31 May 2006

Westminster Wednesday--Philip Nye on an Oath to Reform

Along with Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye was among the Dissenting Brethren in the Westminster Assembly. Information on him from the web is scant. I found this on C. Matthew McMahon's A Puritan’s Mind (which looks like a helpful site, by the way). I have included only representative paragraphs from the address along with the introduction which I found on the page.

Mr. Nye was an Independent and a distinguished member of the Westminster Assembly. This Exhortation was given to the House of Commons amidst the ''Reverend Divines" of the Westminster Assembly before they took the Solemn League and Covenant, and was published by order of the House of Commons.

What is this but the contents and matter of our oath? What do we covenant? What do we vow? Is it not the preservation of religion, where it is reformed, and the reformation of religion, where it needs? Is it not the reformation of three kingdoms, and a reformation universal, in doctrine, discipline, and worship, in whatsoever the word shall discover unto us? To practice is a fruit of love; to reform, a fruit of zeal; hut so to reform, will be a token of great prudence and circumspection in each of these churches: and all this to be done according to God's word, the best rule, and according to the best reformed churches, and best interpreters of this rule. If England hath obtained to any greater perfection in so handling the word of righteousness, and truths that are according to godliness, as to make men more godly, more righteous: and, if in the churches of Scotland any more light and beauty in matters of order and discipline, by which their assemblies are more orderly: or, if to any other church or person, it hath been given better to have learned Christ in any of His ways, than any of us, we shall humbly bow, and kiss their lips that can speak right words unto us, in this matter, and help us into the nearest uniformity with the word and mind of Christ in this great work of Reformation.

We are now entering upon a work of the greatest moment and concernment to us, and to our posterity after us, that ever was undertaken by any of us, or any of our forefathers before us, or neighboring nations about us; if the Lord shall bless this our beginning, it will be a happy day, and we shall be a happy people. An oath is a duty of the first commandment, and therefore of the highest and noblest order and rank of duties, therefore must come forth attended with choicest graces, especially with these two, humility and fear.

Fear, not only of God, which ought to be in an eminent measure. Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac, as if he coveted to inherit his father’s grace, as well as his father’s God: but also, fear of an oath, it being a dreadful duty, and hath this peculiar, it is established by the oath of God, “I have sworn, that unto Me every tongue shall swear.” It is made the very character of a saint, he fears an oath.

Humility is another grace requisite. Set your hearts before God in an humble obedient frame. “Thou shall fear the Lord thy God, and serve Him, and swear by His name.” The apostle Paul was sensible of this engagement, even in the very act of this duty. “I call God to witness, whom I serve in my spirit;” although it be a work of the lips, yet the heart, and the whole man must be interested, if we expect this worship to be acceptable. “Accept the free-will offering of my mouth, and teach me Thy judgments.”

Semper Reformanda!

29 May 2006

Pitts' Creed: The Scriptures (1)

As I have said before, a major part of the purpose of this blog is the solicitation of wisdom. “For waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers” (Prov 24:6). Having just finished my statement of faith, I would like to submit it here for review before the concrete dries too thoroughly. I’ll do it in small chunks, so you don’t have to read the whole thing, and I’ll do only do it once a week so that it doesn’t drown out everything else.

The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience (2 Tim 3:15–17, Eph 2:20). Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, so as to leave men without excuse (Rom. 1:19–20), they are not sufficient to give the kind of knowledge of God and his will which is necessary for salvation (Rom 1:16–18). Therefore God was pleased, at many times and in various ways, to reveal himself and to declare his will to his people (Heb 1:1). He was also pleased to commit his will for the present time wholly to writing in order to better preserve and propagate the truth. He committed it to writing in order to establish and comfort future generations of believers (Rom 15:4) against the corruption of the flesh and the malice of the world (1 Cor 10:11).
     These Scriptures include all and only the 66 books of the Protestant canon. [Here I insert a comment in the margin: Canon=fixed collection of inspired books; canonicity=identifying criterion which all inspired documents evidence; canonization=human role in the recognition of canon.] All and only these documents in the final form of the original autographs partake of verbal plenary inspiration. Therefore, they alone are without error in all that they affirm on whatever subject to which they speak. They are as wholly true, accurate, and reliable as God himself (2 Tim 3:16). Proceeding from inspiration and inerrancy are five implications or corollaries: self-authenticating authority, preservation, sufficiency, perspicuity, and progression in revelation.
      (1) The authority of the Holy Scriptures, for which they ought to be believed, does not depend on the testimony of any man or church, but wholly on God their author (who is truth himself). Therefore, it is to be received because it is the Word of God (1 Thess 2:13). Although the Scriptures are self-authenticating, men, in their depravity, will not be fully persuaded of its infallible truth and divine authority except by the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in their hearts (1 Cor 2:10–12; 1 John 2:20, 27).
     (2) The inspiration of the Bible implies its preservation (Ps 119:152, 160). Preservation is through providential means, not perfect but substantive (e.g. 1 Sam 13:1), not in a particular text type or family of manuscripts, but in the totality of manuscripts.
     (3) The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life in this age is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture (2 Tim 3:15–17, esp. v. 17). God’s former ways of revealing [Comment: Scriptures not all directly revealed: Luke 1:4 and Numbers 21:14, 1 Chronicles 29:29, Josh 10:13.] himself have been completed for the present age (Eph 2:20), so nothing is to be added to the Scripture at any time, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, the inward illumination of the Spirit of God is necessary for the saving understanding of the things which are revealed in the Word (John 6:45–46). In addition, some circumstances concerning the worship of God and the government of the church are common to all human actions and societies. These circumstances are to be ordered by the light of nature (1 Cor 11:13–14) and according to the general principles derived from the Scriptures (1 Cor 14:26, 40).

