Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bad Fundamentalism

This past year I have had some interesting experiences with fundamentalists, particularly as concerns the King James Only movement. This post represents my thoughts on the particular brand of fundamentalism represented by the King James Only movement.

It is my thesis that much of the modern-day movement that is best known a Fundamentalism represents, at best, a caricature of what fundamentalism originally was. The original fundamentalist would not acknowledge many of those who claim the title today – and many who claim the title today would not own those for whom it was originally coined.

This is a strong statement, and it must therefore be supported with evidence. The term ‘Fundamentalist’ is usually considered to have been coined from the title of a series of books published in 1909. These volumes, originally a dozen paperbacks, were collected in four volumes in 1917, and are now available from Baker Book House. They are well worth reading, even though, like most multi-author works, some authors are better than others. It is these volumes, in the four-volume edition, that will be the evidence for what fundamentalism originally was.

First of all, fundamentalism was a movement seeking unity among believers.[1] The evidence for this is the remarkable diversity to be found in the backgrounds of the contributors, who came from all denominations as well as from independent and non-denominational churches. It is not always possible to determine a writer’s denominational background, but most often it is. In the third volume we find contributions from a member of the United Free Church of Scotland, a Southern Baptist, a Canadian Anglican, the Bishop of Durham, England, two men from the Presbyterian Church, USA, a Scottish Baptist, and an English Congregationalist. Not all of these denominations were ‘pure’ in themselves, let alone separatist in their stance. The men differ in their views of baptism and Church government, to say nothing of other matters. Thus The Fundamentals must be viewed as an expression of unity around a doctrinal core – the ‘fundamentals’ of the title. Gail Riplinger has described B.B. Warfield as a "liberal" in Hazardous Materials, yet Warfield contributed the article on the deity of Christ to The Fundamentals, and is one of the men commonly credited with developing the doctrine of inerrancy as presently understood. In the 1900s Warfield was regarded as a Fundamentalist. Any definition of "liberal" that includes B.B. Warfield is so broad as to be completely meaningless.

Nor were the contributors to The Fundamentals agreed concerning the doctrines of grace, except for the one point that they were not among the fundamental points of Christianity. Probably a majority of the contributors came from Churches that are historically Calvinistic, but not all. Thus, again, the intention of the original fundamentalists was to unite Bible-believing Christians in the various denominations to stand for the truth.

So what were the fundamentals? First of all, the fundamentalists held the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible as the foundation of everything else. Secondly, God as revealed in Christ, who is both true God and true man. The resurrection of the dead, the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit, sin as an objective offence against God, judgement to come, and the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, justification by faith in Christ alone, the providence of God over all, and the personal second coming of Jesus Christ. Interestingly, this final point is without timing, one’s view on the millennium is not considered a fundamental point of doctrine. While all contributors agreed that God is the creator, they were not all creationists in the modern understanding of the word.

What then? It follows that the true heirs to the Fundamentalists are not those separatists who seem determined on ever-narrowing the circle of true believers, but those who seek unity among Bible-believing Christians on the basis of those fundamental doctrines that the original Fundamentalists fought for. It also follows that those who separate on matters other than those fundamental truths of Scripture are not real Fundamentalists at all. Thus those who anathematize professing Christians for not being King James Only, Premillennial, Dispensationalist, Arminian Baptists are not true fundamentalists at all, but false fundamentalists, schismatics and sectarians. Or, for want of a better phrase, Bad Fundamentalists.

[1] Note well, this was unity among Bible-believing Christians in various denominations, not unity with those who did not believe the Bible. It was unity in truth.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas blessings

Luke (Luke 2.8) tells us that the first announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ was made to "shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night." It was not made to rich men living in pleasure, or to learned men (although learned men did come later), but to ordinary men who were going about their business. Ordinary men doing their jobs, following their vocation.

Oneof the errors that led to the popularity of monasticism in the Middle Ages was that you could not have close communion with God in secular work, but had to give yourself up to a life of contemplation. But the shepherds tell us something quite different, namely that there is no lawful vocation that God is not pleased with. Matthew Henry wrote:

"We are not out of the way of divine visits when we are sensibly employed in an honest calling and abide with God in it."

And it was those men, ordinary men, who were blessed, not Herod in his palace, or the high priest in the temple. No matter where you are this Christmas, or any other time of the year, you can meet with God. The idea that we need special disciplines such as the Lectio Divina to meet with God, or that new monasteries should be started, is quite wrong.

