Wednesday, December 27, 2017

On Survival blogs

[Note: This is a random thought and the closest link to anything is here]

"Survival blogs" is the informal name given to blogs (or whatever other more contemporary social media platform) in which someone who has suffered some measure of abuse or neglect, spiritually, emotionally or otherwise, within the context of any particular movement or institution (e.g. church), decided to vent out the hurt and frustration he or she has suffered on that media platform. The whole idea of "survival blog" is to air one's grievances and hopefully able to form an online community of fellow sufferers, such that there will be catharsis in the sharing of one's grievances and a feeling of community and solidarity with "fellow sufferers." Such communities by their very nature exists around their common grievance, to the extent that such is their raison d'etre. Remove the grievance, and the community as such ceases to exist.

As we can see in the description, "survival blogs" exists for nurturing grievances against those who are perceived, rightly or wrongly, to wrong them. Emotions tend to run high since the abuse (if there is) is taken very personally. Objectivity tend to fly out of the window in "survival blogs," regardless of how objective the participants attempt to be. For how can anything positive be said about the object of such anger? With the removal of objectivity comes the demonization of anything related to the object of contempt. If the abuser defends X, X must therefore be wrong. If the abuser attacks Y, Y is probably correct. If the abuser promotes a speaker Z, Z must be evil in like manner as the abuser, and so on and so forth.

Now, "survival" communities might claim that they are examining the errors of those that critiqued. And certainly we cannot commit the genetic fallacy and claim that their critiques are always wrong. Even more than that, we cannot claim that criticism itself is wrong, for polemics (rightly done) is merely contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). To make the situation even more complicated, just because someone has been abused and wronged does not imply that the person function as part of the "survival" community, for not everyone who is hurt is out to focus on one's grievance leading to bitterness. How then does one discern who is a "survivalist" as opposed to someone just engaging in biblical apologetics and discernment, since none of us are privy to the hearts of Man?

One way of discerning between the two lies in the focus of their respective writings. A "survivalist" focuses on airing one's grievances. Thus, a central preoccupation lies in their personal grievances and against those who are seen to have abused them. In solidarity with other "survival blogs," they might pick up the grievances of others and vicariously take offence against these other abusers. The tone of their writings is overwhelmingly negative and bitter. Those which stoop to ad-hominem arguments immediately manifest themselves as "survival blogs," but even those that do not stoop to that level are not any better. Christian "survival blogs" are not truly interested in wrestling with the theological issues involved in theological topics (e.g. ESS, Gender issues), but rather in a classic tale of the tail wagging the dog, the theology of those who practice what they deem to be abusive behavior (real or imagined) is definitely wrong, and whoever puts forward as much as a semi-coherent critique gets their immediate support. Plus points for accusations of heresy against the "bad guys."

Therefore, if a blog is (1) overwhelmingly negative in tone, (2) focused on only a few issues which correlates to the issue held by the main persons the participants have negative feelings towards, (3) possibly manifested in ad-homenem arguments, or (4) putting forward shallow argumentations, coupled with (5) a refusal to wrestle with the actual theological topics, then one has just found a "survival blog." Of course, one should not fall into the genetic fallacy and discount them outright, yet knowing that such blogs and persons are of the "survival" type, one should be extremely cautious of anything they say, as there is a very high chance they are wrong in whatever they are writing about. This is of course not to mention that these people are sinning in their actions. Even if their grievances are legitimate, they are supposed to deal with it biblically, and not give in to anger and bitterness, much less trashing around and wounding other sheep in the process.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

One clarification concerning Vincent Cheung

[Note:This post was written in response to someone with whom I am having a conversation. I have no wish to deal with Vincent Cheung any more than I already have. Those who have no idea who Vincent Cheung is, you are strongly encouraged to not read this].

My criticism of Vincent Cheung and his (essentially) hyper-Calvinism can be read in the following articles:

God, the Author of Sin and Metaphysical Distanciation: A Brief Rebuttal of Vincent Cheung's Theodicy

Vincent Cheung and 18th Century Hyper-Calvinism

Some practical problems with Cheung's heresies

These initial criticisms of Cheung have mainly dealt with the substance of Cheung's teaching, but I have realized that there is a need to deal with the form of Cheung's teaching as well, on this topic, so I would like to take this opportunity to be as clear as I possibly can in my criticism of Cheung's hereises.

The first deals with the issue of form. Many people have pointed out that Cheung defines "author" differently from traditional Reformed definitions. According to Cheungians, Cheung's definition of "author" is merely a claim that God is the ultimate cause behind everything. God is the "author" of sin in the same way as a writer "authors" a novel. Just as an "author" decides everything in the novel, including wicked acts by the antagonists while not endorsing the wicked acts, so likewise God is the "author" of sin in that he controls how sin works in the world. Therefore, it is argued, since Cheung defines "author" differently, God can indeed be the said to be the "author of sin." To deny that to God is to claim that sin is outside the sovereignty of God altogether.

To this, my response is the following: (1) Yes, such a definition of "author" is orthodox, but (2) Cheung has no right to redefine a technical term "author," for otherwise anyone can redefine "sin" to actually mean "righteousness" for example, and more importantly, (3) Cheung is teaching more than "God is the ultimate cause of sin." Thus, in form, Cheung is not actually heretical but rather subversive of established terminology, which he has no right to redefine as he wishes. With that hopefully out of the way, we can go on to the actual content, and not be waylaid by the refrain "But, but... Cheung defines 'author' differently." Yes, I do know that, and I am here putting this objection to bed! Cheung's redefinition of "author" is divisive, but it is not what makes him a heretic.

When Cheung calls God "the author of sin," he is claiming more than God is the ultimate cause of sin. Rather, Cheung is claiming that God is the only real cause of every thing that happens. As I have shown in the first article critiquing his idea of "metaphysical distanciation," for Cheung any agency or second causes is under the direct control of God. Cheung does not deny the existence of second causes, which is another statement people seem to think that I have made. No, Cheung affirms the existence of second causes BUT he denies their actual agency as second causes. For Cheung, "second causes" are mere instruments. As an analogy, let us assume that there is an android which I have programmed to think in a certain way, utilizing a complex code for it to function almost like a human being. In this scenario, the coder is like God, the android is like Man, and the program God's sovereign control. When the android (Man) does something, it does so because the coder (God) has told it to do so, even though the coder (after coding) has no direct control over the android. Cheung's view of "secondary causes" is like this scenario, whereby Cheung's god codes sin into the programming, but because the coder (God) does not actually commit the sin, he should not be said to be evil.

For anyone looking into the scenario, it is rather obvious that the coder is in fact evil, because the program causes the android to do evil. The android has no agency of any kind, and cannot do otherwise on any level. One will seek in futility for any reason why the coder should be exonerated from any crimes committed by the android, when the android does commit a crime.

The orthodox teaching of Scripture is that Man has real moral agency. Man makes real decision and real choices, which God did not make neither did He make through Man as instrument. Man is not some automaton controlled by a puppet master after all! Rather, Man has real creaturely freedom, wherein he is constantly exhorted to choose God, to choose life, and to reject sin. Thus, I maintain that Cheung does affirm "second causes," but not as to their function as "second causes." It is almost like how Cheung redefines "author," so likewise he redefines "second causes" and rob them of their agency.

Therefore, materially, in the content of what Cheung teaches, Cheung actually teaches the error rejected by the Reformed orthodox that God is the "author of sin." While formally, he redefines the term in a way that seem orthodox, materially he teaches the exact error that the Reformed orthodox rejected. This is why Cheung is a heretic, and it is not because he adopts the term (formally), but because he teaches materially the error the Reformed orthodox rejected.

The Reformed orthodox teaching is that there is real creaturely freedom and real moral agency of human beings. But God's sovereignty super-intends everything, so that all things will come about as God has decreed (c.f. Gen. 50:20 among others). How is that possible? We are told from Scripture that this is the case, and the task of theologians is to attempt to comprehend that. The way that is traditionally done is through appeal to "mystery," which is good as far as it goes but it makes no progress on the topic at hand. The way that I have done this is through the analogy of appealing to multiple dimensions, as I had done in my article dealing with metaphysical distanciation. Creaturely freedom and human freedom are not fighting each other in a tug-of-war. But rather, they operate on different planes. If you ask me if this solution is "biblical" (i.e. proof-texted from Scripture), then you are missing the entire point of this exercise, which is to help make sense of what God has already revealed in Scripture. We can see in Scripture that God's ways are different from ours (Is. 55:9), and thus to use them to springboard into a theory of different planes of working is helpful for us to understand how both divine freedom and human freedom can both be true, yet God is fully and absolutely sovereign. With the position of different planes or dimension of operation, we can make a beginning in understanding how God is the ultimate cause of every thing but yet not the Author of Sin, something which the Scriptures teach.

