Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Articles

June 07, 2006

I have been chipping away at this post for two weeks. And in reality I have been thinking about it for far longer than that. And yet what I bring you today is really quite pathetic. I have been unable to formulate clear, biblical wisdom on this topic. And so I am going to present it to you regardless, hoping that your input and discussion will be able to make plain what is still cloudy.

I often receive questions from readers of this site which hint at a question that has often troubled me and caused me to think or to search the Scriptures. I have seen this same question crop up occasionally at other blogs as well. The question deals with the nature of blogging. What is blogging? Of the various types of communication we experience in the world, how does blogging compare? Is it teaching? Is it simple discussion? Is it analogous to a preacher standing in a pulpit or could it be analogous to a few friends standing around a water cooler? What biblical guidelines should we adhere to when we write blogs and when we read blogs?

I think this is an important topic for Christians to consider. I think our understanding of this topic will inform our behavior in terms of topics we write about, the way we write and the way we respond to what others write. One important way this will manifest itself is in the relationship of men to women, and this is an area I will focus on today, simply because it is the area I have thought about most.

I have found it helpful to think of blogging within the spectrum of communication we experience in fellowship on one hand or in reading a book on the other (perhaps because fellowship and reading are two of my favorite things to do).

On one end of the spectrum we have books. Books are a rather impersonal form of communication, but a form that carries a good deal of credibility. We assume when we read a book that it has passed through several levels of editing and that what is presented to us within the book is well-researched, measured and verified. Books convey an air of authority (though of course true authority in matters of the faith is granted by Scripture and by faithfulness to Scripture) but are also reasonably simple to disagree with because we generally have no access to the author. I can examine a statement an author makes and easily agree or disagree with it without fear of offense.

I don’t know of any man who would object to his wife reading a good book on the basis that she will be learning from a man other than her husband. She may even be corrected by a man other than her husband by reading such a book, as he may bring Scripture to bear on areas in which she has been unfaithful to Scripture. Also, I do not know of too many men who would refuse to read a book written by a woman on the basis that in so-doing he would be learning from a woman, though this may depend on the nature of the topic she discusses. In general, books are impersonal but authoritative means of learning.

At the other end of the spectrum we have personal fellowship. This may be as simple as two or more Christians speaking to each other face-to-face. There are certain biblical standards that many Christians adhere to in such circumstances. Defending each of these is outside the scope of this article, so I will merely provide some examples that I feel are quite typical. For example, I do not feel it is appropriate for a man to correct the theology of another man’s wife. This may serve to undermine the authority of the husband, for it is the task of a husband to guide and teach his wife as she searches the Scripture. It may also cause offense, for long (and occasionally painful) experience has shown me that men and women relate far differently and this type of situation can lead to needless pain and offense (by which I mean to say that the woman inevitably ends up in tears and the man inevitably ends up looking and feeling like a chump). If a man sees behavior in a woman that needs to be corrected, he should approach not the woman, but her husband. The husband then bears the privilege and responsibility of addressing the problem with his wife. Much of our fellowship is guided by simple and clear biblical wisdom relating to how men and women ought to relate.

I have found it instructive to think about where blogs fall within this spectrum. Having done so, I believe blogs fall, or ought to fall somewhere in the middle. This may seem like a safe choice, but I believe it allows for important distinctions. It has often caused me to pause and consider whether a particular topic is appropriate for a mode of communication that bears at least some resemblance to fellowship. There have been some topics that I have felt should probably not be addressed in a blog setting. Let me provide an example:

I recently came across a section in a book which I thought would make for interesting discussion, but I decided that I would not post it to my site for I felt that it would not be entirely appropriate to discuss this in such a setting. The potential for discussion arose when I was reading the book A Love That Lasts by Gary and Besty Ricucci (read my review). As we might expect in a book dealing with marriage, one of the chapters dealt with sex. In discussing 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 (the passage which begins: “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband…”), Betsy Ricucci says “There are three clear and inescapable points in this passage. 1) In matters of sexuality, the spouse’s body belongs to the other. 2) Therefore, denying sex to one another is never legitimate. 3) In fact, abstaining from sex should only take place when three conditions are met: you both agree to it, the abstention is temporary, and it’s intended to serve a season in which prayer is particularly emphasized” (146). In other words, and on the basis of an example she provides, fatigue or lack of desire is not a legitimate reason to abstain from sex, even for a single night, for “prayer is the only legitimate reason for abstaining if there is no actual physical hindrance” (147).

Now I think we could have had some interesting discussion about this. Yet as I considered posting it, I thought about whether this would be something I would be comfortable discussing with my female friends face-to-face. I quickly concluded that it was not and thus decided to find something else to right about. I felt that having such a discussion in mixed company may not prove edifying.

In thinking about these things, I reached a few conclusions, but none of them were all that satisfying. And so I invite your input. Is this a topic which Christians should discuss and be aware of? Is it possible that blogs are interfering with God-given patterns of communication and authority? Or am I making something out of nothing here?

June 06, 2006

I spent nearly my entire young life attending Christian schools. From the first grade all the way to the eleventh, there was only one year that I did not attend a Christian school. During these formative years I did not only attend schools where I was taught God’s Word, but I also attended Catechism classes, Sunday school and everything else churches have to offer young people. In my younger days the teachers used to enjoy asking us questions that would try to help us understand the Biblical times and places a little better. One question we were sometimes asked is what we thought we might have done for a living had we lived during the times of the Bible. It was fun to think that perhaps we would have been soldiers, perhaps even some of David’s mighty men. Or maybe we would have been prophets, used by God to reveal His will to kings and princes. Or maybe we would even have been among Jesus’ Apostles, privileged to follow in the very footsteps on the Son of God.

Age has a way of destroying dreams. I realize now that I would never have made a mighty soldier or an outspoken prophet or a gifted Apostle. Over the past few weeks I have been studying the latter chapters of Genesis and have since begun reading these chapters with my family. The children love to hear about Joseph, and about his alternating rises to prominence and crushing defeats. And yes, we even read the dreaded story of Onan (which always proves a little awkward around little ears). I have since read further, reading into the books of Kings and Judges. As I read the stories of the kings and prophets, I have come to know what my vocation would have been had I lived in Old Testament times. Much as I am today, I would have been an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship does, after all, suit my personality. But since Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet, I would have had to find a new line of business. So here it is, my chosen profession: I would have been a shopkeeper, opening my very own clothing store. Timothy’s of Jerusalem. That would have been my business.

Hear me out here and I’m sure you’ll be impressed.

People in the Bible had a unique way of expressing grief and anguish. Where today we weep and moan, try to get on the Oprah Winfrey show and probably spend a few hundreds dollars on some counseling (just enough counseling to convince us it isn’t actually going to help us), in those days they had a much more direct and visible means of expression. The first thing they would do is tear their clothes. A perfectly good garment would be reduced to ribbons anytime a Biblical character experienced grief or penitence or realized he was being rebellious against God. It is probably safe to assume that had Adam and Eve been wearing clothes when they sinned in the Garden, they likely would have torn them up in anguish. But since they had no clothes, I believe the first time we see tearing of clothes is in Genesis 37 where Reuben returned to the cistern only to find that his brothers had sold Joseph into slavery. Angry, upset and fearful of what his father would say, Reuben tore his clothes. Returning home to his father, he told Jacob the tragic news, and Jacob, perhaps to emulate his son, or perhaps because he did not want to make a long distance call to Dr. Phil, also tore his clothes. Just a few chapters later all the sons of Jacob are tearing their clothes (see Genesis 44:13 – of course this was several years later). Now clearly this was an opportunity for an entrepreneur like myself to make some good money. I can only imagine that once the period of grieving had ended, these men would have been looking around sheepishly for a person would could either repair or replace the clothing they had just shredded. And of course, if there had been a franchise of Timothy’s of Jerusalem in the neighborhood, they would have been able to get quickly fitted with some nice, new, unshredded garments. Perhaps there could even have been a catalogue scroll order service so they could have had their new clothes delivered directly to their tents via pack camel.

