30 September 2007

Baggage Handlers

by Phil Johnson

o our flight from Minneapolis was delayed two hours, giving us an additional 4-hour layover in Salt Lake City.

I'm sitting here checking e-mail and drinking a root beer, and I looked up at an arriving flight just in time to see the baggage handlers showing up to unload a plane. I've never actually watched what these guys do.

The first bags off, I presume, were marked for priority handling, because the guy who climbed into the belly of the plane took only about nine bags off, put them on a long conveyor belt with wheels, drove it 25 yards or so, and then started to take the bags off the conveyor belt to put them on a cart.

He must've noticed some mislabeled bags on the belt, because he selected five bags (out of the nine) that evidently didn't belong in the cart, and heaved them back toward the middle of the tarmac.

These were big bags, obviously packed heavy. But baggage handlers are strong guys, so the luggage went at least 20 feet in the air and then scooted another 5-6 feet on the concrete tarmac. It was an impressive feat, but it made me cringe. No matter how carefully those bags were packed, I guarantee no bottle of shampoo survived the impact.

When I noticed he was handling every piece of luggage roughly, I elbowed Darlene, who was sitting next to me. When she saw what the guy was doing, she gasped and handed me the camera.

He drove the conveyer back to the plane, and two or more other baggage handlers climbed on the conveyor and began sorting luggage onto two carts. Every bag that came off the plane got thrown at least twelve feet, and some of them, such as the purple bag in the picture to the right, missed their intended destination and ended up on the tarmac.

As I said, these are strong guys, and they were obviously throwing the bags mainly for sport. They were putting as much arc on each throw as possible. They were actually exerting more energy than if they had handled the bags more gently.

And they were not saving any time. Witness the mess that had to be sorted out and picked up at the end of the process.

I've always wondered why my bags get so beat up when I fly. Now I know.

This is also why you should never put your laptop or anything breakable in your checked baggage.

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Pathological Paradigm-Shifting: Why It's Bad for You

(And Why Constantly Changing One's Theological Perspective Is Not a Sign of Growth or Maturity)

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "The Form of Sound Words," a message preached Sunday morning, 11 May 1856 (while Spurgeon was still a young man in his early 20s).

he tendency of the day is to give up old landmarks and to adopt new ones, and to avow anything rather than the old-fashioned divinity.

Well, my dear friends, if any of you like to try new doctrines, I warn you, that if you be the children of God you will soon be sick enough of those new-fangled notions, those newly invented doctrines, which are continually taught. You may, for the first week, be pleased enough with their novelty; you may wonder at their transcendental spirituality or something else that entices you on; but you will not have lived on them long before you will say, "Alas! alas! I have taken in my hands the apples of Sodom; they were fair to look upon, but they are ashes in my mouth."

If you would be peaceful, keep fast to the truth, hold fast the form of sound words: so shall "your peace be like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea."

"Hold fast the form of sound words," again, let me say, because it will tend very much to your growth. He who holds fast the truth will grow faster than he who is continually shifting from doctrine to doctrine.

What a mighty number of spiritual weathercocks we have in this world now. We have men who in the morning hear a Calvinistic preacher, and say, "Oh, it is delightful;" in the evening they hear an Arminian, and they say, "Oh, it is just as good; and no doubt they are both true, though one contradicts the other!"

The glorious charity of the present day is such, that it believes lies to be as good as truth; and lies and truth have met together and kissed each other; and he that telleth truth is called a bigot, and truth has ceased to be honourable in the world!

Ah! beloved, we know better than to profess such unlimited, but false charity. The truth is, we know how to "hold fast the form of sounds words," which has been given to us, because in this way we grow. Changeable people cannot grow much. If you have a tree in your garden plant it in one place to-day, and tomorrow place it somewhere else, how much bigger will it be in six months? It will be dead very likely; or if it does not die, it will not be very much grown; it will be marvellously stunted.

So it is with some of you: you plant yourselves there; then you are persuaded that you are not quite right, and you go and plant yourself somewhere else. Why, there are men who are anythingarians; who go dodging about from one denomination to another, and cannot tell what they are; our opinion is, of these people, that they believe nothing, and are good for nothing, and anybody may have them that likes; we do not consider men to be worth much, unless they have settled principles, and "hold fast the form of sound words."

You cannot grow unless you hold it fast. How should I know any more of my faith in ten years' time, if I allowed it to take ten forms in ten years? I should be but a smatterer in each, and know nothing thoroughly of one. But he that hath one faith, and knoweth it to be the faith of God, and holdeth it fast, how strong he becomes in his faith! Each wind or tempest doth but confirm him, as the fierce winds root the oaks, and make them strong, standing firmly in their places; but if I shift and change, I am none the better, but rather the worse.

