Wednesday, July 8, 2020

America the Beautiful?


"I dread the depravity of human nature. I wish to guard against it by proper checks, and trust nothing to accident or chance." - Patrick Henry, 1788

Some of us may find it quite easy to point out wrongs in our society and our institutions. But the issue is not simply out there in other people. This is an issue rooted in human nature. As I point out in this video, not only does this have implications for civil government which our founders understood, but this also has implications for you as an individual.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Saint Louis, King of France


In recent weeks there has been some controversy over the statue of Saint Louis (1214-1270) in front of the Art Museum. There is a petition to take it down and rename the city, claiming that Saint Louis was anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic. Others are defending it, claiming that it stands for the pursuit of justice, charity, and piety exemplified by Saint Louis. 

It is true that King Louis IX had his faults, particularly in relation to the Jews. Yet his attitude and actions toward the Jews - the burning of Talmuds and his threats to expel the Jews - were not racially driven (in fact, he was generous to Jewish converts), but driven by his desire to suppress blasphemy and usury - a good reminder for present-day activists to not let a desire for reform lead them astray. He did lead two crusades, but these were defensive actions against Muslim aggression in the holy land, rather than an expression of hatred for Muslims. As Protestants, we would note as a fault that his conception of the faith was marred by some of the errors which were developing in the medieval church.

But King Louis IX has been honored for seven centuries as a good king, not because of his actions towards the Jews, but because of things like his humility, piety, judicial reforms, and charity. He was faithful in prayer, attentive to sermons, and sought to practice his faith in his public and private life. He fed the poor at his table and regularly washed their feet. He built hospitals and orphanages. He systematized the laws, reformed the courts, and held powerful men accountable. He abolished trial by combat, establishing trials with presumption of innocence and examinations of witnesses under oath. His reputation for impartiality was such that he was called upon by those outside France to arbitrate disputes. To learn more about Saint Louis, read more here: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-IX and here: https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/rulers/louis-ix.html

King Louis IX played an important role in developing Western Civilization, an imperfect civilization which has been greatly blessed by the influence of Christianity over the centuries. This civilization first came here by the French settlers who named the city St. Louis, and then by English-speaking settlers and the United States. This civilization has proven attractive enough that people of many backgrounds, including Jews and Muslims, have come here to share in the benefits developed by men like Louis IX. The statue of Saint Louis was created for the 1904 World’s Fair and served as the primary symbol of the city of St. Louis until the Gateway Arch was built in 1965. May it continue to stand in gratitude to the best of our society’s Western and Christian heritage. And may we continue to practice our faith for the glory of God and good of our community. For just as faith without works is dead, so monuments to the past without present-day faith and works are also dead and doomed to be taken away.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Presbyterian Roots of American Liberty


As we approach Independence Day, it is good to remember that one significant root of American liberty was the biblical teaching of Puritan and Presbyterian pastors. This teaching was carefully articulated back in 1644 by Rev. Samuel Rutherford in his book Lex, Rex. In the context of the English Civil War, he argued against the divine right of kings and for a biblical view of civil government and lawful resistance to tyranny. At the same time he worked as a commissioner of the Church of Scotland to the Westminster Assembly which would produce the doctrinal standards that would define Presbyterianism to the present day.

Rev. Rutherford and the others at the Westminster Assembly were careful to teach due honor and loyalty to civil authorities, as they wrote in their confession of faith: “It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’ sake” (WCF 23.4). Yet, they also argued that the king did not have arbitrary and unaccountable authority to do as he pleased - other governing authorities like Parliament could resist him in certain cases (or the Continental Congress, in the case of the American colonists). It is a complicated topic and Lex, Rex was not a simple book, but here I want to share a few quotes from it (I have also written more about a Reformed approach to resisting tyranny at this link).

On checks and balances due to man's depravity:

“Power and absolute monarchy is tyranny; unmixed democracy is confusion; untempered aristocracy is factious dominion...all three thus contempered have their own sweet fruits through God's blessing, and their own diseases by accident, and through man's corruption; and neither reason nor Scripture shall warrant any one in its rigid purity without mixture.”

Against treating kings like God, who determines right and wrong:
“That which is the garland and proper flower of the King of kings, as he is absolute above his creatures, and not tied to any law, without himself, that regulateth his will, that must be given to no mortal man or king, except we would communicate that which is God's proper due to a sinful man, which must be idolatry.”

On tyranny and resistance:
“Therefore an unjust king, as unjust, is not that genuine ordinance of God, appointed to remove injustice, but accidental to a king. So we may resist the injustice of the king, and not resist the king. 8. If, then, any cast off the nature of a king, and become habitually a tyrant, in so far he is not from God, nor any ordinance which God doth own.”

