Friday, November 27, 2009

Concerns About the Manhattan Declaration

I have been hearing about the Manhattan Declaration since I first saw the coverage about it on Fox News on November 20. Here is the video of that coverage:



The main concern of this news story was whether or not the Manhattan Declaration calls for civil disobedience, and it would seem to me that it certainly does call for civil disobedience if such should be required. But my own concerns about the declaration lie in another area. To be sure, there is much in the seven page document with which I and most other Evangelical Christians may wholeheartedly agree, and this is no doubt why a number of men I respect have signed it. For example, the List of Religious & Organizational Leaders Signatories includes men such as Bryan Chapell, J. Ligon Duncan, Wayne Grudem, and R. Albert Mohler.

So with men like that willing to sign it, why do I have concerns about it? Well, my misgivings have to do with the way the term Christian is used in the document, which is subtitled "A Call of Christian Conscience." Here are some examples of what I mean:
After the barbarian tribes overran Europe, Christian monasteries preserved not only the Bible but also the literature and art of Western culture. It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery: Papal edicts in the 16th and 17th centuries decried the practice of slavery and first excommunicated anyone involved in the slave trade; evangelical Christians in England, led by John Wesley and William Wilberforce, put an end to the slave trade in that country. Christians under Wilberforce’s leadership also formed hundreds of societies for helping the poor, the imprisoned, and child laborers chained to machines. (p.1)
Notice the way in which the document speaks of medieval monasteries and Papal edicts as Christian along with Evangelicals like Wesley and Wilberforce.
We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities. We act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image. (p.1)
Again notice the way in which the Orthodox, Catholics, and Evangelicals are jointly spoken of as Christians. And it speaks just as broadly of them all as believers. Such language continues on page 2 of the document:
We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.
Here is where I begin to get a bit more nervous. For not only are terms like Christian and fellow believers used indiscriminately of the Orthodox, Catholics, and Evangelicals mentioned previously, but the document also speaks of their joint duty to "proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness." But here is where things get very problematic, since these groups do not agree on the nature and meaning of the Gospel. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church, for example, has anathematized all those who hold to an Evangelical understanding of salvation by grace through faith alone and justification by faith alone. Consider, for instance, these statements from the sixth session of the counter-Reformation Council of Trent in 1547:
CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.
 
CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.
 
CANON XXX.-If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.
I hope the readers of this blog are beginning to see why I have concerns about this document. Although I agree strongly with the stances taken in the Manhattan Declaration on the issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty, I cannot agree that those who believe the things formally taught by the Roman Catholic Church about the Gospel should be called Christians, at least not in the same sense that we use the term of those who believe the true Gospel as taught in Scripture. In fact, the above citations from the Council of Trent indicate that the Roman Catholic Church does not think we should all be called Christians either, for when it pronounces an anathema upon those of us who believe in justification by faith alone, it places us outside what they believe to be the true Church.
 
Now, I could go on to cite a number of other examples of this sort of ecumenical ambiguity in the language of the Manhattan Declaration, but I think the point has been made sufficiently. I will just say in closing that this is a "call of Christian conscience" that my conscience will not permit me to sign. For in doing so, I might publicly clarify my stand on some important moral issues, but I would do so while at the same time helping to foster a lack of clarity about the Gospel. This I could never do. As a true Protestant, I must instead say, "I protest."

Update 1 December 2009

You may also want to read Al Mohler's Why I Signed The Manhattan Declaration and Alistair Begg's article simply titled The Manhattan Declaration, in which he explains why he chose not to sign the declaration (from the standpoint of one who was present when the initial draft was presented). Obviously, I agree with Begg on this one.

Update 8 December 2009

Today R.C. Sproul weighed in on the issue with a blog post entitled The Manhattan Declaration: Why didn’t you sign it, R.C.? Here is an excerpt:
In answer to the question, “R.C., why didn’t you sign the Manhattan Declaration?” I offer the following answer: The Manhattan Declaration confuses common grace and special grace by combining them. While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel.
The framers of the Manhattan Declaration seem to have calculated this objection into the language of the document itself. Likewise, some signers have stated that this is not a theological document. However, to make that statement accurate requires a redefinition of “theology” and serious equivocation on the biblical meaning of “the gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4).
I am grateful for his input.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Proclamation of Thanksgiving

Given that tomorrow is the national celebration of Thanksgiving Day, I though it appropriate to share the October 3, 1863 Proclamation of Thanksgiving issued by President Abraham Lincoln. So here it is:
By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,

Secretary of State
(For those interested in learning something about the Christian faith -- or lack thereof -- of Abraham Lincoln, Mark Noll wrote an intriguing article on the subject back in 2001. It is entitled The Puzzling Faith of Abraham Lincoln.)