For your own peace sake then, and for your growth, "hold fast the form of sound words."

C. H. Spurgeon

28 September 2007

This Is Where I Am This Weekend

by Phil Johnson

inneapolis. The Desiring God Conference. Darlene and I are with Bill Fickett, staffing the Grace to You display downstairs. If you're at the conference, come and say hi. I have a small supply of bumper stickers. Ask for one.

Longtime readers will recognize the great Marc Heinrich, blogmaster of one of the best Christian blogs of all time, the once-legendary (but now virtually defunct) Purgatorio. Marc and his lovely wife came by the booth. I begged him to get back to blogging, but I don't think he's going to do it. Marc's a musician and songwriter, and one of his songs, "Stand," is the conference theme song. It was great to see him. He says not blogging has done wonders for him.

Yeah, yeah. I know. Don't tempt me.

I also met Justin Taylor face to face for the first time. He's a gracious in person as he seems on his blog. A much nicer guy than I am. Justin moderated the Q&A with John Piper and John MacArthur tonight. It was a poignant look at the personal side of these two men—who for all their well-known contrasts, have a surprising amount in common.

Several other bloggers, blog-readers, and hard-core Pyro-fans stopped by and said hi. I won't spoil any reputations by revealing the names of some of the people who told me they read PyroManiacs on a regular basis, but let's just say you might recognize a couple of those names, and it'd probably be a good idea for everyone around here to behave better.

I didn't take my laptop today. (Hence this late-night update.) But the Convention Center here has wireless, so I might post a live update Saturday. Then again, maybe not. The conference is going to be excellent.

The conference bookstore is also something amazing—I'd guess it's close to two acres of tables stacked high with great books.

Incidentally, the Cubs clinched first place in their division tonight. (They backed into it, really, losing three of their past four games while watching the Brewers' losses chip away at the magic number. Even tonight, when the Cubs won, it was technically Milwaukee's loss, an hour later, that sealed first place for the Cubs.) I learned about it via a text message during the Q&A session. So if you were there and heard what sounded like a loud charismatic guy amening, speaking in tongues, and praising the Lord in a context where nothing the speakers said seemed to warrant such an outburst—that was me.


PS: I suppose this is proof (as if we needed it) that my sanctification isn't complete yet, but I'll admit it anyway: The Mets' collapse is almost as sweet as the Cubs' win. Finally! a little payback for 1969.

Phil's signature

More pix of where I was, right back then

by Dan Phillips

From popular demand from the meta of the previous post. (Once again, click on the pix for enlargements, if you wish.)

Saturday night: ahh, this is the life. So glad God made yummy food!

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
(1 Timothy 4:1-5)

On Sunday I took Josiah to the Mt. Whitney fish hatchery, the prettiest I've ever been to:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth"
(Genesis 1:28)

This is a waterfall across the street from the Bishop Creek Lodge. My family stayed there when I was very small.

How small? My father would literally put me in his backpack and hike up to the top of the falls with me. I actually remember the experience, one of my very few childhood memories. We have a charcoal sketch of my dad and me sitting atop the waterfall, made by a family friend.

"...in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place"
(Deuteronomy 1:31)

Then we went on Monday to Lake Sabrina, where the fall colors were beginning to blaze.

We left a good-sized brown trout unmolested. With some regrets. (On our part.)

We trekked on a trail around the lake, and saw more beautiful colors.

So many shades of green! What a beautiful creation.

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
(Psalm 104:24)

Josiah touched the cold lake water, which makes me think of a verse in Proverbs, which makes me think of the Gospel.

Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.
(Proverbs 25:25)

But later that day, as we gazed across the Owens Valley towards the White Mountains, the sun had to set on our day as our trip drew to a close.

And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day
(Genesis 1:23 — okay, sorry, that one's a stretch!)

...as does this little excursion.

Thanks for encouraging me to share that with you.

Dan Phillips's signature

27 September 2007

Religious Symbology

by Frank Turk

If a picture is worth 1000 words, this breaks the bandwidth. Enjoy.

Our video is the #6 most LINKED today. We need 10 more LINKS to pull ahead of #1. Go embed the video on your blog and FIGHT THE POWAH.