“A tyrant is he who habitually sinneth against the catholic good of the subjects and the state, and subverteth law.”

On rulers’ duty to secure private property rights, rather than being destructive of that end by claiming unlimited power:
“… to conserve every man’s goods to the just owner, and to preserve a community from the violence of rapine and theft, a magistrate and king was devised …. And a king being given of God for a blessing, not for man’s hurt and loss, the king cometh in to preserve a man’s goods, but not to be lord and owner thereof himself, nor to take from any man God’s right to his own goods.”

Monday, June 22, 2020

Captain Samuel Woods: Scot-Irish Presbyterian Frontiersman

One of my wife's ancestors was Captain Samuel Woods, a pioneer, soldier, and Presbyterian elder from the early days of our country. To be precise, Captain Woods is her great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather. A while ago I pieced together his story from various sources, mostly for the family. But I thought I would also share his story here as the story of one of the many lesser known individuals who labored to preserve our country's freedom and promote the growth of our church on the American frontier. 

One of the important records for Samuel Woods comes from the journal of Rev. Harvey Woods, son of John Woods, son of Samuel Woods[1]. He wrote that Samuel Woods came with his family from Ireland at the age of 8, and that he settled in North Carolina. There he married Margret Holmes and had several children. In 1780 or 1782 the family moved to Paint Lick, Kentucky. Samuel’s oldest son was killed by Indians during that time.

Neander Montgomery Woods, in his book, The Woods-McAfee Memorial, argues that Samuel Woods came from Virginia rather than North Carolina[2]. He notes that there was a Samuel Woods who lived in Rockbridge County, VA who sold his land in 1783. This Samuel Woods of Rockbridge County, VA was a son of Richard Woods and part of the larger family that Neander follows in that book. His arguments are that (1) in 1783 a Samuel Woods sold land in Virginia and a Samuel Woods gained land in Kentucky, (2) other extended family from Virginia had moved to Kentucky, and (3) similar family names are used. This claim is doubtful, as will be evident as we proceed. Our Samuel Woods is also sometimes confused with a Samuel Woods (1741-1820) who was the son of Samuel Woods (b. 1718)[3]. This Samuel Woods was born in VA or PA, lived in Rowen County, NC, married Elizabeth Patton, and settled in Georgia in 1793 with his brother William, receiving land for service in the war.[4] I mention these because accounts of Samuel Woods on the internet can sometimes conflate these figures. Yet, the advantage of this mistake is that Neander Woods gathers and records information about our Samuel Woods since Neander thinks he is related to Neander’s family.

For example, Neander mentions that the Madison County, KY records show that this Samuel Woods of Kentucky had a wife named Margaret. This fits with others like Rev. Harvey Woods who testify that Samuel’s wife’s name was Margaret Holmes. The Rowan County, North Carolina Marriage Records contain the record: “Samuel Woods to Margaret Holmes, Sept. 29, 1768. Margaret, daughter of John Holmes.”[5] This verifies Rev. Woods’ account and argues against Neander’s Rockbridge County theory. 

Another piece of the puzzle that verifies a North Carolina origin and adds a colorful stroke to the portrait, is that Lyman Draper records in King’s Mountain and Its Heroes that “Samuel Wood commanded a company at King’s Mountain…[and] removed to Lincoln County, Kentucky.”[6] Draper mentions him as one of the officers under Col. Joseph McDowell in the Burke County [NC] regiment. Paint Lick, KY was part of Lincoln County, KY until 1786 when it became part of Madison County.[7] Thus, Draper verifies that Samuel Woods lived in North Carolina, fought at King’s Mountain, and later moved to the area of Paint Lick, KY.

A pension record of John Dysart mentions that he served under Captain Samuel Woods and Colonel McDowell in 1779-1780, first driving the Tories out of the state, then at the battle of Cane Creek, and then at King’s Mountain.[8] This is also important because John would go on to marry one of the daughters of Samuel Woods of Paint Lick, KY,[9] hence provide another link between the Samuel Woods in North Carolina and in Kentucky. 
A list of North Carolinian officers of the War for Independence in NC Patriots 1775-1783: Their Own Words by J.D. Lewis says that Samuel Woods served from 1779 to 1782 and fought in Cane Creek, King’s Mountain, Cowpens, and Eutaw Springs.[10] It says that he was from what became Alexander County, NC (this area was Rowen County, NC in 1768 when Samuel was married and was Burke County during the war). It also says that he was born in 1735 in Albemarle County, VA. Unfortunately, even though this book has a large bibliography and is obviously well researched, it is not footnoted, so it is not clear from what source he gets this birth place and year. 
Thus far we have a picture of a Scot-Irish man who was either born in Ireland or in Virginia and who came to North Carolina in what is now Alexander County. There he married Margaret Holmes, and from there he enlisted and served in the Burke County regiment as captain from 1779 to 1782. Then he moved his family in 1782 to Paint Lick, Kentucky. There his oldest son was killed by Indians. 

