Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Review: Worshipping with Calvin

In Worshipping with Calvin:  Recovering the Historic Ministry and Worship of Reformed Protestantism, Terry L. Johnson intends to "identify biblical norms and advocate their implementation in our day, without regard for polling data," (Kindle location 186).  This book is an apology to restore the reformed practice of the Word read, preached, prayed, and sung with the sacraments administered publicly and frequently.  The author lays the foundation for returning to the basics of worship based on biblical guidelines; however, practical applications for implementation will be available in his next book, Serving with Calvin.

Mr. Johnson is primarily concerned with historic Reformed worship and ministry, and therefore, chose to focus on its decline in the conservative Presbyterian denominations.  As a Reformed Baptist, I agreed with many points made by Mr. Johnson since they also align with the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 22, paragraph 5:  "The reading of Scriptures, preaching, and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord; as also the administration of baptism, and the Lord's Supper, are all parts of religious worship of God..."  As to be expected, I did not agree with his view of Paedobaptism or Covenant Theology.

Thankfully, the Reformed Baptist church that I attend practices many of the reforms recommended by Mr. Johnson.  For the lay-person, this book has good information (especially if you are Presbyterian), but if you do not attend a church that agrees with the principles and practices of Reformed worship, then your only recourse would be to suggest that the elders read Worshipping with Calvin.  Based on the unique subject of this book, the target audience is very limited, especially in a Presbyterian setting where change happens from the top down, not from the congregation.

Mr. Johnson makes a case for singing God's word from the psalter by showing that Psalm-singing is biblical, historical, emotionally satisfying, and sanctifying.  Even though I cannot change the worship structure of my church, this book did inspire me to focus on Psalm-singing in my personal devotion time and as an alternate to Contemporary Christian Music in my car and on my phone.

Overall, I recommend this book for elders or leaders of Christian churches who do not currently adhere to the religious worship guidelines outlined in the Westminster Confession of Faith or the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith.  Readers outside of the Presbyterian denomination should be aware that they will encounter some theological differences and possible disagreement with some of the analysis of biblical history during the Reformation.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Downfall of Contextualization

On the June 3, 2014, Dividing Line Show, Dr. James White responded to Pastor Danny Cortez's sermon preached on February 9, 2014.  In his sermon Pastor Cortez told his congregation at New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, CA, that he no longer agreed with the church's teaching on homosexuality and is now gay affirming.  New Heart Community Church is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention.

To support his change-of-view, Pastor Cortez contextualizes the verses in Paul's epistle to the Romans condemning homosexual behavior (Rom. 1: 20-27) by claiming that they only apply to homosexual prostitution at the Temple in Rome.  Dr. White points out that there is no one temple in Rome during the 1st century, but many pagan temples, and that this epistle is written in universal terms.  During his sermon, Pastor Cortez says, "We've moved away from that part of history, and what we find now is something very different" indicating that "homosexual behavior is not what it was in biblical days, when it was filled with violence, abuse, rape, slavery, and temple prostitution."

Therefore, according to Pastor Cortez, the Bible addresses a different kind of homosexuality than what we "experience" today.  His conclusion undermines the infallibility of Scripture because he is implying that the meaning of homosexuality has changed; supposedly, men burning in lust for other men does not have the same meaning today as it did when Paul penned the book of Romans.  Dr. White does not agree with Pastor Cortez's exegesis of the Roman passage, nor does he agree that the Bible allows and/or promotes same sex relationships or marriages.  He is saddened that this Pastor is leading his congregation astray including Pastor Cortez's own son.

Scripture is very clear that homosexuality is a sin (the following passage is just one example from many):  "For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet," (Rom. 1:26-27).

However, Pastor Cortez's argument of cultural relevancy is not the first time Christians have been confronted with compromise when dealing with the Scriptures.  Commands that are not convenient are explained as "cultural" and dismissed.  Take for example women preaching, which is not allowed:  "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.  But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was first formed, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression," (1 Tim. 2:11-14).  Generally, reformed churches do not allow women to hold ministerial roles; they cannot preach to a congregation or teach men.  However, much of the evangelical world embraces women pastors, elders, deacons, and co-ed Sunday School teachers.  Christians who do not allow women to hold ministry roles are considered intolerant and chauvinistic, even by other Christians.  Paul does not argue that women are incapable of teaching men, nor does he cite the male dominance of the pagan culture as his basis.  He is establishing this command from the apostolic authority given to him by Jesus Christ.  It is a principle that many churches ignore as a result of feminism, pragmatism and/or worldly influence.

Another example is headcovering, which is commanded in Scripture:  "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.  For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.  For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.  For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man.  Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man," (1 Cor. 11:5-9).  It's highly ironic that the cultural argument used by liberal Christians affirming homosexuality (temple prostitution) is the same argument used by conservative and reformed Christians removing the obligation for women to cover their heads in worship.  "According to the scholars," one of the reasons Paul required Christian women to cover their heads was that headcoverings were a Corinthian cultural norm, and temple prostitutes shaved their heads in rebellion against authority.  Therefore, (the argument goes) modern Christian women are not required to cover their heads because headcoverings are no longer a sign of submission.  However, Paul does not argue for headcovering based on the cultural circumstances of submission; he calls it an ordinance, (1 Cor. 11:2).  Even so, there are very few Christian congregations (reformed or not) that practice headcovering today.

All three of these practices are outlined in the Bible:  the condemnation of homosexuality, the condemnation of a woman preacher, and the affirmation of headcovering for women; and all three commands are grounded in creation.  God made male and female to be one flesh, (Gen. 2:24), and gave them different roles in marriage and in church.  The Bible is very clear.

By contextualizing the homosexuality described in Romans, Pastor Cortez reinterprets the Word of God to fit into today's society.  In a similar fashion, the modern evangelical church has done the same thing with woman preachers and headcovering.  How then can today's church dismiss the redefinition of homosexuality, but at the same time, argue against headcovering and in favor of women preachers?  The evangelical world cannot have it both ways.  But rather than standing up and affirming God's Word on all 3 practices, I think the worldly church will capitulate to the homosexual agenda of today like it did for the feministic agenda of the 1960's.  It's just a matter of time...

"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.  If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever," (1 John 2:15-17).