Friday, July 10, 2009

Calvin on the Lord's Supper

Originally published in The Churchman, Matt Mason's articulation of evangelical Anglican appropriation of Calvin's eucharistic theology makes me proud to stand in both the Presbyterian and Anglican stream of the reform of the Church.

This'll whet your appetite:

Before considering his view of the Supper, it will be helpful to grasp his theology of the sacraments generally. For Calvin, sacraments are

an aid to our faith related to the preaching of the gospel…an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promises of his goodwill toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; and we in turn attest our piety towards him in the presence of the Lord and of his angels and before men.[30]

Three things are noteworthy. Firstly, sacraments are related to the preaching of the gospel: ‘a sacrament is never without a preceding promise but is joined to it as a sort of appendix.’[31] But, when joined to the Word, they ‘have the same office as the Word of God: to offer and set forth Christ to us, and in him the treasures of heavenly grace.’[32] Their primary direction is therefore God to us, not us to God, in contrast to the Roman Mass. Secondly, as an outward sign and seal the sacraments assure us that God’s promises are reliable. It is not that the Word is insufficient; nevertheless we are weak, and so God in his grace provides seals, like those on government documents, to assure us of the truth of his promises.[33]

The sacraments do what the Word does, but better, because they also contain a visible component:[34] ‘The sacraments bring the clearest promises; and they have this characteristic over and above the word because they represent them for us as painted in a picture from life.’[35] Thus, they make the Word ‘more vivid and sure.’[36] Thirdly, sacraments do not, contra Rome, work ex opere operato. They must be received by faith: this is the God-ward movement as, in response to his promises, we attest our piety.[37] However, even this God-ward movement is dependent on God’s prior, gracious activity. The Spirit must work through the sacraments to confirm our faith. They

properly fulfil their office only when the Spirit…comes to them, by whose power alone hearts are penetrated and affections moved and our soul opened for the sacraments to enter in.[38]

Within this context, Calvin views the Supper as a banquet, whereby we feed on Christ.[39] Christ himself is ‘the only true food of our soul,’[40] but God gives ‘visible signs best adapted to our small capacity.’[41] The Supper is thus a covenant sign and seal, annexed to God’s Word.[42] Hence, Calvin agrees with Luther and Zwingli, against Rome, that the Word of God is indispensable to right administration.

Tongue-in-Cheek Hymns for Calvin's Birthday

"Jesus Loves Me, This I Think"

Jesus loves me, this I think,
If I’m wrong, to Hell I’ll sink.
Little ones to Him belong
To save or damn, for He is strong.

Yes, He may love me,
And has elected
Or else rejected
Me ere the world began.

"Arminian 'Grace'"

Arminian “grace!” How strange the sound,
Salvation hinged on me.
I once was lost then turned around,
Was blind then chose to see.

What “grace” is it that calls for choice,
Made from some good within?
That part that wills to heed God’s voice,
Proved stronger than my sin.

Through many ardent gospel pleas,
I sat with heart of stone.
But then some hidden good in me,
Propelled me toward my home.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Because of what we’ve done,
We’ve no less days to sing our praise,
Than when we first begun.

Shamelessly ganked from fellow-presbyter Drew Collins. Image from Cruciality.

Calvin on Confession

Now let us cast ourselves down before the majesty of our good God, conscious of our faults, praying that he may not only forgive us but may daily cleanse us of them. May he remove them far from us. so that we are no longer captive and imprisoned by them. Rather, led and controlled by his Holy Spirit, may we walk in such holiness of life that we may seek above all to yield to his will. And since we know ourselves to be such weak and feeble creatures, may he support us in all our imperfections, until he has rid us of them and fully clothes us with his righteousness.

Happy Birthday John Calvin!

500 years ago, God gave a great gift to the Church. While he's so well remembered as a theologian, we do him a great disservice in forgetting that he was a pastor. His most especial duty as a pastor was the preaching of the word, which he did a minimum of five days a week (often six). Calvin's sermons deserve to be read. Moreover, his dedication to the pure preaching of the word deserves to be emulated in the deadened pulpits of our day. T. H. L. Parker’s 1975 biography tells why:

And so we trace him preaching on Sundays with one hundred and eighty-nine sermons on the Acts between 1549 and 1554, a shorter series on some of the Pauline letters between 1554 and 1558, and the sixty-five on the Harmony of the Gospels between 1559 and 1564. During this time the weekdays saw series on Jeremiah and Lamentations (up to 1550), on the Minor Prophets and Daniel (1550-2), the one hundred and seventy-four on Ezekiel (1552-4), the one hundred and fifty-nine on Job (1554-5), the two hundred on Deuteronomy (1555-6), the three hundred and forty-two on Isaiah (1556-9), then one hundred twenty-three on Genesis (1559-61), a short set on Judges (1561), one hundred and seven on 1 Samuel and eighty-seven on 2 Samuel (1561-3) and a set on 1 Kings (1563-4).

