The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Thy Word is Truth Book Summary



Thomas Booher
SYS 501 Systematic Theology
January 5, 2017

Professor Edward J. Young’s Thy Word is Truth is a helpful book that defines and defends the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. He demonstrates that this doctrine is indispensable; without it one cannot rely upon the Bible as the inerrant word of God, and thus man must become the ultimate arbiter concerning which parts of the Bible are truly God’s word and which are not. In contrast, to establish the doctrine of inspiration grants complete confidence in the whole Bible as God’s word, solidifying the statements about man, sin, Christ, and salvation by evoking the eternal truth of God Himself as man’s guide for all of life. The whole of the Christian faith stands or falls on the doctrine of inspiration, and it is for this reason that a careful summary of each chapter of Young’s book on inspiration follows, beginning with the present crisis concerning the doctrine of inspiration in the church.
Chapter 1: The Issue Before the Church
                Young states that the church is at a crossroads and must choose whether to stay true to the historic faith and word of God, or abandon it for man-made religion. To say that the Bible still has some value as a religious book but is not actually inspired in a fixed, absolute fashion is simply non-sense, for it makes the shifting opinion of man the determiner of truth and reality rather than the sovereign God. This renders the foundation of Christianity no longer God, but man.
                Many in the church at the time of this book’s publishing (1957) were arguing against the modernism that rejected the Bible in every sense, and instead advocated for a truncated view of inspiration that discards infallibility but retains spiritual “truths” that can serve as moral guideposts. Young counters that the scientific study of the Bible in modern times has not demonstrated anything that would challenge the classic doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture as expressed in the 1st chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith and which the Bible self-attests. The definition of inspiration must come from the Bible itself, which says that inspiration is the “God-breathed” words of Scripture; 2 Timothy 3:16 uses the Greek word theopneustos to indicate the God-breathed nature of all of Scripture (and that it is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness for the man of God).
Scripture is not given to man in a heavenly language, but through human language by the means of men who were moved by the Holy Spirit as they spoke and eventually wrote (2 Pet. 1:21). It is apparent that the words of Scripture are the words of men, but the self-attestation that these words originate from God Himself are indispensable to the doctrine of inspiration, for Scripture is not just the words of God but is intended to reveal God to man. It is revelation, and that it claims to be such is corroborated by the majesty of its scope, style, harmony of all the parts, weightiness of subject matter, etc., but all the beauty and majesty of Scripture would fall short of binding the conscience if it did not testify to carry the authority of God Himself.
The words of Scripture are more properly regarded as being “expired” or “breathed-out” by God than the term that inspiration indicates in modern usage, which calls to mind a “breathing into” something. It is not as if God merely blessed the words of the human authors as being in accordance with His own will (if this were the case it would mean Scripture was not revelatory but something man was capable of deducing on his own, but 1 Pet. 1:21 denies this, stating instead that the men were “carried along” by the Holy Spirit) and thereby their words bore the marks of the divine. Rather, it is God Himself who wrote the words of Scripture through human agency.
The machinations of man did not produce the Bible; God disclosed Himself in His own words, not by reducing man to mere automatons, but through their own persons and giftedness. Young summarizes on page 27, “According to the Bible, inspiration is a superintendence of God the Holy Spirit over the writers of the Scriptures, as a result of which these Scriptures possess Divine authority and trustworthiness and, possessing such Divine authority and trustworthiness, are free from error.” As Christ Himself said in John 10:35, “Scripture cannot be broken.” This high regard for inspiration is held because the Bible itself adheres to it. While God could have sent Christ to save sinners without an infallible word, He has not chosen to do so, but in His great kindness has instead given man His infallible word so that he may have firm confidence in Who it is that he believes. 
This chapter explains that the issue facing the church is whether the Bible will be taken at its word (as God’s own word), or not. If not, then no doctrine in Scripture can be trusted as reliable. If so, then every doctrine of Scripture is reliable, for it is all the word of God, who cannot lie and does not change. At this point, one may object that if the Bible really claims to be the word of God and bears the qualities of the divine, why do so many fail to recognize it as such? The answer is simply that men are blinded by their sins. It is not that the testimony and majesty of Scripture itself is insufficient. Man does not need more light, but eyes that see. Hence it is ultimately the Holy Spirit that testifies to the believer that the Bible is the word of God, and He does this, not in a vacuum, but through the word of God itself, overcoming man’s blindness and suppression of the truth of inspiration that is plain to see.

Chapter 2: The Extent of Inspiration
                Young argues that few Protestants know the teaching of the Bible in general because the church has largely ceased to preach doctrine and provide catechetical instruction. The result is that few even know what the biblical teaching on inspiration is. So, when progressives come in and redefine the doctrine of inspiration, this is met with acceptance because the counterfeit goes undetected. The remedy is to lay out the biblical doctrine of inspiration in order to distinguish it from the counterfeits.
                Young returns to the Bible’s teaching on inspiration, emphasizing that the “word” of God is simply the vehicle God uses to disclose His holy will to man. Since the Bible is the word of God, then it is all true, for God cannot lie. Young distinguishes inspiration and revelation, stating that revelation communicates knowledge and information, whereas inspiration guarantees infallibility in what is being taught. The prophets, then, were recipients of revelation and were also inspired, for God put the words He wanted said in their hearts and on their lips. They were “inspired organs to whom Divine revelation had come” (42). The examples of Moses and Jeremiah indicate that the prophets did not develop the ideas God planted in them of their own willing, but God gave them the very words they were to say (see Ex. 4:15; 7:1-2; Jer. 1:9, 17). The Apostles likewise were not left to their own devices to deliver the truth of God to others, for Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would “…teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (Jn. 14:26). Paul in 2 Thess. 2:13 praises the Thessalonians for receiving the apostle’s word not as their own but as the word of God Himself.
                It is clear that the prophets, Christ, and the apostles were inspired by God and spoke the very words, and only those words, which He intended to be spoken and written. The question remains: Is the Bible an inspired, infallible representation of what the prophets and apostles said? According to its own claim, the answer is yes (keeping in mind that this would be referring mostly to the Old Testament since the New Testament had not yet been given). Romans 9:17 and Galatians 3:8 are just two places where Paul indicates that the Old Testament Scripture was speaking the very words of God. He refers to the Scripture speaking, and when the Old Testament reference is looked up, it is actually God Himself speaking, in the first passage to Pharaoh, in the second to Abraham.
Christ in Matthew 22:43 refers to David speaking in Psalm 110 as speaking by the Spirit, and when tempted by Satan in the wilderness He refutes Him with what “is written” in Scripture passages from the Old Testament. He knew He would be betrayed by Judas because what was written in the Old Testament had to be fulfilled, for it was the very words and plan of God. In fact, the Gospels frequently speak of current events in Christ’s earthly ministry as fulfilling Old Testament prophecies, often in quite specific and minute detail.  Peter in 2 Peter 3:15-18 regards Paul’s letters as Scripture and says that people twist the letters to their own destruction, for it teaches the people about God and salvation through Christ. There can be no doubt that the prophets, apostles, and other authors of Scripture all believed that Scripture was altogether God’s word and thus completely free from error and unable to err.
                Truth and inspiration go together. Books can be true and not inspired, but the Bible, claiming to be God’s word, must be inspired and therefore true. One can report on the historical reality of Christ’s crucifixion, but the revelation of Scripture is necessary to have the right interpretation of the significance of the crucifixion, and only God can reveal and tell man what that significance is. The Bible, then, to have any real redemptive value at all, must be inspired because it must, without doubt, declare to man the meaning of the cross and the only way to be saved from the wrath to come on account of sin.
                Young turns to the question of inspiration for the copied manuscripts of the Bible. Since the originals, the autographs, are lost, is the inspired word of God lost today? No, but not because the copyists were prevented from copying errors by the Holy Spirit; rather, the extant copies possess a faithful representation of the autographs due to the providence of God. The scribes and others who have copied the Scriptures over the years did so with utmost care, more care than any other writings, for they knew that these writings were the very words of God. There is no difficulty in understanding how man can possess the truth of other writings from copies despite the absence of the original. How much more then should it be accepted that copies of the sacred Scriptures are faithful to the original Author’s words. The errors found in the copies are resolvable and almost always inconsequential, and are often related to numbers and dates or slight misspellings of words.
Nevertheless, there are difficulties in the copied manuscripts that have not been resolved, such as 1 Kings 15:14 stating that the high places had not been removed, but the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 14:5 saying that they had been. On these very rare exceptions, should the very claims of Scripture be overthrown? They should not, for many such difficulties have either been resolved in time or possible explanations have been produced. Archaeological discoveries have proven assertions of Scripture to be true when others thought they were impossible, such as Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Prior to archaeological discovery, it was thought that writing was not invented until after Moses’ lifetime, but it is now known that writing predates Moses’ life by many years. While other textual difficulties remain in the copies of Scripture, the unity of the copies far outweigh them, and it can be expected that finite man will not be able to fully grasp all the complexities of the revelation of God or to be able to resolve the textual difficulties immediately. So while the autographs are lost, the word of God is not.  

