Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Ninth Commandment

Q 143: Which is the ninth commandment?
A: The ninth commandment is, You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Q 144: What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
A: The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocence; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requires; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

Q 145: What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A: The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calls for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, tale bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vain-glorious boasting; thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any, endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.

(Westminster Larger Catechism Questions 143-145)


I guess I should have seen that one coming, but the last post has been retracted. Evidently, I hit a nerve. Apologies to any unintended slight on Todd Pruitt's character. Apologies to those not part of the Reformed world involved in the issue for the assault on their Nicene Orthodoxy; I am really sorry you have to bear the continual and incessant questioning of your theological orthodoxy.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Concerning one philosophical argument against EFS

[Tom McCall] asserts unambiguously, "Hard EFS entails the denial of the homoousion." He argues:

(1) If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has the property being functionally subordinate in all time segments in all possible worlds.

(2) If the Son has this property in every possible world, then the Son has this property necessarily. Furthermore, the Son has this property with de re rather than de dicto necessity.

(3) If the Son has this property necessarily (de re), then the Son has it essentially.

(4) If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has this property essentially while the Father does not.

(5) If the Son has this property essentially and the Father does not, then the Son is of a different essence than the Father. Thus the Son is heteroousios rather than homoousios.

[Philip R. Gons and Andrew David Naselli, "Three Recent Philosophical Arguments against Hierarchy," in Bruce A. Ware and John Starke, eds., One God in Thee Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 198]


In the same way, then, the historic doctrines of the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit, which the majority of the church has embraced in the East and the West since at least the Council of Nicaea in 325 and arguably much earlier, would entail the denial of homoousion. We could restate McCall's argument this way:

1. If the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity is true, then the Son has the property generate in all time segments in all possible worlds.

2. If the Son has this property in every possible world, then the Son has this property necessarily. Furthermore, the Son has this property with de re rather than de dicto necessity.

3. If the Son has this property necessarily (de re), then the Son has it essentially.

4. If the historic doctrine of the Trinity is true, then the Son has this property essentially while the Father does not.

5. If the Son has this property essentially and the Father does not, then the Son is of a different essence than the Father. Thus the Son is heteroousios rather than homoousios.

If the argument is valid, not only does it refute EFS's proposal that the distinction between the Father and the Son is best understood in terms of authority and submission, but it also refutes the view held by the vast majority of the church for at least the last seventeen hundred years, namely, that the Father, Son and Spirit possess unique personal properties that distinguish them from one another.

If what McCall and Yandell argue is true, then the church's best theologians, the very ones who defined and defended homoousion, unknowingly denied it and differed only slightly from Arians. The entire history of orthodox Trinitarianism was unknowingly heterodox for the simple reason that its view of the Trinity entails a denial of homoousion. That is a weighty charge.

(Ibid., 199-200)

The primary argument against EFS it seems is to make it a matter of ontological subordination. But the question always is "where's the proof?". Given that EFS proponents have always affirmed ontological equality between the persons, the onus is on their accusers to prove their case that their affirmation is invalid.

One particular argument it seems is that predicating submission of the Son in eternity implies that it belongs to the being of the Son to be subordinate to the Father. Thus argues Tom McCall. But as Gons and Naselli pointed out, the same argument would implicate Nicene Orthodoxy itself when applied consistently. The key error in McCall's reasoning is to equivocate on the term "essential" (Ibid., 201). The first meaning is that of necessity, "essential to being something." The second meaning is that it pertains to the essence of a thing, "what a thing is." By equivocation, McCall's argument makes an invalid argument in an effort to promote his view of radical egalitarianism.

I would of course disagree that "the distinction between the Father and the Son is best understood in terms of authority and submission." But I do not deny such a distinction. That the Father has personal properties that the Son does not have is basic Nicene Orthodoxy: the Father unbegotten, the Son begotten. But the way Nicene Orthodoxy goes about is to say that the predication of the persons have no bearing on the being (the essence) of God. In being, in ontology, the three persons share the one Godhood, and all are the one God, equal in power and glory. BUT in persons, they posses personal properties that are not shared among the persons. The Father does not share in the property "begotten," for example. There is thus an asymmetry in the relations of the Godhead. To claim otherwise is to reject Nicene orthodoxy.

Functions of authority and submission only work in dynamic relations, and thus they can only be predicated of the works of the persons. Therefore, they must be predicated of God ad extra. The relations of eternal generation and eternal procession of the Son and the Spirit respectively are stative concepts, in that they pertain immutably to God ad intra. But to speak of the eternal submission of the Son from the pactum salutis in eternity past is to envision a dynamic interaction of the Son covenanting with the Father for the salvation of the elect. Gons and Naselli did not quite make the distinction, but a distinction between the ad intra and ad extra would be very helpful here as it introduces another layer of distinction and nuance into the relations within the Godhead. It would certainly avoid more confusion over people thinking that EFS has to do with ontology when it has absolutely nothing to do with ontology. Evidently, the critics think they know better what the proponents believe about EFS than the proponents do themselves.

