Monday, December 16, 2013

Partial Revelation

“No revelation can be other than partial. If for true revelation a man must be told all the truth, then farewell to revelation; yea, farewell to the sonship. For what revelation, other than a partial, can the highest spiritual condition receive of the infinite God? But it is not therefore untrue because it is partial.......Only, whatever it might reveal, if its nature were such as to preclude development and growth, thus chaining the man to its incompleteness, it would be but a false revelation fighting against all the divine laws of human existence. The true revelation rouses the desire to know more by the truth of its incompleteness.”

- George MacDonald. "The Consuming Fire," from Unspoken Sermons. iBooks. 
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Monday, December 9, 2013

Life is no series of chances with a few providences sprinkled between

“Life is no series of chances with a few providences sprinkled between to keep up a justly failing belief, but one providence of God; and the man shall not live long before life itself shall remind him, it may be in agony of soul, of that which he has forgotten.”

- George MacDonald, from "The Child in the Midst," in "Unspoken Sermons.” iBooks. 

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

John Locke on Scripture...

"The holy scripture is to me, and always will be, the constant guide of my assent; and I shall always hearken to it, as containing infallible truth, relating to things of the highest concernment. And I wish I could say, there were no mysteries in it: I acknowledge there are to me, and I fear always will be. But where I want the evidence of things, there yet is ground enough for me to believe, because God has said it: and I shall presently condemn and quit any opinion of mine, as soon as I am shown that it is contrary to any revelation in the holy scripture."

- John Locke, in A Letter to the Right Reverend Edward, Lord Bishop of Worcester, from The Works of John Locke: The Two Treatises of Civil Government, On Human Understanding, Elements of Natural Philosophy, Of the Conduct of Understanding ... (Kindle Edition, Locations 72443-72447).

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Treating things of God like questions of politics...

 The following quote seems to be very applicable to our world today in the United States:
"There are those today who treat religion like questions of politics, people who are colder than ice towards the things of God, yet more ardent than fire where their own interests are concerned."
- Theodore Beza in The Life of John Calvin, Evangelical Press, 1997, p. 140.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Contending for the truth.

"...we should contend earnestly for the truth, but we should first be sure that it is truth, or else we fight against God, who is the God of truth, and do the work of the devil, who is the father and propagator of lyes; and our zeal, though ever so warm, will not excuse us, for this is plainly prejudice."

- John Locke. Of the Conduct of the Understanding, in The Works of John Locke: The Two Treatises of Civil Government, On Human Understanding, Elements of Natural Philosophy, Of the Conduct of Understanding ... (Kindle edition, Locations 1446-1448).

Saturday, October 26, 2013

“Culturally-Correct” or Called Church Lay Leaders

There is much written about leadership from both secular and religious viewpoints. Of what I have read, most of these books focus on the qualities of a leader, developing leaders, etc. Such books are certainly needed. However, I have not found much written about situations where it is wise not to choose a leader, especially lay leaders in churches.

Let's say there is a position open in your church for an elder or deacon. How often does that position go unfulfilled when you know of individuals in the church who could be elected or appointed to such a position? In my memory, I cannot remember a time in any church I have attended when such a position went unfilled.

This raises a significant issue: are such positions filled because the individual is spiritually qualified (see I Timothy 3:1-13), or are such positions filled because of culturally based qualifications (e.g. having the right social standing, the right occupation, influence, etc.), or because the individual is simply willing and available?

In my profession, university departments often conduct searches for qualified faculty. These credentials include having the appropriate degree and field specialty, ability to conduct research, ability to teach, and collegiality. Often a person with excellent credentials may apply for such a position, but not have the field specialty we need (for example, we need someone whose specialty is in Public Policy, but a candidate's specialty is in American Government). Other times, an individual may apply who lacks other qualities (e.g. ability to teach university students), thus indicating this candidate may not be successful if appointed to the faculty position. I have seen such cases where the department decided not to hire anyone because of such concerns. Usually, the faculty position is advertised again in the future.

This is critical because if someone is hired to a faculty position who is not qualified, he may not only lose his job in the future, but also cause the department to suffer in the meantime.

What about churches? The process for finding and appointing a pastor is different from identifying and appointing a lay leader in a church. Pastors can be called from within a congregation, or promoted from within a church. However, pastors are often called outside the church, while lay leaders are recruited from within the church body.