Chapter 3: The Human Writers of the Scriptures
                Young makes clear that he is not advocating for a mechanical dictation theory of inspiration, which is what liberals often claim for those who articulate the biblical position on this doctrine. It is not as if God completely suppressed the human personality when the authors wrote. Peter could not have penned Paul’s letters because they are recorded in the rhetorical style of Paul, the very style that God gave to Paul when He made him. God intended in eternity past to deliver part of His holy word through the God-given personality of Paul.
                The human authors, such as David and Isaiah, were holy men, and yet they were sinful men. They loved the Lord from the heart but like all other men were still wrestling against the lusts of the flesh. All their learning and training and abilities God utilized. Paul likely trained for three years in Arabia to prepare for the ministry God called him to, and Jesus prepared for His earthly ministry His whole life. Paul studied at the feet of Gamaliel, and Moses was reared and instructed as an Egyptian.  God’s providential works of grooming the human author’s – their intellects, writing and speaking abilities, love for God, etc., work in tandem with His special work of inspiring them to write down His words.
                The mode by which God employed human authors to bear His word without error or corruption is mysterious. The duty of the Christian is to trust God, even when he cannot fully comprehend how God accomplishes what He says He has done, or fully grasp what He is like (such as His Trinitarian nature). The Holy Spirit moved chosen men to speak and record exactly what God desired, and in such a way that these words were not only what God wanted, but also the sincere thought and conviction of the human authors. Exactly how God accomplished this is unknown, and quite possibly unknowable, belonging only to the awesome majesty of the eternal, infinite, and all-powerful God. It is a beautiful mystery to be received with wonder, adoration, and praise, quite the opposite from the doubt and consternation with which many skeptics respond to this marvelous reality. Nor was God limited in what He could communicate by the giftedness (or lack thereof) of the human author. God perfectly communicated all that He wished to reveal about Himself to His people through certain holy men. If God were to be limited by His creation and forced to record His will through the risk of human error, He would be no God at all, for His own creation would frustrate Him and His purposes.
To limit the errors of Scripture to numbers and geography and scientific information is an inconsistent and arbitrary distinction that falls under the weight of scrutiny; Scripture is either infallible in all its parts, or fallible in all its parts. If fallible in any one part, the ground for faith in the precious promises of God through Christ is destroyed.
                Given this, it should be noted that it is incorrect to speak of the human authors as “co-authoring” the Scriptures with God. God did not contribute His bit, and the human authors added to it or complemented it with something of their own. God is the final and ultimate Author; He did not consult with man to decide what should be included or excluded from the Scriptures. While the thoughts came to the human authors and they put them into writing (or spoke them, to be written later), the thoughts themselves originated with God. This is the crux of the mystery – the thoughts were truly the human authors, and yet they were given to them from God Himself. Indeed, they were borne by the Spirit, but when they were not borne by the Spirit, the human authors were not infallible and did not record Scripture. An example is King David in 2 Samuel 11:15, where he pens the letter to his General Joab, telling him to put Uriah in the thickest part of the battle and withdraw from him so that he would die and not find out about the adultery of his wife with David. Certainly the Holy Spirit did not move David to write such an unholy thing! Though this letter is recorded in sacred Scripture, this does not imply that God approved of David’s actions. Many sinful acts are recorded in Scripture for the sake of information and instruction, warning and judgment. These accounts are true and accurate, but are not exalted as paragons of virtue.  

Chapter 4: Some Reflections Upon Inspiration
                Young now addresses objections to the biblical doctrine of inspiration that he has outlined. Some argue that the teaching is of no consequence, for the originals are no longer possessed, nor do most people read the Bible in the Greek and Hebrew, but in their own language. But again, if the originals err, then God errs, because it is the very breath of God. The importance of maintaining the classic understanding of inspiration is quite plain when stated this way. The very character of God, His wisdom, knowledge, truthfulness, etc., is on the line.
                Others object by relegating the Bible to one of the great works of human history, all brought about by the gifts of God and His providence. It is true that works like Homer’s Iliad are impressive, but they are not the works of men who were carried along by the Holy Spirit. It is not the very word of God that was written down. This reduces the Bible to the plain of any other book, even if it is said to be the greatest among them. It ceases to be God’s breathed word. The Bible itself claims to be more than any other book, indeed it claims to be the very word of God.
                A more nuanced objection states that God could have chosen to dispense His inerrant word through human agency by working with human error rather than preventing error from appearing in the transmission of His revelation. This, it is said, no more impugns God’s character than Christ’s being tempted, suffering, and dying on the cross tarnished His sinlessness or perfection. This argument falls because it fails to understand that Christ was tempted, suffered, and died not for his own sin but for the sin of the elect. There was no error or corruption in Him. The comparison to Christ, then, actually demands that God’s word be free from all error. God cannot communicate by speaking lies about Himself mixed with some truth any more than Christ could save sinners by first committing some sins and then atoning for both His own sin and others.
                Still, others have claimed that the doctrine of inspiration is relatively new, something which Calvin did not teach or any of the early church fathers. While it is true that the doctrine of inspiration has been further developed since earlier periods in church history, the whole argument is that the Bible itself claims to be the word of God. If Luther did not stand up to the abuses of the Church of Rome, which claimed that one must be justified by works along with faith, and that saving grace was dispensed through the sacraments administered by priests, the gospel would have remained in eclipse. Claiming that the doctrine of an infallible, inerrant Bible is a new development is false, even if it is recognized that the formulation of stating the doctrine in such a clearly defined fashion is relatively recent. In the early church, men like Justin Martyr and even Origen regarded the Scriptures as the very words of God Himself, and as such had absolute, binding authority and determined all disputes over faith and practice. Regarding one’s understanding of inspiration, neo-orthodoxy and modernism are a clean break from the attestation of Scripture as well as the general belief and practice of the church down through the ages.
                Another objection follows quickly, that only that which pertains to faith and practice in Scripture is inerrant, but things like geography and historical detail need not be entirely true since it is of no real consequence to the doctrines of Christianity. This view forgets that the Christian faith is an historic faith, and Jesus Christ died in space and time, in a certain place, and was in the grave a certain number of days before He rose from the grave. Yahweh covenanted with the Israelites and told them to take a particular piece of land as their own “Promised Land.” History, geography, science, all of it is relevant to faith, and all of it impacts one’s practice. Does one pursue science divorced from the guidance of God’s word, so that he is stabbing in the dark with only the light of his dimmed mind? Or does one have faith that what the Scriptures say about the universe God created is in fact true because it is God, the Creator, who is revealing to His creatures the things He has made? One must affirm the latter if he is to truly believe that the Bible is infallible in all of faith and life. Further, it is not as if Moses, when writing about creation in Genesis 1, was appealing to his own thoughts or knowledge; instead, he was recording what God had revealed to him. The human authors of Scripture did not have a more advanced knowledge of geography, science, and history than modern day scientists and others who study in these fields. The advantage they had was not a superior intellect, but the revelation of God given to them, which they recorded while under inspiration by the Holy Spirit.
                Some have absurdly claimed that Protestantism has simply replaced an infallible church with an infallible book, and the Bible itself does not claim infallibility. The only true infallibility is that of Christ, so Protestantism has wickedly placed the Bible on the same plain as God. As has already been shown, the Bible itself claims to be the only infallible authority, and to even make the claim that the church has any authority one must appeal to the Bible. The Bible is God’s word, so to think that placing the Bible on par with Christ is a grave confusion is to tacitly claim that the Bible actually has little to do with Christ and His Father. The Reformation simply restored the biblical teaching on inspiration and ascribed to it the authority due God’s word. Protestants do not love the Bible for its binding and the paper and ink, but for the message of truth and salvation contained in it. When Luther translated the New Testament into German he gave the common people access to Christ Himself, and the people were grateful to receive Christ as Savior through the Bible. Perhaps unwittingly, the modernists and neo-orthodox are the ones guilty of supplanting the infallible Scriptures -- with the “infallible” mind of man, which must decipher what is inspired in Scripture and what is not.      
                Young concludes the chapter by laying out the real reason that many take umbrage with an inspired, infallible Bible. It is not over tertiary teachings, but over the heart of Christianity itself. It is over the gospel and the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Few there are who accept the atonement of Christ as presented in Scripture and also maintain that the Bible is not entirely free from error. The problem at the most fundamental level is not an intellectual one but a moral one. Man wants his mind, his will, and his desires to rule over God’s, and so he has begun to attack God’s very own self-disclosure, His revelation to man, ripping away the parts he doesn’t like and twisting the torn remains to fit his own sinful fancy. What is needed in the church today is a mighty work of the Spirit that overcomes man’s resistance to His word and causes him to submit to it, and in so doing find forgiveness, cleansing, and life.