26 September 2007

This Is Where I Was At Right Before Now

by Dan Phillips

Last Friday I left for the Sierra with my eleven-year-old son Josiah, and stayed until Tuesday morning in friends' guest house in Bishop. The occasion was my 497th birthday (52 in calendar years).

The Bishop-Mammoth Lakes area has been a vacation spot for the Phillipses since long before I was born. I've probably gone up there since I was around 5. I remember when coffee at Schat's Bakkery was 5 cents a cup. Don't even ask me what gas used to cost!

There is family film of little-bitty me, roped to a pole they'd stuck in a pond's bank, fishing. The rope was to keep me onshore, in case I caught a big one. (I have fallen in two Sierra lakes since then, but never for that reason.)

I've come back since over the years -- soloed many times, honeymooned in the area, have brought all my children. Try to get there at least once a year, more if possible.

So this is really a photo essay, and a brief one.

The trip over was through increasing cloudiness, and rain. The next day, since Josiah had never seen falling snow, we hunted for some.

Up the trail by McGee Creek, I thought I'd find some. What we found was sort of light and fluffy hail — less solid than your usual hail, a bit heavier than your standard snow. It was a good start, anyway. (Click on each image below, to see the larger version.)

Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!
(Psalm 148:7-8)

I told Josiah that this wasn't the big, fluffy flakes that I've more often seen fall. We went looking for them; saw one very brief flurry, but it was over as soon as I pulled off the road!

Then at the lower Twin Lake we hit "pay-dirt," as fluffy snowflakes began to float gently down.

As it turns out, the Mammoth Lakes were just warming up (or cooling down). We went to Horseshoe Lake, and the weather turned to this:
...and then this:
"Have you entered the storehouses of the snow...?"
(Job 38:22a)

(BTW, we were careful not to get too close to the lake. Thus we were able to avoid experiencing either dizziness, unconsciousness, or death. We did note the dead trees. The volcano [?] continued to slumber.)

On the way back down, we saw a brilliant rainbow, all the way down to the ground — but in the mercurial Sierrra weather, it had faded as soon as we pulled over to capture it.
"When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth."
(Genesis 9:16)

And on the way down, we saw both rain and clouds...

...after which, we enjoyed a delicious barbecued dinner.
"...foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving
by those who believe and know the truth."

(1 Timothy 4:3b)

And that was just our first full day!

It was a great trip. The only really depressing event there was... Sunday, when I went to church.

Maybe more on that, later.

With no pictures.

Dan Phillips's signature

24 September 2007

Different Gospels

by Phil Johnson

oug Pagitt has explained his scorn for John MacArthur in an e-mail to someone who expressed disappointment about the way Pagitt seemed to sidestep certain gospel truths during his recent CNN appearance. Pagitt's reply to his interlocutor is a rare, and welcome, moment of Emergent candor.

First, a hat-tip to Todd Friel, who featured this on last Monday's second hour of Way of the Master Radio. I get WOTM's podcasts daily but usually have to catch up with my listening on the weekends, so I did not hear this segment (or even know about it) until Saturday, when I listened to it on my way home from a conference in Bakersfield. Since it sheds further light on Friday's post, I decided to mention it today, while it's still timely.

Anyway, it seems this disappointed CNN viewer (someone I do not know) pointed out to Pagitt that Jeremiah 17:9 says "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." What sinners urgently need, therefore, is a new heart and a wholesale spiritual conversion—a new birth, in Jesus' words—not the artificial "wholeness" offered by yogic meditation; not a spiritual calisthenic that doesn't even deal with sin; and certainly not the phony self-help of seeking a connection with "the divine" by looking inside our own fallen and deceitful hearts.

The writer said he felt strongly about this since Jeremiah 17:9 had been instrumental in his own conversion, and he was very concerned about the way Pagitt seemed to gloss over the vital truth that text teaches.

Pagitt replied:

I must say that I see the gospel totally differently than what you conveyed in your e-mail. I was not converted by a verse but always loved and changed (even ongoing) by a fully-participating God who created me in his image. I would strongly encourage you to have a much more full and biblical understanding of the gospel, and not form a faith based on any interpretation of one verse.

I'm not sure you'd be interested in this, but I have just finished a book somewhat on this topic. I think it might give you a more full understanding of the gospel than the one perverted by the likes of John MacArthur. I do not say "perverted" lightly, either. I really think what he communicates is so distant from the message of the Bible that it is dangerously harmful to people. If you heard the interview and his comments about a God who is "above us," I certainly hope you would see this.