Thus, in conclusion, Cheung is a heretic for teaching the material error that God is the "Author of Sin," not for formally claiming that God is the "Author" of sin. This point needs to be made clear, because it seems that for some Cheungians, the mere fact that Cheung redefines "Author" means saying God is the "Author of Sin" is right and proper. EVEN IF there was no material heresy in Cheung's teaching, it is not right to redefines terms and use them in (essentially) an equivocal fashion, sowing confusion and dissension among fellow believers.

Dealing with the problem of improper judging

In my sermon on 1 Corinthians 6:1-11, I had mentioned the problem of improper judging which the Corinthian believers were engaging in. The solution to the problem of improper judging, of which suing other believer in court over trivial matters is one such manifestation (not the only manifestation) is to deal with conflicts within the church, with formal church courts being the final means of mediation and arbitration of conflicts. The first step of dealing with conflicts is to engage in the procedure laid out by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17, which states:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

The first step is to approach the person who has offended you, personally, one on one. The next step is to take two or three other believers to arbitrate the conflict (not to gang up on the offender). Only if that fails then formal church proceedings can take place ("tell it to the church"). That is the process which Jesus set up, and which we should rightly follow.

Now, I confess that I am not faultless in violating this process. It is very easy when you have something against your brother (or sister) to gossip behind their backs. And it is very easy to desire to have the offender punished then to be reconciled to your brother. So I am most certainly not saying this because I have already arrived. In fact, far from it. But this is what God's Word teaches, and I myself have to endeavor to submit to it. Where I have fallen, I must repent.

The sad reality is that improper judging, much more frequently than wrong doctrine, causes much conflict within the church. While we must correct wrong doctrine, it is also imperative on us who name the name of Christ to also strive to deal with our interpersonal issues in a way that glorifies our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Is anyone of us faultless in this? I doubt it. But speaking as one who has failed in this many times, let us not be comfortable with our failures but to strive to do better. Because the fact of the matter is that we are already saved. We are already washed with the waters of regeneration in baptism, we are already set apart by God to be holy, and we are already justified and stand guiltless before God (1 Cor. 6:11). Therefore, we can and must work on our walk with God and with each other in the community of faith, in the constant struggle of seeking holiness before God.

Sermon: The Judgment of the Church (1 Cor. 6:1-11)

The sermon I had preached on December 3, 2017, entitled "The Judgment of the Church" and based on 1 Corinthians 6:1-11, can be heard here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Resurrection and Union

and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 1:4)

τοῦ ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ θεοῦ ἐν δυνάμει κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν (Rom 1:4 BGT)

Union with Christ is the description of the reality that believers are united with Christ and share in all his benefits. It is not a step in the Ordo Salutis, the logical ordering of the steps by which God accomplishes and applies the benefits of Christ to us who believe, and which can be seen in part in a passage like Romans 8:28-30. Rather, Union with Christ describes the entire reality of Christ's work for the believer, from election to glorification. It is a descriptive term, not a procedural or action term. For as an example, we are united with Christ, in his burial and resurrection, in baptism (Col. 2:12), a glorious truth that describes what happens during our baptisms, with the action word being "baptism," not "union."

With that said, the descriptive truth of Union with Christ is the thing that bridges what God has done in Christ, with what we ourselves benefit from Christ. The whole of Scripture is about Christ (Lk. 24:26), not us. Therefore, how does the Scripture aid us? It aids us through the fact of union, because then in union with Christ all of what Christ does is done and given for us and our benefit.

How does Christ's resurrection, Christ's kingship, benefit us? One way of answering this question is to speak about how the atoning work of Christ merited salvation for the elect, through our justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification. Another way to speak about it is the biblical-theological manner of union. In Romans 1:4, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power ... by his resurrection from the dead. Christ's resurrection is not just done because a person who is God cannot actually die (which is true). But Christ's resurrection also is the declaration of His Kingship over the world. Romans 1:4 is not after all talking about God becoming the Son of God in power after his resurrection, because Jesus was already God the Son and the Son of God prior to his death and resurrection. Rather, in Romans 1:4, Jesus is now becoming the "Son of God" in a new sense, as King of the cosmos by merit (rather than by right as God). As the God-Man, he now sits enthroned as King over all, both as Creator and now also as representative of creation.

As the representative of creation, Jesus in His humanity is king. Being united with him now, we also partake of the benefits He has merited for us. In the King's victory, we are victorious. In the King's glory and riches, we share in that especially at the end of the ages. And through this union, we partake of all of Christ's benefits as we submit to our King.

Most of the time, we focus only on Christ's death on the cross, which is important. But Christ's resurrection is also important, in its own way. He is resurrected, for us, and thus as we look and meditate upon this truth, we can be assured that Jesus is our King who merits all good things for our good. Amen.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sermon: The Triumph of the King, for us

This is the video of a sermon on Psalm 21 that I had preached last Sunday, Dec 10, 2017:

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Reformation 500: The Five Solas

I have compiled the posts into one single article, entitled Reformation 500: The Five Solas, which can be accessed here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

#Reformation500: For the glory of God alone


For the glory of God alone (Soli Deo Gloria)

At the end of the day, who gets the glory for salvation? Who gets the glory for the work of God and the church in this world? The Reformers proclaimed that only God gets the glory, all of it. Since salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone, there is absolutely no boasting of human effort whatsoever, whereas the rejection of these principles in the late Medieval Catholic Church allowed for some measure of boasting of human effort in salvation, and thus the glory of God is compromised. The principle of Soli Deo Gloria after all is the conclusion after the other four Solas, and concludes the polemics of the Reformers against Rome

As the conclusion of the Reformers' polemics, it must be admitted that this by itself does not express a substantial difference between the Reformers and Rome. After all, the motto of the Jesuits, an order founded in the Counter-Reformation, is "Ad maiorem Dei gloriam" or "For the greater glory of God." The late Medieval Catholic Church, and the Tridentine Roman Catholic Church that succeeded her, valued God's glory very highly. Even though from the Reformers' point of view, Roman Catholicism compromised the glory of God, from the Roman Catholic point of view, it was the other way around. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, was passionate about God, and his desire to overthrow the Reformation stemmed from his conviction that the Reformation was a sacrilege to God. His misguided zeal caused much trouble to the Reformation, but his motive was pure. Just like Saul of Tarsus before his conversion, Ignatius thought he was actually serving God in forming the Jesuit order.

What then should we learn from this Reformational principle, since passion for the glory of God is not unique to the Reformation? We ought to learn that God's glory is an objective reality independent of what we humans think, say or do. First of all, God's glory is the goal of everything, our entire existence and salvation, and we ought to live and order our lives to bring glory to God. Secondly, and most importantly, since God's glory is an objective reality, we ought to examine what we do to ensure it really is giving glory to God. Ignatius Loyola thought he was giving glory to God in his zeal on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, but he ended up glorifying a corrupt institution and bringing disgrace to the cause of Christ. Likewise, the Anabaptists thought they were glorifying God with their re-baptisms of adults, and in their sedition against secular authorities, but they were in fact bringing disrepute to the Reformation which they claimed to be a part of. It is not sufficient to desire to bring glory to God, but rather we ought to examine everything according to Scripture to discern if what we do does in fact line up with Scripture and is done according to faith in Christ.

For our modern times, this principle especially calls us to re-orientate our lives and our thoughts. Much of modern life is secular, which means as pertaining to this age. While we continue to function in this life, in study, work and society, our orientation in life should be one geared towards honoring and glorifying the God who made us and saved us from our sins. We live in this age, but we are citizens of another, the age to come. Therefore, even while it is normal to be concerned about the things of this world, we must remember that all of these, though important, is temporary. We are pilgrims in a foreign land, awaiting another.

What does this mean for believers practically? It means that believers ought to orientate their lives in the way God has commanded us. That implies paying heed to God's pattern of time in honoring the Sabbath for example, which is the fourth commandment. God has called believers to remember and honor the Sabbath, and one way of showing we actually desire to glorify God is to keep the Sabbath holy. We are to faithfully attend to what the Reformers call the means of grace: preaching, sacraments and prayer (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q88), for doing so shows our obedience to what God has commanded and provided for us. We are not to think ourselves more spiritual than God, like the mystical Anabaptists, but rather obey God in the ordinary means of grace. How can we say we want to glorify God while disobeying His direct command to honor the Sabbath?

It is of course true that the means of grace are not only all God has commanded us to do. Thus, we should seek also to be godly and grow in obedience to God in all things, in order to glorify God. Yet, here I focus upon the means of grace only because this is the more pertinent topic for us today in a culture of Evangelicalism. It is surely illustrative that for many, desire for godliness is purely a matter of internal piety, while the highly visible and ecclesiastical practices of piety are ignored or dismissed as irrelevant. But if one truly desires to grow in godliness and holiness, the first step should be the external practices of piety. It might sound easy to do, and perhaps for some it truly is easy to do, but it may not be as easy for some as for others.

