Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Gift of Sacred Music

I do not love our Lord enough, I do not respect his will for me sufficiently by any means and my life cannot speak of exuberant, ushering or minute accessory devotion to God. But when I am not so selfish, not so petulantly preoccupied with my world and instead, am yielding in some manner and degree to God’s Spirit and find myself worshiping him in music, it is exactly that, with and by music intended for the worship of our Lord, both in lyrical and musical composition, which I desire, seek and utilize.

This gift of sacred or spiritual music is well documented in Scripture though no treatise on all of its properties and boundaries is given so that scant biblical wisdom is available, right? Au contraire, while God has given us some direct revelation on spiritual music he has also left us, as he has with so many things, the requirement that we use spiritual wisdom and sense to identify the guiding principles which help us construct a worthy theology and practice of sacred music.

The distinction between sacred or spiritual music and secular music are its objectives and its anecdotes, but primarily its objectives.

Secular Music (non-sacred)

Secular music, simply put, has every objective but one, namely that which is spiritual. Therefore, it has the primary property of human entertainment as its objective (Lest someone confuse the word entertainment with amusement you should be clear, they are not synonyms. Amusement is a form of entertainment. That is, amusement is but one facet of entertainment. Entertainment may involve intellectual exercises such as patriotic music or an opera and is much wider in its meaning). Ultimately, secular music meets a human desire or interest. Now these desires are often quite legitimate and there is no prohibition against meeting such human interests through musical entertainment so there is no argument here.

Sacred/Spiritual Music

On the other hand, sacred or spiritual music has as it objective none but one, namely to build up spiritually. It has a sole objective, spiritual edification. Notice the contrast? One has many objectives the other a single objective. God, through Paul instructs us (Ephesians 5:19):

speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;

This seems to baffle some people and for whatever reason I do not know but it is rather plain for many others. The music we use to edify one another has a spiritual objective, not one of human entertainment.

* A note. One could use the term “spiritual entertainment” if they wish to include the word entertainment but it would require the understanding of entertainment - if one uses the novel term “spiritual entertainment” - not to be one of amusement but of edification. This is why we avoid using that word, here, because the word edification is far more superior and is without the unnecessary baggage and misdirecting implications.

“So, What if I End Up With Human Entertainment as Part Of My Experience With Sacred Music?”

There is a word which will benefit you upon learning its meaning and use; it is the word, anecdotal. Anecdotal refers to things that are related to something but are not primarily in view. Let me give you an example:

God’s church, the body of Christ, is made up of people from all nations (races, ethnicities and cultures) but these are anecdotal facts. That is, Christians relate to each other spiritually with Christ as their spiritual DNA and with the doctrines of Christ. Churches are not to be built around human cultures or DNA (race/ethnicity) but around Christ. Who and what with regard to race/ethnicity/culture is present in a local body is simply anecdotal, not primary or an objective of the church per the Word of God. As well, whatever these anecdotes may be in a church, they should serve the primary (Christ), not the other way around.

This is the way it is with music. If sacred or spiritual music possesses a property which you find humanly entertaining, this is not forbidden but it must not be primary, it should be anecdotal. But as well and again, as an anecdotal element it should serve the primary objective, not subdue it so that it (the primacy of spirituality) is lessened by its use. This requires maturity and discernment, not sincerity.

So if someone is sincere and wishes to call their music (which is designed primarily to entertain) “spiritual music”, all their sincerity in the world does not change its category. It is still what it is, primarily human entertainment and not genuinely sacred or spiritual music. You must be able to distinguish between primary and anecdotal.

“OK, but What if the Music I am Listening to, Which is Entertaining, Ends Up Having a Spiritual Element Which Evokes a Spiritual Reaction?”

Again, the principle of the anecdotes guides us. What is the objective of the music? If it is primarily to entertain then we know what its design is for, entertainment. Its spiritual element is anecdotal. That is - while as a property of the song - the spiritual considerations are not primary therefore it should remain what it is, a song for entertainment with spiritual anecdotes.

So we do not deny that a song composed for entertainment can have properties of spiritual consideration, we simply do not use such music for or categorize it as sacred or spiritual music because, as stated before, it is for entertainment purposes primarily. And this distinction must be consistently observed for any real demarcation and assignment of music in our lives and its real use.

The Example of the Comedian

Suppose you go to a comedy club where there is an entertainer. He or she is a comedian. That person is there to entertain. He or she may, in their entertainment with comedy, have a few moments of spiritual sobriety and relate something true about God’s Word. Because you have some anecdotal spiritual enlightenment do you walk away calling the entertainer a Minister or a comedian? Of course, you still categorize him or her as a comedian. This is precisely the same principle used for distinguishing between sacred/spiritual music and secular music (non-spiritual) or music for entertainment purposes.

The Challenge

Of course the problem, ultimately, with such principles is that they require maturity which normally possesses humility and honesty as its virtues. Spiritually humble and honest men and women can and will define and identify when sacred music has been hijacked by anecdotal elements and they will properly respond. The immature believer who wishes to define things with fuzzy meanings so that little is clear and liberty abounds where mature hearts know better, will argue such realities (which is just what God, through Peter, has told us. We are instructed to “gird our minds”. The word for gird refers to tightening loose and flowing clothing so it does not get caught while we work. In other words, tighten up your understanding of things, make definitions sure so you can know what is in front of you and what is not and so, in this case, you can know what the difference is when human entertainment is primary and spirituality is primary in any music you may encounter).

Healthy Spiritual Music Transcends

One thing you will discover with regard to healthy spiritual music is that it transcends race, ethnicity and culture. That is, for the believer who is maturing in the faith and is putting off “childish things” it is more than ostensibly that he or she will be drawn to spiritual music but it is a reality that he or she will be drawn to all forms of healthy spiritual music, regardless of the anecdotal cultural influence. Why? Because, just as was covered earlier, when the music itself is subordinate to the spiritual objective it is used in service to the spiritual and not the spiritual in service to the human element (the music). Therefore, whether in the form of Asian instrumentality or American orchestration and so on, the music will be arranged and the instruments chosen and played in a way that serves the spiritual expression of words, mood and tempo.

