Friday, September 30, 2005

Dispensationalism Adds a Second Unforgivable Sin

I have written many times about my dislike for the complex, theological house-of-cards known as dispensational pre-millennialism. This theology is known to just about everyone as the basis for the millennial length cash-cow we know as the Left Behind series of novels.

In fact, dispensational pre-millennialism is so pervasive that many Christians and non-Christians alike assume it a long-held orthodox Christian doctrine, like the Trinity. In fact, it is a new invention, less that two hundred years old.

In a nutshell, this theology proclaims the following chain:
  1. Christ came and offered, to the Jews, to establish his kingdom.
  2. The Jews rejected this offer.
  3. In a move unforeseen by the prophets (including John the Baptist), God, in light of the Jewish rejection, puts his dealings with the Jews in abeyance.
  4. In a move unforeseen by the prophets, God institutes a temporary church age, in which we presently live.
  5. When it comes time to again focus on the Jews, God will remove the Church in a secret second-coming known as the rapture.
  6. A tribulation period of seven years ensues, at which time the gospel is still preached, most notably by 144,000 converted Jews and two supernatural witnesses.
  7. The anti-Christ rises to power and establishes a new world order.
  8. At the end of seven years we have: battle of Armageddon, Satan bound, Christ reigns on earth for a thousand years, the temple is rebuilt, animal sacrifices resumed.

Now the problems with this view are legion, but for now I’ll just point out that it begins with a premise that is supported nowhere in scripture, that Christ offered to be a reigning king and was rejected by the Jews (in fact, the opposite happened) and ends with a blasphemy—the resumption of animal sacrifices in the very presence of He who’s finished work ended their necessity.

Today I listened to an account on the radio that described the “mark of the beast.” This is the 666 (or, in some manuscripts, 661) that, according to this theology, you must accept during the tribulation if you are to be permitted to buy, sell, and work in the anti-Christ’s new world order.

What are the consequences of accepting this mark?

Eternal damnation. You must reject this mark or go to hell.

To the unforgivable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit dispensationalism adds another: accepting a mark, which may mean nothing to you other than you need to work.

The gospel of grace is replaced with an extreme gospel of works. A man who, perhaps hasn’t even heard the gospel yet, or maybe he has, but he and his family face starvation, and in a moment of weakness accepts the mark to obtain employment.

This tribulation-time radical departure from the gospel should be enough for anyone to recognize that it isn’t true. If there were a tribulation, the gospel would be the same then as it is now, that a saving faith in Jesus Christ is required, and that mistakes in weakness (such as taking the mark to get a job) are not unforgivable. The dispensational teaching of this replacement of God’s grace with a test is enough to undo it, via Gal. 1.8.

Personally, I think the book of Revelation was written prior to AD 70 and refers to the destruction of Jerusalem—along with John’s vision of paradise. I don’t have a detailed explanation for all the imagery Revelation employs, nor do I understand the imagery of Daniel or Ezekiel. I do know there are many reason for rejecting dispensationalism—and that a very bad reason to accept it is that it purports to have explanations for all the apocalyptic writings and symbols. Those are the most difficult parts of scripture to understand, and if you do seek an understanding, then by all means, at a minimum, apply a test that your interpretation does not undo the gospel of Christ.

Dispensationalism fails that test.

Monday, September 26, 2005

ID belongs in the Science Classroom

Intelligent Design should be allowed in the public school science classroom. ID, both the biological and the cosmological flavors, should be allowed. It shouldn’t be part of the curriculum, and it shouldn’t be taught, but it ought not to be prohibited from being discussed in a physics, biology or chemistry class.

A science teacher that introduces ID for purposes of an interesting classroom discussion should be permitted to do so, and he should not live in fear for his job.

The fundamentalist zealots such as those at the National Center for Science Evolution Education (and their acolytes) will graciously concede that perhaps ID can be discussed in a philosophy or a religious studies class. However they will insist that, given that ID is not science, it has no place in a science classroom. This is bunk. Even if the premise is true: that ID is not science, the conclusion that it should never be discussed in a science classroom is dung. It may sound pious to shout “science only in the science classroom”, but it makes for awful pedagogy.

