Tuesday, July 28, 2020

God's Promise and the Future

Last Sunday, I addressed some common misconceptions about the end times during our Sunday school lesson. You can listen to the lesson here. In addition to dealing with the rapture, the great tribulation, and the "terminal generation," I also asserted that the idea that the future will be one of increasing wickedness and decline until Christ comes is mistaken. Bad times are not unique to the end times. Sin, error, suffering, disasters, and apostasy have been around ever since Adam's fall. Rather, while "in this world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33), yet the future is one of increasing victory and blessing. Jesus is conquering the world, a conquest which culminates at his return. 

There are many passages in Scripture which portray this hopeful view of the future, such as Genesis 12:1-3, Psalms 2, 72, 110, Isaiah 2:1-5, 11:1-10, Daniel 2:31-45, 7:13-14, Matthew 13:24-33, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, and 1 John 2:8, 17. One which I noticed more recently is Genesis 22:17-18. This was God's reassertion of his promise to Abraham after Abraham had demonstrated his faith by his willingness to sacrifice Isaac at God's command:
"I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:17–18)
This remains God’s promise to his people, particularly to Jesus Christ and those who believe in him. In Galatians 3, Paul describes how this promise was made to Jesus, the offspring of Abraham, and by extension to all who are in Christ (Gal. 3:7-9, 16, 29). Consider what this means for us: 

"I will surely bless you..." God promises to bless Christ’s church, to revoke the curse which was laid upon humanity in Adam and to grant them his grace and favor through faith in Christ. 

"...I will surely multiply your offspring..." God promises to greatly increase the church's numbers so that it becomes an innumerable host.

"...your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies..." God promises to give Christ and his church victory over his enemies. A person might grant that the church will grow, but might qualify this by saying fallen humanity will grow quicker - yet here the church is promised not mere parallel growth but victorious growth, not mere preservation but advance. Not only shall the gates of hell not prevail against the church, but Christ and the church shall prevail against the gates of hell. Christ conquers through his grace and judgment and uses the spiritual weapons of his church to promote his kingdom among his enemies. 

"...in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed..." God promises to use his church to successfully bring the blessing of Christ to all nations. Not only shall the gospel be preached to all nations, but in time it shall be a blessing to all the nations. In time, all the nations shall receive Christ by faith and receive the blessings of Christ's reign.

Even though these promises have been continually unfolding since they were spoken to Abraham, yet they can be difficult to believe when we see the sin, error, and apostasy which surround us. Our personal experience might not seem to match up with the picture painted by these promises. But if you find these promises hard to believe in our day, imagine how hard it was for Abraham. And yet he believed. Even before Isaac was born and when his body was "as good as dead" (Rom. 4:19), he believed his offspring would be like the stars and the sand and that all the nations would be blessed through him. 
“No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Romans 4:18-21)
Like our father Abraham, let us believe God and his promises, knowing that our perspectives are limited and God's power is not. And also like Abraham, let us put our faith into practice by obeying God's voice. Have confidence in the reigning Christ, in the directions he has given us, and in the means he has appointed to establish and extend his kingdom. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Augustine and Covenant Theology

Recently I was looking back over The City of God by Augustine and came across what has become a classic description of the unity of old and new covenants as administrations of God’s redemptive grace. In his discussion of God’s covenant with Abraham, Augustine writes, 
“For what else does circumcision signify than a nature renewed on the putting off of the old? And what else does the eighth day mean than Christ, who rose again when the week was completed, that is, after the Sabbath? The very names of the parents are changed: all things proclaim newness, and the new covenant is shadowed forth in the old. For what does the term old covenant imply but the concealing of the new? And what does the term new covenant imply but the revealing of the old?” (The City of God, 16.26)
In describing why infants received a symbol of renewal, Augustine goes on to distinguish these covenants from the covenant of works made with mankind through Adam: 
“But even the infants, not personally in their own life, but according to the common origin of the human race, have all broken God’s covenant in that one in whom all have sinned. Now there are many things called God’s covenants besides those two great ones, the old and the new, which any one who pleases may read and know. For the first covenant, which was made with the first man, is just this: ‘In the day ye eat thereof, ye shall surely die.’” (The City of God, 16.27) 
While the covenantal nature of God's dealings with man received a great deal of attention following the Reformation, especially by Reformed and Presbyterian theologians, here we see the same basic understanding articulated by Augustine in the early 5th century. Outside the covenant of grace, we are all condemned by our violation of the first covenant and are doomed to death. But God has made his covenant of grace with those who believe in Christ and their offspring, administering it now in its new covenant form with greater clarity and efficacy. 