I hope all of you have a very happy Thanksgiving holiday and that you do not forget to thank God for all His many blessings. As a much more important reminder to that end, I offer you a thanksgiving proclamation from Scripture:
A Psalm of Thanksgiving. Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing.

Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.

For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations. (Psalm 100)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tithing – A Good Place to Start

As a pastor I have often been asked over the years whether or not I think Christians should tithe, and my response is usually, “I think it is a good place to start.” I hope in this article to offer a Scriptural explanation for why I think this is so, especially since the practice appears to have fallen on hard times. There are probably a number of reasons for this, and I have little doubt that a lack of commitment to Christ and His Church, the idolatrous grip of materialism, and plain old selfishness have played some part. But I think the primary reason among thoughtful Evangelicals has to do with their understanding of Scripture. They simply see tithing as a practice that is no longer required of God's people and therefore just don't bother with it. For example, many Christians today rightly observe that we are no longer under the Mosaic law (Rom. 6:14-15; Gal. 3:10-23) and that, since tithing was a part of this Mosaic Law (Lev. 27:30-34; Num. 18:20-21; Deut. 14:22-29), we are therefore no longer required to continue the practice. In addition, it is observed that since tithing is not explicitly taught as a requirement in the New Testament, we have another reason that it is not a necessary practice for Christians.

I agree that there is no clear New Testament teaching commanding Christians to tithe, and this is why the elders at Immanuel Baptist Church (among whom I serve) do not demand that anyone tithe. But that doesn't mean that we would not encourage tithing as a good and godly practice or, as I stated earlier, as a good place to start with one's giving.

At any rate, there seems to be a growing sentiment among Evangelicals to adopt the oppositional stance that asks, “Why should we tithe?” And that is a good question. But today I would rather ask not, “Why should we tithe?” but rather 1) “Why shouldn't we tithe?” and 2) “Why shouldn't we do more than tithe?”

I. Why Shouldn't We Tithe?

In seeking to answer this question, I would like to draw your attention to several lines of argument in Scripture that show that tithing is a good idea.

First, tithing was the example of godly men before the giving of the Mosaic law. For example:
NKJ Genesis 14:18-20 “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said: 'Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.' And he gave him a tithe of all.”
NKJ Genesis 28:20-22 “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, 'If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, 21 so that I come back to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. 22 And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God's house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.'”
Both of these texts are historical narrative passages which tell us about what Abram and Jacob did, but they do not give a command to others to tithe. These passages are descriptive, not prescriptive. However, what they describe is a good response to God that has been recorded for our benefit. And we know that God approved of their tithing, for He later incorporated tithing into the Mosaic law as we have already seen. In fact, I think it may be best to assume that Abraham and Jacob got the idea from God in the first place. But wherever they got the idea, the fact is that the practice was around and found to be good in God's sight before its incorporation into the Mosaic law, which should at least give us some pause about being so quick to dismiss it as simply a part of the Mosaic law that has passed away.

Second, tithing was affirmed by Jesus as a good thing. For example:
NKJ Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”
Jesus clearly says that tithing is something they “ought to have done,” even if He sees the kind of tithing spoken of here as not being among the “weightier matters” of the law. But we must also remember that Jesus warned against the legalistic practice of tithing that does not come from the heart:
NKJ Luke 18:10-14 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
It is this kind of legalism that so many Christians fear today with respect to the practice of tithing, and they are right to seek to avoid such legalism. But I would hasten to add that just because something may be done in a legalistic way does not mean that it cannot be practiced in a proper way that recognizes that all that we have is by the grace of God. I would also warn against using the charge of legalism as an excuse to be stingy with what God has given us.

Now, as for Matthew 23:23, Jesus is dealing with those who were still under the law, and thus we cannot say that He intended here to enjoin the practice of tithing upon the New Covenant Church. But we can say that He approved of and encouraged tithing as a godly practice if done with the right motives.

Third, the means of supporting the Levites under the Old Covenant is affirmed by Paul as a good example for Christians to follow in support of their ministers under the New Covenant. For example:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 9:1-14 “Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 My defense to those who examine me is this: 4 Do we have no right to eat and drink? 5 Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? 7 Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? 8 Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain." Is it oxen God is concerned about? 10 Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. 11 If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? 12 If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? 14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.”
Paul does not explicitly mention the tithes that were given to the Lord for the sustaining of the Levitical priesthood, but the tithe was definitely a primary means of their support. And Paul clearly does see the concept of their sharing in what is given by the people as a model for the support of pastors today. Thus we certainly could say that tithing is a good idea, even if not something that can be demanded (for to demand it when Scripture does not would be the very kind of legalism Jesus despised).