Chapter 5: What is Inerrancy (I)
                Young gives a full definition of inerrancy and infallibility. Infallibility of Scripture refers to its “indefectible authority” (113). Scripture is perfect truth and cannot be refuted or relegated to the realm of unimportance. Closely related, inerrancy defines Scripture as not having any errors in it. The Scripture is irrefutable, perfect truth that cannot and does not err. One must not engage in circular reasoning or a priori when determining the inerrancy of Scripture; he must instead go to the Bible directly and determine from it what the doctrine of inerrancy ought to be.
                Examining Scripture reveals that it is written in a variety of styles. Poetry, prose, narrative, apocalyptic, all of this is found in God’s word. In this variety there is an intricacy that breaks up what would be a dry monotony, but there is also abnormal usages of grammar that some have regarded as “errors”. Does this destroy biblical inerrancy? It does not, since the usage of grammar by God is always inspired and intentional. It behooves the reader to carefully examine the text of Scripture when the Greek or Hebrew is used in a way that is grammatically unconventional. It is not due to accident or ignorance, but for clarity or to accent a theological point. Further, the human authors of Scripture wrote in the customs and idioms of their day. Isaiah 2:1-4 likely reports what is contained in Micah 4:1-3, but it does so with slight variations. Inerrancy does not require verbatim reproduction in parallel passages, nor was this the custom in Bible times (evidenced by the annals of the Assyrian King Sennacherib, containing small differences in various copies). These differences do not rise to the level of contradiction, however.   
                Some have argued that the first two chapters of Genesis are parallel and yet contradictory accounts of creation. Supposedly they were compiled and placed next to each other from two different sources. Chapter two is said to present a different chronology than chapter one, but chapter two is structured along various emphases, and is not intended to depict events chronologically. The writing styles of the first two chapters are admittedly different, but this does not mean they are two separate creation accounts. There are also similarities between the two chapters (e.g., God is presented anthropomorphically, the only way creatures can comprehend the Creator). Further, the toledoth structure of Genesis 2:4a, with the phrase “these are the generations of the heavens and the earth,” is repeated throughout the book of Genesis (see, e.g., “these are the generations of Noah” in Gen. 6:9), indicating the book’s God-given structure. The focus is on what is generated from the heavens and the earth, namely, man. So the focus of Genesis 2 is not to give a repeat but contradictory creation account in comparison to Genesis 1, but is rather focused on the creation of man, the crown of creation. Chapter two explains the creation of the Garden of Eden in order to prepare the reader for the temptation in the Garden in chapter three.
                Young encourages Christians to seek to harmonize Scripture when they can, for its divine origin guarantees that it will harmonize, and yet it is not the obligation of the Christian to resolve every textual difficulty in order to have confidence in inerrancy. In pursuing harmonization one must be intellectually honest, for it is better to admit the difficulty than to resolve it with absurdity. The difficulty of 1 Kings 15:14 and 2 Chronicles 14:5 may resolve quite simply by arguing that some of the high places in certain regions were indeed taken down, but in others they were not. One passage refers to those taken down, while the other passage reveals that though some were taken down, others were left standing. 2 Chronicles 15:17 could be said to contradict what it just claimed a chapter earlier, but it is doubtful that such a glaring error would go undetected in such close proximity in the same book! The obvious answer is that students of Scripture do not have all the pertinent data to make a final determination on the apparent discrepancy, but that the original author did and his contemporary readers would have understood what was meant without real difficulty. Similarly, in the account of the rich young ruler coming to Christ and asking about eternal life, it is possible that none of the authors of the Gospels gave the complete question and answer, which would account for the differences. The rich young ruler and Christ would have been speaking in Aramaic, and the different authors of the Gospels reported selectively to fit their own theological emphases. To do so is not dishonest, in fact it is a strong defense for why God has given His people four different Gospels – each one is painting a different yet harmonious portrait of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Young emphasizes that inerrancy does not preclude the possibility of the human authors emphasizing different themes or not revealing all the information (in fact it would be quite impossible to reveal every single fact or relevant piece of information without having an unwieldy Bible). John 21:25 makes clear that much more could have been said about Christ.
                Some careless advocates of inerrancy and infallibility claim that Scripture must always be interpreted literally. Young counters that Scripture must always be interpreted in the way in which the author of Scripture intended it to be interpreted. This is known as grammatico-historical exegesis, and simply means that when the Bible records prose, it should be interpreted prosaically, when poetry, poetically; prophecy and apocalyptic writings like the book of Revelation must also be interpreted according to the genre that the Author (both human and divine) intended. For the word of God to be inerrant, the human authors simply had to write down what the Spirit intended them to say; any further restrictions puts a straight-jacket on God’s freedom of expression (and the human author’s particular style and skill) and is unwarranted. Yet despite the variety of styles of the human authors who lived spread over some 1500 years, their message of redemption through Christ is the same because the Spirit that moved them to write was the same and only God.   

