads thee home, apace, to GOD;
Then count thy present trials small,
For heav'n will make amends for all.

John Newton (1725-1807)
Olney Hymns, 1779

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Smyrna Church singing

The annual memorial Sacred Harp singing at Smyrna Missionary Baptist Church, Oak Flat Community, Texas will be on Saturday, October 6th, Lord willing. We start at 10:00 a.m. and  sing until about 3:00 p.m. We use the 2006 Sacred Harp, Revised Cooper Edition, at this singing. The church house is located on FM 2496, about 5 miles west of Mt. Enterprise, Texas. The closest motels are in Henderson, Texas, but Jacksonville and Nacogdoches are nearly as close.

Come join in, and help us to sing.