The Church, Society, and the Law of God

A friend of mine wrote me to tell me that I needed more balance in my presentation of how the church should relate to society. I decided I would try and give a positive presentation of my own views on this matter (at the risk of alienating some). My views are substantially those of Charles Hodge on this matter. I think he eloquently states the obligation of the church to speak to violations of moral law in society but to avoid becoming a policy maker or getting involved specifically in politics. He writes in his Discussions in Church Polity, (103–105):

It follows from the great commission of the Church, that it is her prerogative and duty to testify for the truth and the law of God, whereever she can make her voice heard; not only to her own people, but to kings and rulers, to Jews and Gentiles. It is her duty not only to announce the truth, but to apply it to particular cases and persons; that is, she is bound to instruct, rebuke, and exhort, with all longsuffering. Continue reading “The Church, Society, and the Law of God”

Criteria for Judging the True Religion

In John 7:17–18, Jesus sets forth proper criteria for judging the true religion. The first is that in order to judge properly, one must desire to do the will of God. In other words, one must be ready to follow the commands of God wherever they lead and in spite of the fact that they may conflict with our own desires. The second criterion is that the true religion gives all glory to God, “He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true . . .”

In one sense, we must examine every teaching to see if it is from God. However, there is a sort of shortcut here by seeking that religion which most glorifies God. This is what Herman Witsius said in his book The Practice of True Christianity. Here is a portion of that work which deals with this question:

10. But since the nations that bear the name of Christian are divided into so many different sects, what should someone who is concerned about his salvation do? He should not be too surprised or be shaken in his faith since he knows that the corrupted reason of man is inclined towards novelty and will worship and that the devil is always trying to forge false doctrines and introduce them among men. But it is necessary for a Christian to examine all these things and test them by the standard of Scripture. He must receive all that is in accord with Scripture and reject all that is opposed to it.

11. But that is a dizzying and hard work and which not all who seek their salvation are capable of doing. Can’t you show me some shorter and more general way to discern the true Christian religion from those that falsely bear the name? Continue reading “Criteria for Judging the True Religion”

Turretin on the Celebration of Days

In this section (Institutes, 11.15.13–15), Francis Turretin sets forth a balanced view of the celebration of days in the church. He urges toleration for those who celebrate them and those who do not, provided they agree in rejecting the superstitious use of them and the idolatrous rites of the Papists. On the other side, he gives cautions concerning their use and explains how they can be used in a right and wrong way. He writes:

XIII. If some Reformed churches still observe some festivals (as the conception, nativity, passion and ascension of Christ), they differ widely from the papists because they dedicate these days to God alone and not to creatures. (2) No sanctity is attached to them, nor power and efficacy believed to be in them (as if they are much more holy than the remaining days). (3) They do not bind believers to a scrupulous and too strict abstinence on them from all servile work (as if in that abstinence there was any moral good or any part of religion placed and on the other hand it would be a great offense to do any work on those days). (4) The church is not bound by any necessity to the unchangeable observance of those days, but as they were instituted by human authority, so by the same they can be abolished and changed, if utility and the necessity of the church should demand it. “For everything is dissolved by the same causes by which it was produced,” the lawyers say. In one word, they are considered as human institutions. Superstition and the idea of necessity are absent.
Continue reading “Turretin on the Celebration of Days”

The Importance of Justification by Faith Alone

In the 19th century, some historians tried to analyze the various streams of Protestantism in terms of a central dogma. Alexander Schweizer thought that it was predestination. He said that the central dogma of the Lutherans was justification. From what I can tell from the secondary literature, he also believed that this was sort of a basic principle from which all other dogmas were deduced. This sort of methodology has been rejected by most modern historians.

However, as I have read classic Reformed theology, I have found that they generally did believe in a central dogma. They believed that it was justification by faith alone. This did not mean that it was a theological axiom from which all other theology was deduced. Rather, it meant:

  1. That the purity of this doctrine was basic to purity in all other doctrines.
  2. That any error in this doctrine was extremely dangerous.
  3. That this doctrine, above all, was to be defended, explained, and meditated upon.
  4. That this doctrine was the foundation of all true religion and holiness.
  5. That the true Church could not be maintained without this doctrine.

In this post, I would like to demonstrate this from the writings of several different theologians from several different regions and eras.