And this is the problem with so much of what is passed off as spiritual music today. Today the anecdote rules while the primary serves. That is, the music and its elements of human satisfaction and entertainment are primary and the spiritual communication, at best, serves as a peer but most often as an augmentation to the element of entertainment. The focus is on the music's human entertainment element(s) with spiritual words added to magically “sanctify it”. This is unprincipled and a reflection of spiritual immaturity which demonstrates a great void of wisdom.

The Absurdity of Secular Infusions

Many believers who are striving to infuse into spiritual music the strong properties of human entertainment often make the argument that some songs of spiritual value have, as their origins, low orders. In other words, allegedly some spiritual songs that are widely and historically accepted once were secular songs that might have been sung at a bar or as a cultural cheer – so to speak – and were later arranged without a great deal of modification and then had added, spiritual words. And supposedly these spiritual songs are now sung with great acceptance, so why can’t this still be the rule? And to that I answer with the obvious, “The exception demonstrates the rule”.

But considering this line of argument I suggest that one first review all historically accepted songs and then determine just how many fit this unique paradigm and when one is finished any such person will find it to be the very rare exception. The fact is a very high majority of the historically vetted sacred music we use today had spiritual objectives from its original composition. It is the rare sacred musical bird that had ignoble origins and was transformed into a song and melody of light.

Today’s Protestant/Evangelical/Fundamentalist World of Pleasing the "Audience"

I have little appreciation for what I call “The Crybaby Boomer” generation. They are possibly the most insolent, self-serving and narcissistic generation in the past 100 years. And along with their indulgent generation came the eventual output of an anthropocentric ecclesiology which is a stench on the historical landscape of God’s church. And following the CBB’s are the X-Geners who are hot on the heels of their parents eager to serve up an even more disastrous dish of unprincipled music which they wish to pass off as sacred or spiritual. Clearly, when I refer to these groups I refer to those guilty and not to the inclusive numbers of all born during these periods. However, from my observation and experience there is a culpable majority.

But this is our age, one of decaying spiritual perspicacity and valiance. It is led by what started as the “church growth movement” which is centered in bringing to its votary that which does not demand from them spiritual keenness or rigor or that which does not solicit spiritually elevated and deeply considerate concentration and focus of spiritual things, rather it lulls their epigones with music possessing heavy human appeal and spiritual scantiness.

The Gift of Sacred Music is…

The gift of sacred music is not a gift to be soiled like a play toy. Unlike secular music where its boundaries are only limited by its entertainment value (but for the Christian its boundaries are where it either violates clear biblical principle or our consciences before God) spiritual music is bound by its one objective, spiritual expression, and this requires its regulation and formation through the broad and thorough application of biblical principles.

God is elegant, God is high, God is eternal, God is spiritual, God is composed, God is clear, God is precise, God is certain, God is magnificent, God is orderly and God is divine.

God is not base, God is not discordant, God is not decomposed, God is not grotesque, God is not carnally appealing and God is not imprecise and unclear.

Sacred music is a gift and God intends for us to use it to edify ourselves, spiritually. You have all the abundant freedom in God to enjoy non-spiritual music or “secular” music. You need only be filled with God’s Spirit and guided by his Word to arrest such entertainment for your satisfaction which is quite legitimate. But brother and sister, sacred or spiritual music must not be treated with the same criteria because God’s Word does not treat it that way. We must begin with, even in the simplest of melodies and lyrics, an eschewing of human entertainment standards of music and instead, with begin with spiritual objectives in both the musical and lyrical composition. God has given us this gift; let’s use it as we know Scripture’s wisdom would have us do. Thank you Father for the gift of sacred music (God rest ye merry gentleman).

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Gift of Secular Music

I hesitate to use the word secular in referring to non-sacred music since it reminds me of how the Amish are always referring to everyone outside of their sect as the English, with the implication, always, that while they are not being condemned per se, they are not of us which is what you must be in order to be accepted. The word secular has sometimes been given this property in Evangelical Christianity. Admittedly now and then it might fit but often it does not and that is why I hesitate with its use. Nevertheless, since it is here with us at the party, oh well. So then, what do I mean by “the gift of secular music”?

First may I be clear that I, personally, do segregate music between that which entertains me and that which I use for worshipful expressions (sacred or spiritual). And I am certain the begged questions of “what if some worship music ends up entertaining you” or some insinuated form of the question of the in-between meta will arise to which I respond that I recognize this but its vitality to the topic does not require addressing it at the moment so forgive my not pursing it in order to make my larger point (and forgive the protracted qualifier here, nothing worse than a PSA announcement before the show!).

God has granted us numerous opportunities for many dimensions of experience in this world. And as a believer it certainly is true that at no point should any of these cosmic extensions be experienced apart from the filling of God’s Spirit in our lives. However, this is where the problem lies for many. While it is true all things should be done in a spiritual state (that is, while being filled with God’s Spirit) not all things we do are spiritual in nature.

Eating is a human function, not a spiritual one. The believer is to be filled by God’s Spirit, not in order to make everything a spiritual function but in order to always be guided by God’s motives and Word. So to eat while being filled with God’s Spirit does not make food something that should be avoided because it is not a spiritual function, rather it should be an exercise guided by God’s Spirit which brings proper motivation (being led by the Spirit) and proper principle (God’s Word). And sometimes this may be greatly impacted by God’s Spirit and Word and at other times it may not be significantly impacted. Each case must be measured accordingly.

Take book reading. Many Christians enjoy novels of adventure and drama. The Bible does not forbid this. It is what some call adiaphora (ἀδιάφορα) which refers to “indifferent things” or as is often called - matters of liberty. And this is where we come with secular music.