Now, I've suggested on a couple of occasions that several of the dominant figures in the Emerging/Emergent Conversation seem to have a notion of the gospel that is altogether different from what I find in Scripture, in the teaching of Christ, and in every historic confession of faith. In particular, the whole Emerging trajectory on the gospel seems to involve a conscious departure from the historic evangelical distinctives that define the Protestant mainstream.

Whenever I have expressed concern about that, I've been scolded and/or shouted down by Friends of Emergent who think such concerns are alarmist, overblown, uncharitable, and altogether unwarranted.

But here is someone who is arguably one of the three most prolific authors in the Emerging Conversation, and he plainly acknowledges that the gospel he believes is so thoroughly opposed to John MacArthur's understanding of the gospel that he thinks what MacArthur teaches about the gospel is a serious perversion—"so distant from the message of the Bible that it is dangerously harmful to people."

He even takes pains to stress that he is not making such a statement lightly. That is Doug Pagitt's carefully-considered assessment of the doctrinal differences between himself and "the likes of John MacArthur."

In other words, Pagitt admits that these are two wholly different gospels. One or the other, therefore, deserves the strongest possible anathema (Galatians 1:8-9).

That kind of clarity is precisely what is needed in the Emergent conversation. It draws a much-needed line in the sand. Emerging leaders who seem to crave the endorsement of conservative evangelicals while maintaining close affiliations with Pagitt and the rest of the Emergent Village posse need to pay close attention to what Pagitt is saying.

Those who are trying to produce carefully-crafted, purposely ambiguous statements of faith that can be affirmed by conservative evangelicals and liberal Emergents alike need to listen carefully to Pagitt; then read Paul's words in Galatians 1; and wake up to reality: the issues at stake really are of eternal importance.

And while we are on the subject, Pyro readers ought to listen to Mark Driscoll's 83-minute message from Friday night's session of the Convergent conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. (I got it on iTunes from the SEBTS podcast. I don't see it listed on the Web yet.) Driscoll likewise drew some clear lines in the sand. As usual, he couldn't seem to manage doing it without being unnecessarily and inappropriately crude, but we'll set that aside for the moment. He called out Pagitt, McLaren, and Bell (among others) for their departures from essential biblical truths and key Reformation distinctives.

Before you get too excited about that, note that Driscoll also took some hard shots at non-Emerging critics who don't approve of the methodology (and scatology) he employs to contextualize his ministry for postmodern young people. Driscoll dismissed all such critics as "fundamentalists" (he clearly doesn't relish saying that word the way he does certain four-letter expressions). He said such people pose a danger equal to that of the heretics within Emergent.

Meanwhile, Driscoll himself is under fire from some of his Emerging friends who don't like his combativeness and claim he fudged the numbers in his description of Mars Hill's "baptsmalooza."

So it seems the "Emerging Conversation" is coming apart at the seams.

Mike Clawson, a self-styled pacifist who clearly favors the leftmost Emergent ideas, says the fault lies almost entirely with the revival of Reformed doctrine. And ironically, he cites a three-year-old piece by Pagitt, appealing for a mild and friendly response to Emergent's critics. It contrasts starkly with Pagitt's actual response to John MacArthur.

Clawson's post seethes with postmodern angst over so much conflict. (Which is a bit odd, really, because Clawson has never really shown himself to be as averse to conflict as he often claims he is. But at least he has the good taste to acknowledge near the end of his post that he's not "always very good" at being a real pacifist, "but I'm trying.")

However you look at it, this has been a seriously hard week for the Emerging/Emergent conversation. I'm thinking of trying to trademark the name "Post-Emergent," because I think it's going to be really, really useful very soon now.

Phil's signature

22 September 2007

Bad Fads

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt comes from "A Sermon to the Lord's Little Children," a sermon preached Sunday Morning, 18 March 1883, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London.

ill we are rooted and grounded in the truth, new things have great charms for us, especially if they have about them a great show of holiness and zeal for God.

Listen, then, dear children but newly born into the Savior's family: "Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning."

Alas, even those who are older in grace than you are have shown a sad readiness to be duped by plausible persons who have invented fresh notions and methods. I have lived long enough to have seen a considerable variety of follies and manias in the religious world. They have sprung up, grown great, declined, and vanished. One day it has been one thing, another another.

I have lived to see those things justly ridiculed which a few years before were cried up as the wonders of the age. I thank God I have not been moved by any of these periodical fits of frenzy, but have been content to keep to the one old truth which I have gathered from the Scriptures and made my own by experience, and by the teaching of the Holy Spirit.

