Saturday, September 30, 2006

October, 2006 Sabbath Recorder Online

The October, 2006, Sabbath Recorder is available online here. Among other interesting things it includes an article by Conference President-Elect Andrew Samuels about prospects for the Seventh Day Baptist pastorate.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

SDB History: Nathanael Bailey

Nathanael Bailey
?-1742
Nathanael Bailey
Nathan Bailey was an English schoolmaster, philologist and lexicographer. His Universal Etymological English Dictionary of 1721 went through some thirty editions; his 1730 Dictionarium Britannicum was a massive folio dictionary that Samuel Johnson used as a basis for his own dictionary. Bailey included etymologies, rudimentary pronunciations, proverbs, and many woodcut illustrations. Esoteric Latinisms were excluded, but common words were defined. The Britannicum had about 48,000 entries, many more than any of its predecessors, and even more than Johnson, at about 42,000.

Bailey was a Seventh Day Baptist, had a school at Stepney, and was also the author of Dictionarium Domesticum and other educational works.
Sources:
http://dictionary.laborlawtalk.com/Nathaniel_Bailey
http://www.bookforum.com/archive/fall_05/sheidlower.html

"The starting point is to be honest"

In the first sermon of a planned series titled "Finding God When Life is Hard," Mark D. Roberts has this to say about prayer:
"Most of us have learned somehow that we're not supposed to be honest with God when it comes to our doubts, our fears, our anger, our disappointments. So we end up saying things that we think we should say in prayer, like, 'Thank you, Lord, for this suffering,' when our hearts are crying, 'Why have you let this happen to me?' And when this sort of prayer game seems too inauthentic to bother, we stop praying altogether. The example of Job gives us permission to be honest with God, even when that honesty is very untidy.

"Recently a woman shared with me a sad story. After praying for her non-Christian mother for decades, her aged mother, who was struggling with a potentially terminal disease, finally gave her life to Christ. And you know what happened? This poor mother's physical symptoms got worse, and then she got mad at God, understandably so. The woman who shared this with me said, 'I don't even know how to pray to God about this. What should I say?' My first response was, 'Well, you might begin by telling Him that you think this really stinks.' The woman was shocked: 'I'd never thought of saying that. But that is what I think. That's how I feel.' You see, by failing to tell God what she really thought and felt, this woman was unintentionally creating distance between herself and the Lord. Rather than finding God in the midst of her hard life, she was losing touch with Him. Her starting point with the Lord was simply to be honest.

"My friends, God wants to hear what you really think, what you really feel. Trying to fake him out doesn't work. Moreover, it keeps you far from the Lord, rather than leading you to Him. So, if you want to find God when life is hard, you can begin by stopping the game playing, and by telling Him exactly what's going on inside of you. God can handle it all: your fear, your doubt, your discouragement, your anger. He yearns for the real you, not some religious icon you've created to fake Him out."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

SDB History: Samuel Stennett

Samuel Stennett
1727-1795

Samuel Stennett
Dr. Samuel Sten­nett was born in Ex­e­ter, in 1727. He was con­vert­ed and was bap­tized when young. Like his fa­ther he was a man of super­i­or tal­ents and great er­u­di­tion. One authority says: “His pro­fi­cien­cy in Greek, La­tin and Or­i­ent­al tongues and ex­ten­sive ac­quaint­ance with sac­red lit­er­a­ture, are so abundantly dis­played in his val­u­able works that they can­not fail to es­tab­lish his re­pu­ta­tion for learning and genius.”

In 1763 he was made a Doc­tor of Di­vin­i­ty by King’s Coll­ege, Aberdeen. He min­is­tered to the Lit­tle Wild Street church as his fa­ther’s assistant for ten years; and as its pas­tor, af­ter his fa­ther’s death, for thir­ty-sev­en years. The meeting house was rebuilt dur­ing his min­is­try. His fa­ther, Jo­seph Sten­nett, D. D.; his grandfa­ther, Jo­seph Sten­nett; his great-grand­fa­ther, Ed­ward Sten­nett; his bro­ther, Joseph, and his son, Jo­seph, were all Bap­tist min­is­ters—and Sab­bath-keep­ers.

Dr. Sam­u­el Sten­nett was a hymn writ­er of note. He wrote the beau­ti­ful and well known hymn, “Majestic Sweet­ness Sits En­throned;” al­so “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand.”
[Adapted from Se­venth Day Bap­tists in Eur­ope and Amer­i­ca, Vol. 1, pp. 11-18]


MAJESTIC SWEETNESS SITS ENTHRONED, 1787

Majestic sweetness sits enthroned
Upon the Savior’s brow;
His head with radiant glories crowned,
His lips with grace o’erflow,
His lips with grace o’erflow.

No mortal can with Him compare
Among the sons of men;
Fairer is He than all the fair
Who fill the heav’nly train,
Who fill the heav’nly train.

He saw me plunged in deep distress
And flew to my relief;
For me He bore the shameful cross
And carried all my grief,
And carried all my grief.

To Him I owe my life and breath
And all the joys I have;
He makes me triumph over death
And saves me from the grave,
And saves me from the grave.

Since from His bounty I receive
Such proofs of love divine,
Had I a thousand hearts to give,
Lord, they should all be Thine,
Lord, they should all be Thine.