The secondary aspect of the business would have been the sale of sackcloth. It seems that the tearing of garments was often accompanied by the wearing of sackcloth. Sackcloth is, of course, a course, uncomfortable material used in sacking that people would wear as a sign of remorse. The first usage of sackcloth is also in Genesis 37, where immediately after tearing apart his clothes, Jacob dressed in sackcloth as he mourned for the son he thought was dead. There are about fifty uses of sackcloth mentioned in the Bible and often times there were large groups of people wearing it at a given occasion. There must have been brisk business in the sackcloth market and I see no reason that I would have been unable to be part of it.

As a matter of fact, it occurs to me that there would have been ample opportunities to sell “clothing packages.” For example, the silver package might be a sackcloth garment with the repair of the torn garment and the gold package might be a sackcloth garment, the repair of the torn garment plus the purchase of a nice new garment. Either way, it seems there would have been many opportunities for the shrewd businessman to earn some shekels.

So there you have it. Had I been born in Old Testament times I would have been the proud owner of the great clothiers Timothy’s of Jerusalem, specialists in sackcloth, garment repair and garment replacement. And if our culture ever heads in the direction of tearing clothes and wearing sackcloth, you can bet that I’ll be looking to take advantage of it. I wonder where sackcloth futures are listed on the market?

Timothy’s of Jerusalem: coming soon to a neighborhood near you. Franchise opportunities available. Inquire within.

Yes, long-time readers may recognize this as an article I first posted away back in ‘04. I rearranged it a little and reposted it. So sue me! If Joe Carter can post the occasional old article, so can I!

June 03, 2006

A couple of months ago I wrote about the Emerging church and suggested that a movement which celebrates doubt is a movement which Christians should not be eager to join. I suggested that this movement (or conversation, as they prefer) values doubt over assurance, seeing doubt as being somehow more humble and godly than assurance. Over the past week or so I have been reading John Frame’s Salvation Belongs To The Lord (look for a review next week) and came across an interesting section dealing with assurance of salvation. I thought I would share that passage today. I realize that is is not directly applicable since some within the Emerging church doubt not only assurance of salvation but really any kind of theological assurance. Yet I believe Frame provides much biblical wisdom on the subject of doubt.

“[T]he Bible presents doubt largely in negative terms. It is a spiritual impediment, an obstacle to doing God’s work (Matt. 14:31; 21:21; 28:17; Acts 10:20; 11:12; Rom. 14:23; 1 Tim. 2:8; James 1:6). In Matthew 14:31 and Romans 14:23 it is the opposite of faith and therefore a sin. Of course, this sin, like other sins, may remain with us through our earthly life. But we should not be complacent about it. Just as the ideal for the Christian life is a perfect holiness, the ideal for the Christian mind is absolute certainty about God’s revelation.

“We should not conclude, however, that doubt is always sinful. Matthew 14:31 and Romans 14:23 (and indeed the other texts I have listed) speak of doubt in the fact of clear special revelation. To doubt what God has clearly spoken to us is wrong. But in other situations, it is not wrong to doubt. In many cases, in fact, it is wrong for us to claim knowledge, much less certainty. Indeed, often the best course is to admit our ignorance (Deut. 29:29, Rom. 11:33-36). Paul is not wrong to express uncertainty about the number of people he baptized (1 Cor. 1:16). Indeed, James tells us, we are not always ignorant of the future to some extent and we should not pretend to know more about it than we do (James 4:13-16). Job’s friends were wrong to think that they knew the reasons for his torment, and Job himself had to be humbled, as God reminded him of his ignorance (Job 38-42).

“But as to our salvation, God wants us to know that we know him (1 John 5:13)…”

I believe Frame is correct on several important accounts. The Bible presents doubt largely in negative terms. Doubt is not presented as a reason for pride and assurance is not presented as something that is shameful. And in fact, doubt is a hindrance to doing God’s work and is the very opposite of faith. A person who is filled with doubt may well be a person of weak faith. An ideal faith is one that has absolute certainty about God’s revelation.

And so we are to pursue assurance, for assurance of salvation and assurance of God’s revelation is the mark of faith, not something that is opposed to it.

May 29, 2006

Tony Jones, one of the more prominent leaders within the Emergent church movement has recently posted a pair of articles at the “Out of Ur” blog responding to the charge that Emergent is the new Christian left. “[I]s Emergent a new camp for Christian liberalism? In this post Tony Jones, the national coordinator for Emergent, responds to critics by championing Emergent’s conversational purpose and celebrating the group’s diversity.”

There are three things that struck me in these articles. First, these two articles highlight some of the ways in which any meaningful discussion with the Emergent leaders is little more than an exercise in frustration and futility. Second, they also highlight just how far some leaders within the Emergent conversation have gone in abandoning truth. And third, they highlight the mixed-messages sent out from the leadership of this conversation.

Like many participants in this Emergent “conversation,” Jones feigns surprise and ignorance at the outcry against the Emergent church. He presents this movement as a simple, innocuous friendship, for who could possibly criticize a friendship? Here is how Jones describes Emergent Village: “And some of those blogs are deeply critical of Emergent Village, a decade-old friendship that has, after my family, become home to my most important relationships.” Further along in the same article he describes the people who inhabit this harmless village. “Within Emergent are Texas Baptists who don’t allow women to preach and New England lesbian Episcopal priests. We have Southern California YWAMers and Midwest Lutherans. We have those who hold to biblical inerrancy, and others trying to demythologize the scripture. We have environmental, peacenik lefties, ‘crunchy cons,’ and right wing hawks.”

Surely those who are leery of the Emergent church would not waste so much effort discussing what this movement is accomplishing if it were nothing more than a decade-old friendship. And surely Jones and others would not bother to participate in such a conversation if they felt that it had no hope of accomplishing anything. Jones presents something in harmless terms that, in reality, has the potential to bring about a great change within the church. Thus it is ridiculous to feign surprise that people react in alarm to such a movement.

What continues to surprised Jones is “how dangerous some people consider this friendship I’m in to be. If you take some of these blogs (and books) seriously, those of us who make up the Emergent Village are a great threat to the Christian church-we have undermined doctrine, truth, and church life. The fact that we’re discussing theological items that have been previously deemed ‘undiscussable’ is considered grounds for labels like ‘heretic’ and ‘apostate.’” That is a ridiculous and irrational statement. The fact that this Emergent conversation discusses doctrine and theology that has long been considered heretical or apostate is surely not grounds to label those who discuss it with those terms. After all, every seminary student discusses heresy and apostasy and learns both true doctrine and false. The true objection, or the most common objection, against the Emergent church is that these doctrines, long-since deemed heretical, are often given equal footing and are discussed as if they had never been deemed harmful in the past—as if the church had never formulated a biblical consensus as to where these doctrines deviate from Scripture. We can see the fruit of this in the very fact that the conversation includes people whose beliefs are, in theory at least, diametrically opposed to each other (ie. “Texas Baptists who don’t allow women to preach and New England lesbian Episcopal priests”). There is nothing that is undiscussable, but there are doctrines that are clear and settled and do not merit being placed on equal footing which what Scripture clearly presents as true.