Secular music certainly is to be enjoyed in the state of being filled with God’s Spirit which also means,  as I stated earlier, being guided by God’s principles. And the first thing we see is that there is no direct prohibition against it. So the second thing we must then do is understand what principles the Bible provides to guide us. And when we search, discover and establish the biblical boundaries of such music we may take advantage of the full pleasure of secular music being offered, again always while filled with God’s Spirit. I can further this point by naming a few principles but I won't because this is not the thrust of the essay (that is, the points themselves), and so for now I will leave that to the reader to discover.

I am reluctant to name a few of the secular performers I enjoy for the sake of weaker brothers or sisters. I genuinely am concerned that such naming of these may be stumbling blocks because they may represent strong former ties associated with sinful habits. However, I do have something more modest in mind.

The other night, PBS broadcast a program that was centered around Frank Sinatra’s music. The show was to raise money for PBS but my focus was on Sinatra’s music. I enjoy most all of what he does (he did get my verbal commentary when they presented him singing My Way, but he is dead and gone and could not hear it and the cat and my dear spouse both looked at me with a certain understanding) and so I sat there watching the program with the satisfying digestion of good musical entertainment. It was fantastic, frankly (yes pun intended).

So let’s expand this to today's entertainment since we still have secular music intended for personal diversion which does not violate biblical principles. What do we do with these? Well, my suggestion is thank God for them and praise our Lord for such gifts of entertainment which help us relax, be amused, experience emotions and motivate us and so on.

Just as you would and do enjoy many secular things, music, too, is to be enjoyed through the filling of God’s Spirit and the principles of His Word. But remember, it is not sacred music and it is not intended for such uses and it is no unusual thing to understand why, when people use music designed for entertainment or some non-sacred purpose, they find it very discomforting and out of place when they are subjected to attempts to use such in sacred or spiritual contexts. Thank you, Father, for the gift of secular music (FM, no static at all).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The #1 Means Through Which Doctrinal Error Enters the Church? Orthodoxy (or Orthodox False Teachers)!

You should not be greatly surprised to learn that orthodox biblical doctrine (orthodox refers to the accepted norm) is the primary means through which doctrinal error enters the body of Christ. However, in this day and age it is probably news to some and a needed reminder to many.

In Peter’s second letter he makes a statement of fact identifying this. He writes (2 Peter 2:1b NIV):

They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.

The word for secret, here, is (παρεισάγω) pareisagó which means to place something along side of something else (in order to hide it). Get the picture? It is behind the façade of orthodoxy that false teaching is introduced. The erring Teacher depends on orthodoxy in order to introduce his (or her, unfortunately to the many in the body of Christ asleep at the wheel) parasitic philosophy. Often, the very ideas contained in their novel but poisonous doctrine-which become absorbed and accepted without rigorous vetting-are later used by some to attempt to overthrow the very orthodoxy they claim to have believed when they made entry into the mainstream.

In Peter’s letter he describes these pseudodidaskalos (false teachers) as both heretics and apostates. An apostate is someone who once held to orthodox views but later, moved from those views and now espouses something contrary to orthodoxy. A heretic, on the other hand, is much broader.

The word for heresies (αἵρεσις) refers to a mix of opinion and truth. That is, instead of the Teacher being bound by the text and disciplining their teaching so that they are not reading into the text a foreign meaning, the heretic does just this and makes up novel teachings based on reading a meaning into a text which, as Peter describes it, are “cleverly devised stories". So a heretic can continue to hold to orthodox views but introduce erring doctrines which corrupt the edifice of remaining doctrine and generally, at some point, will approach (usually in their ignorance but often simply in their arrogance) even their orthodox views, but not always. So what you have, in essence, is an orthodox heretic.

And this is one of the most critical points here. Within Christianity, but most specifically Protestant, Evangelical and Fundamental Christianity, the battle cry in defense of Teachers who have introduced teaching that has sorely injured God’s children is that “they are orthodox”. Well friend, Peter is trying to tell you something and you ought to listen. Someone uttering agreement with orthodoxy or even elaborating on it effectively at times does not immune them from teaching heresy nor does it warrant your deliberate ignorance and unwillingness to see their error for what it is. Peter tells us, it is through orthodoxy that these other teachings enter! If someone says they are orthodox my response is, "great, but now I am going to vet your teachings and if it contains error or heresy, sorry, but I will call it what it is" and you ought do so as well, reader.

Many people are afraid of the word heretic  because of its misuse. But it is a biblical word. Be not afraid, believer, and use it effectively. But to the main concern here.

If you take a look at Benny Hinn’s website and read his statement of belief you will find that he is orthodox. He agrees with all the main doctrines which identify a person as a Christian in doctrine. Yet, Benny Hinn has introduced many erring concepts, in fact, some even challenging the very orthodoxy he claims to believe.

But take someone which others might claim is less egregious. John Piper calls himself a Reformed Baptist and not only has he made clear that he believes basic orthodoxy but he has defended some of its tenets. Yet, in his book Future Grace, Piper introduced a heresy which taught that our justification was not final the moment we receive Christ but depended upon our fidelity until death. This is heresy to the Protestant, Evangelical and Fundamentalist.

As well, Piper’s book, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, is based on a heretical premise. Piper declares quite clearly the following (bold mine):

“I found in myself an overwhelming longing to be happy, a tremendously powerful impulse to seek pleasure, yet at every point of moral decision I said to myself that this impulse should have no influence ... Then I was converted to Christian Hedonism. In a matter of weeks I came to see that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in Him” (Desiring God, Introduction).

Notice what Piper heretically asserts, “that it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason that the pleasure to be had in Him”. This is not merely a statement without implications. It attacks the very nature of our relationship with God. In fact, it mocks the large and detailed biblical landscape which covers many facts of our walk with God and all of its properties. In another day and time, John Piper would have been made to either recant this assertion or rightly be labeled as heretic, regardless of his claims toward orthodoxy because again, simply being orthodox does not exempt one from being a heretic.