"Embedded with God's Young Recruits"

The Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal reviews two books about the contemporary Evangelical youth culture. It begins
The election of George W. Bush has been a mixed blessing for the nation's 30 million or so evangelicals. Having once complained that the mainstream media barely even knew they existed, they now find themselves subjected to endless scrutiny. Their music, their dating habits, their tattoos, their food, even their beliefs--all are the focus of books, newspaper articles and magazine features. Alas, a lot of such coverage reads like the accounts of a dizzy anthropologist making his way among the inhabitants of a lost island in the South Pacific. What a strange tribe this is! Look at how they live!
The rest can be found here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

All Flattened Things are Equal

From Mere Comments: All Flattened Things are Equal refers to the post below and is relevant to John Pethtel's post. This "complementarian" objects to the implication that he is not egalitarian.
The discussion linked below in the post Burk on Hutchens makes me wonder whether those of us Christians who hold to Pauline (and Petrine!) scriptural teachings on the headship of the husband should concede the word "egalitarian" to our opponents. Complementarians, as we are now called, believe, after all, that men and women are equal in dignity before the Lord; that Christ died to save men and women both, without distinction of sex; that membership in the Church, by baptism, is open equally to men and women; that sanctifying grace comes to both men and women; that both men and women are images of the invisible God. No Christian, for instance, can follow Mohammed in imagining a hell stocked full of women.

But traditional Christians also hold that the husband is to be the Christ-like head of the wife, as Paul says; and that, according to the same word of God passed down to us by the apostle, and as simply analogous to the law of the household, the ordained ministry is not open to women. And here we come to the crux. How, without accusing that theological genius Paul (and also Peter -- and, of course, the Lord Jesus, whose choice of apostles is instructive) of simplemindedness, can we hold both ontological and soteriological equality, and hierarchy? Or rather, turning the question against itself, how can Christians fail to see that equality and hierarchy are not necessarily contradictory, seeing that they have the examples of the obedience of the Son to the Father, and of the inner life of the Trinity itself?
Read the rest.

"Islam and Us"

Catholic Archbishop George Pell of Sidney, Australia, in First Things, asks whether Islam and the Western democracies can live together peacefully. In dealing with this crisis, he says, Christians are better equipped than secularists to address the issue:
During the Cold War, secularists, especially those who were repentant Communists, were well equipped to generate and sustain resistance to an anti-religious and totalitarian enemy. In the present challenge it is religious people who are better equipped to understand the situation with Islam. Radicalism has always had a way of filling emptiness, but if we are going to help the moderate forces within Islam defeat the extreme variants, we need to take seriously the personal consequences of religious faith. We also need to understand the secular sources of emptiness and despair and how to meet them, so that people will choose life over death. This is another place where religious people have an edge. Western secularists regularly have trouble understanding religious faith in their own societies, and are often at sea when it comes to addressing the meaninglessness that secularism spawns. An anorexic vision of democracy and the human person is no match for Islam.
Read the rest.

Monday, September 25, 2006

SDB History: Peter Chamberlen

Peter Chamberlen, 1601-1683
Dr. Peter Chamberlen, personal physician to James I, Charles I and Charles II, was an early Sabbatarian Baptist. Dr. Chamberlen was a graduate of Immanuel College, Cambridge, studied medicine and surgery at Heidelberg and Padua, and became senior doctor of both Oxford and Cambridge. He was a voluminous writer on the Sabbath question. [3]

The oldest existing Seventh Day Baptist church is the Mill Yard Church in London. Chamberlen may have been the pastor from its beginning in 1651 to the time of his death; but whether he or John James started the church is uncertain. He was the leader of the Whitechapel Congregation (the precursor of Mill Yard) by 1653. [3]
One of Dr. Chamberlen's strongest stands on the Sabbath was his participation in a debate in 1659 held in the Stone Chapel beside Saint Paul's Cathedral in London. Jeremiah Ives spoke against the Saturday Sabbath, while Dr. Chamberlain, Thomas Tillam, and Matthew Coppinger spoke for the Sabbath. [1]
Woodham Mortimer, Essex, England, is Chamberlen's burial place. The inscription on his tomb reads as follows:
The said Peter Chamberlen toock ye degree of Doctor in Physick, in fever all Universities born att home and abroad and lived such above three score years being physician in ordinary to three Kings and Queens of England. viz. King James & Queen Anne; King Charles ye first & Queen Mary; King Charles ye second & Queen Katherine; & also to some forraine Princes; having travelled most of partes of Europe and speaking most of the languages.

As for his religion he was a Christian keeping ye Commandments of God & faith of Jesus. being baptized about ye year 1648, & keeping ye 7th day for ye saboth above 32 years.

To tell his Learning and his Life to Men: Enough is said by here lyes Chamberlen. [2]
Sources:
1. Sanford,
A Choosing People: The History of Seventh Day Baptists, Broadman, 1992, p. 62
2. http://www.medicalheritage.co.uk/ESSEX.htm
3. http://www.seventh-day-baptist.org.au/library/books/sdbhist3.htm

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Christianity Today: "Young, Restless, Reformed"

"Young, Restless, Reformed" in Christianity Today is a very interesting article recounting the resurgence of Reformed theology among young Evangelicals - why it is so appealing to them and why the author doesn't believe it to be a matter for concern:
Evangelicals have long disagreed on election and free will. The debate may never be settled, given the apparent tension between biblical statements and the limits of our interpretive skills. In addition, some will always see more benefit in doctrinal depth than others.

Those fearing a new pitched battle can rest easy. That's not because the debate will go away - for the foreseeable future, the spread of Calvinism will force many evangelicals to pick sides. And it's not because mission will trump doctrine - young people seem to reject this dichotomy.

It's because the young Calvinists value theological systems far less than God and his Word.