And what were the shepherds called to see? A child, wrapped in swaddling-clothes and lying in a manger. A child for whom there was no room at the inn. Calvin wrote:

"So he was pushed into a stable and lodged in a manger, denied a place of hospitality among men, that heaven may lie open to us, not only as a place in which to lodge, but as an eternal home-land and inheritance, and that angels should receive us to dwell with him."

There is no room for Christ in so many homes this Christmas, and that is a tragedy, for thoe who have no room for Christ in this life will find that He has no room for them when He comes again with glory to judge the living and the dead. As for those who have received Him,

And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heaven above;
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him, but in heaven,
Set at God's right hand on high;
When like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Total and Complete Insanity

Just before Chritmas is not the time I want to write this, but I ought to. I have recently become aware of claims that there are "Counterfeit King James" Bibles in circulation. What is the problem:

"Here are some of the changes I located: Asswaged has been changed to assuaged. Basons has been changed to basins. Chesnut has been changed to chestnut. Cloke has been changed to cloak. Enquire has been changed to inquire. Further has been changed to farther. Jubile has been changed to jubilee. Intreat has been changed to entreat. Morter has been changed to mortar. Ought has been changed to aught, and rereward has been changed to rearward. "

In other words, some spellings have been updated. Now, what is most utterly crazy about it is that the vast majority of the differences between the 1611 King James and the 1769 Blayney revision of the text are just like these examples, they are spelling changes, updating Elizabethan spellings with 18th century ones. Thus in 1611 Noah built an Arke, while in the 18th century revision he built an ark. Pass was often spelled Passe, and Days was spelled Dayes. Son was spelled Sonne, and Year was Yeere. Believe was spelled Beleeve, and Truth Trueth. In terms of names, Jerusalem in the 1611 AV is Hierusalem, and Pharisee is Pharise. Now, unless I am very much mistaken, the same thought process that produced the hysterical article about "Counterfeit King James Bibles" because 18th century spelling had been updates to 21st century spelling, would also logically apply to the spelling changes in the 18th century. In other words, if spelling is so vital that it cannot be updated. I quote again:

"You see I believe God wrote the Bible through sinful men. I believe God copied the Bible through sinful men. I believe God translated the Bible through sinful men, and I believe God edited (purified) the Bible through sinful men. So therefore I believe God gave us the exact words in the exact order He wanted us to have them in. If that’s the case then He spelled the words exactly the way He wanted to spell them, and gave them to us in a pure language, and that language is the standard text of the King James Bible. "

Again, if spelling is so important that God inspired the spelling, then any changes to the spelling of the King James Bible are wrong, and always have been. Yet the fact of the matter is that the AV that our author holds to be the standard departs in literally thousands of places from the 1611 original (there are multiple spelling changes on literally every page). He is therefore on the horns of a dilemma. Either the 18th century revision was wrong, or the original translators were.

Because he does not allow that this insistence on correct spelling is a relatively modern phenomenon in the English language. My own surname is spelled in at least a dozen different ways in the parish records of my forefathers, and John Wycliffe spelled his own name in many different ways! What is more, the spelling of a word does not affect its meaning. Whether Peter's confession was "Thou art Christ the sonne of the living God" (1611), or "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (20th century Oxford King James), the meaning is the same. Surely this is taking King James Only silliness to new heights of ridiculousness!

Oh, and I note that the modern King James has the definite article before "Christ", making it New Age accoding to Gail Riplinger, as opposed to the 1611, which has just "Christ".

Note: I checked, the 20th century Oxford King James I am using for comparison does not have an updated text. Well, unless it's compared with the 1611, of course!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You Don't Need to do Penance!

Evangelicals quite rightly criticize the Roman Catholic Church for its insistence that it is possible for Christians to lose their state of grace through mortal sin, and that the only way to restore such a person is through the sacrament of penance. In our formal theology we insist that there is no need for penance to deal with sins after baptism.

The trouble is, our formal theology is often rather different from our day-to-day informal theology. And this informal theology often assumes that our sins change God's view of us, and in order to be restored to God's favour, we need to do something, or, worse, to feel something. In other words, many Evangelicals are practical Romanists, we feel we need some sort of penance for our sins. Of course, I am not referring to people who make a profession of faith, but have no qualms at all about sinning with a high hand, but to Christians who fall into sin and then feel that God is angry with them because of that sin.