In conclusion, we ought to live our lives for the glory of God alone. All of the other Solas have that as its goal, for we believe what we believe and do what we do only because we are passionate for God and His glory. Let us therefore, in view of God's grace and mercy to us, live our lives in such a manner as to glorify Him, as we learn from and extol the biblical truths taught in the other 4 Solas of the Reformation. Amen.


#Reformation500: Scripture Alone


Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura)

"Bibel, Bubel, Babel." Such was the theology of the German enthusiast and radical Thomas Müntzer, in mockery of Luther's (and by extension the Reformers') view of Scripture and Authority. Theirs was the spirit of the word, as opposed the "dead letter." And in such an early mockery of Luther, we see the difference between the Reformation view of Scripture and one Anabaptist view of Scripture.

As the Reformation burst onto the scene, the question being asked about Luther is, "Who does he think he is?" Centuries of slow corrosion had given rise to the illusion that the Medieval Catholic Church was the mere continuation of the early apostolic church, and that there was no essential differences between the two. What was present in the late medieval era was nothing more and nothing less than what Jesus and the Apostles had always taught, or so it was believed. Who was this small German monk from an obscure town to question the Church, to question Christ and the Apostles? How dared he questioned what was always believed (or so it was thought) to be true? Who is Luther compared to the many scholars of the Church who had themselves studied the Scriptures, giants such as Thomas Aquinas, Peter Lombard, or the theologians of the Sorbonne? How could Luther be so confident he is right and the scholars wrong?

Thus, the question of authority came up as Luther faced the late medieval church. That is why the formal principle of the Reformation is the principle of Scripture Alone or Sola Scriptura. The question has never been whether tradition, creeds or the writings of theologians could be appealed to, but rather what was the final authority on matters of faith. Was it Scripture, as the Reformers taught, or was it Scripture and Tradition in some manner (the relationship of the two changed between Trent and Vatican II)? It is after all a common misunderstanding that the medieval Catholic church did not read Scripture. The common people did not, but the learned theologians of the medieval church did read Scripture, and commented on it. Luther's opponents appealed to Scripture as well, but Scripture as understood by the church. For us today, we should not think it as a major improvement (since Vatican II) that the Roman Catholic Church promotes the reading of Scripture, since the issue was never the reading of Scripture per se, but rather how one is to read Scripture.

Against the late Medieval Catholic Church, Luther puts forward Scripture as the final authority on all matters of faith. Thus, at the Diet (pronounced "dee-AT") of Worms of 1521, when asked to recant before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Luther refused, uttering his famous words,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.

For Luther and the Reformers, the formal principle of Scripture Alone implies that Scripture is the ultimate authority. Creeds, confessions and tradition are important but are not the ultimate authority. If they conflict with Scripture, they are to be discarded as false. Fanciful gymnastics of trying to square the circles of Scripture and Tradition are thus rejected as a matter of principle.

Over and against the Reformation principle of Scripture Alone arose three distinct principles derived from the Anabaptists, who rejected both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The three principles are: (1) Solo Scriptura, Scripture only, otherwise known as biblicism; (2) Spirit above Word, or enthusiasm; and (3) Reason above Scripture, or Rationalism. The first principle was held by many Anabaptists and is the default view of modern-day Evangelicalism. The second principle was held by the mystical Anabaptists like the Zwickau prophets (or whom Thomas Müntzer was one representative), and is held to today by Charismatics. The third principle was held by the rationalist wing of Anabaptisms, or the Socinians, and is held by theological liberals today. All three principles are a distortion of Sola Scripura and should be rejected by those of us who are the heirs of the Reformers.

The first Anabaptist principle of Solo Scriptura rejects the use of all forms of creeds and tradition. It describes the phenomenon of "me and my Bible in the woods," where the perspicuity of Scripture is misunderstood to mean that everyone's interpretation of Scripture is equally valid. It is not surprising therefore that many of the Anabaptists were those with a little knowledge of Scripture, having enough knowledge to be dangerous and not enough knowledge to know what they were talking about. They read Scripture, and, refusing the aid of others, thought that they alone were the first ones to truly understand Scripture. The Swiss Anabaptist brethren were kicked out by the city council of Zurich after losing a disputation with Ulrich Zwingli, yet they refused to acknowledge their errors but continued to perpetuate their ignorance wherever they went.

The Reformation principle of Scripture Alone rejects the distortion of Solo Scriptura, as it acknowledges the benefits of creeds, confessions and tradition to help one understand Scripture. These are not the ultimate authority but they are to be taken into account as one interprets Scripture. In our rejection of Rome's distortion of biblical truth, we should not swing to the opposite extreme of rejecting tradition altogether, for rejecting its ministerial (as opposed to magisterial) use is dangerous, not because Scripture is insufficient, but because we humans are not infallible in our interpretations of Scripture. That is why the Reformers in their controversy with Rome did not just quote Scripture, but also cited the early church fathers against Rome, not to pit one "tradition" against another, but to express the ministerial use of tradition by the Reformers.

The third Anabaptist principle is the principle of the anti-Trinitarian rationalists known as the Socinians. Their elevation of reason above revelation implies that Scripture is dethroned into a subordinate authority, something which Rome does not even do (Rome has Scripture and Tradition as equal authority (Trent), or Scripture as authority and Tradition as authoritative interpreter (Vatican II)). According to the rationalists both past, present and future, and which is seen in theological liberalism today, reason is king over Scripture. Needless to say, this option is not even an option for anyone seeking to follow God and His Word.

The second Anabapist principle, as alluded to at the beginning of this section, is the "mystical" method of the mystical Anabaptists. Against Luther's focus on the Word of God, the Zwickau Prophets focused on the supposed "spiritual" meaning behind Scripture, leading Luther to declare that he would not listen to them even if they had swallowed the Holy Spirit "feathers and all." We are not Gnostics, and we do not think ourselves more capable to discern God's truth than the God who inspired the words of Scripture to us.

The Reformation principle of Scripture Alone therefore rejects this mystical principle of interpretation as well, and thus we should reject the charismatic view of revelation. God has given us His Word, and we have no right to think there is something behind the words, which only the "spiritual" can decipher. No, Scripture alone is our authority, and we ought to reject the thinking that pits God's Word against God's Spirit, as if the Spirit who inspired the Word (2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Pet. 1:21) will contradict what He Himself had inspired!

As we remember the Reformation on this 500th anniversary, let us remember what the Reformation has given us in grounding the authority of our faith in Scripture, and treasure the Word of God to us. Let us not veer into unbiblical paradigms of interpretation, and let us reject all three principles of Anabaptism, in addition to the principle of Rome herself. Amen.

Monday, October 30, 2017

#Reformation500: Christ Alone

[continued from here, here, here]

Christ Alone (Solus Christus)

Who is the mediator of God's elect? According to 1 Timothy 2:5, there is only one mediator between God and Man, the man Christ Jesus. Jesus stands in the middle, as the bridge between God and Man. God blesses us in Christ, and we pray to God in Christ's name. Through Christ, God communicates with us, and we with Him.

In ancient times, as like the time of the Ancient Near-East (ANE) and in fact ancient societies in general, mankind had the primeval understanding (the remnant of the revelation to Noah) that not any Tom, Dick or Harry could have access to God or the gods. That is the function of priests, who mediate between the people and the divine. It was because the common people could not have access to the gods that they came to embrace lesser deities as household gods. Still there was a general understanding that not anyone could come before the gods as and when they please. Sacrifices had to made, rituals done, before the worshiper could come before the divine, through the mediation of the priests who did all these on his behalf.

In the first century AD, Christianity came onto the scene with its strict monotheism, proclaiming that the office of priests were obsolete (both Jewish and pagan) since Christ is the only mediator that anyone needs to approach God. Old habits die hard however. After Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, many who had undergone a surface conversion saw God as remote and perceived the emerging cult of saints to be a viable alternative as a way of mediation with Christ who is God. Fast forward to the 16th century AD, and we see Mary and the saints treated as lesser mediators, to mediate between the people and Christ, who in turn is supposed to mediate with God the Father for them. Mary, who is both feminine and the mother of Jesus Christ, was seen as the best mediator due to the association of compassion with femininity and her closeness to Jesus. Now, in the 16th century AD, Mary had not yet been declared to be born sinless (that came at Vatican I), yet her exalted place for devotion was already present.

In light of such a corruption of biblical mediation, the Reformation proclaimed that Christ alone is our mediator. Over and against Mary and the saints, the Reformers insisted with 1 Timothy 2:5 that there is only one mediator, who is Christ. Mary and the saints do not mediate anything for anyone, for they themselves are sinners saved by God's grace, and have no right or merit to usurp Christ's office as priest.

