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December 11, 2006

Yesterday at church we met up with some friends who, having just moved to a new community, are looking for a new church family. They have visited at least a half dozen churches in the area seeking one that honors God and, preferably, is close to home. Their search led them to Grace Fellowship Church where my family attends. As my wife and I drove home, and later as we drove to the home of a friend of Aileen’s family, we reflected on churches she and I have visited or attended and the most fundamental problem many of these churches displayed.

As we thought about these things, I was brought back to something I learned about Jonathan Edwards through Marsden’s great biography of the man (click for my review). As anyone knows who has studied the life of Edwards, he dedicated a large portion of his ministry to thinking, writing and teaching about the freedom of the will and eventually published a book by that name. In writing the book he thought back to the days when revival had swept his church, his community and even the wider area. And as he reflected on the individuals who had been swept up in the revival, or those who had made professions of faith in the years following, he realized a fundamental flaw in these professions. “Self-controlled individuals, as he had observed in his parishes for the past fifteen years, would acknowledge guilt for particular sins, but not guilt for their fundamentally rebellious hearts.”

Many of the churches my wife and I visited when we first moved to Oakville, and many of the churches we have attended for longer periods of time, were filled with people who were guilty of this same problem. We know of countless people who admit to sin in their lives and feel guilt and remorse for individual sins, but who seem unable or unwilling to admit the incontrovertible fact that their hearts are in rebellion against God. The Bible tells us in plain terms that we are not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners. We do not need to seek forgiveness merely for the sins we commit, but for our fundamentally evil and rebellious hearts—hearts that, in their natural state, hate God and are fully and completely opposed to Him.

Marsden goes on to summarize Edwards’ assessment of this problem. “Guided by conscience, they saw particular sins as failures of will power, which might be overcome by exercising greater self-control.” When sin has been defined only as individual acts, it is possible for humans, even devoid of God’s help, to overcome those evil acts and deeds. A man who explodes in anger or a woman who grumbles against her husband can overcome those sins in their own power. Unbelievers can throw off addiction and poor behavior through an act of the will. But they can never address the heart of the issue. While they may make cosmetic changes, they can never overcome the deeper issues for they can never change their hearts.

Those who profess Christ can do this too. Christians are perfectly capable of overcoming the appearance of sin and the outward manifestations of sin in their own power. They can dedicate great effort and go to great pains to remove traces of sin from their lives. But all the time they may have done this without the aid and assistance of the Holy Spirit. They may never have owned up to their fundamental sinfulness, their natural enmity towards God. They may never feel or acknowledge guilt not only for what they do but for who they are.

Statistics show that many Christians, and most likely the vast majority of Christians, have a worldview that is functionally secular. Many people who go to church every Sunday, who read Christian books and who read their Bibles and pray every day, still think like unbelievers. Their worldview—their way of seeing and understanding the world—is no different from before they claimed to be Christians. As interesting as statistics may be, common sense and good reason show the problem to be severe. Jonathan Edwards, looking to the refusal of the people of his day to own up to their guilt, realized that “the liberal Christianity of the new republic would be built around such moral principles.” Modern day evangelicalism is likewise founded on such moral principles.

A couple of years ago I spoke to the administrator of a church in the area. This person had been a Christian for several years and was active as a leader in the church. Discussing a crime that had happened recently, this person told me, “I just don’t understand how anyone could do that. I don’t understand how anyone could be that bad. I could never be that evil!” As we spoke, I realized that this was a person who knew that he committed sins, and yet one who clearly did not understand his inherently sinful nature. He knew he sinned but refused to believe he was a sinner. Sin is what he did, not what he was. Yesterday my wife and I thought of a couple we know who seemed to become believers, but whose lives did not seem to change at all. They were quickly drafted into service in their church and were soon actively involved in leadership and service. They became members. And yet their lives, including one very obviously and blatantly sinful aspect of their lives, did not change at all. Neither did the church seem to require or expect them to change. They modified aspects of their lives, I suppose, but that fundamental change of heart just never seemed to happen. As of the last time we saw them, they still did not seem to think, act, talk and, in many ways, live like Christians. They knew they sinned but didn’t seem to know that they were and still are sinners.

Here is how Marsden concludes this short section.