Gender Wars and the Authority of the Bible

At the Denny Burk blog there is a discussion of the Evangelical Gender Wars and the Authority of the Bible. The argument about the proper role of women in church leadership is an old one and SDB views vary [see here, and here]. The central issue in this particular blog discussion is:
The bottom line is that Webb and other egalitarians relativize the teaching of Paul in certain texts (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:12; 1 Corinthians 11:3) so as to make way for Paul’s teaching in egalitarian-friendly texts (e.g. Galatians 3:28). So folks like Webb (and apparently Stackhouse) admit that Paul forbids women to teach and exercise authority over men in the church. They just think Paul’s teaching is wrong for today’s church.

The net effect of this interpretive strategy is the elimination of the authority of scripture by marginalizing the teachings of the apostle Paul.
The comments carry on the argument.

I have never felt personal discomfort about serving under the authority of a woman - most of the principals I had when I was a teacher were women - but the Church is different than secular institutions. Women have served as pastors of Seventh Day Baptist churches for many years. Is there a compelling argument, based on Scriptural authority, for or against women pastors?

Bob the Tomato and NBC

"Bob the Tomato has run afoul of NBC's religious sensitivity censors.
According to Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer:"Where we got into trouble was ... where Bob says, 'And God can give us strength, too.' The NBC people said we had to take that out... What God does in the past is OK as long as it stays in the past. But if you cross that line and say that God can affect your life in the present, then that's too much.
Source: Scripps Howard News Service"

Friday, September 22, 2006

Good Sabbath!

I want to be more like Jesus,
And follow Him day by day;
I want to be true and faithful,
And every command obey.

More and more like Jesus,
I would ever be;
More and more like Jesus,
My Savior Who died for me.
More Like Jesus
J.M. Stillman

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Churches, Elections, and the IRS

Mark D. Roberts writes about the threat to remove the tax-exempt status of churches engaged in politics. The series: Churches, Elections, and the IRS, discusses the particulars of a case referred to earlier on this blog.

Preaching to Felt Needs

Albert Mohler's blog includes this post: The Problem of Preaching to Felt Needs. He quotes a United Methodist bishop, William Willimon:
"Jesus doesn't meet our needs; he rearranges them. He cares very little about most things that I assume are my needs, and he gives me needs I would've never had if I hadn't met Jesus. He reorders them."
Mohler also comments on the Time article in the post below. Among other things, he says:
[W]hy would an awesome and mighty God want anything less [than prosperity] for his children? The saddest aspect of that question is its focus on material prosperity at the expense of the limitless spiritual riches we are given in Christ. The problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it promises so little -- and promises that so falsely.

TIME: Does God Want You To Be Rich?

A selection from TIME: Does God Want You To Be Rich? Joel Osteen speaking:
"I don't think I've ever preached a sermon about money," he says a few hours later. He and Victoria meet with TIME in their pastoral suite, once the Houston Rockets' locker and shower area but now a zone of overstuffed sofas and imposing oak bookcases. "Does God want us to be rich?" he asks. "When I hear that word rich, I think people say, 'Well, he's preaching that everybody's going to be a millionaire.' I don't think that's it." Rather, he explains, "I preach that anybody can improve their lives. I think God wants us to be prosperous. I think he wants us to be happy. To me, you need to have money to pay your bills. I think God wants us to send our kids to college. I think he wants us to be a blessing to other people. But I don't think I'd say God wants us to be rich. It's all relative, isn't it?" The room's warm lamplight reflects softly off his crocodile shoes.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Women in pastoral ministry is one issue in my belief system that I struggle the hardest with.

It was a complete shock to me moving from Capital Bible Seminary, where women were just allowed into the M.Div. program recently and are not permitted to take homiletics courses, to Denver Seminary, where quite a few of my professors clearly encouraged women to be senior pastors.

Needless to say, before coming to Denver, I never gave this issue much thought. I just assumed that from my interpretation of some of the biblical passages, and from my understanding of conservative evangelical thought, that women were not eligible for senior pastoral leadership.

This assumption has undergone some serious investigation by me during the last two years. I don't find Denver Seminary to be a liberal school (although gender inclusive language that is used here frustrates me) but rather one of the better evangelical seminaries in the US. The faculty here are brilliant and caring. But they are challenging me in my perceptions of the roles of men and women in the church.

Here are two evangelical sites that take differents sides of the issue of women in ministry. Although, this is still an issue I struggle with, I would never say that we need to make some sort of denominational statement on this issue. According to our SDB polity, the decision to choose who pastors a church is left to the congregation that is choosing the pastor and they may choose whomever they wish.

Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Christians for Biblical Equality

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

SDB History: Joseph Stennett

Joseph Stennett, 1663-1713

Joseph Stennett was born in 1663 at Abington, in England. He was well educated for one who, as a Dissenter, was excluded from schools like Oxford and Cambridge.

In 1690 Joseph was ordained as pastor of the Pinners’ Hall Seventh Day Baptist Church and served there until his death in 1713. His biographer wrote that even though he had a number of offers more to his temporal advantage, “he preferred the invitation of this small people by reason of his agreement with them in principle.”
Since the meetings of the congregation for worship were on the seventh day of the week, he was free to preach to other congregations on the Sunday, which he did very frequently, especially to the General Baptist Church in Barbican. Such was Stennett's repute for piety, learning and practical wisdom that his advice was very much sought by his Christian friends, and by the "great Whig Lords" of that day. He was occasionally consulted as to the feeling of the Dissenters concerning national affairs.

Source: Biography of Joseph Stennett, 1663-1713 (Spiritual Songsters)
When the Stennetts were writing their hymns, many Protestant dissenters were reluctant to sing hymns other than the Psalms as a protest against the liturgy of the established church, but the Psalms were pre-Christian and thus had little to express which was distinctively Christian. Thus Joseph Stennett wrote a number of hymns about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, always being careful that their Scriptural authority was noted.

