Sunday, March 1, 2015

Christian PDAs

Christian PDAs

Gospel: Matthew 6:1-18 (KJV)

1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

I had been over the weekend in Houston, was tired, and my eyes were heavy as soon as I took my seat on the airplane. However, a couple - an older man and a younger woman - took seats a couple of rows ahead. I kept fighting to keep my eyes open because the couple were so interesting. They were in lust, and maybe drunk, and pretty soon their physical involvement became both inappropriate and embarrassing. The stewardess came several times to ask them to stop but to no avail. It was so bad that they were detained on the plane when we landed.

What do you think about PDAs - public displays of affection? They can be natural and sincere, even if inappropriate. But other times you get the impression that at least part of what the couple want is for people to notice what they are doing.

Jesus challenges us about our public displays of spirituality. Do we do what we do for God or to impress others?

1. The Principle

The saying in verse one gives us the principle which guides the rest of what Jesus says in these 18 verses. In our King James version it reads, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.” However, all modern translations say, “Beware of doing your acts of righteousness before other people.” The exact wording varies but in all of them Jesus talks about “righteousness” not “almsgiving.” The reason for this change is that best manuscripts have the Greek word for righteousness in verse one.

The word “righteousness” means “right-ness.” The nature of God is righteous, and all of God’s acts are righteous. We also can have righteousness. Often the word refers to our “justification” or our righteous standing before God. This righteousness is not found in us, but in Christ. It is not anything we are or anything we do. When we put our faith in Christ, God declares us righteous, counting Christ’s righteousness as ours.

But there are other aspects of righteousness for believers. We do righteous deeds that flow from faith in Christ. We do righteous deeds when we act out of love for God and our neighbor, when we obey the Ten Commandments, when we do good works.

But here Jesus is talking about a particular kind of righteous deeds - righteous acts that involve our devotion to God that are done in public and private acts of worship. Then he goes on to give us a warning about three in particular - almsgiving in verses 2 - 4, praying in verses 3 - 15, and fasting in verses 16 - 18.

He tells us to take heed or be careful when we do these things because there is a danger. We can do these things “before men, to be seen of them.”

Why do we do the things we do? Do we do them for God? Or do we do them to be seen by others who will take note of what we do and praise us for it? When we do these things, are we un-self-conscious or are we spectators watching ourselves and hoping others will, too? Jesus tells us to be careful about our motives.

He also warns us of the consequence of doing these righteous acts to be seen and congratulated by others. If we do that, their recognition will be our reward. We will forfeit the approval and reward of our Father in heaven. If we seek and get the praise from others, we will not have praise from the Father in heaven for whom we claim we are doing these acts of righteousness.

2. The Practices

Jesus applies the principle of doing acts of righteousness, not to be noticed by other people but for God, to three practices.

a. Almsgiving

For the Jews almsgiving was a very important religious duty. Alms were given to help the poor, and helping the poor was part an expression of their religious devotion. Giving for us too, as Christians, is an act of worship which is why we include giving in the liturgy. Part of our regular giving is almsgiving, for the gifts are used to help when needs arise within the congregation. We also encourage specific almsgiving above regular giving to support various needs. Right now we have our mite boxes which we can fill with change and cash or checks so that we as Anglicans can help those who live in developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Jesus points out a practice of some Jews when they were taking their alms to the synagogue. They would hire a band to go ahead of them so that people would notice them and say, “There goes brother Jacob taking his alms to the synagogue. What a good man he is! Thank you, brother Jacob for your generosity! ” We don’t know if Jesus described a real practice of having trumpets accompany them to the synagogue or whether he was using hyperbole to point out how important it was to these givers to be noticed.

What Jesus is clear about is that such givers are hypocrites. The word “hypocrite” comes from the world of Greek theater. It means “actor,” a person who assumes a character and plays a role. Greek actors often wore masks to cover their faces. They were one thing according to the mask, another behind the mask. Those Jews who called attention to their almsgiving were playing a role, wanting others to notice and applaud, while their hearts were not generous. They got the reward they wanted - recognition and praise from others - but they did not please God.

Jesus says to us, his disciples, “When you give, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” If you put your offering in the plate with your right hand, make sure your left hand doesn’t see what your right hand does. That is not literally possible, but Jesus’ point is, “Don’t dwell on your giving. Don’t go over it in your mind. Be as unconscious of what you are doing as possible. Forget about it as soon as possible.” Otherwise you might start congratulating yourself. And when you do that, you are no longer giving for the sake of God and others. “Do your giving in secret.” If you’re really doing it for God, you don’t need anyone else to know what you are doing. God sees what you do in secret; he knows when you give and how much. At the right time he will acknowledge and reward the giving you do because you love him and others.

b. Praying

Next Jesus turns to prayer, which for us, as it was for the Jews, is essential for our worship and our whole relationship with God. In prayer we adore and thank God, confess our sins, and ask for God to bless us and others.

Jesus’s warnings about prayer focus on both the hypocrites and the pagans.

Hypocritical Jews love to pray standing on the street corners and in the synagogues. They want to be noticed. They are seeking the attention of other people. They want others to say, “Look there at brother Joshua. He is such a godly man. He must love God very much. Look at him praying.” Again those who pray in order to impress and get praise have their reward immediately in the recognition they get.

Jesus tells us to go into our closets, shut the doors, and to pray to the Father who is in secret. His hearing of us is not based on other’s hearing us. Jesus went off by himself without his disciples to pray to his Father. At the moment of greatest crisis, as he wrestled with the will of God in the Garden of Gethsemane, he left even those closest to him, Peter, James, and John, and opened his heart to his Father in private. If we are really praying to God, we don’t need others to know that we are praying.

It’s clear that Jesus is not telling us not ever to pray in public as we do in worship. Even the Lord’s Prayer assumes we will pray in the presence of others, for we use the plural pronoun “our.” What Jesus is warning us against is wanting others to notice and honor us for our prayers - the words we say and the fervency with which we offer them. We should pray, as we should give, as unselfconsciously as possible, praying to God not for man to notice.

Pagans pray to get God’s attention. They think that they will get God’s attention by repetition of his name and multiplication of words. When Elijah met the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel to find out whether the LORD or Baal was God, the pagan prophets called out, “O Baal, answer us!” from morning till noon. But, there was no response, so when noon passed they started cutting themselves and loudly crying to Baal, and continued on well into the afternoon.