In the public high school I attended (not in the bible belt, but in urban, ultra-liberal Pittsburgh) I took one chemistry class, two physics classes, and two biology classes. In none of them, not one, did the teacher enforce or follow a “pure science only” dictum. The thought wouldn’t have crossed their minds: they were good teachers, one and all.

Those classes were not worse for the rabbit trails we were allowed to pursue, often at the teacher’s initiation, they were better. The sterilized classes that the National Center for Science Evolution Education would impose upon public education are not an improvement but a serious step backwards (or, more accurately, a step into dangerous, unchartered waters.) A science class that discusses only what is “strictly” science will not make science more interesting, but less. Far less.

For both undergraduate and graduate school I went to a private (secular) university. The statement I made about my high school days applies here as well: I cannot recall any instance of a science class that failed to stray, at times, into the philosophical realm. Relativity and Quantum instructors actually spent a decent fraction of time discussing topics that were not strictly science, some of them ID precursor ideas, and I, and the other students, loved it. My first introduction to “fine tuning” came in a nuclear physics class, when the instructor, from a launching point that I cannot recall or even fathom, talked to us off-the-cuff about the amazing necessary-for-life fine tuning that we find in good old H2O. He could have told us about water’s polarity without any philosophical digression, such as the NCSEE would have it, but that would have been far less interesting and stimulating. And I wasn’t even a Christian at that time.

The NCSEE yahoos, none of whom have scientific credentials approaching that of my nuclear physics instructor, would have us believe that he was wrong for straying. But the truth is, they haven’t a clue about what is stimulating in a science class, not a blasted clue.

Fundamentalist Christians deserve the lion’s share of the blame for motivating a call to action by the equally fundamentalist evolutionists. Demanding equal time for ID, or that those asinine stickers be placed in public school science text books, was a colossal blunder that has backfired. Worse yet, it was utterly unnecessary—the stickers would never have accomplished what their proponents intended. There is no example of biblical evangelism—which consists of giving the gospel and nothing else—that remotely resembles the use of political activism to get a meaningless, ineffectual sticker placed in a science textbook. Was the purpose to evangelize? You are supposed to give the gospel to evangelize, not get laws passed. Was the purpose to prevent Christian teens from being lost? Have you ever actually read the bible? (see John 10:28-29 to begin you remedial basic theology instruction.)

By engaging in unbiblical practices, Christian fundamentalists have made things worse for Christians in public schools, especially teachers. They certainly have made things worse for me: it is now virtually impossible for me to get into a public high school to discuss cosmological ID.

If the Christian fundamentalists had taken a strong yet unpopular stand on something that was consistent with biblical teaching (as in something that you might imagine would gain the Apostle Paul's consent,) then I would have supported them 100% regardless of the consequences. Instead they took political action over a meaningless and imaginary line in the sand, with no regards to biblical truth, and their efforts have been commensurately honored.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Lesson 29: Trent: The Counter Reformation

The council of Trent, 1546-1563 (ending the same year Calvin died), was a long time coming. At other times in church history, councils were called quickly to address questions of importance. Trent occurred some thirty years after the nominal start of the reformation.

One reason is the failure of Pope Leo X to gauge the magnitude of the situation. At first, he viewed is as the minor squabbles of an insignificant monk, “some drunken German” is one of his descriptions of Luther. (His lack of seriousness on matter may be a reflection of his overall attitude. Upon attaining the papacy, Leo, the first of the Medici Popes, is supposed to have said, "God has given us the Papacy, so we might as well enjoy it."

Eventually, of course, Luther was excommunicated. In a sense, that obviated the need for a council, one purpose of which would have been to declare Luther a heretic in a public forum and excommunicate him. Too late for that.

Finally, it was the insistence of the emperor, Charles V, who did appreciate the magnitude of the Reformation. Charles pressured the Roman Catholic Church into holding a council, rightly concluding that a council would provide a sense of official sanction to Luther’s excommunication and place the Church on firm ground.

The Council of Trent (Northern Italy) ran from 1546 to 1563 (not continuous, wars and such kept interrupting the procedures.)

There were no Protestants present when the important issues were discussed. Some arrived late in the council when the main issues were settled, and they left almost immediately. This was not a council of adjudication. Leo’s actions made the result of the council a foregone conclusion. The reason for Protestants to attend would be for them to perform penance, and they were of no mind to take that step.