Regardless, I think Gons and Naselli has pointed out one fatal flaw among those who deny EFS. Can the doctrine of God espoused by EFS critics survive the reductio ad absurdum pointed out by Gons and Naselli? If they could, how? After all, it seems that if everything is about BEING, then the Son must be subordinate to the Father if he is really begotten of the Father. Or perhaps, we can stop being so obsessed with ontology. But I'm not holding my breath for EFS critics to actually respond. After all, misrepresentation and demonization is always easier, especially when the opponent is "Big Eva"!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Unity, the Reformed churches, and "Reformed" tribalism

God has given our churches the body of truth. He has given us the precious truth of the gospel of His sovereign grace in Jesus Christ. He has revealed that truth to us in His Word. He has given it to us as it is summarized and set forth in our Reformed confessions. God has also given us in our own congregation(s) unity in that truth. That truth should be precious to us. We must guard and protect it. We must stand for the truth of God without compromise. This means we may not unite with those who oppose it, but only with those who are one with us in the truth.

The question now is, how do we carry this out? In answer to that question, it must be clear from the outset that the way in which this is carried out with those who are not one with us varies from church to church, and from situation to situation.

If there are churches who have made it clear that they are determined to oppose and reject the truth, certainly we cannot be close to them nor continue to seek unity with them. By their conscious and deliberate rejection of God’s Word, they give evidence of departure from the faith. Instead of being a church that is reforming and coming to a clearer understanding and confession of the truth, they are moving further away from the truth. This does not mean that they have immediately become a false church. But the fact is that they have shown by their wilful [sic] rejection of the truth that they are headed in that direction. [Daniel Kleyn, "Loving Churches who Seek the Truth," Salt Shakers 39 (Sept 2016): 6]

Thus wrote Pastor Daniel Kleyn, a PRCA (Protestant Reformed Churches of America) missionary in the Philippines, in this article of relating to other churches that are not in the same denomination as them. Now, I think it is a good idea to consider how we should perceive and interact with other churches, which surprisingly few people write about. So I would applaud Kleyn for daring to write on this issue openly, and taking a position that is most certainly at odds with Evangelicalism of any stripe (including the Martin Lloyd-Jones style Old Evangelicalism)

While I applaud his daring, and he certainly has it right that unity is found in truth, yet I do have serious problems with his article, not less is because of his denomination the PRCA. In full disclosure, I was formerly a member of Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC), joining it before it developed sister church relations with the PRCA. I joined the church then because it was Reformed, not because it was PRCA. When the church decided to pursue a closer relation with the PRCA, and as I began to see what the PRCA stood for, I was in total disagreement with the direction the church was going. When I left for seminary, I took the opportunity to get out and join the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), of which I am still a member.

The PRCA have certain hobby horses they love to harangue others over, and while I do not know how explicitly they express it, they are certain that almost every other Reformed church in the US are deeply compromised in doctrine, with their favorite whipping boy being the CRC (Christian Reformed Church), and those that came out of either her and the PRCA: the URCNA (United Reformed Churches of North America) and the CanRC (Canadian Reformed Church). Basically, they alone are the true Reformed church body, if you believe their polemic. Now there is nothing wrong with criticizing these church bodies IF they are in fact apostate, but where is the evidence for that?

When you start to examine the issues and the critiques by PRCA pastors and theologians, and measure it according to Scripture, the Reformed tradition, and Reformed theological sources objectively, you will start to realize that the PRCA do not trade in truth. The PRCA has a tradition which is regarded as axiomatic as being truly "Reformed," but that tradition is not open to criticism or reconsideration. What is "Reformed" is what they believe as taught especially by their founder Herman Hoeksema; everything else has to fit into that system. By "truth," they mean "the Reformed tradition as interpreted by Herman Hoeksema, and their two other theologians Herman Hanko and David Engelsma." Everything they read must be re-interpreted according to this lens, as we have seen in Engelsma's absolutely horrendous review of the book Sacred Bond, co-authored by my pastor Zach Keele and Pastor Michael Brown of Christ URC at Santee (here, here, here and here).

The only and true reason why I am Reformed, and why anyone should be Reformed, is because the Reformed faith is the truth. I other words, the Reformed faith is the truest and purest form of biblical Christianity. If that were not so, there is no reason for anyone to be Reformed, and I would be the first to throw out that label. Therefore, to stand on the truth and to be always seeking after truth is a Reformed imperative. When Kleyn says that "we must stand for the truth of God without compromise," he speaks truly in form. But do the PRCA actually stand on and trade in truth? NO! If they were actually standing on the truth, then why are they so resistant to actually represent their opponents accurately? Why does Engelsma have to misrepresent Keele and Brown in his review of Sacred Bond? If they are really interested in the truth, why don't they interact with their critiques? I am sure I am not the only one who has pointed out the errors in their theology and practice, so why not interact with us? After all, since they clearly believe they are right and we are wrong, shouldn't they be interested to show us how wrong we are?

