Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Sabbath (part 3)

[continued from here, here and here]

The Sabbath as sign of the Mosaic Covenant

And the Lord said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” (Ex. 31:12-17)

The issue of the Sabbath takes on an additional layer of meaning in the myriad laws given by God and Moses to the Israelites following the giving of the Decalogue. While previously we have looked at the Sabbath as it develops through the creation motif, the Decalogue also serves as the beginning of what we come to know as Law — the many laws passed to Israel given by God to govern His people. As their King and Judge, the laws serve to show forth to Israel what was expected of them as God's subjects. All God's laws are to be obeyed as the laws governing their society as like the laws of any country. [As an aside, how such obedience is related to salvation in the Christian sense is not explicitly mentioned in this entire narrative. Rather, Israel is to remember the proto-evangel in Gen. 3:15 and reason from there and the entire oral tradition which was later codified by Moses into the book of Genesis (and maybe Job) to get a proper perspective of salvation which is by grace alone through faith alone, but I digress]

Alongside the creation motif therefore was superimposed a new thread of thought in the Law. Beginning with the Decalogue (which acquires a double use in light of redemption history, as both Moral Law and legal covenant document), the Sabbath acquires a new use as a sign of the Mosaic Covenant, as we can see in Ex. 31:12-17.

It may be asked why the Sabbath was made a sign of this particular Covenant. The question is not answered in the context, which merely state such to be the case. It must be noted however that no other historical covenant made the Sabbath as a sign of the covenant. When we note that the use of a sign is to mark the covenanted people as being God's covenanted people who will also make up a distinct nation, it is highly likely that the choice of such a mark is due to the fact that none of the other nations keep the Sabbath. Furthermore, the Sabbath is intricately tied up with the worship of God, and surely the worship of YHWH marks Israel as worshipers of the true God as opposed to the false gods of the nations.

The Law motif that is now added to the idea of the Sabbath opens up the other dimensions of Sabbath keeping as to its practicality and application in civil and ceremonial settings of the theocratic state (its civil and cultic element). Being a distinguishable mark in civil life, it is necessary for the details of Sabbath keeping to be spelled out as concretely as possible.

The Sabbath year — Ex. 23

For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

“Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed. (Ex. 23:10-12)

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired servant and the sojourner who lives with you, and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food. (Lev. 25:1-7)

The necessity of the Sabbath functioning as such a mark thus spill over into religious observances such as the Sabbath year described both in Ex. 23:10-12 and Lev. 25:1-7. While much can be made of the practical benefits of letting the land lie fallow once every seven years, the rationale for the giving of this law is more for Israel to remember God and the institution of the Sabbath. They are to remember that God is their creator and their redeemer (which we will cover later), and trust that God will provide even though they do not plow or reap in that year, even as God has provided for them in the wilderness with manna and quail (Ex. 16:12-14).

[to be continued]

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Sabbath (part 2)

[continued from here and here]

The Decalogue at Sinai — Exodus 20

And God spoke all these words, saying,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

...

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex. 20: 1-2, 8-11)

Ex. 20 describes the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. Leaving Egypt, the Israelites led by Moses walked to Mount Sinai where God would give Moses the Law or Decalogue. Amidst the lightning and thunder, Moses went up the mountain by himself to meet God there.

In these 10 commandments dealing with various aspects of life, the issue of the Sabbath was mentioned in the 4th. It is to this commandment that we would look at here.

Before looking at the commandment itself, it must be said that we shouldn't make too much of the length of the commandment or the number of verses that covers it. Versification is not part of the original text and thus not inspired, therefore just because the 4th commandment contains more verses compared to the others does not mean anything. As for the length of the commandment, that does not by itself signify anything regarding the importance of any particular commandment. The commandment could be longer than others because it has higher specificity, needs to be clarified otherwise it is ambiguous or any other reason. To make much of the length of this commandment as if its length signifies importance is to commit the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent.

The 4th commandment can be seen to be made up of 4 principle parts:

  1. the commandment
  2. what the commandment teaches
  3. a specific application of the commandment
  4. the reason for the commandment

1. The commandment

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." (v. 8)

The 4th commandment is clear enough. God has designated a certain day which He calls the Sabbath. We are to remember this Sabbath day which the Lord has designated, and keep it holy. The later part of that commandment proves that this Sabbath day is on the 7th day of the week, which is Saturday.

It has been said that the word "remember" used here means that the Sabbath commandment was kept from the Creation of the world. This however does not necessarily follow since the Israelites were already keeping the Sabbath commandment in Ex. 16.

2. What the commandment teaches

"Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God." (vv. 9-10a)

God did not leave the Israelites alone to guess how exactly does "keeping the Sabbath holy" looked like. To keep the Sabbath holy for the Israelites is to cease from all their work and rest on the seventh day. Instead of working, the Israelites were to stay in their tents and worship God in their hearts. The incident of the giving of the manna in Ex. 16 would be in their minds as they receive this commandment from Moses. Just as they have been previously taught to observe the Sabbath, they are now to do likewise continually as God's covenanted people.

3. A specific application of the commandment

"On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates." (v. 10b)

In order to make it clear how this resting is to be done, God gave very specific instructions on just who is not allowed to do any work. By delineating the different categories of people, God made it very plain that absolutely no one is to work, even the servants both male and female who serve the Israelites. Not only that, even the stranger/sojourner who does not belong to the community of Israel is not to work while he is within her, despite the fact that he is not an Israelite himself. All who are spatially located within the community of Israel are not to work despite their age, gender, status or citizenship.