In response, a common argument from Roman Catholics is that Mary and the saints are just intercessors, and asking them to pray for us is no different from a person asking his friend to pray for him. But that is to misunderstand what is actually going on in devotion to Mary and the saints. When someone asks his friend to pray for him, he does not pray to the friend to pray for him! He does not give devotion to that friend either. Thus, the mere fact that devotion is given to Mary and the saints imply that such is no mere asking for prayer, but rather the devotee is treating them as lesser mediators, so that they can mediate between him and Jesus.

The Reformation call of Christ Alone has implications beyond Roman Catholicism. If Christ is the only mediator, then that implies that Christianity is the only way of salvation, through the atoning work of Christ. But there is another implication for us today, an implication which was seen against the Socinians, the radical rationalist wing of Anabaptism.

The Socinians were a group of unitarians and Arians, who deny the Trinity and see only the Father as God. Jesus was just an exalted man in their system. But if an exalted man is the mediator, then that implies that mediation is not really necessary. In fact, their rationalism itself is a denial of mediation, in that Man does not need God to gain knowledge. Instead of having many mediators, and a hierarchy of mediation as in Roman Catholicism, Socinians reject mediation altogether. And if mediation is unnecessary, that means that God is not necessary for living life. God might be present, his law still is useful, but Man can through his own effort work on his own betterment, and attain the good life on his own.

It is here that we see another relevance of the principle of Christ Alone for us today. Today, it is not the Roman Catholic view of mediation that has won. Rather, it is the Socinian view of mediation that rules the world. Even in many Evangelical churches, worshipers think that God must accept them just as they are. There is no sense of a need for mediation, that they can come and worship God only because Jesus mediates between them and God. Especially in the Third Wave Charismatic circles, there is the strange idea that one can "encounter God" just because one is a Christian, presuming upon God's grace and Christ's mediation without the attitude of godly fear that one is coming before a holy God, and that any meeting with God (if any) should not be taken for granted. God is God, not a genie in a bottle for our enjoyment, and it is very sad when professing believers treat God no different from how a genie is to be treated.

As we remember the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, let us hold firm to the principle of Christ Alone, not just for the exclusivity of Christ, but also in recognition that mediation remains necessary. The modern world has lost its concept of mediation and has rejected the notion of priests. Christians do not have priests, but we do have one great high priest in our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us attend to the things of God reverently, and remember we are still creatures living dependently before Almighty God. Amen.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

#Reformation500: Grace Alone

[continued from here and here]

Grace Alone (Sola Gratia)

We are saved by God's grace alone through faith alone. The material principle of the Reformation (Sola Fide) centers on the very real problem of the assurance of one's salvation before God. Yet as the Reformers staked their lives and ministries upon the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, it became abundantly clear that the issue of God's grace must be dealt with also. In the Medieval Catholic Church, God's grace is insufficient unto salvation as to matter and efficacy. It was insufficient in matter because God's grace alone could not save sinners, but rather that the merits of the saints (from the "treasury of merit") was necessary to save sinners. It was insufficient in efficacy because God's grace alone could not truly save sinners by itself, but the cooperation of the will of Man was necessary.

In dealing with the topic of grace alone, most people will deal with the Roman Catholic issue of merit (insufficiency as to matter). The whole idea that Man could merit anything from God is simply ludicrous. After all, doing what is good is merely doing what is required, and the creature has no right to anything from the Creator (Lk. 17:9-10). Under the sovereignty of God, Man cannot merit anything before God. Salvation therefore must come by God's grace alone, if salvation is to be achieved.

But a deeper controversy with regards to the grace of God concerns the efficacy of God's grace. When the renaissance scholar Desiderius Erasmus was asked to refute Luther's theology, he critiqued Luther in his book The Freedom of the Will concerning the freedom of Man's will, with the contention that the will is truly free. Luther in response wrote The Bondage of the Will, where Luther defended in no uncertain terms the spiritual deadness of the will of Fallen Man. Man therefore does not have "free will," but rather the will of man is bound by sin, unable not to sin.

Why we may ask did Erasmus focus on this one topic, and Luther defended the idea that the will of man is not free? The reason why this question is actually a very important one is due to its implications on the efficacy of grace. If Man's will is indeed free from the bondage to sin, then that will has contributed something for salvation in choosing to believe in Christ for salvation. Therefore, salvation is not by grace alone, but by grace and some small work, Man's free choice of Christ. Once such a crack is admitted, then the entire medieval works-righteousness system can be brought back in through the back door. If Man's free choice is necessary, perhaps then the idea of the necessity of works for salvation is helpful, since surely Man must exercise the work of free choice to not suddenly stop choosing Christ? If Man's free choice is necessary, then perhaps the Roman sacraments are necessary for salvation in the sense that they help the free will in its continual choice for God. That is why this seemingly esoteric topic took on such significance for both Erasmus and Luther.

In the subsequent history of the Church, we know that even within Protestantism, syngergism gained the upper hand. The Arminian controversy of 1618-1619 is merely the most prominent example where the principle of Grace Alone has been compromised. In this 500th anniversary celebration of the Reformation therefore, let us return once again to the principle of Grace Alone, and return to the monergistic doctrine of the bondage of Man's will, and the grace of God that can only save. Amen.

Friday, October 27, 2017

#Reformation500: Faith alone

[continued from here]

Faith Alone (Sola Fide)

As the Reformation erupted onto the scene, the material principle of the Reformation and its rallying cry was that justification is by faith alone. The Christian life is not a life of constant anxiety over whether I am or am not saved because I do not know if I did enough good works, or finished my penances, or paid the right amount of indulgences to remove time off from Purgatory. Rather, I am saved because I am considered righteous before God, as if I have not even sinned. More than that, I am considered righteous as if I have lived a righteous life (the doctrine of Double Imputation c.f. 2 Cor. 5:21). This is all accomplished through God who justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). Therefore, I can come to Jesus and to God "just as I am," not because God winked at my sins as if they do not matter, but because Christ died for me and thus by faith in him I can approach the throne of God boldly.

This rediscovery of the principle of Faith Alone was not just contrary to the official Roman sacramental system, but also to the more "spiritual" side of Roman Catholic spirituality. In the high medieval period (~10th -12th century AD), various monastic orders were founded for the pursuit of spirituality and deeper devotion to God, chief among them the Franciscans and Dominicans. In the late medieval period (13th-15th century AD), an order for laymen was even founded in the 14th century AD called the Brethren of the Common Life. As opposed to the earlier orders that still focus on service through the church, this lay order focuses on the renovation of the interior life. We primarily know of this order due to the work of perhaps its most famous representative: Thomas a Kempis. In this book The Imitation of Christ, a Kempis focus on the renovation and reformation of Christian conduct to emulate the example of Christ, unto greater godliness.

It was this strand of medieval piety that led directly to the Anabaptists. Many people might assume that the Anabaptists were part of the Reformation, just that they were so "radical" they rejected infant baptism and attacked the Constantinian alliance between church and state. But that is a myth. The Anabaptists did not believe in faith alone. Rather, the focus of the Anabaptists was all about moral reformation. How one is right before God was through an increase in internal devotion, along the manner of the late medieval via moderna or devotio moderna, as the example of Anabaptist Balthasar Hubmaier has shown [Matthew Eaton, “Toward an Anabaptist Covenantal Soteriology: A Dialogue with Balthasar Hubmaier and Contemporary Pauline Scholarship,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 84 (2010): 67-93]. When the Anabaptists finally came together to write a confession, what they emphasize is practice, not faith, as we can see in the Schleithiem Confession, a fact even acknowledged by the sympathetic scholar William Estep [William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteen-Century Anabaptism, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975,1996), 65]. Anabaptist soteriology was essentially late medieval soteriology without the necessity of the institutional church and her sacraments. It was the logical conclusion from the teachings of people like the nominalist Gabriel Biel and a Kempis, thus the notion of justification by faith alone is not well regarded by the Anabaptists at all.

Instead of being justified by faith alone, the Anabaptists focused on devotion and piety, especially on the need for separation from the world. It should come as no surprise therefore that Anabaptists either go to the extreme of political revolution (e.. Peasants' Revolt, Munster Uprising), or to the other extreme of withdrawal from the world (Hutterite communes, Amish and Mennonite communities), as these are the two paths to take in order to separate from the world. Anabaptism, whatever variety it comes in, solves the problem of assurance and anxiety by externalizing the act that is considered a good work. After all, if justification is by godliness, and one mark of godliness is a certain form of separation from the world (e.g. join a commune), then a person does not need to be anxious about his salvation as long as he engages in this highly visible form of external piety (e.g. join the commune). One does not need to trust Christ alone for salvation, but rather exercise faith in the highly visible act of a separation from the world, and continuing along that trajectory. That is also why transgressing the code of conduct in these communes are such serious sins, for they breach the command of holiness required for being right before God, thus the one who transgressed has to either repent or be "put under the ban," shunned and thrown out of the community if necessary.