Even the most popular evangelicalism of the next two centuries tended to emphasize guilt for and victory over known sins. Although the submission of one’s will to God and a subsequent infilling or baptism of the Holy Spirit typically would be urged as necessary to achieve moral purity, God’s power was most often seen as cooperating with or working through the native powers of the sovereign individual will. While American Christianity in general and evangelicalism in particular came in too many varieties to allow easy generalization, we can at least say that Edwards was correct in identifying a trend toward what he called “Arminianism” in what would become “the land of the free.”

The foundational problem that led to this low view of sin and God’s expectation of holiness was a wrong view of the freedom of the will. People did not realize that their wills are wholly bound by their sinful natures. They felt that they were able, in their own power and through their own freedom, to change their behavior. They may have sought God’s assistance in doing this, but did not rely on His grace and power. God merely cooperated with man’s inherent ability. And sadly, even centuries later, little has changed across a large spectrum of Christianity.

The solution today is the same as it was in Edwards’ day. “People needed to be properly convinced of their real guilt and sinfulness, in the sight of God, and their deserving of his wrath.” Every Christian needs not only to own up to his sin and guilt, but to admit that he is deserving of God’s wrath. No one has properly apprehended God’s grace until he has understood his own sinfulness and knows that he fully deserves God’s just and holy punishment. The evangelical church of our day is a wrathless church—a church that speaks often of God’s love and grace, but rarely of the deepest necessity of this love and grace. The church today needs an infusion of the gospel, the whole gospel, which speaks not only of God’s love, but first of our desperate need of reconciliation. The gospel paints us as we really are—as sinners who sin because of our fundamental guilt, our fundamental hatred of God. Only when we see ourselves as sinners can we truly see Christ as Savior.

December 10, 2006

I’ve run across the name “Bishop Jordan” a few times recently, so decided to look into this man a little bit to see what he is all about. So if you are interested, here is a quick rundown.

Bishop E. (Elijah) Bernard Jordan is a self-appointed “Master Prophet” who is founder and Senior Pastor of Zoe Ministries which is located in Brooklyn, New York. He has a television show that appears regularly on B.E.T. and a couple of other television networks. The show features well known personalities like Rev. Run (a.k.a. Joseph Simmons, one of the founders of the rap group Run-D.M.C and star of the MTV reality show, Run’s House) who was ordained to the ministry by Jordan. There are also frequent appearances by Al Sharpton and by Mark Victor Hansen, who co-authored the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books (now totaling almost 200 titles with something like 100 million book sold). Jordan claims to be able to bring direct revelation from God to others.

J.R. Taylor of the New York Press, who recently attended a $500-a-plate breakfast hosted by Jordan, quotes the following as examples of the bishop’s prophecies: “I will bring judgment through a new sound in the earth that will silence the voices of past recording artists. This will be known as New Wave music.” “The days will come that you will see hospital stations filled up with men and women getting shots to place protein in their body. Great will be the industry of nuts in this hour.” After watching a couple of episodes of his show, I can attest that these are typical prophecies. He claims to have predicted almost every meaningful event in the last decade.

Jordan is a prophet-for-hire, dispensing his prophecies to those who are willing to pay his price. He defends this practice in this way: “Whenever you approach a prophet, bring a gift with you. The power of your seed increases when you are willing to release it into the hands of a prophet. Throughout the Scripture, you will find that wise individuals never approached the man or woman of God empty-handed. They understood that the gift of their offering would multiply in the hands of a prophet, and they were more than eager to release their seed.”

As for those who feel that this prophet is a false prophet, he says this: “Murmuring is a serious matter to God, for it questions His choice and His intelligence. It makes mockery of God’s wisdom, and those who indulge in slander place their thoughts and opinions above those of God Himself. The exaltation of your opinion can be lethal when you are dealing with anointed vessels.”

I applied for a free prophecy through his site and was told “Thank you for connecting with the Master Prophet and requesting your free prophecy. You will receive a letter from me within the next 7 days, containing your personal prophetic word as spoken to me by the Holy Spirit. God Bless You.” I suppose my prophecy will show up next week. If what I hear is to be believed, he will soon be looking for several hundred dollars for any further personalized prophecies.

