Sunday, June 28, 2015

On Marriage

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Gen. 2:24)

Marriage nowadays is seen as a romantic pairing of two persons who love each other. It is seen as a step of self-actualization, where the feelings of loving and being loved are enjoyed within the relationship. Of course, this notion of marriage is quite modern. Marriages in history tend to be less about romance and more about expediency, although certainly romance is not always absent.

In the history of the Christian Church, marriage has not always been highly extolled. The onset of asceticism in the middle part of the early church era, due to Neo-Platonic influences, led to a denigration of marriage and an elevation of the contemplative life. No less than the Church Father Augustine of Hippo left his mistresses after his conversion and lived the rest of his life in celibacy. As theology developed in the Middle Ages, matrimony was seen as a sacrament, which was however mutually exclusive to the sacrament of holy orders. Matrimony was "good," but Grace was seen as superior to Nature, perfecting it. Those who are called to service in the Church should not be "contaminated" with natural things like marriage, and therefore priests and bishops cannot marry, at least officially.

It was the Reformation that restored the goodness of marriage. Luther, Calvin and the other Reformers all were married, and it was not because they couldn't keep their pants up! The marriage of the Reformers was just as much a theological statement as it was about love. As opposed to the Medieval Church's (and that of its daughter Roman Catholicism) doctrine of Grace perfecting Nature, the Reformation altered the relationship to one of Grace renewing Nature. Grace allows Nature to be what it was meant to be. Also, over and against Anabaptism, which held to Grace against Nature, God's grace does not change what is natural in this world. Applied to the marriage relationship, marriage as a creation ordinance is good. The whole idea therefore that devotion to God entails forgoing marriage is unbiblical. It stands to reason therefore that, unless one has the gift of celibacy like the Apostle Paul, one should not willingly deny marriage, for to do so is to go against Nature.

Marriage is a natural pairing of one man and one woman. It is part of Nature, which is not Special Revelation and thus not exclusively Christian. Being part of Nature, it is not done for one's self-fulfillment or self-actualization. It is therefore contrary to the idea of marriage being an optional extra, or the greatest good, for it is neither. It is not to be treated as something one can "try" if the opportunity presents itself, neither is it to be seen as the goal to be gained such that one can experience the pleasure of sex. It is what everyone without the gift of celibacy should desire, but desire not as the ultimate epiphany of goodness, but as an earthly and natural good.

In practical terms, this means that everyone who does not have the gift of celibacy should desire marriage. Unless one has that gift, to intentionally denigrate marriage and thus to put it off for no good reason is sin, for that is to deny God's good creation. That is the problem in the Medieval Church and in Roman Catholicism, which, because of its Grace perfecting Nature paradigm, denies the goodness of what God has ordained for mankind. It is also the problem for the Anabaptist Grace against Nature paradigm, for it destroys the validity of marriage since it is a creational institution. This is not to say that singleness is wrong, for it is God who provides in time, but intentional singleness without the gift of celibacy is wrong.

Christians above all should stop letting the culture dictate our values. We should avoid the twin errors of seeing marriage either as an optional extra (neglecting it), or as the greatest good on earth (idolizing it). Marriage is natural, and since Nature, though fallen, is still God's creation, we should esteem it in its proper place.

Love vs Lust

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

What is love? What is love as opposed to lust? The SCOTUS judgment that irrationally claims a "right" to same-sex marriage claims it is about "love." #LoveWins, or does it?

Love is an emotion. But is it just an emotion? The world defines "love" as a purely emotional thing, such that people "fall in love." Denying one's emotions is seen as cruel and wrong, except of course when it comes to denying the emotions of incestous couples (so far). Even those who are not hopping onto the LGBTQIAXXXXXXX bandwagon have a view of love that treats it an emotion that one mysteriously come to have, and must not be denied if the emotion is mutual.

Love however cannot be purely an emotion. For if that is the case, then the marriage vows do not make any sense, for what happens if a spouse does not "feel" loving towards the other at any time? Would that be immediate grounds for divorce? But if marriages are to make any sense, "love" has to be more than an emotion, but rather it is to be grounded in the will or volition. From a Christian perspective, God commands us to love. Emotions cannot be commanded, for one either feels or don't feel. But the will can choose to love. Therefore, love must be grounded in the will.