For most of the world especially in non-Western countries, we do not see Anabaptist communities around. And even in Western nations, it is unlikely that one would interact with for example an Amish in anything beyond surface relationships. Yet this only serves to create a blind spot for the error of the Anabaptists. In the contemporary church, how many people have no qualms with reading and recommending a Kempis' book The Imitation of Christ? How many people think that the way to deal with sin and wickedness is to preach the Law and one's obligation to do good works, instead of preaching the Gospel and God's grace to save people from their sins? How many people think that separation from the world is a good way to express holiness of life, instead of embracing God's grace to transform life while living in the world? To all these attempts of moralism, the Reformation message of Sola Fide shouts forth the only way one can be right before God. We are right before God through trusting in Christ alone, not by any type of works. Even "evangelical works" do not save a person, or make a person any more right before Almighty God. We are not justified even by our attempts of obedience to God, or by separation from the world, but purely and only by coming to God empty-handed, and believing in Him and His Gospel.

As we come to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, let us come repenting of our attempts to do good works to gain favor from God. But also, let us repent from thinking our godliness and obedience, our piety, will help us gain favor with God. No matter how ungodly you are, or how godly you are, you still remain on the same level before the Cross. We are beggars all, even to the end of our lives, and only by pleading the grace of God in Christ are we saved. Amen.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

#Reformation500: The Reformation


On Oct 31st 2017, we will mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On that day 500 years ago, the German monk Martin Luther penned and nailed his 95 Theses upon the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, protesting the sale of indulgences by the late medieval church. Originally penned as a challenge for an academic disputation, the recent invention of the printing press resulted in the widespread dissemination of the 95 Theses, creating a cascade of events beyond Luther's, or anyone's, control. Four years later at the Imperial Diet of Worms (Jan 28-May 26 1521), Luther was called to repent of his teachings, upon which he uttered his famous words, "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound. [Here I stand, I can do no other.] God help me. Amen."

Luther's defiance of Rome came about due to his recovery of the biblical Gospel of justification by faith alone. Over and against Rome's insistence on the necessity of good works for gaining heaven, Luther and the Reformers that came after him saw that the Bible teaches that we are counted righteous not because we are inherently righteous, but because God saves us by grace alone through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9). God "justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5), not the godly. Under the medieval system, no one could be certain of their salvation or standing with God, whether they would or would not go to heaven or hell. Despite their baptisms, if they did not perform enough good works, they would suffer the fires of Purgatory. And woe to those who commit mortal sins and die without making amends before the church, for their lot is damnation in hell. People live in constant fear that they would either commit an unpardonable sin, or not perform enough good works to make the grade for God to accept them, and thus they did not live in the freedom and joy of the salvation the Scriptures promise us (Gal. 5:1).

The primary opponent of the Reformers was the emerging Roman Catholic Church, especially the Tridentine Roman Catholic Church (after the Council of Trent). The main fault line was the topic of justification by faith alone, but the division soon spread to other loci of theology. What is known as the 5 Solas was formulated to encapsulate the fundamental differences the Reformers have with Rome. The Reformers held to Sola Fide (Faith alone), as opposed to justification by faith and works. They held to Sola Gratia (Grace alone), as opposed to God's grace co-operating with the will of man for salvation. They held to Solus Christus (Christ alone), as opposed to the merits of Christ plus Mary and the saints. They held to Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), as opposed to the authority of Scripture and Tradition. Lastly, they held to Soli Deo Gloria (For the glory of God alone), which is the goal of all the other solas, to bring glory to God alone, not to God and the church, or God and Mary and the saints.

On this 500th anniversary, there are countless articles that commemorate the Reformation, in defending both its formal and material principle (Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide respectively), against the errors of Rome. I would like to do my tribute piece for this 500th anniversary differently. As I look through the 5 solas, I would like to look at it from a viewpoint of contrast with the radical wing of the Anabaptists. Many Evangelicals do not realize that the Reformation was not just against Rome, but rather against both the Roman church and the Anabaptists. Just because something is not Roman Catholic does not necessarily imply that it is in line with the truths recovered at the Reformation, a proposition which will be made plain subsequently.

[to be continued]

Monday, October 23, 2017

Good works as a "final cause" of salvation

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:10)

What is the place of good works in salvation? Is good works an "instrument" of salvation? After all, we have a certain Reformed pastor who opines as follows:

The instrumental cause of justification is faith alone. But Reformed orthodox theologians had no problem speaking of instrumental causes for salvation (broadly considered). Good works function as an intstrumental [sic] cause. They are part of the necessary path we walk on as we enter through the narrow gate to eternal life. (source)

That pastor, Mark Jones, in the same piece states that only those who have published peer-reviewed journals and books can disagree with him. The rest of us are ignorant simpletons who just have to accept his ex cathedra pronouncement that salvation is by the twin instruments of faith and good works, and that THAT is the real Reformed position. I guess that's that, isn't it?

Of course, quote-mining dead Reformers and Puritans who cannot talk back, and neither can they object if they were misquoted, is hardly a good way to begin an argument. After all, why should anyone assume that Jones has correctly cited the Reformers and Puritans he had cited, instead of actually misrepresenting them? After all, he actually misrepresents Michael Horton in his article, quoting a paragraph Horton had written out of context! Since he has misrepresented Horton, why should I or anyone actually have any confidence he did not likewise misrepresented William Twisse, "[Jerome] Zanchius, [Peter van] Mastricht, [Thomas] Goodwin, [John] Owen," and Zacharias Ursinus?

But more than the problems with his historical arguments (which are at best tenuous), the main problem with Jones is that his view is contrary to Scripture itself. Scripture abundantly teaches that faith is the instrument of salvation. After all, it is by grace you have been saved, through faith (Eph. 2:8), and "salvation" comes from the verb "to save." Believers are saved through faith, and thus faith is the instrument of salvation. But which verse claims that we are saved through good works? 1 Timothy 2:15 does not apply as it applies to only women and only by the work of childbearing (and it is therefore considered an obscure text because we know that child-bearing is not actually an instrument of salvation). 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 does not explicitly say that works save, and when interpreted in context, it does not say so (which you can hear in my sermon on 1 Corinthians 3 for those who desire to do so). And lastly, James 2 has been exegeted a thousand times over, and I do not want to re-invent the wheel, but in summary it teaches only that good works are the necessary fruit of salvation, as the believer shows forth his faith by what he does (Jas. 2:18).

[It must be remembered again what the term "instrument" and "instrumental cause" means. To claim that something, X, is an "instrument" or that it functions as an "instrumental cause" of Y, is to claim that doing X is the manner in which Y is effected. An "efficient cause" E is what causes (in the modern sense of the term "cause") or brings about Y. In soteriology, to say that we are saved "by grace through faith" is to say that grace is the efficient cause and faith the instrumental cause. For a non-theological setting, the switching on of my computer for example has electricity as its efficient cause, and proper flow of electricity to the CPU (and not elsewhere) as an instrumental cause.]

What does the Scriptures then teach? In Ephesians 2:10, the language states that, after being saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9), God has prepared for us good works to do. Therefore, good works are the goal of salvation, at least one of the goals of salvation. Since we were unable to do any good works while still under sin (Rom. 14:23), now that we are saved by grace through faith, we can now do the good works (which proceed out of faith) that God has created us to do. Good works therefore is a final cause of salvation, because that is what God has called us to. And as a final cause, it cannot be an instrumental cause.

It is often pointed out that without works, a person is not saved. Or, to quote Scripture, without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). But the problem is that the line from works to salvation is not as simple as neo-nomians would like it to be. The Scriptures, speaking of those that fall away, state that "they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us" (1 Jn. 2:19). In other words, those who fall away never had true faith in the beginning. Therefore, the line of salvation is not "faith- works- salvation," such that the one without works is not saved despite having faith. Rather, the line of salvation is "faith - salvation -works," ad thus the one without works must imply he has no salvation and no faith either. Therefore, improperly for brevity's sake, we can and do say that without works, a person is not saved. But if we want to speak properly, we should be saying that without works, a person shows he has no faith, and thus is not saved. Therefore, the reason why a person without good works is not saved has never been because he has no good works. Rather, the reason why a person without good works is not saved is because he has no faith. It is and has always been that faith is the instrument of salvation, and the only instrument of salvation. Good works are always the fruit, and a final cause of salvation.