I have written more about the Reformed doctrine of the covenant in this blog post. You can also see all my blog posts on the topic here

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Trust and Community

"Do not plan evil against your neighbor,
who dwells trustingly beside you."
(Proverbs 3:29)

Proverbs 3:29 points out that plotting evil against a neighbor is not only wrong because it breaks God's law, but also because it severs the bonds of community and betrays the trust your neighbor has placed in you. Community is built on trust. For people to dwell together, they must trust those around them to some degree. Perhaps they do so reluctantly and minimally, only because such trust is a necessary part of living in a community. Perhaps they do so willingly - perhaps they even move to a community because they trust the people there. A certain degree of trust is necessary for people to merely have homes close to each other, and the more they interact together as a community, the more trust is required. When people do not trust each other, they become increasingly distant and the community breaks down. 

Our society suffers from a lack of trust. Suspicion of other people is very high and plays a role in many issues such as race relations, law enforcement, zoning laws, schools, politics, and COVID-related issues. I believe this lack of trust has also created fertile ground for conspiracy theories - once you are already convinced that a group is deceptive and malicious, it is easier to believe speculative theories about their nefarious deeds and plans. These theories then further erode trust in other people and make it easier to believe increasing far-fetched claims. 

To be suspicious is not necessarily wrong. Sometimes suspicion is justified and sometimes it is not. Sometimes a little suspicion is justified and sometimes a lot of suspicion is called for. To be totally without suspicion is to be naive, simple, and unprotected. But even if at times suspicion is a necessary evil, it is yet an evil - it makes life difficult for those who are suspected and hinders the community from working together as a society. And it is an evil which is wreaking havoc on our communities.

Unfortunately, trust is not built very well by merely telling people to stop being suspicious of everyone. Blanket condemnation of suspicion tends to provoke more suspicion, since it seems to call for blind trust. To restore the bonds of community, we need to be about the work of building trust. We should be working to show ourselves to be honest and dependable people who seek the well-being of our neighbor and the common good. And of course, we must be working to actually be honest and dependable people who seek the well-being of our neighbor and the common good, otherwise we only further the suspicion of hypocrisy which we are seeking to heal. Not only must we not plan evil against our trusting neighbors, but we must devise plans for their good, seeking the welfare of the community where we live and praying on its behalf (Jer. 29:7).  

Likewise, to restore the bonds of community, we must also hold our suspicions to a minimum, treating them as a necessary evil at best. Be slow to believe accusations against other people and groups of people, as well as negative characterizations of them. Do not spread "conspiracy theories," by which I mean speculative theories which are harmful to the reputations of others. Beware of judging others hastily. Instead, treat others the way you would wish to be treated. While exercising discernment, treat those who are superior in age, skill, and authority with a basic attitude of humility rather than hostile suspicion. Give honor to whom honor is due. Love your enemies by keeping your suspicion to an appropriate level rather than demonizing your enemies and putting everyone into two camps: completely trustworthy or not trustworthy at all. These are all biblical principles and they are essential for the functioning of any community. 

Building trust is important in the family, church, and commonwealth if these organizations are to function well. May we build trust in the body of Christ by pursuing and demonstrating our unity in love and in the truth. May we also built trust within our cities, counties, and neighborhoods by being trustworthy and charitable neighbors who demonstrate a shared commitment to the common good. We will still need to guard ourselves against harm in this fallen world, but in doing so may we not cut ourselves off in cynical isolation. 

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]

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.

- 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.