Jones eventually stoops just about as low as one can go in an argument, arguing that those who disagree with the Emergent church simply misunderstand it. “Honestly, I care little about these critiques. They come from those who either have no idea what Emergent is all about and/or could not possibly be persuaded from their position anyway.” Even though some world-class scholars and committed Christians have expressed concern about the Emergent church, Jones simply states that these people either do not understand Emergent or are hardened in their ignorance.

In the second article, Jones turns his attention in particular to Chuck Colson who has become a vocal critic of the Emergent church (of course it is difficult to know if it is Chuck Colson or Anne Morse, his writer, who is truly most concerned). Colson’s latest missive against Emergent says that “truth is truth”—something Jones says is a “ ‘self-referential argument,’ or a ‘circular reference’ and it’s non-sensical.” He also turns his guns on the phrase “true truth” (a term most often associated with Francis Schaeffer). And this is where Jones’ argument gets very interesting and he reveals just how far he has slipped into the postmodern mindset.

But if I can try to surmise Colson’s meaning from the subtitle of the essay [Jesus is the Truth Whether We Experience Him or Not], he means to indicate that we in the emerging church have placed too much weight on “relational” or “experiential” theories of truth. The gospel is true, Colson seems to be saying, regardless of your human experience of that truth.

But philosophically, the obvious follow-up question is, Why? What makes the gospel true, especially if those of us in the world have no experience of its truthfulness? Is it true because Chuck Colson says so? Because Augustine said so? Because Paul said so? Is it true because, as Karl Barth might say, God’s revelatory action that breaks into our space-time continuum? But isn’t even that subject to our interpretation of the event?

Jones then states his agreement with “postmodernist extraordinaire” Stanley Fish “argues that truth comes to be known in and among and on the basis of ‘the authority of interpretive communities.’” Jones goes on to say, “We are subjective human beings, trapped in our own skins and inevitably influenced by the communities in which we find ourselves. And isn’t this what the church is, or at least should be: an authoritative community of interpretation? Indeed, isn’t this just what Colson did when he converted to Christianity in prison many years ago: placed himself under the authority of the church of Jesus Christ?”

He concludes as follows:

What I was trying to get at in my blog post earlier this week is that Emergent Village endeavors to be a catalyst of conversation, community, and, ultimately, interpretation. We want the church to reclaim its place as the authoritative community of interpretation of scripture, culture, and human existence. We want Christians to be engaged politically and culturally, and we want to provoke robust and respectful dialogue around issues that matter. Many of us think that the polemical nature of the church today precludes just this kind of necessary conversation. So, we’re going ahead and doing it, with or without the imprimatur of evangelical elites like Colson and Carson.

If that’s a compelling vision for you, then jump on board, we’re glad to have you. If, however, you’d like to first see our doctrinal statement on penal substitution or read a position paper on homosexuality, then Emergent Village isn’t for you.

Jones has taken the Emergent church from being a mere conversation between friends to “a catalyst of conversation, community, and, ultimately, interpretation.” Can he still feign surprise when Christians express concern that such a varied group of people, many of whom reject the authority of Scripture and other fundamental doctrines, intend to be a catalyst of conversation, community and interpretation?

Jones clearly struggles with the concept of truth. What makes the gospel true is not experience of those who hold to it. It is not because Augustine or Paul says so. It is true because God says so. The gospel is true because God tells us it is true. God, the source of truth, God who is truth, tells us that the gospel is true. We need no other authority to tell us this and to assure us of this. If God is who He says He is, the gospel must be true. An argument about truth is, in reality, argument about the very nature and character of God. Jones and other Emergent leaders are treading on some very dangerous ground when they begin to question or abandon or relativize truth.

Here are the articles I have referenced:

Second Article
First Article

May 26, 2006

Spiritual discernment is a subject that has been much on my mind in recent weeks. I have been thinking a great deal about how I can become more discerning and how I can serve others in helping them understand the value of discernment as well as the practice of discernment. To that end I have been attempting to formulate a “discernment filter.” I have been attempting to formulate a small set of rules through which I can pass a teaching or doctrine in order to discern whether or not it is consistent with Scripture.

Today I am going to make my first public attempt at passing a teaching through this filter. The teaching I would like to examine is “self-forgiveness.”

Self-Forgiveness

A few days ago I purchased the newest album by Downhere, a band I quite like and have followed for some time now. It is a good album and I’ve enjoyed listening to it. There is one song, though, that got me thinking. The song is entitled “Forgive Yourself.” I’ll give you the lyrics so you can read them for yourself:

You keep laying down $100 bills
On the counter of your untamed guilt
And you’ll keep paying out from your empty purse
Until you feel you’ve satisfied your curse
No one here is throwing stones
But you have got to drop your own

Forgive yourself, forgive yourself
Anyone who bears a scar wants to forget it
Forgive yourself, forgive yourself
Nothing ever frees you more than just believing
That you’ve been forgiven, come out of the prison

Can you tell me how you spend every day
Looking in the mirror of your shame
And staring like a judge, you are ruling for yourself
You tied a stone around your neck
You’re drowning in a past regret

Don’t believe it’s okay to be like this
Don’t believe you deserve to live like this
‘Cause every part of you wants to know
Just one reason why you should let go

Forgive yourself, forgive yourself
Nothing ever frees you more than just believing
Come out of the prison
You’ve been delivered

The idea of self-forgiveness, which is clearly presented in this song, is one that I have come across in the past. But as I thought about this, I realized that I could think of no biblical proof to support it. And so I decided that this teaching could become a test for this discernment filter.

This filter has three steps, modelled after 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 which exhorts all Christians to “test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” And so in this filter we first test, then abstain, and finally hold fast.

Test

We will first test this doctrine, studying the issue and holding it up against the truths of Scripture. We may seek the wisdom of other believers who, having been guided by Scripture and plain reason, have reached conclusions of their own. If possible, we will also seek the consensus of historic Christianity.

As we peer into Scripture, it becomes quickly apparent that “forgive yourself” is not biblical language. I have not found any place in Scripture where we are told to forgive ourselves, either in those word or even in concept. We are told to seek forgiveness from God and from our fellow man. We are told to extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us and release any bitterness we feel towards them. But I do not see that we are ever told to forgive ourselves.

Forgiveness is a constant, recurring theme in Scripture, so I will present only a few of the many verses dealing with it along with a brief comment for each:

  • “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!” Psalm 32:1-2. The man is blessed whose sins have been forgiven by God.
  • “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.” Mark 11:25. We are to forgive each other so that God will continue to forgive us.
  • “Bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” Colossians 3:13. We are to forgive each other as a way of modelling the forgiveness God extends to us.
  • “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9. When we confess our sins to God, He is faithful to forgive and cleanse us.
  • “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” 1 John 2:1. When we sin, Jesus Christ stands as our advocate before the Judge.

