Unofficial Transcript of SBC 2019 ERLC Q&A

Below I’ve transcribed the ERLC Q&A with Dr. Russell Moore that has raised a host of concerns. I’m not sure what the copyright rules are, so I’ll remove it if I’m told to. Until then, I hope this provides something concrete as the conversation continues regarding what was said.

Travis McNeely: My name’s Travis McNeely, messenger of Woodlawn Baptist Church, Dr. Moore, in a 2007 podcast with IX Marks, you were asked whether women underneath the authority of a pastor could teach or preach to men. You said, ‘If the Apostle Paul wanted to say that, he would’ve said it. Everybody in the churches remain under the authority of the pastor. It doesn’t mean you now have the authority to sin, to go against the creational order. It would be very much akin to a woman saying, “I’m going to commit adultery under the headship of my husband. I have my husband’s permission to commit adultery.” Nor does it allow a woman to do what is forbidden in Scripture, which is to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” Is this still your position on women teaching in the church? Thank you.

Moore: Well thank you brother for that question. What I would say to you is this: I have very strong convictions about biblical complementarity that God has gifted both men and women for service within the church, and that God has distinctively given callings to men and to women in some specific ways. Our Baptist Faith and Message confessional document is very clear in terms of our parameters of understanding complementarity there. We have issues on which we all agree and issues that we need to agree completely in order to cooperate and to have a mission together. There are lots of other issues where we have a common agreement, be we have different ways of applying that at the secondary or at the tertiary level. I think that the New Testament pattern is to have the Lord’s Supper weekly. I’m not only happy to cooperate with churches that have the Lord’s Supper monthly or quarterly or at other times; I don’t even go to a church that has the Lord’ Supper weekly, and I’m happy to be there. We can have some different applications, sometimes, about what our biblical complementarity looks like in some ways, but we are united around the fact that, as our Baptist Faith and Message says, the office of pastor is limited to men. What I would say to you at this point, and what I would probably say to myself in 2007 (a lot of things I would like to say to myself in 2007), is to say that complementarianism requires complementarity. And that means that we need both men and women serving in every biblically appropriate way. As a social conservative, I believe that children need both a mother and a father. There are two ways that you can destroy that. One of those ways is to say, “It doesn’t matter whether this is a mother or a father, all you need is a parent.” The other way is to say, “All you need is a mother” or “All you need is a father.” We need both mothers and fathers within the church of Jesus Christ, and we live in a denomination where we have firm convictions on biblical complementarity, but we are the denomination that was sending out Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong before women could vote in the United States of America. The idea that we are listening too much to women in the Southern Baptist Convention is not an idea that makes very much sense to me right now. Instead, I would say, “Let’s be complementarian and let’s try some true complementarianism,” which means empowering men and women to serve under faithfulness to the inerrant word of Jesus Christ.

Tom Buck: My name’s Tom Buck, I’m a messenger for First Baptist Church Lindale, TX. Dr. Moore, first of all thank you as a pastor who has had to work with many, unfortunately, that have been sexually abused, also within my family, several people. So thank you for your stand on those issues.

I want to ask a little bit of a different question, but I think I’d like us to address it before it does become a crisis as well. So, I’m truly thankful for how you’ve spoken with great clarity in the past regarding issues of homosexuality. However, your and the ERLC’s endorsement of Living Out Ministries have been anything but clear. Your endorsement stated on the Living Out website that these resources are anchored in biblical conviction. Yet, their resources specifically teach that a same-sex attracted individual is fixed in his orientation, that same-sex couples can be a “healthy environment to nurture children,” and that parents should “have any family rule for teenagers about same-sex girlfriends or boyfriends that they should also apply to opposite sex ones.” Since those resources existed at the time of your endorsement, would you please explain the circumstances that gave rise to your endorsement that enabled you to say that those type of resources are anchored to biblical conviction?

Moore: My endorsement was of the ministry of a man by the name of Sam Alberry, who has lived through absolute persecution from his Anglican communion for standing up for the biblical truth that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and that sexual immorality is wrong and that the gospel is offered to all who will repent and believe of [on] Jesus Christ, someone who has lived out his life heroically. There were some differences later on in that ministry that caused some parting of the ways, and that’s why I endorse Sam, I don’t endorse everybody that he’s ever met. But your ERLC has been actively working on this issue of homosexuality, not only in terms of moral teaching about what the Bible teaches on sexual morality, but also in terms of preserving and protecting religious liberty for churches who are called bigoted, called hateful, called retrograde, simply for affirming what Jesus has taught to us, that from the beginning he created them male and female, and we will continue to do so.

Advertisements

Three Steps in Bible Study Meditation, or A Simple Method of Bible Study

At Kosmosdale Baptist Church, we do a men’s fellowship breakfast once a month (with some irregularity). The method I’ve had us use is fairly straightforward and informal. After conversation, fellowship, and breakfast, we open to a book of the Bible that I’ve chosen for that month. I give an introduction to the book, highlighting some of the background and some main themes or things to watch out for. Then we read. I read the first chapter and the man to my left reads the second, and so it goes until we’ve finished the book. See, at Kosmosdale, as at many churches, we regularly experience deep study of a single chapter or a handful of verses, so reading through a whole book provides something of an unusual encounter with the Word. (As an aside, we have done portions of a book, such as Psalm 119 or Romans 1–11, just due to time constraints).

At the end of our reading I ask three questions, and these three questions are my reason for writing this post:

  • What does this tell us about who God is?
  • What does this tell us about Christ?
  • What does this demand from us?