Here is the good news. We have a representative High Priest in heaven for us, Jesus Christ the Righteous, who always appears in the presence of God the Father to make intercession for us. And the fact that He is there means this: God is on our side whether we are victorious or defeated, when we are able to resist temptation and when we yield to it. "If we confess our sins [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." Now, we would expect that text to read, 'He is merciful and gracious to forgive us our sins,' but it does not. Why is this? It is because Jesus died for our sins on the cross, it is because the forgiveness of sins was purchased for us there, and thus if God does not forgive the sins of His people He would be unfaithful to His promise of the forgiveness of sins, and unjust in not pardoning the sins Jesus died for.

Christian, you do not need a penance. The price of sin has been fully paid. You do need a confessional, and you have that in Jesus, the sympathising High Priest who bids you to come unto Him and confess your sins in prayer. And having confessed that you are a sinner, Jesus speaks those wonderful words, "Your sins are forgiven you."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Where Would You Rather Be?

This afternoon I had the great privilege of visiting one of our members in hospital. He was unable to go to church, and so I went to take the Church's blessing to him. It was a blessed visit. On the way home on my bike I asked myself the question, "What would I rather be doing?" By the grace of God, I can say that the answer was "Nothing."

And is there anything better than spending time with God's saints, particularly those who have longer experience in the things of God than you do? There cerainly ought not to be! Certainly a pastor ought to be eager to visit. It pains me to hear any pastor say that he has no time for God's people, to visit those in hospital who are not actually dying. Is there anything more important? Where would you rather be? You see, pastor, that is your job, visit the people of God. Remember this, on the last day God says to His sheep, "I was sick and you visited me." And oh the awful thought that occurs in that connection, that it is the goats who did not visit! God be merciful to us if we would rather be anywhere else. So I didn't have an afternoon of rest and reading. I can always read some other time!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What's in your Pastor's Library?

One of the greatest inventions of the 21st century is Table Talk Radio. This is a lively Lutheran theological game-show. It is a little too Lutheran at times, but until some Reformed Baptists start something similar, I’ll keep on listening to the Lutherans!

The great thing about Table Talk Radio is the ability of those at home to play along. Many are the times when I have been yelling at the computer that Pastor needs to guess something else on ‘Bible Bee’ (I think I do really well on that), or laughed at the cluelessness of Vicar Evan.

One of the lesser-played games is called “What’s in Your Pastor’s Library?” The game can be quite amusing, but the point is one that every church member ought to have an interest in. What is in your pastor’s library? Is it the latest books on leadership and the latest best-selling Christian paperback? Is it volume after volume of material by the latest trendy writers whose books will be completely unsellable in a decade’s time? All too often I am afraid this is the case.

A pastor’s library is his equipment for the work. If a pastor has a library that is too small or that is wrongly-oriented, it will affect his effectiveness. The first priority of the pastor is to “preach the Word”, so the priority in his library must be books that are intended to help him to do that, good, sound commentaries. Second must be those books about preaching and interpreting the Word that are intended to develop the pastor’s ability to “preach the Word.”

Nor should the books in the pastor’s library all be from the same period in Church history. They should at least come from the whole period from the Reformation to the present day, though a good library ought also to include selected writings from the Church Fathers and at least Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo? from the Middle Ages. No serious pastor’s library should be without books by John Calvin and Martin Luther, those men were masters in Israel, and understood the Bible as few others ever have. From the 17th century we must have the Puritans, Thomas Goodwin, Richard Sibbes, John Flavel, Richard Baxter and John Owen. Those translations from the Continental masters of the same period are often worth their weight in gold, a case in point are the sermons of Jean Daille on Philippians and Colossians. From the 18th century come the writings of John Wesley and George Whitefield. The Reformed pastor who refuses to read Wesley robs himself of a great source of encouragement and Bible teaching. From the Baptists come the writings of John Gill and Andrew Fuller. The two men are quite different in many ways, but both well worth reading. John Newton’s works are of course beyond praise. Jonathan Edwards’ works are a gold-mine of God-centred thought.

The 19th century is a veritable gold-mine, little tapped. In addition to the Hodges, to the Alexanders, to the great men of the Southern Presbyterian Church such as Thornwell and Dabney, and to Spurgeon, there are a host of writers from the 19th century who are a great help to the reader. One thing every pastor should try to obtain is a set of the early Cunningham Lectures; each of these volumes is a definitive treatise on a point of Christian doctrine. James Denney’s The Death of Christ should have a place in every pastor’s library. Equally, the works of R.W. Dale of Birmingham are a precious store-house of thought.

