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November 2006

November 30, 2006

ThirtyThis Saturday will mark my thirtieth birthday. I am not typically one who takes much notice of occasions such as birthdays or who makes a big deal of them, but as I considered passing a decade barrier, it seemed appropriate that I should spend some time thinking about the last ten years. I was convicted that it would be beneficial to ponder all that has happened in my life since 1996, the last time I passed a milestone birthday. This truly has been a decade of remarkable and almost unbelievable blessing and I would be remiss not to think about it and to praise God for it.

As I pondered the last decade of my life I began to write for I tend to think best with a pen in my hand. Before long I found that I had sketched out a thumbnail of this decade of my life. And once this was written I thought it might be interesting to post it here. I do so with some hesitation and there are two reasons for this. First, I find it difficult to imagine that anyone beyond family members and close friends will be interested in this. Thus it is primarily for the benefit of friends and family that I post it, though anyone is certainly welcome to read it. Second, it seems almost exhibitionist or self-indulgent to make public the details of the my life. Still, I hope you’ll indulge me this once. By reading this site you have become, after all, a part of my life. So perhaps this document will serve to help you make better sense of where I come from.

I turned 20 on December 2, 1996 but have no recollection of that day. I likely spent the day at college and the evening with my family. I’m sure my mother made whatever I requested for dinner and followed that with a chocolate cake. At that time I was young and unmarried, in the third year of my studies at McMaster University, and only months away from graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history.

But before we look forward from that day, I’ll have to provide some context by looking back for just a moment. In December of 1996 I lived with my parents and four siblings in Ancaster, Ontario. Born into a Christian home, I had been raised in rather insular Reformed churches in the Dutch tradition, had attended Christian schools and had memorized the bulk of both the Shorter and the Heidelberg Catechisms. I had listened to countless sermons, attended years of catechism classes and had studied the Bible front to back in both school and church. I had done devotions on a near-daily basis since I was old enough to read the Bible and had sat through two decades of family devotions. My parents had invested in all of us children, teaching and training us in the Christian faith. Though I made a confession of faith when I was a young child, I did not truly make the faith of my parents my own until I was fifteen or sixteen. Strangely, though I was a voracious reader, I do not recall reading more than the smallest handful of Christian books through these years. I was a Christian but was isolated from most of the wider Christian world. While the churches we attended had many great and wonderful traits, they were largely focused inward and did not encourage interaction with believers (or unbelievers) outside of that tradition. I had never heard of the rapture, had never witnessed an adult baptism, did not consider myself an evangelical, and knew almost nothing of even the most popular Christian teachers and preachers. I knew only a narrow Christianity.

By the time I turned 20 I had been a Christian for at least a few years and for the past 18 months or so had been dating a pretty young girl named Aileen Duncan. We had met a few years earlier. Being the restless type, I had decided to fast-track, eliminating a year of high school by taking a heavier course load. I could only do this through a public school and so transferred from the Christian school to Ancaster Public High School. On my first day at the new school I met Aileen in history class and recognized her as a neighbor of one of my best friends, though one I had never spoken to before. I’d be lying if I said it was love at first sight, but I’d also be lying if I said she didn’t catch my eye. We spent a great deal of time together during those history classes and were often scolded by the teacher for chatting and whispering together rather than paying attention to the lectures. Yet we were only friends and when the second semester rolled around, we no longer shared any classes and soon fell out of touch. Through the remainder of the school year we did little more than exchange quick greetings as we passed each other in the school hallways. She already had a boyfriend and I was not particularly interested in a girlfriend. In the spring I began my studies at McMaster University while Aileen returned for the final year of high school I had managed to skip. By the time the school year ended I stopped thinking about her altogether.

But then, almost a year later and quite out of nowhere, Aileen called me. My little sister answered the phone and, as she handed it to me (and with no idea of who was on the line) said jokingly, and perhaps prophetically, “Hey Tim! It’s your girlfriend.” Newly single, Aileen had purportedly called to ask my opinion of McMaster University (even though her father had worked there for the past twenty years). She soon got down to business, though, and asked if I’d like to accompany to a murder mystery party with some friends. I declined the offer. A while later she again asked if I’d like to go out with her and a group of her friends. I declined again. Thankfully Aileen has a stubborn personality and eventually prevailed. She soon cajoled me into taking her out for some ice cream. I still remember what she wore that day. I had never dated, nor had I seriously wanted to date, anyone else.