These three questions help us to perform three types of theology. We learn how to look at Scripture as the source of God’s self-revelation, his declaration of who he is in himself, as he has revealed himself to us. Second, we learn to look at Scripture as the redemptive unfolding of God’s self-revelation in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ is the Savior, the King and Priest, the one toward whom the whole Old Testament pointed and the one who, in the fulness of time, became as we are yet without sin to redeem a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. He is the one who is coming again to judge the living and the dead. In each book of the Bible, we learn of who God is and what he has done. Third, we learn to look at Scripture as the sufficient guide for faith and practice. Because of who God is and what he has done, we must live a certain way. We must repent and believe, and we must call our neighbors to do the same. We must love God and love our neighbors. We must put aside certain things and put on certain other things.

I ask these three questions because I think they provide the basic framework for receiving the Bible according to its own purpose. Its purpose is to bring us to worship the God who is. Its purpose is to declare the mighty works of God and demonstrate how the mysterious purpose of God determined before the ages began was manifest in Christ. Its purpose is to provide us God’s holy standard (law) and declare to us God’s holy provision (gospel). We too often focus on one or another of these, either focusing on doctrine to the exclusion of practice, the biblical storyline to the exclusion of the One who is eternal, or the application of Scripture to our lives to the exclusion of focusing on the One who matters more than everything that exists.

I hope you find these three questions helpful for you as you engage in Bible study and meditation. You don’t need to read a whole book of the Bible to have enough to think about these three things. Just keep reading what you normally do, and afterward take a moment to think about how to answer these three questions from the text. You’ll be amazed at how easily you are drawn into worship and prayer.

Directory of Private Worship: A Plain Summary

I was in a conversation with Dru Johnson (who’s book Scripture’s Knowing is a great work on Christian epistemology) on Twitter about an article that looks at the notion of “quiet times.” I’m no expert on the history of personal spirituality, so I don’t have any insight to the accuracy of a dissertation the article drew on. What was curious to me about the dissertation, however, was that it aimed to explain something of the notion behind quiet times in English-speaking countries by looking back to 1870. Again, I didn’t read the dissertation, so I don’t know why they decided on that specifically, but I mentioned that it would seem that one would have to at least go back to the Directory of Private Worship put out by the Westminster Assembly in 1647. That led to me deciding to do this post. I’m not making any kind of argument. All I want to do here is provide a plain, contemporary-English summary of the fourteen points provided by the Divines. You can read the full text here.

First, they say there is need to engage in individual and family worship, and that one duty of pastors (elders) is to ensure that this is being done.

  1. “Secret” worship (i.e. individual worship) must be engaged in morning and evening, and pastors and heads of household should ensure that it is happening.
  2. Families should engage in worship together by 1) praying (for one another, the family, and the church) and singing praises, and 2) reading Scripture and conducting catechism.
  3. If someone in the family is able to read, he should read the Scriptures and they should discuss how to make use of the Scriptures (e.g. comfort, repent).
  4. It is the duty of the head of the family to ensure the members are engaged in worship, and so the minister ought to ensure that they are performing their duty and train them for that. The minister may assign someone else if the head of the family is unfit for the responsibility.
  5. Don’t allow just anyone to lead in the family worship, especially because those people may be seeking to lead a family astray
  6. The family should not bring in others to attend family worship with them, unless, of course, they’re with them for some other purpose, like dinner or something like that.
  7. Not withstanding the fruit of people from different families meeting together in the past, this practice should not continue as it tends to hinder family worship, causes prejudice against the public ministry, and eventually divides families and the church. Not to mention, there’s no oversight to guard against sin.
  8. On the Lord’s day, each person individually and the family as a whole should call on the Lord to prepare them for public worship, and the head of the house should ensure that all in his home go to public worship. After the worship, the head of the house should find out what everyone heard, and then spend time in catechisis and prayer. Or they may go individually to read, meditate, and pray, and so build on the public worship.
  9. Everyone who can pray ought to pray, though the immature may need a set form of prayer to help them get started. Since God gives the gift of prayer to his children, they ought to be increasingly fervent and frequent in it. As a help, things that can be meditated on and prayed for are:
    1. “Let them confess to God how unworthy they are to come in his presence, and how unfit to worship his Majesty; and therefore earnestly ask of God the spirit of prayer.”
    2. They should confess theirs and their family’s sin, condemning themselves for their sin to bring about “some measure of true humiliation”
    3. “They are to pour out their souls to God, in the name of Christ, by the Spirit, for forgiveness of sins; for grace to repent, to believe, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly; and that they may serve God with joy and delight, walking before him.”
    4. “They are to give thanks to God for his many mercies to his people, and to themselves, and especially for his love in Christ, and for the light of the gospel.
    5. “They are to pray for such particular benefits, spiritual and temporal, as they stand in need of for the time, (whether it be morning or evening,) as anent health or sickness, prosperity or adversity.
    6. “They ought to pray for the [church] of Christ in general, for all the reformed [churches], and for this [church] in particular, and for all that suffer for the name of Christ; for all our superiors, the king’s majesty, the queen, and their children; for the magistrates, ministers, and whole body of the congregation whereof they are members, as well for their neighbours absent in their lawful affairs, as for those that are at home.”
    7. “The prayer may be closed with an earnest desire that God may be glorified in the coming of the kingdom of his Son, and in doing of his will, and with assurance that themselves are accepted, and what they have asked according to his will shall be done.”
  10. These exercises should not be neglected, and elders ought to be sure that, not only they and their families are conducting them, but so also are all under their care.
  11. Not only should these ordinary duties be performed by families, but so too should the extraordinary duties that the Lord occasionally calls for.
  12. Each member of the church ought to encourage one another toward godliness, rebuking when necessary, especially in godless times.
  13. If there is a case where the individual is not helped in their distressed conscience by private and public means, they ought to approach their pastor or a mature Christian individually. If it would cause scandal for their to be a private meeting (e.g. if it is a woman meeting alone with their male pastor), it is fine to have a godly friend present.
  14. When people from different families are together, perhaps because they’re away from their families for work, they should remain diligent in prayer and thanksgiving, led by whomever they judge “fittest.” They ought to take care that no corruption comes out of their mouths, but only such as ministers grace.