Another source for Samuel Woods's life is a book by LeGrand M. Jones, Family Reminiscences (St. Louis, MO: C.R. Barnes Pub. Co., 1894). LeGrand’s wife was a great-granddaughter of Samuel and knew several of Samuel’s grandchildren. On pages 43-46, he records what he learned about Samuel Woods from Judge Gideon B. Black, a grandson of Samuel’s. His story fits with Rev. Woods’ account. He said that Samuel was the son of a Scotch-Irish immigrant and lived in North Carolina. There he married Margaret Holmes and later moved to Madison County, KY. When Samuel briefly returned to North Carolina to bring his youngest child who had been left behind, his oldest son was killed. “Some neighbor boys and his son Oliver were together; they heard what they took to be dogs barking, as if they had brought something to bay. They went in the direction of the barking. Indians in ambush fired upon them and killed Oliver; the others escaped. I suppose the Indians were imitating the barking of dogs to decoy the boys from the house.” At the time Paint Lick was a fort, about 26 miles from Fort Boonesborough (and about 8 miles from present day Berea, KY). It had been founded by William Miller in 1776. Violence from native tribes continued into the 1790s, as resident Jinney Adams was killed by Chief Thunder in 1791.[11] 

Samuel Woods acquired 350 acres of land on a branch of Paint Lick Creek from William Miller, and date of the survey of his land is dated May 3, 1783.[12] He also was a founding elder of Paint Lick Presbyterian Church in 1784, serving for at least fifteen years.[13] Rev. David Rice, the “father of Presbyterianism in Kentucky” helped organize the church, and Samuel Woods was “responsible for securing the appointment of David Rice as their minister for one Sunday in each month.”[14] Samuel Woods represented the church at a conference of Presbyterian ministers and elders at Cane Run Presbyterian Church in 1785 which led to the organization of the Presbytery of Transylvania.[15] Samuel Woods represented his church at the the first meeting of that presbytery in 1786, as well as in 1794 and 1797.[16] He is also one of the elders who signed the call for Rev. Cary H. Allen to the church in 1792.[17] The church would flourish and became at one point prior to 1860 the “largest congregation in Kentucky.”[18]

There were many others like Captain Woods coming to Kentucky. One pioneer woman of the time described her party by saying how they "rode upon horses, and upon other horses were placed the farming and cooking utensils, beds and bedding, wearing apparel, provisions, and last, but not least, the libraries, consisting of two Bibles, half a dozen Testaments, the Catechism, the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church, and the Psalms of David. Each man and boy carried his rifle and ammunition, and each woman her pistol."[19]

Samuel and Margaret’s youngest son, Oliver, was born in Madison County, KY on Oct. 15, 1784,[20] and one source identifies the place of birth as “Boone’s Station,” which was founded by Daniel Boone in 1779 about 30 miles north of Paint Lick.[21] Another possible Boone connection is that there is a “Samuel Woods” on the list of the men who fought at the Battle of Blue Licks, August 19, 1782.[22] It is difficult to prove that this is our Samuel Woods, but one source does refer to his “active interest…in the Indian wars.”[23]

In 1800, Samuel Woods moved to Williamson County, Tennessee, settling on Harpeth Lick.[24] Another source says that he came to Fort Nashville, TN, which is not far from Harpeth Lick.[25] Later he moved to Carroll County, Tennessee in the western part of the state in 1820 to live with his son Samuel until his death about 1825. Samuel Woods Jr. had a farm about where McLemoresville, Tennessee stands today.[26]

Regarding their children, Samuel and Margaret had eleven children:
“(a) Oliver, who was born about 1764, and was killed by Indians; 
(b) Martha, who married John Dyzart, by whom she had two sons and two daughters, one of the sons being named John; 
(c) Jane, who married John Herron, and by whom she had one daughter and three sons, the daughter marrying John Dyzart her cousin, and the sons being named John, William, and Frank, respectively; 
(d) Margaret, who married Thomas Black August 20, 1793, and by whom she had twelve children, the youngest of whom was Judge Gideon B. Black, born February 4, 1816; 
(e) John, who was born April 21, 1774, and died August 20, 1846; 
(f) Samuel, who married Ann Prevince; 
(g) David, who married a Miss McLaryo, by whom he had several sons who moved to Arkansas; 
(j) Daniel T., who married a Miss Reese, by whom he had several children, among whom was a son named Leroy, who was a distinguished Cumberland Presbyterian minister; 
[William Woods, born between Daniel and Oliver [27]], 
(k) Oliver, named for the first son of this name who was killed by Indians, as stated above; and
(l) Polly, (Mary) who married John Holmes, by whom she had several children, among whom were sons named John, William and Samuel, respectively.”[28]