I have not had to tack about, for I have been enabled to steam ahead; and I hope I shall do so to the end. I have no respect for these upstart inventions; but I regard them as so many phases of human delusion. One never knows what will come next; but of this we are pretty sure, that every now and then a new doctrine is brought forth which turns out to be an old heresy with a fresh coat of varnish on it; or else some new method of saving souls is found out, and the work blazes away like a house on fire till it dies out in smoke.

Let us not be carried off our feet by every wind of doctrine. We may live to see the present craze ended and another or two after it; only be it ours to be steadfast, immovable. "Little children, let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning:" leave to others the soon-exhausted novelties and do you keep to the eternal unchangeable truth which is taught you in God's word and in your own soul's experience.
C. H. Spurgeon

21 September 2007

Biblical Propositions, Yoga Positions, and Contextualizing the Christian Message for People Who Work at CNN

by Phil Johnson

oug Pagitt's recent performance on CNN was documented last week by several bloggers, including Nathan Busenitz, Fred Butler, Shawn Anthony, and Doug Groothuis.

Groothuis had actually been invited to join a four-person panel on CNN but turned it down. Someone else must have declined, too, because in the end, the CNN segment featured only two guests. They pitted Pagitt against my pastor, John MacArthur, on the question of whether yoga is something Christians should practice or churches should sponsor.

John MacArthur, of course, believes in the authority of Scripture and the exclusivity of Christ. He said yoga as a spiritual discipline is fundamentally in conflict with authentic Christianity; and that Christians ought to seek spiritual wholeness through the truth of the Bible alone—not in ascetic practices borrowed from the sacraments and soteriology of Hindu mysticism. ("You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free"—John 8:32. The Bible is able to make us "complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work"—2 Timothy 3:17.)

And as if that weren't enough, the CNN host's reading of the dictionary definition of yoga ought to have settled the whole question.

But I was too busy to post about anything last week, and by the time I got my project done, the Great CNN Yoga Showdown was already old news.

I should mention that several Emergent-friendly bloggers also highlighted the exchange, and their comments are unusually revealing.

None is more revealing, however, than Doug Pagitt's own cynical podcast, made immediately after the CNN event—before Pagitt even left the building (HT: David "Hip Hop" Shannon).

Click here to listen to Doug Pagitt.

Todd Friel played portions of that podcast, interspersed with his own comments, on Wednesday's first hour of Way of the Master Radio. (Click on the poster below to hear the six-minute segment from WoTM Radio where Todd replied to Pagitt's remarks.)

Or click here to listen to Todd Friel.

I needn't say much more than Todd did about the Pagitt post-interview joint. Todd's analysis was spot on, except for one small but significant detail: the woman Pagitt was talking to in that podcast was not a member of his church but a woman who works for the studio CNN uses in Minneapolis. She gave no indication that she even professed to be a believer. Pagitt's sneering disdain for the sufficiency of Scripture needs to be evaluated in that context.

Now, given the typical Emergent approach to "contextualizing" the Christian message, I'd love to write Pagitt's insulting remarks off as merely a clumsy attempt to be "missional" and thereby connect with a CNN employee. After all, CNN hasn't exactly distinguished itself as a Christian-friendly organization, so someone might argue that Pagitt's display of hubris was merely an attempt to speak the language of that corporate culture.

Problem is, I don't think Pagitt was merely posturing for that woman's sake. I think he really does think yoga is more effective than the truth of Scripture as a remedy for the root causes of stress. Yoga positions, good; Bible propositions, blecch.

As a matter of fact, I think such a low view of Scripture is as much a staple in the Emergent culture as it is at CNN. It's just that with all the Emergents' fondness for double-talk, ambiguity, and equivocation, one doesn't usually get to hear it expressed with such straightforward transparency.

Phil's signature

20 September 2007

"The Church™"

by Frank Turk

Just was reading this:
The NT cannot answer the question of what contemporary denomination is the Church, because the NT writers didn’t know about any of the contemporary denominations. That doesn’t mean that the NT says nothing about the difference between true and false churches and how to tell the difference between them, and that these judgments can’t be applied to contemporary denominations.
For the record, I would agree that there is not now any denomination that can rightly call itself "The Church™". But here's the problem: was there ever a "denomination" or "hierarchy" which should have been, could have been, or actually was "The Church™" in the sense the person saying what I cited above means to say?

That is, did Jesus found a hierarchical institution?

And should we care?

Here's the first thing I'd suggest about that:
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
I'd start there because a lot of people would say that this verse demonstrates Jesus setting up one thing -- His church -- and therefore (they might say) all denominationalism is fraudulent.

