15 August 2018

Responses to John MacArthur's "Social Injustice and the Gospel"

by Hohn Cho



"Racist." "Ignorant." "Fools." "Pope MacArthur." "Out of touch." "A pile of conservative ideological rubbish." "Old white evangelical Pastors." "He's got nothing. I can't get why all his followers are so excited. Cult of personality, I suppose." "Their heroes were slave masters." "Pope-like authoritarian leader." "Multimillionaire white man."

Such are some of the responses to John MacArthur's introductory article, Social Injustice and the Gospel, a piece so civil and rational and, well, biblical that I'm personally mystified at the shrill and hysterical nature of this type of reaction by some professing Christians.

One blogger, in a seeming attempt to rush out a "hot take" to MacArthur's article which he proceeded to spam in numerous places the article showed up, was so quick to speak per James 1:19 that he neglected to notice that he linked to a long-time conspiracy theorist with a plainly obvious axe to grind against MacArthur, as support for questioning of the extent and nature of MacArthur's involvement in Gospel ministry during the Civil Rights Movement! (When this was pointed out, he subsequently took the link down.) Regardless, all of this certainly appears to vindicate James White's prediction that "The Christian SJWs are going to be blowing up the net over the next couple of weeks. Mark my words."

I have long believed that Christians who have refused to buy into the viewpoint of many "social justice" advocates are and have always been more than willing to have a civil and rational discussion centered around the Bible with those who would disagree. And yet my perception has been that there is a distinct lack of interest in having such a discussion on the "social justice" side, in favor of mere declarations that their position is right, expectations that the orthodoxy of their position must not be challenged, and a dismissal or even vilification of people who attempt to do so.

This is often the case with socio-political movements, because they are typically too busy seeking to mobilize support, defeat opposition, and push forward some goal they deem to be desirable, to stop and consider for a moment whether or not their goals and positions are actually meritworthy. I can understand the reluctance to do this in the world, but in the church, if we are truly to be people of the Book who stand for the truth of the Word, we must take more than mere moments to discuss what the Bible says, understand what it means, and only then act according to our God-given consciences and calling and stewardship.

In having this discussion, I appreciated the words of Nate Pickowicz, calling for graciousness. My hope had been the same as Tim Challies, that after well over 50 years of faithful ministry-and nearly 50 of it at the same church-an older man who has been right about so many other issues over the decades would at least have "the credibility [to] gain a hearing." But even if that bare courtesy could not be extended, my prayer has been that people would at least heed 1 Timothy 5:1 and make respectful appeals rather than sharp rebukes... much less puerile and at times even ethnicity-based insults.

The initial signs are not particularly encouraging, but our God reigns, and we shall see where He would have us go. Finally, one final word to those who might be on my "side" of the debate, I can understand why some of us might be excited that the discussion many of us have desired to have could actually be happening, but let's also try to moderate and even restrain our impulses toward partisanship and cheerleading. I thought this word from Jacob Denhollander was both gracious and appropriate. And of course, let's also strive to maintain the highest possible standards of Spirit-filled speech, even as we engage in a vigorous debate about the Gospel, Christian orthopraxy, and individual consciences and convictions.

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12 August 2018

The Parting


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Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon



The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from According to Promise, pages 28-30, Pilgrim Publications.   


"If my reader would feel freer and more at home in society than in the church of God, let him know assuredly that he belongs to the world, and let him not deceive himself."

Isaac and Ishmael lived together for a time. The self-religionist and the believer in the promise may be members of the same church for years, but they are not agreed, and cannot be happy together, for their principles are essentially opposed. As the believer grows in grace and enters upon his spiritual manhood, he will be more and more disagreeable to the legalist, and it will ultimately be seen that the two have no fellowship with one another. 

They must separate, and this is the word that will be fulfilled to the Ishmaelite: “Cast out this bond-woman and her son: for the son of this bond-woman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.” Grievous as the parting may be, it will be according to the divine will, and according to the necessities of the case. Oil and water will not mingle, neither will the natural man’s religion agree with that which is born of the promise, and sustained by the promise. Their parting will be only the outward result of a serious difference which always existed.