------------------------------ 
Footnotes:
1. The journal is quoted in Lucile Womack Bates, “Captain Samuel Woods of King’s Mountain” Pioneer, vol. 10, #2, April 1965 (Benton Co., Arkansas Historical Society). Rev. Woods was a Presbyterian pastor in Kentucky, mentioned in Robert Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky (Applewood Books, 2001), 356, 370.  
2.  Neander Montgomery Woods, The Woods-McAfee Memorial (Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal Job Printing Co., 1905), 83-86. https://archive.org/details/woodsmcafeememor00wood 
5.  Ancestry.com. North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Ancestry.com provides a photocopy of the original document. 
6.  Lyman Draper, King’s Mountain and Its Heroes (Cincinnati: Peter G. Thomson Pub., 1881), 474. https://archive.org/stream/cu31924032752846#page/n7/mode/2up/search/Samuel+Wood
8.  Pension Application of John Dysart S3315 f40NC. http://revwarapps.org/s3315.pdf 
9.  Armstrong records that the John Dysart in NC married Capt. Woods’ daughter and ended up in TN, and Neander Woods records that Samuel’s daughter Martha married John Dyzart. Zella Armstrong, Some Tennessee Heroes of the Revolution (Genealogical Publishing Com, 1933), 41. Neander Montgomery Woods, The Woods-McAfee Memorial (Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal Job Printing Co., 1905), 85.
10.  J.D. Lewis, NC Patriots 1775-1783: Their Own Words, Volume 2, Part 2 (Little River, SC: J.D. Lewis, 2012), 1135-1136. (the same information can be found here: www.carolana.com/NC/Revolution/nc_patriot_military_captains.html). 
12.  Neander Montgomery Woods, The Woods-McAfee Memorial (Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal Job Printing Co., 1905), 148. It adjoined the lands of Brooks, Kennedy, Bett, McCormack, Miller, and McNeely. He is also listed in a real estate transaction in July of 1796 (Woods, 83). https://archive.org/details/woodsmcafeememor00wood.
13.   Ibid. See also the list of elders on the roadside marker: https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=50812 
14.  “Paint Lick Presbyterian Church” Kentucky Historic Resources Inventory (1983). https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset?assetID=cde907c0-f25e-4f06-aecd-0aa677a25adc. It cites as a source, Patches of Garrard County- Ed. by Lancaster Woman's Club by Mrs. Anna Burnside Brown. 
15.  William H. Averill, A History of the First Presbyterian Church, Frankfort, Kentucky (Frankfort, KY, Monfort, 1901), 15ff. See also Robert Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky (Applewood Books, 2001), 73. 
16.  Neander Montgomery Woods, The Woods-McAfee Memorial, 83.  
17.  Robert Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Kentucky (Applewood Books, 2001), 108. See this book for more information on the stories, events, and controversies among Presbyterians in Kentucky at the time. https://books.google.com/books/about/History_of_the_Presbyterian_Church_in_th.html?id=fkURAAAAIAAJ
18.  “Paint Lick Presbyterian Church” Kentucky Historic Resources Inventory (1983). https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset?assetID=cde907c0-f25e-4f06-aecd-0aa677a25adc. This is possibly an overstatement, and probably refers to the largest Presbyterian congregation in Kentucky.
19. Quoted in Henry Alexander White, Southern Presbyterian Leaders (New York, 1911), 207. 
20.  The History of Appanoose County, Iowa (Western Historical Company, 1878), 603 (see here for link); and Barbara L Hughes, who cites an article from Lucile Womack Bates, in the Benton County Pioneer, p. 60. 
21.  The History of Appanoose County, Iowa (Western Historical Company, 1878), 603. Oliver is here mentioned in a bio of his daughter and her husband. 
22.  Neal Hammon, "Daniel Boone and the Defeat at Blue Licks” (Minneapolis: The Boone Society, 2005), genealogytrails.com/main/military/battleofbluelick.html.
23.  History of Newton, Lawrence, Barry, and McDonald Counties, Missouri (Chicago: Goodspeed Pub., 1888), 1005. (cdm16795.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/mocohist/id/51537). This bio of Samuel’s great-grandson follows the general narrative established thus far, but calls Samuel “John Woods.” Since everything else seems to match it is probably the same person but with the name wrong.
24.  Neander Montgomery Woods, The Woods-McAfee Memorial, 83. Carrol County Historical Book Committee, History of Carroll County, Tennessee, Volume 1 (Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 1986), 198. 
25.  History of Newton, Lawrence, Barry, and McDonald Counties, Missouri (Chicago: Goodspeed Pub., 1888), 1005. (cdm16795.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/mocohist/id/51537). See note about this source in footnote 22 above. 
26.  Carrol County Historical Book Committee, History of Carroll County, Tennessee, Volume 1 (Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 1986), 198. See also http://www.genealogy.com/ftm/h/u/g/Barbara-L-Hughes-CA/WEBSITE-0001/UHP-0098.html, who appears to be quoting from “Captain Samuel Woods of King's Mountain” by Lucile Womack Bates in the Benton County, Arkansas Historical Society Magazine “Pioneer," published in Pea Ridge, Arkansas. Bentonville Public Library, Vol. 10#2, April 1965.
27. Ibid.
28.  Neander Montgomery Woods, The Woods-McAfee Memorial (Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal Job Printing Co., 1905) , 85-86.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Baptism of Daniel Boone