The 20th century provides a lot of good works as well. B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, A.W. Tozer, G. Campbell Morgan, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J.I. Packer, John Stott, those are a few of the great 20th century writers.

Nor should all your pastor’s books be from his own tradition. One of the signs of a narrow fundamentalism is a refusal to read people from an even slightly different tradition. Pastors in particular need to be mature enough to read material they may disagree with in part. I know of no Reformed treatise like C.F.W. Walther’s The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. Reformed pastors need to read Wesley and the Lutherans, Baptists need to read books by Paedobaptists. Arminians need to read Calvinists.

And the pastor’s library has to have some history in it. If we do not know where we are coming from, we will have trouble telling where we are going. Historical reading has three purposes. First of all, to warn; there is nothing new under the sun in terms of heresy, what has been will be again. Historical works dealing with old heresies are often bang up to date! Secondly, we read history to inspire; we read of times of revival and times of persecution. Read the old histories of Wesley and Whitefield, of the rise of the Primitive Methodists, and you will breathe a different air! Thirdly, we read them to teach. The past was a lot like the present in many ways. Jonathan Edwards was treated abominably by his church and given the right foot of fellowship. The biographies of pastors can be a great help to young pastors, pointing out how others dealt with the problems we meet today.

So what’s in you pastor’s library? You will be able to tell from the pulpit or platform. And if the answer is rather bad, well, Christmas is coming, and what better time to buy your pastor a good book? Where to start? Start with good commentaries, they are always useful.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Conspiracy! Two Babylons Revisited

Presenting a second post on conspiracy theories:

Alexander Hislop's book The Two Babylons is sadly still regarded by many as a work of outstanding scholarship and a great help in the controversy with Rome. Ralph Woodrow, among others, has shown that it is neither. The great problem with Hislop's approach is that it is arbitrary and can be used to prove anything (and therefore it actually proves nothing).

Put simply, the Hislop Hypothesis is that the worship of the Roman Catholic Church today is practically identical to that of the ancient Babylonian Mystery Religion, and that the Roman Catholic Church is nothing more than paganism Christianized.

The greatest problem with Hislop's thesis is that it does not fit the facts, and therefore the facts have to be massaged to fit it. All must be placed on Hislop's Procrustean bed and forced to fit! The second problem is that the method, if applied consistently, ends with the claims of Dan Brown that there is nothing original in Christianity! Why? Because similarity (even a similarity that, on closer examination, proves to be nothing of the kind) is enough for Hislop to establish a link. The Babylonians had a celibate priesthood, so does Rome! No, the Babylonians had priests who were Eunuchs. There is a slight difference here! Where this sort of thing leads those who do not hold on to Hislop's relatively orthodox Presbyterianism is to make like Dan Barker in the now-notorious debate with James White, claiming that Mark must have borrowed from Homer because in Homer's Oddysey they got into a boat and sat down, and in Mark's Gospel they got into a boat and sat down. Really? You know what I did last time I got into a boat? I sat down.

Let me repeat, that two people do something similar does not prove a connection. The Medieval dualist sect called the Bogomils believed that Jesus and Satan were brothers, sone of the most high God, but Satan disobeyed and became evil, while Jesus was obedient. The Mormons believe essentially the same thing. Does this prove that Mormonism is nothing other than a continuation of Bogomilism? Of course not! As Yuri Stoyanov has shown in his book The Other God, the dualist heresy has resurfaced time and again through history with no apparent connections to previous dualist groups. Thus similarity, even of belief, cannot prove a connection. How much less can a mere similarity of form? And that is even if one exists!

And another thing, there was no "Babylonian Mystery Religion". The Mystery religions (plural!) originated in many areas, Greece, Egypt, Phrygia, Syria and Persia (see Romanld H. Nash: The Gospel and the Greeks [P. & R., 2003]. Nash is undoing some of the damage caused by Hislop's recklessness). None of the chief mystery religions originated in Babylon, and the Persian mystery was that of Mithras, not a worship of Nimrod. Hislop conflates dozens of gods from a score of nations to produce his own mythic Nimrod. In his zeal against Rome he forgot the first rule of controversy - be fair. If you can pick and choose bits from all over antiquity to make your "Babylonian Mystery Religion," you can make it look like anything you want! Which of course fits very well if you want to make Rome look pagan.

Hislop was not a historian or a student of Babylonian culture, he was a parish minister with a bee in his bonnet about the Church of Rome who was not too particular what arguments he used against it. The main thing was that the arguments were against Rome!