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.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Hope for the Future Increase of the Church

Last Sunday I preached on Isaiah 66:7-14, a prophecy of God's restoration of his church which portrays the church as a mother who would miraculously give birth to abundant children who would be nursed and cared for by her. Here I wanted to share John Calvin's comment on verse eight of this passage. Even though the church may seem nearly barren for a time, God shall in time make his church fruitful through the gospel, even as Calvin observed during the time of the Reformation.
"Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?
For as soon as Zion was in labor
she brought forth her children."
(Isaiah 66:8)
John Calvin:
"He extols the greatness of the thing of which he has spoken; for he means that there shall be a wonderful and 'unheard of' restoration of the Church; so that believers shall not judge of it from the order of nature, but from the grace of God; for when men reflect upon it: they think that it is like a dream, as the Psalmist says (Psalm 126:1). He does not mean that the Church shall be restored perfectly and in a moment; for the advancement of this restoration is great and long-continued, and is even slow in the estimation of the flesh; but he shews that even the beginning of it exceeds all the capacity of the human understanding. And yet he does not speak hyperbolically; for we often see that the Church brings forth, which previously did not appear to be pregnant. Nay more, when she is thought to be barren, she is rendered fruitful by the preaching of the gospel; so that we greatly admire the event, when it has happened, which formerly we reckoned to be altogether incredible. 
"These things were fulfilled in some measure, when the people returned from Babylon; but a far brighter testimony was given in the gospel, by the publication of which a diversified and numerous offspring was immediately brought forth. In our own times, have we not seen the fulfillment of this prophecy? How many children has the Church brought forth during the last thirty years, in which the gospel has been preached? Has not the Lord his people, at the present day, in vast numbers, throughout the whole world? Nothing, therefore, has been here foretold that is not clearly seen." (https://ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom16/calcom16.xix.i.html)

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Salvation and Mother Church

This past Sunday, I preached a sermon entitled "Mother Church" on Isaiah 66:7-14. In that passage, God describes the church as a fruitful, beloved, and blessed mother. You can listen to the sermon here or watch it here. As I point out in the sermon, the church is also described as a mother in other passages, like Isaiah 54 and Galatians 4:21-31. This biblical image for the church has been used throughout church history by men like Cyprian (200-258), and John Calvin (1509-1564) echoed his comments when he wrote of the church:
“What God has thus joined, let not man put asunder: to those to whom he is a Father, the Church must also be a mother … [A]s it is now our purpose to discourse of the visible Church, let us learn, from her single title of Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is, since there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us under her charge and government, until, divested of mortal flesh, we become like the angels. For our weakness does not permit us to leave the school until we have spent our whole lives as scholars. Moreover, beyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for ...” - John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (4.1.1, 4)
Beautiful words, but also strong words, especially that last sentence. He goes on to explain it by discussing Isaiah 37:32, Joel 2:32, Ezekiel 13:9, and Psalm 106:4-5. And Calvin was not alone in speaking so strongly of the visible church. Consider these statements from the confession of the continental Reformed churches and the confession of the British Reformed churches: 
"We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and that out of it there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself, to live in a separate state from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it..."
- Belgic Confession of Faith, 28 (1561) 
"The visible church ... is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation."
-Westminster Confession of Faith, 25.2 (1646)
Why would a Protestant say that there is no ordinary possibility of salvation outside the visible church? Watch the video below to find out! I give four biblical reasons why there is no ordinary possibility of salvation outside the visible church. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Describing Manhood and Womanhood

I once had a professor, very good in other respects, who told me that men and women were different but that we cannot (and should not) say how they are different beyond obvious biological differences. Any attempt to do so was, in his thinking, an unwarranted generalization, certainly one unwarranted by the Bible. This was in reaction, I believe, to the concept of biblical manhood and womanhood promoted by people like John Piper and Wanye Grudem. I found my professor's position unconvincing.

It was interesting that another professor at the same school strongly emphasized the importance of the fact that we are embodied beings. He taught that our bodies are essential to us. We are material beings who have been given life. This has implications for gender differences. I remember him making a point that LGBT advocates have been able to promote a low view of the body because many Christians already viewed humans as essentially souls. Looking back at my notes from his class, I find this note: "More work needs to be done on the content of gender differences. (We had quite a bit of discussion in the second half of class.)" 

Indeed, the physical differences between men and women can be too easily minimized, as if they didn't make much of a difference apart from reproduction. But God has made us in wisdom, intricately and purposefully designing men and women differently. Not only did he give them different responsibilities, but he gave them different physical designs to match those responsibilities. These differences are ingrained in our natures, not restricted to roles we play in certain contexts. 

Allan C. Carlson describes the traditional family as the "natural family" because it is not merely traditional, but rooted in nature (see his books, The Natural Family: A Manifesto and The Natural Family Where It Belongs). Men and women are designed to create the natural family and to build society in conformity to it, but our society continually suppresses and rebels against this design in the name of the unnatural ideology of egalitarian individualism. 

