Monday, March 23, 2009

The Church as the True Israel

What is the Church? To ask this question is almost to ask a similar question concerning God's kingship and kingdom. God is king over all things in relation to his creation, He is completely sovereign. "His Kingdom ruleth over all" (Ps. 103:19). God's Kingdom (Heb. Malkuth) is his kingly rule. There is the kingly rule of His power in nature, and the kingly rule of His grace amongst men that are the recipients of his special grace (Exodus 19:6). Even in His complete sovereignty God shares His kingly rule in a limited sphere as a grace gift to those He chooses to make His servants (1Chron. 17:14).

The phrase "the kingdom of God" is frequent in the Gospels and that reminds us of the intense expectation surrounding this matter at that time. It was prophesied in connection with the coming of Messiah and it meant that instead of rebellion and disobedience, Israel would truly bow to the kingly rule of God's grace and therefore know the LORD's continued blessing (Matt 6:10). Messiah would bring the kingdom (Luke 11:20 & Mark 1:14-15).

The Prophets, however, spoke of only a remnant initially being formed by means of whom Israel would ultimately be saved (Jer. 23:3, Zech. 13:7-9, Micah 4:4-7 & 5:1-4, Is. 4; Is. 53:1). In Micah 4 the remnant becomes the seed or new root of Israel and determines the nature and form that it will take. Christ's phrase in Luke 12:32 (“it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom”) is based upon this and Daniel 7:22&27, which speaks of the kingdom being given to the saints of God. The remnant is not a new Israel rather it is the true Israel. The new covenant likewise is a renewed covenant rather than a discontinuous entirely separate “covenant. The true Israelite in the Old Testament was the one who had circumcised his heart as well as having been circumcised in the flesh (Rom. 2:28-29). Christ calls those true Israelites who imitated the faith of their father Abraham such as Nathanael. The true Israel remnant were always found in the Old Testament Israel (Rom. 9:6) but the promise of the gospel is that this remnant will be expanded entirely, recognised as the true Israel with unfaithful Israel cut off and the Gentiles brought in. The olive tree of the Church (Romans 11) remains the same, but the Gentiles have been “grafted in” and “made partakers”, with the true Israel of God.

Since the time of John the baptist, the kingdom was announced (Luke 16:16), Christ was coming to baptize Israel with spirit and fire (Matt 3:11-12): to baptize true Israel (the repentant remnant) with the Holy Spirit and unrepentant Israel with the fire of judgement. John the baptist was preaching in order to call out a repentant remnant, denying that merely genetic Israel (Abraham's genetic descendants) constituted the true Israel (Matt 3:9 & Luke 3:8). Josephus (a historian contemporary) tells us that John was "commanding the Jews...“to come together“ in Baptism". He was fulfilling Ezekiel 36:25 and Isaiah 52:15 amongst other prophecies, which is why he was thought to be claiming Messiahship or at least to be Elijah who would prepare Messiah's way (John 1:25).

Christ was building a new temple (John 2:19-210 on himself as the cornerstone (Isaiah 28:14-16, I Pet. 2:4-8). Christ calls his disciples and teaches them the true Law of Moses on a mount in a way corresponding to the giving of the law at Sinai. He reveals the true depth of the law - he becomes the new Moses as the greater Prophet (Mark 3:13&14, Matt 5:1ff. Acts 3:22; Deut 18:15-18). Christ chooses 12 from all of his disciples. They are the true representatives of Israel, when they sit down with Christ to the Last Supper that inaugurates the New Covenant in similarity to the Old Covenant covenant meal (Exod. 24:1-12 esp. v11, cp. Luke 22:14&29-30 & Matt 19:28.). The Transfiguration also mirrored Exodus 24 in the small group brought with Jesus to the mountain to to see the glory. The voice that spoke indicated the law was now being delivered to Israel through Christ, as Moses' presence confirmed. It was being delivered not through Moses as mediator, but Christ Himself.

