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April 2007

April 30, 2007

This morning I finished reading Daniel Doriani’s commentary on James and, in his discussion of the final portion of James 5, found an interesting quote. As I read it, I thought of my continuationist (charismatic) friends. It is my experience that these people often typify cessationists like myself as those who do not believe in supernatural or miraculous healings but this is really not the case. The disagreement really arises over whether or not the spiritual gift of healing is operative in the church today. This quote describes something that happened in a conservative, Reformed, Presbyterian context and something that I think is consistent with cessationist theology (even though cessationists may have some disagreement about what James refers to by anointing a person with oil). Doriani is not the only Reformed Presbyterian who has experienced this kind of blessing.

During the autumn when I first studied James in earnest, a friend suffered a viral infection of the heart. While it was not a heart attack, it mimicked many of the symptoms of one. My friend felt listless; he looked gray and lifeless. One day at church, I told him that James 5 instructs elders to lay hands on the sick and to pray for their healing; I suggested that he call the elders for that very purpose. Two weeks later, he told me he wanted to proceed. No one in our church had done this before, so we did something very Presbyterian: we studied the matter another six weeks and hoped he didn’t die in the meantime.

At last, we appointed a night for prayer and the elders gathered. Our church’s pastor (I was a college professor at the time) summoned the elders. Before we prayed, he told us not to expect a dramatic physical healing, since God heals in many ways. I appreciated his motive, but there was no need to restrain my enthusiasm; my doubting heart was already skeptical enough…

…My friend knelt down in the middle of a circle of elders. We anointed him with oil, laid lands on him, and began to pray. Since I had started the process, I was appointed to offer the closing prayer.

As soon as we began to pray, I had an overwhelming sense that God was, at the moment, healing my friend. My arms felt what I can only describe as bolts of fire pushing through them. As I grasped my friend’s shoulder, heat and energy burned my hand. I felt that my one hand could lift all of his 230 pounds to the ceiling or push him through the floor if I wished.

I knew God was healing him. I wanted to shout, “We must stop praying that God will heal John and start praising God that he has healed him.” But I was too astonished, too ensure of my sensations, to say a word to anyone that night. For four days, I kept my experience to myself.

Four days later, after church, my friend beckoned me with a wild grin, “Dan, watch this.” At once, he dashed up a flight of steps. I dashed after him and met him at the top. He smiled, “And I’m not even breathing hard.”

“I knew it,” I exclaimed, and told him what I had felt a few nights earlier. And he told me, “I knew it too.”

Since that day, I have joined elders to lay hands on the sick and pray for them. I have never again felt the fire. And while I occasionally feel a flood of warmth and emotion, I have learned that my feelings and God’s healings have no connections. A small number have experienced immediately healing from serious illness. More have recovered gradually and under the care of physicians. Many have found spiritual healing—great peace and spiritual renewal in times of crisis and suffering, whether they recovered physically or not. And some have apparently gained no physical or spiritual benefit at all.

A page later he provides an interesting and important clarification about what James says about healing and something that is consistent with cessationist beliefs.

Sick men and women call the elders as a group. They do not call those with a gift for healing; rather they call all to pray for healing. James says the prayers of a righteous man are effective. Since the first qualification for an elder is holiness—not social standing or theological acumen—the prayers of elders are effective. The elders pray for healing, not for miracles. It doesn’t matter if a healing is quiet or splashy, True healings garner all the attention they need.
April 30, 2007

Today I want to discuss frugality. I raise this issue because I have seen it appear as a topic many people, and women in particular, discuss on their blogs. Now the Bible makes it clear that money issues are often very closely connected to heart issues, and whether a person spends money freely or whether he spends money only with great reluctance, it is wise to look always to the heart. Money can be an idol both in want and in plenty. So I think this is an issue that is well worth discussing.

April 29, 2007

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. It is a way of introducing my readers to blogs that they may also find interesting and edifying. Every two weeks (or so) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my right sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making my readers aware of other good sites.