Jordan is willing to teach prophecy to others through his Prophecology Courses and Conferences. For a seed of $3000 anyone can “experience the benefits of
prophetic coaching, direction, and guidance” as part of the Prophetic Inner Circle. He lives in a $3.6 million, 27-room mansion in the wealthy Tuxedo Park area of New York. He has a considerable collection of luxury cars and his ministry owns several expensive properties. The house is decorated in a strange way.

After moving in, the bishop commissioned a team of Russian artists to paint elaborate art work on the walls and ceilings of the first floor, a job that took two to three years. Egyptian-themed murals cover the walls of the great room: ancient Egyptians hunting, fishing, moving a sarcophagus. One shows Jordan on a throne, as pharaoh.

Nearby, in a room with scarlet walls and gilded filigree on top, there is a ceiling painting of Jordan on a throne - as God - with his three sons hovering around him as angels. On the ceilings in the foyer and another room, there are baroque-style paintings of his children as cherubim, soaring across the heavens.

None of this quite compares to the living room.

Here, the four walls are covered with murals depicting New Testament scenes, each with Jordan as Jesus in the familiar iconography of medieval and Renaissance art. Two scenes show the Ascension: Jesus/Jordan ascending into heaven after rising from the dead. For a Nativity scene, the artists used Jordan’s baby picture to depict Jesus/Jordan in the manger.

Dozens of people in biblical garb crowd around Jesus/Jordan in each scene. For each figure, the artists reproduced from photos the faces of the 200 or so people who paid for the $1 million renovation of the mansion. Run, who bought the huge chandelier hanging in the center of the room, is there in the crowd. So is Sharpton.

“These are the people who believed in what we’re doing,” Jordan says. “This is our way of saying thank you to them and immortalizing them.”

So all-in-all, it seems that Jordan is just another in a seemingly endless line of shysters and charlatans that feign godliness in order to further their pursuit of wealth. Needless to say, you’d be best off avoiding this unscrupulous character.

Here are a couple of resources: Record Online’s story and photo essay of Bishop Jordan, his home, his ministry and his followers.

December 06, 2006

jay-bakker.gifThough it seems amazing that it could have been so long ago, it has been 20 years since the Jim Bakker scandal made international headlines. Indicted on federal charges of fraud, tax evasion, and racketeering, Bakker was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 45 years in prison. The sentence was later reduced and after spending less than 5 years behind bars, Bakker was released. But while he was free, his empire was shattered, his marriage over and his reputation forever tarnished. His family was devastated.

Jay Bakker is the son of Jim and Tammy Faye (now known as Tammy Faye Messner). Now in his early thirties, he was only a boy when his world fell apart. He reacted to his pain and embarrassment by rebelling, turning to drugs and alcohol. “The scandal exposed me to the pain and hurt that the church as well as the world can give,” he writes. “But through all of that, I searched to find out who God really was. What I discovered is that God is a loving God. I experienced his grace firsthand through life and through the Bible. As a result of this discovery, I started a church for those who feel rejected by religion; this church is called Revolution.” Heavily tattooed and pierced, sometimes foul-mouthed, and pastoring a church that meets in a bar, he does not fit the typical image of an American preacher and evangelist. With theology that often bears only a passing resemblance to the Christianity of the Bible, neither does his preaching fit the image of what we would expect from a Christian preacher and evangelist.

One Punk Under God is a six-part observational documentary series that will be broadcast on the Sundance Channel beginning on Wednesday, December 13th at 9:00 PM. Each of the episodes follows Bakker in his day-to-day activities which seem to revolve around preaching once a week at Revolution Church, meeting with his church leaders, visiting his mother who, sadly, is dying of cancer, and just generally hanging around.