In searching other resources, I was not able to find much material on this subject written by Bible-based, discerning authors. In fact, much of the material advocating forgiveness of oneself is written from the perspective of a New Age, pop-Christianity. It is the “Dr. Phil” brand of Christian psychology that tends to advocate the view that we need to forgive ourselves. One discerning leader who has written on this subject, though only briefly, is John MacArthur. He writes the following:

I realize there are some who teach that a kind of self-forgiveness is necessary. I find this nowhere in Scripture. I’ve met many people who claim to be unable to forgive themselves, but on careful examination this usually turns out to be a kind of sinful pride exacerbated by modern self-esteem philosophy. The person who complains about not being self-forgiving is often simply looking for flattering or consoling words from others as a way of salving the hurt that guilt has caused to their pride.

He also quotes Jay Adams who, in his book From Forgiven to Forgiving, wrote:

The problem is not self-forgiveness. Their expressed agony stems from the very fact that, in the worst way, they want to forgive themselves. They want to put it all behind them, they want to bury it once and for all…

The problem is that people who talk this way recognize something more needs to be done. Forgiveness is just the beginning; it clears away the guilt. They also recognize that they are still the same persons who did the wrong—that though they are forgiven, they have not changed. Without being able to articulate it, and using instead the jargon they have heard all around them, they are crying out for the change that will assure them they will never do anything like it again. When, as a counselor, I help them to deal with the problems in their lives that led to the wrong, in such a way that they lead a more biblical lifestyle, I then ask, “Are you still having trouble forgiving yourself?” Invariably, they say no.

Discernment, as the word is used in Scripture, implies that we are to “separate things from one another at their points of difference in order to distinguish them” (Jay Adams). The point of difference in our study seems to be in our understanding of who it is that we sin against. We must realize that, first and foremost, no matter who has been harmed by our sin and how many people have been affected by it, our sin is primarily sin against God. Many of those who advocate the view that we must forgive ourselves would have a low or non-existent understanding of the holiness of God. Thus, in their view, my sin is primarily against myself. They hold forth a selfish, self-centered view of sin which says “Against myself, myself only have I sinned.” It seems to me, then, that self-forgiveness has roots buried more deeply in self-esteem and sinful, human-centered psychology than in Scripture.

While Scripture does not forbid self-forgiveness, it also does not require it. I would suggest, then, that we do not need to forgive ourself and nor should we make this our practice. If we struggle with guilt or shame, forgiving ourselves may be a temporary salve but it cannot bring the peace and healing we seek. We can only have true peace, lasting peace, by accepting God’s forgiveness and allowing Him to remove the guilt of our transgression. This must be an act of God rather than an act of self.

Abstain

In this step we will determine what it is that we must avoid, now that we have determined that we are not required to forgive ourselves. We will substitute what is false for what is true.

It seems to me that the lesson here is that we must always remember and believe that we sin primarily against God. What we need to avoid is a man-centered approach to sin where we first ask “how have I harmed myself with this sin.” Rather, we must turn to God and ask Him to forgive us, for our sin has been primarily against the Lord. We substitute self-forgiveness for true repentence before God and acceptance of His forgiveness.

Hold Fast

In this final step we implement the truths we have learned and seek to apply them to our lives. We will hold fast to the truths God has revealed and ask that He will help in the application of these truths.

As I have suggested, it seems to me that I do not need to forgive myself for my sin. Rather, I need to ask God’s forgiveness and, having confessed and repented of my sin, I need to hold fast to God’s promises that He has forgiven me. My primary responsibility is not to myself but to God. When I sin against another person or against myself, I primarily sin against God. Thus it is His forgiveness that I require. I can live without the forgiveness of men. I can live without self-forgiveness. But I cannot live without God’s forgiveness. My responsibility and my privilege is to receive God’s forgiveness, trusting that, if I confess, He is faithful and righteous to forgive me my sins and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness.”

The application of these truths may be a deeply personal matter. I may need to change the way I ask God for forgiveness. I may need to extend greater effort in seeking the forgiveness of others. I may need to repent before God of taking His holiness so lightly that I could believe that my sin has been primarily against myself.

Conclusion

So there it is: my first attempt at passing something through this “discernment filter.” I would be interested in your feedback (more on the process than this particular teaching).

May 25, 2006

As I began writing this little post, my RSS reader pinged and up came the headline: “A Dog Story With A Happy Ending.” This comes courtesy of Rebecca, it seems. The timing is somewhat ironic, since the dog story I’m writing today has quite an unhappy ending.

Almost eight years ago, shortly after we got married, Aileen and I decided to get a dog. I was working late nights and we were living in Brantford. If you lived in this area and heard the word “Brantford,” you’d nod your head knowingly. A woman who is home alone at night in Brantford needs a dog in the house. We visited the Humane Society and came home with an energetic little Black Lab/German Shepherd cross we decided to name Tiazzi. It was a strange name for a strange dog. I can’t count the number of times over the past few years that Aileen has wondered why she didn’t choose the sedate little puppy, Tiazzi’s sister, that looked like a German Shepherd. But instead she took the tiny one that looked like a Lab.

Tiazzi was a smart dog, though never really looked it because she had oversize ears, one of which stood straight and tall while the other constantly flopped forward. She always looked a little cock-eyed. She always had far more energy than we could deal with, though as she aged she finally lost some of the edge. She had an enduring hatred of cats, mailmen, firetrucks and doorbells. She never bit or harmed anyone, but she had a loud bark that would strike fear in any heart (just ask my pastor if you don’t believe me!). We never worried about break-ins when she was around.

We did all the things first-time dog owners do. We took her to obedience lessons and played with her constantly. Aileen spent hours training her to do silly but amusing tricks. I took some time to play with her, but she really was Aileen’s puppy. I tolerated the dog, but never loved her. She was a difficult dog, and a stubborn one. She was probably too smart for her own good. She knew how to heel but chose not to obey us as we tried to convince her to actually do it when we walked her. She would pull and strain against the leash and no amount of convincing or cajoling or even pain would make her stop. Pinch collars, choke chains and other special devices proved useless. She would also jump up on visitors when they arrived. And again, there was nothing we could do to get her to stop this obnoxious behavior. As time went on, and as she got older, she got more hardened in her areas of poor behavior, caring less about our attempts to curb her.

puppy.jpgAfter a while a funny thing happened. Aileen gave birth to our first child and suddenly Tiazzi did not seem quite so important. We spent less time with her, both out of desire and necessity. Nevertheless, she adjusted quite well to the arrival of my son. She didn’t ever really like him or play with him, but she tolerated him and never tried to bite him, even when he helped himself to her kibble. My son was followed three years later by a daughter and when she was born the dog went on a short hunger strike. Tiazzi was, however, a dog and no dog (especially a Lab) can maintain a hunger strike for long. Eventually she gave in and began to tolerate a second child. That was three years ago.

A few months ago we moved to a new home and then, three weeks ago, Michaela was born. This time Tiazzi, now eight years old, seemed unable to adjust to the change. Her behavior changed. She began to bark at sights and sounds that seemed to exist only in her mind. She developed severe separation anxiety which led her to be destructive. When we put her in her kennel she would yelp and struggle until she shifted the kennel far enough along the floor that she could find something, anything, to destroy. Having torn a shirt or even her own bed to shreds, she would settle down and sleep. She soon confused the basement and her dog run, deciding that she no longer enjoyed being outside and would rather use the basement as her bathroom. She began to make a mess of the kid’s playroom.