This week’s King for a Week is Les Davey de France, a blog run by Alan Davey. There is a whole genre of blog that is largely biographical—an author writing about his or her daily existence. This is often what people think of when they hear the word “blog;” they think of angst-filled teenagers writing about how much they love South Park and how much they hate their parents. I don’t read a lot of these biographical blogs even though, thankfully, they are not all so negative. But every now and then one catches my interest and Les Davey de France is one of these. Alan says this on his blog: “In 2005 Alan, Pat, Gwilym & Catrin Davey moved from North East Wales to Bordeaux. Alan is a pastor and Pat was a nurse. Now we work with UFM worldwide. Read on! (If you’d like to know what took us to Bordeaux, then start with the archives from September 2004).” I find it really interesting to read his blog and to see how he and his family are settling into France and how they are seeking to minister there. It’s good to get a glimpse into the lives of people who are serving and ministering in a whole different culture.

In the coming days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so. Thanks to all who nominated this week’s honoree.

April 28, 2007

This brief article is in response to a friend and reader of this site who wanted to know what this RSS thing is all about. If you’ve been reading blogs for any time at all you’ve probably heard about RSS and syndication and Atom and have wondered what they are all about. I aim to let you know!

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (though some people disagree and say it stands for Rich Site Summary). Regardless of what it means, RSS is one of the more recent wonders of the Internet. When people first starting browsing the Net and reading blogs they were content to bookmark pages and make time to visit each of those sites one or more times a day to see if the content had been updated. With the rapid rise of the number of sites and the increasing amount of content (quality or otherwise) people have realized it would be far more valuable to simply subscribe to sites and to be notified of when they are updated. Rather than visiting twenty sites every day, they could simply receive notifications telling them when and if one of their favorite sites had been updated. And RSS was born. It is a very effective way of reading more blogs (or other sites) in less time. Rather than having to go and look for content it just brings it to you.

So here is how it works. Most blogs have an RSS address. So do many sites dealing with news, sports, and just about any other topic. The addresses to these feeds usually look similar to the site’s URL, so something like http://www.somerandomsite.com/index.xml. They are typically indicated by one of the icons in the graphic at the top of this article. In the case of my site the link to the feed is that button in the middle of the center column that has the number of subscribers on it and the actual address looks like this: http://feeds.feedburner.com/challies/XhEt. If you click on this link you may see something that does not look like a normal web site, but that is okay because this page is not meant to be read by a human. Rather, a computer program will read and decipher this page. People who want to know when my site is updated, will simply use an RSS program to subscribe to that address. Then, when I update the site this program will let them know. They can then browse the content through their program rather than having to actually visit my site.

There are a lot of RSS programs available to you (over 2000 of them!), all of which do roughly the same thing. Some are programs that are downloaded and installed on your computer, some are integrated with your browser or email program, and others are web-based. The one I prefer is Netvibes (a browser-based solution) which you can access at netvibes.com. It allows you to set that site as your home page and you can then subscribe to as many RSS feeds as you like. It will constantly check these sites for you and let you know when content has changed. If you’d prefer a program you can download and install, a simple but effective choice is RSS Reader.

The actual nuts and bolts of subscribing to a feed will vary from program-to-program and with over 2000 of these programs available I can’t possibly tell you how they’ll all work. So you’ll have to figure that bit out by yourself. But essentially you’ll need to find a way of getting the program to recognize the RSS address of any site you want to subscribe to. Have fun, good luck, and enjoy using RSS. It’s all the rage and for good reason.

April 27, 2007

Since the subject of this morning’s article was my home and native land, I thought I’d post a quote on that theme. In How To Be A Canadian by Will and Ian Ferguson, the brothers suggest the ultimate test of a person’s status as a Canadian, as only a Canadian would be able to decipher this paragraph:

Last night, I cashed my pogey and went to buy a mickey of C.C. at the beer parlour, but my skidoo got stuck in the muskeg on my way back to the duplex. I was trying to deke out a deer, you see. Stupid chinook, melted everything. And then a Mountie snuck up behind me in a ghost car and gave me an impaired. I was sitting there dressed only in my Stanfields and a toque at the time. And the Mountie, he’s all chippy and everything.

Did you get all that?