Chapter 6: What is Inerrancy (II)
                Young continues the theme of inerrancy, now focusing on the New Testament authors’ quotation of Old Testament passages. Some claim their loose and imaginative interpretations disprove inerrancy, but Young notes that the Old Testament is not always being quoted verbatim but may be paraphrased or applied to a different context, no different than how one may refer to an older text today. Other differences (verbal but not doctrinal) can be accounted for by remembering that the authors were translating from Hebrew or the Greek Septuagint. It must also be remembered that only the autographs are regarded as inspired, though many translations and manuscripts extant today so approximate the original that they are in fact inerrant and infallible, truly the word of God. Thus when Matthew uses the Septuagint, this does not mean the Septuagint is inspired. What they wrote down was inspired because they were moved to write it down by the Holy Ghost, under His inspiration.
                Some have found the New Testament phrase “It is written” to require strict, verbatim agreement with the Old Testament passage being quoted. This is not the case, and often times this phrase signifies a summary of the teaching of a particular Old Testament passage. All that must be maintained is that the New Testament’s use of the Old does not contradict what was originally stated and in fact accurately represents what was said. New Testament authors may also bring out certain implications (as they are led by the Holy Spirit and the context of the Old Testament passage) from the Old Testament and include that in their reference. This is to bring out more clearly the meaning of the text, much as a preacher does from the pulpit. One example is John 12:40 where John attributes to God the hardening of the hearts, which Isaiah 6:9-10 does not directly do, though the context and the overall teaching of Scripture indicates that it is God who hardens the heart of the reprobate so that they do not repent and believe in Christ in order to be saved from their sins. The parallel passages in Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8, and Acts 28 follow more closely the precise language of Isaiah 6, but this is not to say that they reject God as the one causing the hardening. In these other passages, it simply does not say one way or the other who has done the hardening, but simply states that hardening has occurred. John is simply drawing out the implication that it is in fact God who has brought about this hardening. This is an example of the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, shedding a fuller, inspired light onto the Old Testament teaching through the New Testament authors’ use of the Old.   

Chapter 7: Are There Errors in the Bible?
A closer look is taken at purported errors in Scripture, starting with the Genesis account of Creation. Young stresses that the author understands Adam to be a real and historical figure, and that the account of creation was a real and true account of what took place, not a figure or symbol. The Apostle Paul likewise saw Adam and the creation account as historical; if he did not then Christ could not be regarded as an historical person either! Young finds belief in evolution absurd and says this is an untenable position for Christians because (among other things) Genesis states that all things reproduce after its own kind. Genesis 1 is geocentric, but only because things are presented from the perspective of one living upon earth. This shows the theological significance of the centrality of the earth, for it is there that God places man in the garden and unfolds the cosmic work of redemption after the fall.
Young believes on exegetical grounds alone that the creation days were longer than 24-hours, but heartily affirms that God could have created in that span of time if He so chose. Time and space were brought into existence by God, so scientists who say that the creation account asks one to believe in infinite time and space do not understand the nature and power of the eternal God. They fail to maintain the Creator/creature distinction and thus say that Genesis 1-3 is bad science and therefore contains error. The Scriptures plainly state that God, by divine fiat, brought the world and all things into being from nothing. This is the accurate scientific account of the beginning of all created things.
The rest of the chapter deals with specific “cases” of supposed error in Scripture. In Matthew 27:9, is Jeremiah quoted as saying something that Zechariah in fact said? Perhaps the solution is that the material originally came from Jeremiah, the senior prophet, and Zechariah was borrowing from him. In the speech of Stephen he seems to get the timing of when Abram left Haran (after the death of Terah) wrong. Some argue that Stephen was not inspired by the Holy Spirit when he spoke, and so he simply made a mistake, and Luke merely records his speech. This is unlikely as nobody questioned Stephen’s account of events in the Old Testament and Stephen was said to be “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8). The solution may not be known at this time, but there is no reason to assume that Stephen made a mistake. What of the discrepancies between the lengths of time of the bondage of Israel? Do Paul and Stephen contradict one another? They do not, as Paul is using an approximate number and his concern and focus is different from Stephen, namely, to look at the contrast between the promised seed and the law, rather than give the exact length of time between the two (see Gal. 3). Other textual difficulties might be due to insufficient historical information given the two thousand years that separate today’s reader of Scripture from the actual recorded events.    

Chapter 8: Does it Matter How We Approach the Bible?
Next, Young addresses how the Christian should approach Scripture. It must be submitted to and received by its own testimony, regardless of how the modern man may find this incredibly na├»ve. The one who does not embrace the Christian God and the Bible as His word does not have the proper presuppositions to receive the word of God as the word of God. He can never say, “not my will be done, but yours, Lord.” Rather, he will always want to check God’s word with his own thoughts and opinions. One who begins with himself will end with himself, never embracing the Scriptures as infallible authority over their lives.
To submit to God’s word does not stifle historical and scholarly investigation of Scripture any more than it stifles scientific inquiry. What it does do is cause the Christian to pursue these studies in submission to God’s will. The Christian will not use unbiblical methods to critique the Scriptures, nor operate from a godless base when investigating the cosmos. By submitting to the parameters of Scripture, the Christian knows he will find truth in the world that God has made, whether that is historical or scientific truth. If it is alleged that accepting the Bible as God’s word because it claims to be the word of God is a vicious circular reasoning, Young counters that, as creatures, the only way one can argue is circular, and the ultimate source of truth must be God Himself. If He has spoken and revealed Himself in His word through the inner work of the Holy Spirit, the Christian must submit to that revelation of God.
Others argue that there needs to be an umpire to appeal to when man disagrees with or wishes for a different interpretation of Scripture. Some have tried to make Christ this umpire, others the Pope, still others their own private interpretations and the conscience of man. All are efforts to submit Scripture to the subjective mind of man, rendering its meaning dependent, not upon God’s word, but man’s carnal desires. Man’s shifting thoughts will turn the Scriptures into a wax nose that can be bent by wicked men. Such is seen by those who posit a theistic evolution or who tried to splice Wellhausen’s ahistorical, carved up Pentateuch with the first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith. In the 1920’s, archaeological discoveries in Nuzi and Mari fully discredited Wellhausen’s theories and showed that the life-setting and customs of Patriarchal times were real and historical. This brings comfort for the Christian, and also a reminder that the Christian must trust God’s word, independent of what archeology uncovers; by God’s word alone man must trust that, in time, evidence will likely come out that supports the biblical record, but in the meantime, let God be true and every man a liar (Rom. 3:4). The Christian must take God at His word, trusting that He rewards those that diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6).  

Chapter 9: Some Modern Views of the Bible (I)
                Modern views of the Bible reflect the modern views on God and man. Rather than taking God at His word in Scripture, man has placed his own word and stamped it upon the Bible. It follows Kantian skepticism and seeks to go beyond 19th century critical scholars, who simply deconstructed Scripture without actually offering a message that the Bible proclaims. Attempts are made to find a moral from Scripture that can be regarded as special revelation. Young expresses his doubt that this revelation is truly from God in the biblical sense, given that these scholars are the ones who turned the Old Testament into a piecemeal conglomeration of data and authors that runs contrary to what the Old Testament claims for itself. Sterile critical analysis was inadequate to cope with the world wars, and so a supposed “rediscovery” of the Bible was in order to address the modern man’s soul. Of course, this rediscovery is along the lines of man’s reconstruction, and not a submission to the Bible as the infallible word of God.
                Some modern erroneous views of Scripture are that one should not use it as a source of proof texts (despite Christ doing this very thing), nor should one think that the Bible is the final, full, and complete revelation of God. Rather, revelation is still trickling in, and can even correct what one might deduce from a proof text in Scripture. Further, Scripture itself is not static truth of unbendable doctrine; it is a living thing that God still breathes through and speaks in fresh and different ways to the modern man. It is also contended that the Bible presents no systematized doctrine but speaks through history and the experiences of real people. Young’s response is that what is left to the Christian is only the written word, not the expression on Pharaoh’s face, and that the experiences of man throughout history cannot have any eternal significance without God explaining to man what the events of history mean. History must be interpreted and explained by God for its significance to be truly grasped, and that is just what the Bible gives to us – in such a way that the doctrine can be systematized to boot.
Young bemoans the wedge that liberal scholars have created and by which they have mislead genuine Christians, particularly by teaching that the Bible can record God’s dealings with mankind in history, and yet that account does not need to be regarded as dogma. Men such as Karl Barth and Emil Brunner have argued that the Bible itself is not the word of God but contains the word of God. The Bible is constructed with words which serve as a framework through which the Spirit speaks the word of God to the reader. Thus the Bible is said to contain the false words of man, words which the Spirit uses to somehow convey the true message of God. But what determines which parts of the Bible are truly inspired or at least used by the Spirit to convey the truth of God to man is now ultimately left to each individual person to decide. Subjectivism reigns once more, and Young calls for the church to proclaim the biblical doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture (which Calvin, Luther, and the Reformers embraced), proclaiming that the Bible itself is the very word of God.  