Trent’s Anathema on Sola Fide

Justification: The means by which an unjust sinner is made acceptable to a Holy God.

The great mystery of salvation is justification. How are we made acceptable to a Holy and perfect God who demands an unattainable perfect compliance with His law? Clearly we can never, on our own, meet such a demand.

The problem is not that our sins are not forgiven. The problem is that the price of admission to heaven is an unblemished record. And once one has sinned, the record can never be expunged. Christ said “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13). The (mythical) righteous man has no need of justification.

Justification is like being acquitted of a crime, though not because the accused is innocent, but because an innocent third party (Christ) has made a satisfactory restitution to the offended (God). We get off on some clever legal maneuvering.

So exactly how does this happen? Here again is an area where there is a substantive difference between the Roman Catholic view and the Reformed view.

The difference between the Reformed and Roman Catholic view of Justification is sometimes cast as the “mere” addition of the word alone:

Rome: Justification is by faith.
Reformers: Justification is by faith alone.

There is a big question here, above and beyond the nontrivial insistence on the word alone. To wit, how does justification happen? And here we find a substantive difference between the Rome and the Reformers. It is not “just” the “aloneness” of justification, but the way it happens.

The question is whether we can actually become righteousness enough to be acceptable to God, or whether God treats us as if we were righteous. The former is the view of the Rome, the latter of the Reformers.

Neither side holds the position that any sort of justification can occur apart from Grace (that is the heresy of Pelagianism). Both Rome and Reformed position is that grace is necessary for justification. There is a difference as to whether it is sufficient.

The Reformed View

Calvin wrote:
Thus we simply interpret justification as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favour as if we were righteous; and we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.
Calvin also writes that the justified is “deemed righteous” and “regarded not as a sinner.”

This makes it clear that the Reformed view is that man himself does not have sufficient inherent righteousness, even after justification. The righteousness with which we present ourselves to a Holy God is by imputation; it is not inherent or infused into us. It is symmetric with the view that our sins were imputed to Christ on the cross and he was punished as if they were His own.

The Roman Catholic View

Contrast Calvin’s view with what Rome declared at the Council of Trent:
… the instrumental cause [of justification] is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which no man was ever justified finally, the single formal cause is the justice of God, not that by which He Himself is just, but that by which He makes us just, that, namely, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and not only are we reputed but we are truly called and are just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to everyone as He wills, and according to each one's disposition and cooperation.
We see here a very different view from Calvin’s. Rome’s view is that we are justified not by an imputation but by an infusion. We acquire inherent righteousness, initially from the instrumental cause: baptism. Justification also requires cooperation. Furthermore, the state of being justified can be lost through the commission of sin and must be restored by another sacrament: penance.

There is an important point: the Reformers do not deny the concept of infused righteousness. This is no denial of the process of sanctification through the work of the Holy Spirit. The difference is the grounds of our justification: it is always in the imputed righteousness of Christ, never in infused righteousness.

Rome disputes the Reformed view of Justification and holds that if we must be righteous before God then we must have a true, internal righteousness which, though accomplished through grace, is nevertheless “ours”.

The difference between the Roman Catholic view and the Reformed view on justification is shown in stark relief when one considers the following statement:
By grace, God reckons Christ's righteousness to us.
To the Reformed, this statement is the gospel. We are acceptable to God because Christ's righteousness is credited or imputed to us, not because we actually become righteous. To the Roman Catholic Church, as is made clear in the Council of Trent, the same statement is viewed as a legal fiction, one that impugns God's character. To Rome, God is not deceitful, declaring the unjust as just. God declares the just to be just.

There is a modern trend to discount the importance of the differing views on justification. To say, in effect, that the Reformation was much ado about nothing. But once you see that what one side views as the gospel, the other side views as worthy of excommunication you should be dissuaded of the notion that the differences are trivial.

Catholicism does not teach salvation by works. Rome agrees with the Reformed that the righteousness of Christ is required for justification. The difference is that in Rome's view, our Lord's righteousness is sacramentally infused into the sinner—which is to say that by grace (not by works—no need to slander the RCC) the sinner actually becomes just (or righteous). In this way the "legal fiction" is avoided. In Rome's view, the just are justified. In the Reformed view, regenerated man is declared justified while still a sinner.

