Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Pilgrims' cautionary tale

Kate Zernike, writing for the New York Times, finds fault with Tea Partiers for their "interpretation" of the Pilgrims' early ecomonic experiment in socialism. The Pilgrims were required by the terms of their agreement with the London Company, which financed the colony, to hold all things in common. As you can imagine this created all kinds of disincentives to work.

Eventually, William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Colony, decided to parcel out the land for each family to farm, with each family benefitting according to the labor they put into it. The result was a stunning increase in production. (Should we be surprised?)

This little experiment in collectivist policy has served as a cautionary tale for years among conservative and libertarian thinkers. Ms. Zernike, however, objects. She refers to it as "one common telling" of the story of the Pilgrims. Perhaps it's a common telling of the story because this is the story that no less an authority than William Bradford tells in his fascinating first hand account entitled On Plymouth Plantation.

Here's Bradford in his own words:
All this while no supplies were heard of, nor did they know when they might expect any. So they began to consider how to raise more corn, and obtain a better crop than they had done, so that they might not continue to endure the misery of want. At length after much debate, the Governor with the advice of the chief among them, allowed each man to plant other corn for his own household, and to trust to themselves for that; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. So every family was assigned a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number with that in view, - for present purposes only, and making no division for inheritance, - all boys and children being included under some family. This was very successful. It made all hands very industrious, so that much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could devise, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and give far better satisfaction. The women now went willingly into the field and took their little ones with them to plant corn, while before they would allege weakness and inability; and to have compelled them would have been though great tyranny and oppression.

The failure of this experiment of communal service, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times, - that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For in this instance, community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort. For the young men who were most able and fit for service objected to bring forced to spend their time and strength in working for other men’s wives and children, with any recompense. The strong man or the resourceful man had no more share of food, clothes, etc., than the weak man who was not able to do a quarter the other could. This was thought injustice. The aged and graver men, who were ranked and equalized in labour, food, clothes, etc., with the humbler and younger ones, thought it some indignity and disrespect to them. As for men’s wives who were obliged to do service for other men, such as cooking, washing their clothes, etc., they considered it a kind of slavery, and many husbands would not brook it. This feature of it would have been worse still, if they had been men of an inferior class. If (it was an thought) all were to share alike, and all were to do alike, then all were on an equality throughout, and one was as good as another, and so, if it did not actually abolish those very relations which God himself has set among men, it did at least greatly diminish the mutual respect that is so important should be preserved amongst them. Let none argue that this is due to human failing, rather than to the communistic plan of life in itself. I answer, seeing that all men have this failing in them, that God in His wisdom saw that another plan of life was fitter for them.

Friday, November 19, 2010

My kingdom is not of this world

Why are so many Christians today so concerned about politics and trying to reform government when Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36).

Why are so many Christians concerned about politics? Because it matters to God, and it should matter to us as well, whether the righteous or the wicked are in power. And it will matter to us if we have any regard for the glory of God and any love for our fellow man.

Solomon says in Proverbs 29:2, When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.

The people groan under the rule of the wicked because it is a burden to be governed by them. The bad example of their private lives and the folly and injustice of their rule are hard to bear.

We should be concerned about politics—about government—because government has to do with the ethics of a nation. The ethics of a nation are reflected in its laws and in the faithful administration of the laws. In the same way that the Lord blesses or curses a man according to whether he is righteous or wicked, so the Lord will bless or curse a nation according to whether its leaders are good or bad men.

In addition to this, the Bible teaches that we are to do good whenever it’s in our power to do so. Good government is something that good men will naturally desire to promote. Promoting it is one of the ways in which we serve our neighbor.

As for the saying of Jesus that his kingdom is not of this world, this should not be taken to mean that his kingdom does not exist in this world or that his kingdom is not concerned with the things of this world. As Abraham Kuyper has said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’ ”

Indeed, Jesus himself said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18). Did you notice that he said, “In heaven and on earth”? All authority on earth belongs to Jesus Christ. It was given to him by our Father in heaven. Those who hold positions of authority have that authority on loan from Christ our King. They have a delegated authority. And they are to exercise the authority that has been given to them in a manner consistent with his will. If they do not, they are in rebellion against their rightful sovereign, and they will have to answer to him for it.

When Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world, he is talking about its point of origin. He says it is not of this world, meaning that it does not originate here. Jesus did not receive his authority from men or from any human institution—as Pilate did (the man to whom Jesus was speaking when he made this statement). Jesus’ kingdom originates in heaven with God. But having said this, we must be quick to add that this does not mean that his kingdom does not exist here in this world. It most certainly does. And it is the duty of every Christian, as faithful citizens and ambassadors of Christ’s kingdom, to bring kingdom principles to bear upon their participation in civic affairs. At a minimum this means (under our form of government) that we vote, and that we vote for the candidate that most consistently reflects biblical principles in his personal life and in his public policies. Beyond this, as God enables, we should also give financial support and otherwise campaign for good candidates. Political action is not the whole of kingdom work, but it certainly is part of it, and I would argue that under our form of government where we are given the right to choose our leaders, it’s a very important part.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What About Baptism for the Dead?