So contrary to what my professor taught, I believe the Bible teaches that men and women are different and that these differences are not a total mystery. The fundamental differences are taught in the biblical account of the creation and naming of man and woman (see Genesis 1-5). They can be found in other parts of Scripture. Furthermore, they can be observed in nature. The Bible treats this knowledge as common sense. When it says that a particular army became like women (Jer. 50:37, 51:30, Is. 19:16), it assumes you know this is not a compliment. When it asks if a woman can forget her nursing child or fail to show compassion on the son of her womb (Is. 49:15), it assumes you know that this is a rhetorical question. 

One passage where some of the characteristic strengths of men and women are described is 1 Thessalonians 2. There the apostle Paul compared himself, Silas, and Timothy to a mother and a father. This does show that men can and should have virtues like gentleness that are more characteristic of women, just as the whole congregation can be exhorted to "act like men" in 1 Corinthians 16:13, that is, to be courageous. But at the same time, it affirms that men and women have unique gifts and strengthens which particularly equip them for their place in life.
"But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us." (1 Thessalonians 2:7–8)
A woman is uniquely designed be nurturing and tender. She is designed to compassionately share her self with her children. She carries them in her womb and even after giving birth keeps them alive with her body, giving them milk. A mother best exemplifies what it looks like to be gentle and affectionately desirous of someone. And while not all women become mothers, all women have the nature of mothers, engrained as it is into their embodied existence. And therefore this sacrificial care, personal affection, and gentleness is characteristic of femininity in general. 
"For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory." (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12)
A man is designed to rule and to lead others to accomplish the mission. Note the words Paul uses. "Exhort" - a father calls his children to act. "Encourage" - a father motivates his children and gives them confidence. Without this, children get provoked to anger. "Charge" - a father entrusts responsibility to his children and holds them accountable. To see an example of what this fatherly exhortation looks like, read Paul's second epistle to Timothy. While a mother is best equipped to nurture and comfort a child, a father is best equipped to correct and direct the child unto maturity. Both of these elements are important for a child's upbringing. And again, while not all men become fathers (Paul, for example), all men have the nature of fathers. 

More could be said. If you are interested in more in this vein, you might listen to C.R. Wiley's talk "Toxic Matriarchy" here or read one of his books, Man of the House and The Household and the War for the Cosmos. I think this topic is particularly an important point for millennial men like myself. While older generations of men might have been more prone to be overly distant, workaholic, or harsh, my sense is that millennial men tend to turn away from these faults and are prone to become overly informal, lazy, or soft. While we should be accessible and loving, we must not neglect the fact that we are particularly designed to have gravitas and bear authority so that we might lead others onward.

While 1 Thessalonians 2 does not encapsulate everything about manhood and womanhood, it assumes a knowledge of gender distinctions which our culture is hesitant to admit. Our culture is hesitant to affirm that there is a natural order at all - this impinges on my freedom to be what I want. Instead, all these distinctions must be explained as mere social constructs, which can and should be challenged. But if a design deeper than a social construct undergirds traditional gender distinctions, then it would be wiser to make peace with the Creator and begin to learn how to live in the world he designed.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Brief Answers to Baptist Objections

In earlier posts I have written about the doctrine of the covenant and how this doctrine informs our practice of baptism. In discussing baptism, I argued for the practice of infant baptism, that is, that believers and their children ought to be baptized. Here I want to briefly address a few common Baptist objections to this practice.

Objection: There is no command or example in the Bible of the baptism of the infants of believers.

1. An explicit example is not needed, since it was the default practice to include children with their parents, a common assumption among the original recipients of the apostles' preaching and writings. This was the case naturally (not just in Israel) and due to the way God had worked in the past, particularly with his clear commands regarding circumcision. The exclusion of infants would be the practice in need of biblical command or example.

2. While infants are not explicitly mentioned, in principle they are included when the Bible speaks of the believer’s “household” which would be in some sense “saved” and which was baptized (Acts 16:15, 31-34).

3. There is an explicit example of infants being baptized in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 when all Israel (which we know included infants) is described as being “baptized.”

4. It teaches it by deduction, as I have observed in my prior post. It can be deduced in several ways. For example: (premise 1) the disciples of Christ ought to be baptized (Matt. 28:28-20); (premise 2) the children of believers are disciples of Christ, being brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4); (conclusion) therefore they ought to be baptized.