I was able to watch the first three episodes of the series. The first of these introduces Bakker and the leaders of his church and follows him as he travels to the site of Heritage USA, the now-defunct Christian theme park that was built by his father in the 1980’s. Now a decaying and monstrous wreck, the park was once America’s third most popular vacation destination with almost six million visitors annually. In the second episode Jay preaches at a gay-affirming church called Open Door and soon begins to take a new stance on homosexuality, deciding, along with his wife and much of the church leadership, that they should also be a gay-friendly church. Unfortunately, the third episode was mysteriously missing from my screening copy of the DVD, but by the fourth episode Revolution Church is suffering from the fallout of the decision to be gay-friendly as many supporters have decided to withdraw their funds. Jay travels to Branson, Missouri to make a guest appearance on his father’s show “The New Jim Bakker Show.” Meanwhile his wife, who almost seems to admit that she is not a Christian at all, wants nothing more than for him to quit the ministry and to find another line of work. At the end of the episode he announces that his wife has been accepted to a pre-med program at New York University and that he will be moving there with her. I understand the the final two episodes of the series follow the Bakkers as they move to New York and settle into their new home in Brooklyn. Jay soon begins Revolution NYC.

One Punk Under God is another in a long line of shows (most of which play on TLC or A&E) that showcase a person most people otherwise could not possibly care less about. And yet the show somehow makes the viewer interested in the other person’s life. Bakker’s life is truly not too extraordinary, and yet because of the strangeness of his past, his ministry and his personality, it is intriguing. He looks like a punk, acts like a punk, and preaches to punks. If the short clips of his preaching are indicative of his skill, he is a very poor preacher, both in content and delivery, and must reach his small group of follows more through force of personality than through any other means. One reason I kept watching the episodes was to try to discover what it was that drew people to Bakker. After three episodes I still have no idea. Perhaps if I was part of a whole different subculture I might be able to understand.

Bakker’s theology is all over the map. In the second episode, where he first discusses the issue of homosexuality with his wife and then with the church’s leadership, there is little said that even hints at a Christian worldview. Jay studies his Bible, but only to show that Romans 2 (“For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself”) overrules Romans 1 (“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”), with God’s overwhelming love for everyone overcoming His need for justice. He declares time and again to his congregation that God loves you “just as you are.” Bakker’s worldview may have some Christian influences, but it is clearly not consistently derived from Scripture.

The series is interesting, as much for background elements as for Jay Bakker. The trip to Heritage USA is sad—pathetic really—as cameras show the crumbling ruins of buildings, pools and amphitheatres. The shots of the inside of Tammy Faye’s house will make every viewer cringe at the decor that is easily as garish (and possibly more so) as Faye’s infamous makeup. Jim Bakker’s words, echoing those of his son, about God loving every person just as he is, will make viewers realize that Jim has still not discovered such an important component of the gospel message.

This series, though often poignant and interesting, is a sad testament to a tragic situation. We might have hoped that the fall of Jim Bakker would help his son return to the Bible his father so clearly forsook. Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case. Jay Bakker seems to be wandering further and further from biblical Christianity, defining his ministry with theology that is far from what the Bible teaches.

If you are interested, you can watch the first episode for free through iTunes. In the future the entire series will be available for purchase through iTunes for $9.99.

December 05, 2006

There is a sense in which this blog is, for lack of a better word, living or dynamic. What I mean is that I sometimes write articles and return to them a year or two later and post them again, but only after refining them. As my understanding of various topics increases, I find myself drawn back to certain topics, wanting to improve upon and add to what I wrote in the past. I expect this cycle to continue so that as the years go by, a small number of articles may be improved upon several times over.

A couple of years ago I wrote about three related terms: revelation, inspiration and illumination. Today I’d like to briefly revisit those terms for they are critical concepts for Christians to understand. While most believers are at least vaguely familiar with the concepts surrounding revelation and inspiration, it seems far fewer understand illumination. Yet the three of them function together and, while distinct, rely on each other to form an important set of doctrines. It is important that we keep these concepts apart in our minds. We must not confuse them, for they are in no way synonymous. We will look at revelation and inspiration briefly and then turn to illumination.


Scripture tells us that God has revealed Himself to humans in two ways. The first of these is known as Natural Revelation. The word “natural” speaks about nature, so the first way God has revealed himself is through nature - through all that He has created. Since we cannot see God, to learn about Him we must see Him indirectly in what He has made. For example, if I am a being that God created, I can learn something about God by looking at myself. Similarly I can learn about God from nature. I see that the universe is orderly and not chaotic and this teaches me about God’s character. If God created the universe, I can deduce that He is a God of order and not chaos. Similarly, I can learn from nature that God loves beauty and variety. There is much that nature reveals to us, but also much that it cannot reveal. The Bible tells us that nature is sufficient to teach us that God exists. It also speaks to us about our fallenness and sin but cannot tell us all we need to know to be saved from our sin.