There was just one problem. The first time we went out I told her that I was a Christian and that, since she was not, I would not be able to pursue a romantic relationship with her, though obviously I really did like her as a friend. And so it was that our first date was really not a date at all. My convictions surprised her and she had a good deal of thinking to do. We spoke quite frequently in the following days and weeks and I could tell she was receptive to the gospel. I’m still ashamed to say that we really did start dating even though she was not a believer. My convictions couldn’t stand up to those pretty green eyes. I was hoping and praying that our relationship would prove to be of the “flirt and convert” variety. God was good and after a few months Aileen accepted my mom’s invitation to go out with her for dinner. While they were out, my mother led her to the Lord. While we knew that only time would tell whether her commitment would stand the test of time, we now proceeded somewhat cautiously into a relationship. In 1996 Aileen began attending McMaster university and we had many opportunities to spend time together. By the time I celebrated my twentieth birthday I was head over heels in love with her and knew that she was the girl I wanted to marry.

And this brings us back to where we started. In May of 1997 I graduated from university. I did not bother to attend the ceremonies since, as you may know, I hardly like to be the center of attention, even if only for a few moments. Plus, having graduated in three years, I did not know any of the people I would have had to graduate with, for they were all fourth-year students. I went to the university and picked up my diploma a few weeks later. As I did so I remembered that I hadn’t bothered going to my high school graduation either. As if to prove how little emphasis I place on these pieces of paper I went looking for my diplomas recently but wasn’t able to track them down. I assume they are in the bottom of a box somewhere in the basement.

That summer, like the summer before, I managed a painting business, hiring eight or ten people to work for me. The business was reasonably successful, though I soon realized that I had no desire to paint for a living. July 4 of 1997 was a particularly memorable day in that summer. Aileen and I went out for dinner at a fancy restaurant and afterwards went for a walk in a nearby conservation area. While standing on a bridge overlooking a little river I asked her to marry me and, to my great joy, she agreed (though only after confirming that I had first secured her father’s permission). We tentatively set a date two or three years in the future by which time she would have finished college and a short post-grad program. While I agreed to this timeline I had other plans. By the time fall rolled around we had decided to marry the next summer, shortly after Aileen’s graduation. I was elated and looked forward to beginning life with her.

When the summer of 1997 came to an end I closed down my seasonal painting company once and for all and went looking for a real job. I soon noticed that a Starbucks cafe was about to open nearby. Having no job at the time, and being intrigued by the company which had only recently ventured into Canada, I applied for a job and soon found myself working there full-time. I was put on the track to management and actually enjoyed the mindlessness of the job. After many years of school and two summers of managing a group of people, I was ready go take it easy. I suppose I was also somewhat lacking in ambition. Then again maybe I had lots of ambition, for in October 1997 I promoted a major concert in Toronto. Over 1000 people showed up to see Petra in one of their anniversary tours. While I was intrigued by the possibility of promoting more concerts, I soon learned that the Canadian market cannot adequately support Christian music. Though I promoted the occasional concert after that, I did so as a hobby, not as a potential business.

On August 8, 1998, in the presence of our friends and families, my best friend became my wife in a simple ceremony in Saint John’s Anglican Church in Ancaster, Ontario. I was 21 and Aileen was 22 (she is seven months older than I am). Looking at the pictures today I cannot believe how young we look; how young we were. It was a hot day, probably the hottest of the summer, with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees. Though we sweltered in the heat, we had a grand and memorable day. But, of course, we were happy to escape the city and we made our way to a friend’s cottage for a week-long honeymoon in a wonderfully isolated spot in just about the middle of nowhere. When real life resumed, I continued to work at Starbucks. Aileen and I rented a small house in Brantford, a city about 20 kilometers west of Ancaster. It was a small house, but ideally suited to a couple just starting out. The rent was a mere $400 per month. We had no friends in the immediate area, but entertained quite often and always kept busy. We even bought a puppy to keep Aileen company during those times that I was working until late. We remember the early days of our marriage with great fondness. They were fun days, and largely carefree.