Daniel Boone is a well known American pioneer who lived the last twenty years of his life here in Missouri. Those who know me know that I love to study early American history and that I have a long standing interest in Daniel Boone in particular. A few years ago I came upon a little known event in his life: his baptism. 

It seems that Daniel Boone and his family were baptized by a traveling Anglican minister in 1772. During that year, Daniel Boone was living on the Watauga River (in what is now eastern TN), living near James Robertson, later known as the "Father of Tennessee." Robertson's children later wrote to historian Lyman Draper that "a traveling Episcopalian clergyman" baptized Daniel Boone, his wife Rebecca, and their seven children, and three of the Robertson children at the Robertson's house. This is significant because Daniel and Rebecca had been raised as Quakers, and Quakers do not practice baptism. This is therefore an important link in the shift Daniel and his family underwent from his Quaker upbringing to mainstream Protestantism. It is also an indication of Daniel Boone's Christian faith that he would desire baptism for him and his family. This event fits with how Daniel's son, Nathan Boone, said that his father "fully believed in the great truths of Christianity ... seemed most partial towards the Presbyterians ... had all his children, when he could, regularly christened."

Robert Morgan, in his modern biography of Boone, briefly mentions this account, but dismisses it as "almost certainly untrue." But his piece of evidence against it is that Anglicans were not called Episcopalians until after the American Revolution. But the letters to Draper which calls the minister an Episcopalian were written in 1854 and 1855, and it would have been natural for Robertson's children to call the denomination by its current name. The event is not something they were unsure of, writing that "such events are rarely forgotten" and saying one of them had "heard her mother relate it so frequently that she has no doubt of it."

In fact, there is a likely candidate for the identity of this traveling minister: Rev. John Lythe. Even Draper, in his short bio of Rev. Lythe in The Life of Daniel Boone, refers to him anachronistically as "of the Episcopal Church." He was a traveling minister who was from Virginia, spent a year in South Carolina in 1767, and shows up in Harrodsburg, KY in 1775 as the first clergyman in Kentucky. He was a delegate to the first legislative assembly held in Kentucky at Fort Boonesborough in 1775 and served as its chaplain. He proposed a bill "to prevent profane swearing and Sabbath-breaking" and the next day held the first Christian worship service in what would become Kentucky.

-------
Sources:
- Letters from Felix Robertson (James Robertson's son) to Lyman Draper, quoted in William Curry Harlee, Kinfolks: A Genealogical and Biographical Record, 3 vols. New Orleans: Searcy & Pfaff, 1935-1937, 3:2500, 2513. 
- My Father, Daniel Boone: The Draper Interviews with Nathan Boone, ed. Neal O. Hammon, p. 38, 139.
- Lyman Draper, The Life of Daniel Boone, p. 284, 295, 569.
- Robert Morgan, Boone: A Biography, p. 431.
- The Churchman's Year Book, with Kalender for the Year of Grace 1870, compiled by William Stevens Perry, p. 264-265; available for free online at Google Books. 

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Authority of Scripture


Recently in Sunday school I have been teaching on the doctrine of Scripture. You can listen to the lessons here. Having looked at the value of natural revelation and the necessity of special revelation (and particularly Scripture, given the cessation of prophecy), I have turned to the authority of Scripture. In addition to what I have written here, you can find the same ideas expressed in chapter one of our confession of faith, which you can read at this link.

What is the Bible? The written word of God. Observe how Scripture is quoted as God's words in places like Hebrews 1, Hebrews 3:7, and Acts 28:25.