Why does Christ gather 12 main disciples? Surely to represent Israel (12 tribes) and the remnant which is the true Israel (Luke 22:29-30) since judgement is to come upon the nation. The twelve were chosen for a reason, as instruments in God's hand so that the true vine of the true Israel would bring forth lasting fruit (John 15:16). The great complaint against Israel in the prophets was that they did not bring forth fruit, they were an empty vine (Isaiah 5). The twelve and the seventy (cp. Ex 24 – 70 elders) were brought (as the remnant) into the mystery of God's purposes (Mt 11:25; Luke 10:21) namely, the mystery of the kingdom of God (Mk 4:1; cp. Mt 13:16-17 and Luke 10:23-4).

Christ then sends out the twelve and the seventy. It is important to notice the significance of the seventy. These correspond to the Sanhedrin and to the seventy elders of Exodus 24. The sanhedrin numbered seventy one because the high priest was the head of it. The sanhedrin was the ultimate church court of Israel like a Synod or General Assembly it was the supreme court (2 Chron 19:8-9). Christ as high priest was issuing and commissioning a new sanhedrin for the true Israel. The sanhedrin was composed of priests, scribes or Levites and elders (mainly Pharisees). When we read of these together or some of them they are described as “scribes and elders or in the Jew's shorthand, simply “the Jews” - meaning the rulers of the Jews. Sometimes they are called either the “scribes” or “the elders” (Mk 7:1and 5). Christ calls his disciples sent forth “scribes” (Mt 13:52 and Mt 23:34). At a particular time of reformation, the elder-judges in the Old Testament were sent forth with authority to establish the law of God and teach it in all the cities of Israel (2 Chron 19:5-7). The seventy were appointed also to relieve the work of the twelve and to share it in the way that Moses shared it with the seventy elders (Exodus 18).

In Mark 6:30 a technical term is used - “apostle”. In Hebrew this was “sheliakh”, an officer appointed by the Sanhedrin to represent them – the sheliakh had legal authority, fully representing the council in an action, mission or place. An example of this is Saul of Tarsus who, as is not always realised, was converted from being a false apostle (sent by the Sanhedrin) to being a true apostle (sent by Christ) as well as being converted by grace. It was normal that these officers should be sent in at least two's when representing the senders in some activity. We see in Christ's sending out apostles to preach that he sent them out by two's, the apostles followed this pattern in the missionary activity recorded in Acts. The Mishnah states in this respect (as the Jewish book of practice) “he who is sent by a man is as he who sent him”. Thus Christ gives his authority to his disciples, saying “he that receiveth you, receiveth me” and “as the Father sent me, so send I you” (Mt 10:40; Jn 20:21; Luke 10:16). Paul also sees his role as the ambassador of Christ in this respect, that he stands in Christ's stead (2 Cor 5:20). The disciples were only to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 10:6), in fulfiilment of Isaiah 40:9-11; 52:7&9). The apostles were given authority, full power over the evils of demons and diseases. The fact that Christ spoke through the disciples and the apostles (Eph 2:16-17) was attested by the miracles that he performed through them (Acts 2:33; Hebrews 2:3-4).

The Church is the true Israel only because Christ himself is the true Israel (Hos. 11:1; cf. Mt. 2:15). He is Abraham's seed (Gal. 3:16). Christ came born of a woman, born under law (Gal. 4:4), as the true Israel who would obey the commandments of God by perfectly keeping the covenant (Mt. 2:14-21) and suffer the curse for their covenant breaking (Gal. 3:13,14). Christ sent out the twelve with all authority before his ascension (cf. Matthew 28: 18-20). At the right hand of God, rules his people (Eph. 2:12-22; Col. 1:12-15; Heb. 2:14,15).

The fundamental principle of the Church is then that it is the true Israel as Paul insists (Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6; Gal. 6:16; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:9-10; Jas. 1:1; Rom. 4:11-17; Gal. 3:7; Eph. 2:14ff; Philippians 3:3). Christ instituted a new Sanhedrin for the true Israel, a new government of his making and calling. When we consider the government of the Church therefore we must see that it will have a form continuous with that of the Old Testament. The Church was not a Jewish sect or a charismatic cult springing up separately in diverse and strange communities and forms wherever it appeared. It was nothing less than the true Israel to which all the prophets gave witness (Acts 7:38; Amos 9:11-12 cp. Acts 15:15-18; Acts 13:17; cf. Deuteronomy 7:7).