But there is another passage to take note of in 1 Corinthians before moving on:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 16:2 “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.”
To be sure, Paul is dealing here with a special offering that is being taken to support the church in Jerusalem, and he does not explicitly mention tithing or giving any fixed percentage of one's income, but he does clearly see the importance of giving in proportion to what one has. And tithing surely would be a good way of putting this principle into practice.

Fourth, tithing is a good way to honor Christ as our High Priest and King. For example:
NKJ Hebrews 7:1-8 “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated 'king of righteousness,' and then also king of Salem, meaning 'king of peace,' 3 without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually. 4 Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. 5 And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; 6 but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. 8 Here mortal men receive [present tense] tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives [present tense].”
Some Christians see in this passage clear evidence of the practice of Christian tithing. They would argue that just as Abraham gave a “tenth” to Melchizedek – who is at the very least shown to be a type of Christ in this passage – so we too give “tithes” to Jesus, who is our Great High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. The author of Hebrews, it is argued, assumes that the believers to whom he was writing did tithe, and he obviously thinks this is right.

I am not certain that this way of reading Hebrews 7:8 is correct, and thus I do not see it as an ample basis for saying that Christians should be required to tithe. However, I would observe that, if Abraham honored Melchizedek as a “priest of the Most High God” by giving a tithe to him, why shouldn't we see it as a good way to honor Christ as our Great High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for us? If Abraham honored Melchizedek as the King of Salem by giving a tithe to him, why shouldn't we see it as a good way to honor Christ as our King of kings and Lord of lords? Shouldn't we want to honor Christ at least as much as Abraham honored Melchizedek? I can think of few better ways to acknowledge that Jesus truly is our supreme Lord than to demonstrate that He is more important to us than our money and to do this by giving regularly. And I can hardly think of a more Biblical place to start such giving than with tithing.

I think John Piper communicates my own attitude toward tithing quite well in a sermon entitled Toward the Tithe and Beyond:
One objection to thinking of a tenth of our income as especially belonging to God is that ALL our money belongs to God. Psalm 24:1,
The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.
That is absolutely true. It's why my main way of talking about money year in and year out at Bethlehem is not to focus on tithing, but to focus on lifestyle. What you do with every cent says something about your view of God and what he means to you. And what your values are in this age. And what you think your few years on earth should be spent for. That's true. But God is wise and knows us deeply. He knows that there is something wrong with the husband who answers his wife's complaint that he doesn't give her any time by saying, "What do you mean, I don't give you my time? ALL my time is yours. I work all day long for you and the children." That has a very hollow ring to it if he doesn't give her any "especially time." Giving her some evenings together and some dates does not deny that all his time is for her, it proves it. This is why God declares one day in seven especially God's. They are all his, and making one special proves it.
And this is the way it is with our money and God. Giving God a tenth of our income does not deny that all our money is God's, it proves that we believe it. Tithing is like a constant offering of the first fruits of the whole thing. The tenth is yours, O, Lord, in a special way, because all of it is yours in an ordinary way.
I believe the tithe should be the first check we write after the income deposit is made in the bank. And when you write it, you put a seal over what's left: GOD'S. The tithe reminds us of that, and proves that we really believe it.
So, in summary, can I say that Christians are commanded in Scripture to tithe? No, and to try to demand tithing as though it is commanded of Christians in Scripture would be legalism, which I abhor. However, I do think that I can encourage tithing as a godly practice for Christians to follow in their giving, at least as a good place to start, which leads me to my next question.

II. Why Shouldn't We Do More Than Tithe?

When he came to prepare the way for Christ and to call God's people to repentance, John the Baptist taught, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:11, NKJ). This is a kind of giving that goes beyond simply a tithe! It is giving away half of what you have!

But Jesus went even farther when He taught about what we should be willing to give up for Him. For example:
NKJ Luke 14:33 “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”
So, although the Christian is nowhere commanded to tithe, he is called upon to at least be willing to give up everything for Jesus! And a tenth is a small thing in comparison!