How did God write his word? Through the "inspiration" of the Spirit. That is, the Holy Spirit guided the human authors of Scripture in such a way that the words they wrote were God's words. "All Scripture is breathed out by God" (2 Timothy 3:16). Scripture did not come from the will of man, but "men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:20-21). As the early church in Acts 4:24-25 put it, God spoke Scripture through the mouth of the author by the Holy Spirit.

In what languages did God write his word? The Old Testament was written in Hebrew (and a little in Aramaic) and the New Testament was written in Greek. It is inspired in the original languages, though Scripture teaches by its own example that it is is capable of being translated (and ought to be translated into the common language that it might be known by all). The New Testament authors treat the Old Testament as God's word while giving a Greek translation of it. Yet when any doubt or dispute about meaning arises, Scripture in the original language is decisive.

How does God preserve his word? Through his care and providence. Having put his word into writing for its preservation for all generations as a foundation for his church to the end (Matthew 16:18, Ephesians 2:20), he will ensure its purity (Matthew 5:18). He uses the work of his people to preserve his word (Romans 3:2, 1 Timothy 3:16). This is contrary to the claims of Mormons and Muslims and others who claim that the corruption of Scripture necessitated new revelation (which is somehow not subject to the forces which supposedly corrupted the original writings).

What did God intend his word to be? The rule of faith and life, that we might be saved and live as his people (2 Timothy 3:15-16).

What is the basis of its authority? Given everything said above, the basis of its authority is God’s authorship. It speaks with God’s authority.

What are some other implications of divine authorship? It also speaks with God’s wisdom, purity, justice, goodness, and truth (Ps. 19, 119). It reflects the attributes of its author. It is infallible truth: it is trustworthy because God does not fail to speak what is true. It is inerrant, without error, correct in everything it asserts (though one must be careful to understand what it means to assert). See Proverbs 30:5 and Titus 1:2. God is true and faithful.

What then is the supreme judge in the church? Holy Scripture, that is, the Holy Spirit who has authored Scripture. He settles all disputes and evaluates all claims. We make our appeal to Scripture and rest in its sentence. See Isaiah 8:19-20, the example of Jesus and the apostles, and the example of the Bereans (Acts 17:11).

The church has authority to define its membership and censure false teachings and immoral behavior. But it must rest its decisions and claims on Scripture, teach the basis for its claims and decisions (rather than demanding blind obedience), and be willing to correct itself according to Scripture.

Everyone has the responsibility to discern what is true and their duty, keeping their conscience bound to God alone. But they must also rest their beliefs and convictions on Scripture, interpret Scripture with the help of the church and its teachers (a help appointed in Scripture, Eph. 4:11-12), and willing to correct themselves according to Scripture.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

When the Tempest Passes


This verse from Proverbs reflects a common theme in Holy Scripture. Though wickedness may seem profit for a time, and though man may seem secure on his own, yet the only source of true and lasting stability is found in covenant with God. Consider also these passages:
"He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever;
his horn is exalted in honor.
The wicked man sees it and is angry;
he gnashes his teeth and melts away;
the desire of the wicked will perish!"
(Psalm 112:9–10)  
"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24–27) 
"Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:28–29) 
"For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever."
(1 John 2:16–17)
God uses the storm to test, judge, refine, purify, and strengthen. Storms will come in this life, culminating with the day of judgment. If you want to remain standing when the storms have passed, then entrust yourself to Christ and follow him. If you want your work to be significant and lasting, then do what is right in the sight of your Heavenly Father. He will not overlook it, and his way is the way of the future. Sin is both wrong and foolish. Do not invest yourself and your energies in man’s futile rebellion, doomed as it is to be blown away in the storm.
"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."
(1 Corinthians 15:58) 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A Short Note on Kneeling

One issue that has arisen in recent protests is that of kneeling. Some who object to this way of reacting to the protestors have argued that they only kneel for God. Now there may be good reasons to not kneel during these protests. For one thing, the significance of the act can be a bit unclear - it is a sign of protest, of respect, of contrition, or of submission? But if by saying "I only kneel for God" we mean that the Bible restricts the use of bowing to the worship of God, then it is a poor argument. The attitude of exclusive loyalty to God is commendable, but the Bible does not teach that the physical act of bowing or kneeling must only be given to God.