Jesus, says, “God does not hear you because you keep repeating his name or because you pile up many words. Just address him as Father and say what you have to say.” Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer as a prayer to be prayed and as a model to teach us about prayer. We address God, “Our Father” and then there six concise and clear requests - three about God, that his name may be hallowed, his kingdom may come, and his will be done; and then three about us, that our daily needs may be met, that our sins may be forgiven, and that we may be either kept from temptation or protected against evil in temptation. 

c. Fasting

The third religious practice Jesus calls our attention to is fasting. Fasting is abstaining from food. Fasts can be partial or total, for a brief time or a more extended time. In the Old Testament there was only one prescribed day of fasting, the Day of Atonement. However, that did not mean that individuals could not fast at other times or that the nation could not be called to fast to repent and seek God’s favor.

There is no record of Jesus having fasted, though we can assume he did on the Day of Atonement. Nor is there any record of his disciples fasting. He was asked on one occasion why John the Baptist’s disciples fasted and his did not, and Jesus said, “It’s not appropriate to fast while the bridegroom is still present.” On the other hand, the Pharisee who went to the temple to pray told God, “I fast twice a week.” There does not seem to be an emphasis on fasting in the life of the New Testament churches. But the fact that Jesus says, “When you fast,” makes clear that he expects there to be times when his disciples will fast.

His concern is with how we go about fasting when we do. Again he warns us not to be like the hypocrites. Their concern, as with almsgiving and prayer, is the people will notice what they are doing. When they fasted, they changed their daily routines. They did not wash their faces or put oil their heads. We might say that they did not shower and shave, or they did not brush their hair and put on make-up. Rather they looked gloomy and did things like pour ashes over their heads. They put on a special fasting look so that people would look at them and know they were fasting. They wanted people to say, “Look at brother, Andrew, how sad he is, and how he doesn’t even pay attention to how he looks. He must be fasting and afflicting himself before God. He must be very devoted to God!”

Jesus says to us, “Don’t call attention to yourself when you fast. If you are going to fast, go about your daily life as you would if you were not fasting. Look cheerful. Do the usual preparations for going out in public.” If you are fasting to deny yourself, to repent of your sins, and to seek God for his blessings, let that be between you and God. He will know that you’re fasting and why. That’s all that matters. Let God take care of rewarding you in his time and way.

3. The Paternal

If we stopped where we are now, we might turn this into a piece of legalistic teaching about how we practice Christianity. Don’t be like the hypocrites and pagans when you give, pray, and fast. Be better than they were. Be a good Christian.

But that misses what Jesus is saying. There is a word that we might miss that Jesus uses nine times and each time with the personal possessive pronoun. The word is Father, your Father, our Father.

Father is a word that belongs to a personal relationship, the relationship between a son or daughter and a father. The word is not as formal as it may sound in our ears, particularly our southern ears. Jesus spoke not Greek but Aramaic, and the Aramaic word for father is Abba. Abba is a word used by a child to speak to his father. When children are learning to talk they often repeat a syllable. Wawa is water. Mama is mother. Dada is father. In Aramaic abba is father.

When the father-child relationship is healthy, the child feels secure. He is confident his father loves him and will take care of him. When the child is in trouble, he does not call out, “Mr. Jones, help me,” but, “Dad, I need you. Help me.”

The problem for both the hypocrites and the pagans was that they did not know God as Father.

The hypocrites needed affirmation from others because they were not confident of affirmation from God. They put on performances hoping others would notice them and praise them. They were not secure in father-child relationship. They needed to get the attaboys from others who saw their acts of devotion, because they did not sense that God saw and was pleased with them. For them, religion was performance - both an act to be put on and a list of things to do to earn God’s favor.

The pagans needed to get the attention of an inattentive God and to try to wrest what they needed from an unwilling God. So they called out his name over and over to get try to get his attention and repeated words over and over again to try to get him to give them what they needed. They did not know God as a loving and caring Father.

The problem we have is that the hypocrites’ and pagans’ way of relating to God are natural to us and deeply ingrained in us. Instead of giving, praying, and fasting confident of our Father’s attention and approval we try to perform to get his approval and we look to others to approve us since we don’t sense that God notices and approves. Instead of living confident of God’s love and care we think of him as a distant and stingy God from whom we must try to wrangle a blessing here and there.

What’s the cure for this? It is to know God as our Father in Jesus Christ. God’s approval is not earned by our performance but by Christ’s performance for us. We obtain God’s blessings not by how many words we say in prayer but by coming to him in Jesus' name. When we are confident in God’s love because of what Christ has done for us, then we won’t need to do our acts of righteousness before men to be seen of them. When we are confident of God’s generosity that he gave us Christ, then we can approach him as our Father who loves and cares.

Here at the Table of our Lord, we focus not on ourselves but on Christ, not on what we have to give him but what he freely gives us. In Christ we know God Almighty as our heavenly Father who of his tender mercy gave Christ to suffer upon the cross for our redemption.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Who Is a Real Christian? Part II: Are You Really Saved?

Brother, Are You Really Saved?

A man enters a crowded theater and asks a patron, "Is that seat saved?" The man sitting in the adjoining seat replies,"No, are you?"* Some fundamentalists would go on to ask the man sitting next to the unsaved seat,"What were you, a true Christian, doing in a movie theater in first place and associating with an unsaved seat? Movie theater today, gambling, smoking, dancing, and behaving boisterously on public conveyances tomorrow." (During my incarceration in a Christian school I had to sign a annual pledge not to engage in those last four.) 

We have pointed to two factors that must be considered to answer the question, "What is a true Christian?". The sacramental and the doctrinal. (Who Is a Real Christian?: Part I) Both of these are objective in nature, the act of baptism and a body of doctrine. We now move to two subjective considerations, the experimental and the evidential. You may be baptized and may affirm the Nicene Creed and other creeds and confessions of faith, but that does not mean you are saved. The questions now are: (1) Have savingly experienced the faith? and (2) Are there evidences that indicate you have saving faith?