This is not a particularly sophisticated piece and it need not be. Rather, it is a reminder that many, today, are being pushed forward as accepted Teachers based on a faulty threshold which is orthodoxy. Simply because one claims to hold to orthodoxy does not exempt him from being identified as a heretic.

Obviously not all error is heretical. That is, someone may have exegetical misunderstandings which produce error but this does not come from a mix of opinion and truth, rather a flawed attempt at proper exegesis. So, not all error is of the heretical kind but the kind of error that is running rampant and its proponents are being shielded from rightly being labeled heretics, is the kind of error that is aggressively being tolerated in the name of a misunderstanding of when and how to identify heresy and label its proponents heretics. Sadly it is being practiced by some rather significant Teachers who are modeling a form of categorical ignorance which is inviting injury to many.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Church Discipline from Matthew 18: How Some Reformed Folks Are Getting It Wrong And Injuring Others. It Is Not about Determining Who Is and Is Not a Christian, It Is about a Member’s Relationship with a Local Body of Believers

Long Title? I know. So with your pardons let’s take a look at the matter. Recently, at another blog,  God’s Hammer, Sean Gerety posted an article entitled,  Federal Vision Re-Run which was about “one of the original *Federal Vision schismatics…and deposed PCA pastor, Burke Shade”. In the article he quotes Shade in responding to a church member who left his assembly  (I responded, myself, in the comments section to this matter but wanted to do more, here):
By this excommunication, we are declaring that you are no longer a Christian, and that you are no longer a part of the company of the saved. Please turn away from your self-destructive path and turn back to Christ as your Lord and Savior. Should you desire to repent of your refusal to worship Jesus Christ, please contact us, so that you may be restored to Jesus Christ and this body.

The first thing one ought to do is look in Matthew 18 from whence cometh the text (being employed by Shade) with emphasis on the relevant portion of the text which forms the basis of Shade’s claim against the former member:
15“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
18“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
19“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” 
The “Brother” 

The very first thing one must notice is that our Lord, in verse 15,  refers to the person sinning (or allegedly sinning in cases outside this one) against another as a “brother”. It does not say “if a person sins against you” without the context of viewing whether they are or are not a believer, rather that it is, in fact, a brother and not some other, who has sinned. So here, the sinning one, even by our Lord, is not automatically treated as a non-believer, though he (Jesus) knows the eventual outcome of this particular illustration. Why? Because this is not about determining who is and is not a believer, meaning our determining the authenticity of their relationship to God (judging their salvation) but their relationship to one or more believers and ultimately the local assembly of believers.

When the Brother Does Not Listen

Now, in verses 15-16, we come to a fork in the road where a “brother” who has sinned against another will not listen to that other. In other words he will not repent in private. What does our Lord say about this non-repentance? Does Jesus suddenly qualify this “brother” as a non-brother? Look, here is what he says:
If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
So, if he listens (this assumes repent of whatever he is guilty) you have won a brother over but if not, is he automatically considered unsaved, unregenerate, not truly born again? No, not at all. He is still a brother, simply he (or she) is a brother in which a process of being sinned against is being dealt with which includes the preservation of maintaining the integrity of spiritual relationships between Chrisitians.

If experiencing unrepentant actions by others licensed us to determine the salvation of another, whether on a private or very large public scale, it should have begun this very moment. Yet, this is not the course or view of our Lord. Why? Once again, this is not about judging the veracity of one’s salvation and their relationship to God, rather insuring the veracity of human relationships of a spiritual nature and most specifically that of the local assembly/church.

The Finality of Not Repenting (Admitting guilt)

Now, at verse 17, we come to the end of the passage in which, after being dealt with in private, with several others (who may be necessary evidential witnesses) and then finally the church as a whole (which may mean to be a body of those who are officers of the church and not necessarily every single member, but this is not germane at the moment and I will also forgo exposition here) this particular individual is still unrepentant in a matter which clearly qualifies for all of these steps. The result is quite specific:
and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
To some this would automatically open the door to declare this person to not be an authentic believer. In other words, he never was really saved. But it is a rather strange thing that our Lord would be so covert and non-specific on such a critical matter if he really meant for us to understand this includes judging this person's salvation. But in truth our Lord is not covert or suggestive in the least because this is not about judging who is and is not saved, rather it is about that person's relationship to the local assembly/church.

Our Lord Jesus Christ instructs this person to be treated as a tax collector or pagan with respect to what? He is to be treated so with respect to the context in which we find ourselves which is one of an ecclesiastical context and spiritual interaction with other believers, not one with their relationship to God. 

A tax collector or pagan (gentile) as a reference was easily understood during this time, particularly since much of our Lord’s audience was Jewish (and frankly, we still have an OT setting with regard to the “assembly” in this context but that is for another day). Tax collectors during this time were generally very abusive men who worked for the state without regard to any biblical mandate which might affect the way they went about collecting taxes. These tax collectors were free to collect with many methods, again often aggressive and persecutory in manner. And they were widely known to use this civil service position to make themselves well enough off in the least and sometimes wealthy. Simply put, they were men who were led about by greed and any man of God was not openly considered as such.

Gentiles, which is the translation of the Greek word (ἐθνικὸς) from which we get “ethnic”, meant one who stood outside of God’s salvation via a covenant. Specifically, this was a reference to those outside the nation of Israel and who were currently rejecting the God of Israel. Therefore, there is some additional weight to the considerations as to whether or not this prescription is truly meant for the NT church. But still, that is not relevant here since Spade and many NT churches employ this passage and it is their misuse of this in regard to its intent, which is being addressed. 

Ultimately, what you must take away from this is that both the pagan and the tax collector had no privileges in the assembly. That is, they had no membership, therefore, they  were not given access to all of its normal properties which accompany membership in a local assembly. That and that alone is how you treat a brother like a tax collector or pagan. It is not claiming he is not an unbeliever but that he is acting as one, hence you must treat him in this manner.