Outwardly, and in this present life, the heir of the promise did not appear to have the best of it. Nor, indeed, should this be expected, since they who choose their heritage in the future have, in fact, agreed to accept trial in the present.

Isaac experienced certain afflictions which Ishmael never knew: he was mocked, and he was at last laid on the altar; but nothing of the sort happened to Ishmael. You, who like Isaac are the children of the promise, must not envy those who are the heirs of this present life, though their lot seems easier than your own. Your temptation is to do so; even as the Psalmist did when he was grieved because of the prosperity of the wicked.

There is in this fretting a measure of running back from our spiritual choice: have we not agreed to take our part in the future rather than in the present? Do we rue the bargain? Moreover, how absurd it is to envy those who are themselves so much to be pitied! To lose the promise is practically to lose everything; and the self-righteous have lost it. 

These worldly professors have no spiritual light or life, and they desire none. What a loss, to be in the dark and not to know it! They have enough religion to make them respectable among men, and comfortable in their own consciences; but this is a sorry gain if they are abominable in the sight of God. They feel no inward fightings and wrestlings; they find no contention of the old man against the new; and so they go through life with a jaunty air, knowing nothing till their end come. 

What wretchedness to be so besotted! Again, I say, do not envy them. Better far is the life of Isaac with its sacrifice, than that of Ishmael with its sovereignty and wild freedom; for all the worldling’s greatness will soon be ended and leave nothing behind it but that which will make the eternal world to be the more miserable.


05 August 2018

Prescient medicine for social media (circa 1883)


Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon


The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from the The Sword and the Trowel, May, 1883, "The use of wool in the ears."   


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"It will be a mark of wisdom to be impatient with the follies of human converse."

We are told concerning Bernard of Clairvaux that, after he had given himself up entirely to contemplation and walking with God, he met with a considerable difficulty in the visits of those friends who were still in the world. Their conversation brought back thoughts and feelings connected with the frivolities which he had for ever forsaken; and on one occasion, after he had been wearied with the idle chit-chat of his visitors, he found himself unable to raise his heart towards heaven. 

When he was engaged in the exercise of prayer he felt that their idle talk was evidently the cause of his losing fellowship with God. He could not well forbid his friends coming, and therefore he prepared himself for their injurious conversation by carefully stopping his ears with little wads of flax. He then buried his head deep in his cowl, and though exposed for an hour to their conversation, he heard nothing, and consequently suffered no injury. He spoke to each of them some few words for edification, and they went their way. 

We do not suppose that for any great length of time he was much troubled with such visitors, for he must have been an uncommonly uninteresting companion. If people once discover that their clatter is lost upon you, they are not quite so eager to repeat the infliction.

We are not admirers of Bernard’s monastic severity, but we wish it were possible to imitate his use of wool, in the spirit if not in the letter. We are all thrown in the way of persons who will talk; and their talk has in it about as much solidity as the comet, of which we are told that a thousand square miles, if condensed and compressed, would go into a thimble or an acorn-cup. Cowper made an accurate computation of the value of ordinary conversation when he said, —

Collect at evning what the day brought forth,
Compress the sum into its solid worth,
And if it weigh the importance of a fly,
The scales are false, or algebra a lie.

If it were of any use to these human fog-horns, whose noise so much disturbs gracious souls, we would reason with them: but, alas, it would be casting pearls before parrots, who would hop off with them, drop them, and come back to scream again. 

Still, though it may be wasted effort, we would tell them a little story, which we met with in a tiny book called “Gold Dust.” “‘ Mother,’ asked a child, 'since nothing is ever lost, where do all our thoughts go?’ ‘to God,’ answered the mother, gravely, ‘who remembers them for ever.’ ‘For ever!’ said the child; he leaned his head, and drawing closer to his mother, murmured, ‘I am frightened!’”

Do you triflers never feel frightened too? If so, permit this healthy fear to grow; and remember that idle words are worse than idle thoughts, for they lead others into evil, and murder good thoughts in those who else might have quietly meditated.

As the topics of conversation which are usually intruded upon devout minds are worthless, if not worse, the best way is to escape from them altogether; but when this is not possible; oh, would that the gift of deafness could be conferred upon us! Oh, to protect the drum of the ear with a plate of iron! Will no one invent us ear-shields? 