The second way God has revealed Himself is through “Special Revelation.” This includes direct verbal communication such as Adam and Eve enjoyed before the fall, words of prophecy, the times when God became man through Jesus Christ and finally, the Bible. There is some disagreement among Christians about whether direct revelation and prophecy have ceased since the “closing of the canon” (which is to say since the completion of the Bible). Christians who believe in the continuation of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit believe that prophecy and direct revelation continue today but are somewhat less than infallible. Christians who do not believe in the continuing miraculous gifts believe that these forms of revelation have largely ceased and that we are to rely exclusively on Scripture. Regardless of a person’s perspective on the continuing gifts, the majority of what we learn about God is contained in the Bible. The Bible tells us much about God that natural revelation does not - who He is, what He has done and how He interacts with humans. While we may know of God’s existence through natural revelation, we can only be saved by what we learn through special revelation.


The Bible teaches that it was written by humans under the direct inspiration of God. To understand inspiration it is helpful to examine what this does not mean. First, it does not mean that it was written in a clever way or by a brilliant person. We may say that Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is an inspired story, but this is not what we mean when speak of the Bible being inspired. The Bible may be inspired in such a way, but this is not what the doctrine of inspiration teaches. Second, this does not mean that God gave people thoughts and ideas that they then expanded upon and wrote down. Rather, God was involved in both the thoughts and the actual words so that the words of the Bible truly are God’s words. Third, this does not mean the words are the words of men and only become God’s words as we read them and as He helps us understand them, for this makes Scripture far too subjective. Fourth, it does not mean that the people acted like robots or automatons, writing down God’s words in a trance-like state without thought or feeling, for if that had been the case we would not be able to explain the different styles and personalities that are evident in the various authors.

So what does it mean, then, that God inspired men to write the Bible? To understand this, we must understand that God is eternal and all powerful. God arranged and formed the lives of the people who wrote the Bible so that he was in control of their backgrounds and their personalities. It means that God used people - their thoughts, experiences, backgrounds and personalities - to write His words. If they spoke in simple words it was because God had decided in eternity past that they would not be highly educated. If they spoke in complex words and argued their points with great clarity, it was because God had dictated that they would be highly educated and have brilliant minds. The words they chose were the words God had determined from eternity that they would use. The author’s words were their own, yet at the same time, because God had so directed their lives, they were His words too.

Inspiration, then, is what God used to transmit to us the special revelation contained in the Bible.


These concepts lead to one further concept that seems to receive far less attention than the other two. Illumination refers to God’s work in the lives of believers to make us able to believe and understand the words of the Bible. This does not mean the Spirit gives us new revelation - rather He applies to our lives the truths contained in His existing revelation. This doctrine depends on an understanding of human sin. Because we are polluted by sin we are not able to fully comprehend God’s revelation. Thus we are dependent on Him to illumine our hearts to see and understand it.

While illumination depends on prior revelation, it must be differentiated from it. As I mentioned earlier, most Christians do not expect God’s direct special revelation in our lives. None should expect infallible direct revelation in our lives. Instead we have the privilege of looking to his full and final infallible revelation in the Scripture and having assurance that the Spirit will illumine those words for us. Many Christians confuse these. When they suddenly come to understand a deep truth in Scripture, they may believe that God has spoken to them, seemingly indicating a type of revelation. What has happened, though, is that God has illumined their hearts to understand a truth from His word.

We see many examples of God’s illumination in the Bible. King David, in writing Psalm 119 asked the Lord “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law.” In the twenty fourth chapter of Luke Jesus, when appearing to the disciples after His resurrection, “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” Following His ascension, He sent the Holy Spirit to be our guide and to illumine the Scriptures for us. Paul referred to this many times, often praying that his readers would experience it. Perhaps the clearest example is in Ephesians 1:17-18 where we read “…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…” Today we continue to experience the privilege of having the Holy Spirit work through us to bring light to the Scriptures.

