Thursday, August 31, 2006

More Views on Sabbath

In the last issue of Denver Journal, a publication of Denver Seminary, Dr. Douglas Groothuis, professor of philosophy at DenSem, reviews a book about Sabbath-keeping. Although he also lamentably takes the Sunday = Sabbath position, he does mention Seventh Day Baptists by name as a group that keeps the Seventh Day Sabbath.

You can read that book review here.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Sinning Boldly - Books & Culture

From a book review:
"Americans are doubtless a religious people, but we don't believe in the hard stuff any more. Certainly not in the doctrine of sin, original or otherwise, which seems to have gone missing, even among evangelicals, sometime around the time hell disappeared."
Do Seventh Day Baptists still believe in the hard stuff? Do we preach it?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Seventh Day Baptists: Calvinistic?

I just found this result from a Google search (same article is repeated a few times) that describe Seventh Day Baptists as Calvinistic: SDB article

Are we?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Good Sabbath!

In holy duties let the day,
In holy pleasures pass away.
How sweet a Sabbath thus to spend
In hope of one that ne'er shall end.
Joseph Stennett, 1712

Religious Free Speech

The Wall Street Journal today editorializes about IRS investigations of church involvement in politics:
When the Rev. George F. Regas delivered a sermon opposing the Iraq War in All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., two days before the 2004 presidential election, he expected to upset a few members of the congregation. Instead, he seems to have upset the Internal Revenue Service, which began an investigation that is still under way.
Further, the IRS is going to be pro-active in investigating church activities:
The IRS has also announced it will no longer wait for complaints to come in, but will instead take action "to prevent violations." It will be reviewing the content of sermons, it says, as well as the financial books of religious organizations.
Can a church take a position on abortion, gay marriage, stem-cell research, or any other political issue that may be central to a political campaign without falling under the scrutiny of the IRS?

This IRS action takes place under the authority of tax statutes, not a Constitutional mandate and so Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina has proposed legislation to protect churches from this kind of intrusive investigation.

Of course the BJC opposes that legislation. [See "An Overview of Activity by the Baptist Joint Committee, p. 2, distributed to SDB churches this spring].

Thursday, August 24, 2006

God's Country?

In Foreign Affairs, Walter Russell Mead explains to a worried non-Christian and post-Christian world the differences that exist between Protestant Christians of the "fundamentalist," "evangelical," and "liberal" varieties [including a pretty good brief history of each] and why the growing evangelical influence on foreign policy shouldn't be a cause for concern.

The magazine's abstract of the article:
Summary: Religion has always been a major force in U.S. politics, but the recent surge in the number and the power of evangelicals is recasting the country's political scene -- with dramatic implications for foreign policy. This should not be cause for panic: evangelicals are passionately devoted to justice and improving the world, and eager to reach out across sectarian lines.
Many American liberals also seem to lose their sense of proportion about evangelical influence, as is demonstrated by this review of several books about the supposed and feared impending arrival of Christian theocracy in the US.


Joseph Pearce at the First Things blog reflects on a recent English judge's ruling on homosexual "marriage" and the corruption of language in the public discussion of the issue.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

September, 2006 Sabbath Recorder Online

The September Sabbath Recorder is online [pdf] featuring an article about SDB US Senator Jennings Randolph [D-WV], who was first elected to the US House in the New Deal election of 1932 and who later represented his state in the Senate. This issue also has coverage of the just finished General Conference.

Update: this issue of the Sabbath Recorder has been moved to the SDB Historical Society Archives and can be found as a pdf here.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Dream Awakener: Practicing Sabbath

Someone who worships on Sunday reflects on Practicing Sabbath. He quotes Eugene Peterson, who has some good ideas on the subject, but, unfortunately goes on to say:
"...I have found that it replenishes the soul. God wanted us to see the importance of rest and replenish so much, that He commanded it, though He has not commanded which day."” [emphasis added]
Ah, well - at least he he thinks a Sabbath is important.

"Blogs" and "blogging"

For those not yet familiar with "blogs."
Blogging is ideal for the exchange of opinions and for a conversation about issues. I've been informed that at least some of those who have viewed this site over the last few days are unfamiliar with how this can work and so:

1) If you would like to comment on, either supporting or disagreeing with, any of the articles posted on the site, look for "Comments" in the line at the end of the article, click on it, write your comment, and then follow the on-screen directions. This is a "moderated" blog, which means that your comment will be read before being published and so there may be a delay before it appears. It will appear, though, in the "Comments" section after the article, unless it isn't to the point or is abusive.