26 May 2006

Core Group?

Lord willing, I will complete a two-week class on church-planting today. My favorite days of class were the days we had seminary grads, Brian Brock and Ken Brown, come in to tell us about their recent church plants, Life Point Baptist Church and Community Baptist Church, respectively.

Through the use of a phone program, Brian started with over one hundred people in his first service. Very few of these first participants were believers from other churches, so there was no core group committed to him and to his vision for ministry. Starting with unchurched people presented some interesting challenges for Brian, and he invested a lot of brainpower and footwork to gather a large group into a church with a common purpose and vision. However, one of the greatest hurdles for church planters to overcome is the impression a very small church gives to a community; Brian had the advantage of starting out without this hurdle. After a year of ministry, his church is stable and growing.

On the other hand, Ken Brown also recently planted a church and came to speak the day after Brian. He highly recommended the core group approach, and he spent a great deal of time finding the right people and getting the small group on the same page before actually starting the church. By developing this faithful core, he has been able to launch a stable, healthy, growing church in his community.

God uses means, and he is not bound to use the same means to accomplish the same purposes in different circumstances. Any thoughts on the pros and cons of using a core group to plant a church?

24 May 2006

Westminster Wednesday--Thomas Goodwin

Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680, one of few Congregationalist Westminster divines) provides a good example for seminary students. He expounded his profound theological convictions with the kind of warmth which can proceed only from a personal experience of the gospel's saving power. His son glowingly reflects on his father’s Christian life and ministry; note especially the effect he had on “young scholars.”

It was many years before he came to have a clear knowledge of the gospel, and a full view of Christ by faith, and to have joy and peace in believing. “A blessed age this is,” said he in his latter years, “now the time of faith is come, and faith is principally insisted on unto salvation. In my younger years, we heard little more of Christ than as merely named in the ministry and printed books. I was diverted from Christ for several years, to search only into the signs of grace in me. It was almost seven years ere I was taken off to live by faith on Christ, and God’s free love, which are alike the object of faith.” His thoughts for so long a time were chiefly intent on the conviction which God had wrought in him, of the heinousness of sin, and of his own sinful and miserable state by nature; of the difference between the workings of natural conscience, though enlightened, and the motions of a holy soul, changed and acted by the Spirit, in an effectual work of peculiar saving grace. And accordingly he kept a constant diary, of which I have above a hundred sheets, wrote with his own hand, of observations of the case and posture of his mind and heart toward God, and suitable, pious, and pathetical meditations. His sermons being the result of these, had a great deal of spiritual heat in them, and were blessed by God to the conviction and conversion of many young scholars, who flocked to his ministry: as my reverend brother, Mr Samuel Smith, minister of the gospel at Windsor, told me, that his reverend father, then a young scholar in Cambridge, acknowledged mine to have been blessed by God as an instrument of his conversion, among many others.

22 May 2006

Presuppositions and Public Schools

I am experimenting with guest-blogging, and my friend, Peter, has agreed to be my guinea pig.

As for this particular post, I would like to address a recent forum discussion that I saw on CSPAN. This forum discussion revolved around the topic of “Teaching World Religion in Public Schools”. In this discussion, four persons sat on the panel, along with the moderator/host; high school students from around the US were then allowed to ask questions concerning the class.

Patrick S. Robert was one contributor on the panel, and his responsibilities in this course were related to class surveys and the like. As students embarked on this world religions class, they were surveyed concerning the question, “Is there only one religion that is true?” The obvious implication is that if one is true all others were then false. In the initial survey, the results were almost 50% to 50%. Interestingly, in an identical survey taken after the forum was completed, the results were essentially the same! Even with “more education” concerning beliefs around the world, students felt that either (a) only one religion was true, or (b) all/no religion is true. The panel felt that the course was a great success, for not only were students exposed to religions of the world (resulting in respect for other belief systems), but they became more entrenched in their own beliefs as a result of the class.