Life was about to change. One day my father came to me and told me that there was no future for me in Starbucks and that he had a better plan. He dragged me downtown to a college that offered a variety of computer courses. While I had spent a good deal of time using computers in the past, I had never considered a career in the field. I was, after all, an arts major. But with the dot com boom in full swing it seemed like an ideal time to attempt to enter the field. I enrolled in a one year program for LAN (Local Area Network) Administration and found that I was quite good at this computer stuff and, what’s more, that I really enjoyed it. Eight months later I emerged with a diploma and a big pile of certifications that are now completely meaningless. Once again I skipped my graduation ceremony. Before I had even completed the program I found a job and began work at a small software development company in Oakville, a town about 40 kilometers from home. I was offered the rather lowly sum of $28,500 per year but accepted it gladly and began a new career. In the meantime Aileen had decided that she had no interest in pursuing a post-graduate degree and spent several days a week working at a friend’s fish and chips store.

It was around this time that Aileen and I found out that we were going to be parents (imagine, if you will, experiencing severe morning sickness while working at a fish and chips restaurant!). We were, of course, absolutely thrilled. Our parents were shocked. My parents may have been most shocked, for they had recently decided to move south of the border. My father had always wanted to live in the United States and, because his mother was American, he was able to do so. In August of 1999 my parents and four siblings moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Meanwhile, Aileen and I decided to head back towards Ancaster to be closer to my new job. We moved to Dundas, a small and quiet town mere minutes from Ancaster. We settled into what soon proved to be an awful, century-old house infested with mice. And yet we enjoyed the house as only a young couple can. On March 5, 2000 we became the parents of a little boy whom we named Nicholas Paul after two of my closest friends.

(click here for part two)

November 30, 2006

Yesterday I broached the always-difficult subject of the Regulative Principle. As I should have expected, there was a good bit of discussion about it. I assume it was clear that I was not personally defending the Principle but merely attempting to explain it in a way that accurately represented those who hold to it. Today I will post a brief conclusion to the original thrust of the article which dealt with advent candles.

As you recall, yesterday I differentiated between elements and circumstances in worship. Elements are the “what” of worship and circumstances are the “how.” It seems to me that candles can fall into either grouping. If candles are used for lighting or atmosphere, as at a “Candles and Carols” Christmas Eve service, I believe they are circumstantial and can be left to the discretion of the church leadership. They are not being used as as an element of worship but are merely an alternative to light bulbs (which are also, of course, circumstantial). So there is nothing inherent in candles that make them unsuitable under the Regulative Principles.

However, if candles are to be used as an element within the service, as in the use of advent candles, I believe they fall under the purvey of the Regulative Principle. I will admit that I know little of advent traditions and have only once attended a church that used advent candles. I believe they followed church tradition in lighting a different candle for each of the four Sundays in advent. Each Sunday they would light the previous weeks’ candles and one new one. The final candle was lit on Christmas morning and each candle had a particular meaning and was meant to draw our thoughts to a different person or event. These candles were lit during the worship service and as an element of the service. Assuming this is typical, a church that holds to the Principle would have to reject these candles as being extra-biblical and thus unsuitable for corporate worship services.

So, to answer my friend’s question, yes, observance of advent and the lighting of advent candles violates the Regulative Principle.

I also mentioned yesterday that I would provide a very brief look at my beliefs about this Principle and its usefulness for churches today. I do so largely out of ignorance, never having felt the need to study this issue in great depth. I have been a member of churches that adhered to the Principle and a member of churches that did not. I consider it a secondary issue. Were I to become a pastor and to plant a new church I suppose I would have to formulate my thoughts to a greater extent. But to this point I have never had to reach a firm conclusion.