The Bible does forbid bowing to images (Exod. 20:4-5). It is also wrong to bow to a person when the act intends, or is understood, to ascribe divinity to man (Exod. 20:3). And not everyone has a right to be bowed to. But it can properly serve as a sign of honor, deference, and/or submission to human superiors. Joseph's brothers bowed to the ground before him (Gen. 42:6), as prophesied (Gen. 37:9) and as everyone in Egypt was told to do: "And they called out before him, 'Bow the knee!'" (Gen. 41:43). Ruth bowed to the ground before Boaz (Ruth 2:10). David bowed to King Saul (1 Sam. 24:8). Abigail bowed to the ground before David (1 Sam. 25:23). Nathan the prophet and Bathsheba bowed before King David (1 Kgs. 16, 23). King Solomon bowed before his mother Bathsheba (1 Kgs. 2:19). Jesus told a church that he would make their adversaries bow before their feet (Rev. 3:9, see also Is. 43:23), perhaps metaphorically, but with the same meaning as such an act would have communicated. The list could go on. As with most symbolic acts, you should be aware of how it is understood in your cultural context and careful with what you are communicating. But the Bible does not require us to only kneel to God. 


Thursday, June 4, 2020

A Few Thoughts on Floyd's Death and Recent Protests


George Floyd's death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis has justly gained a lot of attention recently. In this video, recorded on May 29th, I bring up a few things to think about as we reflect on these events.

Since the time that video was recorded, it has been sad to see St. Louis suffer much from violence and looting – a total of about 100 businesses broken into, four officers shot, and a former policeman killed. These actions have been unjust and have unfortunately obscured the message of the protests. I am thankful that the protests in St. Charles County have been peaceful, and have even seen the police join the protests against police brutality (one in O’Fallon and two in St. Charles). Two more are scheduled to take place in Wentzville (today and Saturday) and I pray they remain peaceful. While I don’t agree with all the proposed solutions, I do think these protests are an expression of real (albeit complex) problems which especially impact black communities.

For some people it is tempting to see the destruction caused by the more violent element of these protests and respond with anger and dismiss the protests wholesale, just as it is tempting for others to see the sometimes heavy-handed police response to these situations and respond with anger and dismiss concerns about the rioting and looting. While a zeal for justice and order is good, may we also remember the exhortation to “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19–20). May we listen to each other with compassion rather than dismissal. It is important for crime to be restrained, for policemen to be both respected and held accountable, for careful reform to happen where needed, and for people of all classes and races to be respected as made in the image of God.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Livestream Communion?


I was surprised to recently learn of a confessional Presbyterian church which has encouraged its members to come up with their own communion elements and take them at home as part of live-streamed services. During "these uncertain times" we have seen many unusual things, and it did not surprise me as much to see other denominations debating live-streamed communion. But Presbyterians hold to a confession of faith which says that the minister should give the bread and wine "to none who are not then present in the congregation" (WCF 29.3).

Not only does this practice seem to clearly conflict with our confession of faith, but I think it also departs from the directions for the Lord's supper we find in Scripture. The Lord's supper is a shared meal, to be eaten together. In it, the church partakes of one food.

Biblical Principles

1. When Christ instituted this supper (e.g. Matt. 26:26-29), after giving thanks and blessing the bread and wine, he took the bread and wine and gave them to the disciples who were gathered together in the upper room. They ate and drank of the same bread and wine, given to them by Christ. 

2. When the apostles and the early church observed the Lord's supper according to Christ's institution, they did so in the gatherings of the church. They gathered to eat it (Acts 20:7). When Paul spoke of the Lord's supper in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, he uses the word for "come together" five times. He even spoke of how they came together "at the same place" (11:20 NET). One of the Corinthians' problems was that they did not treat the Lord's supper as a meal for the church, but rather as an individual meal. "For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk" (11:21). "So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another" (11:33).

3. In 1 Corinthians 10, we are taught that the bread and wine are a participation in the body and blood of Christ, and thereby a bond of union with each other. "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (10:17). The fact that the church partakes together of the same meal is important. This shared meal with the visible church is a sign and seal of our communion with each other in Christ - it makes our communion visible.

4. In 1 Corinthians 5, we are taught that the church should not eat with one who bears the name of brother who persists in manifest immorality. Not only does this imply that the church should eat with each other, but it also means that the elders of the church ought to have oversight of who eats with the church. 

Problems with Livestream Communion 

1. In a livestream service, the people are not assembled in one place. They do worship together. They do hear the same preaching and pray the same prayers. But they are not assembled together. They are not sitting with the rest of the congregation, nor can they even see the rest of the congregation in most cases. 

2. Though you can send words through a livestream, you cannot send food through it. The minister is appointed to give the bread and wine to the people after giving thanks and blessing it as Christ did. The people are to receive it. When members produce their own elements, they do not receive the elements given by the minister. 

3. Another consequence of this practice is that the congregation does not receive bread and wine from the same source. This takes away much of the symbolism of a shared meal with "one bread." 

4. When the Lord's supper is practiced by livestream, the elders loose substantial oversight. They loose oversight of what people use as elements. More importantly, they loose oversight of who partakes. Those who are excommunicated or not yet admitted to the table can partake freely and anonymously.