Objection: Baptism is a person’s testimony of their choice to believe, and infants are incapable of doing this. 

Baptism is a sign and seal of God’s promise and our engagement to be God’s, but it is not primarily a testimony of our faith to the world. It does visibly distinguish us from the world, but the Bible does not speak of baptism as our testimony to the world - more often it speaks of it as a testimony to us (Rom. 6:4, Col. 2:12, Gal. 3:27).

Objection: Baptism is no good without faith, therefore only professing believers ought to be baptized. The pattern is repent, believe, and be baptized. 

This is the same with circumcision: Abraham repented, believed, and then was given circumcision. Circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness he had by faith (Rom. 4:11). But it did not logically follow, nor does it now logically follow, that the sign could not be applied to the believer’s offspring. The sign and seal of the righteousness which comes by faith was given to infants.

Objection: Baptism must be by immersion, and infants can’t be immersed, so therefore it must be for those who are older. 

1. Infants can be immersed. Eastern Orthodox churches practice baptism by immersion and baptize infants in that manner. See here. Even if immersion was required, it wouldn't be an argument against infant baptism.

2. Scripture does not teach that baptism must be by immersion. It must simply be washing with water. The word baptism means “washing” and can refer to immersion, sprinkling, or pouring (Mark 7:4, Heb. 9:10). Sprinkling is used as a symbol of God’s cleansing and regenerating work in Ezek. 36:25, Is. 52:15, Heb. 10:22, and the Spirit is described as being “poured out” on God’s people in a way connected with baptism (Acts 2, 10, Titus 3:5-6).

3. The earliest record of the mode of baptism we have outside the Bible, the Didache, allows for both immersion and pouring. “…baptize…in running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit” (7.1-3).

Objection: The new covenant only includes the regenerate, as Jeremiah 31:31-34 says. 

1. This still doesn’t help us determine who to baptize, since we cannot see infallibly who is regenerate.

2. The New Testament sees the threat of apostasy by visible saints in the same way that it was a threat in the Old Testament (e.g. Hebrews, 1 Cor. 10).

3. This passage does not say that the new covenant will achieve this by setting new standards for entrance. Rather, it says it will achieve this by God writing the law on their hearts (by the Spirit, in a parallel passage in Ezekiel 36:25-27). It is a promise of greater blessings, not of greater restrictions.

4. Deuteronomy 30:1-6 describes the same idea - God internally renewing his people following captivity - and explicitly includes children, promising to “circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring.”

Objection: People who are baptized as infants don’t take seriously the need to repent and believe. 

Sadly, this is sometimes true. I have found this objection especially from those with a Roman Catholic or mainline Protestant background, but nominalism is a threat in every church. It was true in the Old Testament, and it was true in the New Testament. But presumption was not addressed in the Bible by restricting circumcision or baptism to mature believers. The prophets and apostles addressed it by exhorting all the church to repent and believe, to be circumcised in the heart, not merely in the flesh. In fact, baptism ought to give more reason to earnestly train our children in the faith and call them to embrace the covenant, to live up to their baptismal identity. But the best way to address this practical objection is by example. May we who practice infant baptism not separate it from the duty to raise up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, encouraging them to embrace Christ and calling upon God to grant the reality symbolized in baptism.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Five Points of Calvinism

On Sunday afternoons, I have been teaching a series on what have been called the "five points of Calvinism." This Sunday I will conclude the series with the fifth point. You can watch them at the YouTube playlist below.

If you want to see something funny, I have a few helpers on the second lesson. I should have expected that putting a couple children in front of a screen where they could see themselves would lead to a few funny faces, but it took me about ten minutes to realize what they were doing...

As I have mentioned in the series, these five points do not summarize Calvinism or Reformed theology. Rather, they summarize the main points on which a Calvinist understanding of salvation differs from an Arminian understanding. And the point of these points is not to score points against Arminians - rather, they are important because they exalt the grace of God, humble the pride of man, provide comfort for believers, and promote gratitude to God.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Thoughts on Christian Culture and Christendom

As a Christian, I desire to see the dominion of Christ over every area of life. Not content to see Christianity restricted to a private religious realm, with others I seek an entire way of life and thought which is subject to Christ and his word, a culture which is shaped by a Christian worldview.