Perhaps the primary text dealing with giving in the Church, however, is found in 2 Corinthians 8-9. Let us consider a couple of key passages in these chapters:
NKJ 2 Corinthians 8:1-9 “Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: 2 that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. 3 For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, 4 imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 5 And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. 6 So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. 7 But as you abound in everything -- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us -- see that you abound in this grace also. 8 I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Although Paul clearly asserts that he doesn't command such sacrificial giving as that of the Macedonians, he nevertheless does see it as a good example for all to follow, and this is essentially the same approach I am taking here with regard to tithing. I am not saying we should command it, but I am saying that we should encourage it as a good place to start to learn to give sacrificially, so long as we can do so with a joyful heart, which is the matter to which we shall turn next:
NKJ 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. 9 As it is written: "He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever." 10 Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, 11 while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.”
Paul makes it plain that we should only give what we can give cheerfully and not grudgingly, and he gives us some help in doing this by reminding us of the principle of reaping and sowing. Basically, Paul assures us that, if we want to be able to give a lot, then God will make sure we have enough with which to do it! His teaching is similar to the Lord's instruction in Malachi and Jesus' admonition in Luke:
NKJ Malachi 3:10 “'Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,' says the LORD of hosts, 'If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.'”
NKJ Luke 6:38 “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
Simply put, our willingness to give is directly proportional to our trust in God to take care of us and to keep His promise that He will provide for us to give more than we ever thought possible. This strong encouragement certainly makes me want to venture far beyond the tithe in my giving! But I have had to begin somewhere, and for me the tithe was a good place to start. I hope it will be so for you as well.

Conclusion

Although Christians are not commanded to tithe in the New Testament, we are certainly encouraged to give in proportion to what we have, to give self-sacrificially so long as we can do so with a cheerful heart, and to be encouraged to give by remembering that we cannot out-give God, who will always provide for us. But perhaps it would be best to end with another quote from John Piper, who again states my own view better than I probably could. In a sermon entitled I Seek Not What Is Yours But You he observes:
I think God took the focus off giving a tithe in the early church because he wants his people to ask themselves a new question. The question that Jesus drives us to ask again and again is not, "How much should I give?" but rather, "How much dare I keep?" One of the differences between the Old Testament and New Testament is the Great Commission. By and large the Old Testament people of God were not a missionary people. But the New Testament Church is fundamentally a missionary people. The spiritual hope and the physical and emotional sustenance that Jesus brought to earth is to be extended by his church to the whole world. The task he gave us is so immense and requires such a stupendous investment of commitment and money that the thought of settling the issue of what we give by a fixed percentage (like a tenth) is simply out of the question. My own conviction is that most middle and upper class Americans who merely tithe are robbing God. In a world where 10,000 people a day starve to death and many more than that are perishing in unbelief the question is not, what percentage must I give?, but how much dare I spend on myself?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dr. Belcher Update

For those who may be wondering what Dr. Belcher has been up to recently, he informed me a couple of weeks ago that he had just finished writing the 18th Journey book, A Journey in Dispensationalism. No doubt the details of publishing the book are keeping him busy right now, not to mention his pastoral duties and busy speaking schedule.

Stay tuned for more information. I'll be sure to let everyone know when the book is officially released.

And thanks, Doc, for all the hard work!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

FICM Response to Reformed Baptist Critics

Back on October 16 I posted an entry entitled Reformed Baptists Address the Family-Integrated Church Movement. In it I gathered responses by Andy Dunkerton (one of the elders at Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Mebane, North Carolina), Sam Waldron (one of the elders at Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky, and Professor of Systematic Theology at the Midwest Center for Theological Studies), and Jason Webb (a graduate of the Reformed Theological Seminary and a member of Grace Fellowship Church in Bremen, Indiana).

Since these articles were written there have been a number of reactions to them posted by Scott Brown on the blog of the National Center for Family Integrated Churches. So far Brown has written three parts of a planned four part series:

The Church is a "Family of Families" -- A History, Part 1

The Church is a "Family of Families" -- Part 2

In this post, Brown claims that his position is actually consistent with the Baptist Confession of 1689. For example:
It is a falsehood to say that the National Center for Family Integrated Churches advocates a “family of families” ecclesiology. In fact, our understanding of the nature of the church is consistent with the historic doctrinal statements of the faith including the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, and many other orthodox statements on the church. It is the same understanding I received as a young man when I was in seminary. We do not advocate a “family of families” ecclesiology. Rather, our ecclesiology is as rich and clear as the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 and the Westminster confession.
The Church is a "Family of Families" -- Part 3

In a post entitled "Family of Families" in the News, Brown indicates the fourth part of the series will offer "some insight on what we have learned from this experience."

Brown also responds to one of Jason Webb's assertions regarding the the Puritan approach in a post entitled Did the Puritans have a "Family of Families" Ecclesiology.

Somehow I do not think that this debate will be over any time soon, and it is clear to me that some of the key FICM advocates think that they are being badly misunderstood and misrepresented. But, while I think this may be happening to some extent, it also appears to me that they are responsible for much of the confusion themselves, most particularly due to their use of problematic language and an imbalance in emphasis on the importance of one's biological family versus the spiritual family that is the Church.