2) If you would like to publish something more substantial on the main page, email a copy to me at A link can also be found at my profile: click on "Standfast" in the contributors list at the right. I will publish it, or tell you why I will not.

Jim Skaggs

Scalia: The Establishment of Religion

Justice Scalia, writing a dissenting opinion in a case called McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of KY, seems to have been misled about the intentions of the founders in much the same way as the victims of the "lies" cited by Walker:
“The founders adopted a much more expansive amendment to keep the new federal government from making laws even ‘respecting an establishment of religion,’” he added. “They did not merely want to keep the federal government from setting up an official national church or to ban denominational discrimination.”
The founders, unless Justice Scalia has his history entirely wrong, don't seem to have felt that favoring religion amounted to "establishing religion." Justice Scalia:
“…George Washington added to the form of Presidential oath prescribed by …the Constitution, the concluding words "so help me God." The Supreme Court under John Marshall opened its sessions with the prayer, "God save the United States and this Honorable Court." The First Congress instituted the practice of beginning its legislative sessions with a prayer. The same week that Congress submitted the Establishment Clause as part of the Bill of Rights for ratification by the States, it enacted legislation providing for paid chaplains in the House and Senate. The day after the First Amendment was proposed, the same Congress that had proposed it requested the President to proclaim "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed, by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many and signal favours of Almighty God." President Washington offered the first Thanksgiving Proclamation shortly thereafter, devoting November 26, 1789 on behalf of the American people "to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that is, that was, or that will. be," thus beginning a tradition of offering gratitude to God that continues today. The same Congress also enacted the Northwest Territory Ordinance of 1787, Article III of which provided: "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." And of course the First Amendment itself accords religion (and no other manner of belief) special constitutional protection.

These actions of our First President and Congress and the Marshall Court were not idiosyncratic; they reflected the beliefs of the period. Those who wrote the Constitution believed that morality was essential to the well-being of society and that encouragement of religion was the best way to foster morality. The "fact that the Founding Fathers believed devotedly that there was a God and that the unalienable rights of man were rooted in Him is clearly evidenced in their writings, from the Mayflower Compact to the Constitution itself." School Dist. of Abington Township v. Shempp, 374 U.S. 203, 213 (1963). President Washington opened his Presidency with a prayer, and reminded his fellow citizens at the conclusion of it that "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle." Farewell Address (1796). President John Adams wrote to the Massachusetts Militia, "we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.... Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." Letter (Oct. 11, 1798). Thomas Jefferson concluded his second inaugural address by inviting his audience to pray:

"I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with His providence and our riper years with His wisdom and power and to whose goodness I ask you to join in supplications with me that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures that whatsoever they do shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations."

James Madison, in his first inaugural address, likewise placed his confidence "in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations, whose blessings have been so conspicuously dispensed to this rising Republic, and to whom we are bound to address our devout gratitude for the past, as well as our fervent supplications and best hopes for the future."

I have removed most of the citations from this excerpt of Scalia's opinion. The full opinion can be found here. The case involved the display of the Ten Commandments on public property.

Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State

Brent Walker, the current executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, expresses his interpretation of the history of the church/state relationship in American history in the article linked by John below. [Interesting that he feels the need to call the things he disputes "Lies" (and his opponents, by implication, liars) rather than errors or mistakes.] His position is hardly undisputed. Michael Novak, who with his daughter, recently published Washington's God summarized another interpretation in an article in First Things:
The early Americans were not only the Virginians, but also the Pennsylvanians, who in some ways solved some problems of religious liberty even more successfully, and the men of Massachusetts, who put in place yet another alternative. When, together, the Founders put together the Constitution of the United States in 1787, and when they added the Bill of Rights in 1792, they declared the federal Congress incompetent to make any law respecting the establishment of religion or inhibiting the free exercise thereof. This is the way in which they provided for the so-called "separation of church and state." They did not want the federal Congress to impose any one religion on them. They took the government out of the business of religion.

In this way, too, they prevented any one religion from becoming the official "“established" and in some way mandatory religion of the people as a whole. (An individual state could have an established religion, and some did, for a generation or so, but the practice soon proved to be impracticable and irksome to both the church and state.) Experience showed them that both the church and the state prospered more when the officials of the church did not make political decisions with the authority of the state and when the state did not make authoritative religious statements.