For an overview of the way in which Scripture shows that the Church is Israel now, read Charles D. Provan's booklet with that title. It is a collection of relevant Bible verses under various headings to demonstrate this truth.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The roots of Erastianism: Property disputes

Erastianism is the idea that there is no distinction between the church and state in a Christian state but that the head of the state is the visible head of the church also. Besides the Westminster Standards, George Gillespie showed convincingly in his writings that there were distinct ecclesiastical courts in the Old Testament which were not subject to the king. The other significant point that refutes Erastianism is that there can be only one head of the Church.

How did Erastianism begin?
Erastianism began after the time of Constantine and became established in the Byzantine empire. The church was controlled by the Emperor, a phenomenon known as “caesaro-papalism".

This position took a while to establish itself and met with some understandable resistance. It gained its foothold, however, through church splits and resulting property disputes. It was the Donatist schismatics who in 313 appealed to the emperor Constantine in a property dispute and asked him to turn the case over to the bishops of Gaul for determination. This was ironic because their leader Donatus had once himself said: “What has the Emperor to do with the Church?”

The emperor Constantine had a certain reluctance to be involved but turned the case over to the bishop of Rome Miltiades, instead and arranged the detail of who should attend. Miltiades reinforced the secularisation of the church by conducting the case according to Roman civil law and the outcome was not favourable to the Donatists.

The Donatists then complained once more to the emperor and Constantine summoned the Council of Arles. This was the first time that a civil ruler had taken the initiative in convening a church council. The Council ruled against Donatists and they appealed once more to the emperor. This time Constantine agreed to hear them himself. This was the most ominous step because it was not simply the state instructing the church to try the case but the state assuming the power of settling church issues. It meant of course, that the emperor had to enter into matters of doctrinal dispute

Perhaps realising how far things had gone the Synod of Antioch in 341 ruled that ‘direct recourse to the emperor is forbidden’. It was too late, however, and gradually the imperial power over the church became too much to resist. The Synod of Antioch had some experience of this. There had been something of a precedent before the time of Constantine when the Roman Empire was still heathen. It was in the case of the heretic Paul of Samosata. Paul taught that Jesus Christ was born a mere man, but that at his baptism he was infused with the divine Logos or Word of God.

In 269, the Synod of Antioch deposed Paul as bishop and elected Dominus as his successor. Despite being deposed, Paul refused to acknowledge this and continued to function as before and continued to occupy the bishop's house in Antioch. Paul held the civil office of Procurator ducenarius, and was protected by Zenobia, the Queen of Palmyra but when she was defeated in battle in 272 events changed. Appeal was made to Aurelian the Emperor who who ejected Paul of Samosata from the house handed the matter of who should occupy it over to the Bishops of Italy. It was an ominous step for Christians to appeal to a heathen Emperor because the basis upon which the emperor claimed his right to accept judicial appeal in a religious matter was as Pontifex Maximumus or Chief Priest of all cults or religions right. Aurelian was a pagan and later persecuted Christians.

There was discussion at various times as to how the situation could be managed and contained. It was considered by some that ecclesiastical courts' decisions, viz. of a final authoritative synod, must not be appealed to the emperor since such appeals gave the emperor important opportunities to interfere in church affairs. The flood gate once opened, however, was not easily held back.