Let's consider some questions that may help us feel the force of applying these two tests of true Christianity:

Was John W. Nevin, who was much disturbed when in college he was pressed about his Christian experience, and who asserted that the normal path to Christian faith was catechesis not experience? What about evangelical Anglican poet, William Cowper, who had experiences and wrote movingly about them, but attempted suicide several times and died believing himself lost forever? What about Calvinistic author, A.W. Pink, who in his last years never attended public worship? What about L'Abri's Francis Schaeffer who had a bad temper? What about the Westminster New Testament scholar, Ned Stonehouse, who had a fatal heart attack while watching baseball on TV on a Sunday afternoon? What about Fuller's George Eldon Ladd, who perhaps more any other has shaped evangelical thinking about the kingdom of God, but who neglected his family, had an unhappy marriage, and drank heavily? What about Johnny Cash who testified at Billy Graham Crusades and fought with addiction almost his whole life? The problem with listing such cases is that, once you start, where do you stop? There is no lack of professing Christians whose experience and conduct raise questions for some about whether they were or are "really saved" or "true Christians."

What about you? What about me? 

Experimental. "Experimental" is an old way of speaking about Christian experience. It is obvious that, while baptism in an important sense makes one a Christian, it is possible to be baptized and not be a "true" Christian, unless one believes that baptism makes one (but permanently or impermanently?) a "true" Christian. Similarly saying the Nicene Creed even with understanding, or affirming imputation and forensic justification intelligently does not a "true" Christian make.

There must be some sort of personal (not leaving out the communal) appropriation of the truths confessed. In every Christian tradition, at least in the West, this appropriation is or at least includes "faith" - belief in the Triune God, the incarnate Son, in Jesus Christ as Savior . Whatever the content held to be necessary, it must be believed by you ("I believe in God the Father...etc.)   

But the question is: Faith saves, but what is the faith that saves? At this point all sorts of qualifications are made. 

Fundamentalist evangelicals are fond of putting this in terms of Jesus's coming into your heart: "Have you asked Jesus into your heart?" I heard that many times as a youngster and asked him in many times, but I am still confused as what asking Jesus into my heart is and, more important, what asking Jesus into my heart has to do with his saving me, and, still more important, where the Bible even implies that this is the response to the Gospel. With this question, faith becomes an inward experience:

If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy;
Let Jesus come into your heart;
If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy;
Let Jesus come into your heart.
Your sins He'll wash away,
Your night He'll turn to day,
Your life He'll make it over anew;
If you want joy, real joy, wonderful joy;
Let Jesus come into your heart.

Some emphasize the three elements that together are saving faith: Knowledge. Belief. Trust. The last two are not so easy. What if I think I believe but also have doubts? Then, if I believe, how do I know if I really trusting?

Sometimes people are urged to consider a distinction between having head knowledge only (understanding the content of the faith) and both head and heart knowledge. Heart knowledge is presented as making personal what before was intellectual: "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? Maybe you knew he was other people's Savior. That he could be your Savior. Maybe you even thought that he was your Savior. But do you have a personal relationship with him?" This heart knowledge is often considered a transformative experience that changes the inward and outward life.

Jonathan Edwards, honored as one of America's great thinkers and also as an experimental Calvinist preacher, in his sermon A Divine and Supernatural Light (which I read and wrote a paper on for an American Lit class at the University of West Florida) speaks of a direct work of the Spirit upon the heart. This "unnatural" work is distinct from conviction of sin and understanding of Scripture which can be "natural":
This doctrine may well put us upon examining ourselves, whether we have ever had this divine light, that has been described, let into our souls. If there be such a thing indeed, and it be not only a notion or whimsy of persons of weak and distempered brains, then doubtless it is a thing of great importance, whether we have thus been taught by the Spirit of God; whether the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, hath shined unto us, giving us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; whether we have seen the Son, and believed on him, or have that faith of gospel-doctrines which arises from a spiritual sight of Christ. 
All may hence be exhorted earnestly to seek this spiritual light. To influence and move to it, the following things may be considered. 
This light is such as effectually influences the inclination, and changes the nature of the soul. It assimilates the nature to the divine nature, and changes the soul into an image of the same glory that is beheld. 
 As Edwards says, this calls for us to examine ourselves. "Has this happened to me?" And this may become the substance of the profession of faith, both what the person professing feels he needs to say and what others may think he needs to say to indicate he is a true Christian. Faith is not, "I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior," but, "I was illumined by the Holy Spirit," or "I have been born again," or, "I was strangely warmed", or, "Then I closed with Christ," etc. This experience also becomes the or at least a critical component of assurance of salvation.

There must be an appropriation of Christianity by faith. All Christian churches, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Charismatic in one way or another say so. But evangelicals who place an emphasis experience, whether they are Arminian or Calvinist, put such an emphasis on experience that they end up pressing people, explicitly or implicitly, to ask, "Am I really saved? Do I truly have it? What is the state of my heart?"

Tim Bayly, the worship-with-a-rock-band, paedo-or-credo-baptism-your-choice, patriarch found fault with my explanation of having my becoming an Anglican:
In that explanation, the part I thought most telling was this reason for his preference for Anglican Prayer Book worship: "It is a relief to be an observant, practicing Christian, which does not mean the heart is not engaged but rather that I can worship without being asked or being obligated to ask myself what is really transpiring internally." 
I'm certain our good Anglican brothers on this blog including, especially, Roger du Barry and Bill Mouser will cringe at this commendation of Prayer Book worship. Neither of their ministries reject the distinction between circumcised foreskins and circumcised hearts, I'm confident. But I trust they will understand when I point to these words by this recent convert to Anglicanism from the PCA as a good example of one real danger of turning away from historic Reformed worship to Prayer Book worship.
It's not enough to be "observant, practicing Christian, which does not mean the heart is not engaged...". You have to keep peeking at your circumcision. 

Evidential. You are baptized. You confess true doctrine. You believe what you confess and may even have had experiences. But there is yet another factor to be considered: whether there are evidences that your faith is genuine, and, in the case of experiences, whether they are natural or Spiritual. So you get sermons and books such as, "True Conversion: Rare and Difficult," "The Almost Christian Discovered," and The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character.

One of the problems that looking to evidences is meant to address is hypocrisy. Like the poor, hypocrites are with us always. Hypocrites are "actors" who play the part of Christian but are not real. Some know they are putting on an act, while others may be such good actors they fool themselves. One of the ways of unmasking hypocrites is by the examination of evidences. Hypocrites "talk the talk" but may not "walk the walk." But hypocrites may both "talk the talk" and "walk the walk" but still not be real. Evidences, even if not infallible proof, are nevertheless helpful to the exposing of hypocrisy. 