[Thanks to Rev. Don Sanford of the Seventh Day Baptist Historical Society for much of the information above.]
MY BLESSÈD SAVIOR
Hymns for the Lord’s Sup­per, 1697
My blessèd Savior, is Thy Love
So great, so full, so free?
Behold, I give my love, my heart,
My life, my all to Thee.

I love Thee for the glorious worth
In Thy great self I see:
I love Thee for that shameful cross
Thou hast endured for me.

No man of greater love can boast
Than for his friend to die:
But for Thy enemies Thou wast slain:
What love with Thine can vie!

O Lord, I’ll cherish in my soul
The memory of Thy love:
And Thy dear Name shall still to me
A priceless treasure prove.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Benedict's real target wasn't Islam.

In The Pope's lecture also shakes Catholic theologians by Bernward Loheide, it is explained that the quotation from a medieval text, which so outraged many in the Islamic world, wasn't directed at Islam, but was at the service of an argument critical of much recent Christian theology.
Benedict's thesis about the relationship between faith and reason has its foundation in ancient Greek philosophy.

However, a sizeable number of Catholic and Protestant theologians argue that this so-called neo-Platonic perspective is inadequate for 21st century theology.

"The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance," said Benedict, who contends that Christianity reflects much of the thought of the pre-Christian Greek philosopher Plato.

Christianity, he said, was a rapprochement between Jewish belief and Greek thought. Faith and reason are in harmony when God is understood as truth, beauty, goodness and universal reason, which are there for all human beings to grasp.

In the world of Christian theology, most competing ideas have been around for a long time. Benedict's ideas can be traced back to St. John the Evangelist whose gospel began, "In the beginning was the logos." Logos is a Greek term that means both reason and the word.
The article goes on to describe why many German theologians disagree with the Pope's argument. Insofar as I understand the debate, I'm with the Pope.

And again, Daniel Johnson in the New York Sun:
So what was the pope really saying in that lecture he gave in Regensburg, his old stamping ground in Bavaria? It was a rich and elegant reflection on the rationality of faith, couched in the erudite language of a very German philosophical discourse.

But the message was, at heart, a straightforward one. The Jewish or Christian God acts in accordance with reason: In the beginning was the Word, the Logos. Benedict emphasizes that this new, logocentric understanding of God is already present in the Hebrew Bible, long before the fusion of Jerusalem and Athens in the New Testament. Our knowledge of God — the God of Israel or the God of Christianity — emerges in the unfolding of the encounter between faith and reason.

The contribution of Hellenic thought to this gradual enlightenment is, for Benedict, essential. He laments the "dehellenization" of Christianity since the Reformation. Its effect, he thinks, has been to "relegate religion to the realm of subcultures" and to treat scientific rationality as if it had nothing whatever to do with faith. "The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality," he warns. If the West ignores this theological perspective, it "can only suffer great harm."
More: Robert L. Wilken, Robert T. Miller, Richard J. Neuhaus.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Three Questions

From a member of the Madison Seventh Day Baptist Church after a Sabbath School discussion of a passage from Ecclesiasticus (a book from the Old Testament Apocrypha, considered canonical by Catholics, but not by Protestants).:
Look at the generations of old and see: who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? Or who ever feared him steadfastly and was left forsaken? Or who ever called out to him and was ignored? (Ecclesiasticus 2:10, Jerusalem Bible, 1966)

Consider the ancient generations and see: who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? Or who ever persevered in the fear of the Lord and was forsaken? Or who ever called upon him and was overlooked? (Ecclesiasticus 2:10, RSV)
The three questions the writer of the Book of Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach) asks caught my attention this week as our Sabbath School class wends its way through selected portions of the Apocryphal books. Setting aside any discussion of the "inspiredness" of the text, how am I as a Christian to approach these questions? I am unwilling to gloss over them as simply rhetorical. At first blush I took the "long view" approach: Sure, eventually everything works out, in the end. Mr. Standfast brought me up short on that approach, and justifiably so. Clearly, although a reasonable approach, it doesn't sufficiently answer the questions asked.

I'm also unwilling to take the "health-and-wealth" approach: He who trusts in the Lord and is shamed is not really trusting in the Lord enough, or didn't fear him steadfastly enough, or call out to Him earnestly enough.

Then a member of the class referenced Psalm 91:7
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not come near you. (RSV)
The discussion petered out at that point, but it set my thinker thinking. How about the trials of Job, or John the Baptist, or the martyrdom of Stephen and the apostles, or dozens of other Biblical examples that bring these questions into play?

This is not a refrain of "Why do bad things happen to good people?" at least to me, although that line of thought is not inappropriate. C.S. Lewis and others settled that question in my mind years ago. But rather, the new (to me) question brought into play by the juxtaposition of Ecclesiasticus 2:10 and Psalm 91:7 centers on "What about the ten thousand at the right hand?" or "What about Job's sons and daughters? (Job 1:18-19)" Putting myself in their shoes, how would I answer these three questions?

This puzzle isn't shaking my faith, I shan't lose sleep over it, but it got me thinking, especially regarding similar passages (mostly in the Psalms) where God's protection seems to be chimerically applied by David and other writers.

Maybe I'm wrong - perhaps it is a rehash of bad things happening to good people. The "It's God's will!" answer is a copout. Sure, it's God's will, but that doesn't answer the questions. Mr. Standfast suggested looking at it from an eternal "outside of time" perspective, and maybe he's on the right track. I'll have to think on that some more. I just wanted to float this out for comment.
An exceptionally good book that attempts to address some of these questions is Philip Yancey's Disappointment with God. Another, of course is C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Good Sabbath!