Having said that, I think it unlikely that I would adhere to the Regulative Principle. I do love the Principle for what it does well, and that is draw our attention to what the Bible mandates for corporate worship. The Principle is useful in drawing our attention to what God demands and what He rejects. I certainly agree that all of the elements modelled in Scripture should be present in our churches. But I do not find evidence stating that we must use only those elements.

Yesterday my pastor reminded me of an article on our church’s web site. Scroll down, if you wish, to the section titled “The Content of Corporate Worship: What Does the Lord Tell Us to Do in Worship?” He points out several of the shortcomings of the Regulative Principle with the predominant critique being the wide variety of application in the Principle. Every group seems to apply it differently, proving just how difficult it is to hold to it with any kind of consistency.

In short, I feel there is wisdom we can extrapolate from the Regulative Principle, but I am unconvinced that we must adhere to it. But do read this with the caveat I expressed earlier. This is not an issue over which I would be willing to take a firm stance.

November 30, 2006

Thursday November 30, 2006

Church: Benny really needs your help buying him a new jet. Perhaps you should consider skipping Christmas this year to help him out. He is asking for an initial $6 million to help cover the down payment.

Television: Here is a new series you’ll all want to watch. “One Punk Under God” features Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy. “Veteran of a troubled adolescence, tattooed and pierced Jay now preaches God’s grace and unconditional love to an alternative non-denominational congregation in Atlanta, which meets in a working bar.”

Film: Citizenlink reports on the latest film being marketed to the faith and values group. This time it is “Rocky Balboa,” the latest Rocky film.

November 29, 2006

1414314620.jpgIt is a rare occasion that a film is better than the book it is based on. The book is almost always superior. However, a book that precedes a film by the same name is typically far better than a book that is based on the film. Only rarely does a textual adaptation of a film equal it. And so it was with little eagerness or expectation that I began to read The Nativity Story, the official novelization of the forthcoming film by the same name.

The film of The Nativity Story is set to hit theaters on Friday, December 1. It is billed as a faithful retelling of the biblical story of Jesus’ birth. Of course, as with any film based on the Bible, there must be a good deal of artistic license and exploration. I hope to discuss this further after I have seen the film.

November 29, 2006

I receive all kinds of interesting questions from readers of this site. Recently one of these, a friend, asked my opinion of lighting advent candles in worship services. “Would you say the lighting of advent candles fit under the category of imagery,” he asked, “or would it be considered symbolism? What’s the difference? Does observance of advent violate the Regulative Principle?” I would like to consider this question today and will focus primarily on the third portion of the question, dealing with the Regulative Principle.

Let’s begin by defining the Regulative Principle (also known as the Regulatory Principle). This principle is no longer widely practiced in the Christian world but not too many years ago was observed in most Protestant churches. It continues to find support today in a variety of predominantly Reformed Baptist and Presbyterian congregations. It is important to note that this principle applies only to worship services and not to other elements of life.

The Regulative Principle of worship states that the only acceptable worship is that which is explicitly taught or modelled in the Bible. By extension then, anything that is not explicitly taught in the Bible is implicitly forbidden. The Regulatory Principle is most often applied to music in the worship service, but can also apply to the use of drama, the administration of the Lord’s Supper (how is it celebrated and how often?) and any other number of situations (including the use of advent candles). Churches that adhere to the Regulative Principle will insist that God, in His wisdom, provided particular ways in which we are to worship Him and these are outlined in Scripture. Means of worship that we may invent will not be acceptable to a perfect and holy God. In the New Testament God has given us certain rules and restrictions just as He gave to the Israelites in the Old Testament. Like the Israelites of old, these rules are given for our protection and within them rules we have great freedom to worship the Lord. Churches that do not hold to the Regulative Principle may take the opposite approach and assume that God desires to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. As long as all of our worship is edifying and does not directly contradict a practice that is forbidden, it will be acceptable in God’s sight. This is the view of worship held by the majority of evangelical churches.

The definitive statement regarding the Regulatory Principle can be found in the Westminster Confession, Chapter 21, paragraph 1 which reads, “The light of nature shows that there is a God, who has lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and does good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.” This statement is echoed in the London Baptist Confession of 1689, showing that the confessions undergirding both Baptist and Presbyterian churches once held to this principle.

