Parents Who Worship Their Children

I have met many parents who cite their children as their raison d’être, or reason for living. This is nothing short of worshiping their children. It is a terrible thing to do to them, and worst of all, it is idolatry before God. Tullian Tchividjian says it very well: “Parents are cruel and unloving to their children when they place a large burden on their small shoulders that they were never intended to bear, namely, ‘Make my life worth living.’”

Posted in Theology | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Did the Whole Church Get the Identity and Theology of the Eucharist Wrong?

For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but just as our Savior Jesus Christ, being incarnate through the work of God, took flesh and blood for our salvation, so too we have been taught that the food over which thanks have been given by a prayer of the Word that is from Him, from which our flesh and blood are fed by transformation, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.  (First Apology 66:2)

I ran across this statement from Justin Martyr in the 3rd Century, and it occured to me that in all of my reading of primary sources throughout church history, I can’t find a single person who regards the elements of the Lord’s Supper to be merely a memorial or a symbol prior to the 16th century who isn’t also a heretic for other reasons. Continue reading

Posted in Church History, Eucharist, Historical Theology, Justin Martyr, Lord's Supper, Lutheranism, Theology | 24 Comments

Grace to You Against Mega-Church Pragmatism?

[This is another post by guest writer Kevin Regal, who also frequently comments under the moniker OFelixCulpa]

MacArthurJohn MacArthur is a very good expositor. I am thankful for his decades-long work of producing and distributing excellent bible teaching. I don’t want to take away from that in any way.  More narrowly, I’m glad that Grace to You and MacArthur are critical of the mega-church and multi-site-church nonsense that seems now to be sweeping through conservative Evangelicalism.

But I wish one thing were different. I really wish they were on better footing to criticize.

Today I read a post by Travis Allen of Grace to You (“Embracing and Shunning”) about just that. He began by listing several essentials of faithful church ministry and asserting that

The modern love affair with pragmatism leads to compromise on every point. Every. Single. Point.

Well…I agree, but there is a very pronounced lack of clarity on what actually composes pragmatism and why it should be avoided. Perhaps it’s just my personality, but quick, rhetorical criticism of something–even something that truly is bad–is not enough to get me climbing aboard the bandwagon.  What can I say?  I’m such a suspicious person. Continue reading

Posted in Evangelicalism, John MacArthur, Megachurches, Mult-site Churches, Theology | 7 Comments

Understanding Calvinism = Tears

I like John Piper. I really do. And I want to like him more, but he isn’t helping me do that. Piper has said a lot of great things over the years, and I have no doubt that God has used him to strengthen the faith of many people. I don’t want to take away from any of that. But every time I try to further appreciate John Piper’s work, I run across stuff like the following. Seriously, it keeps happening.

According to John Piper’s disciple, Justin Taylor:

John Piper once said something to the effect that if you’ve become a Calvinist and you haven’t shed any tears in the process, you probably don’t understand Calvinism in the first place. Continue reading

Posted in Calvinism, Evangelicals, John Piper, Justin Taylor | 7 Comments

The Problems with the Pope’s Authority and the Inadequacy of the Protestant Response

Recently a Protestant friend of mine asked my opinion about a written conversation he had with a Roman Catholic convert. In the conversation the convert explained that, for him, the most convincing point of Roman Catholic doctrine was the doctrine of Petrine succession. My Protestant friend didn’t really know how to respond. I shared with him the problems with arguing for Petrine succession from Scripture, and I think it’s worth sharing my response with you here.

Things Jesus Never Said - Peter

For those not familiar with this Catholic doctrine, it essentially states that according to Matthew 16 and other biblical passages we can see that Peter — and Peter alone — was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven to decide whom he will let into and heaven and whom he will not. According to church tradition, Peter was later the bishop at Rome. The claim of Petrine succession, then, is that whoever subsequently occupies Peter’s office in Rome possesses the keys to the kingdom. I’m sure you can see where this is going: the pope is the current occupant of Peter’s office at Rome and he alone possesses the keys to the kingdom.

Here’s the relevant passage from Matthew 16:

He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Many Protestants often try to get around the Catholic interpretation of Matthew 16 using interpretations that are more of a problem than the Catholic interpretation they are trying to avoid.

There are predominately two ways that Protestants try to get around saying that Christ gave Peter the keys to the kingdom. (1) They claim that “this rock” on which Christ will build his church is not Peter, but Peter’s confession that “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (2) They claim that when Christ says “this rock” he is pointing to himself as if he was saying, “You are Peter, but on this rock, that is myself, I will build my church.” In support of this interpretation they often cite 1 Corinthians 3:10, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

These interpretations of Matthew 16 are simply untenable. What is clearly motivating them is not a desire to understand of the text but a desire to avoid the Catholic interpretation. These interpretations fear identifying Peter as the rock on which Christ builds the church since it seems to lend credibility to the Catholic doctrine of Petrine succession. But this fear grants too much to the Catholic interpretation. Understanding the “rock” as Peter, isn’t just a Catholic interpretation — it’s a legitimate interpretation, and, as we will see, it does not entail Petrine succession.

In support of the interpretation that the “rock” is Peter, we must recognize that the name Peter means “rock” or “stone”. So when Jesus says, “you are Peter, [petros] and on this rock [petra] I will build my church”, it is clear that he is relating the person of Peter and the rock on which he will build his church. Furthermore, he clearly gives Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. This demonstrates that Peter is the rock on which Christ will build his church. Attempts to introduce foreign elements such as Christ gesturing to himself while saying “on this rock”  where “rock” means Christ are prime examples of forcing one’s theology onto the text, since without this foreign element, the interpretation doesn’t make any sense. And, of course, neither of these interpretations do anything to explain why Christ would give a gift to Peter as significant as the keys to the kingdom if Peter isn’t the one on whom Christ builds the church.