Another problem addressed by an emphasis on evidences is what some Calvinists call "easy believism" or the "once saved always saved" version of Christianity. This is an evangelical version of "salvation by baptism." If some believe that all the baptized are infallibly and eternally saved, this kind of evangelicalism asserts that all  who have raised a hand, and/or walked an aisle, and/or prayed a prayer are saved no matter what one does or does not do after the act of belief. 

This is accompanied often by the "carnal Christian" teaching that there are three kinds of people - unbelievers, "carnal" believers whose lives are not changed when they believe, and spiritual Christians who have yielded to the Spirit and made Christ Lord of their lives. The issue is the second group - the saved whose lives are no different from the unsaved. An emphasis on evidences may show the "carnal" believer that he/she is not a believer at all.

Evidences are relevant not just to hypocrites and carnal Christians but to otherwise sincere and serious professing Christians. It is still possible that you are not really converted. There needs to be a closer look at the evidences in your life. Profession of the true faith is not evidence of conversion. Experiences are not evidence of conversion. A moral life is not evidence of conversion. You've got to look beneath into the motives and affections of the heart and beyond to thoroughness and permanence of obedience to prove yourself a real Christian. A closer consideration of evidences may reveal to you that you are not really saved.

It is with regard to evidences that there is an interesting intersection (or so it appears to my mind) between some who embrace the new perspective on Paul regarding justification and those who affirm the historic Protestant doctrine of justification. The intersection has to do with obedience and good works. For the new perspective, justification is not about one's standing before God but one's standing within the church. Justification is relational, not forensic, and a person who who lives out his relationship to God as a faithful member of the covenant community will live in obedience to God and perform good works which will vindicate him/her on the day of judgment. On the other hand some who, as a matter of the logic of doctrine, hold to justification as forensic declaration and to faith as the sole instrument of reception seem practically uncomfortable with it. They don't want to state the doctrine too strongly for fear that it would produce indifference and antinominaism. So they warn that saving faith can never be considered apart from the evidence of obedience and that justification must be proved by its being followed by the evidence of good works. Justifcation means you are simultaneouly righteous in Christ and sinner in heart and life, but don't rest in that too much. Check out those evidences.

The problem with evidences is that even consideration of evidences may not get the job done. You may have evidences that you and others think satisfactory yet not have the real thing.

What about me? I have said two things over and again for years now: 

(1) If I am not saved on the basis of what Christ did for me not to me, outside of me not in me, by a righteousness wholly his and not mine, then I won't be going through the pearly gates. 

(2) If the man Paul describes in Romans 7: 14-25 is not Paul the regenerate man, rather than Paul the unregenerate man, then I won't be walking those streets of gold. 

* Credit goes to my old friend and now Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dan Morse, for reminding me of this old joke.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Who Is a Real Christian? (Part I) Are You Saved?

Brother, Are You Saved?

Is President Obama a Christian?   Were the 21 beheaded non-Chalcedonian Coptic Christians? What about Augustine who stood strong against Pelagius but apparently conflated justification and sanctification? What about Luther who proclaimed justification by faith alone but taught baptismal regeneration? What about the Arminian John Wesley whom Whitfield said he would not see in heaven because Wesley would be too close to the throne? What about John Stott the evangelical expositor who considered the possibility of annihilation rather than eternal conscious punishment for unbelievers? What about J.I. Packer whom Iain Murray criticized for writing about "the baptized life" with an Anglo-Catholic and who has referred favorably to N.T. Wright? 

What about you? What about me?

I must begin with this, though I know that for some this will make it easy to dismiss the rest of what I will say: I think that there have been and are now more Christians in the world than most of my life I have thought. It is hard for me to conceive that God intended to save as few as some of my friends are pretty sure he did. I don't think the answer to "Are few saved?" is, "Yes, very few."

In my view there are four words that help to answer the question about who is a real Christian: (1) Sacramental. (2) Doctrinal. (3) Experimental. (4) Evidential. I will consider the first two in Part I and the other two in Part II. 

Sacramental. A person who has been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit or who, without the intent of denying the doctrine of the Trinity, is baptized in the name of Jesus, is in one important sense a Christian. That person is baptized into the name of God, buried and raised with Christ, and a member of Christ's church, the ark of salvation. While salvation may be possible apart from baptism (e.g. those who who out of ignorance or lack of opportunity are not baptized), as circumcision was God's mark in the flesh the old covenant people, so baptism is God's mark on the heads of Christians. Under the old covenant a man who was not circumcised did not have the Lord as his God and was excluded from the people of God. Except for cases extraordinary, it is impossible to conceive of person as a Christian, and certainly not a a church member who is not baptized. 

For all Christian churches there is a relationship between baptism and regeneration, though the nature of the relationship is a vexing question. Roman Catholics, Lutherans, many Anglicans, and some Reformed believe that baptism effects regeneration. (Whether regeneration by baptism is saving and incapable of being lost or conditional and provisional is another issue, but it seems to me that, unless one is willing to say all baptized persons are eternally saved, then one must say that what baptism gives can later be lost.) Baptists believe that regeneration must occur prior to the reception of baptism for baptism is a testimony that regeneration has occurred. Evangelical Anglicans and most Reformed believe that there is a connection between baptism and regeneration, but those who accept the connection differ as to how strong the connection is, some believing baptism does nothing more than than seal an offer which may or may not be accepted, while others believe it is a seal of saving grace that is ordinarily given though not necessarily simultaneously with the reception of baptism. 

The relationship of baptism to Holy Communion is also a vexing question. Some impose no qualification for receiving the Supper except baptism; others require a certain level of understanding before first communion, and others require confirmation or a formal profession of faith prior to reception. While some urge that anyone who wishes to commune may commune, most Christian churches continue to insist that at least baptism is required prior to communion.

A few observations about baptism as I try to step back and look my upbringing as a conservative evangelical Presbyterian and as an 8 year inmate in a fundamentalist Christian school: 

(1) If I had a nickel for every time I heard that baptism could not save me, I'd have a pretty comfortable retirement. (You know, we are told, that baptism doesn't make you a Christian anymore than going through a car wash makes you an automobile.)  But - and perhaps this is because I and my peers were baptized - I cannot remember ever being told that to be a Christian you needed to be baptized. 

(2) While I was told I needed to ask Jesus into my heart and to make sure I had, I never heard baptism related to my Christian faith and life. Though my church was Presbyterian, I never even heard of  "improving" my baptism, much less what it was or how to do it. 