They close by saying that the point of this directory is to encourage proper worship and order and discourage “under the name and pretext of religious exercises” meetings and practices that are apt to breed error, scandal, schism, contempt, or disregard for public ordinances and ministers.

I’m sure I mis-worded something, so if you think there is a clearer way to express something that’s said in the document, feel free to drop me a note.

5 Assumptions to Avoid About a Pastor’s/Scholar’s Library

Looking at all my books, I’ve thought about the fact that there are some things people probably don’t know when looking at a pastor’s or a scholar’s library. To clarify, I operate under the assumption that the pastors of a local church are the resident theologians, which means there’s a lot of overlap between a pastor’s library and the library of an intellectual professional in any other field. So what are some assumptions to avoid in looking at a pastor’s/scholar’s library?

  1. Don’t assume they’ve read them all. Most people buy a book, read it, add it to their bookshelf, and buy another. The outliers in that scheme are things like dictionaries, which sit on the shelf for reference. Thus, when someone looks at a pastor’s/scholar’s library, they may assume he or she has read the massive amount of books lining their walls. However, for a pastor/scholar, the reality is that many of those books are there for reference, or they are there because they have plans to read them at a later point. There are all sorts of other reasons why they have a lot of books, but don’t immediately assume they’ve read every one of them.
  2. Don’t assume they’ve only read those books. We live in an era where books are extremely accessible, and the reality is that a scholar/pastor has probably purchased the majority of the books that they’ve read, but there are also many important books that run at $50 or more than $100. That means scholars often make use of libraries. Further, pastors often hand on books that really impact them. Thus, looking at the shelves in a pastor’s/scholar’s study/office/home should not lead to the assumption that they have not read some particular book.
  3. Don’t assume that they’ve paid for all those books. It’s true, the nature of our work means that we budget for books, like other professionals would budget for tools and equipment, and so most of our books have been purchased out of pocket or a specific account. But another aspect of our work is that people know that we need books, so we are given books by publishers, friends, at conferences, and retiring pastors/scholars. Not all of the thousands and thousands of books were purchased, and very few were purchased full price.
  4. Don’t assume they agree with all those books. One of the important differences between the average reader and the pastor/scholar is that the average reader will usually devote their time and energy to those books that will help them and shape them, books they generally agree with and enjoy, and this is good. A pastor/scholar, however, is involved in the discussion of ideas , and often ideas they disagree with. Rather than only reading the critics of “other side,” the pastor/scholar often reads them firsthand. When you see a book on their shelf that is shocking, don’t assume they necessarily agree with it, enjoy it, or were positively shaped by it.
  5. Don’t assume they don’t need more books. It would be easy to assume by the bulging shelves and stacks of books all around that they don’t need any more. However, the fact that they are regularly involved in the great conversation of ideas means they will likely always need “just one more book.”

A shelf full of books may be deceiving, so hopefully this trucated list is helpful in understanding that pastor’s/scholar’s library!

Some Stray Thoughts on Why I Appreciate the 2LBCF (1689)

I write this post unprecipitated and undeveloped; nothing drove me to it and it’s not exhaustive. What are some reasons I think the 1689 LBCF is a good confession of faith? I offer four.

  1. True. Why hold to a confession of faith if it isn’t true? If you don’t believe that it accurately reflects and distills the teaching of Scripture, why subscribe to it? While some Reformed Baptists take some exceptions (usually on the doctrine of the Sabbath and the statement that the Pope is the antichrist), still any who consider themselves to be following the standard beliefs of Baptists since their appearance would admit that the 1689 is substantially reflective of their interpretation of Scripture. It would be very hard for me to start piling up exceptions on a confession, and that is one reason I so apprecitate the 1689 LBCF.
  2. Catholic. First, I need to define what I mean by “catholic.” I mean “the whole number of the elect, that have been, are or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the Head thereof [i.e. of the catholic church]; . . the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all.” (2LBCF 26.1) By holding to the Second London, I confess with those across the ages that Christ is Lord, especially Baptists from the mid-1630’s through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which held to the 1689. Further, I show the great continuities in what it means to confess that Christ is Lord alongside Congregationalists/Independents and Presbyterians (in addition to the Reformed). Not only that, you can see in my confession the places at which we explicitly build on the theology of the early church (especially chapter 2), the middle ages (consider chapter 8), and the Reformation (every doctrine). Thus, the Second London allows me to stand alongside brothers and sisters today, clearly understanding those areas where we differ, on the shoulders of those that came before us.
  3. Thorough. Some have accused Reformed Baptists (subscribers to the 1689) of being uncareful and “heresy hunters.” On social media, there’s no doubt that it often ends up being true. I’ve seen some postulate that it may have to do with the fact that the thorough nature of the confession attracts a certain sort of dogmatic personality. Again, there may be some truth to this. However, one reason I hold to the 1689 is that it accurately reflects the doctrine I believe Scripture teaches, and thus allows others to see where I’m coming from and how the things I believe fit together in a system. It covers such a broad spectrum of doctrines that there are few discussions that go unaddressed to some extent. Thus, while it may attract “heresy hunters,” it also, at least in my case, attracts people who seek a healthy reformed catholicity, that is, communion with those we differ with on important issues along with clear lines of substantial agreement.
  4. Edifying. Finally, at least in this “stray thoughts” post, I appreciate the Second London because it is edifying. Like many works of theology that drive me to meditation, contemplation, and worship, so too does the expression of truth put together by the Westminster divines and Baptist pastors encourage me to consider God more deeply, consider the order of his creation more biblically, and consider my own life more closely. The 1689 is not Scripture (see chapter 1.1), but like any good work of theology, it summarizes Scripture in such a way that one must think deeply about the God who has spoken.