For love to be love, it must seek the good of the other, not fulfill what one desires from the other party. Love as such is antithetical to selfishness; it is other-centered. In seeking the good of the other, it wants what is best for the other, and what is good is a moral question, to be decided according to considerations of ethics not feelings. After all, everything is for hurting the feelings of terrorists and stopping them from committing terrorism. Scarcely anyone will say that we should not hurt the feelings of terrorists since their deep desires would get hurt if we stop them. The reason is because we hold that terrorism is morally wrong, and therefore the feelings of those involved are absolutely irrelevant.

Love is grounded, or should be grounded, in the will, and it seeks the good of others. Lust on the other hand is purely emotional, and has no regard for others, except as a means to satisfaction of desire. Here we see the problem with the predominant view of "love," for what they see as "love" is actually "lust." So love does not win; lust did. The SCOTUS decision is a celebration of lust, not of love. A pure love would require a channeling of emotions towards what is true and good. If two men really loved one another, they would not enter into a same-sex "marriage," because that is supremely unloving. The partners of a same-sex relationship do not love each other, because they are willingly entering into a relationship that destroys the other party. It is hateful lust, destroying each other in perverse sex. But what about those struggling with same-sex attraction? If they truly love others, they would be willing to fight their attraction. Giving in to the unnatural desire is an act of hatred against their neighbors — a lustful action not a loving one.

The sadder thing is not that marriage has been perverted (it has), but that most people operate on a wrong view of love. Love is not self-seeking, which means that true love sometimes might entail letting the other go, and not pursuing a wrong relationship. It is not doing whatever you please based upon your feelings, no matter how strong they might be, but with discipline and self-control discerning one's own feelings according to what is good and true, and acting accordingly.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bavinck on Law and Gospel

According to Herman Bavinck, there are three ways to speak about the relation of Law and Gospel. The first way is broadly, as depicting the Old and the New Testaments (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:453). The second way is "concretely," which is to say as presented in the text, such that "the law made promises and the gospel utters admonitions and imposes obligations." (Bavinck, 4:454). The third way is in "content," where the two are contrasted as antithetical to each other (Bavinck, 4:453-4). With regards to the third manner, Bavinck writes,

Although they [Law and Gospel] agree in that both have God as author, both speak of one and the same perfect righteousness, and both are addressed to human beings to bring them to eternal life, they nevertheless differ in that the law proceeds from God's holiness, the gospel from God's grace; the law is known from nature, the gospel only from special revelation; the law demands perfect righteousness, but the gospel grants it; the law leads people to eternal life by works, and the gospel produces good works from he riches of the eternal life granted in faith; the law presently condemns people, and the gospel acquits them; the law addresses itself to all people, and the gospel only to those who live within its hearing; and so forth. (Bavinck, 4:453)

We see here that Bavinck agrees fully with the Law-Gospel distinction as being something that comes from the Reformation, which "restored the peculiar character of the Christian religion as a religion of grace" (Bavinck, 4:453).

Bavinck's second way of speaking of "Law" and "Gospel" is concretely, which is to say that the elements of Law and Gospel are so intervowen in the text of Scripture that "the law made promises and the gospel utters admonitions and imposes obligations" (Bavinck, 4:454). We note here that Bavinck is not by this denying the Law-Gospel distinction he affirmed in the previous page, but rather he is acknowledging (1) that the text of Scripture is not always delineated into neat "Law" and "Gospel" sections, and (2) that issues such as "duty-faith" are tough issues to categorize nearly as either "law" or "gospel." Regarding the issue of "duty-faith," the idea that unbelievers have a duty to believe in Jesus Christ and are thus called to do so, Bavinck states that even among the Reformed there is disagreement about how to categorize it. This "preaching of faith and repentance, which seemed after all to be a condition and a demand" was argued to "really [belong] to the gospel and should not rather (with Flacius, Gerhard, Quenstedt, Voetius, Witsius, Cocceius, de Moor, and others) be counted as law (Bainck, 4:454). So some categorize it as "Gospel," which would seem to have the Gospel making demands, while others like Witsius, who I think are more consistent, would categorize it as "Law". The difficulty is due to the fact that Law and Gospel are tightly intervowen in the text of Scripture, such that, while in concept and content they can be distinguished, and SHOULD be distinguished, they often are found together in the text of Scripture and applied together in practical life.