Chapter 10: Some Modern Views of the Bible (II)
                Neo-orthodoxy, explained above, goes quite far when it claims that the Bible offers only personal truth, and only when it speaks to an individual and that individual is moved to obedience. Only then does the Bible become the word of God. This means that man must make a favorable response before God can be said to have spoken through the Bible. Thus the authority of Scripture is not inherent, does not reside in itself alone, but must be activated or triggered by man’s response (not unlike an Arminian understanding of the atonement). Young reminds the reader that the Bible itself claims, and the historic position of Christianity heartily affirms, that Scripture alone is the word of God; therefore, its authority exists in itself, regardless of whether the reader receives it as revelation.
In contrast, the neo-orthodox man can accept modern critical scholarship and all the alleged errors it finds in Scripture by simply saying that it is attributed to the human authorship of the Bible but not the divine. When the Bible speaks to the reader and compels him to higher virtue, then that part of Scripture is said to be inspired by God. The neo-orthodox applies Kant’s distinction between the noumenal and phenomenal realms to maintain this position. Only the phenomenal realm, which pertains to the senses, can be known with certainty. That which goes beyond one’s experiences is unknowable and incomprehensible. The transcendental reality or pure essence of the things sensed cannot be known because they go beyond the phenomenal into the noumenal realm. The result is catastrophic, for the neo-orthodox applies this teaching to Scripture, relegating all the miraculous – for the miraculous comes from the noumenal realm by definition – to an ahistorical reality. Real history is only that which can be sensed, and miracles are not witnessed, so certainly God becoming man is not possible. The atonement and subsequent resurrection of Christ, then, is not real history, though it is a source of “real” inspiration for the neo-orthodox advocate.
Young states the obvious – that if Christ did not really pay for man’s sin in history, then man is still dead in his sin, no matter how the ahistorical story of the cross makes him feel, and is without hope of salvation in this life. What Kant and the neo-orthodox fail to grasp (or do and simply reject) is the truth that God, from the noumenal realm, can create a phenomenological world that corresponds to Him, whereby He can truly communicate Himself to His creation, especially His people made in His image. The preeminent example of this is the eternal word being made flesh, dwelling among His people, in His own created world, perfectly revealing His transcendent glory to it by entering it (Jn. 1:14). The Bible itself is revelatory, from above in the noumenal realm, yet it is precisely this truth that the neo-orthodox reject to their own destruction. Indeed, all of Scripture is real history, and the atonement took place in real space and time on planet earth. It is necessary that a real atonement has been made for sinners, because man really fell from grace into sin at a point in time in history. The power of the cross isn’t that it tells a great story or is a clever myth, but that it is true history and real satisfaction to the Father for the sins of His chosen people. Young concludes, contra the neo-orthodox, that Scripture is not merely a pointer to revelation, but is true revelation of God itself, and as such is real history of God’s creation and dealing with man in space and time.    

Chapter 11: The Bible and Salvation
                In this brief concluding chapter Young refers to John 17:17 where Christ is praying to the Father and petitions Him, “Sanctify them by thy truth; thy word is truth.” Young explains that this truth is not Christ, who refers to Himself as the truth in John 14:6, but rather Christ is referring to the truth of the Old Testament Scriptures by alluding to passages such as Psalm 119:142. As truth, the Scripture is reliable and dependable, the very word of God. It does not contain truth or point to the truth, but is truth, and as such Christ prays that the truth of the Scriptures would sanctify His people.
                Because of this, the Christian cannot deny the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of Scripture. To speak of a Bible that contains only trifling errors that does no harm is to fail to grasp the nature of Scripture itself. Scripture is either God’s word through and through, or it is not. And even if there is only one error in the Bible, the credibility of it is completely lost because it is not the words even of a very wise sage, but of God Himself. If God can err at just one point, His promises and words cannot be completely trusted at any point. The gospel cannot be proclaimed with confidence, or trusted in with confidence.
                The book concludes by stressing the importance of taking God’s word seriously, and trusting in it totally. The only explanation of reality, the sinful and desperate state of man, and the saving remedy for that state is presented in Scripture. How to grow in holiness by glorifying God and enjoying Him forever is revealed nowhere else but in the Bible. The Bible is the word of God, and as such it must guide the life of the Christian from first to last, in every detail. The great need of the day is for the church to faithfully proclaim the word of God as the authoritative word of God (and not as some nebulous pointer to the word of God), binding all men and guiding all men for all of life. God’s people must revere it as such, study it, and be sanctified by it as the Spirit wills.   

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Some Problems in the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America)

By: Thomas F. Booher

NOTE: I posted what's below to Facebook on this day, December 6, 2016. I wanted to post this here for record keeping and so that it can have a more visible and permanent viewership for those concerned or wishing to be more informed about the PCA. 

I would like to explain my love for and grave concerns within the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America), the denomination in which I am currently a member and have served as a ruling elder.

The state of the PCA is, in my estimation, not a consistently conservative, orthodox, and confessional one. I believe it is in the midst of much compromise, and I do not think that the average lay person is aware of it. It grieves me to say these things. I wish they were not true. I grew up in the PCA, and until several years ago I was still under the delusion that all was well in this denomination, that it was, by and large, holding fast to the Word of God.

I still believe that there are many churches within the PCA that are faithful to Christ and His Word. I am a member at a very good PCA church that I would recommend to anyone. At the same time, in my own personal experience and in communication with various pastors and from my own personal research, I think that many presbyteries in the PCA are compromised and/or are compromising, and that this becomes quite evident at the GA level where the tide seems to clearly be heading in a dangerous direction.

To reiterate, there are good churches in the PCA. If you are in one, praise God for it and serve faithfully there! But for any men considering the pastoral ministry and believing they may be called to such a great undertaking, I would have a word of caution. There is a great war that needs to be fought, a battle for the soul of the PCA. But it is questionable whether it is possible to even make such a stand, because there are presbyteries, and I have experienced this first hand when I tried to come under care (a couple years ago in a different presbytery than the one I am in now), that are essentially filtering those who they do and do not accept to come under care. The pastoral candidate must fit their own progressive, sub-confessional agenda (of course they don't put it in these words, but views on homosexuality and preaching against particular sins or even the way we understand sin, repentance, and forgiveness indicate as much). In my situation, my approval to come under care was revoked, and then the "offer" was given that I could be "unofficially" taken in by this presbytery and a committee would straighten me out essentially, and then after six months or so I could actually officially come under care, assuming I was now in agreement with their views and agenda on certain issues and points of doctrine. Doing things off the grid like that does not seem to be the best way to handle things.