Confessions of faith are healthy items for any group of Christians seeking to express what it means to know and love God and neighbor. These items can be more or less specific based on prudential matters, or levels of co-belligerence. Still, even more detailed confessions can serve to strengthen bonds for the simple fact that they lay bare the points of difference and encourage recognition of commonality. Many today who wish to do away with confessions are the same ones who are simultaneously seeking to open doors of camaraderie with those their Protestant forbears would have rebuked, usually in the name of irenicism. I am thankful for the Second London Baptist Confession (1689), and I hope we will continue to see the spread of its readoption.

The Name of God is Blasphemed: A Call to Ministers and Aspiring Ministers to Assess Themselves

American Evangelical/Conservative Christianity is in turmoil. From discussions and debates over the proper understanding of the Trinitarian relations to the proper understanding of civil justice and the proper response to those who have same-sex attractions, there are many questions up for grabs. But deep practical failures have ripped through our circles as well. Last year, we had multiple prominent men removed from their posts due to moral failings; one of those we only found details about recently.

I do not intend to discuss the proper response to accusations of misconduct or heterodoxy in this post.

Rather, I intend this post to discuss the importance of personal assessment for the minister and aspiring minister. We must ask our wives, close friends, (other) elders, and fellow Christians to assess our lives, but we must also examine our lives and thoughts. Each of the various groups I just listed will have varying levels of awareness about our personal shortcomings.

First, let’s think about the importance of personal faithfulness. “Mortification of Spin” recently published two blog posts with lists of questions about theology proper to ask prospective candidates for ordination in order to guard against heterodox, and sometimes outright heretical, views of God finding a place in our pulpits. At one point they make this statement: “Of course, it is always hard to reject a candidate at an ordination exam.  They have probably spent tens of thousands of dollars in pursuit of the MDiv degree, not to mention the time invested therein.” Again, my purpose here is not to discuss external assessment, but personal. Let’s take this statement and think about it in personal terms. If you are a seminary student or a pastor/elder at a church, it may be daunting to examine your heart and life because if you come up short, you have much to lose. You have spent (tens of) thousands of dollars on a seminary education, and often times closer to a hundred thousand because of an undergraduate degree in biblical studies before that. Without any extenuating circumstances, you may have spent seven and a half years in pursuit of that training, more if you had to reduce your course load to work. If you’re already in ministry, you can add to that your current job, often your home, your standing in the church, your wife and children’s comfort.

Does this sound like a lot? Does it sound like your whole world? Our Lord said, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matt 16:26) We often think of this statement in vague terms, applying it to sometimes nonsense and sometimes only the most extreme circumstances. Dear brother, you must assess yourself with this as a real possibility in your mind. You may need to give it all up because you have disqualified yourself from ministry, but you desire to be repentant toward the Lord. It is better to be a doorkeeper in the Lord’s house than to dwell in the tents of wickedness (Ps 84:10). If the sin is not worth cutting off, you may be in danger of hell (Matt 5).

Second, and even more importantly, we must think about the glory of God’s name. In the Lord’s Prayer, we implore him, “Hallowed be your name” or “sanctify your name” or “make your name be revered as holy.” When the world looks at the most obvious representatives on earth and sees them behaving in the most deplorable ways, committing adultery, embezzling money, promoting physical or sexual abuse, the name of God is dragged through the mud. His all-holy name is blasphemed (Rom 2:19–24), and the world hardens itself even more to the message. Do you get that? “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Rom 2:24; Isa 52:5) When Paul talks about dealing with the sins of elders, after saying we must be very cautious in doing so, he says, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Tim 5:20, emphasis added).

The gospel minister has a beautiful and holy task. He cries out to the world, “This is who God is!” His life, though imperfect, must reflect that of a man seeking the Lord’s face and fleeing from sin. His thought must be commensurate with the God who has instructed us of who he is in Scripture. His family must be a display of faithfulness, as both a husband and a father. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (Jas 3:1).

Critique the BF&M 2000?

I just finished signing the contract with Founders Press for a book that should be coming out this fall entitled (provisionally), Still Confessing. It is an exposition of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, the governing document for the Southern Baptist Convention, from a Reformed Baptist perspective. The nature of confessions, at least of this sort, is to articulate the minimal standards of unity for a particular body. For instance, the Second London leaves out the topic of open or close communion, though most of the churches practiced close (and all churches that take the catechism as a confessional standard should, see Q 103). The Baptist Faith and Message intentionally allows for both Calvinistic and modified “Arminian” interpretations, and for various eschatological views.