The origins of Erastianism are instructive for this very reason. It may find a foothold even in a presbyterian nation and church that historically oppose it by the same means that we have noted above. For instance, the Free Church of Scotland constituted in 1843 in protest against Erastianism, state interference in the Church and the civil courts reviewing the decisions of Church courts. In 1900, the minority Free Church took the matter of determining which was the true Free Church to the civil courts in order to claim the material assets, particularly property, of the Free Church. Part of the reason that they remained within the Church after the Declaratory Act had been retained in its constitution was that the Constitutionalists had consulted eminent legal opinion about property in the winter 1892-3 in Scotland and England but it was not favourable to their retaining property unless Union came about. According to Free Church Counsel Mr Johnson in the 1904 case, it was a case of waiting till the best legal grounds for contesting the property came up - "We have certainly resisted, and when it comes to touch property, then is our opportunity". Ultimately, the case was successful at the House of Lords who seemed to be some toehold in determining the finer points of Calvinism. Yet the churches still required the State to establish a Royal Commission in order to determine how the property should be divided. To allow the State the right to review the civil consequences of the decisions of church courts appears to give it the role of a court of appeal from any decision of a church court, particularly in the light of the State's obsession with discrimination legislation.

These things work differently where there is an established connexion between Church and State so that the latter, in George Gillespie's words, “taketh care also for maintaining the ministers and schools, and supplieth the temporal necessities of God's servants”. In this case, however, the property and emoluments belong to the State and not the Church.

Gillespie's One hundred and eleven propositions concerning the ministry and government of the church defines clearly the role of Church and State and were approved by the Church of Scotland at its General Assembly. Gillespie says that the Scriptures forbid “the Christian magistrate to enter upon or usurp...the judicial dispensing of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to invade the church government” “but if any magistrate (which God forbid) should dare to arrogate to himself so much, and to enlarge his skirts so far, the church shall then straightway be constrained to complain justly, and cry out, that though the Pope is changed, yet popedom remaineth still”. Doctrinal determination of the principles of a church appears to involve the invasion of church government. As Gillespie goes on to say: “It is unlawful, moreover, to a Christian magistrate to withstand the practice and execution of ecclesiastical discipline (whether it be that which belongs to a particular church, or the matter be carried to a class or synod)”. Gillespie qualifies this to allow for absolute extraordinary emergencies when the Church has collapsed morally and in “the worst and most troublesome of times”, “when nothing almost is sound or whole”. There is also the qualification that civil laws are not to be disobeyed as far as obedience is consistent with obedience to God – likewise the Church has no business in “disturbing the peace and order of the commonwealth”.

The most telling proposition, however, is number 85.

“85. Yet ordinarily, and by common or known law and right in settled churches, if any man have recourse to the magistrate to complain, that, through abuse of ecclesiastical discipline, injury is done to him, or if any sentence of the pastors and elders of the church, whether concerning faith or discipline, do displease or seem unjust unto the magistrate himself, it is not for that cause lawful to draw those ecclesiastical causes to a civil tribunal, or to bring in a kind of political or civil popedom.”

Proposition 85 speaks of a situation where processes and procedures have not been followed correctly in that it speaks of where "through abuse of Ecclesiastick Discipline, injury is done". I would emphasise the word abuse, if Gillespie wished to refer to injury incurred by the proper or lawful exercise of church discipline he would not have needed to insert the word "abuse".

The same principle of no appeal beyond the supreme court of the church to the State is asserted by the Covenanter James Durham. "If all that [steps of Matt. 18] does not prevail, private persons may communicate it to other church officers; and no redress following, it is their duty to follow it before the competent superior judicatories. For Christ's directions, Tell the church, imports, and warrants the same.If it is asked, 'What further is to be done, if that fails?' ANSWER. We know no other public redress. Christ has left it there, and so may we also…That it is thus necessary for private persons to acquiesce in the church's determination, in manner as has been said, may appear from the unsettledness and confusion, both in private and public, which would otherwise follow. For either there must be a sisting in this determination of the church or there must be some other period to fix at, or there must be no fixing at all. Neither of the two last can be said, therefore etc. Not the last, to wit that there is no fixing at all; for so a particular person that was offended, would not know what was duty, or what to follow, and it would infer a defect in the Lord's ordinance in reference to his people's direction and peace in such cases, which is most absurd. If the second is said, viz. that there is some other thing to fix on for quieting of consciences in such a case, as to their exoneration beyond that public decision, we desire to know what that is which is called for, and by what rule we are to proceed in it?" p.116 James Durham, A Treatise Concerning Scandals.