The problem with the PRCA is they are "Reformed" tribalists. "Reformed" to them is a tribe in which certain shibboleths must be honored. The truth is not that important as much as following the standards and traditions of the group. I don't think it needs to be proven why tribalism, or sectarianism, is wrong. Therefore, when the PRCA and ministers like Kleyn talk about how churches that that by "their conscious and deliberate rejection of God’s Word, they give evidence of departure from the faith," and that "they are moving further away from the truth," he is rejecting other Christians just because they do not hold to PRCA tribal doctrines. That of course is a sin against the catholicity of the Church, and is utterly reprehensible.

Now, saying this, I do not wish to imply that sectarianism is a problem merely for the PRCA. There are other groups that are just as sectarian (e.g. those attacking EFS as "anti-Nicene heresy"). The common denominator is a willingness to misrepresent their opponents, ignore critics, and spin the truth. But as Jesus is the truth, such should never be the way true Christians and true Reformed Christians conduct ourselves. And for those who fall into sectarianism, they are to repent of their sins and turn to God, seeking true ecumeneity in the truth of Christ.

A further note on the Kong Hee case

The Kong Hee case is an ongoing scandal in Singapore Christianity, even though I deny City Harvest as being a true church. I have previously written on the incident here and here. While Kong Hee is a false teacher and City Harvest a false church, those who gloat over Kong Hee's fall show themselves to not have the mind of Christ in this matter (c.f. Mt. 23:37)

There are people who say that we should stand with City Harvest, citing 1 Corinthians 12:26 in this regard. Their motives are laudable, and indeed I do believe in standing in solidarity with fellow believers, but NOT when they are in the wrong. Right and wrong in a biblical worldview are objective judgments. Even apart from considering the heresy Kong Hee and City Harvest teach, round-tripping money and financial irregularities are crimes. To be sure, I do not subscribe to the nonsense of the prosecution (more on that later), but I do not see under any circumstances how one can deny that what Kong Hee and cronies did was not a crime.

Aside from Kong Hee's heretical nonsense, I have said and will say again that one should not multiply crimes. Round-tripping is a crime, but private organizations deciding to spend their own money on foolish stuff is not a crime. It is not a crime for a private club to spend its funds on an all-expense paid vacation to Las Vegas for all its members, if the decision was made according to the club's own rules. Likewise, a church as a private organization has the right to spend its money to support the career of Sun Ho, no matter how immoral it is. If a City Harvest member doesn't like how his church spend its money, and he is the minority opinion, then stop tithing to them and get out of the church! Volunteer private organizations ARE voluntary. Nobody is forcing you to stay in there if you disagree with them. If you don't like how they allocate funds, then don't give. Don't give money and then whine when you don't have a say in how your money is used.

This is why I find the prosecution ridiculous, sounding like it is coming after Kong Hee out of vengeance instead of justice. Evidently, putting Kong Hee behind bars for 8 years is not enough; what is needed is to destroy him. They might as well just ask the judge for the death penalty, then they can have their full vengeance! Yes, what Kong Hee did in his Crossover Project is wicked, but it is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS! There are a lot of things in this world that are wicked, so should I make it my business to prosecute them? I think casinos are immoral, so when will the DPP (Deputy Public Prosecutor) go after the two Singapore casinos that are plying an immoral trade? I think changing the presidential election criteria with a probable intention of excluding someone from the race is immoral, but I wouldn't hold my breath for the DPP to prosecute those making those stupid recommendations.

Many people for whatever reason don't think of what kind of precedence is set and what are the implications of legal judgments. They are happy when the law goes after those they deem immoral or wrong, without regard for what might happen next. For those who think the government can punish Kong Hee for his immoral behavior, tell me: do you think the government has the right to punish legal but immoral actions of a private entity? Assuming the City Harvest leadership did not do the round-tripping but funnel funds into the Crossover project openly, with the members agreeing, and therefore the whole thing is perfectly legal, would you recommend prosecution of City Harvest then? If you think that the government should still be involved since a minority of former members complained, then you are arguing that the government has a right to meddle in the private affairs of a private institution. Since the government is secular and thus incapable of judging morality in and of itself, then you are opening the door to future persecution of the church. Let me ask you then, you who think it is fine for a government to meddle in the affairs of a private organization: If the government decides one day that anyone promoting a biblical view of the family is promoting "hate" against the LGBTQIAXXX "community" (a reality in many parts of the fallen West), can the government prosecute the church leadership if a few former members complained about experiencing "discrimination"? After all, in the eyes of such a wicked government, black is white and white is black. Promoting the biblical family is seen as a "hate crime" and thus immoral. Since you have already agreed in principle that the government can punish immorality in private organizations, upon what ground do you have to argue that a wicked government cannot punish any church, or even any school, for "discrimination" against the LGBTQIAXXX community?