The message I took away - and perhaps this was just me - was that baptism was not really of any importance. Good to do it. Even good to include the infants. But necessary? No. It might be doubtful that a baptized Episcopalian was saved, but it was likely an unbaptized Salvation Army member was. (Remember Lloyd-Jones heard came out of a theater one night, heard an Army band playing, and thought, "Those are my people").

Doctrinal. While there are those who believe that baptism, or perhaps baptism not renounced, makes the Christian, historically there there are doctrines that must be affirmed or at least not rejected. The sine qua non is the doctrine of the Trinity as confessed with the Nicene Creed. (The greatly detailed Athanasian Creed asserts that "whosoever will be saved, before all things...(must) hold the catholic Faith...whole and undefiled without doubt"!) 

Inseparable from the doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine of the Incarnation, that the eternal fully God Son became fully man. Inseparable from the Person of Christ is the Work of Christ, his crucifixion, burial, descent into hell, resurrection, heavenly session, and coming again. 

The Incarnation and Work of Christ are "for us men and for our salvation." But how does Christ in his Person and Work accomplish our salvation. This requires us to to formulate the doctrine of the atonement - Christ's making "a full, perfect, sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world."

With these foundational doctrines laid, other doctrines must be considered - not only the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the saving Work of Christ but how what he did actually saves us - doctrines such as justification, sanctification, sacramentology, and ecclesiology.

Underlying all doctrinal formulations are the Scriptures. We cannot consult the Scriptures to construct doctrines without also formulating a doctrine of Scripture, its origins, truthfulness, and authority.

A few observations on the doctrinal component of Christianity, also from the perspective of my church (mainly) and school:

(1) These are the emphases of my youth as best I remember them - the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture; the Deity of Christ and the virgin birth as things liberals didn't believe, the death of Christ to pay for our sins, salvation by faith not works, surrendering one's life to Christ, and living the Christian life including refraining from worldly activities. The real emphasis (more of this in Part II) was on Christian experience, not Christian doctrine. 

(2) However, while the Trinity was definitely affirmed, and we said the Apostles' Creed every Sunday, I don't believe I ever said, and probably never encountered, the Nicene Creed till I was in seminary. I think I never heard of the Athanasian Creed till I read Packer's Knowing God post seminary. But the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the saving Work of Christ are prior to all other Christian doctrines and experience. 

It's less important to confess the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity than to ask Jesus into your heart? How can these things be? 


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Are Copts Christians?

What's Up with 
Evangelicals Embracing the Coptic Christian Martyrs?

Members of my family did, but I did not watch the video of the Jordanian pilot who was executed by ISIS. Nor have I watched the video of the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya. Maybe I should, but there are already enough things I don't want to pop up in my head that keep doing so. 

I am already plenty angry about the murders carried out by ISIS and would become more angry, if I brought my self to watch the video. I would like to see justice executed in this world upon the murderers. As much as I don't want anyone to go to hell, it is hard for me not to wish to see these Islamists burn there. No matter what the grievances, there is no justification for these brutal murders. 

It has proved interesting to me that evangelicals have pronounced the 21 to be martyrs who died for their faith. Southern Baptist Russell Moore tweeted:
When the Book of Revelation speaks of those beheaded by evildoers, it speaks of the martyrs not as victims but as "overcomers."

They overcame by the blood of the Lamb & the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

These are my brothers, faithful to Christ even unto death. King Jesus puts heads back on...
Writers for The Gospel Coalition have a similar perspective. Editor Matt Smethurst tweeted:
“The people of the cross.” 21 of them—21 of us—have been promoted to glory. May God give their families great grace.
At the TGC website there is a prayer by Scotty Smith that begins...
 Dear heavenly Father, images of our orange-clad Egyptian brothers, paraded along the seashore before their martyrdom, brought many emotions to play in my heart.
Thomas Schreiner's meditation also acknowledges the Christian faith of the 21:
Most of us have read the story of 21 Egyptian Christians kidnapped in Libya.  
Matt Carter provides us with important information with his helpful FAQ that included this information about Coptic Christians:
The word Copt is derived from the Greek word for Egyptian. After the Muslim conquest of Egypt, it became restricted to those Egyptians adhering to Christianity. Approximately 12 percent of the Egyptian population—roughly 12 million people—are Christians. Egypt’s Copts are considered the largest community of Christians in the Middle East. 
The majority of Copts belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. About 800,000 are divided between the Coptic Catholic and various Coptic Protestant churches. According to tradition, the Coptic church was established in Alexandria by St. Mark the Evangelist circa AD 49, during the reign of the Roman emperor Claudius.
Scott Redd, President of Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., who blogs at Sunergoi writes of the 21:
Martyrs bear witness. That’s what the word means. They bear witness to the kingdom of Jesus Christ (John 15:18-20). The kingdom not of this world but is so much grander, so much more extravagant, that men would give up all they have to bear witness, “Ya Rab Yasua,” “Oh Lord Jesus.”
I quote these men, not at all to be critical of them, for I am not, but to ask a question: Do these evangelicals believe the murdered Copts were Christians?

The Coptic  Christians are not Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant. They are Nicene, but not Chalcedonian, Christians. The BBC describes Coptic Christology:
The Coptic belief which defined the church at an early stage is called monophytism (technically it would be better called miaphytism, but most documents use the former word).

To put it simply this is the belief that Jesus Christ has only one nature; that his divine nature and his human nature are composite and totally united - the nature of the incarnated Word, as opposed to two natures united in one person.