Membership in a Local Body of Believers

Something must be understood here. Even when one is a member of a local body or an assembly of believers, it is not a comment or judgment on their salvation, it cannot be. It simply is a comment and judgment regarding their fitness as members of that local body. No one can read minds and hearts. Only God can do this. The best they can do is make requirements of membership in a local assembly such that it requires either a very skillful unbeliever to mimic a believer (tares) or genuine spiritual life, thus enabling the person to (spiritually) rise to the required expressions and practice of faith needed for membership.

The Contradiction Seen with Burke Shade Present in Many Churches 

The position of Burke Spade is not an isolated one. It is one which is held by many to the damage of many. But it is one which seems quite odd given that it contains an obvious and prima facie contradiction. Notice again what is contained here:
By this excommunication, we are declaring that you are no longer a Christian…Should you desire to repent of your refusal to worship Jesus Christ, please contact us, so that you may be restored to Jesus Christ and this body.
So let me get this straight. Spade (and anyone else practicing this) wishes to judge the salvation of another manifested in the declaration that they are “no longer a Christian” yet, if they wish to repent they may do so in order that they “may be restored to Jesus Christ and this body”.  Surely he is aware that if that person is no longer a Christian they need not only repent of whatever sin is in dispute but they must “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” so they may be saved? Surely he understands this, right?

Secondly, did this person just lose their salvation and now it gets to be restored? Is this how it works to Burke Spade and those who practice this? On again, off again? 

The contradiction is ludicrous to say the least. To Spade's credit he did get the second half right, to repent of genuine sin which requires all these steps and excommunication does restore one to a local assembly but I doubt Spade's local assembly, or any assembly taking this view, is one to which anyone would want to rush.

Bound on Earth, Bound in Heaven

Our Lord ends, in verse 18, with a form of heavenly certitude on the matter. He instructs those listening that if this process is followed, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This means that the event of discipline is not an event unto itself, rather it is one sanctioned by God and upheld by God which makes the individual subject to Divine discipline. That is to say, if this is all done properly as it should be and this candidate qualifies for excommunication, then their excommunication is viewed as true before God and now such believers are now in the hands of God for further discipline with regard to their spiritual maladjustment.


There is much to discuss and debate about the passage and its application in the NT church. Therefore, in addressing this I acknowledge that many dimensions of consideration are not being addressed. But they need not be for this particular treatment because it simply seeks to handle what is being mishandled in the first place, never mind all the other caveats the passage and topic brings with it.

In the end one must understand one thing, if nothing else. This is not about a local assembly or anyone else judging or articulating judgments as to who is and is not a genuine believer. This is about membership and spiritual fellowship privileges in a local body of believers in which those who qualify for excommunication are no longer given. It is about this and this alone.

*Federal Vision is a Roman heresy which, currently, is promoted by a group of men of which Doug Wilson is most prominent. Without dealing with its doctrine here, I suggest reading, along with Gerety's blog, the following:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes Dead: In the End Rooney Showed His Hand, The Legacy of a Petty and Ungracious Man

Andy Rooney was well known for his role as a broadcaster with the CBS television news and opinion program, 60’s Minutes. His relationship with CBS and 60’s Minutes involved more than his segment at the end of the program called “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney”, (1978-2011). However, it was this special feature which enabled viewers to come to know Andy Rooney more closely.

The nature of television and film is an uncertain one when it comes to attempting to ascertain from the personalities involved what personal properties are being displayed and what can be determined about someone merely from such a production. That is to say, even with news and information broadcasts, we are somewhat limited in understanding who and what the character and personality of the face we see performing his or her job really may be. This was particularly true during the first forty years of television, but during the last twenty to thirty years this has changed. Even professional news broadcasters have permitted far more personal exercise in their reporting or anchoring than ever before. Unlike earlier days when we saw glimpses of the person giving the news, today we see all the way up to unbridled displays of personality on television by those who both report and comment on news as well as providing clear and certain demonstrations of their character (or lack thereof) so that we may fairly say we understand the general nature, character and psyche of some of these people.

One of the contributors to this crossover was the morning news programs which rapidly became a mixed bag of serious news and personal issues where the hosts would switch back and forth from one context to the other. And what viewers learned was that often what their intuition told them, what their instinct lead them to suspect, was sometimes accurate about these normally dispassionate news persons. (As a side note, if one is ever going to be treated as a serious news anchor, it is best not to be part of such mixed-bag programs because as was demonstrated by Katie Couric, you take the character and personality you so clearly and deliberately printed on others about yourself to your now, supposedly, objective anchor job, which simply cannot be done. You are what you have taught your audience to think about you which is generally just what you are in the first place.)

So what does all this have to do with Andy Rooney? Quite a bit. While much of his show was “play acting” but much of it was not. That is, what you saw in Andy Rooney was an elevation of his real person, a fundamentally small and petty man who lacked graciousness with the world around him which showered him with appreciation and praise.

Rooney was a writer by training and wrote the words of many for many years. But when it came time for him to choose his own words, he often was inconsiderate and reckless. This is not to say Rooney did not make contributions, the worst and best of humanity all make contributions. This is about something else.

This is about a man who used a platform afforded to him by a network which presumed an audience and a hearing. As a result he garnered fans, followers, those who viewed him for the pleasure of hating him and groups who simply wanted to hear what odd quirk or complaint Rooney would discuss early on a Sunday evening.

But what escaped Rooney and often many personalities in film and in television, is that they become defacto guests in the homes of others. They deliberately project their personalities into the homes, hearts and minds of those watching. And while some programs are purely fictional, still even in these cases they are soliciting, in the least, an audience and the audience’s attention. And such people prosper from these audiences when they are successful enough to have a viewership that warrants the continuation of their broadcast.