Herman Witsius (1636–1708, Holland), The Economy of the Covenants, 2.8.1: “The pious Picardians, as they were called in Bohemia and Moravia [i.e., the churches of which John Huss was the most prominent example], valued this article at its true price when in their confession of faith, Art. vi. speaking of justification, they thus write: ‘this sixth article is accounted with us the most principal of all, as being the sum of all Christianity and piety. Wherefore our divines teach and handle it with all diligence and application, and endeavor to instill it into all.’” Continue reading “The Importance of Justification by Faith Alone”

Turretin on Reward and Merit From a Sermon on Hebrews 11:24–26

You can find the original sermon here, printed in 1686. He is responding to the objection that the term “reward” in Heb. 11:26 implies merit.

* * * * *

On this point, before we finish, we must answer two scruples that can come from these words. The first is whether it is permitted to do good works looking for a reward. The second is whether we can gather as a consequence merit from reward so as to conclude that since our good works have a reward they must be meritorious as [110] the false Church alleges. But neither the first nor the second have much difficulty in them.
Continue reading “Turretin on Reward and Merit From a Sermon on Hebrews 11:24–26”

Luther on the Great Value of Good Works

Some beautiful quotes from Martin Luther on the value of good works:

  1. Outside the article of justification we cannot sufficiently praise and magnify these works which are commanded by God. For who can sufficiently commend and set forth the profit and fruit of only one work which a Christian does through faith and in faith? Indeed, it is more precious than heaven or earth.
  2. We teach that to reconcile God, to make righteous, to blot out sin, is so high and great and glorious a work that alone Christ, the Son of God could do it and that this is indeed such a pure, special, peculiar work of the one true God and His grace that our works are nothing and can do nothing. But that good works should be nothing or be worth only a penny, who ever heard of such a thing, or who could teach such a thing except the lying mouth of the devil? I would not give up one of my sermons, not one of my lectures, not one of my treatises, not one of my Lord’s Prayers, nay, whatever small work I have ever done or am doing, for all the riches of the world (Cited in Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953), 3:59–60

Abductive Reasoning

I have to admit that when I first heard the term “abductive reasoning,” I thought it was a joke. To use the term abduction in relation to reasoning seemed funny to me. This fall, I viewed the True U videos in which Stephen Meyer presents the case for Christian theism. He argued that the best way to answer the question of God’s existence was through the use of abductive reasoning. So, what is it?

I would recommend to you the much better explanation of this matter by Kenneth Samples who recently gave lectures on apologetics to “The Academy” at Kim Riddelbarger’s church in Southern California. I listened to these shortly after I began watching the videos, and I was somewhat surprised to find him presenting exactly the same thing.

However, I would also try to give a brief explanation myself. Abductive reasoning seeks to give an explanation as to why a past even occurred. Deductive reasoning simply draws out implications in a premise. Inductive reasoning seeks to make predictions based on laws and patterns in nature. Abductive reasoning tries to give an explanation of why a specific event that did not have to occur did in fact occur.

For example, let us take the matter of electric lights. If an electric light comes on, then we can guess based on induction that someone turned on a switch. However, if we ask, why was this particular light turned on at this particular time, then I need to use abduction. There is no law that would say that my son must be the one who turns on an electric light. However, if I see him standing near the light switch and no one else is in the building, then the best explanation for the light coming on is that my son did it.

One important tool in abductive reasoning is Occam’s razor, that is, you don’t look for a complicated explanation when a simple one will do. So, for example, in the case mentioned above, it is possible that six people turned on the light, but the simpler explanation is that one person did it. It is also possible that someone turned on the light and then ran out the door before I could see them, but it is simpler to assume that my son did it. So, we are looking for the best explanation that adequately explains the cause.

The argument that Meyer makes in the True U videos as well as in his book The Signature in the Cell is that there is information in DNA that communicates by transferring arrangements of four different combinations. Meyer argues that there is something like that. It is computer language. The simplest and most adequate explanation of this coded information is an intelligent designer.

Further, scientists recognize that this distinction is present in the scientific endeavor. At first, Meyer was in doubt about the distinction between two different types of science, one inductive and one abductive. However, he found that this distinction was actually commonplace among scientists. For example, he notes that Stephen Jay Gould, a prominent evolutionary paleontologist, made this distinction:

Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard paleontologist and historian of science, insisted that the “historical sciences,” such as geology, evolutionary biology, and paleontology used different methods than did “experimental sciences” such as chemistry and physics. Interestingly, he also argued that understanding how historical sciences differed from experimental sciences helped to legitimate evolutionary theory in the face of challenges to its scientific rigor by those who questioned its testability. . . . [H]e empahsized that historical scientists test their theories by evaluating their explanatory power.

The distinction was not at all uncommon as Meyer had first supposed. He also found it in the writings of Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin.

I have found this distinction to be quite helpful, and I would encourage you to listen to Kenneth Samples’ lectures for a much fuller explanation.