It is for this reason that when one minister in the Reformed Church of Scotland in the 16th century appealed to the civil courts against his discipline, he was immediately deposed. The Claim, Declaration and Protest of 1843 describes this:

“The General Assembly having, in the year 1582, proceeded to inflict the censures of the Church upon Robert Montgomery, minister of Stirling, for seeking to force himself, under a presentation from the King, into the archbishopric of Glasgow, contrary to an act of the General Assembly discharging the office of Prelatic bishop in the Church, and for appealing to the secular tribunals against the infliction of Church censures by the Church Courts, and seeking to have these suspended and interdicted—and having deposed and excommunicated him, notwithstanding of an interdict pronounced by the Privy Council of Scotland, the then supreme secular court of the kingdom—and having at the same time declared it to be part of the subsisting discipline of the Church, that any ministers thereof who “should seek any way by the civil power to exempt and withdraw themselves from the jurisdiction of the Kirk, or procure, obtain, or use any letters or charges, etc., to impair, hurt, or stay the said jurisdiction, discipline, etc., or to make any appellation from the General Assembly to stop the discipline or order of the ecclesiastical policy or jurisdiction granted by God’s Word to the office-bearers within the said Kirk,” were liable to the highest censures of the Church; although their sentence of excommunication was declared by one of the Acts of Parliament of the year 1584, commonly called the “Black Acts,” to be void, yet ultimately the King and Privy Council abandoned their interference. Montgomery submitted to the Church Courts, and the statute of the twelfth Parliament of King James VI., already mentioned (1592, c. 116), cassed and annulled “all and whatsoever acts, laws, and statutes made at any time before the day and date thereof, against the liberty of the true Kirk, jurisdiction and discipline thereof, as the same is used and exercised within this realm;” since which enactment, no similar interference with the discipline and censures of the Church was ever attempted till the year 1841.”

Gillespie's following propositions clearly show his mind that Church courts are sufficient and there needs to be no appeal to the state.

87. Again, it hath been before showed, that to ecclesiastical evils ecclesiastical remedies are appointed and fitted, for the church is, no less than the commonwealth, through the grace of God, sufficient to itself in reference [pg 5-033] unto her own end, and as in the commonwealth, so in the church, the error of inferior judgments and assemblies, or their evil government, is to be corrected by superior judgments and assemblies, and so still by them of the same order, lest one order be confounded with another, or one government be intermingled with another government. What shall now the adversaries of ecclesiastical power object here, which those who admit not the yoke of the magistrate may not be ready, in like manner, to transfer against the civil judicatories and government of the commonwealth, seeing it happeneth sometimes that the commonwealth is no less ill governed than the church?

88. If any man shall prosecute the argument, and say that yet no remedy is here showed which may be applied to the injustice or error of a national synod, surely he stumbleth against the same stone, seeing he weigheth not the matter with an equal balance, for the same may, in like sort, fall back and be cast upon parliaments, or any supreme senate of a commonwealth, for who seeth not the judgment of the supreme civil senate to be nothing more infallible, yea, also, in matters of faith and ecclesiastical discipline, more apt and prone to error (as being less accustomed to sacred studies) than the judgment of the national synod? What medicines then, or what sovereign plasters shall be had, which may be fit for the curing and healing of the errors and miscarriages of the supreme magistrates and senate? The very like, and beside all this, other and more effectual medicines by which the errors of national synods may be healed, are possible to be had.

89. There wanteth not a divine medicine and sovereign balm in Gilead, for although the popish opinion of the infallibility of counsels be worthily rejected and exploded, yet it is not in vain that Christ hath promised he shall be present with an assembly which indeed and in truth meeteth in his name with such an assembly verily he useth to be present, by a spiritual aid and assistance of his own Spirit, to uphold the falling, or to raise up the fallen. Whence it is that divers times the errors of former synods are discovered and amended by the latter; sometimes, also, the second or afterthoughts of one and the same synod are the wiser and the better.