So we see three main senses in speaking about Law and Gospel. Broadly, they refer to the Old and New Testaments. Concretely, they refer to the textual and concrete applications of "Law" and "Gospel" activities. In content, they refer to antithetical realities of "Indicatives" and "Imperatives." For a full orbed view of both justification and sanctification, we should understand these three senses, so that we neither confuse the "Law" with the "Gospel," nor do we flatten out the Christian life as if everything is about just focusing on the complete salvation in the Gospel.

Local and larger governing assemblies of the Church

All these meetings reported in the New Testament were assemblies of the local church attended only in Acts 15 by representatives from other places. [Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:431]

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. ... And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. ... Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. ... (Acts 15:6, 12, 22a)

Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics is a erudite piece of Reformed scholarship. Yet, surprisingly, in this particular section there is a denial that Acts 15 depicts a broader church assembly. Rather, according to Bavinck, Acts 15 depicts an assembly of a local church with "representatives from other places."

From the surface, there is already a problem with the idea that Acts 15 depicts a "local church gathering." While we are not given the number of believers in Jerusalem, we do know that there were three thousand baptized at Pentecost, and with growth, we can assume that the church in Jerusalem probably numbered in the thousands and the tens of thousands. Even after the great persecution in Acts 8:1, the church would have bounced back in the many years since. With this number of believers, it is unlikely, given the hostile climate in Jerusalem, that thousands of Christians would be worshiping in public as one assembly, much less deliberate doctrinal issues. Therefore, the Church in Jersualem likely was made up of multiple local churches, all of them under the authority of the Apostles, and the elders and deacons tasked to help them. The assembly in Acts 15 would thus likely be the meeting of the leaders of the Jerusalem churches, with representatives from the other churches.

The next problem with the idea that Acts 15 is an assembly of the local church is that the issue under discussion was an issue in the churches of Antioch, caused by Judaizers that come from Judea. If this was a local church assembly, why would it render a ruling that goes out to the other churches in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia? If we grant that these Judaizers came from the Jerusalem churches, the ruling would be to discipline the Judaizers as teaching contrary to what the Jerusalem churches believe in, not to give a positive command that is obligatory on believers not in the "local church" of Jerusalem. A "local church assembly" would disavow the Judaizers as teaching contrary to what the Jerusalem churches teach, while letting the "local church" assemblies in Antioch and other cities settle the doctrinal issue for themselves in their own "local church assemblies." After all, each "local church" is autonomous, or is it not?

Acts 15 therefore must be an example, the only canonical example, of a broader church assembly. It is the "whole church" of Jerusalem inasmuch as all its representatives were there, thus verse 22 is not giving us the impression that every single member in the churches of Jerusalem head for head were present in this gathering and they all made that decision, but that the vote to send men to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas was unanimous from all the representatives from all local churches. Contra Bavinck, Acts 15 functions as an example of a broader church assembly, and a basis for Presbyterian church polity.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Totalitarianism under the guise of freedom

"As Anderson explains, the movement intends to cast supporters of traditional marriage once and for all as bigots who won’t be allowed to make their case in the public square. They want to salt the earth post-Obergefell and make certain it’s impossible for any traditional marriage movement to flower." ... more

The LGBTQIA agenda was never about "civil rights" and equality, but about oppression in forcing people to celebrate sexual deviancy, or face the consequences

Thursday, June 11, 2015

CT and Evangelicals forced to make a decision

Al Mohler has recently wrote an article concerning how Evangelicals will be forced to make a decision regarding the issue of homosexuality. That Evangelicals need to make that decision is true. The problem however is with how Evangelicalism as a movement is unable to halt those within its ranks from compromising on this and other issues.

The issue of focusing on a center with non-distinct boundaries, if any, is the way Evangelicalism has functioned, to the detriment of the movement. Even the term "center-bounded set" emphasizes the center while the boundaries are not clearly marked. One may want to fault Fundamentalism with having boundaries legalistically, but is the solution to legalism no boundaries that are unclear and unable to be enforced?