Before he smiles at such unusual activity of the pulpit, the reader would do well to ask himself whether he would prefer to listen to the second-hand views on a religion of social ethics, or the ill-digested piety, delivered in slipshod English, that he will hear today in most churches of whatever denomination he may enter, or three hundred and forty-two sermons on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, sermons born of an infinite passion of faith and a burning sincerity, sermons luminous with theological sense, lively with wit and imagery, showing depths of compassion and the unquenchable joyousness of hope. Those in Geneva who listened Sunday after Sunday, day after day, and did not shut their ears, but were “instructed, admonished, exhorted, and censured,” received a training in Christianity such as had been given to few congregations in Europe since the days of the fathers. (92)

Thank you, John Calvin, for believing in the majesty of the word and for demonstrating by your life the glory of preaching the Bible.

And for making it look easy!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Tolerance a la Dilbert

John MacArthur on Intolerable Christianity

In these postmodern times, tolerance is the supreme virtue of the public square. Tolerant people can be broad thinkers, open-minded, and charitable to every worldview—every worldview, that is, except biblical Christianity. The authoritative demands of Jesus Christ are beyond the threshold of postmodern tolerance.

In this postmodern era, one virtue is esteemed above all others: tolerance. As a matter of fact, tolerance may soon be the only virtue secular society will embrace. Many traditional virtues (including humility, self-control, and chastity) have already fallen out of public favor and in some quarters are openly scorned or even regarded as transgressions.

Instead, with the beatification of tolerance, what was once forbidden is now encouraged. What was once universally deemed immoral is now celebrated. Marital infidelity and divorce have been normalized. Profanity is commonplace. Abortion, homosexuality, and moral perversions of all kinds are championed by large advocacy groups and tacitly encouraged by the popular media. The modern notion of “tolerance” is systematically turning morality on its head.

Just about the only remaining taboo is the naive and politically incorrect notion that another person’s “alternative lifestyle,” religion, or different perspective is wrong.

One major exception to that rule stands out starkly: it is OK to be intolerant of biblical Christianity. In fact, those who fancy themselves the leading advocates of religious tolerance today are often the most outspoken opponents of evangelical Christianity. A classic example of this is the Web site at Page after page at that Web site lambastes Bible-based Christianity. It is one of the most bitterly anti-Christian sites on the World Wide Web.

Why is that? Why does authentic biblical Christianity find such ferocious opposition among today’s self-styled champions of “religious tolerance”?

It is because Christianity is diametrically opposed to the postmodern ideas that have made this an age of “tolerance.” Here are six key concepts that set Christianity in opposition to the very spirit of our age:

1. Objectivity
True Christianity starts from the premise that there is a source of truth outside of us. God’s Word is truth (Psalm 119:160; John 17:17). It is objectively true—meaning it is true whether it speaks subjectively to any given individual or not; it is true regardless of how anyone feels about it; it is true in an absolute sense.

Of course this existential generation finds such a view utterly distasteful. People prefer to seek truth inside themselves. If they contemplate the meaning of Scripture at all, it is usually only in terms of “what this verse means to me”—as if the message of Scripture were unique to every individual.

But authentic Christianity regards Scripture as the objective revelation of God’s truth. It is God’s Word to humanity, and its true meaning is determined by God; it is not something that can be shaped according to the preferences of individual hearers.

2. Rationality
Biblical Christianity is also based on the conviction that the objective revelation of Scripture is rational. The Bible makes good sense. It contains no contradictions, no errors, and no unsound principles. Anything that does contradict Scripture is untrue.

That sort of rationality is antithetical to the whole gist of postmodern thought. People today are taught to glorify contradiction, embrace that which is absurd, prefer that which is subjective, and let feelings (rather than intellect) determine what they believe. But such irrationality is nothing less than an overt rejection of the very concept of truth.

As Christians, we know that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). He does not contradict Himself. His truth is perfectly self-consistent. That sort of black-and-white rationality is one of the main reasons biblical Christianity is intolerable in a generation that rejects reason.

3. Veracity
Authentic Christianity is based on the conviction that God’s objective revelation (the Bible) approached rationally yields divine truth in perfectly sufficient measure. Everything we need to know for life and godliness is there for us in Scripture. We don’t need to seek principles for godly or successful living through any other source. Scripture is not only wholly truth; it is also the highest standard of all truth—the rule by which all truth-claims must be measured.

Such a conviction is the very antithesis of the postmodern notion of “tolerance.” And that is another major reason why Christianity has been targeted by the proponents of postmodern “tolerance.”