Please explain the baptism for the dead that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15:29.

Paul speaks of baptism “for the dead” in a context in which he is defending the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead at the last day. Some of the Corinthians apparently had denied that there would be such a resurrection, as we see from verse 12.
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Cor. 15:12)
This skepticism concerning the resurrection also appeared while Paul was preaching in Athens in Acts 17. Scripture says that some of his hearers mocked him when he mentioned the resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:32).

This skepticism apparently infected some in the church at Corinth as well. And then he proceeds to defend the resurrection against those who for whatever reason denied it.

One of the points that he brings up in defense of the resurrection is the practice of baptism on behalf of the dead.
What do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? (1 Cor. 15:9)
The Greek phrase which is translated “on behalf of the dead” may also be translated “with reference to the dead” or “on account of the dead.”

Many scholars have assumed that Paul was talking about some early heretical practice that was rooted in a pagan ritual—a practice that he doesn’t necessarily agree with or approve, but one that he finds helpful to his argument nonetheless.

It seems to me rather that Paul has in mind an Old Testament ritual washing that was commanded for those who had contact with a dead body. We read about this in the book of Numbers. The Lord says,
Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. He shall cleanse himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean. But if he does not cleanse himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not become clean. Whoever touches a dead person, the body of anyone who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from Israel; because the water for impurity was not thrown [sprinkled] on him, he shall be unclean. His uncleanness is still on him (Num. 19:11-13)
This passage is referred to in the 9th chapter of Hebrews. Guess what the washing with water is called. Baptism! In speaking about the nature of things under the Old Testament law of purification, and after referring to Numbers 19, Paul says,
Gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings [baptismos] (Heb. 9:10)
This is not the only place in the New Testament where the ritual washings of the Old Testament are referred to as baptisms. We have another instance in Mark 7.
Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash [nipto] their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash [baptizo]. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing [baptismos] of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) (Mk. 7:1-4)
We see, then, that the ritual washings of the OT are called baptisms. Moreover, there was a specific ritual washing—a specific baptism—which God commanded for those who had had contact with a dead body. This is what Paul is referring to, when he speaks of baptism on account of the dead. The Christian community in Corinth, being composed of Jews and of God-fearing Gentiles attached to the synagogue, would have been familiar with this practice.

And Paul is suggesting that this ritual washing on account of contact with a dead body presupposes the continued existence and future resurrection of the one who had died.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

On the Power and Glory of Christ

The following is from the pen of St. Athanasius (ca. 293-373), the great champion and defender of the deity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea. It's from his work entitled De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (On the Incarnation of the Word of God). In the following passage, he speaks of the power of Christ over all the forces of evil.
When did people begin to abandon the worship of idols, unless it were since the very Word of God came among men? When have oracles ceased and become void of meaning, among the Greeks and everywhere, except since the Saviour has revealed Himself on earth? When did those whom the poets call gods and heroes begin to adjudged as mere morals, except when the Lord took the spoils of death and preserved incorruptible the body He had taken, raising it from among the dead? Or when did the deceitfulness and madness of daemons fall under contempt, save when the Word, the Power of God, the Master of all these as well, condescended on account of the weakness of mankind and appeared on earth? When did the practice and theory of magic begin to be spurned under foot, if not at the manifestation of the Divine Word to men? In a word, when did the wisdom of the Greeks become foolish, save when the true Wisdom of God revealed Himself on earth? In old times the whole world and every place in it was led astray by the worship of idols, and men thought idols were the only gods that were. But now all over the world men are forsaking the fear of idols and taking refuge with Christ; and by worshipping Him as God they come through Him to know the Father also.

Anyone, too, may put what we have said to the proof of experience in another way. In the very presence of the fraud of daemons and the imposture of the oracles and the wonders of magic, let him use the sign of the cross which they all mock at, and but speak the Name of Christ, and he shall see how through Him daemons are routed, oracles cease, ad all magic and witchcraft is confounded.

Who, then is this Christ and how great is He, Who by His Name and presence overshadows and confounds all things on every side. Who alone is strong against all and has filled the whole world with His teaching. Let the Greeks tell us, who mock at Him without stint or shame. If He is a man, how is it that one man has proved stronger than all those whom they themselves regard as gods, and by His own power has shown them to be nothing? If they call Him a magician, how is it that by a magician all magic is destroyed, instead of being rendered strong? Had He conquered certain magicians or proved Himself superior to one of them only, the might reasonably think that He excelled the rest only by His greater skill. But the fact is that His cross has vanquished all magic entirely and has conquered the very name of it. Obviously, therefore the Saviour is no magician, for the very daemons whom the magicians invoke flee from Him as from their Master. Who is He, then? Let the Greeks tell us, whose only serious pursuit is mockery! Perhaps they will say that He, too, is a daemon, and that is why He prevailed. But even so the laugh is still on our side, for we can confute them by the same proofs as before. How could He be a daemon, Who drives daemons out? If it were only certain ones that He drove out, then they might reasonably think that He prevailed against them through the power of their Chief, as the Jews, wishing to insult Him, actually said. But since the fact is here again, that at the mere naming of His Name all madness of the daemons is rooted out and put to flight, obviously the Greeks are wrong here, too, and our Lord and Saviour Christ is not, as they maintain, some daemonic power.