April 27, 2007

This is the latest installment in my occasional series I call “It’s a Fact.” This series deals with peculiarities of Canada and its people. Previously I’ve discussed eh?, that little word that is so tiny but so integral to what it means to be Canadian. I’ve also looked at our two national anthems, other Canadian vocabulary and Canadian Thanksgiving. Today I want to discuss Canadian identity and what it means to be Canadian.

This is a difficult subject, actually, since Canada’s identity is changing. There was a time, and it probably ended shortly after the Second World War, when Canadians had quite a distinct identity. We have always struggled with distinguishing ourselves from our rather large and boisterous neighbors to the south. Until the last great war we were widely considered more British and less American. But as time has gone on and the world has shrunk, more people tend to lump us in with the United States. Most Canadians are less than thrilled with this development. Today the Canadian identity can probably be best expressed as “multicultural and not American.”

We are a nation of diversity. The city of Toronto is considered to be a portal to the rest of the world. Recent surveys suggest that fully fifty percent of the city’s residents were born outside of Canada. There are entire areas of the city that are dominated by a single culture (as anyone can attest who has ventured into China Town). Even small churches like the one I attend tend to have ten, fifteen or twenty different nationalities represented, not by children or grandchildren of those who immigrated to Canada, but by first generation immigrants. When I was part of a Southern Baptist Church in the Toronto area we would often receive mission teams from the Southern states and these men and women were always amazed at the diversity. It is shocking and surprising to those who are unaccustomed to it.

While diversity is, in many ways, a wonderful thing, it is not rightly an identity. Truthfully, Canadians tend to identify themselves these days by their lack of identity. We are diverse and multicultural and bilingual. Anyone can come to Canada and feel no pressure to conform to whatever culture we offer here. Rather, people can immigrate here and continue to build their own culture with others from their native land.

While we identity ourselves by our lack of identity, we also identify ourselves by what we are not—and what we are not is American. While we listen to American music, watch American television and movies and eat at American restaurant chains (and can even withdraw American money from many of our bank machines) we refuse to be too closely associated with the United States. This was probably best reflected in a famous Canadian beer commercial which was really little more than a rant by a man named Joe. He took a stage in front of a giant screen and said this:

Hey, I’m not a lumberjack, or a fur trader… I don’t live in an igloo or eat blubber, or own a dogsled… and I don’t know Jimmy, Sally or Suzy from Canada, although I’m certain they’re really really nice.

I have a Prime Minister, not a president.
I speak English and French, not American.
And I pronounce it ‘about’, not ‘a boot’.

I can proudly sew my country’s flag on my backpack.
I believe in peace keeping, not policing,
diversity, not assimilation,
and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal.
A toque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch,
and it is pronounced ‘zed’ not ‘zee’, ‘zed’!

Canada is the second largest landmass!
The first nation of hockey!
and the best part of North America

My name is Joe!
And I am Canadian!

If you want to see it (and you really should as it’s surprisingly important to understanding the Canadian identity) you can do so here. You’ll notice that in this rant Joe says more about what he is not than about what he is. And this is so typically Canadian. We may not be entirely sure of what we are and what our place in the world is, but we do know for certain that we aren’t American. Mike Myers, a Canadian import to the States once said of his nation that “Canada is the essence of not being. Not English, not American, it is the mathematic of not being. And a subtle flavour - we’re more like celery as a flavour.”

And I guess that is about it. Canada is the world’s celery. It is interesting to consider what will become of this country. It would seem that it will be difficult to maintain a nation that has no identity. Sooner or later a nation that is defined only by its lack of definition is sure to run into some kind of crisis of identity. But by then we will have so much diversity that it would seemingly be impossible to settle on just what we are and how we are to fulfill a role in this world. The times are changing here in Canada and I don’t know that anyone can really forecast what this nation will be ten, twenty or fifty years in the future.

April 26, 2007

The following quote comes from Iain Murray’s book Evangelicalism Divided (on page 291 if you must know):

The ecumenical call [in the mid-20th century] was not for truth and salt; it was supremely for oneness: the greater the unity of ‘the Church’, it was confidently asserted, the stronger would be the impression made upon the world; and to attain that end churches should be inclusive and tolerant. But it has never been by putting unity first that the church has changed the world. At no point in church history has the mere unity of numbers ever made a transforming spiritual impression upon others. On the contrary, it was the very period known as ‘the dark ages’ that the Papacy could claim her greatest unity in western Europe.