This is the Holy Sabbath Day,
The Day God made and blest;
The Day He made and gave to us,
For worship and for rest.

Dear Father as we rest in Thee,
This Sabbath Thou hast given;
Prepare us for that Sabbath rest,
Prepared for us in heav'n.
The Holy Sabbath Day
William L. Davis

National Review: God is in the DNA

The current National Review prints a review by Michael Potemra of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press, 294 pp., $26) by Francis Collins. Collins disputes the idea that there is a necessary conflict between Christianity and science. His solutions will not be acceptable to many Christians or to any secular materialists. From the review:
Francis S. Collins is both head of the Human Genome Project and a believing Christian, and his new book — The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press, 294 pp., $26) — is a valuable attempt to reconcile these two essential human endeavors.

In Collins’s view, “there is no conflict in being a rigorous scientist and a person who believes in a God who takes a personal interest in each one of us.” Man qua scientist explores nature; man qua religious believer worships God in the realm of spirit. Because there is but one reality, these two distinct spheres can and must be reconciled into a larger whole. “The Big Bang,” writes Collins, “cries out for a divine explanation. It forces the conclusion that nature had a defined beginning. I cannot see how nature could have created itself. Only a supernatural force that is outside of space and time could have done that.” It is not the province of science to prove the existence of God, but it certainly offers evidence pointing in His direction.

Nowhere is Collins’s presentation more helpful than on the question of evolution. This Christian scientist is an unabashed Darwinist. “Darwin had no way of knowing what the mechanism of evolution by natural selection might be. We can now see that the variation he postulated is supported by naturally occurring mutations in DNA. . . . Darwin could hardly have imagined a more compelling digital demonstration of his theory than what we find by studying the DNA of multiple organisms.” The author goes on to describe how these material mutations have diversified the number of kinds of living things — among them, man. But he continues:

At this point, godless materialists might be cheering. If humans evolved strictly by mutation and natural selection, who needs God to explain us? To this, I reply: I do. The comparison of chimp and human sequences . . . does not tell us what it means to be human. . . . DNA sequence alone . . . will never explain certain special human attributes, such as the knowledge of the Moral Law and the universal search for God. Freeing God from the burden of special acts of creation does not remove Him as the source of the things that make humanity special, and of the universe itself. It merely shows us something of how He operates. ....
One problem many religious believers have with evolutionary science is its ostensible endorsement of randomness. Collins is helpful on this question as well.
If evolution is random, how could [God] really be in charge? . . . The solution is actually readily at hand, once one ceases to apply human limitations to God. If God is outside of nature, then he is outside of space and time. In that context, God could in the moment of creation of the universe also know every detail of the future. That could include the formation of the stars, planets, and galaxies . . . and the evolution of humans. . . . In that context, evolution could appear to us to be driven by chance, but from God’s perspective the outcome would be entirely specified. Thus, God could be completely and intimately involved in the creation of all species, while from our perspective, limited as it is by the tyranny of linear time, this would appear a random and undirected process.

Denominationalism and the Sabbath

Once again the Young Adult Seventh Day Baptists site discusses an interesting topic: Does the Sabbath belief, the only belief that differentiates us from other Baptists, justify a separate denomination? Excerpted from one of the posts:
Is a church or the Church splitting off or dividing over an issue a bad thing? Especially when that split leads to different ministry that could not have taken place when the group was a whole. I think specifically of Peter to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles. That seems to me what denominations are—split over ideas leading to new ministry.

While the splits may not occur in ideal fashion, God may still use them. Especially since it seems when a new group is formed, there is a renewed vigor for their mission—even if this energy stems from spite. I am thinking here of what Paul said in Philippians:

"Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of partisanship, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice." (1:15-18)

My short point is this: Denominations are good. Each denomination services a different niche (to put it in marketing terms). I praise God for denominations, and I think we should pray for other denominations, because there is a diversity which allows for greater outreach to different people.
The discussion also has good things to say about the significance and importance of Sabbath observance.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

TIME -- The Pope on Faith and Terrorism

From TIME.com - Benedict XVI upsets some Moslems by delineating a difference between Islam and Christianity:
His discourse Tuesday sought to delineate what he sees as a fundamental difference between Christianity's view that God is intrinsically linked to reason (the Greek concept of logos) and Islam´s view that "God is absolutely transcendent." Benedict said that Islam teaches that God's "will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality." The risk he sees implicit in this concept of the divine is that the irrationality of violence can potentially be justified if someone believes it is God's will. "As far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?"
[...]

It is not the first time he has entered the fray. On his last trip to Germany, to Cologne for Catholic World Youth Day in August 2005, he told a group of Muslims that they have a responsibility to try to halt the violence carried out in the name of their religion. Even earlier on this trip to Bavaria, which ends Thursday, he seemed to refer to Islam's negative view of a Western society that has too little faith, and cited it as the cause for tensions.

But Tuesday's university lecture was a watershed. After laying out the historical contrasts with Islam, the Pope used much of the discourse to call on the West, and Europe in particular, to clearly affirm the value of a faith in God —and a God built on reason. "While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them," he said. "We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons."
[More, 9/15] And, misreading the lecture, missing the point, and as if to prove it, the Islamic world erupts.

Liturgy

Another interesting discussion at the Young Adult Seventh Day Baptist site, this time about the use of liturgy in worship. [also see Paul Manuel's post about "Worship."]