The desire to be "nice" and liked by all has destroyed the witness of Evangelicalism. From Billy Graham's compromise to toleration of "partial inerrancy," Open Theism and Theistic Evolution, Evangelicalism has become everything, and nothing. That the apostate Tony Campolo can ever be called an "evangelical" says it all. The statement by current CT editor-in-chief Mark Galli that "Neither will we feel compelled to condemn the converts and distance ourselves from them" was correctly critiqued by Mohler, but can all of us not "condemn the convert" (whatever that means), but more importantly, treat them as apostates that are to be called to repentance and faith?

Evangelicalism has been wary of boundaries. Ironically, their witness is sullied by a desire to be "nice." If Evangelical leaders will not disavow heretics, the movement will certainly be co-opted by these heretics.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The LGBT movement and free speech

Dr. R Scott Clark recently did an interesting two part interview with Stella Morabito on the issue of the LGBT movement and free speech. You can listen to the podcasts here and here.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

On Religion

"Religion" in many circles is seen as something staid, formal and dead. The picture given is a bunch of moral hypocrites who claim to obey the law and impose harsh demands on others. For some strange reason, the Pharisees are seen as the epitome of what "religion" is all about, and we all *know* that Jesus condemned the Pharisees and instead call for a "heart religion." But is such a picture correct?

The association of "religion" with dead formality has been a recurring motif throughout history. There was always the State or official religion, and then there were the "mystery" religions for the common people. In the Greco-Roman world, the "mystery" religions multiplied since they promised something exotic and liberating from the official status quo. As Christianity penetrated the Greco-Roman world, the phenomenon known as Gnosticism became the "Christianized" version of the pagan mystery religions. After Christendom was established under Constantine's successors, the mystery religious impulse was partially co-opted by the Medieval Catholic Church, and thus Roman Catholicism (the unreformed branch of the Medieval Catholic Church) has been filled with all manner of unbiblical superstition up to this present day.

Closer to modern times, this mystical impulse returned in the Anabaptists, then in the Lutheran Pietists especially in the Moravian Brethren. It then become a key component of Evangelicalism as it was born in the Evangelical awakenings under George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and John and Charles Wesley. Whether through Evangelicalism or through Unitarianism and Liberalism, modern society has by and large become infected with the mystical impulse.

The problem with the mystical interpretation of "religion" is that it is at best a caricature. True, "dead orthodoxy" or nominalism is a problem, but it is not a new problem. The old way is to treat nominal believers as the mission field, while, under the mystical impulse, formal religion itself is tarred as being essentially the same as "dead orthodoxy."

It is true that Jesus promoted a heart religion, but that is precisely the point — a "heart" "religion." As James 1:27 says, what God is asking for is a religion that is of the heart. In other words, it is done sincerely out of love ("heart") in a manner that is orderly and with regard to the institutional structure of the church ("religion"). As an aside, the problem with the Pharisees is not that they were religious, but that they had a false religion, a religion that added to God's Word in the multiplication of laws, and subtracted from God's Word through their denial of Jesus Christ.

The contrast therefore should not be between Christianity (as relationship) on the one hand, and "religion" and irreligion on the other hand. While pandering to the prevailing culture's idea of "religion" might help gain sympathy in the short term, what this denigration of "religion" may very well result in is a denial of any formality in Christianity for an amorphous idea of "love," viz mysticism. And as Dr. James White has said, "What you win them with is what you win them to." If you utilize this "contextualized" manner of presenting Christianity to a public that is certainly skeptical of authority and formality, how would you be able to teach them respect for the institutional aspects of the visible church, unless of course you want to become egalitarian in church polity? Church discipline is all but impossible if mysticism becomes the default setting of members in the church. Through all these, God is not honored, and we have not corrected the false teaching concerning the church that was tolerated (or promoted) in the language denigrating "religion" and "irreligion."

"Religion" is treated as a bad word in certain quarters, but it shouldn't be. Perhaps instead of attacking "religion," we should actually be truthful and call it by its true name: "Legalism," or one can call it "Ritualism." Or, since it smacks of the return to the Law principle, we can call its proponents "Judaizers."