4. Authority
Because Christians believe Scripture is true, they teach its precepts with authority and without apology.

The Bible makes bold claims, and faithful Christians affirm it boldly and without compromise. That, too, is a profound threat to the “tolerance” of a society that loves its sin and thinks of compromise as a good thing.

5. Incompatibility
Scripture says, “No lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21). As Christians, we know that whatever contradicts truth is by definition false. In other words, truth is incompatible with error.

Jesus Himself affirmed the utter exclusivity of Christianity. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). That sort of exclusivity is utterly incompatible with postmodern notions of “tolerance.”

Moreover, as Christians we understand that whatever opposes God’s Word or departs from it in any way is a danger to the very cause of truth. Genuine Christians therefore eschew passivity toward known error—and that too has set the postmodern defenders of “tolerance” against us.

6. Integrity
Since all of the above is true, genuine Christianity sees integrity as an essential virtue and hypocrisy as a horrible vice. Such a mind-set is virtually the antithesis of postmodern “tolerance,” and it is yet another reason our society despises our faith.

Unfortunately, the church in our generation is drifting from these fundamental convictions and has already begun to embrace postmodern ideas uncritically. Evangelicalism is quickly losing its footing, and the church is becoming more and more like the world. Fewer and fewer Christians are willing to stand against the trends, and the effects have been disastrous. Subjectivity, irrationality, worldliness, uncertainty, compromise, and hypocrisy have already become commonplace among churches and organizations that once constituted the evangelical mainstream.

The only cure, I am convinced, is a conscious, wholesale rejection of postmodern values and a return to these six distinctives of biblical Christianity. We must be faithful to guard the treasure of truth that has been entrusted to us (2 Timothy 1:14). If we do not, who will?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Proud to be from Tennessee!

Some of you may have figured out that I feel blessed to be an American, and specifically from the South. And even though I'm dangerously close to being a midwesterner by location, in my heart I'm still a Volunteer. So I was excited to read how late last month, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen signed House Joint Resolution 108 (HJR0108), authored by State Rep. Susan Lynn. The resolution “Urges Congress to recognize Tennessee’s sovereignty under the tenth amendment to the Constitution.”

The House passed the resolution on 05/26 by a vote of 85-2 and the Senate passed it on 06/12 by a vote of 31-0. The text is below.

WHEREAS, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads as follows: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”; and

WHEREAS, the Tenth Amendment defines the total scope of federal power as being that specifically granted by the Constitution of the United States and no more; and

WHEREAS, the scope of power defined by the Tenth Amendment means that the federal government was created by the states specifically to be an agent of the states; and

WHEREAS, today, in 2009, the states are demonstrably treated as agents of the federal government; and

WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court has ruled in New York v. United States, 112 S. Ct. 2408 (1992), that Congress may not simply commandeer the legislative and regulatory processes of the states; now, therefore,


CONCURRING, that we hereby affirm Tennessee’s sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a committee of conference and correspondence be appointed by the Speaker of the House and of the Senate, which shall have as its charge to communicate the preceding resolution to the legislatures of the several states, to assure them that this State continues in the same esteem of their friendship and to call for a joint working group between the states to enumerate the abuses of authority by the federal government and to seek repeal of the assumption of powers and the imposed mandates.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a certified copy of this resolution be transmitted to the President of the United States, the President of the United States Senate, the Speaker and the Clerk of the United States House of Representatives, and to each member of Tennessee’s Congressional delegation.

Caption contest

My entry was:

Seriously…one more “rod of iron” joke and you are outta here.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

I invoke Godwin's Law

Okay...I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but...

The Goracle has tripped to the ridiculous...he's now saying that global warming (or, more properly, skeptics of anthropogenic global warming) is the Nazism of our time.

So, I guess he's using Godwin's Law to shut down the argument since - despite his constant crowing - the science is still unsettled.

P.S. - Hey sunspots, welcome back!

4th C. Manuscript seeks 21st C. Scanner for Textual Healing

Codex Sinaiticus is finally online.

Now I feel bad for sneaking those non-flash pictures in the British Library...


Monday, July 06, 2009

Zombies on TAP

I'm not normally a reader of The American Prospect, but this article drew my attention.
Granted, I disagree with his conclusion about the nature of the genre (i.e., being essentially progressive, read American liberalism). But it is true that the genre is fundamentally concerned with challenging status quo and seeking to understand what is essential to human civilization.

However, I think that the disintegration and ineffectiveness of government is a key element of the genre. Also, the rugged independence / self-reliance that is key to both short and long-term survival in the genre. These are values generally regarded as the domain of the "right" I'm not sure the genre has a particularly political bent (unless you want to take a libertarian view of things...).