The American Scene; "Theocons"

The author of "Theocracy! Theocracy! Theocracy!" comments in his blog about political participation by those who use religious arguments:
"...their arguments are as legitimate as any other set of arguments in the public square, and that our debates about public policy shouldn't get sidetracked by pointless and ahistorical ad hominems about the supposed existential threat America faces from 'theocons' and 'Christianists.'"
Their ensues a lengthy and interesting exchange in the "comments" about the legitimacy of political participation by the "Religious Right."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The American view of God

World Magazine Blog points us to a USA Today story about a Baylor University survey of American religious attitudes. World summarizes:
For years studies have indicated that nearly all Americans say they believe in God, so researchers at Baylor University set out to learn instead what God looks like to the nation and how that image shapes a person's worldview. The Gallup survey reveals that Americans hold four distinct views of God's personality and involvement in their lives: Authoritarian, Benevolent, Critical, or Distant.
From the USA Today article:

Highlights of Baylor's analysis:
  • The Authoritarian God (31.4% of Americans overall, 43.3% in the South) is angry at humanity's sins and engaged in every creature's life and world affairs. He is ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on “the unfaithful or ungodly,” Bader says. Those who envision God this way “are religiously and politically conservative people, more often black Protestants and white evangelicals,” Bader says. “(They) want an active, Christian-values-based government with federal funding for faith-based social services and prayer in the schools.” They're also the most inclined to say God favors the USA in world affairs (32.1% vs. 18.6% overall).
  • The Benevolent God (23% overall, 28.8% in the Midwest) still sets absolute standards for mankind in the Bible. More than half (54.8%) want the government to advocate Christian values. But this group, which draws more from mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews, sees primarily a forgiving God, more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible, Froese says. They're inclined (68.1%) to say caring for the sick and needy ranks highest on the list of what it means to be a good person.
This is the group in which the Rev. Jeremy Johnston, executive pastor and communications director for his father's 5,000-member Southern Baptist congregation in Overland Park, Kan., places himself. 
“God is in control of everything. He's grieved by the sin of the world, by any created person who doesn't follow him. But I see (a) God…who loves us, who sees us for who we really are. We serve a God of the second, third, fourth and fifth chance,” Johnston says.
  • The Critical God (16% overall, 21.2% in the East) has his judgmental eye on the world, but he's not going to intervene, either to punish or to comfort. “This group is more paradoxical,” Bader says. “They have very traditional beliefs, picturing God as the classic bearded old man on high. Yet they're less inclined to go to church or affiliate seriously with religious groups. They are less inclined to see God as active in the world. Their politics are definitely not liberal, but they're not quite conservative, either.” Those who picture a critical God are significantly less likely to draw absolute moral lines on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage or embryonic stem cell research. For example, 57% overall say gay marriage is always wrong compared with 80.6% for those who see an authoritarian God, and 65.8% for those who see God as benevolent. For those who believe in a critical God, it was 54.7%.
  • The Distant God (24.4% overall, 30.3% in the West) is “no bearded old man in the sky raining down his opinions on us,” Bader says. Followers of this God see a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own. This has strongest appeal for Catholics, mainline Protestants and Jews. It's also strong among “moral relativists,” those least likely to say any moral choice is always wrong, and among those who don't attend church, Bader says. Only 3.8% of this group say embryonic stem cell research is always wrong, compared with 38.5% of those who see an authoritarian God, 22.7% for those who see God as benevolent and 13.2% who see God as critical but disengaged. “I still believe in God,” says Joanne Meehl, 56, of Barre, Mass., who wrote a book in the mid-'90s called Recovering Catholics. “But to me God is the universe, not as small as a ‘He' or a ‘She' but bigger than all of that.” Humanity is on its own, she says. “People who do wrong are punished in this world, not in the next. This world is it.”

9/11 and Faith

9/11 and Faith. Mark Roberts reflects on whether the emotions of people reacting to 9/11 [or any crisis, personal or societal] make any permanent difference in their faith.
Sometimes crises do open people's hearts to God and they have a life-changing encounter with His grace. Chuck Colson is perhaps the poster-child of this type of experience, as his post-Watergate legal troubles led him to a profound commitment to Jesus Christ and a life of Christian service. But all too often the emotions that lead people to God for a while die out, leaving them no different than they were prior to their crisis. This, it seems, is what happened to most people who were once "into God" because of the events of 9/11.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Perspective

Even in church, we are so shaky in our faith in the next world that we often talk as if the teachings and promises of our Lord were a mere convenience for putting this world to rights.*
These words remind us of the real context of all our actions. This "reality" we perceive with our senses is but a shadow of the real Reality - the life we have through Christ in God. Although citizens of this world we are also, and much more importantly, subjects in His Kingdom. Everything we do in this life has its real significance in eternity.

The assumption that Christians should always have health, or no financial woes, or always be happy in this world, contradicts the actual experience of our Lord, of His first disciples, and of faithful Christians through the ages and today. As Bob Dylan once said:
You know, these are yuppie words, happiness and unhappiness. It's not happiness or unhappiness, it's either blessed or unblessed. As the Bible says, 'Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.'
We are blessed when we keep everything in perspective.

*Joy Davidman, Smoke on the Mountain, 1953

Friday, September 8, 2006

Good Sabbath!

Now our weekly toil is ended;
Shades of evening drawing nigh,
Falling like a benediction
From the altar of the sky.
Bring the Sabbath, blessed Sabbath,
Precious gift from God on high.
Sabbath Eve
Mary Alice Stillman

Today

There are a great many good prayers in the Scriptures and in the history of the Church. Some Christians are reluctant to use prayers others have written out of fear that the use might become a "vain repetition," meaningless and thus pointless - even the Lord's Prayer is used in worship and devotion much less than it once was. Of course, the answer is to intentionally attend to what we are doing - whether studying Scripture, reading, worshipping or praying. The thoughtful efforts of learned and devout Christians can help us. This is a good prayer that has recently come back to my attention:
O God,
Grant that today
I may not disappoint any friend;
I may not grieve any loved one;
I may not fail anyone to whom I have a duty;
I may not shame myself.