So what’s the most that we could establish from Matthew 16 alone? Just this: that Peter — and only Peter — was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. What we don’t get is a doctrine of Petrine succession. There’s nothing here about the keys being tied to Peter’s office or an ongoing passing-down of the keys to the kingdom.

We can see from other texts, however, that Christ doesn’t give the keys of the kingdom to Peter alone — he also gives them to the rest of the disciples and to the church itself.

In Matthew 18, Jesus gives his disciples commands for dealing with those who have sinned against them. After earlier attempts to make peace have been rebuffed, one is to “tell it to the church” (18:17). If this person will not heed the church, the church is to expel them from the congregation. Then Christ speaks to all of the disciples the exact words he spoke concerning Peter in Matthew 16: “Truly, I say to you [plural], whatever you [plural] bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you [plural] loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (18:18). Peter isn’t the sole possessor of the keys to the kingdom because, as Jesus says, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (18:19).

From Matthew 18, it is clear that the succession of possessing the keys to the kingdom is tied to the enduring church, not the enduring bishopric of Peter.

Furthermore, in John 20:23, Jesus reiterates that he has given all of the apostles the keys to the kingdom. Notice again the plural second person pronouns: ” If you [plural] forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you [plural] withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Christ nowhere ties the authority to forgive sins to a particular chair of an office.

Aside from the biblical evidence, the Catholic convert claims that Petrine succession “was demonstrated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, when the Council Fathers, upon reading the Bishop of Rome’s, Pope Leo, Tome on the two natures of Christ, exclaimed, ‘Peter has spoken through Leo.’”

I presume that he’s giving his best evidence from church history for Petrine succession. Apparently, the best of the early evidence is a vague reference from nearly four-hundred years after Peter’s death. This is an enormously weak case for such a vital doctrine for Catholic authority. I can’t see how anyone can hang his hat on this kind of evidence.

Yet, in spite of the lack of evidence for Petrine succession I can see the appeal that the doctrine would hold for a Catholic convert who came from Evangelicalism. I think he is reacting to something that is a real problem in evangelical and reformed circles: no one is exercising the authority of the keys to the kingdom. There is a right exercise of this authority, but the catholic church narrowly restricts it to the pope, while the evangelical/reformed church abandons it altogether. By contrast, in the Lutheran church, there is a pronouncing of absolution by the pastor for sin upon confession. He is one who is called and ordained by Christ’s church, and thus he has the authority to pronounce Christ’s forgiveness.

When Evangelicals and the Reformed reject the right use of the office of the keys, it pushes others toward the appealing-but-false doctrine of Petrine Succession. The best way forward is for Protestants to adopt a better understanding of the office of the keys such as the one laid out by Martin Luther in the Smalcald Articles.

Posted in Catholicism, Church History, Confession and Absolution, Ecclesiology, Evangelicalism, Evangelicals, Exegesis, Martin Luther, New Testament Exegesis, Reformed, Theology | 12 Comments

Christian not Bohemian: A Response to John MacArthur’s “Beer, Bohemianism, and True Christian Liberty”

[What follows is a joint response I wrote with my friend Uri Brito to John MacArthur's insistence on Christian teetotalism].

The authors generally appreciate the work of John MacArthur. John Fraiser is a Lutheran minister and Uri Brito is a Reformed minister. We are thankful for MacArthur’s commitment to the Scriptures and his love for the gospel of grace. Early on in our studies, MacArthur was certainly one wave that carried us into the rich world of 16th century Reformation. Yet, we must not be blinded to assume the Reformation did not offer a cultural way of thinking and living. We have embraced the larger Reformational world not simply because of its Soteriology—which we affirm—but because of the richness it provides to both mind and body. The Reformation means embracing the biblical vision of a new humanity engaging a re-created world in and through Jesus Christ.

Part of this larger Reformed picture is unmistakably missing in John MacArthur’s recent attack on the Young, Restless, and Reformed (henceforth, YRR). MacArthur’s analysis leads him to conclude that “It’s clear that beer-loving passion is a prominent badge of identity for many in the YRR movement.”[1] Now, neither of us belong to the YRR movement. So MacArthur isn’t directly addressing us and we have no interest in protecting the movement itself. Normally we wouldn’t even take the time to respond MacArthur’s argument, but sometimes you must bend to answer the absurd, if only because others take the absurd so seriously. Indeed a great many people have already answered him, but we wish to add our voices to the company of those Christians who think that alcohol should not merely be tolerated but commended, celebrated, and cherished among the people of God. We sense that MacArthur’s overall tone is a direct attack on broader Reformational groups, such as Lutherans and Calvinists.

In addressing MacArthur and his concerns, we wish to organize our response in the following manner: (a) The Lutheran and Reformed Historical Argument for the Use of Alcohol, (b) Arguments for Alcohol in Biblical Culture, (c) The Sociology of Abstinence, and (d) The Use and Abuse of Alcohol. Continue reading

Posted in Theology | 13 Comments

Why I Walked Away from Evangelicalism (part 2 of 2)

[This is the second part of guest-blogger Kevin Regal's explanation of why he left Evangelicalism and what he found to be a better alternative.]

Walking Away

In part one of this post, I described how my loyalty to Evangelicalism led me on a long and difficult search for a church which both takes real Christianity seriously and would also accept people who are (as I am, I’m ashamed to say) flawed even to the point of being rather dislikeable.  In this part, I will try to explain a few of the problems that I find so troublesome and which have forced me to reconsider my loyalty to Evangelicalism.  I will then finish the story. Continue reading

Posted in Theology | 48 Comments