Certainly, the churches have prospered better under such a regime in America than the more or less established churches of Europe. The American solution, however, is not properly described as the "separation of church and state."” Its actual practice is more like an "“accommodation,"” each treating the other to public acts of mutual exposure and mutual respect. At many religious ceremonies, officials of the state are present in formal ways. At many state functions, ceremonies begin with a prayer and often conclude with a religious blessing. Quite often a sermon by a clergyman is written into the program. Above all, politicians in America speak often of God, and sometimes with observable seriousness and devotion, —and also sometimes in a more or less perfunctory way. But speak of God they almost all do, especially on formal political occasions.

It has often been remarked, for instance, that President George W. Bush seems unusually serious about religion and speaks of God fairly openly. But close observers have also noted that President Bill Clinton used to speak about God even more often than Bush and was perhaps even rather more ostentatious in being in church each Sunday. In fact, every American president has felt the duty to speak of God, since that is what the American people want and expect of them.

Still, although the "separation of church and state"” is in part a misnomer, it does point to an important difference of function and public role. But that "“separation"” is not the same thing as demanding an end to the interpenetration of religion and society. Church and state do not cover the same territory as religion and society. Church and state are narrower, institutional concepts. Citizens have a right to the free exercise of their religion in private and in the full range of the public activities of civil society. They also have a right to follow their religious conscience in public life, consistent with fidelity to their public duties and to the Constitution of the United States. And they have a right to argue in the public square, in accord with the rules of democratic give-and-take and the civic virtues of civility, for their own convictions, religious or secular, about the full range of issues of our common life, including laws concerning marriage, birth, and death. Civic life can be quite alive with religion, the more so for being uncoerced by the state.

To present a few samples of how the American accommodation of religion and society, church and state, have actually worked out in practice, let me mention that in the earliest days of Washington, D.C., beginning with the Jefferson Administration (1800-1808), the largest church service in the whole United States was held in the Capitol Building every Sunday, with music provided at government expense by the U.S. Marine Band. President Jefferson was often in attendance. Both before and after Jefferson, both the Congress and the presidents have often by decree urged Americans to pause for a Day of Thanksgiving, or Fasting and Humiliation in an hour of need.
It has always seemed to me to be a perverse reading of the First Amendment, that the rights of a political or religious group might demand that someone else "shut up." Neither the right to free speech nor "free exercise" include anything about a right "not to hear." The answer to bad speech is more speech, not less. There is nothing about hearing a prayer with which I disagree that forces me to do anything. Coercion is only involved if I am prevented from expressing my views.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Brent Walker on Ten Lies Abouth Church and State

Here is what Brent Walker, Executive Director of the BJC, says are the top ten lies about Church and State issues.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Good Sabbath!

Another six days’ work is done
Another Sabbath is begun;
Return, my soul, enjoy thy rest,
Improve the day that God hath blest.
Joseph Stennett, 1732

Friday, August 18, 2006

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Baptist Joint Committee II

Continuing the discussion of the vote at the next General Conference on disaffiliation from the Baptist Joint Committee [see "Baptist Joint Committee I" below]:

A group with which the BJC has had a long and close association is Americans United for Separation of Church and State. When founded, in 1947, its offices were in the BJC's garage.* The BJC's current General Council, K. Hollyn Hollman, is a member of Americans United's Board of Trustees. James Dunn, Brent Walker, Stan Hastey and others associated with the BJC have either served as trustees or been on the AU staff. American's United is an extreme proponent of the "wall of separation" doctrine and has challenged [unlike the BJC, which took no stand] the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in the public schools as a violation of the religious freedom of schoolchildren. In other words, although more extreme than the BJC, and inclined to take on more issues, it inhabits a similar place in the ideological spectrum. Needless to say, a member of the Board of Trustees of an organization will not necessarily agree with everything that organization does, but continued presence probably indicates general agreement. Moreover, Hollman is lead lawyer for the BJC, with important responsibility for its legal direction.

The Baptist Joint Committee's former Executive Director, and primary spokesman for decades, was James M. Dunn. His political inclinations are easily discovered:
"I’m convinced that good people of every spiritual hue, precisely for their decency, cannot comprehend how profoundly outrageous the goals, evil the methods and pervasive the influence of religio-political extremists. Many see those so labeled as merely religious and political conservatives. How dangerous our naivete! How frightening our ignorance! Thank God for the Anti-Defamation League’s publication of The Religious Right: The assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America." [Report from the Capital, Sept. 20, 1994]
A Missouri Baptist Layman's Association website identifies the groups Dunn describes as "religio-political extremists":
"The groups...the ADL book deals separate chapters are: Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition; David Barton’s Wallbuilders; James Dobson’s Focus on the Family; Don Wildmon’s American Family Association; Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation; Robert Simonds’ Citizens for Excellence in Education; Beverly LaHaye’s Concerned Women for America; Lou Sheldon’s Traditional Values Coalition; Randall Terry’s Operation Rescue; Jerry Falwell and Phyllis Schlafly."
Although I would choose not to identify with some of these organizations, others are well within my boundaries of political acceptability.