This is why I am against the prosecution, because it is not the government's job to punish matters of morality except those according to evident natural law. By all means, Kong Hee and the other City Harvest board should be punished, but only for their accounting errors. As reprehensible as China Wine is, it is not a crime for City Harvest to fund its production.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The evolution of the papal institution

The Roman Catholic hierarchy was not instituted by the apostles but rather it evolved over time. It was not even conceived by the apostles as some sort of acorn flowering into a mature oak tree (John Henry Newman's and Vatican II's idea of development). When Jesus told Peter that "on this rock I will build my church" (Mt. 16:18), even if we grant that the "rock" is Peter, Jesus made the same promise of the authority of binding and loosing to the other apostles (Mt. 18:18, Jn. 20:23). There is nothing special about Peter except that he was the one chosen to show how slow and foolish the apostles were. In fact, despite the grace given to Peter, even after Pentecost and after years as a church leader, Peter still fell into error and needed to be rebuked publicly by Paul in Galatia (Gal. 2:11-14). And while Peter gave the sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36), it was James who presided over the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:12-21)

The idea of a Petrine chair of apostolic succession is historically and biblically without any foundation whatsoever. So how did the papal office came into being? It came into being slowly over centuries, built upon many choices the church made that slowly but surely deviated from the biblical norm of ecclesiastical governance.

The early church was a built upon the Presbyterian model. Elders were appointed in every church (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5), and deacons were likewise elected into office (Acts 6:1-3). The Apostles, as the special office, slowly passed from the scene, leaving every church with a plurality of elders and deacons, yet connected to each other.

As the apostolic church became the early catholic church, bishops began to emerge. The first churches were founded in major cities like Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus among others. But as the Church grew, churches began to be planted in minor cities and towns. The pastor of the church in the major cities began to take on a mentoring and leadership role over the smaller churches, and they became the bishops. Thus, the episcopal model of governance began purely as a matter of good, helpful and efficient practice. Over time, power and influence began to converge into five major churches in the cities of Rome, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople (New Rome), and Antioch. The bishops in those five cities began to be seen as in some sense superior to the others, as they claimed apostolic succession for their respective sees.

While Presbyterianism has ceased to be practiced in the early catholic church, the equality of bishops persisted for a longer time. At Nicea in 325AD, the bishop of Rome was not seen in a special light. In fact, Liberius in his capacity of bishop of Rome (352-366AD) condemned Athanasius on behalf of the Arians, and was in turn anathemized by Hilary of Poitiers (Hilary of Poitiers, "Liberius, to the Eastern Presbyters and Fellow Bishops," Book II, VII; "Letter of Liberius in Exile to Urascius, Valens and Germinius," Book II, IX.)[1]. The bishop of Rome in the fourth century was taken to be just one of many bishops. He was the bishop of the capital city of Rome, but that did not come with any special privileges.

As the age of the united Roman Empire drew to a close, chaos began to spread in society. Over time, the Empire became divided over the issue of language. The Western half of the Empire began to speak exclusively Latin, while the Eastern half spoke Greek. The coming of the "barbarians," the Goths, Huns and other non-Romans who attacked and bled the Roman Empire, created space for the spread of the influence of the church. As society collapsed in the West, the Church stepped in to provide services for society, which is certainly a good thing yet it had unintended consequences. East and West moved further and further apart over language and culture and even jurisdiction. The vacuum of power in the West led the Church to began to assume secular power for herself, creating the two swords doctrine. In the East, the Emperor controlled the church, resulting in caeseropapalism, the emperor (Caesar) as "pope."

As the "apostolic sees" emerge, the various Patriarchs still embraced an equality among them. Unfortunately for the Church, only one of the apostolic sees was in the West - Rome. The bishop of Rome, sitting in a land without any equals, and sitting among the vacuum of sociopolitical power, began to be elevated in power and stature. Despite the first real pope Gregory the Great denying the use of the appellation "universal" to any one single bishop, in time his successors would embrace the term, amassing power and wealth into the see of Rome. By the time of the High Middle Ages, the papal office as the supreme leader of Christendom was established. Of course, the history of the church in the setting up of church councils was not forgotten, so some people still held that councils are superior to the pope, a movement known as Conciliarism. The fiasco known as the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, where a series of popes and anti-popes ruled and anathemized each other, became an utter disgrace to the Church and strengthen the forces of Conciliarism. During the Medieval period, the pope did not have absolute power over all of the Church, but must rule with the help of bishops and other members of the clergy. The Pope of course was very powerful, but he did not yet have the power of an absolute monarch although he certainly acted the part.