Grant that today
I may do my work with honesty and fidelity;
I may take my pleasure in happiness and purity.

Grant that today
I may lead no one astray;
I may not make goodness and faith harder for anyone.

Help me today
to be a help and example to all;
to bring strength and encouragement wherever I am:

Through Jesus Christ my Lord,
Amen.

William Barclay (1907-1978)

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Should women be pastors?

Young Adult Seventh Day Baptists engage in an interesting discussion about the appropriateness of women as pastors. It is a real discussion, not an argument. As one of the contributors to this site notes, this kind of issue is one of the "reasons why it's good to be a Baptist."

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Right Reason: Coming Soon to a Church near You

Is this a fair characterization of the "purpose driven" church or is it unreasonably critical? From Right Reason:
This morning's Wall Street Journal [9/5/06] contains a page one article, "A Popular Strategy for Church Growth Splits Congregants," which describes the divisive effects of the church growth movement, a strategy for church growth now found in thousands of Protestant churches. It involves changing worship styles and music to emphasize the personal and contemporary, with the goal of attracting "seekers," those with an interest in spirituality but no attachment to a church.

The church growth movement raises some disturbing ethical questions. When its practitioners create new churches with a focus on attracting seekers, I have no ethical objection (though I might or might not have theological ones). Usually, however, the movement tries to take over existing churches that are relatively traditional. (They call this "transitioning.") And that requires deception. The traditionalists must continue to pay the bills even while the church they support is being dismantled and rebuilt as something they may find repugnant.

Since most congregations would not agree to the takeover if they were aware of it, the movement's strategy is to fly "under the radar," as Rick Warren, one of its chief advocates, advises. It urges pastors "to trust very few people with their plans" and, inspired by marketing techniques, to pursue change slowly enough that people are caught in a sorites paradox, eventually agreeing to something they would never have agreed to if they had understood at the beginning where the changes were heading. Those who realize what is going on and object are to be ostracized, encouraged to leave, and even blackballed. (The Journal cites Roddy Clyde, a pastor and church growth consultant who urges pastors, when objectors leave, to "call their new minister and suggest that they be barred from any leadership role.")
A sociological, and not necessarily unfavorable, description of the Willow Creek approach to church growth can be found here.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

"People want Bible. They want the truth. They want to be challenged."

Pastor Paul Manuel has already posted a fine article about Worship in these pages. It deserves serious reflection and discussion. Some aspects of what he said reminded me of a Robert Webber interview [Worship: Awesome or Just Plain Awful?], published in The Covenant Companion, from which I excerpt the following:
Covenant Companion: How do we regain a sense of awe in worship?

Robert Webber: We have really dumbed-down our worship, and I am trying to suggest in my work that maybe we don'’t understand either transcendence or immanence. We have replaced transcendence with boredom, and we have replaced immanence with familiarity, and as a result we don't have either transcendence or immanence in much of our worship experience.

Recovering a sense of awe is a long journey and I think that we have to put our heads together and start thinking theologically - —the theologians and the practitioners need to engage in deconstructing the modernist ways of doing worship and recovering the sense of mystery.

There aren't any tricks. I can't give you three little things to do to recover awe. I am just simply saying that as a collective body of people we need to reflect on this question and perhaps God will break through and give us some wisdom.

CC: What do you mean when you say we have replaced transcendence with boredom?

RW: It'’s almost as though we feel that if our worship is hard to get a hold of, if it is intellectual, if it is rote, if it is ritual, that somehow it will produce a sense of otherness.... the otherness should not be a kind of intellectual boredom that is produced by many of our traditional churches.

Transcendence and immanence are not separate - —they are two sides of the same coin. If you look at all the instances in the Bible where God encountered people - God encounters Moses in the burning bush; God encounters us in the incarnation; God encounters us at the baptism; God encounters us at the transfiguration - — there is always a visible and tangible sign. The bush. The holy of holies, the transfiguration of Jesus at the mount of transfiguration. The water of baptism. We need to think about ways in which immanence and transcendence are brought together around sign and symbol.
[....]

CC: In one of your online columns, you write about romantic narcissism-about worship music that focuses on having a romantic relationship with God. How do you differentiate between being God's friends, as Jesus called us, and this kind of "Jesus is my boyfriend" worship?

RW: Friendship is one thing. Romanticism is another. Narcissism, which has been very prevalent within our culture, is the love of self. And the New Age movement has extended the love of self to a kind of romantic spirituality of self, because the self is considered to be God.

So the overtones of New Age spirituality have spilled over into a kind of romantic Christianity, where many of our worship choruses are saying things that are really inappropriate: "I want more of you," "I need you," "Put your arms around me," "Hold me tight," "Kiss me." These phrases are actually found in our worship choruses.

I think that romanticism removes the relationship of God from one of grace to a relationship with God that is sentimental romanticism. It makes us expect some kind of feeling as the basis for our relationship with God and undermines the gospel.