90. Furthermore, the line of ecclesiastical subordination is longer and further stretched than the line of civil subordination; for a national synod must be subordinate and subject to an universal synod in the manner aforesaid, whereas yet there is no oecumenical parliament or general civil court acknowledged, unto which the supreme civil senate in this or that nation should be subject. Finally, neither is the church altogether destitute of nearer remedies whether an universal council may be had or not.

Friday, March 13, 2009

the future of evangelicalism

Time magazine's photo essay on "The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals" is distinguished by people that really aren't evangelical at all. If this defines evangelicalism, it is in serious trouble. Time's coverage of the 'new Calvinism' of Generation X may prompt some concerns too.  Someone has been blogging on their expectations of significant decline for evangelicalism over the next 10 years and "that within two generations of where we are now evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its current occupants". The blogger is eschatologically optimistic but not optimistic for evangelicalism.

He gives as his reasons:
  • Evangelicals have lost the culture war and will be damagingly identified with this.
  • "Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people the evangelical Christian faith in an orthodox form that can take root and survive the secular onslaught".
  • "Evangelical churches have now passed into a three part chapter: 1) mega-churches that are consumer driven, 2) churches that are dying and 3) new churches that whose future is dependent on a large number of factors. I believe most of these new churches will fail, and the ones that do survive will not be able to continue evangelicalism at anything resembling its current influence."
  • "Christian education has not produced a product that can hold the line in the rising tide of secularism."
  • In a strongly secularist environment we can expect "evangelical ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive".
  • "Much of this collapse will come in areas of the country where evangelicals imagine themselves strong. In actual fact, the historic loyalties of the Bible belt will soon be replaced by a de-church culture where religion has meaning as history, not as a vital reality. At the core of this collapse will be the inability to pass on, to our children, a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith".
  • A major aspect of this collapse will happen because money will not be flowing towards evangelicalism in the same way as before.
What will be left as a result? 1) an evangelicalism greatly chastened in numbers, influence and resources and far from its doctrinal heritage including the gospel, 2) a remaining majority of Charismatic-Pentecostal Christians faced with the opportunity to reform or become unrecognizable, 3) an invigorated minority of evangelicals committed to theology and church renewal, 4) a marginalized emerging and mainline community and 5) an evangelicalized segment of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy 6) the death of fundamentalism 7) the death of large parachurch organisations. One blogger comments here .
This analysis must at some level owe a lot to Francis Schaeffer's book published in 1984, The Great Evangelical Disaster. The great evangelical disaster was "the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this -- namely accommodation: the evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age". It was a fairly to stand for Scripture (abandoning inerrancy) unequivocably and to stans against cultural decline. He wrote "we can expect the future to be a further disaster if the evangelical world does not take a stand for biblical truth and morality in the full spectrum of life". The following comment was incisive "It does seem to me that evangelical leaders, and every evangelical Christian, have a very special responsibility not to just go along with the "blue-jean syndrome" of not noticing that their attempts to be "with it" so often take the same forms as those who deny the existence or holiness of the living God. Accommodation leads to accommodation-which leads to accommodation..." It was a call to arms that was only partially heeded. Other subsequent writers such as David F Wells and Michael Horton have been more critical that evangelicalism is selling out completely on all of its historic principles.

How do you define evangelicalism? The historian David Bebbington gives it a largely doctrinal definition: crucicentrism [substitutionary atonement], conversionism, biblicism [the sole authority and inerrancy of the bible], and activism. This only fits in the loosest of senses that would blur any distinction with Barthian theology, for instance. 

D. G. Hart, in Deconstructing Evangelicalism argues that evangelicalism is "a minimalist account of the Christian faith" and "a concept that has obscured more of Christianity than it has revealed and should be abandoned as a separate religious identity". He also queries whether it can be properly defined and therefore really exists as a distinct movement. A very insightful series of articles 'Evangelical or Reformed' by Rev. H.M Cartwright in the Free Presbyterian Magazine covered this question, the first article is here (scroll down to p.213) with further articles in subsequent months .
We need those who have an understanding of the times. How do these observations fit within the total purpose of the history of redemption? Jonathan Edwards' book  which has that title shows how the millennium is the goal of redemptive history. It is the purpose towards which God in providence is directing history. 