This situation persisted through the Reformation. As powerful as the Pope was, if more bishops had turned on him during the Reformation, he would be forced to try to find a middle ground with the Protestants. But the Pope had enough powerful people who sided with him, and many people did not like being mocked and ridiculed by Martin Luther, an "uncultured" German. During the Jansenist controversy after the Reformation, and especially later in the Ultramontanist controversy, the various warring factions began to see Rome as the court of final appeal.

Ultramontanism makes for an interesting prequel to the next evolution of the papal office. As the Enlightenment dawned, the advances in learning split the French clergy between the smart and powerful who attend elite schools and were trained in the latest learning, and the poorly-educated priests who were trained in the old ways and used as fodder to fill pulpits. The lowly priests resented their smarter elite cardinals and bishops, and appeal to Rome was used to take the elite French clergy (Gallicans) down. France was of course the most advanced Roman Catholic country at that time, while the other Roman Catholic countries were just beginning to face the Enlightenment. The tremendous changes caused by the Enlightenment frightened the pope, who had a taste of is power when Napoleon humiliated one of his predecessors, Pius VI, by attacking the Vatican and taking him prisoner in the late 18th century. The pope thus had lots of reasons to fear the Enlightenment, and Ultramontanism dovetailed nicely with his mood as the pope was turned to as the defender of the faith.

In a reaction to the Enlightenment, Pius IX in 1864 published his Syllabus of Errors as a rejection of "Modernism." This dovetails nicely into the next evolution of the papal office into one of infallibility, as a safeguard against "modernism" in any form. Vatican I occurred from the years 1869 to 1870, and Pius IX pushed through the novel doctrine of papal infallibility, ignoring objections from learned Roman Catholic historians like Ignaz von Dollinger. Standing as THE defender against modernism, the pope gained support from the Ultramontanes and passed the encyclical Pastor Aeternus defining papal infallibility as dogma. Ironically, at the end of the council before it could be formally closed, the Italian nationalists invaded the Vatican, stripping the pope of his secular powers just as he claimed supreme spiritual powers for himself.

Vatican II marks another shift in the papal institution towards something closer to the situation of the early medieval period. This did not happen however because the pope suddenly became humble and decided to give up his power. Rather, the Roman Catholic Church had grown too large for the type of central control to take place, and the Asian, American, African, and Latin America bishops revolted and forced changes that promote a more decentralized model. Apart from suspending the council altogether, the pope could do nothing but acquiesce and try to work out something that preserved some of his power while ceding parts of it to the other clergy. Post-Vatican II, the Pope has become more of a figure of authority than an actual monarch. The Pope's absolute authority promulgated in Pastor Aeternus still remains on paper, but he has become more of a paper tiger than a real tiger in these modern times.

Thus marks the evolution of the papal institution. It began with helpful practices, mixed in with some heterodox teaching, and the special environment of its time cultivated the papacy. Good and helpful practices over time may result in error, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the evolution of the papacy.


[1] Lionel Wickham, trans., Hilary of Poitiers, Conflicts of Conscience and Law in the Fourth Century Church (Liverpool: Liverpool University, 1977), 77-9. Translated Texts for Historians, Volume 25, Against Valens and Uracius: The Extant Fragments, Together with His Letter to the Emperor Constantius. Translated from A. Feder (CSEL), ed., Collectanea Antiariana Parisina (including Lber ad Constantium Imperatorem and Liber II ad (or con.) Constantium) (1916). As cited in William Webster, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of our Faith (Volume II: An Historical Defense of the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura; Battle Ground, WA: Christian Resources, 2001), 2:267

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pope Gregory the Great did not believe in the pope as THE universal bishop

The papacy as an institution evolved over time, contrary to what Roman Catholics believe. Historical facts can really be a pain in the ass for Roman apologists, who would love to think that there was a pope in the 1st century or 2nd century AD. That there were no popes involved at Nicea in 325AD should have given them pause. The first real pope, as an office that began to stand out above the other bishops, was Pope Gregory the Great, in the 6th century AD. In one of this letters to the Eastern bishops, he wrote:

For, as your venerable Holiness knows, this name of Universality was offered by the holy synod of Chalcedon to the pontiff of the Apostolic See which by the providence of God I serve. But no one of my predecessors has ever consented to use this so profane a title; since, forsooth, if one Patriarch is called Universal, the name of Patriarch in the case of the rest is derogated. But far be this, far be it from the mind of a Christian, that any one should wish to seize for himself that whereby he might seem in the least degree to lessen the honor of his brethren. While, then, we are unwilling to receive this honor when offered to us, think how disgraceful it is for any one to have wished to usurp it to himself perforce.