CC: The songs you are talking about could be classified as love songs to Jesus.
RW: I just wrote an article on this for Worship Leader magazine. Some of the music, if you take the word "God" out of it - and some of the songs don't even have the word "God" in them - I could sing it as a love song to my wife. That seems to me to be pretty far away from what the gospel of God's grace is all about.
Romanticism really is a new kind of legalism. Because it says, if you don't have this kind of romantic relationship with God, and you are not "falling in love all over again" - that's another one of the phrases - then you don't have a good relationship with God. So a relationship with God becomes something that I have to create, that I have to generate. [....]
CC: What has led us to the point where there is so much romanticism in worship music?
RW: I see four phases of music in the contemporary scene. In the early days of the Jesus movement, it was a biblical phase. A lot of good stuff came out at that time. Then we got into the narcissistic, the me-oriented, phase. It is about what I do: "I magnify you," "I praise you," "I exalt you," "I worship you," "I enthrone you." It just goes on and on and on about what I can do for you God, aren't you so lucky today.
And then it shifts to the romantic, first writing songs about what we can do for God, then songs about having a romantic relationship with God.
CC: What about a hymn like, "My Jesus I Love Thee," which focuses on what God has done for us?
RW: That's a wonderful hymn. Obviously our love for God is appropriate. But it's not a romantic, sentimental kind of love. It is a love of obedience, a love of faithfulness, a love of covenant. [....] I failed to mention that I see a fourth stage - which as a stage is going backwards, kind of ancient-future. For example, Michael W. Smith's "Agnus Dei" is a wonderful song. Or Chris Tomlin's "Oh the Wonderful Cross." That is great stuff. [....]
CC: In one of your columns you talked about hearing a sermon from a guest speaker, which had no illustrations, just straight Bible exposition, and that people flocked to talk with him after. It was as if those people were spiritually parched, you said.
RW: I am not saying a person should not have any illustrations, for there were people who felt the sermon was a little dry. But for someone like myself I really enjoyed it because I get so sick of hearing all of the stories.
Most of the times on Sundays we have pabulum - —stories and entertainment and all that kind of stuff. It seems to me that there is less and less embracing of the pabulum. In this case, when somebody comes in and their preaching is not entertaining - it'’s very thoughtful and engaging - —people just rushed to the front to talk to him.
We are entering a time when people are tired of the seeker sermons, tired of the motivational sermons, just sick of it. People want Bible. They want the truth. They want to be challenged.

Monday, September 4, 2006

Seventh Day Baptist Beliefs

The doctrinal statements adopted by Seventh Day Baptists over the years aren't prescriptive but simply describe what most Seventh Day Baptists in fact do believe. Consequently it is interesting to see how much that has changed from the first Expose of Sentiments, published in 1833, up to the most recent adopted in 1987. A chart comparing the various statements can be found as a .pdf here. I would guess that the 1987 description of our beliefs is still pretty accurate.

Sunday, September 3, 2006

To See Ourselves as Others See Us

Albert Mohler on his blog, comments on Holyland USA: A Catholic Ride Through America's Evangelical Landscape by Peter Feuerherd. Mohler quotes from the book about modern "evangelical" churches:
Evangelicals may have a fire-and-brimstone reputation, but the reality is more Oprah. Instead of raining down God's wrath, evangelical preachers are more likely to embrace American therapeutic culture. Family relationships and dysfunctions take a central role. How to heal marriages is more often talked about than God's wrath. Megachurches are built around common communities. Often those groups focus on healing personal issues, much like Oprah Winfrey does on her daily television show, providing homespun advice for problems usually associated with marriage and family life.
Mohler says:
Interestingly, Feuerherd does not see evangelicalism as much of a threat when it comes to theology or politics. In effect, he suggests that those who argue that evangelicals are primarily driven by deep theological commitments or a political agenda miss the point -- evangelicals are too preoccupied with therapeutic concerns to have time for anything else.

Friday, September 1, 2006

Good Sabbath!

Christ, Thou art Lord e'en of the Sabbath day;
Darkness and error Thou canst sweep away.
From sordid bondage bring us sweet release,
Light of the World and glorious Prince of Peace.
from God of the Sabbath by William C. Daland

Religion and Political Parties

The recent Pew survey indicates a certain unease about the mixture of religion and politics in the United States - an unease I share. The analysis includes a great deal of information about Christians and politics in America. One of the things it indicates is that Democrats have a particular problem with religious voters. Ross Douthat at the First Things blog suggests why this is so:
[T]he hyper-secularist voting bloc is exercising more influence in the Democratic party than at any point since the 1972 convention, in terms of donations, rhetoric, and votes. These are the Kossacks and the Lamonsters, the Internet-enabled, highly educat[ed], affluent, and deeply anti-religious voters who are making their presence known and giving religious people the heebie-jeebies.
It would be a pity for religious belief [or anti-religious conviction] to become identified with one or the other of the major political parties.

Church/State

One of our readers emails information about a variety of organizations that litigate in the area of church/state, 1st Amendment issues (I've supplied the links):
"The August 26, 2006 issue of World Magazine lists a number of Religious liberty legal organizations which may be of interest to those reading your blog. They are: American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the Rutherford Institute (Virginia), Liberty Counsel (Florida), the American Family Association Center for Law and Policy (Mississippi), the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (Washington, D.C.), and Alliance Defense Fund.

Smaller groups, such as the Pacific Justice Institute concentrate on regional work. For example, they helped the city of San Diego file the appeal to the U S Supreme Court involving the cross on the war memorial located on the top of Mt. Soledad. (Arizona).

"One of the most interesting attorneys is John Whitehead who heads up the Rutherford institute. He was a former pot smoking, left-wing underground journalist. In 1974 he turned from scoffer to believer and in 1982 founded the Rutherford Institute. He realized Christianity had become a minority viewpoint and in need of legal protection."
Each of these organizations has a different perspective on many religious liberty issues than the Baptist Joint Committee, although few [none?] are membership organizations and Seventh Day Baptists would no doubt disagree with positions they take, too.