The process of letting chit-chat go in at one ear and out at the other is greatly injurious to the brain; and the mere passage of such traffic through the mind is painful to the spiritual man’s heart. It would be a far better thing not to let it enter at all. 

Could we not manage, by determinedly introducing holy topics, to become as truly bores to the foolish talkers as the chatterboxes are to us? or, better still, could we not turn the flood of conversation into a profitable channel, and subdue wild tongues to some useful service, as men tame rushing rivulets and make them turn their mill-wheels? Oh, that it were possible!

How often, immediately after a holy service, where in heart and mind we have been carried to the top of Tabor, so that we have beheld the transfiguration of all gracious truth, have we come down to the foot of the mountain to meet with very fools! They have inane remarks to offer upon the congregation, the faults of the singing, the mistakes of the preacher, or other worthless trifles. They behave as if, in the presence of God, and heaven, and hell, they found a fit place for acting the merry-andrew, and playing their fantastic tricks. 

If they have ever been in the presence of the King of kings, they have been more engrossed by the dust beneath his feet than with his majesty and glory. This dust they bring away, and throw into our eyes, so that with the pain thereof the holy vision vanishes away. Oh, that such beings should exist! 

02 August 2018

Sola Scriptura vs. Church Traditions

by Phil Johnson



I'm in Finland to speak to a group of Reforming church leaders on the subject of sola Scriptura. The conference here started tonight. I'll be covering topics like the authority, accuracy, and sufficiency of Scripture. I'll also be highlighting the dangers of vesting too much authority in ecclesiastical tradition—especially when our traditions might burden or obscure the simplicity of the gospel. Or worse yet, in some churches and denominations, long-treasured church traditions have often been used to adjust or nullify clear statements of Scripture (cf. Mark 7:13).

To be clear: I am not one of those who thinks we need to jettison every order of service, structure, or interpretation of Scripture that has some pedigree in church tradition. (I'm not an organoclast.) I would be the very last person to advocate ignorance of church history, show sneering contempt for the very idea of tradition, or recommend a haughty, overweening attitude toward godly churchmen and their beliefs and practices from past ages. Tradition has a legitimate place in the church; but that place is not near the top of the hierarchy.

Anyway, while I was at dinner with conference attendees tonight, a friend in America texted me a question about those very issues. He was asking if we could have an extended conversation when I get back in the office. I'm looking forward to that. Meanwhile, I thought his question so good and the issue so important that I decided to answer him briefly with a text message on the spot. My Finnish friends around the table were engaged in conversation with one another, so I thought I could dash off a quick reply without being impolite.

Wrong. My reply became a bit longer than planned, and by the time I finished thumb-typing, I was the only one left at the table. So with apologies to my Finnish hosts to whom I was unintentionally rude, here's my reply to my friend's question. My answer should give you sufficient clues to discern everything you need to know about the gist of what he asked. Here you go:

Short answer: as in all structures, authority is definitionally hierarchical. I think well-established ecclesiastical traditions can carry some authority, but never in a way that trumps the Bible.

In other words the practice and teachings of our spiritual forefathers ought to be studied and taken seriously, and though they have no authority to challenge or add dogmatic articles of faith to what the Bible teaches, certain traditions do have more authority than whatever "God told me this morning. . . "

I think one of the besetting sins of the current generation(s) is a tendency to ignore the voices of godly men who preceded us. Sola scriptura properly understood is not a recipe for each person arriving at his or her own interpretation of the text without any insights gleaned from commentaries, reference works, or the history of what godly men and councils have said in the past. (The notion that me and my Bible are all the instruction I'm willing to heed is what I would typically refer to as "nuda scriptura rather than sola Scriptura.")

In short, if I arrive at a belief or interpretation that no one before me has ever seen, my assumption should be that I'm probably wrong.

On the other hand, the danger of placing too much weight on tradition was shrilly rejected by Christ himself, so I'm inclined to think the greater danger lies there. But there's a deep, deadly ditch on both sides, and it behooves us to stay between those ditches.

See also: Sola Scriptura and the role of teachers in our spiritual growth.

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