Illumination is what separates believers from unbelievers when we read the Bible. An unbeliever may read the Bible and view it merely as a religious or historical document, much like I would read the Koran or the Book of Mormon. But when a Christian reads the Bible, the Spirit guides him to see not merely history and religion, but the very words of God. And even more important, He allows the person to apply the great truths of the Bible to his life. He initiates change through the words of the Scripture. Being a Christian, then, is a necessary prerequisite for the Spirit’s illumination.

It would be easy to think that with the Spirit’s help we can understand everything the Bible contains, but this is not necessarily so. We know there are some concepts that are too great for us and that God has chosen to remain hidden to us. For example, with the Spirit’s illumination we can see the Trinity in the Bible and even understand aspects of how the Trinity works, but we can never truly understand the inner workings of the godhead and comprehend how three can be one. Similarly we may not ever know why God allows certain events to happen while keeping other ones from ever taking place. God gives us knowledge of the Bible that is true, but not exhaustive.

We might also like to think that the illumination of the Spirit precludes us from doing thorough, carefully study of the Bible, but again, this is not so. While we trust the Holy Spirit to guide us as we study His word, we must still labor to fulfill the Bible’s commands to “cut it straight” - to accurately handle the word. In this way we can have assurance that the Spirit has, indeed, helped us to see truth and not error. As with most other things in life, God still commands us to work hard and to dedicate ourselves to the task. Just as we would not sit back and expect God to provide for us financially when we refuse to do useful labor, in the same way we should not expect Him to illuminate the Word for us when we are not diligent in seeking the truth.


In Revelation, God takes His words and thoughts and conveys them to a man. In Inspiration the man, under the power of the Holy Spirit, takes these thoughts and puts them on paper. And in Illumination, these words go from paper into the hearts of men, aided by the Spirit. In brief, then, revelation is from God to man, inspiration is man to paper and illumination is paper to man. The entire process is governed by the Holy Spirit.

So let’s make this practical. What does the concept of illumination really mean to me and to you?

First, it gives me assurance that God can and will speak to me through His word. I do not need to rely on my own intellect and ability, but can have confidence that God Himself is working in and through me to bring light to the words of the Scripture. Neither do I need an expert to mediate God’s Word to me. Rather, I can rely on God Himself to reveal the meaning of Scripture.

Second, I must seek the Spirit’s illumination when I study the Scripture. I should invite Him to guide me as I read and continually turn to Him, asking Him to help me when I am stuck or perplexed. I should not be tempted to rely on my own efforts.

Third, I must be diligent in my studies. The Spirit works through my efforts, not apart from them. If I am not properly engaged in studying the word, I can not expect Him to help me. It is one of God’s mysteries that our study becomes more rewarding, more meaningful, as we dedicate greater effort to it. While we must rely on the Spirit, He expects us to be diligent.

December 04, 2006

It seems that I’m always in a hurry. Even when I’m kicking back on the couch to read a book, too often I find myself rushing through the pages. It’s not that I do not enjoy reading - it just seems that I am always in a hurry to do whatever is next on my list of things to do. And I always have more things to do. When I read, I’m hurrying through the words so I can fix a snack and satisfy the growling of my hungry stomach. When I begin to make a snack I hurry through it quickly so I can get to the emails that have accumulated in my inbox. And so on. I guess this is part of living in this North American society - we’re always hurrying to do something, even if that something is nothing.

I even find myself hurrying when I read the Bible. I hurry to read the Bible so I can get started with praying. After praying I can move on to reading the next book on my reading list. The problem is, when I hurry I miss things. If I read the Bible quickly, I always end up missing some important words and with them some important truths. I never miss the big and important ones - I can spot a “justification” or a “imputed” a mile away. It is the small ones I miss. The “ifs” and the “buts” tend to escape my notice. It’s amazing, though, how the Bible changes when I take the time to soak in each of those little words. Ultimately, they may often be more important than the big words that surround them.

Consider Luke 22 verses 31 and 32. “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.’” When I hurry I miss the little words like “when.” That one little word in the context of this verse speaks to such an amazing truth. Satan asked if he could sift Simon like wheat. While we do not know exactly what that entails, certainly it shows that the devil was going to launch an especially vicious attack on Simon. Jesus, having prayed for Simon, did not say “if you return.” Rather, He spoke confidently, saying that when Peter persevered, he would be able to strengthen others. When we look at this verse in relation to other Scripture passages, we can see an affirmation of the principles of eternal security - that Satan, while he may attack us, can never separate us forever from the Lord. If I miss that little word when, I miss a great truth.