This single nature was formed 'from the first moment of Holy Pregnancy in the Virgin's womb' (Shenouda III). The dispute over monophytism at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) caused the Coptic Church to separate from other Churches. Other Churches also split, and became known as the 'Monophysite Churches' or 'Non-Chalcedonian Churches'. Nowadays these churches are usually called the 'Oriental Orthodox Churches'.
In modern times Christian Churches have come to a much closer understanding of the nature of Christ, and this dispute is no longer so divisive.
Pope Shenouda  III
To evangelicals the Coptic Church will look similar to Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christianity. There is a Pope. 
Authority is not grounded in the Bible alone:
The basic source of the one faith is the Holy Bible.
The other sources are the sayings of the saints, the authenticated creeds of the holy councils, and what was recorded in the Church books, especially the ritual books.
All these are in accord with the Holy Bible and are called as a whole 'Church Tradition'.
What does Coptic Christian worship look like?
The service is composed of four parts. The first is the preparation prayer, called in Arabic the early morning prayer. This lasts only 30 minutes...the alter boys go around with incenses while chanting in the Coptic language. 
The second part is for offering, at which point a prayer is said over the holy bread. This lasts for 20 to 30 minutes.
 The third part consists of the preaching mass. Here, the priests read sections of the Old and New Testament, as well giving a sermon...
The fourth part is the reconciliation prayer. This only lasts for 10 minutes when the priests give the people Christ's forgiveness and the people do so to each other.
 The fifth part is the Believer's mass and it lasts for the rest of the service. This is when the congregation has communion, and is supposed to be only attended by those who have been baptised and who have confessed. This strict rule is now more found in small villages in Upper Egypt, but in Cairo, one must only hear the Bible reading to be able to have communion, meaning that one cannot enter very late to the service.
During the service women and men don't mix, they sit separately on each side of the church. Also during communion, they go to different chambers on the sides of the altar where the women cover their hair in respect of the ceremony.
A Coptic Priests summary of the doctrine of salvation reveals that Coptic Christians do not believe in salvation by faith alone. The "prerequisites" of salvation are:
1. Faith. 
2. Saving Sacraments: a. Baptism. b. Confirmation. c. Repentance & Confession. d. Eucharist. 
3. Good Works
I am a catholic (Nicenian, Chalcedonian, Athanasian), Protestant (Evangelical), Anglican (Articles and Prayer Book) Christian. Specifically I have not been persuaded by those Protestant evangelicals who are recasting the doctrine of justification. I believe that if I "rest in peace and rise to glory" it will be because of a righteousness not at all my own but wholly Christ's and that Christ's righteousness is mine by faith - as taught in the 39 Articles and the Homily on Salvation. On this truth I assume that all those quoted above agree with me. At the same time I am inclined to call these Coptic Christians brothers and martyrs for the faith. On this matter I am surprised, if these fellow evangelicals agree with me. 

The reasons are:

1. Evangelicalism, as I have experienced it, does not believe that Roman Catholic Christians or Orthodox Christians are in truth Christians, except by "accident" if they have faith alone in Christ alone for salvation, despite the teaching of their churches. In other words, if one believes the teaching of those churches, one is not a Christian destined for glory. If I am wrong about this, I am happy to be corrected. But, if I am right, I wonder what is the explanation of evangelicals declaring the 21 Christian brothers.

2. Evangelical experimentalism goes further still. Evangelical experimentalists ask other evangelicals if they are "real" or "genuine" or "born again." It's one thing to understand the faith, even to profess it, while it's another thing to have "true" faith that saves. One must examine his heart and his "evidences." So, in light of this kind of experimentalism that one finds among both the Arminian and Calvinistic spiritual descendants of the Awakenings, I wonder how such exeperimental evangelicals can even consdier that Coptic Christians to be Christians. Among experimetalist evangelicals there are not only "few saved" but very few saved. 

This brings me back to a question I asked to my Blog Is Nicaea Enough?: the time the Creed was constructed, its statement defined what Christian belief was. It said what one must believe about Christ. Those who confessed this faith were Christians. This was what the universal church believed which set it apart from heresy and sects. Were those who believed this those whom this Christ saved? Was the church that believed this the true church? I understand that it will be said by some that the issues I describe as explications of the saving work of Christ were not being raised. But for that very reason people could not affirm them, could not reflect on them, could not take a position on them, could not affirm them on their death beds. So, for instance: Did confession of justification by faith alone become necessary for salvation only when the doctrine was clearly stated and taught? I understand also that we are saved not by the doctrines of salvation but by Christ. But, is the Christ of the Nicene Creed the Christ in whom we believe unto salvation? 
So I ask my fellow evangelicals: If these Coptic Christians believed and practiced Christianity as taught by the Coptic Church are they beheaded martyrs in heaven asking, "How long, O Lord?" as they await their final vindication?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Shootout in an OP Corral

Sometimes a Man's Gotta
Do What a Man's Gotta Do

Yesterday the Aquila Report published Women on Trial: One Observer's View by Dr. Valerie Hobbs. Since then the gunfire has been hot and heavy. You might want to keep your head down - a thing I have a hard time doing. I keep sticking my head up to see what's going on and to fire some shots in both directions.

Dr. Hobbs' reports her observations as she attended the last meeting of an ecclesiastical trial conducted by an Orthodox Presbyterian Presbytery. It involved a minister accused and found guilty of not fulfilling his duties under the fifth commandment to his wife and daughter. The minister's failing involves his wife who has chronic physical problems and who has been absent from public worship on Sundays:
    [The accused] has shown delinquency in the management of his household by the regular absence of his wife and daughter from the public means of grace in the corporate worship of the visible church.
[The accused] has hindered members of his household from receiving pastoral oversight and spiritual care from the Session having ecclesiastical jurisdiction over them. *(Addition: I was pointed out to me that the second specification had not be included. I have added it specification to the first. This leads to no change in the evalutation.)

There is something about Dr. Hobbs' paper that I noted in my first reading and have in every reading since that gives me concern. (Please remember that your Curmudgeon has the honor of being banned by the Bayly Boys from commenting on their Blog for his scoffing at their view of patriarchy, a hurt which has caused me the loss of no little sleep.) My concern is the academic framework that seems (to me clearly) to influence both her thoughts and her vocabulary. (She is a linguist at the University of Sheffield in Scotland *Correction: England.) It appears that she is influenced to some (significant) degree by feminist scholarship in the fields of language and sociology. A few quotes taken from three sections of the article will show why I have this concern. She writes:
I am a linguist at the University of Sheffield, and so my interest was academic to some extent. For several years, I have been researching the kinds of language used by Reformed Christians to characterize women and their roles in the home, church, and society. As this trial involves not just the defendant but also his wife, I attended to observe the kinds of language used to speak about the defendant’s wife. (Emphasis added by me indicated by bod print in quotes.)
What I aim to show in this report is that central to the trial itself and to my experiences therein are the repeated denial of a woman’s physical self and the elevation of her spiritual, domestic, idealized self.
... this Presbyter’s questions and behavior were, in my opinion, founded on the assumption that since my physical presence was neither domestic nor docile, it was unacceptable. 
I also have a practical concern. I note that the age old question, "What do women want?" seems more complicated than ever. My parents taught me a few rules of etiquette (which I know from experience are not much emphasized today). Here are some antiquated things I learned: to open and hold the door to a building for women (or, as they were called then, ladies); to give up your seat to a woman anywhere you were if there were not sufficient seating; to help a woman to be seated at table at least on semi-formal occasions; to stand up when a woman enters the room; not to shake hands with a woman till she offered you her hand; to take your date's door key from her, unlock the door, and return the key to her; not to take a bite of a meal or of the dessert afterwards till your hostess took her first bite.  Today doing these things can be interpreted as "micro-aggressions."