Do I critique the Baptist Faith and Message in the book? No, not really. There are certainly points where I wish it said things a little more specific, but what I hope to be offering in the work is an example of what it looks like for a Reformed Baptist to affirm the BF&M, and why it isn’t a troublesome document for us. The document allows for us to cooperate with those we believe are true Christians and able to be members in good standing at a true local church. Our own congregation, Kosmosdale Baptist Church, requires affirmation of the BF&M for membership while we have the Second London as a standard for officers and teachers. That sort of set up, we feel, allows for both breadth in communion and depth and consistency in teaching.

In other words, we don’t have to cross our fingers when we affirm the BF&M. We, Reformed Baptists in the SBC, believe that what it says is true, and we understand that there are points that are intentionally vague so as to allow people who believe something different can also affirm it also, while there are also parts that are explicit in order to restrict affirmation. Confessions explicitly unify and divide. It’s my hope that the work helps people walk through the confession and affirm the glorious truths of Scripture there summarized.

Theology is the Love of God

I just read a really good article by Trevin Wax over at The Gospel Coalition. There, he argues that the theological minutiae matter, and demonstrates why that is so. Here, I want to offer a slight corrective in the context of overall agreement, because, as he says, the minutiae matter.

We will look at these quotes which is indicative of a large misunderstanding of the nature of theology.

Let’s just get on with our mission, some say. But the mission is informed by theology.

Let’s just love God and love people and leave aside all that theological stuff. But theology is the discipline of knowing and understanding the God we are called to love. And theology helps us understand what love is, how you distinguish true love from merely sentimental feelings, and how you can adopt ways of life that aid rather than hinder you in your love for neighbor.

In italics, he is citing common objections to the discipline of theology, but I think he includes slight shifts in his own response that I would want to amend.

“The mission is informed by theology.” The mission is not just informed by theology; it is theology. When we reach out to the church and the lost, what we desire is for them to know God, which is another way of saying theology.

“Theology is the discipline of knowing and understanding the God we are called to love.” This is closer, but I want to say, theology is the discipline of knowing and understanding AND loving God with the mind. No one truly knows God unless he loves him, and no one loves God unless he knows him. These are different aspects of the same action.

Theology is itself worship, the hallowing of the name of God. It is a declaration to him, first, of who he is, and to the church and world of who he is. “You are high and lifted up.” “You are too pure than to look upon sin.” “You have revealed yourself inerrantly in Scripture and in Christ.” “You are the Creator of all things.” “You have saved a people for yourself by means of your Son, who is God and man, the perfect substitute for sinful man and perfect revelation of yourself to man.” “You have united us to him by the blessed Holy Spirit, who lives in us as your temple.” “You will bring all things to completion at the second coming of your Son.”

The theologian, if he is a Christian, which is the only true theologian, is one who has seen the face of God and reflects that to the church and the world. His face glows as Moses’s did. He does not simply say, “This is what he is like,” but “This is who he is, so worship him.” Theology shouldn’t just lead to doxology; it should be doxology (consider the meaning of the word ‘orthodox.’)

I agree with Wax’s article. I think he points to the real inconsistencies in our thought about the relative importance of minute details. I just want us to also remember that theology is itself worship and the disparagement of it reveals a heightened sense of the importance of man and a lowered understanding of the importance of God.

Sacred Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer, by Witsius– Pt. 4

Last week we finished up some of the preliminary issues of prayer that Witsius was addressing. We looked, in the initial six chapters, at a definition of prayer, the reason for prayer, the posture of the mind, body, and day, and finally the validity of praying the Lord’s Prayer directly. The last post considered that issue directly because it seems there were some in Witsius’s mind who allowed that the Lord’s Prayer might provide the blueprint for our prayers, but not that we could or should pray it directly. I think some may think that today, though without saying so out loud, so I still think that was a helpful exercise.

In this post, we will be looking at chapter (“dissertation”) seven, the first of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. For each of these, I will provide the English (ESV), Greek, and Latin of the petition before outlining the chapter. If you know Greek or Latin, it may be a good exercise to attempt to memorize it in those languages (most people already have the prayer memorized in English or their first language).