According to an article in Focus on the Family's Citizen magazine, Dunn's distaste for his political opponents was frequently extreme:
Dunn railed frequently against the "radical religious right," which he described as "a bunch of crazies-people like Gary Bauer, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority types." In one of his more memorable rhetorical flourishes, he compared Christian conservatives to the Crusaders (circa 1000 A.D.): "Full of hate, killing people in order to save them, dehumanizing and bloody."
One of my own encounters with James Dunn occurred at a General Conference he attended at which an anti-abortion resolution was being considered. In our conversation he was strongly [vehemently] pro-choice and very critical of those who would outlaw abortion.

James Dunn is personally charming and his down-home folksy manner and mastery of the evangelical idiom disarmed many potential critics of BJC among Seventh Day Baptists. But it is clear that if there is a "religious right" [and there is], he is on the "religious left," and further, that an organization which employed him for two decades as its executive, and which he still serves as President of the BJC Endowment, must be quite comfortable with that fact.

* 1/17/2007 - Revised to remove "...and until the last few years, I'm told, the BJC provided them (AU) with offices." These words do not appear to have been accurate.

Paul Manuel: Worship

Erroneous Assumptions and Essential Attitudes about Worship

My wife and I have different views on breakfast preparation. She does not like soggy cereal and waits until the very last moment to add the milk. I, on the other hand, am not nearly as fussy and do not mind if the cereal has lost a little of its crunch. Hence, whenever I offer to fix a bowl for her, she declines with visible disgust. Because cereal is one of my two culinary specialties (the other being PB&J), I take every opportunity to offer her the benefit of my expertise. Alas, her response is always the same: "Yuck!"

As you might imagine, such persistent rejection eventually takes its toll on an already fragile self-image. One day, after yet another rebuff, I asked her, "How can you turn down something that I prepare for you with such loving care? What difference does it make if it's a little soggy?" Wholly unmoved by my emotional plea, she callously replied, "If you loved and cared, you'd do a better job."

Sometimes…often, people's approach to worship is like my approach to cereal preparation. They put something together, such as a service or an anthem, and assume that as long as they present it in love, it does not matter that the hymns and scripture have little connection or that two of the choir's voices have never really gotten their parts right. "What difference does it make if it's a little soggy?" What we fail to hear is God's reply: "If you loved and cared, you'd do a better job."

There are two common assumptions that shape (and distort) people's view of worship. The first assumption many Christians have is that…
  • Worship is everything we do.
On Sabbath morning, this includes the songs we sing, the sermon we hear, the prayers we offer, and the SS lesson we study-everything that happens in church (1).

While we should be conscious of God's presence at all times and should cultivate a reverent demeanor in all activity, such a diffuse understanding obscures the much narrower definition of worship that scripture presents as the model for our worship. Of the many words biblical authors use to describe worship (e.g., praise, bless, laud, extol), there is one Hebrew (and one corresponding Greek) term that occurs with greatest frequency, the same term English translations generally render as "worship." It entails the cessation of all activity, the concentration of all attention, and the communication of all adoration to God alone (2).

In other words, worship, in the primary biblical sense, is not something we do while doing other things, no matter how worthy they may be in their own right. It is our singular focus on the person of God. Worship is also not about meeting our needs. It is not about making us feel good or loved or appreciated. It is not at all about us; it is all about God (3).

While we can and should be conscious of Him in everything we do, especially on the Sabbath, neither the sermon, which concerns exhortation (to right behavior), nor the SS lesson, which concerns education (to right thinking), matches the biblical definition of the term. To generalize the connotation of worship-by implying that all manner of activity, when done with reverence, fulfills God's expectation-is to trivialize the commandment to worship (4). Although believers should always be aware of God's presence, being generally conscious of Him is not the same as concentrating exclusively on Him, which is the essence of biblical worship.