Therefore, unqualified pastors are often more obvious to the church because they stand out during the interview process, and thus are not hired to begin with, or can be removed after some time if appointed. Likewise, if a person is elected or appointed to a lay leader position and subsequently violates ethical standards, such individuals can be removed or disciplined. There are usually provisions for such situations.

However, what about a person who is elected or appointed to a lay leader position who is spiritually unqualified, and yet in all other ways is ethical and competent from a cultural standpoint (for example, he is a successful businessman, breaks no laws, does not cause problems in the church, etc.)? How often are such people removed from church leadership because they lack spiritual calling?

Spiritual leaders who take their spiritual calling seriously make mistakes and fail, but their direction in leadership continues towards the goal: Jesus Christ. To be like Him is their calling, and they take it seriously. It brings a sense of humility individually to all leaders who have this goal because they realize that all Christians fail daily in this calling. Therefore, such Christians find that they must live by grace (Galatians 3: 1-6).

Yet, lay leaders who are appointed based on culturally based criteria have no need for humility because they already fulfill the cultural standards daily. Therefore, on what basis would such a person be removed or disciplined? After all, these people are ethical and successful.

The point here is that it may be wiser and easier not to fill an open lay leader position than it would be to remove a spiritually unqualified lay leader (who is otherwise ethical) once elected or appointed. In such cases, I propose it is better to wait for the Lord to bring the right person for the position than to appoint a “culturally-correct” person who just does not have the Lord's calling.

This means it is critical for church leaders to review the criteria they use to select lay leaders. Not only should current church leaders review explicit criteria, but also implicit criteria that stems from the culture in which the church lives (Galatians 1:10). Are we looking for someone who has a spiritual calling, or a person who is successful in his or her occupation and will not "rock the boat." In other words, shouldn't we ask if the person has both the external calling of the church and the internal calling from the Lord?

What do you think?

Friday, October 11, 2013

A prayer appropriate for our times.

Edmund Calamy the Elder was an English Presbyterian leader and a member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines during the turbulent days of 17th century in England. After Charles II was restored to the throne, Calamy was forced from his pulpit, as were many other Christian ministers in England, on “Black Bartholomew's Day” in 1662 for not conforming to the government's edict regarding conformity to the state church. The following prayer, though several hundred years old, could be prayed today, modified for our own nation.

Edmund Calamy's Prayer at Aldermanbury, 1662:

Oh most Holy, thou ever blessed Lord God, thou fillest heaven and earth with thy presence. We pray thee fill all our hearts with the presence of thy grace, and let it appear that thou art in the midst of us, with that powerful assistance of thy Spirit, that we may receive a token of love from thee at this time. It is a singular favour that the doors of thy sanctuary are open to us and that we might meet together in thy name. We pray thee continue it to us, and sanctify it to us, that every Sabbath may add to our stature in Jesus Christ.

Oh most Holy, thou ever blessed Lord God, thou fillest heaven and earth with thy presence. We pray thee fill all our hearts with the presence of thy grace, and let it appear that thou art in the midst of us, with that powerful assistance of thy Spirit, that we may receive a token of love from thee at this time. It is a singular favour that the doors of thy sanctuary are open to us and that we might meet together in thy name. We pray thee continue it to us, and sanctify it to us, that every Sabbath may add to our stature in Jesus Christ. 

We confess we have forfeited all our mercies; we have heard much of God, Christ and heaven with our ears, but there is little of God, Christ and heaven in our hearts. We confess, many of us by hearing sermons, are grown sermon-proof; we know how to scoff and mock at sermons, but we know not how to live sermons. 

It is a miracle of free grace thou hast not taken thy gospel from us ere this time, but thou art a merciful God, and though we cannot please thee, yet mercy pleases thee; and we have no argument to bring along with us to beg thy favour but thy mercy in Jesus Christ. We pray thee that thou wilt glorify thy sovereignty, in being gracious to us, and pardon our many and great transgressions. 

Thou makest use of the malice of men for thy glory; thou killest Goliath with his own sword. Oh, help us to put our trust in thee, thou that canst kill, and cure by killing. 