In this, the command to rest is absolute. For the strict Sabbatarians, a translation of the Exodus command means therefore that all should rest. There is no such thing as enjoying the labors of non-believers or even believers who do not obey the Sabbath because the command to rest is universal. To use electricity therefore is wrong since the electricity that is enjoyed is produced at a power plant which employs people to run the plant, or at least monitor the machinery to make sure it works fine and troubleshoot otherwise. Just as strict Sabbatarians would not eat outside because they "do not want to support" Sabbath breaking, they should not use electricity also because of the same reason.

Back to the Mosaic economy, the Sabbath command is a universal mandate to rest for all in the Israelite community. The Israelites are to prepare for the Sabbath (cf Ex 16:23, 29) and trust God that no emergency such as war would emerge so that they can properly celebrate the Sabbath. As we will see later, such an application is unique for the time of the Mosaic economy, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

4. The reason for the command

For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (v. 11)

The last part of the commandment shows the rationale for the Sabbath command that God gives to Israel. The rationale lies in the Creation account in Gen. 2:1-3, which is here used as the basis for the Sabbath command.

i. The Creation Sabbath

Previously when we started off with Gen. 2:1-3, it is mentioned that although there is a possible allusion to the Sabbath in the creation account, the Sabbath is itself not taught in the passage. Rather, it is only when we come to the Sabbath command in Ex. 20 that we can see more fully the significance of the rest of God in Gen. 2:1-3. God of course does not tire, so His resting is not like ours. Rather, God's rest in Gen. 2:1-3 is meant for us as an example not for Him.

There is thus indeed a Creation Sabbath, and this we know not because we are told to remember the Sabbath (because that could apply to Ex. 16), or because Gen. 2:1-3 tells us that God rested and sanctified the 7th day He did rest, but because of the revelation that is given us in Ex. 20:11. God in His progressive revelation of Himself in His Word shows us that the passage in Gen. 2:1-3 is meant to teach us about the Sabbath, being the pattern for all humanity from Adam onwards. Although the commandment is given to Moses and the Israelites, the fact that the Sabbath command is grounded in the creation order and shown by God in the Creation itself makes it universal upon all mankind.

In this light, we can say that Adam learned to honor the Sabbath from God Himself, although that information is not found in the text but a necessary deduction from Gen. 2:1-3 as read in light of Ex. 20:11. As men fell further into sin however, the Sabbath was generally rejected since it reminds men of their status as creatures before a Creator. At Sinai therefore, God was merely reinstating the Sabbath command as it was supposed to be.

It must be noted that the basis of the Sabbath command rests on the Creation account of God creating everything in 6 days and resting on the 7th. The Sabbath command is therefore linked with the belief in the creation of all things in 6 historical days. A denial of 6-day creation in theories such as Evolution or the Day-age theory therefore destroys the basis of the Sabbath command and the 7-day week. Conversely, those who believe that God did not lie in giving the 4th commandment (regardless of their view on whether it is later abrogated or not) must reject both evolution and the day-age theory and embrace some form of creationism. To not do so is inconsistency on their part at best.

ii. The Creation basis

Another issue that we will take note of is the thread of creation that runs through the Sabbath motif. This would become more significant after we have looked through the other passages on the Sabbath. Nevertheless, from this verse alone we can see that the basis for observing the Sabbath given to the Israelites is the creation account. The purposes of the Sabbath therefore are for us to:

  1. Remember Creation
  2. Remember that we are creatures before a Creator

Because we are creatures, we are to live for God. We are not autonomous beings pursuing our own agendas, but our lives are to be reflections of God's sovereignty.

There is thus no point in obeying the Sabbath in its external observance if we lives as "Sabbath or Sunday Christians". The reason for the Sabbath is to remind us that we are dependent creatures not autonomous beings. To live 6 days like pagans and 1 day as an obedient Sabbath observer is not only hypocritical, it actually is a violation of the Sabbath in its essence. Such people major on the minors and minor on the majors, and end up violating what they claim to observe.

Wrapping up the 4th commandment

The 4th commandment to observe the Sabbath is therefore multi-faceted. It is at one time both part of the Decalogue and yet transcends it; part of the Mosaic economy yet bigger than it. As we look further into the Sabbath motif, things are going to get more complicated not less, and the larger picture concerning God's intent for making the Sabbath will become clearer.

[to be continued]

Friday, August 20, 2010

Roman Catholicism and Scripture reading (They don't mix)

Over at the Aomin blog, Dr. White has given us an interesting quote from the Council of Trent. Trent, as all informed Protestants should know, defines Roman Catholicism over and against Protestantism/Evangelicalism.

Session XXV: Rule IV of the Ten Rules Concerning Prohibited Books Drawn Up by The Fathers Chosen by the Council of Trent and Approved by Pope Pius: Since it is clear from experience that if the Sacred Books are permitted everywhere and without discrimination in the vernacular, there will by reason of the boldness of men arise therefrom more harm than good, the matter is in this respect left to the judgment of the bishop or inquisitor, who may with the advice of the pastor or confessor permit the reading of the Sacred Books translated into the vernacular by Catholic authors to those who they know will derive from such reading no harm but rather an increase of faith and piety, which permission they must have in writing. Those, however, who presume to read or possess them without such permission may not receive absolution from their sins till they have handed over to the ordinary. Bookdealers who sell or in any way supply Bibles written in the vernacular to anyone who has not this permission, shall lose the price of the books, which is to be applied by the bishop to pious purposes, and in keeping with the nature of the crime they shall be subject to other penalties which are left to the judgment of the same bishop. Regulars who have not the permission of their superiors may not read or purchase them. H. J. Schroeder, Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent: Original Text with English Translation (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1955), p. 274-75.