I think they'd be half-right. Jesus certainly here announces that He will build "my church" -- that is, "μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν". And it's the common, universal translation of "ἐκκλησίαν" to say "church". But "church" in what sense? See: there's no other place in the NT where we might confuse what Jesus is going to do to "build His church" with "erecting an institution" -- because in all the other places, Jesus is talking about calling people out of the fallen world and into the kingdom of God.

That is: Christ's church is an "ἐκκλησία" -- a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly. And let's make no mistake: the calling out is done by Christ through the Holy Spirit -- just as it was for Simon, who immediately upon being called Peter by Christ tells Jesus not to get the boys all worked up by saying that the Priests and the Scribes are going to kill Him in Jerusalem.

In that respect, when we use the word "church" in English, we get a little lost because we get confused about whether the text means "those called out by God" or "First Institutional Building with HQ in Memphis, TN". Because in one sense -- the sense in Mt 16 here -- Jesus is talking about the whole assembly of believers throughout the ages.

But there is another sense that "ἐκκλησία" is used, such as here:

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: 'The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

'I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
The opening phrase there -- "Τῷ ἀγγέλῳ τῆς ἐν Ἐφέσῳ ἐκκλησίας" -- uses that word "ἐκκλησία" not to mean all believers, but in fact means the ones assembled in Ephesus. Young's "literal" translates the passage for us "To the messenger of the Ephesian assembly", and while Young's tends to have its own quirks, that's a great insight into what's going on with the word "ἐκκλησία" -- certainly, John intended to mean "those in the church at Ephesus", but did he mean "to the corporate office in Ephesus", or did he mean "to the people called out by faith"?

If he meant the former -- and I'd be willing to hear someone out who wants to say he did -- then the answer the person I cited at the top of this was providing to the question of "The Church™" has some meat on the bone. But if John -- and Paul, and the other NT writers -- didn't mean to name an institutionalized corporation but instead meant to name those called together by Christ and not by constitution or human polity, then the question of who is "The Church™" cannot be answered by denomination.

Instead, it has to get answered in a way that looks like this:
# The universal Church, which may be called invisible (in respect of the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) consists of the entire number of the elect, all those who have been, who are, or who shall be gathered into one under Christ, Who is the Head. This universal Church is the wife, the body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all.

# All people throughout the world who profess the faith of the Gospel and obedience to Christ on its terms, and who do not destroy their profession by any errors which contradict or overthrow Gospel fundamentals, or by unholy behaviour, are visible saints and may be regarded as such. All individual congregations ought to be constituted of such people.

# The purest churches under Heaven are subject to mixture and error, and some have degenerated so much that they have ceased to be churches of Christ and have become synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless Christ always has had, and always will (to the end of time) have a kingdom in this world, made up of those who believe in Him, and make profession of His name.

# The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. In Him, by the appointment of the Father, is vested in a supreme and sovereign manner all power for the calling, institution, order, or government of the Church. {section withheld for future discussion}

# In the exercise of the authority which has been entrusted to Him, the Lord Jesus calls to Himself from out of the world, through the ministry of His Word, by His Spirit, those who are given to Him by His Father, so that they may walk before Him in all the ways of obedience which He prescribes to them in His Word. Those who are thus called, He commands to walk together in particular societies or churches, for their mutual edification, and for the due performance of that public worship, which He requires of them in the world.

# The members of these churches are saints because they have been called by Christ, and because they visibly manifest and give evidence of their obedience to that call by their profession and walk. Such saints willingly consent to walk together according to the appointment of Christ, giving themselves up to the Lord and to one another, according to God's will, in avowed subjection to the ordinances of the Gospel.

# To each of these churches thus gathered, according to the Lord's mind as declared in His Word, He has given all the power and authority which is in any way required for them to carry on the order of worship and discipline which He has instituted for them to observe. He has also given all the commands and rules for the due and right exercise of this power.

# A particular church gathered and completely organised according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members. The officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church are bishops or elders and deacons. These are to be appointed for the peculiar administration of ordinances and the execution of power or duty with which the Lord has entrusted them and to which He has called them. This pattern of church order is to be continued to the end of the world.

# The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit for the office of bishop or elder in a church, is that he is to be chosen by the common consent and vote of the church itself. Such a person should be solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with the laying on of hands of the eldership of the church (if there be any previously appoint elder or elders). The way of Christ for the calling of a deacon is that he is also to be chosen by the common consent and vote of the church and set apart by prayer, with the laying on of hands.