A simple search of many PCA church websites reveals that some PCA churches border on a "seeker-sensitive" approach to church, where they are doing things to cater to unbelievers rather than structuring the worship service for actual worshipers of God (that is, Christians). The Bible makes clear in Romans 3 and elsewhere that nobody is seeking God, but that God is seeking His sheep, and further, that "church" is the assembly of the brethren, fellow believers, for the express purpose of worshiping God. When PCA churches fail to understand the purpose of church, they are clearly compromised. It is my opinion that some PCA churches (i.e., more than just a few here and there) have compromised in this area greatly.

Now I am saying all this to point out that the battle for the PCA is at best an uphill one, if not an impossible one. The progressives in the denomination, from what I have observed and have been told, by and large have either control of or great sway in a great many of the presbyteries. I don't think at all that my experience in trying to come under care is unique. So I am saying all this to hopefully inform others who love and care for the PCA and its soul just as I do. I do not wish to be ordained in the PCA, I think it is a compromising denomination (again, not every church, but that is the direction the denomination as a whole is sadly heading in my estimation) that is on the brink (in the next five years or so, again, in my opinion) of compromising at a multi-presbytery level on the issue of homosexuality (a previous presbytery I was in has already done so, contemplating accepting practicing, unrepentant homosexuals into membership and not even necessarily under church discipline) and perhaps at a denomination-wide level on the issue of women being ordained to the office of Deacon.

This is not a call for a mass exodus from the PCA by the lay person. It is hopefully a plea and wake up call for some who may have no clue as to some of the things happening in the PCA (as I myself was totally in the dark just several years ago despite growing up my whole life in a PCA church) and encourage them to become more informed, to mourn the situation of the PCA (and our nation as a whole), and then to prayerfully decide what the best course of action is to take, for the good of the individual, the local PCA church, the PCA as a whole, and of course above all, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, for Christ and His church.

It does indeed grieve me that the PCA church, which was formed less than 50 years ago to combat doctrinal deviation, has committed some of the same doctrinal drifting and compromise that the PCUSA and other once faithful denominations has long ago caved into. It grieves me that i cannot look to the PCA as a suitable denomination to seek ordination. But the church of God is also bigger than the PCA or any one denomination. My encouragement is to remain faithful in whatever church you are in, and to be thankful for the faithful churches in the PCA.

And for the leadership in those faithful PCA churches, my encouragement is to be beacons of light within the denomination, aggressively and passionately fighting for the soul of the PCA because you are convinced biblically that it is a worthwhile battle. Or, if the leaders have counted the cost of such an endeavor (Luke 14:28-29) and come to the determination that it is not the most beneficial and righteous course of action, and for the sake of the kingdom of God and the flock of Christ, I pray they would have the courage and love for their flock, and indeed for the PCA itself, to find a more faithful denomination to serve in. I think godly men and different churches will come to different conclusions on this matter, and given the particular local presbyteries and even individual churches, it is understandable and righteous that differences on the best course of action could occur, and the church that leaves for the sake of the peace and purity of the church, and the church that stays for the peace and purity of the church could both be said to be acting righteously for Christ and His Kingdom.

But it should be stated loudly and clearly that when an individual in leadership, whole churches, or whole presbyteries fail to affirm key tenets in their own denomination's confession, they have compromised both the purity and the peace of the church. There should not be peaceful acceptance of doctrinal compromise, but when conservatives and those who are confessional in the PCA wish to hold others to the very standards that they have affirmed to adhere to and uphold and are required to affirm and uphold, the accusation is often that the confessionalist is disrupting the peace of the church by simply making the matter an issue at all. But my point is that the peace is disrupted when the purity of a denomination is compromised, because our peace is based upon unity in the truth, and our confession of faith is our agreed upon expression of peaceful, truthful, righteous and loving unity.

Given this, I do not think we can be silent. I am in the PCA. As a member of the PCA and one who has served as a ruling elder, so long as I am in the PCA, I wish to fight for the soul of the PCA. But I think that is exactly what the stakes are. The denomination hangs in the balance, and I fear the scales have irrecoverably been tipped toward the progressives and those who are sub-confessional already. This is why, if the Lord wills for me to be ordained and pastor a church someday, I cannot presently see that occurring in the PCA for myself. I am trying to count the cost, and I do not think it is a fight that can be won, and the effort to do so would result in more frustration and be a distraction from the flock God had entrusted me with.

At the same time, I would be thrilled to see the PCA church turn towards greater faithfulness, and the number of faithful churches in the PCA take a stand and multiply. If that happens, I would be overjoyed to remain in the PCA for the rest of my life, and even to seek ordination in the PCA. But my estimation is that the pulse of the PCA is moving in the opposite direction, and for that I am both saddened and frustrated.

In Christ,

Thomas F. Booher

Friday, June 17, 2016

Should Preachers Preach Softly Against Homosexual Sin?

By: Thomas F. Booher

Christ predicted woe and destruction on cities that did not repent at His preaching, and after He had done many miracles there (Matt. 11:21-24), saying that it would be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Sodom than for them.

This indicates that not only was Christ healing, but He was preaching repentance from sin, which means He was also engaging society by telling them that they in fact were sinners that needed to repent to be saved. Christ healed, and Christ told those whom He healed that they were sinners that needed spiritual healing, not just physical healing. For those that did not repent, Christ now pronounced woe on them (on whole cities!) and warned them of their coming doom.

Now it is interesting to note that the sin of Sodom was sexual sin, and homosexual sin gets a special mention all by itself (Jude 1:7). For Christ to use Sodom as an example of moral perversion and wickedness means that Christ is pointing out that the kinds of sexual sins taking place there were highly offensive to God (including and especially the "unnatural desires"), and therefore they were destroyed.

So in saying all that I am trying to note that homosexual sin is not the same thing as heterosexual sin. It is a further perversion, and a furthering of God giving sinners over to their own sinful desires. Now if God gives them over to these passions, it isn't something they are born with, as many today, even some ministers, seem to be saying.

I think a lot of people don't like what I am saying (because it is somehow unloving or imbalanced or mean-spirited), including some who are probably Reformed. My question is why? If Christ and Paul and Peter and all the apostles' example is to call sin sin, call a spade a spade, then should not pastors and elders and all believers be willing to do the same (both telling the truth and being open to being told the truth about their sin)? Isn't Christ's warning to the unrepentant cities, as stern and dire as it was, actually a gracious and loving thing? Perhaps God would use Christ's words to draw them to their senses (and thus to repentance? Even though Christ does go on to pray to God and thank Him that He has hidden the truth from them, He also says "Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden," because He will give them true rest)

We won't win the gay community over by watering down what Scripture says about homosexuality. It's likewise true that we won't win the gay community, or any community for that matter, if we go around like a bunch of Pharisees decrying the sins we don't struggle with (so much) while pretending the ones we do (more so) aren't a big deal, or that they aren't detestable in the sight of God and  don't make us equally worthy of eternal punishment.

Sin is bad. My sin is bad. Your sin is bad. Adultery is bad. Homosexuality is bad. And we are still sinners even after we are saved, and apart from Christ we are still bad. In Christ, though, we are covered by His blood, clothed in His righteousness, and are being renewed in the inward man day by day. But the sinful flesh remains, and the sin we commit as Christians is still bad, is still wicked, in fact is still worthy of damnation.

That we all have a hard time not sinning (even as Christians) shouldn't mean we conclude that sin isn't an affront to our holy God. It is. The sins we commit even as Christians still offended God, and because they did, Christ died, taking the punishment for our offenses on the cross.