Before addressing the believer’s response to such a course or surveyed results, I would like to address the teaching philosophy that was employed in this endeavor. The mantra of this panel was emphasized by both Charles Haynes and Yvonne Taylor (Social Studies Teacher, Peter Johansen High School, Modesto, CA), stating that “We are not teaching religion; we are teaching about religion.” The panel felt that such a statement protected and qualified/validated their methodology. They claim to never force a particular religion on the class, but rather act neutrally in the discussion and merely provide guidance through various discussions. Such subtle shifts in semantics do not reconcile the fact that neutrality is not possible in such a discussion. If one teaches about religion, he/she is in fact teaching religion. I recognize that the instructor of the class was attempting to moderate a discussion without superimposing her views onto the class, but to say that the material was untainted by her personal bias/belief system is untrue.

All people operate off of what they believe. People with the Spirit operate off of a totally different set of beliefs than people without the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14–15). The results of their survey only show that believers become more solidified in their faith when recognizing that their presuppositional framework is sturdier than the false epistemological processes that pagans pursue. The unbelievers become solidified in their unbelief as “truth suppressors” (Rom 1:18). This survey reveals that 50% of America’s young people see no one objective standard of truth, and that the other 50% are confirmed in their belief system (whatever that system might be). “More education” does not produce right beliefs; as believers, we must pray that the Spirit would shine light into the minds of “truth suppressors” and that the gifts of repentance and faith might be made evident in lives.

--Peter

19 May 2006

Finally.

Well, after a few hours of work, my insatiable urge to customize my blog has abated. Not very much has changed, really. Someone said that the old look was too dark, so I corrected that some. I removed Luther and Calvin, so I'll be thinking about how to get them back on the front page in the next few weeks. I did a few other tweaks but nothing else major.

I plan to spend more time on function and less on form next week. Getting the ball rolling again is harder than I expected it to be.

17 May 2006

Westminster Wednesday--Marriage

In view of the fourth anniversary of my marriage to Jenny, I thought I would devote this week's Westminster Wednesday to a couple of points on marriage from the confession.

I. Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband at the same time.

II. Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife; for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the Church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness.

While I may want to rework the phrase "of the Church with an holy seed," I appreciate that these pastors and teachers included discipling children as part of the purpose of marriage.

Life provides few matrices more effective in shaping the worldview of the next generation than marriage. A marriage indelibly etches the gospel into a young mind as it, through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus, breathes forgiveness, nurtures holiness, and radiates devotion.

13 May 2006

Experimentation.

I'm goofing around with my template. Expect some mix of variety and disaster.

12 May 2006

Notes on Presuppositions in Hermeneutics

I read this recommendation of Michael Barrett's Beginning at Moses this morning:
I remember in one class a student asked Dr. Barrett why he always found Christ when studying the Old Testament. Dr. Barrett replied that when reading the Bible you find what you are looking for. I have had few statements in my life that have stayed with me through the years as that statement has stayed with me. If you are looking for information about the Bible, that is what you will find. If you are looking for daily inspiritation [sic], that is what you will find. However, that is not why God gave us His written Word. God gave us the Bible that we might know Christ. No book, other than God's inspired Word, can teach us of Christ: His Person and His Work.

The recommendation reminded me of what I read yesterday from [James] Spurgeon himself:
We all have presuppositions when we come to the Bible. The challenge is not to try to dispose of them. Rather, the challenge is to try to make sure our presuppositions are the correct ones, i.e. in line with Scripture.

So how in the world do we come about getting the right presuppositions? I suggest that the answer is at least three-fold.
(1) Genuine conversion is necessary for coming to the Scriptures with the correct presuppositions. One will never interpret the Scriptures accurately who is hell-bent on escaping God's authority. He will do whatever he can to "twist [the Scriptures] to their own destruction" (2 Pet 3:16).

(2) The indwelling Spirit is necessary for coming to the Scriptures with the correct presuppositions. Without him, the continual renewal of our minds (Rom 12:2; see also Col 3:10, Eph 4:23) would be impossible. Paul made this clear in 1 Cor 2:14, "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." The psalmist was also aware that he needed to plead with God for illumination, "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law" (Ps 119:18).

(3) Continual and obedient exposure to the content of the Scriptures is necessary for coming to the Scriptures with the correct presuppositions. Again the psalter aids our understanding, "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple" (Ps 19:7).

11 May 2006

Back to the Blog


I just completed my last assignment for the semester. My graduation ceremony is tonight. Expect posts to start up again with some degree of regularity as my schedule simmers down into the moderately absurd range.

A couple of months back, I posted some on the Christ and Culture question. You might see a little bit more of that topic in the coming months. Also, I am thinking about starting a "Westminster Wednesday" weekly feature. This would include quotes, facts, and discussion on persons, events, and ideas associated with the Westminster Standards (i.e. the Confession, the Shorter and the Larger Catechisms and secondarily with Westminster Theological Seminary).

Let me know what you think.

01 May 2006

Sweet!

This is one of the best blog posts I've read in a while.

In other news, the semester's end is encroaching with increasing speed. It's like gravity, measured not in velocity but in acceleration.