It should be clear from the Atonement that imputation does not constitute a legal fiction. On the cross, our sin was imputed to Christ. Our sin was not infused into Christ—that would make Christ actually sinful, and His death would have accomplished nothing. In a like manner, His righteousness is imputed to us. It is not a legal fiction, because in both cases the one who gets the short end of the stick (Christ) (a) possessed a perfect righteousness and (b) voluntarily agreed to the imputation.

In the table below, I list some of the similarities and differences between the Reformed and Roman Catholic views on justification.

The analytic vs. synthetic distinction is interesting. An analytic statement is a tautology. For example: A rectangle has four sides. There is no information added in the predicate (has four sides) that wasn’t present in the subject (the rectangle.) A synthetic statement, by contrast, adds information. An example: The bachelor is bald.

In the Roman Catholic view, the just are justified. It is analytic. In the Reformed view, the unjust are justified by imputation of Christ’s righteousness. In is synthetic.

For the Reformed, a saved person will undergo a process of sanctification, but will never arrive at a point where he could be justified by his inherent righteousness, even though that inherent righteousness is not really of himself but is the result of the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit. For the Reformed, the basis of justification always rests on the imputed righteousness of Christ.

One criticism of the Reformed view of justification is that it is a change in status only. That is, God declares you to be justified, but you are still the same person after the declaration. Technically this is true, but it is not the complete story.

In Reformed theology, there are three steps that occur in logical if not actually temporal order: regeneration, faith, and justification. Both coming-to-faith and justification are reserved for those whom God regenerates. With that in mind, it is clear that a justified man is radically different from his former, unregenerated self. Furthermore, the process of sanctification inevitably begins. There is no room in Reformed theology where one can sneak in the perversion of antinomianism.

Sola Fide

The doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is often attacked on two fronts. The first is the fact that the phrase never appears in scripture, except in the epistle of James, in which it appears to be refuted, which is the second and more difficult front of the attack.

When Paul talks about justification, primarily in the book of Romans, he never states explicitly that justification is by faith alone. However, what is not explicit is nevertheless abundantly clear.

When we say justification is by faith alone, it is understood that the faith itself is by grace. So grace is not excluded, obviously, from the restriction: faith alone.

That leaves only one other thing that could possibly contribute to justification: keeping the law, or works. In an argument credited to Sproul, we have three possibilities:

  1. Justification is by works alone.
  2. Justification is by faith and works.
  3. Justification is by faith alone, sola fide.

The first option is rightly rejected by all Christians. The debate is really between the second and third choices.

So if Paul wants to teach sola fide he has two possible basic strategies at his disposal: He could affirm it explicitly, or he could eliminate option 2, justification by faith and works, so that only sola fide remains as a possibility.

That is exactly what Paul does. He eliminates works as a contributing factor. If works do not contribute to justification, then the only thing left is faith, and faith alone.
26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (Rom. 3: 26-28, NIV)

If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God. (Rom. 4:2)

know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Gal. 2:16, NASB)
In light of these passages (and the book of Romans as a whole) one sees how weak the argument is that Paul does not teach sola fide simply because he never names the doctrine that he so clearly espouses.

Three Canons

At Trent, the conferees established the Roman doctrine of Justification by infusion. They then took aim at what they perceived as the Reformed position, attacking in three cannons.

Canon 6.11: If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and remains in them, or also that the grace by which we are justified is only the good will of God, let him be anathema.

This is a straw-man argument. As already mentioned, the Reformers did not exclude infusion, but stressed that the grounds for justification rested solely in the imputed righteousness of Christ. The final clause does not apply to the Reformers at all, but to the Socinian (anti-rinitarians) view of justification.

Calvin wrote, in response to canon 6.11

I wish the reader to understand that as often as we mention Faith alone in this question, we are not thinking of a dead faith, which worketh not by love, but holding faith to be the only cause of justification. ( Galatians 5:6; Romans 3:22.) It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone: just as it is the heat alone of the sun which warms the earth, and yet in the sun it is not alone, because it is constantly conjoined with light. Wherefore we do not separate the whole grace of regeneration from faith, but claim the power and faculty of justifying entirely for faith, as we ought. And yet it is not us that these Tridentine Fathers anathematize so much as Paul, to whom we owe the definition that the righteousness of man consists in the forgiveness of sins.