Another example of a little word with great meaning is in Ephesians 2 which speaks of salvation being by grace through faith alone in Christ.

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

The first part of this passage discusses the natural human condition. Humans are dead in trespasses and sins. We walk according to the ways of Satan rather than God. We love to fulfill our own desires rather than God’s and we were children of wrath. But. But God. That one little word. This is how you were. But God. We then read how God, because of His great love, gave us life, saving us from our natural condition. Once again, so much hangs on just one tiny little word “but.” That word ties the whole argument together, bringing us from sure condemnation to sure salvation. Only a brief study of the Bible is needed to show the importance of these little words.

I have learned that I need to slow down when I read, lest I continue to miss such great truths. When I slow down, read carefully and take time to meditate on the words of Scripture, I will be enriched by each and every word the Bible contains. I remember some of the letters my wife wrote me, so many years ago when we were young kids falling in love, and how I would read and re-read them, soaking in each word and each sentence. That is the type of devotion I need to show the Bible - to read each word, each “jot and tittle” - to ensure that I do not inadvertently miss out on any of the wonders of God. Those “ands,” “ifs” and “buts” speak as loudly as the bigger words that surround them.

December 03, 2006

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. Every week (in theory) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my left 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 recipient of the award is the New Attitude blog. New Attitude is a ministry that was begun by Josh Harris who “felt a call to equip his generation with biblical teaching which they could invest in their local churches.” The conference ended in 2004 as Josh dedicated himself to his role of Senior Pastor at Covenant Life Church, but in 2006 it was resurrected under Sovereign Grace Ministries. Next year’s conference (May 26-29 in Louisville, KY) deals with discernment, a topic that has been much on my mind recently. The New Attitude blog features the writing of various members of the NA crew along with Eric Simmons who now heads up the ministry. While geared primarily to younger Christians, the site offers plenty to benefit believers of all ages.

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 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 those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

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 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.


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)


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 27, 2006

This weekend a friend sent an article to myself and to a list of other people. He was outraged at a story that appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He is no doubt right to be outraged. Here are some excerpts from the story.

Just how far will people go to get their hands on a new PlayStation 3? Just ask KDWB-FM, 101.3’s morning show host Dave Ryan, who on Tuesday morning asked folks if they were willing to give up their baby for 24 hours in exchange for one of Sony’s highly coveted video game consoles. More than a dozen people called to offer up their kids, but only a few realized it was all just a gag.

“We got more calls than we could handle,” said Ryan, who referred to the practical joke as a “social experiment.” “They were lined up willing to turn their kids over to strangers for a freakin’ PlayStation.”

KDWB morning show executive producer Steve “Steve-o” LaTart said he was surprised how many people were interested in the bogus swap, which consisted of handing over your child to LaTart for 24 hours in exchange for a PS3.

“There were a lot of phone calls that we didn’t even get to, and I would say three- quarters of them were serious,” said LaTart.

People with babies of all ages — including a 2-day-old and a 1-week-old — made it on air. One of the more serious sounding calls came from a woman named “Katie,” who agreed to give up her 1-month-old for three days. She wanted to sell the PS3 on eBay to make some extra money for the holidays.

“In a way it’s flattering that we’ve built up 13 years of trust and that’s great … yet at the same time, hey, we thought we knew Kramer too, you just never know,” said Ryan referring to Michael Richards, who played Kramer on “Seinfeld,” and his recent racist comments.

After announcing that the contest was a prank, “Katie” called the station and asked “does that mean I don’t get the PlayStation?” She was clearly more than willing to give up her child to get her hands on this year’s top gift. It seemed to her a small price to pay for a Playstation. It’s sick.

And yet for some reason it didn’t surprise me a whole lot. This is the kind of behavior that is only too common in our culture. We live in what is now an voyeuristic, exploitative society. We love to see into other people’s lives and because of technology, this is easier to do than ever before. But there is more. As voyeurism has increased, so has exhibitionism. Countless numbers of people are willing to sell their bodies, souls or children for a fleeting fifteen minutes of fame and a ten thousand dollar paycheck. From world famous celebrities to absolute nobodies, we yearn to be noticed and have been only too willing to sell ourselves. Humiliation is marketed on television and a blurb in People magazine has become adequate payment for having personal problems brought before the world.