So if we would have true unity, we must have theology. We are to share, profess and enjoy unity with other believers, even those who do not share certain “lesser” doctrines. This is not to imply that any doctrine is unimportant, but simply that some are more important than others. J.C. Ryle wisely observed that believers should “keep the walls of separation as low as possible, and shake hands over them as often as you can.” But there are times when we must reject supposed unity because of the higher importance of truth and sound doctrine. To repeat Murray’s words, “it has never been by putting unity first that the church has changed the world.” Nor will it ever be.

April 26, 2007

It was at least six months ago that someone asked me a question I’ve thought a lot about since then. And yet, despite thinking about it a great deal, I haven’t reached a really satisfactory conclusion. So I thought I would open discussion here and perhaps between the group of us we can reach some good conclusions (or conclusions that have been better than mine, at any rate).

The question was simply this: is error in doctrine always sin? It is obvious that a person who preaches that Jesus Christ was something other than divine is teaching a terrible and divisive heresy and that this error is sinful. A person who teaches that homosexuality is a legitimate lifestyle that the Bible does not condemn is likewise teaching grievous error and error that can be easily proven from the Bible. But what happens when the error deals with issues of lesser consequence? What happens when one teacher preaches a sermon defending credobaptism while another preaches a sermon defending paedobaptism? Obviously one of the two men must be wrong. But is one of them being sinful in teaching what is wrong? I think also of an issue like eschatology where two very fine and godly men may have completely different understandings of the end times. When they teach their differing conclusions, is one of them being sinful?

While this may seem like a petty issue, I believe it matters as it will necessarily impact how we relate to fellow Christians who differ from us on secondary issues. If I feel that my friend is being sinful by teaching paedobaptism, I will want to work with him to correct this error. But if I believe that his belief in paedobaptism is something less than sin, I can appreciate his conviction while not feeling the need to bring correction.

There are three principles I’ve drawn up that seem to be relevant to this issue.

First, it is clear to me that, regardless of whether or not error in doctrine is always sin, error in doctrine is always a consequence of sin. It seems clear that when the Lord returns and we join Him in heaven, there will no longer be disagreements about doctrine. Disagreements about baptism, eschatology and other issues will be put away once and for all.

Second, there are other consequences of sin for which we are not judged. For example, the cold that has incapacitated my wife for the past few days is a consequence of sin but God does not hold her responsible for that cold or consider her morally culpable for it. If there was no sin in the world there would be no illness. The boy who is born with a mental disability suffers a lifelong consequence of sin, but not one for which God holds him culpable.

Third, God has given us a conscience, something that would not seem to be necessary if there were never times where we need to make a judgment call rather than relying on what we know to be perfectly clear. While I am convinced that the Bible is just as clear as it needs to be for us to understand it, human reasoning has been so incapacitated by our fall into sin that we make a mess of it, bringing confusion where there should be clarity. And it is here, on the issue of conscience, that I have paused the longest. The Bible tells us that we are to heed the conscience and that to violate it is to commit sin.

Of course our conscience is developed as we grow in godliness and as we learn to heed the Word of God. John MacArthur says “When we live in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, and obey the Spirit, we can trust our conscience because it is under divine control. The Spirit’s perfect prompting will either commend or condemn what we are doing or are planning to do.” But still, two men who have dedicated a lifetime to humbly studying the Scripture can arrive at radically different conclusions. And God tells both of these men to heed conscience. It seems to me that God, in His sovereignty, has decreed here that some of the consequences of sin must be settled by conscience and that He will not hold people accountable (or as accountable) for what they do based on a conscience that is fed by Scripture. One of Martin Luther’s more famous sayings is “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” That is something we are all to strive for and something the Bible commands. Is this not God’s admission that there will be times that we disagree and times that we will have to heed conscience, even if we disagree?

But this is as far as I’ve been able to extend my thought on this one. I would tend towards saying that no sin is being committed when two pastors follow their conscience, one to baptizing infants (presuming that this is not a Catholic-style baptism for salvation) and another to baptizing only believers. But I’d be interested in your feedback.