The Regulative Principle is built upon the following five biblical commands concerning worship:

  1. We are to worship God in ways that edify our local church (1 Corinthians 14:26).
  2. We are to worship God in a proper and orderly manner (1 Corinthians 14:40).
  3. We are to worship God in Spirit and truth (John 4:24).
  4. We are to worship God in reverence (Hebrews 12:28-29).
  5. We are to worship God in awe (Hebrews 12:28-29).

Despite the fact that the Regulative Principle has been utilized by churches for centuries, there is still a great deal of discussion and disagreement about what aspects of the worship service are to be governed by it. To understand what falls under the purvey of the Regulative Principle it is crucial that we make the crucial distinction between elements and circumstances of worship. Let’s consider a few questions that may arise when discussing worship services and see whether these can rightly be governed according to the Regulative Principle?

  • Should a worship service be held on Saturday or Sunday?
  • Should a worship service be held at 10 AM or 11 AM?
  • Should a worship service be 2 hours long or 12 hours long?
  • Should dance be permitted during the worship service?
  • Which psalms and hymns should we sing in church?
  • Should we permit voice amplification in the service?
  • Should we use hymn books or Powerpoint projection?

To answer these questions, we need to understand the difference between the elements of worship and the circumstances (or form) of worship. The Regulative Principle can seen daunting or terribly restrictive, but I feel it seems far less so when properly understood, for the Principle is really meant only to apply to elements. It is important to note that this division transcends Reformed worship and is a helpful way to understand all that happens in worship services in all Christian traditions. The service of your local church is divided into elements and circumstances and you may find it helpful to consider which is which.

Elements

Said simply, the elements of worship are the “what” of worship - the parts that, according to the Regulative Principle, are fixed by God in Scripture. Examining the New Testament will show the elements that are permitted and commanded by Scripture. These include reading Scripture, prayer, singing, preaching the Word and celebrating the sacraments of baptism and Lord’s Supper. The worship service should incorporate each of these elements, though there is some disagreement on whether each element must appear in each service, especially in regards to celebration of the Lord’s Supper. T. David Gordon writes, “It is not difficult to conclude that the elements which are anticipated by our Lord’s instructions to the disciples, which are observed in the churches under apostolic oversight, which are regulated by inspired epistle, are the ministry of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, spoken and sung prayers and praises, and collections for the relief of the saints.” It is likewise not difficult to conclude that these are the only elements that are explicitly modelled in New Testament worship. In churches that do not hold to the Regulative Principle, the elements can extend to a variety of other practices and activities such as drama, foot washing and prophecy to name only a few.

The following list of elements, typical of a church that adheres to the Regulative Principle, is compiled by Reisinger & Allen in their book entitled Worship:

  1. The reading of Scripture (Acts 15:21, Rev. 1:3)
  2. The preaching of the Word of God (2 Timothy 4:2)
  3. The hearing of the word of God (James 1:19)
  4. The singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16, Eph. 5:19, James 5:13)
  5. Baptism (Matthew 28:19)
  6. The Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23, Acts 2:42)
  7. The Collection of Offerings (Gal. 2:10; 1 Cor. 9:3-12)

Circumstances

If the elements of worship are the “what,” the circumstances of worship are the “how” - the conditions that determine the best way to worship God within the structure provided by the elements. The Westminster Confession says, “there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed” (1.6). The Directory of Worship for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church states, “The Lord Jesus Christ has prescribed no fixed forms for public worship but, in the interest of life and power in worship, has given his church a large measure of liberty in this matter.” While there is little freedom in the elements of worship, there is great freedom within them according to circumstances. However, as with every area of life, this freedom must be exercised cautiously and in a way consistent with Scripture.

So let’s turn again to the questions we asked earlier and determine which are elements and which are circumstances. I will attempt to answer each in a way that is consistent with the Regulative Principle.