The Christian message has always been that salvation is to be achieved by placing our trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior. It does not matter how many PhDs a person has, but no one no matter how brilliant can alter this Gospel message. We do not need to work for our salvation in any form, but salvation is free for us as we believe.

Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal. 3:3b)

Sermon: The World that Once Was

I was given the privilege on Sunday (Oct 22, 2017) to bring the Word to One Covenant Church, a new Presbyterian church plant in Singapore. The text is Genesis 6:1-8 and entitled "The World that Once Was."

Monday, October 16, 2017

WHI: The Radical Reformation

The White Horse Inn recently did an episode on the Radical Reformation, as it relates to its triumph over the Reformation in contemporary Evangelicalism.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

1 Cor. 5: The Separation of Sin

Last Sunday, I preached on 1 Corinthians 5, with a discussion on the doctrine of separation, at Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church. Towards the end, I tackled the issue of "Second degree separation," something taught in Fundamentalist circles. You can hear the sermon here.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Turretin on the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant

IV. Now as the church is rightly distributed into militant and triumphant, so the distinction between them must be considered not to be essential and specific as to nature but only accidentally as to state and degree. For since there is only one communion of saints and only one body of Christ (Cant. 6:9), as he head by which it is governed is only one and the Spirit by which it is animated only one (Eph. 4:3, 4); so the church in both states is the same, …

V. These two states, however, as so mutually connected by the most wise dispensation of God that they cannot be torn asunder, but necessarily attend and follow each other. Just as no one can be a citizen of the church triumphant who has not given his name before to the militant, nor is anyone crowned in the former with Christ who has not rightly contended with him, so no one is a true member of the church militant here who in his own time will not be carried into the church triumphant; nor is anyone enrolled among believers in grace who will not be received into the choir of the blessed in glory. For whom Christ once received coming to him, he will never cast out (Jn. 6:37), because the bond of our union with him is eternal and indissoluble (adialyton). …

[Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 20.XIII.5; v. 3:633-4]

The Church Militant refers to the Invisible Church on earth, fighting sin, the world and the Devil. The Church Triumphant refers to the Church in heaven, who has won over sin, the world and the Devil. Errors like the Federal Vision attempt to separate the two, such that one can be a member of the Church Militant without being a member of the Church Triumphant, due to covenant breaking. However, Scripture teaches that those who are truly saved are the members of the Church Militant, and will never fall away. Thus, 1 Jn. 2:19 states that those who are "covenant breakers" were never truly in the Church in the first place. They broke the covenant externally- that is true, but they were never actually in it.

The Church Militant and the Church Triumphant are thus two sides of the same coin, in different forms. Until Christ comes again, the two forms are present, since we are living in the period between the Inauguration and the Consummation of the Kingdom of God. When Christ returns, the two will be seen as one, and all who believe in Christ will be gathered as the Church Triumphant, praising God and Christ forever and ever.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The problem with some practical applications in sermons and articles

Sermons and articles, generally speaking, are general in scope. One does not preach to, or at least should not preach to, a particular person. And articles are read by anyone from the public. These forms of communication are public in nature, and thus there is a problem when we speak about practicality in such communication of God's Word.

People come to hear the sermon from various walks of life and various experiences during the week. Similarly, people from all manner of backgrounds and moods may click to or pick up an article to read. The problem with practical applications therefore comes around to this: If the applications are specific, there is a high chance of it being take wrongly by others. This has nothing to do with the motivation of the preacher or the writer, but simply because of the subjective nature of applications. For example, trying to discern the nature of idolatry even to the relationship between husband and wife is something that I will never ever do. But those who want "practical advice" may ask questions on such topics, or pastors may decide to "make the Bible practical" by applying it to the nitty-gritty details of life. However, the more specific an application is, the higher the chance it would be taken wrongly by others. For example, to attempt to discern what kind of emotion is idolatry and what kind of emotion is not idolatry that spouses have for each other, will probably be a stumbling block to those who are more emotional by nature, and cause them needless anguish instead of help and comfort.

It is because of the problems with practical applications that my policy is to keep away from practical applications, especially specific practical applications, in any sermon or article. The place for specific applications is in the one-to-one counseling session, where God's Word can be personally ministered to a person in his particular situation. Anyway, why the rush to be "practical"? Is proclaiming the Word of God insufficient? Saints who are tired from the striving in the world, from their interaction with ungodliness, need an external word from God. We are earth-bound, and during the Lord's Day worship we need to be called away from our worries, to be called to an audience before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The last thing they should desire is to bring the worries of the world into the church. Here, in the meeting of the people of God, is where he can come to worship, as a foretaste of heaven. Here, he hears the Word of God, who comes outside of us (extra nos). The Lord speaks to us out of heaven, so why do we want to think about the things of the world on the Lord's Day especially in the sacred assembly? Perhaps the desire for practical applications is a misunderstanding of what worship on the Lord's Day is about. Or perhaps it is a symptom of the failure of the local church pastor to visit and counsel the flock. Either way, such a desire is not right. We come to the Lord to hear His Word proclaimed. God dictates the matter to be spoken, and how it is to be spoken, by the Spirit through His Word. It is not for us to "make it more practical," but to re-orientate our concerns and priorities according to what Scripture teaches.

As I have said, my (unspoken) policy is to keep away from practical applications, or rather to keep away from applications that are not immediately apparent from the text of Scripture. No doubt there are many with good intentions, but good intentions alone are not sufficient. We should wish not to place undue burdens and hurts upon God's people, and therefore try not to be more "practical" than Scripture.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Turretin on the benefits of the sacraments

V. … Therefore a twofold efficacy is ascribed to the sacraments according to us: the one moral and objective, by which the sacraments make present to our mind that object, to signify and seal which they are destined (by which means, faith is either excited or confirmed and, it mediating, hope and sanctification are increased); the other covenantal, by which God (sealing by the sacraments his promise or covenant) confers the very things promised upon the believing soul or even a greater sense and perception of these already conferred and produces by both greater operations. Hence the sacraments are rightly called exhibitive … a moral exhibition by which that grace is objectively exhibited to the mind and with it, at the same time, really to the believing soul. [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 19.VIII.5; v.3:363]

In the Reformed tradition, the ministry of the pastor is called the ministry of Word and Sacrament. That is because it is not just the preaching of the Word that is important for the health of the church, but also the administration of the sacraments. Since it is faith that saves, faith in the Gospel message, the sacraments are not medicine that saves (like health packs in FPS video games). Rather, the sacraments are visible words, exhibiting the Gospel message in a different, more sensory form.

The sacraments are "visible words," which is that they are of the same type as the preaching of God's Word. Just as preaching sets forth and exhibits Christ and the Gospel, so that those who hear and believe will be saved, so likewise the sacraments exhibit Christ and the Gospel, so that those who partake and believe will be saved. Just as preaching puts forward Christ and His benefits for our instruction, discipleship and encouragement, so likewise the sacraments puts forward Christ and His benefits for our instruction, discipleship and encouragement. That is why Turretin calls it a "moral" efficacy, as it influences and moves people through means of exhibiting the message to our mind.

The correct way to partake of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper is to treat them as visible words. Partake in faith, and meditate upon the biblical truths these signs convey as you partake of them. Then, and only then, will you benefit from the sacraments for your encouragement and strength. As you are baptized, or every time you witness a baptism, remind yourself once again of what Christ has done for you on the Cross to save you, and how He has forgiven your sins and united you to Him in faith, so that you are now saved from your sin and given new life in Him. As you partake of the Lord's Supper, remember the atoning death of Christ on your behalf as you partake of the bread, and in the wine thank God you are now under the New Covenant and not under the Old Covenant of Law and Works, so that you are now under grace not works. In such manner, you will derive great benefit for your souls through the sacraments, as God has intended for you to do so.

Friday, September 01, 2017

James White on the Nashville Statement, and Racialism in Reformed circles

Dr James White has done a helpful Dividing Line podcast on two interesting topics: The Nashville Statement, and Racialism in Reformed circles.

The Nashville Statement

The Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has just published a statement on the issue of sexuality in light of the latest devolutions of liberal debauchery, the Nashville Statement. You can access it here.

Monday, August 28, 2017

5 Steps to Embrace People from Another Race or Culture

In light of this, let me offer a better way of thinking on how to interact with those from other ethnicities and/or cultures.

1) Interact with those of other ethnicities with a true and sincere desire to get to them know as PEOPLE

Each individual person is unique; we are not clones from an assembly line. Each person has his or her unique life experiences and struggles. We are not reducible to any Critical Race Construct. Even among the most radical Indentity Politics advocates, none of them are alike in every respect. To treat individual human beings as sociological constructs is insulting, demeaning and dehumanizing.