So in his final broadcast Rooney displayed the very lack of graciousness and the very real smallness and pettiness of his person in his final broadcast to which the title of my post refers. Here he had the opportunity to manifest a recognition that his prosperity and professional and personal well-being had much to do with his fans and those that permitted his entrance into their homes as their guest for his rhetorical vignette. Instead, here are some quotes that portray the miniature constitution and fractured consideration that guided Rooney:

One quote demonstrates Rooney’s inability to accept the reality of his own role in stating:

To me, of course, the reason of wanting to still think of himself as a writer and not a television personality is because to accept the truth that he was, in fact, a television personality and secured a prosperous career as one would involve the responsibilities and acknowledgments that went with this. And as I stated, smallness often resists these kinds of things and clearly Rooney did.

Rooney also admitted that while he got a great deal of fan mail, he rarely read or answered it. That’s right, of whom he sought and audience to listen to his appeals, Rooney, himself, had little interest in their thoughts, even their compliments. This admission reveals a terribly inconsiderate character. Much like a child who wants to be heard but does not have time for the voice of others.

Lest someone accuse me of bias, I will let Andy Rooney speak for himself: 

Often people in the media, even the worst of them, are lionized for their accomplishments while their offenses are minimized. Maybe there is something to be said about Andy Rooney accomplishing a television career as he did which might impact criticisms toward him. But this is not about that, it is about something else. Something we must understand which is what pettiness, smallness and overall self-centeredness looks like and sounds like and what those who benefit from it appear as, in minimizing or defending it.

You see, fame and material fortune are not default rewards for good character, enlarging one’s person or considerate living. But in the world, particularly today when much of media are influenced by the juvenile dispositions of Crybaby Boomers or those one and two generations removed from them whose collective definition of virtue is just that - being famous and possessing material wealth-  it is important to draw attention to what is genuinely of value.

If any of you actually believe that you can make a living by being a guest (whether in person or via some other medium) in the homes of millions of people and then treat their interest with a certain form of pompous contempt while believing you can offer excuses of “this is my weakness, so sorry”, you are mistaken. Know this, you are petty,  small and quite lacking in even elementary grace. Maybe it is an inconvenience while you eat dinner, shop or go about in your social activities to have strangers come up and wish to have a moment of your time. But remember, you are no stranger to them; you made a living from having their attention on a weekly basis. And particularly if you are a Christian and believe this is apropos, you are even more erring than Mr. Rooney was.

Finally, if some of you are wishing to stomp a foot and huff and puff with the declaration that Rooney had a right to some privacy or even to conduct his life in as small a manner as he wished, you are right. I do not deny that certain contexts of privacy are to be respected for all. But I am sorry friend, if you wish to make a living as a television personality or any kind of famous individual, then public pursuit is part of the package and either you can demonstrate your character as gracious, thoughtful and possessing the capacity for such responsibility or you can be an Andy Rooney who wishes to enjoy all the benefits of such a context but ignore its responsibilities.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

1 Peter 2:12: Good Manners, They’re Biblical

I have heard the claim that “good manners” are not taught in the Bible. Obviously that is an extreme statement but lesser forms of this are often used by Christians who would assert that while each culture has its set of norms and standard (and some quite sophisticated in their cultural development) there is no compunction in Scripture which requires us to adopt such cultural forms, thereby releasing us, in our liberty, to live in a manner that is dictated by our conscience through God’s Spirit and His Word. It sounds quite idealistic, quite independent and bold, something some associate with spirituality (come boldly to the throne of grace). But this kind of ignorance really ought not to be common among believers.

The fact is good manners are Biblical. And further one will find that where people have as successfully become both believers and matured, that community elevates its culture.They move from low culture to high culture. They move from low expression to refined expression.But why?

One reason is the directive from God through the hand of Peter who writes in his first letter, (1 Peter 2:12 NASV):

Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

The word for excellent is καλήν (kalēn). Other translations are beautiful, honorable and ideal. The concept is not simply moral excellence, though this is quite in view, rather in every area of our lives we are to set the bar far and above pedestrian expectations and seek to elevate all dimensions of our lives so that in very way, shape and form the view from others about us is a people who are regulated by a conscience that is being prescribed to by a source far superior than human, but that of the Divine.

And this is where manners come from within Christian communities. It is the thorough application of this imperative, that we live excellently, beautifully and ideally before others. We escort the weaker because we wish to live excellently and honorably. We give our seats to display deference or respect. We deport ourselves to demonstrate that others may trust us and depend on a clear system of consistent behavior.

Snobbery is not the basis for good manners and a sophisticated social structure which seeks to display all of the virtues of Christian values such as thoughtfulness, patience, goodness, kindness, respect and honor and so on. These may attract people for the wrong reason and sometimes become hijacked by such, but their origins are internal.

Do not hesitate with good manners, they are not snobbery, they are Christian. Good manners display καλήν living, something for which we should always strive.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

John The Baptist: Saved in the Womb? Filled with the Holy Spirit in the Womb? Jumping for Joy in the Womb? A Surprising Look at the Obvious

(Edited March 2014)

The popular interpretation of the story of John the Baptist, found in Luke 1, is that he was filled with the Holy Spirit while in his mother’s womb and that part of the proof of this phenomenal state is his jumping for joy while in the womb of his mother. This coupled view generally stands alone but sometimes a third consideration is added in the narrative and that is the possible implication of John being saved, either while in the womb or in the least, at birth. These are all understandable views but on this matter, I wish to offer an exploration and alternative.

The Nature of the Presence and Filling the Holy Spirit in John the Baptist as Compared to the NT Believer

NT indwelling and filling of the Spirit - Because we believers are, as prescribed by God to be the Holy Temples of God (both individually and collectively), God’s Holy Spirit indwells our bodies in order to make them sanctified for the residence of the Shekinah Glory (God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit). This is a NT function of God the Holy Spirit which is a result of our being born again through faith in Christ. And this is but one of many NT functions of the Holy Spirit. But this particular function, along with the constant “filling” (our yielding to His control via the passive voice in “be ye filled”) of the Holy Spirit, are manifestations or identifications of our salvation. That is to say, God’s Spirit indwells us and then fills us directly as a result of our being saved.