Our Father in Heaven

Πατερ ἡμων ὁ ἐν τοις οὐρανοις

Pater noster qui es in caelis


  • “Father” (154)
  1. The Son instructs us to call upon the Father, namely, the first Person of the Godhead, his Father and, only when we are in Christ, our Father
    1. First, we recognize that we recognize that all three Persons are invoked when we invoke the Father because they are inseparable in nature. “Our Father” invokes the first Person specifically because:
      1. 1) In the economy of grace, salvation comes from the Father as origin through the Son by the Spirit, and our prayers are represented as directed back to the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit
      2. 2) In the New Testament, the name “Father” always refers to the Father of Christ, who is his Father by nature and ours by grace
      3. 3) This is specifically seen in the case of the various prayers throughout the New Testament
      4. 4) Our Lord himself talks about us asking the Father in his name
    2. This understanding is expressed in the Palatine Catechism and a dissertation by Gomarus
    3. The only reason for this exercise is to understand the meaning of Scripture, because of course the Son and Spirit are invoked in the invocation of the Father (Consider Nicaea’s “who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified”)
  2. Why do we call God Father?
    1. 1) As the one from whom we have our being, body and soul, God is more truly our Father than even our own earthly parents, since even they have their being from him
    2. 2) Even more importantly, the elect call God Father because he has regenerated us by the Spirit and not by their genealogy or theirs or someone else’s will, and because he begat us in a shadow of analogy to the begetting of the Son
    3. 3) They have been adopted by the heavenly Father and therefore have an heavenly inheritance
  3. Differences in Covenantal Epoch
    1. In the Old Testament, the people as a whole understood themselves as externally the son(s) of God (e.g. Deut. 14:1)
      1. Digression: Witsius interprets Job 34:36 to begin with the statement, “My father,” rather than “My desire.”** He believes it shows Elihu’s 1) desire that God show fatherly care for Job, 2) brotherly affection for Job, and 3) the intended consequence of the trial— “filial reverence and confidence”
    2. Though Old Testament believers were better off than Gentile or outward–covenant unbelievers, “all their high advantages lose not a little of their lustre when compared with the privileges reserved by our heavenly Father for the happier times of the New Testament,” (164) in which we are no longer under the tutors and no different than servants (cf. Gal 4:1–5).
      1. We see this difference in the marked shift in how we formulate our prayers. Believers usually began, “O Lord” in the Old Covenant, but now cry out “Abba, Father”
      2. Consider the difference between slaves’ approach to the head of the house and a freeman’s approach who wishes to be adopted (Witsius is drawing on a work that said a freeman who called someone “Father” was asking to be adopted, while servants were forbidden from using that title).
  • “Our” (167)
  1. It is an expression of “Faith” and “Charity”
    1. Faith: It says that you believe what God has said concerning your relationship to him
    2. Charity: It says we are including our neighbor, specifically the whole church, in our prayers
    3. But shouldn’t this prayer mean that only Christians can pray it?
      1. 1) No prayer is proper that doesn’t proceed from the spirit of prayer, which is the spirit that has been regenerated and adopted; thus, any reason we might have against this prayer would count against all prayers
      2. 2) Not everyone who has been regenerated feels themselves to be a child of God, and yet it would be wrong to tell them not to pray just because they don’t feel themselves to be in the right condition to pray. These people ought to pray to him with the hope and request that he really be their Father and that they feel him to be so
      3. 3) Unbelievers who move among the people of God should not be taught some other form of prayer since no prayer is acceptable to God that is not offered by one who is a child of the Father. Therefore, unbelievers ought to be exhorted to implore God to grant them the right to address him as Father. Further, they can be told that there is a sense in which they can address him as Father because he created them, preserves them, and has granted them blessings. Seeing these things, they should be driven to beg from him the grace of adoption so that he may be their Father in the fullest sense
  • “In the Heavens” (ἐν τοις ουρανοις) (170)
  1. The loftiness of heaven
    1. There is something universal to the idea that God or the gods dwell above
    2. Christians believe that heaven is where God dwells beyond all observable realities, and yet is that place which all observable realities point to and pale in comparison to
    3. Christians believe that heaven is that place of blessed rest which is held out as a promised land when the troubles of life have ended
    4. Though in former times, believers directed their minds toward the type, i.e. the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle/Temple, in the New Covenant economy we direct our prayers directly to heaven
    5. Our entire manner of life ought to be shaped by the realization that we are children of the heavenly Father
    6. The great God of heaven, before whom angels bow, who is eternal and incorruptible and immortal and heavenly, has commanded us who are temporal and corruptible and mortal and earthly to call him Father. Thus, we ought to approach him with great reverence (consider the absence we see of this realization in our own time)
    7. And yet there is a reverence with which we approach this heavenly One because he has commanded us to call him Father. “Every human emotion is confined with narrow bounds. The love of God towards his children is infinite and everlasting.” (178)
    8. Not only does it convince us that he will hear us with love, but it also teaches us to approach him with love for him and our neighbor. If he who is in heaven is ‘our’ father, how can we not love those who are our brothers and sisters before him
    9. Finally, that he is in heaven ought to draw our minds and desires away from this world. “Nothing which is not elevated, spiritual, heavenly, and worthy of his inconceivable majesty, should be permitted to enter into our conceptions of God. Nothing which is not proper for our Heavenly Father to give, and for us, the children of such a Father, to receive, ought ever to form the subject of our prayers.” (180)
    10. We ought, then, to be encouraged by the prayer to live in a manner worthy for those who call him “Father.” Our love for the saints ought to be demonstrated in life we come before him saying “our” Father. Confessing he is “in heaven” ought to be demonstrated in a life that is not characterized by a love for the transitory. (181–82)
    11. From the lofty heights of a soul that dwells in heaven, the great and mighty things of this world are like ants toiling within a narrow circle

Such a beautiful statement to close it out that I must just include it at length (he has just said that even unbelievers are drawn beyond this world):

But we are Christians, and aspire to nobler wisdom. What lofty emotions ought not to be raised in us by the consideration that we have a Father, who dwells far above all these heavens, in himself and in his own unapproachable light,—an eldest brother, who has gone before us to prepare a habitation,—and an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us. These, these, Christians, deserve your solicitude, your regard, your earnest activity. All things else are toys, trifles, shadows, mere nothings, loss and
dung.3 I conclude, in the words of Chrysostom, contained in his XIV. Homily on the Epistle to the Ephesians: From the moment that you said, our Father which art in heaven, the expression elevated you, gave wings to your thoughts, showed you that you have a Father in heaven. Do nothing, say nothing, that belongs to the earth. Has he raised you to that exalted rank? Has he admitted you to that society? Why do you degrade yourself?