2) Strive to understand the individual, and strive not to give in to stereotyping

Since we are not sociological constructs but human individuals, we are not defined by stereotypes of various ethnic groups. For example, I am Chinese, and I very much resent if anyone were to think that therefore I must love kung fu and table tennis, just because I am Chinese (I don't care for kung fu and I don't play table tennis). I am also Singapore Chinese, and I very much resent being thought of as if I am no different from China Chinese. Likewise, to say that all whites are immoral sex addicts who love to go to night clubs and sleep around with anyone, or to say that all blacks are violent criminals — all such are stereotyping and should be resisted.

We are not to be defined solely by our groups, of what kind of "otherness" groupings we are a member of. Labels, sociological or otherwise, are tools for sociologists in broad study of society and societal trends, but they make for terrible oppressive labels when used in interpersonal relationships.

To cultivate true friendships, we must reject all such labelings and stereotypings. You are seeking to understand someone, who has his or her own unique life experience. As an aside, should we not wonder when so-called tolerant liberals cannot understand minorities who think differently from what they think minorities ought to think (i.e. black conservatives, "people of color" who reject Critical Race Theory etc.)? That is because they cannot think and interact with people as they truly are! People must conform to their Critical Race theory categories, otherwise they must be "betrayals of their race!" Does this look like an actual desire to get to know people, or another (leftist) form of cultural imperialism?

3) Understand individuals are enculturated in specific cultures which may be foreign to you, but they are not defined only by their cultural backgrounds

Everyone has a culture (white American, white American Southern, black etc.). White culture should not be taken as necessarily the default "correct" culture, as if there can be such a thing! When facing those from different ethnicities, one should seek to attempt to understand his or her culture. One does not have to denigrate one's own culture to do so, as if cultures are in pitched battle where one must win and the other must lose. NO, that is not the case! Reject the entire framework of critical race theory, and stop having this idea of "winners" and "losers" in a cultural and racial war! If you continue to have this idea of cultural and racial warfare, then you cannot interact with others from other ethnicities and cultures without individuals from one culture or both practicing cultural imperialism.

So understand the cultural background of others without denigrating your own. But at the same time, understand that others are enculturated does not imply that their cultural background defines them. Get to know them as individuals, and do not be surprised if they might deviate from established cultural patterns and norms.

4) Understand that individuals may have practices and beliefs that you may shock you, which may be right, partly right or wrong, but suspend judgment for the moment.

Cultures are human constructs, and as such partake of the fallenness of sinful humanity. Therefore, certain cultural beliefs and practices might be sinful. One should not therefore practice cultural relativism and accept different cultural practices as equally legitimate as one's own. At the same time, this applies to all cultures including your own culture. Due to how easy it is to make one's culture the default, judgment of cultural practices should be slow in coming. Get to know and understand your new friend first and foremost, suspending judgment on cultural practices for the moment. Only engage in dialog in humility with a desire for iron to sharpen iron later.

5) Understand their struggles. Do not excuse them for sin, neither discriminate against them for weaknesses, but come alongside them for mutual aid.

Due to sin in the world, it is possible for those from a different culture to struggle with sins and patterns of sin that you do not struggle with. Sin is sin, defined by God. Therefore, there is no excuse for sin, even practiced by those are different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. At the same time, none of us is perfect. Just because you do not struggle with a particular sin or pattern of sin does not imply you are better than another from a different ethnicity. You might after all be struggling with other types of sin which he does not struggle with. Therefore, do not discriminate against someone merely because his struggle is against a different pattern of sin than yours, but come alongside to aid him. As you do so, he should likewise do the same to you, as following the same steps, and in this both parties are mutually edified.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The problem of non-naming as seen in the era of identity politics

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. (3 Jn. 1:9-10)

In much of present society, naming those who are in error is repugnant (with the exception of Trump and white supremacists I suppose). Rather, the person is to be respected while the error rejected. Now, while in some cases, such might be the right course of action, when it comes to accusations and insinuations of sin, such is actually unbiblical and sinful.

In the era of identity politics, vague accusations of sin in the form of "systemic racism" abound. Broad strokes of racial injustice are painted as the original sin of a particular ethnic group or society or nation. But what exactly are these but assault on entire swaths of society and the demonization of entire ethnicities? If there is actual racism, surely racists can be named and racist laws pointed out. But if one deals in generalities, then aspersion is cast upon entire ethnicities, without having the necessity of actually proving that sins exist. After all, when one points out someone from that group is not racist, then the accuser can say that person is not racist but "the system" is. General accusations of sin can be made without the need to prove actual sin exists, since how does one prove a general sin when any counter-evidence is particular?

Thus, while non-naming seems to be "kinder" and more polite, it may not actually be kind and loving. In fact, especially in the era of identity politics where vague general collective accusations are the norm, non-naming actually result in division and the creation of strife between different groups of people. After all, what do you think is going to happen if you start accusing whites of being unjust ("privilege") because of their skin color, which they cannot change? Maybe as a black you suffer real injustice and racism from whites, but are you honestly suggesting the solution is to insinuate that whites are sinful because of their skin color? Oh, but I didn't say that, you might say. But what do you think people will interpret when your polemics against "privilege" IMPLY that whiteness is sinful in some sense? After reading articles that bash "whiteness," are you surprised if people think you are saying that whiteness is sinful? And when people see you giving a pass to racists from your camp while attacking them as racists, why should they think you are nothing more than racists discriminating against them?

Like it or not, how we express ourselves and what we omit is also important. People can and will read between the lines. And people will see vague general accusations against any particular race as condemnation of everyone in that particular race. That is why the idea of "systemic racism" should be rejected. Can there be racist laws and racist policies? Sure! Name them then! Don't hide behind vague accusations of "systemic racism" as if you have the privilege of making accusations which you cannot substantiate. This is where naming is important. Can you imagine if the apostle John wrote that "someone in the church" does not acknowledge our authority, instead of naming Diotrephes? Can you imagine the suspicion that everyone will have, each against his own neighbor, if John were not to name this schismatic? But naming makes the charge concrete. It points to a particular problem, and then when the problem is known, solutions and resolutions can be made to attempt to resolve the problem.

Thus, in the area of sin and accusations of sin, it is better to be specific, not general. And in the case of racism, real or perceived, name the offenders! Are you after all looking for repentance and forgiveness of the offender, or are you more interested in playing the victim and harboring bitterness in your heart? Do you actually want to solve the problems of racial discrimination, or nurture your wounds in a zero-sum game of identity politics so that the entire world can go up in flames in your act of vengeance against those who sin against you? Which do you think is the Christian approach?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Endorsing Reformed racism and the exhaustion of the grievance industry

Racism is sin, because it treats people unequally merely because of their skin color and ethnic belonging. Racism, as a word and as a concept, applies to all, because all humans are made in the image of God. It is not the case that some people retain the image of God, and others do not, but racism is sin because it violates the image of God in Man, all men, everywhere. As a universal concept, racism can apply to anyone from any race or ethnicity, as long as they demand different treatment based upon racial distinctions.

It is in this light that RAAN (Reformed African-American Network) is a racist organization, promoting racism. I am astonished how blind many supposed Reformed people are to racism when it does not fit into the prevailing social paradigm in America. Needless to say, I have yet to hear any coherent argument against the proposition that RAAN is promoting racism. There are many articles one can point to which exists only to affirm a double standard based upon racial "privilege." This tweet and article by Jemar Tisby is only one of the many reprehensible and toxic articles on racial relations ever to be written and endorsed by RAAN.

Having lived as a minority for a time in America, I can see that there is some amount of preferential treatment that whites enjoy. But to understand there are problems does not imply that any proposed solution is good, for bad solutions can worsen the problem instead of resolving it. But look at Tisby's article and you will notice a major toxic core there: that racial discrimination against whites is necessary for blacks to thrive. Or, to put it in a more generic and applicable statement, racial discrimination against the "majority" (whoever they are) is necessary for any minority to thrive. Notice that the question is NOT, "Do blacks have a right to mix with each other in their own gatherings?" It is also not, "Is it normal for blacks to want to socialize with other blacks?" It is also not, "Is it normal for blacks to desire to engage topics in their own way?" Rather, the question is, "Are whites so much to be identified with their race that they are irreversibly tainted with whiteness and therefore are prohibited from certain gatherings of blacks?"

It is perfectly normal for a person to desire company with those they share more affinity to, socially and culturally and otherwise. It is perfectly normal that some groups of friends might be exclusive in their gatherings, for after all friendship is personal and private. But if the gathering is not a closed gathering of friends or of a society, then to say that it is open to all of a certain race but not to those of other races is the very definition of racism.