Wherefore let not your Holiness in your epistles ever call any one Universal, lest you detract from the honor due to yourself in offering to another what is not due. (Book V, EPISTLE XLIII: TO EULOGIUS AND ANASTASIUS, BISHOPS; Source)

The Bishop of Rome slowly evolved over time into the Pope, and even at the time of Gregory the Great, the pope was still considered primus inter pares (first among equals), not yet superior as the universal bishop, with the title Pontifex Maximus. Of course, the papacy slowly grew in power until Vatican I where he usurps for himself infallibility when he decides to define dogma ex cathedra.

Friday, September 09, 2016

The immutable order of relations of the Godhead, and the Pactum

In the ad intra relations of the Godhead, the Father is first, unbegotten. The Son is second, begotten. The Spirit third, proceeding. The order (taxis) is always the Father first, the Son second, and the Spirit third, and never reversed or switched. Obviously, the persons are fully equal and fully God, so what does this order mean?

The order of relations is an expression that the Father is always the Father, the Son is always the Son, and the Spirit is always the Spirit. It is not as if three undifferentiated persons in eternity past came together and deliberated which person will be the Father, which person will be the Son and which person will be the Spirit, perhaps through a divine coin toss! No, the persons are who they are eternally and have never and will never change. Consequently, we speak of God as "the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." Ever wonder why we do not say "the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit" or "the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Son" or other such permutations? We say "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" because the Father is first in relation, the Son is second in relation, and the Spirit is third in relation. Every time we insist on the formula "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," we are insisting on this order of relation. If anyone denies this order of relations, then they should have no problems with saying "the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit" (the ultimate "Christocentric" phrase), or "the Holy Spirit, the Son and the Father" for after all, the persons qua order of persons is fully arbitrary and could very well be otherwise.

Of course, to say that the order of persons could be otherwise attacks the doctrine of immutability. I am not that sure it would compromise the doctrine of aseity since I do not subscribe to Thomistic (Aristotelian) metaphysis. But compromising the doctrine of immutability should be bad enough. Egalitarians who think of the Trinity as a "divine dance" of three persons who are as good as interchangeable are in error at this point. The Son is always the Son, and thus this is reflected in His workings ad extra as an eternal submission to the Father. The Son always submits to the Father, and to say that it is only restricted to the incarnation is a failure to deal with the entirety of the text of Scripture. Particularly in the Reformed tradition, the pactum salutis was made in eternity past. It cannot be timeless but in "time" since the pactum is a "past event" at least before the incarnation. To claim that the pactum is "eternal" in the idea of "timelessness" is to create a time paradox whereby the making of the pactum has a "temporal" overlap with the incarnation and the crucifixion (regardless of whether one takes "timeless" as outside time or as all-time-in-an-instance, or sempiternal). If one takes "timeless" as "outside time," then the making of the pactum is a stative event relative to the incarnation and the crucifixion, so the making of the pactum IS at the time of the crucifixion (static "action"). If one takes "timeless" as sempiternal, then the pactum is in the eternal PROCESS of being made at the time of the incarnation and the crucifixion (perpetual dynamic action). Both scenarios should be unacceptable for Christian theism.

Since the Pactum is past in relation to the incarnation and the crucifixion, and yet eternal, it must be in eternity past, the eternity in the sense of "everlasting time." While yes, we can say that the Pactum has its origin ad intra, because the plan of God comes from within the being of God, yet it is made ad extra in everlasting "time." It must be so otherwise we would have the crazy time paradoxes which makes nonsense of the entire plan of God.

God has an immutable order of relations of the persons in His being. As such, this is reflected in the ad extra eternal submission of the Son in the Pactum Salutis, which is not "timeless" or "sempiternal" but in the past in eternity (everlasting). To say otherwise would be to compromise something either of God or of God's plan, and thus to go contrary to Scripture.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Book Review: Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Role and Relevance, by Bruce A. Ware

In light of the EFS controversy, I have decided to read the controversial Bruce Ware book. I find the book to have quite a lot of positive things I must say, although there are the usual concerns. I have done a book review on the book listing the positive things and my concerns with the book, which can be read here. An excerpt:

The Christian God, the true God, is the Triune God. He is one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three persons, one essence. It is beyond our understanding to fully grasp what it means for God to be both one and three, yet it is not contradictory that God is both one and three, for He is one in essence and three in persons, two different categories. But is there any relevance of this mysterious doctrine of the Trinity for us today?

In his book, Bruce Ware attempts to flesh out the roles the various persons of the Godhead play in the drama of redemptive history, and tries to show the relevance the doctrine of the Trinity has for Christian living, especially with regards to gender relations. Ware states at the beginning the equality of the persons in the one essence, stating that “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each possesses the divine nature equally, … eternally, … and fully … The Father, Son , and Holy Spirit … each is fully God, equally God, and this is true eternally and simultaneously” (p. 41). This was done in chapter 2, with chapter 1 showing the importance of the doctrine of the Triune God.