And this is precisely why we tell all sinners, ourselves, heterosexuals, homosexuals, murderers, adulterers, everyone, the truth about sin. And the truth about Christ.

Christ pronouncing woe upon unrepentant cities probably sounded NOTHING like love, particularly to many self professed "loving" and "authentic" churches that heal people's "brokenness" that we have today (even Reformed churches). But it was the only loving thing left He could do. To be abandoned by the God-Man Himself, to essentially be told, "You're doomed because you are unrepentant," should have been the loudest wake-up call to those cities.

So to be "hard" on sin (or I would prefer to call it "calling sin what the Bible calls sin") isn't necessarily unloving. It can be done for unloving motives, and then it is unloving. But not everyone who speaks of the sinfulness of sin is doing so because they hate the sinners they are speaking to (exhibit A would be Christ Himself). They are saying sin is bad because it is, and that the only way to get rid of it is to throw yourself in faith and true, genuine, heartfelt repentance upon Christ, the sin-bearer (this is Christ calling the heavy-laden to Himself after He has just said the cities are so wicked that they are doomed).

Repentance involves a hatred for sin, all sin, and to hate sin you must see sin to be a thing worthy of hating. And you won't see sin as despicable and hate what you are (apart from Christ) because of your sin unless you understand just how black and filthy your sin is (just as I won't hate my sin if I water down how wicked it is).

So can we not admit that to be like Christ and to be faithful to the apostolic message is to call sin sin, to decry the wickedness of our nation, and that doing so can (and should) be done out of an overflow of love in our hearts for sinners and our nation, and that our sincere desire is that as we drive sinners to come to their senses and see their filthiness that we are doing this so that, having seen their filthiness, they might come to the point of true faith and true repentance and desire Christ, the One who cleanses us from all our filth?

If we preach lightly on sin, especially the particular sins of our nation, we will only get a light repentance. But a light repentance is no repentance, it is a repentance that does not save. True repentance is found in the one who beat his chest and couldn't even look up to heaven and cried out, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13). 

Repentance is never, "I know it's wrong, but I can't help it in this fallen world, so I just need to manage it as best as I can, which isn't totally or perfectly. God understands." Though we know how imperfect our repentance is, and how imperfect our obedience is, this should not lead us to conclude that it's okay, or that God "understands" and just wants us to "manage it" as best we can.

Scripture calls us to kill sin, not to manage it. God calls us to be holy as He is holy, not to be holy as best as we think we can given how strong our temptation is and how fallen this world is. Yet I fear this is often the impression that ministers give to those who struggle with homosexuality (and other sins, but especially this one).

So to bring this to the big issue of today. I would, like Christ, physically aid the wounded who were at Pulse Orlando. I would help them in anyway and every way that I could. And I would also, like Christ, after having done all I could to "heal" them, tell them about sin, and their sin (which isn't just homosexuality), and how filthy their sin is (just as mine is), and why it is filthy (so that they can come to see the reality of the sinfulness/filthiness of sin for themselves) until they either tell me to shove off or the Spirit moves in their heart and convinces them that they are just as filthy as the Bible says they are, so that they can see that they can be just as clean and pure and holy as the spotless, sinless, perfectly righteous Lamb of God, Jesus Christ is, through repentance and faith in Him. And I would also (just like Christ) tell those who refused to repent that if they did not repent, after seeing the kindness of God displayed through His kingdom people in meeting their physical needs, that it will not be tolerable for them on the Day of Judgment. 

These words from 1 Peter 1 are crucial because they help show us that we cannot go soft on sin, in our own lives, or in our presenting the gospel to others:

"13 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”[c]

17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit[d] in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,[e] 24 because

“All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man[f] as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.”[g]

Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you."

Monday, May 23, 2016

Reforming the Reformed's Worship?

By: Thomas F. Booher

Last time I wrote about reforming evangelicalism. I wagered that there was a solid 25-30 million non-Reformed evangelicals that would be willing to listen to Reformed/biblical teaching that could be positively impacted by it. I argued for incrementalism, that any improvement in the non-Reformed is a victory, even if they end up simply incorporating some Calvinistic teaching into their theology. Obviously, we want them to see the reality of their deadness in trespasses and sins and to express that biblically, which would lead to belief in election and predestination, but if they come closer to that, becoming more God-centered and biblical, that's still a victory. Progress, any degree of trending in the right direction, would be a huge improvement over the current state of affairs in Evangelicalism.

Tonight, however, I want to address the issues in the PCA that I have seen. Because it is a confessionally Reformed denomination, I cannot so easily argue for incrementalism. The ministers and elders should know better and have taken vows to affirm the WCF. It's not that I think most of them have rejected Calvinism or the majority of the WCF, but WCF chapter 21, section 5 does say that the reading of Scripture should be done with "godly fear" and that the hearing of the Word should be done in "reverence." I do think most ministers strive to do this in the PCA, however, I also believe our clothing, the pulpit (or lack thereof), pews (or lack thereof), all the external things in the church building, speak about reverence and godly fear. I am not saying you have to “dress up” to preach with godly fear in the heart or read the Word with godly fear in your soul, nor am I saying pews and a fancy pulpit are essential to righteous worship of God. But I am saying that ministers who understand their role will want to show their godly fear consistently, including in the architecture of the worship area, the place where the saints meet each Lord's Day to draw nearer to God, sing praises to Him, and hear from His Word. The very next section of the WCF (XXI.6) says that, 

"God is to be worshipped everywhere,[28] in spirit and truth;[29] as, in private families[30] daily,[31] and in secret, each one by himself;[32] so, more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by His Word or providence, calls thereunto." (bold added). 

It is probably legalism to mandate that one cannot preach in jeans and at the same time be "solemn" in the public assembly and "reverent" in the reading and preaching of the Word. I'll grant that. My concern, however, is that there is a theological and ecclesiological motive behind many who preach in casual clothing such as jeans and possibly even T-shirts, and that this motive has the effect of de-solemnizing worship. This is because their motive is to make visitors and members feel more comfortable and less intimidated. But the hallmark of solemnity and reverence is not, or at least should not, be comfort. The stated motive of these PCA ministers is usually to teach the congregation that God accepts them just as they are and presumably that they can come before Him just as they are. But passages like Zechariah 3:3-5 show that external garments, particularly of the priest/pastor, speak to the congregation, and indicate something of the majesty of God and His worthiness. Revelation 3:4 says that the faithful will walk with God "in white" because they are worthy. Revelation 19:8 explains how the church, the bride of Christ, has made herself ready and is dressed in fine linen, clean and bright. Yes, it is the righteous deeds of the saints being referred to, but does this mean that we won't be in fine clothing of some sort? Revelation 19:11-14 further describes the appearance of Christ and his heavenly army, again in beautiful bright clothing. 

I understand this is imagery, but do we think Christ is going to return on a donkey? Do we think Christ, now at the Father's right hand clothed in glory, will come down without a glorious appearance? You cannot be clothed in glory without appearing glorious. We worship the risen, ascended, and exalted Jesus. The lowly Jesus that emptied Himself of His rightful glorious appearance (Phil. 2:5-8) has finished His sacrificial act of love and mercy for humanity (though in His exalted state He continues to be loving and merciful), and is now enthroned once more with the eternal glory that He had always possessed (John 17:4-5), and He is to be worshiped in His full glory (Phil. 2:9-11), not in His emptied, lowly appearance while on this cursed Earth. He is man, but He is exalted God-Man, and He is to be worshiped as such. 