The second assumption many Christians have is that…
  • Worship is anything we do (regardless of the quality).
According to this notion, it does not matter how we express our devotion, only that we are earnest and honest. The argument is that God is not particular as long as we are vocal, joyful, and sincere. This approach is evident in how we prepare for worship and in what we present as worship.
  • What does it matter that the choir anthem is not as polished as it could be? People will appreciate whatever the group presents.
  • What does it matter that the hymns do not relate to anything in particular or even to each other? People just want to sing familiar pieces (5).
  • What does it matter that the pastoral prayer does more asking God (petition) than adoring God (praise)? People have many needs.
  • What does it matter that the choruses are repetitive and vapid? People (especially young people) say it puts them in the mood (6).
  • What does it matter that we spend more time listening to ourselves (in conversation) than listening to our Lord (in meditation)? People are uncomfortable with periods of silence.
In such ways as these (7), we demonstrate our priorities in worship, that we care more about pleasing ourselves than about pleasing God.

We also demonstrate our assumption that God has no particular opinion on the matter, as long as our heart is right. If God does not care how His people worship, only that they worship, then…
  • The animal sacrifices would not have had to be perfect,
  • The Levitical musicians would not have had to practice, and
  • The priestly services would not have had to be precise.
But God does care how His people worship, which is why…
  • The animal sacrifices did have to be perfect (8),
  • The Levitical musicians did have to practice (9), and
  • The priestly services did have to be precise (10).
As Jeremiah says, "A curse on him who is lax in doing the LORD's work!" (Jer 48:10). God cares about our attitude, but He is not indifferent to our actions (11). Biblical worship demands the highest level of our ability, the best we have to offer (12). Anything less is not worthy of Him (13)!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Baptist Joint Committee I

In its sessions at Houghton College last week, the SDB General Conference decided, in perhaps the only real controversy of the week, to vote next year on whether to withdraw denominational membership from the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

We should do so.

The BJC was founded in 1936 to represent Baptists on matters regarding religious freedom and the separation of church and state. The Seventh Day Baptist General Conference was one of the founding denominations and its representatives have sometimes played an important role in the organization. People who worship on the seventh day do have an interest in religious liberty and the BJC has acted on our behalf, both lobbying and bringing lawsuits, in situations that might have affected our freedom to observe the Sabbath. Nevertheless, Seventh Day Baptists should disaffiliate.

We learned at Conference last week that the Board of Directors of the BJC, on which representatives of its member denominations sit, meets only once a year, and seldom votes to determine the position the BJC takes on issues in Congress or the courts. That means, by default, the BJC staff must make those decisions, either on their own or in accord with their interpretation of the purposes of the organization. Since there seems to be little vocal dissent from the Board one assumes that most of its members agree with the staff. [The BJC Board had 42 members in 2005-2006, 28 represented Baptist denominations or parts of denominations (Kevin Butler was the SDB representative) of which six were from the American Baptists, 13 members represented something called the Religious Liberty Council” which seems to represent individuals who support the BJC, and one represented the Alliance of Baptists, an organization that has achieved some notoriety by traveling to Cuba and opposing the embargo on that country.] Even before the Southern Baptists withdrew their membership from BJC in the early '90s the organization was dominated by its more politically liberal members.

The inclinations of the staff [and perhaps the Board] can be discerned by looking at some of the positions they have taken. They seem to be committed to a doctrinaire concept of a "wall of separation" between church and state that isn't justified by either Constitutional or Baptist history. They lobby against educational vouchers when parents choose to use them for religiously affiliated schools. They have also brought suit to prevent voucher programs. They have initiated lawsuits to eliminate the presence on public property of representations of the Ten Commandments arguing that they are an "establishment of religion." They seem to believe that voluntary prayer at school functions like graduation seriously threatens religious liberty. The BJC opposes the direct involvement of churches in political campaigns - or at least church involvement on behalf of conservative candidates.

I'll have more to say later about other BJC positions on issues and about their staff.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


This site is intended to be a place where Seventh Day Baptists can exchange views on things that interest us. If it serves a useful purpose we will find here discussions about theology, ecumenism, polity, worship and other issues that affect Christians generally or Seventh Day Baptists specifically.

"One Eternal Day"

"One eternal day" is a phrase from On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand by the 18th century Seventh Day Baptist hymnwriter Samuel Stennett. It refers to the "Sabbath rest" that believers will experience eternally in Christ's kingdom:

O’er all those wide extended plains
Shines one eternal day
There God the Son forever reigns,
And scatters night away.
I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land;
Oh who will come and go with me?
I am bound for the promised land.