If then, the Saviour is neither a mere man nor a magician, nor one of the daemons, but has by His Godhead confounded and overshadowed the opinions of the poets and the delusion of the daemons and the wisdom of the Greeks, it must be manifest and will be owned by all that He is in truth Son of God, Existent Word and Wisdom and Power of the Father. This is the reason why His works are not mere human works, but, both intrinsically and by comparison with those of men, are recognized as being superhuman and truly the works of God.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Can we really know that we have been born again?

Can we really know that we have been born again? And if so, how do we know?

The answer is yes, we can know that we have been born again, or born from above, (as the passage might be better translated).

In his first letter, the apostle John gives us several marks or effects of the new birth by which it can be known. Let’s look at what he has to say.

The first mark of being born from above is found in 1 John 2:29, “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of God.”

John points this out because there are many who, as Paul says, “profess to know God, but by their deeds deny him” (Tit. 1:16). They say that they are Christians, but they practice unrighteousness. John says, “No, those who have been born of God practice righteousness.” That is, their lives may be characterized by this. They live in obedience to God’s commands.

The second mark is closely related to this. It is found in 1 John 3:9, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”

He is not suggesting that a true Christian lives in sinless perfection, but that the life of a true Christian cannot be characterized as a life of disregard for God and his commandments. A true Christian, one who has been born of God (or born from above) does not make a practice of sinning. And the reason he doesn’t make a practice of sinning is because he has something of the divine nature imparted to him: “God’s seed abides in him.” A man’s son bears the characteristics of his father. You often detect a strong physical resemblance between father and son. Their mannerisms, too, are often similar. The way they speak is similar. So is the way they react to things. Why the similarity? Because the son is the son of his father. In the same way, those who are born of God share in the holiness of God. If you find someone who professes to know God but they seem to have no concern to grow in holiness, you have found someone who is deceived.

The third mark of being born from above is found in 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.”

This thought is repeated a little later when he says, “everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him” (1 John 5:1a). So do you love the saints? Do you love God’s people? Do you prefer the company of Christians to the company of unbelievers? If so, you have one of the marks being born of God.

The fourth mark is found in 1 John 5:1b, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” In other words, if you acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth to be the promised Messiah, which is the same thing that Paul says in Romans: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9) — and this is a sincere confession from the heart—then you have a mark of having been born of God (cf. 1 Cor. 12:3).

The fifth mark of being born from above is found in 1 John 5:4, “For everyone who is born of God overcomes the world.” This means that no one who is born of God is continually ensnared by the world. Earlier in the letter he had said,
“Love not the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16).
If we are continually overcome by the desires of the flesh (see Gal. 5:16ff), or find that the fundamental motivating force in our thinking is the acquisition of wealth, and the things that wealth can buy, then we love the world and the love of the Father is not in us. But if we find that in fact we are overcoming the world; if we find that these things do not have a powerful hold over us; that we are motivated instead by a love for God and a love for our neighbor; then we have another mark of having been born of God.

Near the end of his letter John says,
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life (1 Jn. 5:13).
And if these things are so, we may, as Paul says in Romans, “draw near [to God] with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Off by 38 years

What a difference a couple of years make. After the 2008 election cycle the incredibly annoying James it's-a-wonder-anyone-ever-listens-to-him Carville predicted the democrats would rule for the next forty years.
Every four years Americans hold a presidential election. Somebody wins and somebody loses. That's life. But 2008 was an anomaly. The election of President Barack Obama is about something far bigger than four or even eight years in the White House. Since 2004, Americans have been witnessing and participating in the emergence of a Democratic majority that will last not four but forty years.
He was off by 38 years.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Marching Orders

Princeton theologian A. A. Hodge (1823-1886), in his Evangelical Theology writes,
The kingdom of God on earth is not confined to the mere ecclesiastical sphere, but aims at absolute universality, and extends its supreme reign over every department of human life.
It follows that it is the duty of every loyal subject to endeavour to bring all human society, social and political, as well as ecclesiastical, into obedience to its law of righteousness...
It is our duty, as far as lies in our power, immediately to organize human society and all its institutions and organs upon a distinctively Christian basis. Indifference or impartiality here between the law of the kingdom and the law of the world, or of its prince, the devil, is utter treason to the King of Righteousness. The Bible, the great statute-book of the kingdom, explicitly lays down principles which, when candidly applied, will regulate the action of every human being in all relations. There can be no compromise. The King said, with regard to all descriptions of moral agents in all spheres of activity, "He that is not with me is against me." If the national life in general is organized upon non-Christian principles, the churches which are embraced within the universal assimilating power of that nation will not long be able to preserve their integrity.

It's OK to Leave the Plantation

Check out this two part interview with Mason Weaver about his new book It's OK to Leave the Plantation. Good stuff. Part 1. Part 2.