Saturday, September 03, 2016

The creation/ evolution debate and ministering to Christians who are scientists

Many Christians who work in the various fields of science find themselves in treacherous waters. If they are bold in making their faith known in the workplace, they can be easily marginalized by their colleagues and bosses because of the supposed ways in which faith is thought to undermine one's ability to function in a scientifically oriented world. They may find themselves not taken seriously, and their careers might suffer because of their faith commitments.

When these people come to the church expecting to find support and encouragement as they face the struggles of their workplace, too often they find that the church is suspicious of them. And worse, if they have come to accept some of the tenets of the scientific consensus that the church has traditionally disparaged, they are also marginalized in the church. The message is loud and clear: leave your scientific conclusions at the door.

We are not doing a good job of ministering to these brothers and sisters. We have communicated that their commitment to Christ is subverted, their service to the church is unwanted and their very salvation is suspect. ... it would be appropriate for the church to help them work through these difficult issues — not by making them choose (Bible or science) but by charting a path of convergence and compatibility. (John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, 207-8)

The impetus among many ministers and theologians in moving towards an embrace of evolution and the varying beliefs of the "scientific consensus" has to do with practical pastoral concerns, and that is laudable. Even though I disagree with Walton and people like him, I agree that the last thing we want to do is to make it seem as if scientists are unwelcome in the church, or that they ought to check in their brains at church. Telling scientists they have to "choose" between science and faith is a terrible thing to do, especially since there is absolutely no need for that kind of choice, although not for the reasons Walton would have us believe.

The first thing that must be mentioned is that for most scientists and in most of science, evolution has little to no tangential value for their research. As someone trained in the life sciences for my undergraduate degree, and with experience in research lab work, I can say that evolution is mostly assumed and evolutionary terminologies are used, like "convergent evolution" or "divergent evolution" but they are mostly verbiage. I use the terms myself, but I know they are just code words, jargon, that indicate you are in the "in" group. Of course those words have a certain specific evolutionary meaning, but one does not have to subscribe to the Neo-Darwinian paradigm and word meanings for the science to make sense. Thus, the value of evolution is seriously over-rated in the biological sciences, much less the other scientific disciplines. What value after all does the theory of evolution have for fluid mechanics? None! And that is the point: much of the concern over any non endorsement of evolution sounds more like hysteria once one actually knows something about science. I might add that both those who are hostile to science and those moving towards endorsing evolution and the "scientific consensus" have a deficient view of science, which is why they react to science the way they do, just from two opposite angles.

Secondly, the supposed conflict between faith and science is probably the greatest hoax instigated by militant atheists, and perpetuated even unconsciously by Christians, against the church, and it is wildly successful. This false narrative will be present regardless of what the Christian scientist does or does not do. Hostility towards the Christian faith will be present regardless of whether he embraces or do not embrace evolution. Concern over how his bosses and colleagues may possibly discriminate against him because of his faith is a valid concern, but we must realize that embracing evolution will not suddenly coat the Christian faith with an aura of respectability. In fact, if his boss was someone like Richard Dawkins, he would probably be despised even more as someone who is intellectually dim and dishonest. Why would we think that embracing evolution would stop people from seeing Christians as Luddites?

Third, the church that rejects evolution based upon sound arguments (not those rejecting evolution because of being anti-science), does not ask the scientist to check his brain at the door of the church, or live a double life, in order to be a Christian. Rather, they are asking the scientist to reject false and invalid theories masquerading as science, which is what evolution is. They are calling for even more science, not less science. Creation science, no matter how much it has been demonized by its opponents, is a valid scientific program superior to the Neo-Darwinian synthesis. The "conflict," if we want to label it as such, is not between faith and science, but between a philosophy masquerading as science (Neo-Darwinism) and a scientific paradigm informed by Scripture (Creationism). In this light, we are asking the scientist not to believe in the dismissive rhetoric of the world and to actually do science, which is to say actually do an honest inquiry into the issues instead of taking Neo-Darwinism and Neo-Darwinian rhetoric on the basis of faith.

The church ought be calling everyone to submit their minds to the lordship of Christ in all things (Rom. 12:2). Therefore, the church's ministry to scientists, among other aspects of ministry, ought to be one of calling them to be biblical even in their science. To say that we ought to let scientists bring in their "scientific conclusions" as they are without question is precisely the way not to minister to them. Is it ministry to allow scientists to conform their science according to the world, and not to be transformed according to the truth of Scripture? I would suggest not! In a field which aims to discover "truths," the Truth of God in Scripture ought to be very important for the scientific enterprise, and thus for scientists.

Friday, September 02, 2016

John Walton: Historical person as archetype "Adam," but no historical Adam

In conclusion, then, both a textual element (genealogies) and a theological element (sin and redemption) argue strongly for a historical Adam and Eve. At the same time, it must be observed that for them to play these historical roles does not necessarily require them to be the first human beings (biologically/genetically). In other words, the question of the historical Adam has more to do with sin’s origins than with material human origins. (John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, 103)

The amount of exegetical gymnastics required to create a historical person that function as the archetype Adam that is however NOT the historical Adam of Genesis 2-3 is astonishing! I guess asking people whether they believe in a historical Adam is nowadays insufficient for establishing orthodoxy, in this light.