Bless these nations of England, Scotland and Ireland, and find out yet a way to save us. Pour down thy blessing upon the head and heart of our sovereign, Charles, by thy grace, King of Great Britain. Thou hast done great things for him; let him do great things for thee. Bless him in his royal consort, in his royal relations, in his council; bless the magistrates and ministers of this realm. 

Lord, forgive us, for we live as if we had been delivered to work wickedness. We cannot sin at so cheap a rate as others do. We pray thee humble us under our great and grievous sins. Give us repentance unto salvation and a lively faith through the blood of Jesus Christ. Quicken our graces, forgive our sins, make alive our souls. Let us be such as thou wilt have us to be. Make us Christians not only by outward profession, but an inward heart-experience, that we may live in heaven while we are on earth and come to heaven when we shall leave the earth. 

To that purpose bless thy Word unto us at this time, and give us all grace to make conscience of what we hear and how we hear; and all for Jesus Christ's sake, to whom with all thy blessed self and Spirit be all glory and honour, Amen.

- from Sermons of the Great Ejection, New & Revised Edition, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2012, p. 5-6. ISBN: 978-1848711525


I am most impressed how Calamy did not seek scapegoats for this situation, but rather, humbled himself before God. Indeed, in this prayer he leads the congregation in humbling themselves before God. 

Rather than curse the King, notice how Calamy prays for blessings on him.

Today, there are plenty of politicians and radio hosts who strive to make people angry. They seek scapegoats on which to blame the ills of our day. They stereotype their political opponents and further flame the fires of their ire. 

I pray the Lord moves our ministers to take on Calamy’s attitude and lead Christians to humble ourselves before the Lord. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Repost: Does Personal Faith Create Truth?

This is a post I made on my blog, Dr. Rob's Podium, on 30 April 2013.

30 April 2013

Does Personal Faith Create Truth?

In light of people talking about the personal faith of NBA player Jason Collins, it occurred to me that there is a false presumption underlying such discussions. I often hear people refer to one's faith as being personal, but they do so in a way that suggests that their personal faith creates truth. This implies that what is true for me is not necessarily true for you. Furthermore, it implies that we must not challenge each other's faith because it is personal. So, toleration becomes a denial of truth.

Well, I agree that we must respect each others beliefs. There is no place for disrespect or bullying when trying to persuade someone about the truth of a matter. I absolutely believe toleration is a characteristic of civil society. Yet, to suppress the truth is not healthy or right.

Yes, we all can and will differ on questions about the answer to the question, "What is truth?" For example, Jesus said, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." Pontius Pilate replied, "What is truth?" (John 18:37b-38). This was Pilate's personal standard in judging Jesus.

I argue that faith, while being personal, does not create truth. Why? Because God exists, and is active in human affairs no matter what our individual faith about Him is, or what we think He requires from us. We in the United States often prefer "salad bar" faith where we pick and choose what we want to believe from our respective religions. Yes, that is personal faith, but it is not truth.

Christ suffered and died for our sins. That is truth whether I acknowledge it or not. My faith does not create a Christ who suffered for me (John 1:1-5). His Lordship over my life is not created by my faith in Him. He is the sovereign God even when I do not understand why He allows somethings to occur and does not prevent other things from occurring. He is sovereign when I do not agree with Him. Just ask Job (Job 42:1-6).

So, the Lordship of God has no place for salad bar Christianity, which is a personal faith where we each make my our own decisions about how to live our individual lives.

I am so glad this is the truth, because if the meaning of my life depended upon what I create through my faith, then I am in real trouble. Too often I make bad judgements, my motives are self-centered, and I know I do not understand God's entire purpose. My rationality is bounded by my human limitations, my human nature, but God is unbounded. So, I also know I need my Savior, Jesus Christ, so I can be in an eternal relationship with God. Indeed, God can be fully trusted even when I do not trust Him, and is faithful even when I am not faithful to Him.

So, if my faith does not create truth, what is faith? The writer of Hebrews in the Christian Bible said, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1, New American Standard Bible (NASB) (Kindle Locations 38146-38147). The Lockman Foundation. Kindle Edition.) These "things" which are not seen actually exist. So, these things are not dependent upon my faith, nor are they created by my faith.

Truth exists because only God can say, "I AM" (Exodus 3:14 & John 8:58). Truth originates in Him because He is the only Creator (Genesis 1:1 and John 1:3-5).