My concern (admittedly as a male - if the Bayly Boys have not reclassified me) is that I detect as an over sensitivity on her part about issues of gender and sex: 

...I attended the trial to witness and to record these matters as a Reformed Christian woman, as part of my conviction that matters affecting women should be witnessed by women. 

The most frequent question asked of me was, ‘Why are you here?’ One presbyter asked, ‘Did your father-in-law send you?’ When I replied that I had come of my own volition, he said, ‘Why in the world would you do that?’ I gave the same answer each time: that I had come because the trial involved the situation of a woman in the Reformed church and that I had come to observe and witness. This answer seemed to surprise nearly everyone I spoke to, at least two remarking, ‘Wow’, others changing the subject after a few seconds of silence.

She found these the following questions (which she coded) objectionable:
Where have you come from? (place of residence) 
Do you know anyone in this area? (personal connections) 
So are you here mainly to visit those friends? (reason for attendance; I replied that I had come solely for the trial, to witness it as a woman and as an academic) 
Are you married? (personal life)
How many children do you have? (personal life)

These questions  (there were others about which more later) could well be entirely innocent. At least in the South, there are questions that are almost always asked when meeting a person: Where are you from? (place of origin) Who's your mama and daddy? (family connections) Whaddya do? (work or calling) Where'd you go to school? (what your football loyalties are) You married? (marital status) Y'all got any kids? (number and ages of children) These are entirely normal and, unless you turn out to be a Yankee, friendly questions.

I think she "over-interprets" an unthinking mistake that was made by the host church, and this reveals the way she is influenced, or so I think, by a feminist interpretative grid:
There were no restrooms designated for women to use during the trial or even during breaks. The host church has two restrooms, both with multiple stalls, normally assigned one to each gender. During the entire weekend, a sign with the words ‘Men’s Restroom’ was put over the women’s restroom door sign. 
... I waited outside the restroom doors (having already slipped out during the session) for nine minutes, watching men go in and out of the restroom without acknowledging me... At one point, I asked, ‘If this how things work? Do men go first and then women?’ One man overheard and responded that there were men in both restrooms and I would have to wait. Finally, growing desperate, I asked another man if there was anyone else left...He looked in and reported that the restroom was empty. I removed the ‘Men’s Restroom’ sign and went in, claiming my voice and reasserting my physical presence. When I came out, a man was standing beside the door (keep in mind that there was no line to the other men’s restroom) and challenged my actions, ‘I was wondering who had taken down the sign. I guess you’re glad I didn’t come in anyway.’
 I have observed among some Christian women the idea that it is all but impossible for a man to "get it" regarding women. That is not to say some men don't "get it" any of the time and most men don't "get it" some of the time. But, in my view, it is unfortunate to take the view that because men are men they cannot adequately understand women. If men can't "get it", then it becomes nearly impossible for a male pastor to preach the Word of God in a manner relevant and profitable to women, to offer wise counsel to single women and couples in difficulty, or to exercise pastoral care in relation to women. If men really can't "get it", then there is no solution but to accept female ordination. 

But now let me turn to the men and their words and actions. I begin by returning to the questioning of Dr. Hobbs experienced by one Presbyter.
More worrying, however, was another, very different interaction. While I was talking with one Presbyter in the church sanctuary, one of the more vocal Presbyters (who eventually voted to sustain Charge 2) walked over and said, ‘Introduce me to this person,’ indicating me. The man I was talking to introduced me by my academic title. The new acquaintance then took my hand, which had not been outstretched, said ‘Let’s talk out here’, and pulled me/led me by my hand into the corridor. With a smile on his face and standing rather close to me, he began asking me questions (which I have coded for later discussion).
You have to wonder what led the presbyter to act in this way. It seems clear that something other than ordinary Christian friendliness was taking place. Why did he take hold of this woman's hand and guide her into a hallway? This appears to be overly forceful in relation to a person of either sex. I know that I would resist being pulled by the hand to a location of the choosing of a person whom I have just met and would not be comfortable with some one's standing face to face with me. Such assertiveness would result in at least an equal (and opposite!) assertiveness  on my part.