What makes Tisby's article even worse is his rationale for such racial gatherings. Tisby's rationale is that racial integration (which is supposed to be a good thing, is it not?) is emotionally draining and thus "safe spaces" are necessitated as a result. Remember, we are not merely speaking about the need to meet other blacks, or enjoy black culture. We are speaking of the need to segregate into safe spaces to refresh oneself. Why is integration so exhausting? Can you imagine Tisby in heaven telling Jesus he needs to segregate with other blacks for some time of refreshment? If that sounds ridiculous, that is because it is. But why is integration so stressful?

The reason why integration is so stressful for those who reject overt racism (e.g white supremacy), is because they have bought into Critical Race Theory and its accompanying grievance industry. When someone buys into Critical Race Theory, suddenly one sees racism and injustice everywhere. One has been "woke" into an altered reality where everything is interpreted in racial and racial grievance categories. A white barista treating a black customer rudely? That's racism! Nevermind that the barista has a bad day and is treating everyone (white and black and everyone else) rudely! Policeman roughing up a black guy? That's definitely racism. Nevermind that particular cop is also black! The outrage meter has been dialed up to near maximum on a regular basis, and everyday becomes one day away from a holocaust of black people. It is no wonder that those like Tisby gets exhausted! This is no way to live a life! But this exhaustion is totally the fault of Tisby and other racial justice warriors' doing; it is self-inflicted. But just because it is self-inflicted, does it mean that Tisby and the Racial SJWs will stop their hysteria? I doubt it. I would love for the day when they and their supporters individually and collectively repent of their racism and reject Critical Race Theory, but, barring a miracle, I do not think that will happen anything soon.

How did I for example live life in the United States? I mix with those of other races, and I do not demand "safe spaces" where whites or all non-Chinese are not welcome. If I desire to celebrate ethnic festivals like Chinese New Year, I do not exclude others from joining but rather invite them to join in whatever I have planned. Ethnic and cultural differences can be celebrated with others without excluding others because of their skin color or ethnicity.

What is the best way to interact with others different from you in terms of ethnicity and culture? Get to know them as PERSONS and do not prejudge them. That is all! We do not need 5 steps of tiptoeing around the social construct of "otherness" to do that! Each of us is a human being, not a Critical Race social construct! Do not let the Reformed racists ruin true interactions with those different from you, with their dialed-up hysteria, racial collectivism, and manufactured and imputed guilt and/or righteousness!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

White Supremacy is sin!

Over in America, alt-right white supremacists have decided to make their presence known in a very ugly way. Now, racism is sin, no matter who is the offender. It doesn't matter if the racist is of a majority or a minority race; sin is sin.

America is a very divided country. A sizable portion of the minority especially black population are all too willing to attack racism, real or perceived, from the majority whites. Even worse is where racist social theories (critical race theory) are utilized to promote racism against the majority, as what we have seen with RAAN (Reformed African-American Network).

On the other side however are diverse peoples including those who are sincerely fed-up with the racial blackmail organizations like RAAN is doing. But then there are real racists also in what is often termed the alt-right — real white racists. (It is almost as if someone wanted to confirm all the stereotypes RAAN has created of whites, and actually become real racists. OK, that last sentence was in jest).

As I have said, racism is sin no matter who does it and to whom. White supremacy, or white racism is sin. In fact, due to historical circumstances, it is the most remembered sin in modern history. White racism is disgusting, and its "theological" error kinism (the idea that one should only mix with one's "race" or "kin" - against miscegenation) is utterly repugnant. One should not be partisan on such matters. Just because RAAN is racist does not mean that white racists are to be excused. Both are to be denounced when they promote racism. Those who excuse RAAN while denouncing white supremacists, and those who denounce RAAN while excusing white supremacists, are not truly for racial equality and "racial reconciliation," but partisan hacks.

Racism is sin. And as long as racial differences continue to persist, there is a need to guard ourselves against it. God made all nations from one man, Adam, and there are no superior or inferior "races." All are made in the image of God, and racism is an assault against that image of God.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Turretin and justification by works (Law/ Gospel)

II. … For as there are two covenants which God willed to make with men—legal and evangelical. Accordingly there is also a double justification or a double method of standing before God in judgment—legal and evangelical. The former consists in one’s own obedience or a perfect conformity with the law, which is in him who is to be justified; the latter in another’s obedience or a perfect observance of the law, which is rendered by a surety in the place of him who is to be justified—the former in us, the latter in Christ. Concerning the first, Paul says, “Not the hearers, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13); and “Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law. That the man which doeth those things shall live by them” (Rom. 10:5). Concerning the other, he says, “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16, 17); and “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). Concerning both, he says, “That I may be found in Christ, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ” (Phil. 3:9; cf. also Rom. 9:30, 31). Hence a twofold justification flows: one in the legal covenant by one’s own righteousness according to the clause, “Do this and live”; the other in the covenant of grace, by another’s righteousness (Christ’s) imputed to us and apprehended by faith according to the clause, “Believe and thou shalt be saved.” Each demands a perfect righteousness. The former requires it in the man to be justified, but the latter admits the vicarious righteousness of a surety. The former could have place in a state of innocence, if Adam had remained in innocence. But because after sin it became impossible to man, we must fly to the other (i.e, the gospel), which is founded upon the righteousness of Christ. [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.16.II.2]

We notice here that Turretin holds to the strongest version of the Law-Gospel distinction. Note also the proof texts Turretin utilizes, which are the texts that those of us who hold to the Law-Gospel distinction have likewise used to support our position. Romans 2:13 was appealed to to speak of the principle of the covenant of works, not as how some contemporary theologians have interpreted as speaking of spirit-filled obedience.

It is thus Reformed to speak of justification by works. The question is not whether we are justified by works, but whose works. The Reformed position is that we are justified by Christ's work, not ours. Christ did everything, and then imputed his righteousness to us through faith. Therefore, believers' justification is through faith because of Christ, and thus the Gospel is one where no one can merit salvation even one bit.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Turretin contra the Amyraldian offer of the Gospel

LII. Although by the preaching of the gospel, God offers Christ to the called with his benefits, it does not follow that he must have died for them in order that the offer may not be insincere. He is not offered absolutely and simply, but under the condition of faith and repentance; not as a narrated truth which, whether believed or not, always remains true, but as a promised truth which is ascertained to be true only when its condition is complied with (as Cameron declared). From this it follows that there is an indissoluble connection between faith and salvation and that all are bound to faith who wish to enjoy Christ and his benefits, and who are called to Christ; but that God, by his eternal and immutable decree, has destined Christ to be the Savior of all who are called or that he intended that Christ by his death should acquire eternal salvation for each and every man, can in no way be inferred from this call. … [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.14.XIV.52]

Friday, August 04, 2017

Turretin: Why was the Father not incarnated

V. (2) The Father could not be incarnated, for as he was the first in order he could not sent by anyone or act a mediator to the Son and the Holy Spirit. … [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.13.IV.5]

According to Turretin, the ad intra ordering (ταξις) of the Father as first is the reason why the Father (ad extra) is not incarnated, but the Son, by virtue of being second, was incarnated.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Turretin on Natural Law

VI. But the orthodox speak far differently. They affirm that there is a natural law, not arising from a voluntary contract or law of society, but from a divine obligation being impressed by God upon the conscience of man in his very creation, on which the difference between right and wrong is founded and which contains the practical principles of immovable truth (such as: “God should be worshiped,” “parents honored,” “we should live virtuously,” “injure no one,” “do to others what we would wish them to do to us” and the like). Also that so many remains and evidences of this law are still left in our nature (although it has been in different ways corrupted and obscured by sin) that there is no mortal who cannot feel its force either more or less. Now they wish this law to be called natural, not because it has its origin from bare nature (since it depends upon God the supreme lawgiver), but because it becomes known from the aspect of creatures and the relation of man to God, and the knowledge of it is impressed upon the mind by nature, not acquired by tradition or instruction. [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2.11.I.7]

VIII. Thus the origin and foundation of this law ought not to be sought (as the Jews falsely seek it) from “the seven precepts” which they maintain were given to Adam and Noah …

IX. But it must be drawn from the right of nature itself, founded both on the nature of God, the Creator (who by his holiness must prescribe to his creatures the duties founded upon that right), and on the condition of rational creatures themselves (who, on account of their necessary dependence upon God in the genus of morals, no less than in the genus of being, are bound to perform or avoid those things which sound reason and the dictates of conscience enjoin upon them to do or avoid)

X. The right of nature … strictly and properly for that which has reference only to rational creatures. The lawyers include this under the laws of nations. It is rightly described by common practical notions, or the light and dictation of conscience ..[Ibid., 2.11.I.8-10]

XXII. If it is asked how this natural law agrees with or differs from the moral law, the answer is easy. It agrees as to substance and with regard to principles, but differs as to accidents and with regard to conclusions. … [Ibid., 2.11.I.22]

Looks like Turretin is far from a Neo-Kuyperian on the issue of natural law.