Rome claims to be always the same (semper eadem) so I wonder why this particular canonical rule is disregarded by Roman Catholics today. Unless of course Rome subscribes to a theory of Abrogation, where later "developments" overrule and abrogate earlier ones. Of course, if they hold to such a theory, then they have no right to claim apostolic authority for any of their doctrines since the doctrines can always"develop" into its antithesis.

So at Trent we were considered heretics going to hell, at Vatican II we are now "separate brethren" which presumably since we are called brethren means we are going to heaven. Truly the Pope has the power to change the eternal fates of men, merely with the stroke of his pen.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Sabbath (Part 1)

[continued from here]

The topic of the Sabbath is not an easy one. While the other 9 commandments can be easily discerned to be moral laws, the idea of setting aside one day out of seven and consecrate it unto God seems more like a Christian duty at best, with nothing inherently moral in it. After all, it is just a duration of one day/ 24 hours/1440 minutes, and what makes one day more special than others?

We have two ends of the spectrum regarding the Sabbath. The strict Sabbatarians are those who insist on keeping the Sabbath to the letter if possible, banning all kinds of activities to be done on the Sabbath. Seventh-day Sabbatarians especially are adamant that Saturday is the original Sabbath and that nobody has the right to change the Sabbath day as it is instituted by God, with the Seven Day Adventists as seen in the person of Walter Veith making outrageous claims that the changing of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday is the sign of the beast. On the other hand we have New Covenant Theology (NCT) with its denial of the continuity of the Law of Moses. Instead, only those commandments which are repeated in the New Testament are to be embraced by Christians. According to them, the 9 commandments are repeated throughout the New Testament but the command to keep the Sabbath is not, therefore keeping the Sabbath is not a command for Christians nowadays[1].

In this series, I would like to go through some of the major mentions of the Sabbath, and establish a working theology of the Sabbath through looking at the development of the Sabbath motif through the whole of Scripture.

The Sabbath before Moses?

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Gen. 2:2-3)

A surface reading of the Scriptures seems to indicate that the idea of the Sabbath originates with Moses with the giving of the 10 commandments at Mount Sinai. Yet certain inconsistencies creep up upon further study. The case of Ex. 16 is one such example which we shall cover later. However, even before that, we can see a possible allusion to the Sabbath in the Genesis creation account.

In the Creation account, God made the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. Gen. 2:2-3 concludes the chronological creation account with God resting on that day. Not only did God rest on the first 7th day, He also made that day holy, thus elevating that one day as being especially holy and set apart for him.

We must however temper our observation with the fact that nowhere in this passage is the word "Sabbath" used. The fact that God chose the 7th day and made it holy is certainly significant, but by itself it does not say that such is a pattern for us to follow. What we have here is a possible allusion to the Sabbath which must await further revelation to make clear.

With regards to the Sabbath practice, this possible allusion to the Sabbath makes it plain that the 7th day, being made holy by God, was set apart for God (the definition of holy). If indeed this is the first creation Sabbath, then the Sabbath motif refers primarily to the setting aside of a day for the Lord. Being a creation ordinance, it must be universal to all of mankind, but I digress.

Exodus 16 — the Sabbath before Sinai

On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’” So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.”

On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day. (Ex. 16: 22-30)

The book of Exodus belongs to the genre of historical narrative. As opposed to Deuteronomy which is essentially the last words of Moses to the Israelites before his death, Exodus narrates the events approximately as they occur chronologically. The 10 plagues happened before the parting of the red sea for example.

In like manner, the events in Ex. 16 happened before the giving of the 10 commandments at Mount Sinai as narrated in Ex. 20. Ex. 16 also happened to be the first time the Sabbath was mentioned explicitly in Scripture, and it is to this episode that we now look.

In this episode in Ex. 16, God graciously gave to Israel food to satisfy their hunger. The Israelites have walked out of Egypt and have crossed the Red Sea. In the desert with no civilization in sight, the Israelites soon ran out of food and became hungry. In response to their grumbling, God provided them food in the form of manna in the morning daily 6 days per week. On the 6th day, Moses informed the Israelites to collect twice as much manna as there would be no provision of manna on the 7th day. Instead, the 7th day was a Sabbath unto the Lord and the Israelites are to rest on that day, ceasing from all their labor on that day — neither collecting, preparing or cooking their food.

The fact that the Sabbath was mentioned early on before the giving of the 10 commandments is a problem for New Covenant Theology. Unless Dispensationalism is to be embraced, or the Mosaic covenant is read retrospectively into Ex. 16, it is a mystery why the Sabbath is mentioned and commanded to be observed in Ex. 16 before the giving of the Law, as the Sabbath seems to be not totally identified with the Mosaic Covenant. The Sabbath therefore in the OT seems to have some form of independence from the Mosaic Covenant, although of course there is significant overlap between the two in the later parts of the Pentateuch and the Old Testament.

With that stated, we move on to the next event, the giving of the law itself.