Yesterday, nearing the end of our rope, we tried a new strategy, giving her the run of the whole laundry room (in the basement) while we went to my son’s ballgame. We came home to find she had chewed away a piece of the doorframe and had clawed under the gate to shred some of the basement carpet. This was the final straw. It was clear evidence of what we already knew—she was sick and was not going to get better.

There were not many options. The Humane Society would not take her. “If her anxiety is that bad now, it’s only going to get worse in the high-stress environment of the kennel. No one will ever adopt her here.” They suggested we put her on medication and take her to some form of pet counselling. The only other option, they said, was to contact our vet, who happens to be a great dog-lover, and have her euthanized. We do not have money for counselling (and probably not for medication either!), so we contacted the vet who said that, from the sound of things, her situation was sufficiently severe that even medication would not help. If we could not deal with her systematically destroying our house, we should consider putting her down. He has seen this before. After much consideration and many tears (from Aileen, at least), we decided that there was no option but to have her put down.

We felt better doing this based on the vet’s counsel, but it was still an awful option. This morning we had the children bid the dog farewell. They know only that Tiazzi has gone to the vet and that she won’t be back. I’m not sure how much more we should tell them. Perhaps ignorance is bliss. Perhaps this is a good moment to teach them a reality about life and death and sin and evil. We’ll worry about that later. Aileen gave Tiazzi a last hug and a last scratch behind the ears. I loaded the dog into the van and we drove to the vet’s office.

I arrived at the vet and, leaving the dog in the car, went inside. I filled out the paperwork, signed something I didn’t bother to read and gave them the ridiculous sum of $281.41 for their services. Having done that, I walked out to the car, fetched the dog, handed the leash to the receptionist and then turned my back and walked away. I didn’t exactly forget to say goodbye to the dog. I guess it’s more that I just couldn’t. I never loved the dog and really only barely tolerated her much of the time, but she was part of our lives for a long time and it was surprisingly hard to know she was going to die.

And then I dealt with this the way I deal with most difficult things. I turned on some really loud music and began to write.

It’s strange, really, that already I am writing in the past tense, even though the dog is probably still alive, at least for a few more minutes. I am reasonably comfortable with the decision we made, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I struggle in the dark hours of the night when I tend to lie awake and think. Aileen is less sure of what we did, but she also loved the dog more. In the end I console myself with the knowledge that Tiazzi was only an animal. She was a living being and was, in some way, precious in God’s eyes. She was certainly precious to Aileen. But she was a dog and had no soul. She will die sometime today and that will be all. Her heart will stop beating and she will be no more. She will not go to heaven and will not chase rabbits through the happy hunting grounds. She will simply stop being. She will be no more than a memory.

God is good to give us animals to serve and protect and comfort and cheer us. Tiazzi did plenty of all of that. But her time came to an end and I’m glad that she could go in peace. As much as I hate to say it, I am going to miss her. Despite the hardship she brought us, I am thankful that we were able to know her and have her live with us. I will choose to remember her fondly.

Dumb dog.

May 24, 2006

Some time ago I became convicted, by the Spirit I trust, that I did not regard the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with sufficient significance or gravity. I felt that I did not sufficiently sanctify this celebration through lack of preparation and lack of focus when actually taking the bread and the wine. Over the past four days I have been making my way through Gospel Worship by Jeremiah Burroughs, a Puritan who lived and ministered in the early seventeenth century. In one chapter of this great book he addresses the question of “What is Required in Receiving the Sacrament?” While the book is filled, from cover to cover with godly wisdom, this one section spoke straight to my soul. Burroughs provides requirements for “the sanctifying of the name of God in this holy sacrament.” I’d like to share these with you today in the hope that they challenge you as they’ve challenged me.

Knowledge is Required - A person must know what the Lord’s Supper signifies and must be able to provide an account of what it is (and is not). We must also have knowledge of other aspects of the Christian faith, “for we can never come to understand the nature of this sacrament without knowing God and knowing ourselves, knowing in what estate we were by nature, knowing our fall, knowing the way of redemption, knowing what Jesus Christ was and what He has done in making an atonement, the necessity of Jesus Christ and what the way of the covenant is that God has appointed to bring men’s souls to eternal life by.” This must not be mere habitual knowledge, but knowledge that is stirred up by meditation.

A Suitable Disposition - Because the Lord’s Supper remembers the Lord’s broken body and shed blood, “a suitable disposition is brokenness of heart, a sense of our sin, of that dreadful breach that sin has made between God and the soul.” Our sin should be upon our hearts, but only in such a way that we understand it through the application of the blood of Christ. We must behold Christ broken and behold the ugliness of our sin in the red of the glass of the blood of Jesus Christ. “There is more in this sacrament to break the heart for sin” than any other sight we could behold, even a memorial or picture of Christ hanging on the cross. “You do not find that God set that [seeing a representation of Christ on the cross] apart as an ordinance, an institution appointed to the end that they should come to look upon that for the breaking of their hearts.” So when you see the bread broken and see the redness of the wine, allow your heart to be broken with your sin.

Purging and Cleansing the Heart of Sin - At Passover the Jews were to cast out all leaven from within their homes. They first made diligent search for leaven, even lighting candles to search for leaven in every corner. They then cast it out of their homes. Finally, they cursed themselves if they should willingly keep any leaven in the house. That signifies the soul-searching we should undertake before we approach the Lord’s table. We should “make a diligent search to see whether there is not some leaven, some evil in your heart; and whatever sin you shall come to find in your heart, there must be a casting out of it.”

Burroughs provides this moving metaphor for how we are to regard our sin as we approach the Lord’s Supper. “If you saw the knife that cut the throat of your dearest child, would not your heart rise against that knife? Suppose you came to a table and there is a knife laid at your plate, and it was told to you that this is the knife that cut the throat of your child. Fathers, if you could still use that knife like any other knife, would not someone say, ‘There was but little love to your child?’ So when there is a temptation come to any sin, this is the knife that cut the throat of Christ, that pierced his sides, that was the cause of all his suffering, that made Christ to be a curse. Now will you not look upon that as a cursed thing that made Christ to be a curse? Oh, with what detestation would a man or woman fling away such a knife! And with the like detestation it is required that you should renounce sin, for that was the cause of the death of Christ.”

The Hungering and Thirsting of the Soul after Jesus Christ - God expects that all who come to this feast should come with a hungering and longing for Jesus Christ. “Oh, that I might have more of Christ, that I might meet with Christ, that I might have some further manifestation of Jesus Christ, that I might have my soul further united to the Lord Christ, and so have further influence of Christ to my soul.” The reason we do not hunger after Christ like this is that we too often come with stomachs filled with the trash of the world. “So it is with men of the world. They fill their hearts with the trash of this world, with sensual delights; and hence it is that when they come to such a great ordinance to enjoy communion with Jesus Christ, they feel no want at all of Christ. They only come and take a little piece of bread and draught of wine, but for any strong, pausing desires to meet with Jesus Christ there in the ordinance, to come so as they know not how to live with Christ, even as a man who is hungry cannot live without his meat and drink, and so for the soul to have such a disposition after Christ is a rare thing.”