Some of the questions seem less benign than those given above (and I don't care about her coding of them). Bold letters indicate my thoughts:
How did you find out about this trial? Who told you about it? (my source of information about trial) How is this his business? 
Are you staying with friends? (accommodation) OK, except for what follows.
 Well, then who is looking after you? (personal care) If he said, "Who is looking after you?" this is, to put it mildly, a paternalistic, dare we say, patriarchal question.
I laughed and said that I was very comfortable in the hotel and that I did not need any looking after. He then said,I think it might be a good idea if you stayed at my house with my family. (personal care) This seems to go beyond a concern to be hospitable. Why does it matter where a grown woman prefers to stay?
I have indicated clearly that I do not agree with the interpretative framework within which Dr. Hobbs seems to operate, but, putting those things to the side, there is validity to her objections to the way this man interacted with her. I indicate by bold letters below what I think indicates his man's attempt to "take charge" of the situation:
Up until this point, I had assumed that perhaps this kind of conversation was just this man’s particular manner (standing close, asking question after question, leaving little time for my responses). After all, we were strangers and he had smiled throughout. However, I began to feel this was an interrogation and even a form of intimidation. I tested the waters by asking about his children. He ignored this and asked me what church I attended. He then responded, ‘So there aren’t any Presbyterian churches in your town?’ and then recommended I look up the pastor of a Presbyterian church in Scotland. He again invited me to stay at his home... 
Whatever their motives, this Presbyter’s questions and behavior were, in my opinion, founded on the assumption that since my physical presence was neither domestic nor docile, it was unacceptable. This was evident in his use of the following strategies: disregarding the academic nature of the initial introduction and my subsequent reference to my academic interests leading me into the hallway by my hand (taking charge of my body and removing me from the trial room) asking me only indirectly why I was interested in the trial (So are you here mainly to visit those friends?) failing to respond to my attempts to discuss those interests leading the ‘conversation’ (what we linguists call topic raising) primarily towards matters related to my accommodation, personal care, and home life. 
In these ways, this man brought his assumptions about my femaleness to the forefront of our conversation, determined I was an outsider, an ‘other’, since I did not fit within certain predetermined categories, and, I would suggest with some confidence, challenged and undermined the reasons for my presence at the trial.
I think also that, assuming she understood the discussion correctly, Dr. Hobbs' has some valid comments about the way the Presbytery dealt with the relation of the physical and spiritual in the case of the defendant's wife. One presbyter, speaking in favor of conviction, approved actions of a witness, who described his own wife's physical problems as 8 or 9 on a 10 point scale, and said that he had "thought he might have overdone it a little bit, when on some mornings, on Sunday mornings, she didn’t want to go to worship and yet he would get his wife up, lovingly wash her, dress her, feed her, buckle her up in the car and take her to the holy worship of God." It is commendable that a man takes to to church an objecting wife who has to be washed, dressed, fed, and buckled up in the car? Yet this Presbyter, according to Dr. Hobbs, said:
There’s a man who wonderfully exhibits what a husband ought to do in the spiritual oversight of his wife. For this Presbyter, I was deeply moved, even convicted, but [the witness] understood that which is deeply important, that the means of grace, particularly the worship of God is how our Lord Jesus would give himself, grant grace, to his children so that we might be strengthened to live the next 6 days. [The witness] understood that. In fact, [the witness] saw the connection then between the spiritual well-being of his wife and the physical well-being of his wife. He did not in any way seek to disrupt that unity, that bond, that connection. He saw it was crucial…
Dr. Hobbs reports following up with the speaker at the end of the meeting, at which time he said that he was...
...expressing admiration that the witness had affirmed the connection between body and spirit. He clarified that without spiritual well-being, one cannot expect to have physical well-being.
Consistent with this, the Presbytery, according to Dr. Hobbs, resisted the defendant's insistence that he could not discuss his wife's spiritual condition apart from her physical condition:
...the accused explained that when he is asked about his wife’s spiritual condition, he always begins with details of her physical condition because he sees them as inextricably linked. At one point, he noted, ‘I cannot talk about one without the other’. There were therefore many occasions when the defendant spoke about his wife’s chronic conditions and disability, many of which were deeply personal. As one Presbyter pointed out in a speech toward the end of the weekend, it was appalling that this case had come to the point where the sometimes intimate details of a woman’s suffering had to be paraded before a room of strangers. And yet, I noted several occasions when at least two men in the room, hearing the accused list these illnesses, surgeries, and hospitalizations and refer to his wife’s ‘physical and emotional trauma’, rolled their eyes. At one point, again when the accused was explaining his wife’s illnesses, a young pastor circled his forefinger around in the air, a motion widely recognized as meaning ‘get on with it.’
Dr. Hobbs reports that: "Several Presbyters insisted throughout the trial, ‘[The accused’s wife] is not on trial. [The accused] is on trial’ and ‘The issue is not her [the wife’s] illness." Technically that is true, but this needs to be noted: In order for the husband to be convicted, it had to be judged that the wife did not have legitimate reasons not to be in public worship. Otherwise, he could not have been convicted of dereliction of duty without the Presbytery's having concluded that there was no reason, based on her physical condtion, that he should not have compelled his wife to attend public worship.
Since Dr. Hobbs' article was posted at The Aquila Report, there has been a lot of discussion of it on Facebook. One man, who is not a member of the Presbytery but says he has close knowledge of the case, objected that, despite the accurate statement of the charges, Dr. Hobbs' misrepresented what the case was really about. To this I responded:
...let's assume that there are inaccuracies in the report. I don't say that there are, but let's assume it. How in the world does a Presbytery ever entertain such charges to say nothing of convicting? Just on the face of the charges it seems a case of far overreach of a Presbytery's authority. And I have great trouble squaring it with mercy. This is one of those situations when one understands David's entreaty, "Let me not fall into the hand of man."
Whatever the shortcomings (and I have indicated I believe there are significant ones) of Dr. Hobbs' report, this is the real issue. The charge, which is acknowledged as accurately reported, on which the man was convicted was "delinquency in the management of his household by the regular absence of his wife and daughter from the public means of grace in the corporate worship of the visible church." This "delinquency" was regarded as a violation of the Fifth Commandment as exposited by the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms, which take the Commandment to teach the responsibilities not only of children to their parents ("Honor thy father and mother") but to teach the principle of the performance of duties by inferiors, superiors, and equals. The Larger Catechism teaches that the duties and sins of superiors are:
It is required of superiors, according to that power they receive from God, and that relation wherein they stand, to love, pray for, and bless their inferiors; to instruct, counsel, and admonish them; countenancing, commending, and rewarding such as do well; and discountenancing, reproving, and chastising such as do ill; protecting, and providing for them all things necessary for soul and body: and by grave, wise, holy, and exemplary carriage, to procure glory to God, honour to themselves, and so to preserve that authority which God hath put upon them.
The sins of superiors are, besides the neglect of the duties required of them, and inordinate seeking of themselves, their own glory, ease, profit, or pleasure; commanding things unlawful, or not in the power of inferiors perform; counseling,encouraging, or favouring them in that which is evil;dissuading, discouraging, or discountenancing them in that which is good;correcting them unduly; careless exposing, or leaving them to wrong, temptation, and danger;provoking them to wrath; or any way dishonouring themselves, or lessening their authority, by an unjust, indiscreet, rigorous, or remiss behaviour.
The charge of violation of this commandment by allowing two women in the man's household to be absent from worship seems strange to me. This is man's relation to his wife! Apparently he and his wife decided together or he acquiesced in his wife's decision. Why would a Presbytery (or anyone else) not defer to the husband and wife? And the daughter, if I may assume by the age of the defendant which I know, is an adult daughter. Why would a man be charged for failing to compel his adult daughter to be in services? *(Correction: I have been informed that the daughter is a minor.)

Had I found myself in the situation
which led to these charges, I would have said clearly and firmly, "This is a matter of discretion. It is between me and my wife. It is not your business to insert yourself into my marriage in a matter such as this. And, if you don't like it, I'm gonna tell my wife!" (Believe me, Mrs. Smith is not one whose wrath you wish to kindle.)

The vote to convict was 16-8 with 4 presbyters requesting to have their negative votes recorded.