–p. 184

**I looked at various translations (English, Spanish, French, German, and Greek), and they all have something like “Oh!” or “I desire.” The only translations that have the words, “My father,” at least in my quick search, are the Wycliffe, Douay-Rheims, Young’s Literal Translation, and God’s Word, and the Clementine Latin Vulgate (although the newest edition by the Vatican has changed it to Utique, which matches the majority of texts).

Sacred Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer, by Witsius-Pt. 3

In the last post, we looked at chapters (“Dissertations”) 3–5. In those, Witsius began to look at the four items to consider for conducting prayer properly. None of this, however, is meant to undercut the notion that the best prayers are conversational in tone between the soul and God. The three items he addresses that we looked at last time are 1) the proper mindset, 2) the the proper posture, and 3) the proper times. The mindset is one that can’t be addressed too deeply since it is something experienced more than abstracted, but it definitely focus upon the one being addressed before, during, and after. The proper posture includes bowing, prostration, standing, open hands, un/covered heads, bare feet. The proper times are probably morning, noon, and evening. Some things to remember from these discussions are 1) these are the sort of things that should be considered for structured (scheduled) prayer, not necessarily the extemporaneous prayers, and 2) these are generalizations and everyone will differ in exact manner. Someone who is bed-ridden will not be able to pray on their knees or standing, and someone with duties at a particular time in the morning or evening will schedule their prayers at a different time than someone with different duties. I may schedule mine at 6 a.m., but you may be driving to work at 6 a.m. and need to schedule yours at 5:30 or 5 a.m. I may live in a context in which it is rude to leave something on your head during prayer or remove your shoes from your feet, and and you may live in a context that is the exact opposite. Further, you should not treat the stated times as the only times you can pray or the particular postures the only postures. I find myself praying whenever I’m alone in the car, or in the shower, or getting ready for the day. What Witsius is dealing with is specifically scheduled prayer. Do you schedule Scripture reading for the morning/evening? My next question, which I hope challenges you, is whether you also schedule prayer into your day, or do you just assume you do it enough extemporaneously? The best practice for both is both: schedule your Bible reading and prayer and, when you have a moment in your day, open your Bible and pray. If you find yourself skeptical of the necessity of following Witsius, I encourage you to read him in the sections for yourself. His main arguments come from following biblical examples from the Old and New Testaments, and then looks at how they were retained in the early church.

The fourth item segues into Witsius’s treatment of the Lord’s Prayer itself as he considers the proper petitions we may bring before God in prayer. Specifically, he is addressing the question of whether there is a form we should follow in prayer. Consider the way this fits among the preceding chapters: 1) What should be the form of our mind in prayer, 2) what should be the form of our body for prayer, 3) what should be the form of our day for prayer, and 4) what should be the form of our prayer itself.

Since we, as mortals, do not know how to approach God in prayer, he teaches us.