He wrote "We have all reason to conclude from the Scriptures, that just before this work of God begins, it will be a very dark time with respect to the interests of religion in the world. It has been so before preceding glorious revivals of religion: when Christ came, it was an exceeding degenerate time among the Jews; and so it was a very dark time before the Reformation. And not only so, but it seems to be foretold in Scripture, that it shall be a time of but little religion, when Christ shall come to set up his kingdom in the world. Thus when Christ spake of his coming, to encourage his elect, who cry to him day and night, in Luke xviii. 8 he adds, "Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" Which seems to denote a great prevalency of infidelity just before Christ's coming to avenge his suffering church.—Though Christ's coming at the last judgment is not here to be excluded, yet there seems to be a special respect to his coming to deliver his church from their long-continued suffering, persecuted state, which is accomplished only at his coming at the destruction of Antichrist. Then will be accomplished the following passages, Rev. vi. 10. "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth." and Rev. xviii. 20. "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles, and prophets, for God hath avenged you on her."

It is now a very dark time with respect to the interests of religion, wherein there is but a little faith, and a great prevailing of infidelity on the earth. There is now a remarkable fulfilment of that in 2 Pet. iii. 3. "Knowing this, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts." And so Jude 17, 18. "But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts." Whether the times shall be any darker still, or how much darker, before the beginning of this glorious work of God, we cannot tell."

Lachlan Mackenzie of Lochcarron in his essay on the delusions that shall probably prevail prior to the millennium also spoke of a darkness so great that "it is to be feared that the Protestant Churches will be greatly eclipsed". "Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people".

But to encourage you to pray for the hastening of the days when the knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall cover the whole earth as the waters cover the sea, read Edwards on the millennium.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Love and Hatred

Love and hatred are not faults in themselves, it is what you hate or love that matters, so aince let the object of these affections be right, and then let thy affections be as bent as they can be. If you love God let affections be strong, if you hate his enemies then hate them with a perfect hatred. Many thinks that if they aince be changed by grace they must quit all their affections. No! No! Think not that.. There is no difference between the godly and the wicked in affections,
only anent their objects whether God or the is by affection that God ties the heart to him and makes it quit all else. Above all affections look to your love and hatred for it is only these that brings about perfection. It is pitiful when people about to die say, they never did anyone wrong in their lives and never consider what they loved and hated all their lives.

Alexander Henderson

Friday, March 06, 2009

the case for a contemporary bible in English

What makes a contemporary English Bible? It is widely presumed that this is an easy and straightforward question to answer: a contemporary version can only mean the Bible put into modern idiom. The great variety of modern idiom versions that exists, however, tells us that even this conclusion is not that uncomplicated since there is significant difference of opinion over what modern English idiom is. Does it for instance, include “gender neutral” terms? Kenneth Barker, secretary of the NIV Committee aimed to justify the 'gender-neutral' revision of that version in terms of “shifts in English idiom”.

Another problem is the common assumption that contemporary idiom means that “a modern Bible should aim not to tax its readers’ linguistic or interpretative abilities on bit. If this aim is to be achieved then it seems likely that a new Bible will have to be produced for every generation - each one probably moving us further away from the original text, now that the initial break has been made”. (Gerald Hammond). Indeed some publishers of the modern versions have estimated that translation will need to be revised in the light of modern language every 25-50 years.

There is yet another problem. What constitutes contemporary idiom? Where is it best found? Many modern versions have selected one contemporary idiom above all others and forced the Bible to speak in a journalistic voice. Billy Graham's high praise for the Good News Bible was that it read like the newspaper. Yet this a problem in that: "Unlike the modern newspaper, the Bible was never meant to yield the fullness of its message to those who are only willing to expend the absolute minimum of effort necessary” (Robert P. Martin).