  • Should a worship service be held on Saturday or Sunday? - According to most Christians who adhere to the Regulative Principle, this question is answered clearly in the Scripture. Worship services are to model the New Testament example by being held on the Lord’s Day - the first day of the week. The confessions state plainly: “The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.”
  • Should a worship service be held at 10 AM or 11 AM? - This is a circumstance, not an element. Thus the leaders of the church should decide on a time (or on several times) that best suits that congregation. There are any number of considerations. For example, a rural church may need to work around the schedule of farmers to allow them to attend church; a church that rents a building may have to worship later in the day, and so on.
  • Should a worship service be 2 hours long or 12 hours long? - This is a circumstance. While a service should be long enough to incorporate the elements the Scripture models, a service that is too long might lose its effectiveness.
  • Should dance be permitted during the worship service? - This is an element. There is no place in Scripture where dance is permitted as an element of worship. Thus dance should not be permitted during the worship service.
  • Which psalms and hymns should we sing in church? - This is a circumstance. Scripture commands us to sing but does not dictate exactly what we should sing. I will point out that some people believe that only the singing of Psalms is allowed in the New Testament, and thus we should sing only Psalms in our worship services. Most churches that adhere to the Regulative Principle teach that we have greater freedom than that in our music.
  • Should we permit voice amplification in the service? - This is a circumstance. If necessity dictates voice amplification, it is expedient to use it.
  • Should we use hymn books or Powerpoint projection? - This is a circumstance. Displaying words in a book or on a screen is circumstantial. However, if the Powerpoint projection includes pictures meant to enhance the singing or preaching many who adhere to the Regulative Principle would argue that the Scripture does not allow images in worship, and thus we must project only plain text.

When we understand the difference between the elements and circumstances of worship, we can put to rest many of the questions about the Regulative Principle. Any questions that have to do with the elements can be answered quickly by comparing the element in question with what is permitted in Scripture. Questions regarding circumstances are moderately more difficult to answer clearly, but we are given more freedom in the way we answer them in ways appropriate to particular settings for they are not directly governed by the Principle.

This article has already gotten lengthy, so I will conclude it tomorrow by applying the Regulative Principle to advent candles. I will also provide my beliefs about this Principle and its usefulness for churches today.

November 29, 2006

Wednesday November 29, 2006

Women: The ladies over at GirlTalk provide links to several good articles from the latest issue of the “Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.”

Du Jour: A new book tells us something we already know: women talk three times as much as men. “Women also speak more quickly, devote more brainpower to chit-chat - and actually get a buzz out of hearing their own voices, a new book suggests.”

Weird: Want to make a sandwich? You may not be able to call it that for long as McDonald’s is attempting to patent the name, claiming the “method and apparatus for making a sandwich as its intellectual property.”

November 28, 2006

1596380527.jpgWhen I was a child my parents explained to me how important it is to make time every day for reading the Bible and praying. Wanting to please them, and knowing it was the right thing to do, I began to have a brief period of devotions each day before bed. I do not remember a whole lot about how I conducted these devotions, but I do remember struggling with whether or not it was acceptable to pray the Lord’s Prayer instead of praying a personal prayer. Though it is given by Jesus as a model of prayer, for some reason it seemed to me to be a lazy option. When I was tired and worn out after a long day of saving the world or teasing my sisters, I’d often collapse into bed, pray the Lord’s Prayer, and fall asleep. In so doing I treated the Lord’s Prayer as a magic prayer that contains power simply because it comes directly from Scripture. I put little of my heart and little of my mind into the prayer.

November 28, 2006

Tuesday November 28, 2006

Film: Al Mohler has an early review of “The Nativity Story.” “Here is my instant review — the movie is in season and on message. In other words, the movie faithfully presents the main thrust of the Christmas story. That is no small achievement.”

Books: Tony Reinke needs a hobby. He has taken to snapping photographs of his books and is making them available to the public. “In the hopes of promoting these excellent books, you are free to use these photos on your own blog or printed material.”

Greek: Not too long ago I came across Wermuth’s Greekbook. It looks to be a great resource for anyone who wants to try to learn the basics of biblical Greek.

Terror: According to this article, the threat of disease spread by terrorists is less of a concern than the threat of disease spread by illegal exotic pets. Who knew?