  1. By the Spirit (122–23) (he repeats these in various ways throughout the chapter):
    1. 1) He opens our eyes to see our own unworthiness
    2. 2) He opens our eyes to see our spiritual inheritance
    3. 3) He evokes our desires for those spiritual blessings
    4. 4) He gives us proper affections relating to God, ourselves, and the blessing we desire
  2. By the Son (123)
    1. First, on his own in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5) when he contrasts it with the Pharisees’ prayers
    2. Second, at the request of a disciple who was either absent or had forgotten the first one, or who wanted more (Lk 11), though there is no more perfect form of prayer so the Lord simply repeated it
  • Among the Jews, there were said to have been a set of eighteen prayers handed down by Ezra that were supposed to be prayed at the assigned hours (123)
    • Those who were unable to remember the eighteen prayers were advised to pray a summarized version of them created by one of the various Rabbis
    • John (the Baptist) apparently did this with his disciples (Lk 11:1)
    • Sometimes there were additions to the end of the stated prayers
    • Jesus accommodated himself to this practice insofar as it is proper, by teaching the Lord’s Prayer, which is a divinely instituted prayer
  • Was the Lord’s Prayer mere a “copy” or both a copy and form? (By this, Witsius means is it only a structure for prayer [“copy”], or is it also something to be repeated verbatim [“form”? I misunderstood and had the definitions reversed on first reading, but the following paragraph, on 126, makes it explicit that he is wrestling against the tendency of some to use it solely as a pattern, which he refers to as a “copy.”)
    • “He does not say, ask that the name of God may be hallowed, that his kingdom may come, and so on,—as he would have done if he had meant it merely as a copy. But he says, when ye pray say, Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, suggesting not the subjects only, or the dispositions, but the words in which our Heavenly Father chooses to be addressed.” (126)
    • This practice of exact, Divinely prescribed prayers was given to the Old Testament people (127)
    • The early church also understood the Lord’s Prayer as a prayer prescribed by the Son for us to address the Father (Tertullian, Cyprian, 128)
      • They would follow the Lord’s Prayer with other, circumstantial prayers
      • They had a practice we no longer follow that is based on two doctrines. They did not teach the Prayer to the unbaptized or allow them to say it (and often they weren’t even allowed present for it) (130–31):
        • 1) Because “Our Father” is the language of adoption, and those who are unbaptized are not authorized to act as though they’ve been adopted
        • 2) Because the “daily bread” was often understood to refer to the Eucharist, of which the unbaptized were obviously not actually allowed to partake, so their repetition of that part of the Prayer would be pointless
    • “Superstition is . . . equally chargeable” to those who banish exact repetition (i.e., the “form”) of the Prayer. They give eight reasons for doing so (131–32)
      • 1) Set prayers repress piety
      • 2) There is a danger of idolizing the words
      • 3) Christ condemns vain repetition of words
      • 4) The fact that the words in the two instances in Matthew and Luke differ shows the Lord wasn’t binding us to the words
      • 5) The Apostles never repeated it
      • 6) The Prayer doesn’t have everything we might desire from God
      • 7) The words aren’t appropriate to every circumstance (how does a man in the “jaws of death” ask for his daily bread)
      • 8) It often turns into a curse for the supplicant because they may not be conscious of the intention to forgive their enemies
    • However, by way of general response (133–35.):
      • There are Divinely prescribed prayers in the Old Testament. Would someone make the same arguments against those?
      • Similarly, the Psalms have been sung by the whole Christian Church, and yet the charges against the Prayer aren’t considered valid against the Psalms
    • Specific Responses (135ff.):
      • 1) The fact that we’re not bound to certain words doesn’t mean we can’t use them. In this prayer, we have Inspired words that provide help to our expression in prayer
      • 2) Idolatry would exist if the Prayer was used mindlessly and thought to possess some power by mere repetition of the words. The mind must be engaged in prayer, and the result is then that our minds are raised to the Heavenly Father. Idolatry is no more present in repetition of the Prayer than in repetition of the second commandment (137)
      • 3) Vain repetition was treated earlier (pp. 41–42), but one way to know it can’t be a mere prohibition about saying the same thing more than once is that the Lord himself prays multiple times for the same thing (Matt 26:36–43).
      • 4) The two prayers in Matthew and Luke 1) should actually serve to strengthen the argument that we should take this particular prayer and 2) really are not all that different. Again, the point isn’t to restrict people to the syllables of this Prayer, but to promote the use of it
      • 5) The assumption that they did not pray the Lord’s Prayer assumes that silence in biblical records for all sorts of things reflects disobedience rather than assuming obedience
      • 6) While not everything is particularly stated in the Lord’s Prayer, everything we ask for is connected to the things offered in it. Further, using other prayers doesn’t mean this prayer should be set aside. Moreover, since we know nothing has been omitted from this prayer, and since we may leave things out of even long prayers that we shouldn’t leave out, such as the glory of God, shouldn’t we add our supplications to this prayer?
      • 7) While the Lord’s Prayer isn’t necessary to pray at all times, there are no times it doesn’t suit. Even when the dying man is asking for daily bread, he is 1) able to offer the prayer for all Christians, and 2) since it is principally about our present needs, it may refer to “mitigation of pain, and increased freedom of breathing.” (140)
      • 8) Someone who is not willing to forgive is in no less danger when he prays just because he doesn’t repeat the Lord’s Prayer statement.
  • The Lord’s Pray should not be used
    • Exclusively, as an heretical group in the Eastern Church did (142–43)
    • As the conclusion to all other prayers
    • With calculated repetition as “Romish priests, by whom the most sacred of all prayers has been converted into a species of enchantment.” (144)
  • It is crucial to recognize that prayer should be an address from the heart to God, and there has never been a universal way of doing that
    • “Neither God, nor Christ, nor his Apostles, ever prescribed a stated liturgy; nor in the most ancient church, since the days of the Apostles, was there ever any liturgy in universal use. This is evident from what Justin says, in his Apology addresed to the Emperor Antoninus: The pastor offers up prayers and thanksgivings to the best of his ability.1 A similar proof is found in Tertullian’s Apology: Christians pray with outspread, because clean, hands; with uncovered head, because we are not ashamed, and without the aid of a prompter, because we pray from the heart.”
    • As piety decreased and sloth increased, there arose a tendency to seek to regulate by canonical decrees every aspect of the church’s prayers and liturgy. He says, “The stupidity of the ministers of that age and country, which occasioned the necessity of such enactments, must have been truly extraordinary.” (146)
  • Witsius demonstrates that expressions nearly identical to the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer were used among the Jews (146–50) (The usage of Amen is slightly different in that it was not generally used in private prayers)
    • Though it could be that Jews have been affected by Christianity, he believes Jesus was taking from the greatest jewels in the “Jewish Church” and commending them to the disciples
    • He admits he is disagreeing with John Owen (Theologoumena Bk. 5, Digr. 1).
    • Rather than considering the Lord’s Prayer excellent for its novelty, we should consider it excellent for its
      • Matter
      • Richness of Petitions
      • Clearness of Method
      • “Senentious brevity of the expressions”
  • The Lord’s Prayer may be explained in three divisions: 1) Address to heavenly Father, 2) Explanation of petitions, and 3) concluding doxology. For one last quote, he says,
    • “The address [or Preface], besides embracing in a few words matters of the highest intrinsic value, brings before the suppliant considerations regarding the Divine being which are fitted to inspire reverence, faith, hope, and heavenly desires. No subject connected with prayer deserves earlier or more careful study than these religious affections. The petitions, six in number, include every thing relating to the glory of God and our own salvation, to which pious and holy desires can be directed. By this beautiful arrangement, that object which, viewed as the highest end, deserves the most earnest enquiry, the hallowing of the name of God, comes first in order. Next follow the means appointed for attaining this highest end. These consist of petitions for spiritual and temporal benefits, and of the deprecation of evils both past and future. The doxology informs us that, as all good things come to us from God, so to Him the glory of them ought to be ascribed. So that in this short prayer we have an abridgment, as Tertullian says, of the whole gospel, and, I will add, of the whole law. This will be made apparent by a minute examination of the clauses in their order.” (152–53)