John Walton: Adam is archetypal human; no historical Adam

… we found reason to conclude that “formed from dust” was archetypal rather than a description pertaining to Adam alone. We have also seen reason to believe that “rib” should be understood as “side.” Furthermore, we have suggested that Adam has seen Eve’s formation in a vison but that the vision conveys an ontological truth with Eve serving as an archetype. In both cases, the archetypal interpretation offers the reader significant theology about the identity of mankind and womankind. As such, it does not, however, make definitive claims about the identity of mankind and womankind. If Genesis 2 makes no claims about material human origins, one would find no other statement in the Bible to offer details beyond the fact that we are all God’s creatures. [John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015), 81]

As opposed to federal headship, Walton believes that Adam and Eve are archetypal humans, and that Genesis 2 does not offer a real historical narrative of Adam and Eve as the first human couple. Now, an archetype does exist as a real person(s), but that is different from saying Adam and Eve exist as how the Bible describes Adam and Eve as the first human couple created de novo.

Obviously, if one were to follow Walton's interpretation of Genesis 2, then we can say goodbye to Adam's federal headship and Reformed covenant theology.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Creation Ex Nihilo and Genesis: Contra John Walton

Ex Nihilo doctrine comes from John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16, not Genesis 1. [John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL.: IVP, 2015),33]

ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν (Gen 1:1 LXX)

πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν. ὃ γέγονεν (Jn. 1:3)

ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, τὰ ὁρατὰ καὶ τὰ ἀόρατα, εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι· τὰ πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται (Col. 1:16)

According to John Walton with his idea of "functional ontology," the Genesis account was not about God creating the world ex nihilo (out of nothing), but rather it is about God forming and ordering things from what was already present, just like how the ANE creation myths narrate their tales. Astonishingly, Walton in the quote above was very direct in categorically denying that Genesis teaches creation ex nihilo in any form. Walton still holds to creation ex nihilo, except that he thinks only John 1:3 ad Colossians 1:16 teach it, but not the first few chapters of Genesis.

Walton puts forwards his interpretation by arguing that every single "creation" episode using the words normally translated "create" or "make" in Genesis 1-2, בָּרָא and עָשָׂה, "does not intrinsically pertain to material existence" (p. 29, 32). Arguing from what a word could possibly mean, as opposed to what the word is actually trying to convey, is a terrible way of doing exegesis. Be that as it may, let's overlook for the sake of argument the problems he has in translating בָּרָא and עָשָׂה. If we take Genesis 1-2 as having nothing to do with creation ex nihilo, then what are the consequences?

The first thing that we must take note is that the Jews would have held that God was not transcendent. Without a knowledge of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, YHWH would be seen as just another tribal deity, albeit a powerful and imperialistic one. The Old Covenant Jews would have not known that God was apart from his creation since he was there molding pre-existing matter, but not creating it. The "Old Testament" god would certainly be superior to physical matter since he molded it, but he is, as far as they could have told, still very much part of the material universe. If seen from a Neo-Platonic Gnostic point of view, Walton's "Old Testament god" would be just like the Demiurge, or even the Demiurge's assistant, molding matter, while there could be other spiritual and timeless beings that were not involved in the molding of matter. Instead of saying that one believes in the "God who created the heavens and the earth," one would rather say that one believes in the "God who molded the physical heavens and the earth." If that sounds like nothing the Jews believe in, well, perhaps it is because they do not hold to Walton's interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2.

The second problem lies in Walton's exegetical principle. If the only value of words is that they COULD mean something in some context therefore, arguing from silence, it probably means that in another context, then why should we hold that John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16 teach creation ex nihilo? John 1:3 uses the Greek verb γινομαι (ginomai), which has the general meaning "to be" and is used in many places that have nothing to do with ex nihilo creation. Colossians 1:16 does use the verb root κτιζω (ktizw) which is usually translated "create" and so it seems to teach creation ex nihilo yet when one looks at the usage of the word, it is used in the LXX for example in Deuteronomy 4:32 where it said that God made (ἔκτισεν) Man. (Incidentally, the Hebrew verb used here is בָּרָא, so is בָּרָא a creation or molding verb?) It seems that therefore if one is consistent with Walton's hermeneutic, both John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16 cannot be used to support creation ex nihilo either.

The sad thing about Walton's hermeneutic is that it reduces the Bible to be just like any other ancient document of its time. When applied consistently, one cannot hold to creation ex nihilo neither can one hold to the transcendence of God. The most one can be is a panentheist with respects to God, which is better than "God" being an extremely powerful "cosmic entity" which is nonetheless constrained by the universe. he is in