An Exercise of Faith - “Faith is both the hand and the mouth for taking this spiritual meat and spiritual drink.” Faith allows us to see in the bread and wine Jesus’ flesh and blood. “You know by this whether you have come with faith to the sacrament or not, whether you have seen the most glorious sight that ever your eyes beheld, alas, with our natural eyes.” And then, “as you reach out your hand to take the bread and wine, so there must be an actual reaching out of the soul by faith, putting forth an act of faith to receive Jesus Christ into the soul, to apply the Lord Jesus Christ to your soul with all His merits and good things that He has purchased.” And finally the mouth: “You have a bodily mouth to take in bread and wine, but know that without faith your soul cannot take in Christ. Faith is, as it were, the mouth. That is, by the act of faith the soul opens itself for Jesus Christ, and not only opens itself, but takes in Christ to the soul and makes Christ and the soul as one.”

Spiritual Joy - Despite the broken-heartedness of this feast, joy must be exercised. We rejoice with trembling. “This is a great mystery of godliness, that there should be at the same time the sight of Christ crucified and a spiritual cheerfulness in the assurance of the love of God in Jesus Christ.”

Thankfulness - We are to give thanks to God for every mercy. “When you come here and understand what you are doing, here you cannot but see matter for the enlargement of your heart, and wish that you had ten thousand times more strength to express the praises of the Lord. Here is a thing that must be the subject of the ‘Hallelujahs’ and ‘Doxologies’ that angels and saints must forever sound out in the highest heavens.” For in this act the Lord signifies that He has given us something far better than if He were to give us ten thousand worlds.

A Willingness to Renew Your Covenant - There must be a renewing of the covenant with God. “I come to receive this bread and this wine, and this is to be as the seal of the covenant on God’s part. Now this will be implied in the nature of the thing that, if I take the seals of the covenant, I must be willing to set my seal on it too, to renew the covenant that God calls me to.” We come to renew our faith and repentance.

A Renewing of Love - We come to renew our love not only to God but also to our brethren. “For it is a feast of the Lord, and it is an act of communion; communion not only with Christ, but with His churches, with His saints… The Lord requires that His children should not fall out who come to His table, but that there should be love and peace. There’s a mighty bond when you come to the sacrament, and therefore, first all heart-burnings and heart-grudges must be laid aside.”

Burroughs concludes with a warning:

“If we do not sanctify God’s name, it will turn quite to the contrary. It is the proper end of the sacrament to seal up our salvation, but if we do not sanctify God’s name it will seal up our condemnation. If it has not been your endeavour to sanctify the name of God, as many times as you have received the sacrament, so many seals have you upon you for the sealing up of your condemnation. Many men’s or women’s condemnations are sealed with three or four hundred seals, as it may be.” For God’s name will be sanctified in us, either through grace and mercy or through justice.

May 22, 2006

My review of Confessions of a Reformisson Rev. by Mark Driscoll raised a furor. I was shocked by just how quickly the comments began to add up. They quickly bounced up to over 170 before David, who helps me moderate the comments area, decided that they had served their purpose and needed to be shut down (and I fully support the decision). Many blogs picked up the discussion as well. Because of the amount of virtual ink that has been spilled discussing this post, and because of what a few people have subsequently said about me, I wanted to add a few comments.

First, It is an unfortunate truth of the blogosphere that sometimes the tone and content of a blogger’s post can be lost in the subsequent comments and discussion. I fear this may have happened with my review of Confessions of a Reformission Rev.. It may surprise you to know that my review was largely positive. I thought Driscoll had many good things to say and I tried to articulate that. It was not until the final paragraphs that I addressed my foremost concern with the book: the sometimes vulgar language. However, almost all of the 170+ comments focused only on this critique and very few mentioned the positive aspects of the book. Thus, while my review was largely positive, the comments were largely negative. So let’s be fair here and acknowledge that I think Confessions of a Reformission Rev. was quite a good book with many valuable things to say. Had I thought it was an awful book I would not have provided a link to buy it from Amazon.

So please understand what I said about Driscoll’s book and what was actually said in the later discussion. I cannot be held responsible for the tone or content of comments. Even here I would like to say that the vast majority of comments were level-headed and maintained a godly tone.

Second, it is important to note that what I wrote was not a theology of cussing, nor an examination of Mark Driscoll’s ministry. Rather, it was a book review. On the whole I tried to discuss only the book. After all, most people who read the book will know little more of Driscoll than what they encounter within the pages of Confessions of a Reformission Rev.. As some have pointed out, Driscoll recently penned an apology for some vulgar words he had written in response to the views of Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren. In this article he apologized directly for what he had said about them and also suggested that he is attempting to moderate his use of harsh language. You can read this apology here. It is possible, and even likely, that the manuscript for his book was finalized before he was convicted of sin in his response to McLaren and Pagitt. Thus it is possible that, if given the ability to edit the manuscript, he might not have included some of the more vulgar sections of Confessions of a Reformission Rev.. Only Mark knows. But I don’t feel this is necessarily relevant to my book review.

Third, I do not feel that I need to first approach the author in order to critique his work. Mark Lauterbach wrote a post called Examples of how to critique? in which he said: “It is cheap to critique without trying to show the person their fault.” He advocates a Matthew 18-like process of confrontation and correction. I disagree with him. Driscoll’s book is a matter of public record and when a book (or a blog article) is published and publicly distributed, it is with the assumption and understanding that it will be read and critiqued. Reviewing books would be a useless and impossible enterprise if I first had to approach each author before I pointed out flaws or weaknesses. Matthew 18 does not apply to these matters of public record.

Fourth, it seems that some people were offended that I quoted Mark Driscoll’s use of vulgarity. To be honest, I did struggle a little bit with whether or not I should do this, but eventually decided that I could do so in good conscience. I dislike such use of language and felt bad that people would encounter it on my web site. Still, I feel that it was necessary to show that I was not merely being over-sensitive when pointing out that the book can be vulgar. The vulgarity of this book is not simply in using words like “crap.” While I hope there will not be a next time, if there is I will attempt to first post a disclaimer of sorts so those who do not wish to read such language can simply click the “back” button and avoid it. But I have to ask…is there anyone who can honestly say that he or she would have clicked “back?” Experience tells me that a disclaimer is really usually little more than an invitation.

Fifth, I probably could have articulated this within the review, but did not feel at the time that it was necessary. Perhaps I was wrong. One of the things I find most difficult about Driscoll’s vulgarity is that it is, at least sometimes, measured and deliberate. This is shown clearly within the dialogue with the college student. There is absolutely no way that what Driscoll presents is a completely accurate, word-by-word account of what happened. If he was as tired and groggy as he would have us believe, he could not remember every word that was spoken that night. What he presents is a memoir more than a transcription. Thus he could have used a less-vulgar term to describe what the boy had done. Yet he chose to be provocative. And in fact, I don’t think it was even necessary to publish the exchange in the first place. Driscoll added it to the book to show that he was reaching the end of his rope, but he did not need to provide this story. It is clear that he did so in order to be deliberately provocative. There can be a fine line between confession and exhibitionism. As I said: deliberate provocation.

Sixth, Justin Taylor wrote the following this morning: “I do wish that his extended quotation (which is causing all the heat) had been set in context more than it was.” Justin may be right. The quotation was taken from early in Driscoll’s career, and thus may not reflect what he would say if the same situation were to arise today. At the same time, it was written only recently. See point five, above. Justin also posts a great quote by J.C. Ryle. I agree entirely with what Ryle says and hope that Justin was not directing this at me in particular since I truly do feel that I was quick to see grace in Driscoll. See point one, above. J.T. was quite right, though, to indicate that some people made the error of committing “Graceless Slander Under the Guise of Discernment and Doctrinal Fidelity.”