Therefore, when one comes upon the expression about John the Baptist that he will be “filled with the Holy Spirit” it is understandable that they may association with John the Baptist, a salvational context (some like the word salvific instead of salvational, either will do). This normally occurs because they are either are unaware or refuse the acknowledgment and application of the different contexts of John the Baptist’s filling and the NT believer’s.

Old Testament Filling of the Spirit

John the Baptist was an OT Prophet. He was still under the protocol of National Israel or the Theocracy of Israel. God was not dwelling in people as a Holy Temple as of yet so the human body was not the Temple of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit filling someone was not meant as an indicator of such. Rather it meant the Holy Spirit had come upon them and enabled them for specific tasks. It, indeed, was a sign of God’s presence but it was not proof of one’s salvation. Here are some passages noting the filling of the Holy Spirit for specific tasks in which one’s salvation is neither directly or implicit:

Judges 6:34 (Gideon)

2 Chron 24:20 (Zechariah the Priest)

Exodus 31:1-11 (the building tasks via the filling of the Holy Spirit)

Therefore, we must understand that while God does reveal to us in the text that John will be great in the sight of the Lord and we do learn of John’s later faith, his being filling with the Holy Spirit is not to imply any salvational element, rather specifically for the task at hand, as the Prophet announcing the Messiah. In other words, his filling is that as a sign of being a Prophet, ours is a sign of being a believer-Priest.

Now it stands to reason some might wonder if or why God would choose someone to proclaim prophecies, particularly this very proprietary kind, and not make sure the person was a believer. And that is a good question. But God worked with both believers and non-believers (such as Judas who as an Apostle of God yet not a believer) involving the filling of the Holy Spirit under the OT protocol which did not insure personal faith was present. It clearly seems that the experience of the Holy Spirit filling someone for a tasks is quite influential and very rare that one so gifted by God and the recipient of so great a privilege would not come to faith, but again Judas did not. Some even suggest Saul falls into this classification as well. It is not my most major point but it is one that does have its difficulties in the simple assumption that if the Holy Spirit came upon someone in the Old Testament and filled them for a special task they are to be viewed de facto a believer.

Nevertheless, none of those exceptions are the force of the argument here rather that the context of a NT indwelling and filling (because we are the Holy Temple of God due to our salvation) and the OT filling and gifting for tasks are not the same contexts. Therefore, one may not impose on John’s being filled with the Holy Spirit the same context of the believer and insist it demonstrates a salvational context.

When was John Filled with the Holy Spirit (the preposition ek)?

The truth is that whether in the womb or at birth, it does not as significantly impact the issue of whether or not John’s filling was a matter of salvation because, as the first point demonstrated, they are not same contexts. But it does impact the integrity of interpretation and there is never room for slackness, even with a jot or tittle.

The narrative of the prophecy that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit uses the following Greek expression, Luke 1:15:

πλησθήσεται (he will be filled ) ἔτι  (yet, while, still) ἐκ (out, while in, coming from, out of) κοιλίας (womb) μητρὸς (of mother) αὐτοῦ (of him)
The NASV (1995) translates it this way:

“he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb.”

Yet the NIV (1984) translates it this way:

“and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.”

The problem is with the preposition “ek” - Ek generally refers exiting or “out from”. If I made a circle and placed the locality of the preposition “ek” it would not be inside and remaining inside of the circle but it would be exiting or coming out of the circle.

Therefore, what is being pictured, rather specifically, is the birth process or at the moment of birth. In fact it is this popular idiom, “out of the womb” which is in view, not anything occurring while in the womb, rather simply at that moment or “from birth”.

Why, then do others translate it “while in the womb”?

The reason for this is a contextual assumption. What do I mean? It means that while the preposition is very specific, “exiting the womb” or “out from the womb” (which means “at birth”), translators have assumed that if John was born this way then this property must have come with him out of the womb. It is a contextual assumption.

The problem?

The problem is two-fold. First, a baby out of the womb does not have the same properties as a baby in the womb so this universal assumption fails. Babies are quite alive in the womb and do share most properties of their existence outside the womb but not all. So while they are quite alive in the womb and share many or most properties they possess outside of the womb one in particular they do not share is that they do not breath oxygen through their lungs by inhaling air until they are “out from the womb”. So one simply cannot assume that John possessed this property (being filled with the Holy Spirit) in the womb simply because, at birth,  he suddenly possessed it. And certainly because a baby is starts breathing outside of the womb by inhaling oxygen through the lungs does not gives us cause to assume the baby breathed in this manner while in the womb. So this assumption is based on a view that is not prescriptively sound.

Secondly (and maybe more critically) the Greek needs to be left without assumptions. If it means “out from the womb” or “coming out of the womb” (ek) then this is the soonest the grammatical construction permits the filling of the Spirit to occur. However, my next point will refer back to this issue and reveal why this assumption was made.

The Greek preposition, “en”.

Prepositions are both instrumental and local. Ek is a preposition primarily of locality which refers to “out from”.  However, there is another Greek preposition of locality and it is “en”. I bring this up to note its absence. If we wish to point to something’s locality as being “within” or “inside” something we would use the preposition “en” which means to be inside or within something. That is not used in the passage, rather "ek" is.

If the writer of Luke wanted us to understand John was filled with the Holy Spirit while in the womb, he would have used the preposition “en”, especially because he precedes it with the adverb “ἔτι” meaning “while” or “yet”. In other words it would have been: 

ἔτι ἐν (while or yet “in” the womb)

But this construct is avoided and the “out from the womb” is used to denote, at birth.

John Jumped for Joy in the Womb?

Finally, in the narrative we come to a popular portion where it is attributed to John the Baptist that he jumped for joy while still in the womb. Commonly this interpretation is rendered because it is strongly associated to the portion of the text referring to his being filled with the Holy Spirit. And as you will see, the two parts depend on one another for a rather erroneous interpretation.