Conclusion

This may seem like an insignificant issue, especially in the times in which we live. Certainly there are bigger issues. But this one is important if we believe that the second commandment requires "the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his Word" (WSC Q. 50).

While we are in unusual times, the situation of a church's assembly being suspended is not much different from the situation of those confined to their home or a hospital for physical reasons. Some of God's ordinances are sometimes providentially interrupted for an individual (Ps. 42:1-4) or a people (Joel 1:13, Lam. 2:6). Yet, Reformed churches have always pointed to other appointed means to help those who are hindered from assembling, rather than risk distorting this ordinance. A home bound person can rely on other means of growth, such as reading God's word, prayer, sermons (written, recorded, live-streamed), as well as the visits of the elders and the saints and their prayers and words of encouragement. If necessary, pastors have sometimes come with others to the bedside and held a small church service there and administered communion. This is in fact what some churches have begun doing if unable to restore larger gatherings, holding multiple smaller services and/or the members taking turns coming in person. Another nearby PCA church is distributing communion at the end of their livestream service at the curb to people in their cars, the members partaking while parked with fellow members. Obviously not ideal, but I think it basically meets the biblical principles above.

That said, I understand and appreciate the difficulty churches find themselves in when they resort to livestream communion. It is a good desire to want to partake of the Lord's supper frequently. While our church was able to resume its gatherings a few weeks ago, other churches have decided to remain at a distance, and this increases the pressure to do something about the Lord's supper. I want to note the issue and the departure from our confessional standards (and, I believe, from Scripture), but these are brothers in Christ who are trying to navigate unusual circumstances. 

So may God continue to show his mercy upon us so that more churches may be able to gather soon without the threat of danger. May he restore and purify his ordinances and bless his people through them. And may he work through his preached word, which is not bound, that it may be fruitful and fill the earth with the children of God. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Future and Christ's Return


In 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, the apostle Paul gives a concise overview of the future.

First, Paul says that because Christ rose from the dead, those who belong to him will also rise from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20-22). This is the primary point of the chapter. The resurrection of Christ is fundamental to the gospel, and it necessarily implies our resurrection, so that to deny our future resurrection is to a deny Christ's resurrection and therefore the gospel. His resurrection showed that he had gained power over death by atoning for our sins by his death. Just as Christ rose from the dead, so all who belong to him will also rise from the dead. Not only do the souls of believers go to be with Christ when we die, but their bodies will be raised, glorified, and reunited with their souls at the resurrection.

Second, Paul says that death is the last enemy Christ destroys (1 Cor. 15:23, 26). Our resurrection comes in the culmination of his conquest when he returns. This is contrary to the idea of a rapture which takes place before tribulation, a millennial kingdom, and a final struggle with Satan. The resurrection described here (and in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) is when the last enemy to be destroyed - death - is destroyed. After that time, there will be no more enemies to be destroyed. And as John 5:28-29 says, Christ resurrects his people unto life at the same time as he resurrects the rest to condemnation. When Christ comes, he will raise the dead, judge all men, and welcome his people to eternal glory with him in the new heavens and new earth.

Third, Paul says that between Christ's resurrection and our resurrection he sits in heaven and reigns, putting his enemies under his feet (1 Cor. 15:24-25). He alludes here to Psalm 110 which describes the reign of the ascended Messiah at the Father's right hand as a time of conquest. By his word and Spirit, Jesus subdues our hearts so that we willingly offer ourselves to his service, having been redeemed by him from bondage. By his word and Spirit he equips us to wage war with him against the spiritual forces of evil. By his sovereign authority he protects his church and overthrows his enemies. Though his people will suffering persecution, yet the gates of hell will not prevail against them. Rather, Christ will preserve and extend his church and destroy those who persecute the apple of his eye (or mercifully convert them, as he converted Paul). While this age is one of perpetual struggle, it is not one of perpetual defeat.

Fourth, Paul says this whole process aims at establishing God's dominion over all things (1 Cor. 15:24, 27-28). Originally God was to rule the world through Adam. But in Adam the world rebelled, aligned itself with the evil one, and became subject to death. So Christ was sent as the last Adam to restore God's dominion over the earth and to fill it with his people. By his death for our sins and his resurrection from the grave, he secured the power to accomplish this task. He is now exercising this power and it shall culminate at his return with the redemption of our bodies and the release of this creation from its bondage to corruption (Rom. 8:18-23).

Therefore we should fix our minds on things above, on the reality of the reigning Christ. He is even now pouring out the benefits of his death and resurrection by his word and Spirit and accomplishing the conquest of this rebellious world. Though we and all creation groan under our present sufferings and the present reality of death, these groans are birth pains which shall be followed by resurrection life and victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.