So, Jason Collins certainly has the right to his personal faith. The question still remains in this discussion, "What is truth?"

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pastors: an endangered species

Psalm 95:7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

John 10: 1-6  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
- Crossway Bibles (2011-02-09). The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition. 

Several years ago after my mother-in-law died, I was honored to speak at her church in Culver City, California representing our family. Her pastor was a real pastor, and was present in the hospital with her when she died. I was able to thank him being there for her. In this, I also commented that today we have many preachers, but few pastors. I thank God my mother-in-law had a pastor.

Years ago my aunt was suffering from cancer, and near the end fell into a coma from the painkillers she had to take. Her pastor came to the hospital room while she was in the coma, and family and friends gathered around her as he read from the Bible and prayed. It was very moving. He knew my aunt personally, and I later found out he had lost his wife to cancer some years before. So, this was something he had been through, as well. Another pastor had come to the hospital room the day before, but he did not know my aunt or any of the family and friends gathered there. His intentions were good, and I appreciated him coming to see her and be there for us. However, the personal touch was absent because he did not know her well.

I have known many a "pastor" who was like this. They work very, very hard, putting in long hours most every day of the week. However, they do not know their church members personally. These "pastors" are there when a crisis occurs and are available for council and comfort, but they are not well known by their people.

Most clergy I know are preachers, builders, managers, and some are scholars, but few are pastors. A pastor is one who shepherds a people. As the above passages from Psalms and the Gospel of John note, pastors know their sheep by hand, the sheep know their shepherd by his voice. Pastoring is personal, while preaching, building, and managing are all personal at best only to a few in the church who work with the pastor in these endeavors.

Tonight my wife and I were talking about pastors, and something came to me: pastoring does not begin with a crisis. You see my mother-in-law's pastor was already shepherding her. He knew her personally and was involved in her life. My aunt's pastor likewise knew her personally before she was diagnosed with cancer. Then when the crisis hit, they were their as a shepherd in the mode of the Shepherd, Jesus. He is the true shepherd.

Like I noted above, we have many preachers. We also have many builders, managers, and some scholars. Yet, we have few pastors. They are an endangered species.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Quote by Edmund Calamy the Elder

“They that delight in the Word, will be at any cost to bring the Word to their congregations; they will part with thousands of gold and silver, rather than with the Word. He that esteems the Word above thousands, will be willing to part with hundreds for the Word’s sake. He will account a famine of the Word more bitter than a famine of bread; by how much the soul is better than the body, by so much will he be more troubled for a soul famine than a bodily."
- Calamy, Edmund, The Godly Man's Ark (Kindle Locations 1305-1311). Puritan Publications. Kindle Edition.”

Edmund Calamy was faithful to his word. He was kicked out of the Church of England as a minister in 1662 rather than compromise against the Word. For such men, ministry is not simply a vocation, but a calling by God. When I think of leadership in the Church eternal, I think of men such as him.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


Welcome to my blog, Berean Comments! I have started this blog to focus on things pertaining to the common faith all Christians share, what C S Lewis called, Mere Christianity. In this light, I see myself as a Christian first, which is a common faith I share with Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox Christians along with other Eastern Christians.

I am also an Evangelical Christian, which means I strive to share the good news about Jesus Christ with others. In this, I am a Protestant Christian in the Reformed Faith, specifically Presbyterian. I prefer the name, "Reformed Christian" and "Reformed Theology" rather than "Calvinist" or "Calvinism." This is important because our faith does not center on John Calvin, although he was a significant theologian in our faith. However, he is one of many important theologians, and our faith centers on Jesus Christ as God the Son.

The name, Berean Comments, is taken from Acts 17: 10-12:

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.
Crossway Bibles (2011-02-09). The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Kindle Locations 43854-43858). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition. 

The emphasis is on receiving and examining ideas in light of scripture. Some comments may be direct, critical, but I will not try to intentionally be insulting to anyone. This does not mean the comments will always be liked by everyone, though.

Christians are facing challenges today to our core beliefs. As time goes on, the challenges will be more difficult to address. Many will retreat into a neo-monestary time existence. Others will adapt to the surrounding culture. Others will dismiss the challenges or provide answers that do not really answer the challenge. None of these approaches will suffice. Those conceptions of God are too small.

Still, I do not propose to have answers to all questions. I find myself often behaving like Job,