Canon 9 also is imprecise:

Canon 6.9: If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.

To which Calvin responded

This Canon is very far from being canonical; for it joins things which are utterly at variance. They imagine that a man is justified by faith without any movement of his own will, as if it were not with the heart that a man believeth unto righteousness. Between them and us there is this difference, that they persuade themselves that the movement comes from the man himself, whereas we maintain that faith is voluntary, because God draws our wills to himself. Add, that when we say a man is justified by faith alone, we do not fancy a faith devoid of charity, but we mean that faith alone is the cause of justification.

Calvin points out that Rome is condemning a caricature. The Reformers never taught that man’s will is not involved, what they taught was man must first be born again before his will can dispose him to favorably at the offers of God.

Then there is canon 10:

Canon 6.10: If anyone says that men are justified without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us, or by that justice are formally just, let him be anathema.

This is a strange canon indeed. The first clause is an attack on Pelagianism. It correctly states that one cannot be justified apart from the merit of Christ. That is, one cannot merit justification. The second is an attack on the Reformers forensic view: the view that we are declared righteous by legal declaration, not because we actually are righteous.

Although none of the canons attacked an accurate representation of the Reformer’s views, it is nevertheless clear that it was Rome’s intent was to anathematize the Reformers. The Reformation, in a sense, forced Rome, at Trent to be explicit in her doctrine on justification. When the smoke cleared, it was evident that her doctrine was very different from that of the Reformers.

If you agree with Luther that the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, is the gospel, and the point upon which the church stands or falls, then in placing the anathemas on the Reformers Rome, at Trent, placed an anathema on herself. The Roman Catholic Church, in that sense, died with the pronouncements of Trent, positions of the Roman Catholic Church that have never been magisterially revoked. While not impossible for Rome to declare that the anathemas of Trent were wrong, it would be exceedingly difficult.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Lesson 28: The Anabaptists

The Anabaptist movement began in 1525 at Zürich, as the radical wing of the Swiss Reformation which had begun there under Zwingli. Zwingli did not go far enough, they believed, and so George Blaurock, Conrad Grebel, and Felix Manz began to agitate for additional reform, including believer's baptism and a "gathered" or "pure" church, i.e. a church where members were there because they truly believed and been baptized, not because of state intervention or mandatory church attendance.

This more radical movement soon got beyond control, and some of its leaders were put to death, and others with their followers were banished.

In January 1525, a public debate was held in Zurich, with Zwingli and his colleague Bullinger facing Grebel and his friends, Manz, Reublin, and Blaurock. The radicals defended their views, denying that infant baptism had any sanction in the Scriptures. The city council ruled in favor of Zwingli and infant baptism.

Meetings of the Anabaptists were forbidden, and parents were ordered to have their infants baptized within eight days if they had not already done so, on pain of expulsion from the city. The response came on January 21 when Grebel, a layman, baptized Blaurock, an ordained priest. Hitherto the Anabaptists had openly opposed infant baptism; now by this fateful step, introduced the practice of believer's baptism.

The Anabaptists also pushed for communism. Its following, recruited especially from the working classes, became considerable, not only in Switzerland, but also in southern Germany and Austria. The Anabaptists' teaching added substantially to the causes of the Peasants' War which broke out (1524) in the very territory where the Anabaptists were influential. At first a revolt against feudal oppression, the Peasants' War became, under the leadership of Muentzer (an Anabaptist leader), a war against all constituted authorities, and an attempt to establish by revolution a utopia, with absolute equality and the community of goods. The defeat of the peasants meant, to a great extent, the dispersion of the Anabaptists. Additionally, some town councils, such as that of Zürich (1526) decreed the severest penalties against their adherents. Still in spite of defeat and constant repression, the Anabaptists thrived and spread across the continent.

The movement seemed somehow to answer a strong religious and social demand, and in spite of persecutions, and of an edict of the Diet of Speyer in 1529 that every Anabaptist should be put to death, it continued to spread. Anabaptists embraced a wide variety of teachings, differing according to their leader or the locality; but the one thing which was common to them all, and which seemed most sharply to distinguish them from other Protestants, was their objection to infant baptism, and their insistence that adult Christians who had been baptized in infancy should be baptized again.