[to be continued]


References:

[1] For more on New Covenant Theology, see Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel, New Covenant Theology (Frederick, MD, USA: New Covenant Media, 2002), John G. Resinger, Tablets of Stone and the History of Redemption (Frederick, MD, USA: New Covenant Media, 2004), and Resinger, Abraham's Four Seeds (Frederick, MD, USA: New Covenant Media, 1998).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Barth denies the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone

... in 1935 Karl Barth published a little book entitled Gospel and Law. In reversing the usual Protestant order of law and gospel Barth was indicating by the title itself his dissent from ordinary Protestant ways of thinking and speaking. Hans Küng helps us to see Barth's conflict with the Reformation clearly in his book on Barth and justification. Küng wrote, "It is to be presupposed that the justified man is truly just — inwardly in his heart. At this point Barth does side with Trent against the Reformation... Justification is not merely an externally pasted-on 'as if'. Man is not only called just but is just."1 In the preface to Küng's book Barth acknowledge that Küng has presented Barth's position accurately and states that if Küng accurately has presented the Roman Catholic view, then they are agreed.

— W. Robert Godfrey, Westminster, Justification, and the Reformed Confessions. In David VanDrunen (ed.), The Pattern of Sound Doctrine: Systematic Theology at the Westminster Seminaries. Essays in honor of Robert B. Strimple (Phillipsburg, NJ, USA: P&R publishing, 2004), 132

[1] Hans Küng, Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection (New York: Westminster, 1964), 236

If indeed the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls (articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae), then Barth's doctrine of justification puts himself outside the pale of orthodox Christianity, nevermind the Reformed tradition.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The fallible nature of the supposed objective peer-reviewed scientific process

Over at his blog Bylogos some time back, Dr. John Byl (PhD Astronomy) has written an interesting post regarding whether we can trust publish scientific data. As written:

...

This naturally raises the question: How wide-spread is bias and fraud in science?

David Shatz, in his 2004 book Peer Review: A Critical Inquiry concludes that reviewers are “biased toward papers that affirm their prior convictions…are biased against innovation and/or are poor judges of quality.” Reviewers also seem biased in favor of authors from prestigious institutions. Shatz describes a study in which “papers that had been published in journals by authors from prestigious institutions were retyped and resubmitted with a non-prestigious affiliation indicated for the author. Not only did referees mostly fail to recognize these previously published papers in their field, they recommended rejection.” In 2003 the British Royal Society studied the effects of peer review. The chairman of the investigating committee reported that peer review has been criticized for being used by the scientific establishment “to prevent unorthodox ideas, methods, and views, regardless of their merit, from being made public.”

Epidemiologist John Ioannidis, in a paper (2005) entitled Why most published research findings are false finds that a randomly chosen scientific paper has less than a 50% chance of being true. Small sample sizes, poor study design, researcher bias, and selective reporting and other problems combine to make most research findings false. But even large, well-designed studies are not always right. Many papers may be accurate measures only of the prevailing bias among scientists.

Bias is difficult to avoid. It may be quite unintentional. Consider the case of astronomer Walter Adams. In 1925 he tested Einstein's theory of relativity by measuring the red shift of the binary companion of Sirius, brightest star in the sky. Einstein's theory predicted a red shift of six parts in a hundred thousand; Adams found just such an effect. A triumph for relativity. However, in 1971, with updated estimates of the mass and radius of Sirius, it was found that the predicted red shift should have been much larger--28 parts in a hundred thousand. Later observations of the red shift did indeed measure this amount, showing that Adams' observations were flawed. He "saw" what he had expected to see.

In short, our theoretical expectations can influence what we see. We tend to give undue weight to those observations that agree with our expectations and ignore or discard those that don't. Observational confirmation may sometimes be little more than wishful thinking.

...

Having worked in the research industry for 3 years, albeit not at the doctoral level, I have witnessed the competition and pressure for results. The maxim "Publish or Perish" holds true, and there is intense pressure to produce results, with some resorting to forging results and spinning the data. It wasn't that long ago that a Korean scientist claimed to have cloned humans (a claim that turned out to be false) after all.

During my honors year in university, one of the things each of us students were to do in one of our modules was to choose a journal paper and discuss it, and we were graded on our presentation and discussion of the paper. I distinctively remembered one particular journal (which I shall not name) received the most criticism of its papers for either having unclear results, for omitting negative and/or positive controls, for showing possible signs of photoshopping (to "enhance results" etc), or for coming up with conclusions that are not clearly supported by the research data. The journal was obviously not one of the top tier high impact factor journals like Nature or Science, but neither was it a junk low impact factor journal

Scientists are thus not necessarily unbiased seekers of truth. Most are not out to willingly deceive the public for sure, but the pressure of the industry and the lure of fame and the fear of losing their jobs does impact the quality of research findings. While theoretically science can validate and verify itself because research findings are supposed to be reproducible, most research findings are just not verified for a very simple reason: no money and no time. Most scientists are busy with their own projects, and the last thing they want to do is to spend limited time and even more limited resources duplicating another scientist's research (and research cost a LOT of money). When a paper is published, the research is taken as truth. It is only when someone uses the research findings as a basis for further research and found that their experiments do not work that possible investigation would take place (or the researcher can just choose another project to work on which promises better results)

All of these just mean that we should be skeptical of scientific truth claims especially when pronounced dogmatically. As Byl says:

In sum, there is cause for some skepticism regarding the reliability of published scientific data . Data might well be distorted, fabricated or suppressed. Papers critical of the dominant paradigm might well be prevented from being published in mainline scientific journals. This is hardly surprizing [sic]. After all, scientists are only human — fallen and fallible. They, too, are driven by various extra-scientific motivations, whether ideology, wealth or fame. It is thus important to double-check whether what was reported to have been observed is in fact accurate and complete.