We, the consumers, feed this frenzy. When we turn on the television we want to watch celebrities, both new and old, living out their lives before the cameras or learning to dance or cook or crochet. We want to watch families whose spending has spiralled out of control try to fix their broken finances. We want to watch families whose kids are overweight learn how to eat healthy food or adults who are fat lose weight or couples who have forgotten the joys of sex to rediscover intimacy or normal people slurp down blood, guts and bugs. We want to see people learn what not to wear, to see people with rolls on their stomachs get liposuction and funny-looking noses get the perfect Hollywood nose job. We want to escape our own problems by wallowing in other people’s problems which somehow always seem so much worse than our own. We want to see the sad, pathetic, tragic details of their lives, their personalities, their bodies. The more detail we get, the happier we are.

Back in March a web site made public a memo from ABC dealing with the hit show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Looking to cast a new season, the show’s producers asked network affiliates to look for families who could be on the show. Their wishlist is nauseating.

We are open to any and ALL story ideas and are especially looking for the following:

Extraordinary Mom/Dad recently diagnosed with ALS

Family who has child with PROGERIA (aka “little old man disease”)

Congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis, referred to as CIPA by the few people who know about it. (There are 17 known cases in the the U.S.-let me know if one is in your town!) This is where kids cannot feel any physical pain.

Muscular Dystrophy Child - Amazing kid who is changing people’s views about MD

MADD/Drunk Driving - Family turns tragedy into triumph after a losing a child to drunk driving

Family who has multiple children w/ Down Syndrome (either adopted or biological)

Amazing/loved Mom or dad diagnosed w/ melanoma (skin cancer)

Home Invasion - family robbed, house messed up (vandalized) - kids fear safety in their home now.

Victims of hate crime in own home. Family’s house victim of arson or severely vandalized.

It is clear that the show was not seeking these people primarily because they are the most worthy of help, but because they make the best stories. The worse the tragedy, the better the entertainment value.

The problem extends beyond television, for we turn on the computer and visit Youtube which perfectly combines exhibitionism with voyeurism. We excuse what is pornographic or semi-pornographic by pleading humor. We no longer seem to know or care what is outrageous and exploitative. Young girls who lip-sync and dance in their bedrooms become instant celebrities. Car accidents become entertainment, beatings become amusement. We pour out our personal problems on our blogs and complain about ex-girlfriends on MySpace. Even the murder of American soldiers has become entertainment with videos of soldiers having their throats cut make the rounds on the Internet. We visit sites filled with gory photographs or just go all the way and visit one of the millions of pornography sites. It’s out of control. And yet all of these web sites and television shows are just giving us what we ask for.

Reality is no longer reality. Fame is no longer fame. Reality television offers anything but reality, and yet we are drawn to it. The internet offers fleeting, exploitative fame. It is escapism and exploitation. Somehow, it seems, we have come to care about other people’s lives more than our own. We invest ourselves in other people’s problems, other people’s joys, hurts and pains all the while ignoring our own. We escape from our own lives by caring about other people’s.

When a radio station offers to trade children for a Playstation 3, it does not surprise me that people are willing to accept the offer. We live in a strange new reality where tragedy can reap generous monetary rewards and personal problems can be marketed and sold. And even if there is no financial compensation, fleeting fame seems an adequate reward for exposing even the most humiliating, intimate details. We live in a society where it makes perfect sense to give up a child for 24 hours in order to get ahold of a new Playstation.

November 26, 2006

I wrote a couple of days ago about poetry and its power in communicating. I do love poetry in general, but certain poems stand out. And there is one that I love more than all others. I thought I’d share it with you today, though I suspect most are already familiar with it. It is John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud.” Donne lived from 1572 to 1631 and was a prolific poet. He also coined a couple of immortal phrases that are in use today (“No man is an island” and “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”) While his Holy Sonnets remain widely read, certainly none of his works are more popular or more beautiful than this, his masterpiece (as with most poetry, it is best read aloud):

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.