# Because the work of pastors is to apply themselves constantly to the service of Christ in His churches by the ministry of the Word and prayer, and by watching for their souls as they that must give an account to Him, the churches to which they minister have a pressing obligation to give them not only all due respect, but also to impart to them a share of all their good things, according to their ability. This must be so done that the pastors may have a comfortable supply and that they may not have to be entangled in secular affairs, and may also be able to exercise hospitality towards others. All this is required by the law of nature and by the express command of our Lord Jesus, Who has ordained that they that preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel.

# Although an obligation lies on the elders or pastors of the churches to be urgently preaching the Word by virtue of their office, yet the work of preaching the Word is not exclusively confined to them. Therefore others who are also gifted and qualified by the Holy Spirit for the task, and who are approved and called by the church, may and ought to perform it.

# All believers are bound to join themselves to particular churches when and where they have opportunity so to do, and all who are admitted into the privileges of a church, are also under the censures and government of that church, in accordance with the rule of Christ.

# No church members, because of any offence which has been given them by a fellow member, once they have performed their prescribed duty towards the person who has caused the offence, may disturb church order in anyway, or be absent from the meetings of the church or the administration of any ordinances on account of any such offence. On the contrary, they are to wait upon Christ in the further proceedings of the church.

# Each church and all its members are obligated to pray constantly for the good and prosperity of all Christ's churches everywhere, and to help forward everyone who comes into their district or calling, by the exercise of their gifts and graces. It clearly follows that when churches are planted by the goodness of God they ought also to hold fellowship among themselves to promote peace, increasing love and mutual edification as and when they enjoy an opportunity to do so to their advantage.

# In cases of difficulties or differences, either in matters of doctrine or administration, which concern the churches in general or any single church, and which affects their peace, union, and edification, or when any members of a church are injured because of any disciplinary proceedings not consistent with the Word and correct order, it is according to the mind of Christ, that many churches holding communion together do, through their appointed messengers meet to consider, and give their advice about the matter in dispute, and to report to all the churches concerned. However, when these messengers are assembled, they are not entrusted with any real church power, or with any jurisdiction over the churches involved in the problem. They cannot exercise any censure over any churches or persons, or impose their determination on the churches or their officers.

Or something like that. That wouldn't be "denominationalism". That would be something else.

Your opinion may differ. That's what the meta is for.

19 September 2007

NT Christology (i.e. Jesus): mythical? made up?

by Dan Phillips

Tuesday's post was the second in the "Hello, Out There" series. As the comments tapered off, one came in which I think worthy of a more full (— Talbot grads don't say "f*ller"; to us, it is "the f-word") reply. To wit:

ShyGuy said...

Speaking of unspoken premises, Dan, there's one thing that I simply can't get over, and it's the core assumption in both of your "Hello, Out There" discussions. Your assumption is "the Bible is true." The more I read on the topic, the more I try to get my faith back, the more I see the faultlines in the Bible. It just seems to make to much sense to examine Christology as a sort of mythological emergence; nothing was even really written about him for some 40 or 50 years after his death (a date I base on the current earliest known scrap of New Testament writing). It makes sense to me that the apostles, for reasons of their own, took a few unexplained things around Christ's life, magnified them, added many stories of their own, and built a mythology, a sort of rallying figure that might hold out promise to the fracturing Jewish nation. How can you believe all that as the divine revelation of God? I don't mean this arrogantly, it's just my biggest stumbling block right now (in fact, it has destroyed my faith; I no longer consider myself a believer). How can we believe that the Bible is true?

1:34 AM, September 19, 2007

, I'm glad you asked.

Second, you're absolutely right. I don't write everything in every post. It's actually a temptation I have to fight — the temptation to try to say everything in every sermon, and write everything in every post. For me it takes discipline to try to pick one thing and focus on it alone. That's why this is a series. Lord willing, other things at other times.

Third, I have written at a bit more length about why I believe what I believe about Jesus and the Bible in an essay called Why I Am (Still) a Christian. Check it out.

Fourth, I wonder what study you've done on this subject. Taking you at your word, it seems to me that you've given up an awful lot for no reason at all. Let's take this apart a bit.

"Nothing"? You say, "nothing was even really written about [Jesus] for some 40 or 50 years after his death (a date I base on the current earliest known scrap of New Testament writing)."