We seek to develop Christian culture, but not as if there is only one cultural expression of Christianity, or as if it is something to be created out of thin air. We seek to develop Christian cultures, to put Christ at the heart of every culture. Christendom has been composed of various Christian cultures united by a common commitment to Christ and the Bible. This approach affirms national, cultural, and familial identities and loyalties as we express our faith and obedience as unique nations, cultures, and families. These distinctions are not obliterated in a single Christian monoculture, though they may be radically transformed by Christ just like the individual Christian. Yet this approach also affirms the unity of the peoples and cultures of the world as they submit to Christ. It remind us that any particular Christian culture is one variation on a theme which it shares with others. Not only do we identify with our particular culture, but also with Christendom.

The institutional expression of Christendom, as well as the primary instrument of its growth, is found in the visible church of Jesus Christ and its ordinances (such as the word of God, sacraments, prayer, pastoral care and discipline, and worship). Christ has given his church a commission as well as the means to carry it out and his presence to make them effective. As Isaiah prophesied, the house of God and its instruction is central to the discipleship and transformation of the nations (Is. 2:1-5). Cultures become Christian as the gospel of Jesus Christ produces repentance and obedience in the hearts of men, changing the way they live their lives.

While human sin will continue to mar this process - all Christian cultures are in the process of being discipled - the goal of this process is not something ugly, barren, or harsh, which is how many imagine a Christian social order to be. Rather, a Christian way of life is a restoration of humanity and its culture, infusing it with renewed justice, wisdom, peace, and joy. When God’s ways are faithfully taught and demonstrated, they are capable of attracting admiration and imitation from unbelievers because these ways are inherently wise, beautiful, good, and true. It is for us to avoid obscuring their goodness by our sins and follies, to defend them from slander, and to put them on display in our lives.

Satan and the sin of man resists Christ, and we should be prepared to experience hostility and hinderances to our efforts to follow Christ in all our ways. Sinful habits are woven into the heart of man - ours included. So remember to rest on the power of Christ to subdue the raging nations. Ground your hopes on his gospel. And begin reformation with your own ways and the ways of your house. Be humble about your abilities and faithful in your particular calling - this is a vast project shared by the whole church from generation to generation. And even if others despise or slander you, remember your goal is to love them and to seek the good of your people and culture. And do so with hope. Though the church endures difficulty and trials, it shall be an instrument used by Christ to advance his reign, extend his blessings, and restore human culture in its diversity to the service of God.

Friday, April 17, 2020

An Outline of the Westminster Shorter Catechism

The Westminster Shorter Catechism is one of the doctrinal standards of our church and for centuries it has served as a faithful instrument for training Christians in the basics of the faith. You can read it at this link. In 107 questions and answers, it lays out the faith in a very orderly manner, and understanding this order can help understand the significance of each question and answer. So here is my outline of the catechism to help you gain an understanding of the catechism as a whole:

Introduction (1-3): The Word of God is the rule given to direct us how to fulfill our chief end, which is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, by teaching us:

I. What man is to believe concerning God (4-38)
    A. The nature of God (4-6)
     B. The decrees of God (7-38)
          Definition (7-8)
           1. Creation (9-10)
           2. Providence (11)
            3. Special Providence, i.e. God’s Covenant with Man (12-38)
               i. Covenant of life/works (12-19)
                    Definition (12)
                      a. Sin of Adam (13-16)
                    b. Estate of sin and misery (17-19)
                ii. Covenant of grace (20-38)
                         Definition (20)
                        a. Redemption Accomplished (21-28)
                          1. Christ's person (21-22)
                            2. Christ's work (23-28)
                      b. Redemption Applied (29-38)
                         1. Union with Christ (29-31)
                           2. Benefits of redemption (32-38)

II. What duty God requires of man (39-107)
     Definition (39)
     A. Duty to obey God's moral law (40-84)
           Definition (40)
            1. The Ten Commandments (41-81)
           2. Breaking the Ten Commandments (82-84)
      B. Duty to escape God's wrath and curse (85-107)
           Definition (85)
            1. Faith in Jesus Christ (86)
            2. Repentance unto life (87)
            3. Use of the means whereby Christ gives us the benefits of redemption (88-107)
                  Definition (88)
                  i. Word (89-90)
                  ii. Sacrements (91-97)
                  iii. Prayer (98-107)