No, John the Baptist did not jump for joy in the womb and you are about to learn in a rather startling obvious fashion, without much Greek (a bit but not much), from something that has been right in front of many this whole time but did not consider it. Let’s first look at the narrative as the NIV translates it (a fair translation btw):

 39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

The first reference of leaping John, who heard what? - In verse 41 we have the occasion of the leaping John. And the first thing you must notice is who heard what? It was not John in the womb; rather it was Elizabeth who heard Mary, note again:

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb

And if you look at the context Mary arrives, quite excitedly after having her own visit from God’s angel, Gabriel, who gave Mary both the prophecy of Christ for Mary and the revelation of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and its nature. So in her arrival one certainly can assume certain intensity in Mary’s call to Elizabeth. But even in the case of the most subdued greeting, still it is Elizabeth hearing Mary, not John.

Why did the baby leap?

With it being established that it was Elizabeth who is the object which hears and not John, we are instructed that John, in the womb, leaped as a result of Elizabeth’s hearing Mary. And why are the two connected? Because, as we observed, Mary came in a rather excited state and her greeting, no doubt, carried with it the intensity of excitement from her angelic revelation. The result of this being that Elizabeth was startled.

And it is quite normal for babies in the womb to react to their mother’s adrenaline. Almost any woman will tell you that at times, if she is startled, it will produce a fetal reflex. Again, notice the emphasis, it was Elizabeth that heard and from the context we can know this is a very excited setting where she hears an intense greeting and from this startled stated the baby jumps or moves. It is a rather common occurrence.

Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit

Next is the observation that Elizabeth, upon hearing Mary’s intense greeting, was filled with the Holy Spirit. Many now connect this portion with the earlier passage about John being filled (ek) out of the womb or from the point of birth with the Holy Spirit which is incorrectly translated “while still in the womb”. Those who permit this much weaker grammatical allowance for the translation of “while still in the womb” often claim the source of Elizabeth being filled with the Holy Spirit originates from John the Baptist who was allegedly filled with the Holy Spirit while in the womb and transfers the Holy Spirit to Elizabeth via his womb presence.

Well, all of that is nice except that first, the grammar of “ek” has been established but more importantly, the text does not say why Elizabeth is filled, only that she is. There is no commentary that it was via John and to argue as such is to argue from silence. The most we can know is that at that time when the Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth (and John if we accept that he was filled while as fetus in the womb), it was the decision of the Triune God for a prophetic utterance and nothing about John being a means or medium is present anywhere. So this is an impotent argument.

The Baby Leaping “for joy”. What this means.

Probably forwarded more than most other parts as the cause for one arguing John’s leaping in the womb as distinct within himself and not initiated or forced by his mother, Elizabeth, is the expression in verse 44, “the baby in my womb leaped for joy”. One, immediately upon reading this English translation, is impressed with the view that it was John’s joy from which he jumped. In other words it was John, in the womb, who was experiencing joy and therefore distinct from any other source, jumped or leaped

The Greek - It is not difficult to see that the Greek does not strongly or decisively indicate this or force this, at all. What you have is a simple construction ἐν ἀγαλλιάσει (in joy or in exultation). The baby leaped "in joy".

The literal translation, “in joy”, would be an unusual way to phrase this in English. So we must consider the nature of the Greek preposition, "en". It is a preposition of locality which primarily is translated to communicate an action "within" something. However, it also carries with it force or cause at times so it is sometimes translated, with or by, or even for.

The issue here, however, is not whether the Greek preposition permits something or not because here it really is useless unless we can determine what the source of joy is if, indeed, this is the force of John’s leaping. And here the context is quite clear, it is not John’s joy but Elizabeth’s joy from hearing Mary’s greeting.

In other words, “by joy” or “with joy” (Elizabeth’s joy) the baby jumped. It basically requires one to maintain the integrity of the context in which Elizabeth is in focus both in hearing Mary’s greeting and responding to it and being filled, herself, with the Holy Spirit.

The fact is that the Greek preposition, in its most basic construction “in joy” would mean “within joy”. But whose joy? Clearly Elizabeth’s joy.

Some Conclusions

1. John the Baptist, even if filled while in the womb, still was an OT Prophet and his filling was not that of a believer in the NT church wherein now, believers are indwelled and filled as a result of their salvation. This was not salvational in context, rather filling for fulfilling the office of OT Prophet and specific the Prophet announcing the Messiah. The two are not same contexts; hence one may not assume salvation either in the womb or at birth from the Holy Spirit filling John.

2. The text itself clearly has Elizabeth doing the hearing, not John. Not once but twice is there the recollection of Elizabeth doing the hearing, not John.

3. The case for John leaping in the womb because he heard Mary can only be predicated from silence and actually assaults the record itself which makes it clear that Elizabeth did the hearing.  To argue this can only be done from silence which is no argument.

4. One must also wonder if we are to understand John does the hearing in the womb and then jumping for joy in the womb, why is a record of John hearing the voice absent while Elizabeth’s hearing emphasized?

5. Ultimately the “John jumping in the womb independently” view comes primarily from a single source which is the grammatically/contextually stumbling use of “for joy” (in joy) to claim it was John’s joy that is being referred to and not Elizabeth’s. Of course the text bears out otherwise, that it was Elizabeth doing the hearing, Elizabeth being excited and John reflexing from his mother’s excitement.

Final remarks

Some feel a certain removal of the magnificence of Elizabeth’s blessing in her pregnancy with John when the phenomenal narrative of John independently jumping in the womb, is challenged. It need not be viewed this way.

All that God does is magnificent and we need not arrest texts in fear we are lessening God’s splendor. What we must do, however, is see his splendor in as candid a light as Scripture permits. Here is not a wish to remove or detract from anything but maintain textual integrity.

I do realize that good and much better men both spiritually and academically may and do take issue. So this is, with all due respect, submitted in that light.