This is simply a naked assertion. Not only does it have no supportive evidence, but it is contrary to a huge pile of evidence. The New Testament Epistles write about Jesus, and they were written as early as twenty years after Jesus' resurrection. Luke was almost certainly written before the mid-sixties (thus within 30-35 years of that event), and he refers to earlier written accounts (Luke 1:1-4). Thus, your premise is incorrect.

Nihilism? But let's put that aside for a moment. Have you thought this through at all? Your assumption is, "We cannot know anything about something documented 40-50 years after the event." Do you realize that no remotely credible historian alive would agree with you? Do you realize that this would lead to total historical nihilism?

Put it another way. When you read David McCullough on, say, John Adams or George Washington, or 1776, do you reject the whole as bosh because it is written more than two centuries after the events? Or when you read of the Pharaohs, or the Battle of Carchemish, do you shrug and say "Whatever" because everything is written millennia after the occurrences? Not likely.

Do you realize that most historians would (metaphorically, I trust) kill to have the sorts of resources, the staggering wealth of early manuscript evidence, that the NT historian has about the life of Jesus?

Plus (just in passing), you speak as if these documents came from a vacuum, and dropped into a vacuum. Christianity took hold when vast throngs of eyewitnesses still lived. It gripped people with its truth to the extent that they were willing to die, and often did die, for the proposition that its central tenets were historical.

How much is enough? Again, taking you at your word that this is the reason you class Jesus as a liar: how early would the documents have to be for you to believe? You say 40-50 years is too much of a gap. How about 39 years? But you're already there; Mark may well have been written within a couple of decades of the resurrection; Luke's sources certainly were written within three. 35 years? Already there. 30? Probably already there, in my judgment. What is your cut-off for historical certainty, how did you arrive at it, and on what basis?

To take that slightly differently, given that this was your stated reason for not being a Christian, and given that I've shown you that you were incorrect, will you believe in Jesus now? (BTW, a lot more documentation and reasoning is given in a book I reviewed last year.)

You see, I'll just be very candid with you. In a few decades of talking to people who say they've left Christ, I have found a common factor. The reason they give is never the real reason. They say "error in the Bible, Christians are mean, I hate church, God didn't obey one of my prayer-orders," or a dozen other things. And I'm sure those things feel, emotionally, very real to them.

But they're always red herrings. The real reason always comes from the world, the flesh, and/or the devil. Always it's really that they wanted to think, be, or do something they knew was wrong, and they'd feel a lot better about it if there were no living God such as Jesus reveals. They wanted to have sex with someone (or something) they knew they shouldn't, they wanted to take or become or do something they knew they shouldn't, and the only thing standing in the way was God. So they just attempt intellectual deicide, come up with an alibi, and try to move on.

Dead giveaway #1. The first dead giveaway is that the alibi almost invariably evaporates under the most basic examination.

I'm not saying that's you. I'm just saying that, so far, the stats in my experience are pretty high.

Dead giveaway #2. The second dead giveaway is that Real Central Unanswerable Challenge A, when it is knocked over, is immediately replaced by Real Central Unanswerable Challenge B ("Oh yeah? Well... well... where did Cain get his wife? Huh? Huh?") And Real Central Unanswerable Challenge B, demolished, is immediately replaced by Real Central Unanswerable Challenge C, and then D, and then E, and on and on.

Because the presenting issue is never the real issue.

As different as you and I may be, we share the same real issue; and that is something that I did talk about in the previous post. Our issue is that our desires are contrary to the will and nature of God. He stands between us and what we want, because what we want is to "be as God"; we want "thy will be done" to be addressed to us. So whatever we tell ourselves and others, we really don't want such a God as Jesus reveals. And that is why we characteristically suppress the truth that God offers us (Romans 1:18).

But that is why Jesus came. He came as the first man ever not to rebel, the first man ever perfectly to fulfill His Father's law in thought, word and deed. He fulfilled an intricate labyrinth of prophecy, lived a life marked off by the touch of God from first to last. He died under God's wrath, as a substitute, bearing the guilt of innumerable rebels, so that He might reconcile them to God.

The reason His death was of such infinite value is that He was God incarnate, as the Old Testament had said He would be (cf. Isaiah 7:14; 9:6). God the Son lived a perfect life empowered by God the Holy Spirit, made the perfect sacrifice to appease God's wrath; and God the Father signaled His acceptance of that sacrifice by raising Christ bodily from the dead.

So the great good news, Shyguy, is that whatever particular issues you may feel you have, your real issues and mine are dealt with in Christ. Agree with God about His Son, rest your faith on Him as your Lord and your Savior.

Now there's a rock you can build on.

(For more about how and why to know God, read here.)

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