As always, I am surprised by which of my articles cause a great amount of discussion and which do not. On the whole, book reviews are the posts which tend to gather the lowest number of comments. I was shocked, then, to see just how much discussion arose as a result of this one. Still, I think there was been some valuable and beneficial discussion and I trust that it has somehow proven valuable.

May 22, 2006

Today is a holiday in Canada and apparently we are supposed to celebrate the birthday of Queen Victoria. Most Canadians celebrate the day by imbibing near-lethal quantities of alcohol. Actually, this is how Canadians celebrate most holidays. Since I hope to spend most of this day with the family (not drinking, of course!), I did some writing over the weekend, preparing a short biography of a man of God from days past. I hope you enjoy it.

Edwin H. Alden, was born in Connecticut River Valley, on January 14, 1836. He went to Dartmouth College and then to a seminary in Maine. After graduating, he enlisted in the service of the American Home Missionary Society, a ministry of the Congregational Church. A document on the website of Wheaton College provides a bit of detail about this organization:

A group of small missionary societies, the earliest of which was the Young Men’s Missionary Society of New York (formed in 1815) along with the New York Evangelical Missionary Society (formed in 1816) and other small agencies combined to make up the United Domestic Missionary Society in 1822. This group was supported by Reformed Churches and the Presbyterian Church. In May 1826, representatives from Congregational, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches met to form the American Missionary Society. During the convention, the United Domestic Missionary Society voted to merge with the American Home Missionary Society.

Its purpose was to assist congregations in the United States and its territories primarily until they could become financially self-supporting. Women’s groups within the society were recognized when a Women’s Department was formed in 1883. Operations of the Society were carried out through auxiliary societies, agents and agencies. In the 1890s the Society membership increased from 17 to 203. However, by 1893 the interdenominational character of the Society had been lost and it was renamed Congregational Home Missionary Society, which was still in existence in 1975.

Reverend Alden was pastor of a Congregational Church in Waseca, Minnesota, but as part of his missionary duties often travelled to other churches. In his travels he followed the railroad west, preaching at newly founded towns and villages such as New Ulm, Sleepy Eye, Barnston, Walnut Grove, Saratoga and Marshall where the railroad ended suddenly at the wide prairie. Where the train stopped, he would stop, attempting to gather a crowd to hear the preaching of the good news of the gospel. Wherever possible he would encourage the construction of a church building and he was often responsible personally for much of the construction. Despite the hardships of his profession, he once wrote, “So far the Lord has prospered us though it has made me many a weary walk and journey, besides many a day’s toil with hammer and saw when nothing would induce anyone to help me—it was so cold—besides many a weary night of anxiety.”

Reverend Alden has been immortalized in the Little House books, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, though unfortunately, more people remember him for his innacurate role in the long-running television series loosely based on the books. Laura recalls the building of a church in their small town of Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Being founding members of the congregation, and the first two people baptized into membership at the new congregation, her parents, Charles and Caroline Ingalls, were eager participants in the construction of this building. Laura records that her father donated three dollars for the purchase of a bell to complete the building. Three dollars was a sacrifice for so poor a family. Later records show, though, that her father had actually donated the handsome sum of twenty-six dollars and fifteen cents! Charles served as trustee and was active in the service of this church. The bell he helped purchase now hangs in the belfry of the English Lutheran Church in Walnut Grove.

The church at Walnut Grove was not the only building constructred under the leadership of Reverend Alden. What follows is his account of attempting to build a church in Marshall during the winter of 1873. It provides a glimpse into the hardship faced by such missionaries.

The lumber was ordered in October from Winona, 250 miles off. We waited anxiously for the lumber, day after day, but it did not come. Then we heard that it is on a side track sixty miles away, will be here in the next train. Volunteers with teams hurry in from the county to unload it and haul it to the site. It does not come, and the men returned disappointed. After a few days comes—only one car; the other two not heard from. We are anxious. The beautiful October weather is almost gone. Winter is at hand. The road has more than it can do to haul material for the seventy miles yet to be built. Engines and men are taxed to their utmost. Ninety tons of iron for each mile of track must come from Chicago; bridge timber from Winona, 275 miles; ties and piling from the Big Woods, 150 miles.

Night and day they drag their immense loads, carrying back 35,000 bushels of wheat daily. What if they cannot bring our lumber at all! We go eastward eighty miles and find one car. “Can you ship the car for our church tonight?” “Very doubtful. We are obliged to leave here several carloads that have been waiting for days.” After dark, in the rain, with a lantern, we see our car coupled to the westward train and return with a light heart. How it poured, all the night, the next day and the next night, a steady torrent! But our lumber arrived.

Shortly it was framed, raised and partly sheathed. A day or two after came the first great snow-storm of the season, to be followed by others unprecedented for severity and numbers in the history of the state. The house, though held with extra braces, could not stand the fearful gale. It was prostrated soon—buried by the drifting snow. What can be done? The road is blockaded, all the trains but one snowed in, the engines dead. One conductor walks twenty-five miles and telegraphs to the Superintendent. He hastens to the rescue with snowplows, car-loads of provisions and several hundred men with shovels. In time they dig their way to Marshall.

We go by the next train. The weather is beautiful and we move rapidly for seventeen miles. The snowplow comes to a drift; the men ply their shovels; the sky is suddenly overcast; the wind rises, mercury falls, and in thirty minutes all must take refuge in the cars. We are “snowed in.” The next morning, your missionary vies with the rest in the use of the shovel. We make seven miles a day. The train can go no further; no team can be found; we dare not try forty miles on foot over that desolate waste, so we return with the train—only to be snowed in again and find our way to New Ulm as we can—most of the way on foot. Nothing daunted, we take the next train several days later, reaching Marshall at night after a four days’ journey, visit the church site.

A few boards are seen on the foundation. The rest is covered by a deep snow hard enough to bear a loaded team. Can it be dug out and raised again? The carpenter says “Yes.” So says a young lawyer, promising to work his subscription all over again. So say others, and I say “Amen!” Soon the spot is thronged with willing volunteers, shovel in hand, and in two days or so we have the building about where it was before the gale, and passed it over to the contractor for completion. Of course the disaster made us great additional expense which we have not the means to meet.

Will not individuals and churches in the East help us?

I have never know a missionary to end a speech or letter without asking for support. Reverend Alden was no different!

The Ingalls family was to run into Reverend Alden again. After only a few years in Walnut Grove, the family moved to De Smet, North Dakota. One wintery evening the family was thrilled to find Reverend Alden once more upon their doorstep. He was as surprised and delighted as they were to find himself in the company of friends. The first church service in De Smet was soon held in the Ingalls’ home. Reverend Alden later wrote a letter of recommendation supporting the Reverend Brown, who was to become pastor of the first church officially planted in De Smet and who officiated the marriage of Laura to her husband, Almanzo Wilder.

After this time we do not know much about the life of Reverend Alden, save that he married twice, had two children, worked among the Indians and settled in North Dakota. He died May 6, 1911, in Chester, Vermont.