At any rate, I thought it only fair that I inform the blog's readers about what those on the other side of the issue have to say. I hope that FICM advocates continue to refine their position and the language used to describe their position, and I hope the writings of my Reformed Baptist brethren may be of assistance to them in this regard.

Update 13 November 2009

Scott Brown has posted The Church Family is a "Family of Families" -- Part 4, in which he gets into more depth about the relationship of the Church family to the biological family.

I still can't shake the feeling that what is in part a proper reaction to the destruction of family life in our culture has become an overreaction.

Update 17 November 2009

Scott Brown has posted yet another article in his series responding to Reformed Baptists objections. It is entitled The Church is a "Family of Families" -- Part 5 and is subtitled "What have we learned from this controversy over 'Family of Families'?" In this article Brown speaks to the way he believes FICM advocates have often been misunderstood and of the way NCFIC will make use of the phrase "family of families" in the future. Although he says that it no longer appears in current NCFIC literature and has been removed from their core document "A Biblical Confession for Uniting Church and Family," he also states that "We have no intention to abandon the use of the phrase or the concept behind it. It is a very important principle that undergirds a biblical understanding of church and family life."

So, while Brown obviously sees that the phrase "family of families" has been problematic when used as a descriptive term for the Church, so much so that it has been removed from all of the NCFIC literature, he nevertheless thinks that there is no need to abandon use of the phrase among FICM advocates.

Update 19 May 2011

I juts ran across yet another article by Scott Brown which seeks to clarify what he and Voddie Baucham mean by the assertion that "the church is a family of families." The article is entitled Is the church a "family of families?"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jim Domm on the Regulative Principle of Worship

Earlier today an excellent article on the regulative principle of worship was posted on the RBS Tabletalk blog. The article was written by Jim Domm, who is Pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Englewood, New Jersey, and an M.Div. Student at the Reformed Baptist Seminary.

The article is entitled The Regulative Principle of Worship in Historical Perspective, and it is well worth reading. In it Jim does a terrific job of giving a brief historical and theological overview of the doctrine, as well as a description of the many issues of debate that surround it. For those who may not be familiar with the regulative principle and would like to learn more about it, this article is a good introduction, with footnotes that will lead you into the primary books and articles if you want to go deeper. Nice job, Jim!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Reminder: The Journey Book Giveaway is Coming!

This is just a reminder to the blog's readers that, as I announced on September 1, I am going to offer a free copy of two of the Journey books for Christmas this year to one of the blog's email subscribers. They will include the recent book, A Journey in Heresy, and the first book in the Journey series, A Journey in Grace. If you already have the first book, then I will allow the substitution of another from the series. On December 11 I will draw from the addresses included in the email subscriber list from FeedBurner. So, if you want to have a chance to receive these books, then make sure you sign up as an email subscriber to the blog using the Subscribe in a reader link on the right panel of this page. And make sure you click the "Get Reformed Baptist Blog delivered by email" option.
Current email subscribers are already in the running. I will send the two books to the first email subscriber drawn or that I can contact, so make sure that your email address is valid.

I suspect that once you have read a couple of the books, you will want to read more of them and will recommend them to others as well. As a pastor, I have found that folks have really been helped by them and have found them enjoyable reading as well.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Free Audio Download of John Piper's Desiring God

This month's free audio book from ChristianAudio.com is Desiring God by John Piper. Here is the description from the ChristianAudio.com product page:
"Mind-hammering and heart-warming, Desiring God ignites a passion for God that would set the world ablaze if it were the norm and not the exception today." -Os Guiness


"The healthy biblical realism of this study in Christian motivation comes as a breath of fresh air. Jonathan Edwards, whose ghost walks through most of Piper's pages, would be delighted with his disciple." -J.I. Packer

Scripture reveals that the great business of life is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. In this paradigm-shattering classic, newly revised and expanded, John Piper reveals that the debate between duty and delight doesn't truly exist: Delight is our duty. Join him as he unveils stunning, life impacting truths you saw in the Bible but never dared to believe.

John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis since 1980, is the author of The Dangerous Duty of Delight, Desiring God, Future Grace, A Godward Life, and The Pleasures of God. He received his doctorate in theology from the University of Munich and taught biblical studies for six years at Bethel College, St. Paul, before becoming a pastor. He and his wife, Noel, have four sons and one daughter.
This would be a good book to listen to while traveling in the car or perhaps just for some added edification on a Sunday afternoon.