To summarize. There are many faults with the Church of Rome, and these have beeen laid out in such books as Dr. James R. White's The Roman Catholic Controversy, Eric Svedsen's Evangelical Answers and McCarthy's The Gospel According to Rome. The objections are doctrinal, rooted in Rome's exaltation of the pope, her doctrine of justification and merits, and her undue exaltation of the Virgin Mary, to name just three points. None of these are derived from Babylon. It may fairly be argued that Romanism is "Christianity paganized", to paraphrase Thomas E. Peck, it cannot be argued that it is Paganism Christianized.

Christians ought not to read Hislop's book. As he was Free Church minister of Arbroath, I can only conclude that the book is the result of too many kippers! Joking aside, The Two Babylons will not prepare any Christian to answer the claims of Rome, and Rome has no doubt answers to it - such as the obvious one that it is chock-full of errors. Thus, if a person's opposition to Rome is built on a myth, they can easily be shaken from it. But, if it is based on facts, then it is going to be much more stable.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Conspiracy Theories

One blog I frequent is Screw Loose Change, a blog devoted to debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories. This is a secular blog, and particularly in the comments there can be some use of profanity. But what is fascinating about it is how the conspiracy theory is a sort of substitute religion. Instead of a benevolent deity in control, there is some sort of malevolent conspiracy. The identity of the conspiracy differs between theorists, but still, the common theme is a conspiracy. A conspiracy theory is a worldview, and the conspiracy theorist filters reality through the theory.

The trouble is, it is a false worldview. This is demonstrated by its inability to make sense of the world as it really is. To take an example, until this year it was practically gospel among the believers in 9/11 conspiracy theories that the men behind the conspiracy were George W. Bush and Dick Cheyney. They staged 9/11, as the theory went, to seize power in the United States. Now, since the US constitution only allows a man to hold office as president for two terms, obviously the 2008 election, when Bush would not be allowed to stand, was a crucial test for this theory. As the election approached, it became a widely-held opinion that Bush would set up another 9/11, call off the election and declare martial law. Of course that didn't happen. After the election, in which the Republicans lost, there was speculation that Obama would never become president, that Bush would impose martial law. Never happened.

And I have yet to find evidence that any of the people who were speculating that Bush was in reality some sort of evil dictator who anted to suspeced the constitution ever apologised or admitted they were wrong! In fact, they go right on using the language of "coup". It is possible for an elected government to perform a coup, but this would necessitate that Bush, with military aid, adopted extra-constitutional powers and took direct control of the courts and the legislature, which he did not. Nor is Bush in power any more, having surrendered his office according to the constitution. Thus the world-view is revealed to be false. None of which is to deny the possibility of governments conspiring to seize power (Hitler was democratically elected), but to say that there is no evidence that Bush sought to do so!

So what are the Conspiracy nuts saying? That it was all a secret power behind the government. But that secret power must have already been in place, and so did not need to seize power. The worldview fails completely.

Should Christians entertain such conspiracy theories? No. Do they? Yes! But they ought not to. To take another example, there are some Christians who promote the idea that Obama is a secret Muslim. In fact that makes no sense, because Obama not only promotes Islam, ne also promotes so-called gay marriage, which is an abomination to Islam. Now, a cospiracy theorist could say, "Bell, that just proves how devious he is," but what makes more sense is to say that Obama is a religious liberal. You see, 'Obama is a Muslim" might explain Obama being pro-Muslim, but it does not explain his support of same-sex marriage. That he is a religious liberal explains everything! I have heard a liberal minister in the URC (the UK body of that name) say that Christians ought to "Reverence Mohammed." Religious liberals also hold that cultural acceptance of homosexual behaviour should be mirrored by the Church. Thus Obama as a religious liberal makes more sense than Obama as a secret Muslim. It also explains why he was a member of a liberal church in Chicago!

And the fact that there is no vast conspiracy explains better why the government can be extraordinarily incompetent at times. Also why we still have free elections, and why Mr. Brown, unless he can do something amazing in the next few months, will be on the lecture circuit this time next year.

Of course, as Christians we do believe that there are evil powers moving behind the powers of this world, but we also believe that there are angelic forces fighting for us, and that finally all history is controlled, nit by human conspirators, or by Satan, but by God. And what I have said about political conspiracies also applies to the idea of the New Age conspiracy beloved of Gail Riplinger. Because I had to get her in somewhere!