From the perspective of language study this obsession with the journalistic voice is very strange since it is clear that different varieties of English exist in different situations. These are called registers and they vary according to the setting and purpose of the interaction, the relationship of those speaking together, and whether the language is spoken or written. Prof. WH Stevenson explains: ‘…at any given time, there is more than one “English” in use. The language of the corner shop is not the language of the most “popular” journalist, and the language of the pulpit, even with the most modern of preachers installed, is different from either’. What is ‘the language of today’ that we hear so much glib reference to in Bible version discussion? The very concept makes very little sense in this context. Instead of speaking of contemporary English we need to be more accurate and to define the register of the English language that is in question.

Definitions of contemporary idiom can be remarkably elastic and subjective. One of the principal translators of the New English Bible, Prof. Kenneth Grayston said: ‘Modern English, it seems to me, is slack instead of taut, verbose and not concise, infested with this month’s cliché…it seems to me a repository for the bad habits of foreigners speaking English. This is how we must speak if people are to listen and grasp what we say’. The translators of the New English Bible believed they were reproducing modern idiom, but in fact it was coloured by their ‘preponderantly Anglican’ and ‘Oxford’ background. The translators often found themselves proposing some ‘very 1930ish upper middle class English idiom’: the translation was made in the 1960s.

Dr Anthony H Nichols has researched problems in contemporary cross-cultural translation. In some versions Western principles and thought forms seem to dominate. This making the Scriptures to be Westernised rather than reflective of biblical language and culture. Dr. Nichols’ highly important research investigates the influence of dynamic equivalence in several Far Eastern translations. The results are alarming: “ what emerged was the immense influence of the GNB [Good News Bible] on three important no-western versions”. It was concluded that “the renderings of the more traditional ‘formal-correspondence’ Indonesian versions were regularly more culturally appropriate [in comparison with the dynamic equivalent versions]”.

What is more culturally appropriate in our own society may likewise be far different than the manufacturers of the modern versions assume. Like the “traditional” formally equivalent Far Eastern versions we believe that the Authorised Version is actually more culturally appropriate than its recent rivals. It is the most accurate and the faithfulness of the Authorised Version is the very thing that has contributed to its character of being perennially contemporary and appropriate. It is worth reflecting upon the fact that it was no more accessible to the large number of working class converts in the 1920’s and 1930’s who loved it, than it is to us.

The AV, contrary to much misleading prejudice, is ‘clearly a form of Modern English’ (WH Stevenson). Its language is still part of English as currently used, indeed the English Bible has shaped the language. Granted that it is an early form of modern English but it is clear that it is as removed from Medieval English (Chaucer and Wycliffe) as 20th century English. What is required in a translation is that it should be accurate and faithful and that it should be in English. The AV has not only shaped the English language as a whole, it is the most significant influence upon ‘religious English’, the register appropriate for worship.

God’s Word through the AV still maintains a place in our society.In fact it is more contemporary than the so-called contemporary English versions. This is because we must properly define the term “contemporary” in relation to accurately and faithfully rendering the Scriptures and presenting them adequately. There are broader dimensions to the position, place and influence that a translation of the Bible holds and should hold. Contrary to the popular fallacy that there is no present point of contact with the idiom of the AV, it is firmly embedded in everday speech, especially in our proverbialisms. A website which investigates the origin and meaning of proverbial sayings notes: 'What raises that version above other versions of the Bible in terms of its linguistic impact is the fact that the language used has persisted into the present-day. Many of the phrase used are still commonplace. Here are some of the many phrases that originated in the Bible...' (go here for the list, which is only a selection).

There is a Bible that contains the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the 23rd Psalm as the man in the street knows them only. There is a Bible that carries a weight of authority and stirs a wealth of association for a significant proportion of our population. A Bible too exists that is quoted whenever the bible is quoted or alluded to, whether in popular books; academic seminars and conference papers; tabloids; broadsheets; and high, low, or middle-brow culture.

Think of a local church with a building that is situated prominently within a community, town, or village: a building with which all sections of the community are readily familiar and into which the majority have been at least once or so. Should that church abandon that building and commission plush, new premises right out in the middle of nowhere, remote from any houses whatsoever? The analogy with the Authorised Version and our community is very appropriate.

We are surely justified in concluding that rumours of the death of the Authorised Version have been greatly exaggerated and that it still deserves its justified title - The English Bible.