Of course, we haven't gotten to the issue of interpretation of research data, which is another minefield altogether for those who put their trust in Science (capital 'S').

[HT: Phil Johnson]

P.S.: I am cautioning skepticism regarding dogmatic scientific truth claims, NOT agnosticism about all of science.

Carl Trueman on why polemics is necessary

Over at the Reformation21 blog, Carl Trueman has posted an excellent piece here on the necessity of polemics and defending the faith. It has become clear to me through this piece that the same attitude that decries polemics is actually the same postmodern attitude that permeates the culture we live in. As it states:

The criticism of polemics often comes from those who enjoy the space that polemics have carved out for them and the safety that polemics provides them. Such critics are like those who use their right to freedom of speech to decry the use of armed force by police and army, not realising that the very right they enjoy in this regard is positively connected to what they are attacking. Don't tell the world that the Trinity or justification by faith are important doctrines and then lament the existence of polemics; you can only have a coalition based on the gospel because every element of that gospel has been first hammered out in the furnace of controversy and then defended in the same way. ...

... Anti-polemic polemicists should reflect as much about how the events of the present -- not least their development of the next generation of leaders -- will impact the church for good or for ill -- as they do on the allegedly over-polemical attitude of some. Polemics in one generation are often as much, if not more, the fault of the lack of discernment or moral leadership in the previous generation as they are of any innately combative personalities in the present.

In the world, we can see this attitude at work in the world in various ways. Many people oppose war no matter what but without the threat of armed conflict, wicked men would come and conquer nations, pillage, rape and oppress their peoples. In the same way in the Environmentalist movement, industry is demonized but without industry of some sort, none of the environmentalists would be using and enjoying any of the modern goods and conveniences.

This postmodern zeitgeist has similarly permeated the churches in their deploring of polemics. The New Evangelicals (both the original and the new calvinist evangelicals) deplore the fact of polemics. Yet without such polemics, there is no evangel and definitely no Evangelicalism to begin with. The blanket attack on ODMers as seen for example in Tim Challies is one such anti-polemic polemic. Such people and movement should be seen for what they are: parasites. They fail to contend for the faith (Jude 4) when necessary, allowing compromise and apostasy to increase. When the issue has become too large and somebody decides to obey Jude 4, they attack the people who are doing what they should have done in the first place. In a nutshell, the fact that ODMers exist is the fault and failure of the (New) Evangelical churches who were negligent in their duties in the first place.

Let's move to an example in Singapore. The issue of Joseph Prince would be less of an issue if most churches were to openly reject Prince and his message as heresy, and teach their members the truths of the Gospel over and against Antinomianism. If majority of the churches do their job of contending for the faith, Prince would not be regarded as an evangelical at all and his message will not metastasized within the churches like a cancer. With the failure of the evangelical churches to do their job, those who decide to defend the Gospel against the likes of Prince now face demonization while people in the churches fall away from the faith. The pastors of the evangelical churches for this reason will be found negligent in their duties of protecting their flock and allowing the wolves to come in to devour them.

The same goes for any heresies, be it Neo-Orthodoxy, Liberalism, Word-faith, Dominionism, New Apostolicism or anything else. Pastors and elders who think that their job only extends to positively teaching and preaching truth, visiting and counseling members, officiating at weddings and funerals and a whole host of other things which are not found to be within their job scopes in the Bible, will be held accountable on the last day for having blood on their hands (cf Acts 20: 26-31). But you say, such would be very hard on pastors/elders and would tax their already busy lives and ministries. Well, isn't that why we are called to respect and honor our leaders (Heb. 13:17) and the elders as being deserving of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17), especially those who labor in preaching and teaching? Scripture does not tell us to honor them just because they have the status of elders but because they labor hard for our growth and edification. Being a pastor/elder is NOT a bed of roses and should not be one. Why is it that deacons are necessary to settle the daily administration of the church? Is it so that the pastors/elders can enjoy life while doing little physical work just like the CEOs of large companies? No, but rather it is because to truly be a shepherd is so time-consuming and tiring that faithful pastors/elders have no time and energy to be involved in the other physical and financial aspects of ministry.

May God raise up a generation of leaders who do not partake of the spirit of this world and reject the philosophy of New Evangelicalism in all its forms. Amen.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Faith: Heb. 11

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. ... And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect (Heb. 11:1-3, 39-40)

Hebrews 11 is a classic passage on faith. From a practical definition of faith in verse 1, the hall of faith gives us living examples of what faith works in the lives of saints throughout the Old Testament. Each of these examples (i.e. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham etc) can be shown to have exercised faith in God, trusting and hoping in him.

In the cell group bible studies, we have gone through Heb. 11 in order to learn more about faith. After going through the various examples given for us, at the last part I have decided to place the beginning and the end of Heb. 11 together, so that we can indeed see in a more summarized form the manner of how faith should work in our lives.

We can see that faith has as its orientation the future. The things that are yet unseen will one day be manifest in reality. Faith looks forward to the future when God will fulfil his promises made beforehand to us. In the economy of the Covenant of Grace, God has made promises to his people, and God who is always faithful (2 Tim. 2:13) will fulfil them.