May 18, 2006

The article I wrote yesterday has caused a bit of a ruckus. I intended to answer some of the criticisms this morning, but then I had to try to keep Michaela from crying for two hours, and once I handed her off to Aileen, the phone rang a few times and before I knew it, the morning was getting away from me (it’s mostly Steve Camp’s fault—he and I just have too much to talk about). As you recall, I wrote about whether or not we, as Christians, have an obligation to assume or believe that others are also believers. I suggested that we are under this obligation when a person professes faith and is a member of a “true” church. I was prepared for some criticism, and when Joe Carter mentioned that he would answer this article, I pointed out that I knew there were several holes in my argument which I was sure he would have no trouble finding.

True to his word, Joe took issue with several things, among them my use of the Belgic Confession. “While I consider the Belgic Confession to be a magnificent creed and a beautiful exposition of doctrine, I also believe it to be significantly flawed. In order to understand the requirement for ‘pure administration of the sacraments’ we have to look at Article 34: The Sacrament of Baptism.” The Confession, of course, then advocates infant baptism. Joe concludes “A ‘true church’ is, according to this confession, one that adheres to infant baptism as a ‘pure administration of the sacrament’ of baptism. That means me, John Piper, Al Mohler, and the 16 million members of the SBC are apparently spending our Sundays at a ‘false church.’ (The same could be said for Tim himself since he is a ‘Reformed believer attending a Baptist church.’)”

I should point out that, as a Baptist, I consider the Confession a great document and one that is useful even to me. I look to the confession as a solid summary of the three marks and do not necessarily agree with how the writers of the document further define those three marks. The marks can easily apply to churches other than those which hold to paedo-baptism. I’d suggest that this was something of a red herring, for it seems to have kept Joe from interacting with the marks themselves—marks which I consider a useful guide to a true church.

Mike at “Eternal Perspectives,” who said on another site that I had a bad day yesterday, wrote a lengthy article called The Problem with Whitewash and Turpentine where he expressed his disagreement with me. On the whole I think he understood my argument, though he disagreed with it.

Conversely, John at “Blogotional” seems to have (quite conventiently, really) overlooked my main point. He asked “Who Then Is My Brother? as if my article suggested that only those who profess faith and attend a true church can be believers. Of course my article merely asked who we are under an obligation to assume is a believer, rather than who is a believer. There is a vast difference. He also objected to my criticism of the Roman Catholic Church.

Were I to criticize my article, I would probably point out that very few churches really do practice proper church discipline, and thus there are not a lot of churches left that actually adhere to the three marks I presented. In theory, most churches make some attempt at articulating a policy for church discipline. Sadly, few actually practice it. Many that do practice it, use it more as a tool for ridding themselves of dissenters than a God-given means of separating the wheat from the chaff. This was proven true a few days ago when even the The United Church of Christ, which touts an open-door policy that welcomes everyone and declares that no one will ever be kicked out of the church’s membership, was removed from membership for raising questions about the church’s spending.

So for today I would like to discuss church discipline. I was surprised, when I searched the archives of this site, to see how little I have written about this. However, I found an article which summarized much of what I believe and, having tidied it up, bring it to you today as a basis for what I’d like to say tomorrow (if the phone is a little bit quieter):

Much has been written in our day about healthy churches. Men like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels, known as being at the forefront of the church growth movement, insist that their primary concern is not with making churches bigger but with making them healthier. Mark Dever, in 9 Marks of a Healthy Church includes an appendix that lists the prescriptions offered by many contemporary authors. Though this is merely a small sample of what people have suggested, the list comes to over 10 pages. Clearly there is some controversy regarding how we can discern a healthy church from a corrupt one.

Since the time of the Reformation most Protestants have agreed on the marks of a true church (not to be confused with a healthy church). These are summarized in the Belgic Confession, Article 29, which says “The marks by with the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preaching therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church.” While not all confessions included church discipline as one of the marks, where absent this was assumed as being integral to the proper administration of the sacraments, for they are to withheld from those who are engaged in gross sins. Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin and Cramner, for example, all agreed on these marks.

Church discipline is an area that is largely overlooked in the contemporary church, yet is one that is necessary for a church to be a true church and to be a healthy church. Until recent times, discipline was viewed as one of the primary functions of the leadership of a church. Until the mid-1800’s, Southern Baptist churches would excommunicate, on average, two percent of their membership in any given year! Church membership was considered both a privelege and a responsibility, and those who did not meet their obligations were swiftly removed. Churches were serious about sin.

As churches changed in the mid to late 19th century, discipline faded. It seems that an emphasis on holy lives was replaced by an emphasis on solving society’s ills. Greg Wills has written extensively about the changing views on church discipline in Democratic Religion:

In fact, the more churches concerned themselves with social order, the less they exerted church discipline. From about 1850 to 1920, a period of expanding evangelical solicitude for the reformation of society, church discipline declined steadily. From temperance to Sabbatarian reform, evangelicals persuaded their communities to adopt the moral norms of the church for society at large. As Baptists learned to reform the larger society, they forgot how they had once reformed themselves. Church discipline presupposed a stark dichotomy between the norms of society and the kingdom of God. The more evangelicals purified the society, the less they felt the urgency of a discipline that seperated the church from the world.

Church discipline today is generally reserved for only the most terrible sins. I suspect many churches are willing to overlook almost any sin provided it does not cause rifts in the church and call the leadership into question. Disunity is the cardinal sin of the twenty-first century. Matters of morality and godliness are regarded with far more leniency. Sadly this shows that many church leaders are more concerned with how the members of their churches regard them than with how they regard God. This has not always been the case. Even 100 years ago many churches considered almost any consistent transgression of biblical rules grounds for discipline. In 9 Marks of a Healthy Church Mark Dever provides some examples from the rules of his church which were drawn up in 1878. The document outlined many ways in which members could be liable to discipline. They included: any outward violations of the moral law; any course which may…be disreputable to it [the church] as a body; neglecting to contribute financially; being habitually absent from church. In short, the church required believers to act and live like believers and any consistent transgression of this rule would begin the process of discipline as outlined in the Scripture.

Clearly this model, which seems to have been quite common in that day, is unusual for our time. But consider the impact on our churches if we placed under discipline those who miss church on an ongoing basis, those who live in sin and those who refuse to give financially to the church - in short, those who show clear evidence of ongoing, unrepentant sin in their lives. Evidently attendance would fall dramatically. But would this be a bad thing? It seems to me that a lean church composed of committed believers is far superior to a bloated body composed of a mix of believers and unbelievers. Almost sixty years ago H.E. Dana observed that:

The abuse of discipline is reprehensible and destructive, but not more than the abandonment of discipline. Two generations ago the churches were applying discipline in a vindictive and arbitrary fashion that justly brought it into disrepute; today the pendulum has swung to the other extreme - discipline is almost wholly neglected. It is time for a new generation of pastors to restore this important function of the church to its rightful significance and place in church life.

I wonder how the church would change if discipline were taken seriously. I wonder how many goats would immediately flee the assembly of the sheep. But wouldn’t the church be better for it? Mark Dever observes that “Jesus intended our lives to back up our words. If our lives don’t back up our words, the evangelistic task is injured, as we have seen so terribly this last century in America. Undisciplined churches have actually made it harder for people to hear the Good News of new life in Jesus Christ.” I fully agree. Churches in which the members show little evidence of the Spirit’s work of sanctification appeal to the world and harm the task of evangelism. Laxity in this area brings harm and shame to the church of Jesus Christ.

The great irony may be that those churches which are most concerned with evangelism are those which do the most to harm their own witness with their bloated, often largely-unregenerate membership.

Pages