So my question is simply this: Is God the Father or the Son ever depicted as less than glorious in appearance when He is to be worshiped? Did the transfiguration not help reveal Christ to the disciples as the Son of God, and in the transfiguration did not Christ's clothing turn dazzling white (Matt. 17:2)? Would Christ come in glory at the Second Coming in, say, blue jeans? T-Shirt? Better question, could He? To ask the question is to answer it. The verses above indicate that Christ's glory is understood and experienced externally through appearance, not just understood and experienced internally through the Word penetrating the heart (the two work together and for the minister the preached Word must always be present), and so the minister ought to depict the exalted glory of Christ externally consistently, with the beautiful words of the gospel and the beautiful garments befitting the minister representing the glorious Christ to the bride of Christ. The clothing of the minister should ordinarily not be common, everyday clothes, but special clothes, clothes that bring to mind honor, respect, majesty, glory. If one objects that the minister and thus the exalted Christ will then seem unreachable or out of touch with the lowly needs of the congregation, the answer is that the minister is still a man just as Christ, though exalted, is still the Word become flesh who dwelt with man and was seen by the disciples in His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father (John 1:14). The transfiguration revealed His glory (Luke 9:32) and so did His miracles (John 2:11).

What got the disciples excited about Christ wasn't that He probably would have worn (as a man who emptied Himself as part of coming under the curse of us) jeans if He came in the 21st century, but rather that He occasionally pulled back the veil of His common appearance to reveal His exquisite beauty and glory and honor. Jesus doesn’t appear as simply a farm boy in overalls, and He certainly doesn’t personify a designer jeans wearing, Starbucks latte drinking metrosexual. He is God incarnate. He is glorified God-Man. While Scripture calls us to remember His humility and that He can sympathize with our weaknesses as our great high priest (Heb. 4:15), we are to do that in the context of remembering that He has "passed through the heavens" (Heb. 4:14). Jesus who died, is now glorified, and is now enthroned with glory as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.    

Yet, many churches that stress casual dress and worship can give the appearance of presenting a casual God and a casual Christ by their casualness. Christ seems to be emphasized in His lowliness, as He emptied Himself here on Earth, more than as He is now, high and lifted up, clothed with majesty. Such churches call to mind Christ as a member of 21st century culture, living in the city and enjoying the wares of the city, but also teaching sinners in the city to stop sinning. But we are to worship Christ as He is now, not as He was on Earth. If we get upset with the Catholics' crucifix for making us think of Christ as still suffering, we should probably be displeased with the pastor's skinny jeans for making us think of Christ as still humbled and ordinary. 
In researching some PCA churches, the ones that are more "contemporary" or "casual" almost without fail make a point of this, not just with pictures but with words. It's part of the fabric of their worship. They don't leave it to the imagination. They indicate they are trying to make a statement with their fashion, both of the minister (often unsaid) and of the congregation (explicit under the "what to wear" sections of the church websites). One website even said that God accepts us as we are, and spelled out that we can come into His presence just as we are! Though I imagine they fail to realize it, that is antithetical to the gospel. We are clothed in the righteousness of Christ; we are sanctified by our own righteous deeds done by the power of the Holy Spirit. But we certainly cannot approach God just as we are. If that were the case, there would be no need for Christ to come and die. Likely what they mean is that through Christ we can come as we are. But that isn't made clear, and often the impression is given that visitors, whether they are believers or not, those who come through Christ or not, should dress how they want, because God accepts them as they are no matter how they appear.  

Yes, it's true, some in the congregation may not understand the theology of dress, and some may honestly be too poor to have nice clothes. But that is beside the point. The point is that with our clothing we acknowledge the majesty of the presence of God, or we do not. That is true for the congregation, but it is especially true of the minister himself, who represents the glorious presence of God and His Word to the congregation. Our faith is still not perfect, we still struggle with sin. We still need the visible reminders of the gospel through sacraments, and we need it through how the minister dresses as well. This would aid greatly in solemnizing the public worship service and giving God the proper reverence due His name in worship. I simply do not see how casual and common attire can inspire reverence and solemnity. At best it's neutral, but given the theology behind the casualness in many of the churches that do this sort of thing, it seems to actually be intended to remove the feel of majesty or holiness or otherness, in order to make everyone comfortable and relaxed. 

I wish to weave one final thread into this post, and I think it's the most important and ties things together. Most of these casual PCA churches also emphasize being "real" and "authentic" and "missional." One wonders if wearing your Sunday best is therefore inauthentic and anti-missional? Whatever missional exactly means (there seems to be much debate), it seems to be rather broad and encompasses the concept of "loving people as Christ loves us." It has to do with engaging culture with Christianity, though saying "Christianity" would probably not be the way missional churches would like to phrase it. They would probably prefer to say missional is engaging the culture/local city in which the church is located in with Christ and living life together by fostering love and community and "authentic" relationships with “real and broken people.” Broken seems to be a more preferable word than the offensive word, sinful. 

Thankfully, most of these churches still at least claim to desire to practice expositional preaching, and I trust many of them do. But then, if that's the case, other than the externals of worship, I don't see much difference between missional and authentic churches vs. non-missional and inauthentic churches (well, except for trading pianos out for guitars and drums). So, isn't it the missional churches that are actually trying to claim that clothing and music really are important and really do make quite a bit of difference? But as I hope I have shown, this exchange of the externals by those who might identify as missional, while it might be culturally appealing and palatable, is not more biblical. I do not believe it represents who God is any better, but worse. I do not believe it inspires thoughts of God as holy yet merciful, but it could inspire thoughts of God as common/casual and easygoing. 

But I believe C.S. Lewis had it right. He put it simply enough for even children who read the Narnian Chronicles to understand. God, like Aslan, is not common, is not safe, but is holy. But, He is also good. He is holy goodness. He is holy grace and mercy. And it is His holiness, in one sense His unapproachableness, that makes Him good, just as much as His mercy and grace and sacrificial love make Him good. To quote R.C. Sproul, 

The clearest sensation that a human being has when he experiences the holy is an overpowering and overwhelming sense of creatureliness. That is, when we are in the presence of God, we are humbled and become most aware of ourselves as creatures. This is the opposite of Satan's original temptation, "You shall be as gods.” (Emphasis added)

In summary, the minister shows that God relates to man because the minister himself is a man, as Christ was a man, but with the minister's fine clothing he reminds the congregation that God is God and exalted over man, and that man is a creature. We need to be reminded of this so that Satan will not deceive us by whispering that we may become equals with God by Christ becoming man. 
To really be missional, I believe we need to engage culture, but we need to do so with the holy love of God. A simpler way to put it is that people need to understand the bad news of our sinfulness in light of God's holiness and majesty before they can rightly receive and respond to the good news of Christ's becoming a lowly man and dying as a payment for sin, for all who repent and believe. To be faithful Christians, we need to be reminded in the pews that there is a solemnity and reverence to what we are doing in worship because God is with us, and the minister is the clearest visible as well as vocal reminder of this, for Christ through the minister and by the power of the Holy Spirit, feeds His sheep. Authoritative words from a holy God are often better understood and more aptly received from the minister who resembles something of the authority and majesty of the risen Savior both in proclamation and physical manifestation. 

May our holy thoughts, words, and conduct be matched with a solemn and reverent appearance when we meet with God in our holy assemblies on the Lord's Day, and may the minister represent the Lord Jesus Christ in all His holy glory as best and as intentionally as he possibly can as an undershepherd of Christ’s sheep.  

Psalm 96:1-9 is just one passage that depicts the reverence with which we must worship God:

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
3 Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.

4 For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; 
He is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the Lord made the heavens.
6 Honor and majesty are before Him;
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.

7 Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Give to the Lord glory and strength.
8 Give to the Lord the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come into His courts.
9 Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!
Tremble before Him, all the earth.