In Heb. 11, a key point of the narratives is that the saints trusted in God for what He has promised them. They looked forward to the fulfilment of what God has promised them. Abraham for example was looking forward to the eternal heavenly city "whose builder and designer is God" (Heb. 11:10), the promise God made to him which was shown in the type of the promised land Canaan. Many of these saints died without receiving what was promised in their lifetimes, a reality starkly portrayed in verses 35b to 38. Yet their faith was commended despite them not having received what was promised to them.

The essence of the practical outworking of faith is this hope in the promises of God, knowing that they would be fulfilled in the end. Such hope should transcend the grave, for God did not promise that his promises would be necessarily fulfilled in our life times. In this life we can expect persecution and suffering (2 Tim. 3:12) but our faith looks forward to the end of days whereby all would be made right and our faith in God will be vindicated.

Faith is thus receiving and with full confidence trusting in the promises of God, with this attitude transforming how we live our lives in light of eternity. It is not a vacuous hope against all hope or any existential "blind faith", but it is substantive (ύποστασις , cf Heb. 11:1) because its basis is on the solid rock of God's faithfulness which is always sure. Our spiritual eyes see the spiritual reality of God's Word and His promises as being more certain than even our physical reality, and on that basis we "see" eternal reality and order our lives accordingly.

I would close off with this quote from Michael Horton's book The Gospel-Driven Life (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Baker Books, 2009) on p. 134 which deals with this aspect of God's promises.

... “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, ’Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great’ ” (Gen. 15:1). Abram and Sarai had been called out of the barrenness of moon worship in the city of Ur by God’s powerful word which created faith in the promise (12:1). There is the reward of the land of Canaan, but ultimately the whole earth (“father of many nations”), of which the land of Canaan will serve as a type. The New Testament even tells us that Abraham himself was looking through the earthly promise to its heavenly reality (Heb. 11:10, 13-16). The earthly land of promise would be a small-scale copy of what God would one day bring to the whole earth from heaven forever.

The message that God delivers is sheer promise. This covenant is not like the one with Adam or, later at Sinai, with Israel, which was conditioned on their personal fulfillment of the law. It was a gift to be received, not a task to be undertaken. God simply declares, “I am your shield. Your reward shall be very great.” …

...

Faith does not create; it receives. It does not make the invisible visible or the future present or hope reality. It receives that which is already given. Grace precedes faith. It is not finally accepting the goodness toward me in spite of the way things really are with me and with the world.

Further, this passage tells us that Abram believers God and was then and there declared righteous. Abram is not exactly the perfect picture of moral integrity. He routinely argues with God, questions God’s promise, and in his own effort to secure his own future, has a child by his servant Hagar even though God had declared that the promise would come through Sarai. Trying to save his own neck, at one point Abram even lies to a king, telling him that Sarai is his sister rather than his wife! This is hardly the moral character we would hold up to our children for imitation. Yet God preaches the gospel – the utterly one-sided Good News of what he has done and will do – and Abram suddenly finds himself believing.

Trusting God’s promise, Abram is “justified” then and there. The Hebrew word for justification (chashav) is right out of the legal terminology of the courtroom. If the accuse is “righteous” (i.e., in the right before the law), then he or she is acquitted – more than that, actually judged to be a fulfiller of all righteousness and therefore the rightful heir of his kingdom. It is clear enough from the story (before and after this event) that Abram is not personally righteous, yet he is declared righteous.

This doctrine of justification is at the core of the divine-human paradox: How can I have the assurance that I am accepted before God as righteous when I continue in sin How can I trust God for ultimate relief when, right now, my life is full of hopelessness? It all seems like pie in the sky. I see my life. I know my circumstances and the possibilities for my future. Nevertheless, by pronouncing Abraham just, Abraham is just. The promise makes it so, and it is received through faith. If we can get this right in our understanding of justification – our standing before God – it will radically alter every other aspect of life. So decisive is this event in the patriarch’s life that he is literally renamed. No longer Abram (“father”), he is now Abraham (“father of many”) and Sarai is Sarah – even while Sarah herself is still barren. We already begin to see that the promise itself – the word spoken by God as “Good News” or “gospel” – gets the ball rolling and keeps it rolling. It not only speaks of a new world, but already creates it.

May we indeed learn to live by the spiritual "eyes" of faith and live in light of God's promises. Amen.

Rick Warren's recent challenge (revised)

Rick Warren recently tweeted:

I challenge any church in America to match the spiritual maturity, godliness & commitment of any 500 members of Saddleback

Besides the sheer arrogance of it all, one thing which struck out the most was the utter man-centeredness of this tweet. The best of Christians are always struggling with sin, and they come to realize how far they fall short as they grow in godliness. Warren's tweet seeks to compare the supposed "maturity" of his members with others. When one compares with other men, one can always look good. After all, "I am not as bad as this or that guy". But when we compare ourselves to the objective standard of Christ and his holiness, things start to look different. The holy prophet Isaiah was undone before the most holy presence of God (Is. 6), and I'm sure none of Warren's flock or even Warren himself can compare to that holy prophet.

Warren's tweet continues to reveal how man-centered he is indeed. After all, this is the type of fruit we should sadly expect from a man-centered "gospel" (Mt. 7:15-20).

P.S: Rick Warren it seems has taken his tweet down. Here is a snapshot of the tweet as linked from Facebook:

PPS: Rick Warren's latest tweet states:

I delete tweets when people misjudge motive. It's a waste of time to blog a full explanation to those who want to argue

So yes, that was Rick Warren and not a hacker who tweeted that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sabbatarianism: Few if any actually observe the Sabbath to the letter

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex. 20: 8-11)

Readers of my blog would have known that I oppose strict Sabbatarianism, although I am a sabbatarian of kinds in the sense of recognizing that the Sabbath is to be observed as being part of the moral law.

Recently, I have been conversing via email with a guy regarding this issue of the Sabbath. It is in this light that I would like to offer up a more comprehensive post on this topic. Before I look at the issue of the Sabbath from a more holistic perspective, I would like for us to see what it is like to insist on strict Sabbatarianism.

Strict Sabbatarianism, according to the letter

The idea of Sabbatarianism is to set aside one day out of seven unto the Lord. Seventh-Day sabbatarians insist on keeping the original seventh day, Saturday, as the Sabbath. Strict sabbatarians of all stripes insist that not only must one day out of seven be set aside for the Lord, we are to focus the entire day on either reading the Bible, worshipping God, serving in the church, and nothing else besides. Furthermore, we are to cook/prepare our own meals instead of eating out since we are not to support the violation of the Sabbath by others who work on that day.

Yet it is my opinion that most strict Sabbatarians are not truly keeping the Sabbath according to the letter as they seem to be insisting, which I will show as follows.

On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’” So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.”

On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. (Ex. 16: 22-27)

In this passage, we can see that God provided manna for Israel for six days. On the sixth day, they are to collect twice as much food and prepare part of it for consumption over the Sabbath as there was none to be collected on the Sabbath.

It is to be noted that some of the people who clearly did not obey Moses' commands did not take what is sufficient for their manna consumption for the Sabbath, and went out on the Sabbath expecting the manna to be present as it had been for the previous 6 days. As we can expect, they did not find any manna at all, and would therefore go back hungry.

Sabbatarianism in Old Testament times therefore means that one must prepare his food for the Sabbath ready for consumption before the Sabbath, otherwise one goes hungry. Furthermore, the food is to be prepared already for eating, not prepared on the Sabbath itself. This rules out all forms of cooking (cf Ex. 35:3), which contextualized in our present times means no microwaving and/or usage of an electric hot plate.

So, a question for all strict sabbatarians to consider:

1) Do you prepare your food before the sabbath, and eat it as it is on the Sabbath without any form of heating up/cooking? If not, then aren't you breaking the Sabbath?

In Ex. 35:3 which has been referenced before, the Israelites are told not to kindle any fire "in their dwelling places". Now, fire was the only way to produce light and heat during those times. Contextualized for our times, this means we are not to have any heating/cooling and lighting (besides natural lighting from the sun).

So here is another question for the strict Sabbatarians:

2) Do you switch on the heater/air-con on the Sabbath? Do you light a fireplace on the Sabbath? Do you use any form of non-natural lighting on the Sabbath? If so, why can't it be considered that you are violating the Sabbath?

In Num. 15:32-36, a sabbath breaker was executed because he did not rest on the Sabbath but instead worked outside in the form of gathering sticks. The sticks were likely to be used for firewood and therefore an essential resource for life then.

Contextualized for our time, this translates to the fact that we are to buy and get whatever items we need for the Sabbath before the Sabbath, having six days to do our purchasing and borrowing anyway. Any form of purchasing or even borrowing from others on the Sabbath is to be strictly prohibited. For example, it is imperative to ensure that the car has enough fuel such that a trip to the petrol kiosk is not needed. Oh, actually, it may not be possible to drive a car, because the car requires ignition and burning of petrol which translated to a fire being kindled anytime an engine is started and run. Maybe we should use a horse?

Therefore,

3) Do you purchase or borrow anything (short of a life-threatening emergency where medicine is needed to be purchased) on the Sabbath? Do you drive a car on the Sabbath? If so, why aren't you considered to have broken the Sabbath?

Since we are not to make others break the Sabbath or encouraged them to, we should not take any form of public transport either, since they all require kindling of fire of some kind, with the possible exception of the electric car (which was charged by yesterday's electricity). Therefore, I guess strict sabbatarians should not take any public transport at all!

With these three questions based upon the principles in the Torah, I would guess that few if any actually follow these guidelines to the letter. This goes to show that the strict sabbatarians are inconsistent in their sabbatarianism, deciding which aspect of the OT law to be made moral and which ceremonial in a most arbitrary manner and imposing the rules they come up with as being THE proper way of keeping the Sabbath.

It must be noted that all three passages that I have quoted from deals with the seventh-day Sabbath proper, not any of the ceremonial Sabbaths like the Sabbath year in Lev. 25:1-7. The questions raised therefore cannot be resolved by a surface level appeal to the distinction between the moral law and the ceremonial law, as if Moses wrote that distinction down in the Torah (the distinction is made through reading the Torah in light of the NT, not by reading the Torah by itself).

Yes, it can be said that this is a ridiculous straining after gnats, and it is. But these are the sort of things that strict sabbatarianism must deal with. Since they refuse to look at the Sabbath motif in the light of Scripture and insist on strict rules of what is and is not allowed to be done on the Sabbath, they must contend with such seemingly trivial questions. We haven't even looked at the issue of deciding the time and duration of the Sabbath. As I have asked, what happened if an airplane for example crossed the International Dateline (a totally arbitrarily decided line) from US to Australia at 12 midnight Friday (for a seventh-day sabbatarian) or Saturday (for a first-day sabbatarian). Assuming the case for a first-day sabbatarian, 1 minute before that was 11:59pm Saturday night, and 1 minute after that was 12:01am Monday morning, which therefore translates to a Sabbath effectively lasting 1 second or less! Does this therefore mean that the person on board does not have to observe the Sabbath for that week?

It can be clearly seen that strict sabbatarianism is totally impractical, and is not even consistently practiced by the strict sabbatarians themselves. Strict sabbatarianism of any kind is impractical and, as we will see later, unbiblical. The rules in the Torah are meant to convey deeper concepts regarding the keeping of the Sabbath, instead of being kept literally as it is.

In the next post (of this short series), we will look at the Sabbath motif and what Scripture teaches regarding it.

[to be continued]

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A Gospel presentation

Over at The Crumbs Which Fall, Mark Farnon has placed an excellent presentation of the Gospel here.

Many Christians say that one of the clearest passages of the Gospel, which is perhaps the most well known verse in the whole Bible is found in the Gospel of John.

It is found in a conversation between Jesus and a Jewish religious teacher named Nicodemus. A deep conversation under the cover of night. The well known passage is none other than John 3:16.

It is particularly used as a proclamation for the Universal love of God towards every individual person who has ever lived. It is the great statement that conveys the assertion that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world.

It is the great text to declare to the entire world, that God loves everyone without distinction and that everyone should know that God loves him or her. It is the motivating force to preach and teach the Gospel to this world in need of God.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the foundation of this Scripture passage. The Gospel being the great love that God has for everyone, and the proof of that love being that He sent His Son into the world to die on the cross for everyones sins.

As this is the central message of Christianity and is the Gospel. We are to go forward and plead with the world to accept this love of God offered for them.

They are told to believe in this Gospel truth and accept Jesus into their hearts and lives, with the promise of living forever in Heaven and the promise of a new and better life here upon the earth.

Now all of this is the normative message of Christianity as it is generally taught and proclaimed today.

What would your reaction be if someone said to you that in actual fact, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not actually in John 3:16, but clearly in John 3:14.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

... I will argue that John 3:16 is actually a proclamation of the sufficiency of Christ and a promise of eternal security for believers, but the actual Gospel or good news of that proclamation is related in John 3:14.

[more]

Indeed the Gospel is not found in John 3:16 but rather John 3:14. Without a proper presentation of the atonement, there is no Gospel presentation at all. All the cliches of "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" means nothing unless the reality of sin, judgment and atonement is made known.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Climategate

In Nov 2009, data was leaked from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, UK. The scandal, in which seriously unprofessional behavior from supposed unbiased scientists was exposed and possible data manipulation was seen in their work, came to be known as Climategate.

Coming on the heels of this scandal is the book named Climategate, by former veteran meteorologist Brian Sussman. It purports to expose the junk science behind the entire Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) movement and the Marxist root of the radical environmentalist movement that is hijacking science for their own ends. I have reviewed this book here on my website, as follows:

Climategate is the book written by Brian Sussman, a veteran meteorologist turned radio talk show host. In this book, Sussman utilized his professional skills and training and researched the facts behind the Global Warming fad, and found it rather to be a farce. Instead, the idea of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) was a mask for socialists/marxists to impose their socialism upon the world under the guise of "saving the planet", knowing that most of the populace are not critical thinkers and will accept whatever any group of scientists tell them as truth to be really true — hook, line and sinker.

...

With the stakes being so high, it is all the more important that Christians know exactly what is going on, instead of parroting the official line of the "experts". Climategate is thus a good source of information on this issue. This is especially so given the near media blackout on any opposing viewpoint, with the silence on the subject being deafening. Even the Climategate scandal was covered up as much as possible, with little news about it reported in the Singapore newspapers when it happened for example.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Peter Lumpkins and his infantile "humor"

Peter Lumpkins, a supposed 'mature' Christian Southern Baptist "minister", has proved to everyone how infantile he is with his vicious and deliberate caricature attacking Dr. James White and the Doctrines of Grace. It is extremely regrettable he is not in one of the P&R (Presbyterian and Reformed) denominations, otherwise I am sure charges will be filed against him and he will be subject to church discipline.

Following on from his attack on Dr. White and Reformed theology in the mis-named John 3: 16 conference (which has nothing to do with John 3:16 and everything to do with the Arminian distortion of the true meaning of the text), and then the Ergun Caner fiasco, Lumpkins has decided to continue his personal vendetta attacking Dr. James White and attacking the Doctrines of Grace. 2 years of vitriol — only one group of people can compete with that — the AODMers. I don't know if Lumpkins will be pleased to know the company he seems to be keeping.

Following on from this, while Arminianism in its evangelical form is not heretical, yet Classical Arminianism is. It is even doubtful if Lumpkins is as orthodox as James Arminius. Regardless, his hatred of the doctrines of grace cast doubt on whether he has even received saving grace in the first place, for how can a true son of God knowingly and continually spits upon the grace that saves him?

The Canons of Dordt has this wise saying against such people who behave just like the Remonstrants of that time:

Moreover, the Synod earnestly warns the false accusers themselves to consider how heavy a judgment of God awaits those who give false testimony against so many churches and their confessions, trouble the consciences of the weak, and seek to prejudice the minds of many against the fellowship of true believers. (from Conclusion)

Consider the wrath and mercy of God, Mr. Lumpkins! Consider before you continue on this path you have chosen.