Their interest in the question of baptism was not their primary motivation. Their first concern was in the establishment of a "pure Church", consisting only of true Christians, reformed from the ground up by its strict adherence in every particular to the teachings of Scripture, which they accepted literally and tried faithfully to follow. Thus they believed that followers of Christ should not resist evil, nor bear arms, nor own private property, nor hold civil office, nor resort to law courts, nor take oaths; and their movement was largely a lay movement. In these respects they resembled the Quakers. In fact, the Quakers of England were influenced by their teaching and example. They also believed in separation of Church and State, and stood firmly for freedom of conscience and against religious persecution. In their view of religious knowledge they were mystics, holding that God makes his truth and will known to the souls of men directly, and they relied much upon the guidance of the Spirit.

The Five Points of the Anabaptists

  1. Sola Scriptura—Anabaptists were sometimes more consistent than the other Reformers in their insistence on biblical authority for certain practices in matters of church polity and worship.

  2. Separation of Church and State—Anabaptists saw the church as the assembly of the redeemed, antithetical to the world. For this reason they advocated separation of church and state.

  3. Freedom of Conscience—because of the Anabaptists' convictions about the role of the secular state, they believed that the ultimate remedy for heresy was excommunication, not execution. They steadfastly opposed the persecution that was so characteristic of their age. They denied that the state had a right to punish or execute anyone for religious beliefs or teachings. This was a revolutionary notion in the Reformation era.

  4. Believers' Baptism—The Anabaptists saw no biblical support for infant baptism. (Not all anabaptists made an issue of the mode of baptism, and some practiced sprinkling.)

  5. Holiness of Life—Anabaptists emphasized the spiritual experience, practical righteousness, and obedience to divine standards. They had no tolerance for those who claimed to be justified by faith while living unfaithful lives. Anabaptists pointed out that Scripture says, "Faith without works is dead" (Jas. 2:20). In this regard they were in agreement with the other Protestants. We recall that, in equation form, their collective differences from Rome can be expressed:

    Rome: Faith + Works -> Salvation

    Protestants: Faith -> Salvation + Works

The Anabaptists in relation to other Reformers

In the issue of how conservative the various reformation churches are generally breaks down this way: The Lutherans were the most conservative (meaning they deviated from Rome the least), the Anabaptists were the most radical, and the Calvinists in the middle.

Both the Lutherans and the Calvinists preserved the church-state liaison. This liaison was taboo with the Anabaptists, and caused a severe strain, especially with Zwingli who, as we noted earlier, not only depended on the state for financial support of his church but also viewed the militia as something of an arm of the church. Since the Catholics, the Lutherans, and the Calvinists all depended on the church-state liaison, the Anabaptist's insistence on the separation of church and state resulted in tensions with all other groups.

The conservative vs. radical label certainly applies to baptism. The Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists all preserved infant baptism, which they believe was the practice of the early church and also the biblical teaching. The Anabaptists, of course, disagreed. From their perspective we have the following:

Now the Anabaptists rejected out-of-hand (as did the Calvinists) that infants were regenerated. The Catholics and Lutherans held to baptismal regeneration (although somewhat different versions.) As such, it made sense that Catholics and Lutherans treated children as Christians.

Calvinists, on the other hand, were a bit of an enigma to the Anabaptists. At this time, it is useful to go into some detail about the positions of the Calvinists and the Baptists.

The Westminster Confession (1646), which can be considered the creed of the Calvinists, says this about baptism:

I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.

II. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto.

III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.

IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.

V. Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time.

VII. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person.
While the London Baptist Confession (1689), which adopted most of the text of the Westminster Confession, modified the chapter on Baptism, to read:
  1. Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.

  2. Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.

  3. The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, wherein the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

  4. Immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance.

The Anabaptists applauded the Calvinist rejection of baptismal regeneration, but still believed that the Calvinists were in grave error in baptizing infants. They worried that the Calvinists would inevitably slip into the more serious error of regarding the baptized children as Christians, even as they denied baptismal regeneration. The danger, according to the Anabaptists, was that evangelizing of the children would suffer—their conversion would not be "worked for" by their parents. Even worse, you would soon reach a state Christianity in say, Switzerland, when everyone had been baptized as an infant—that is you would reach a point where you had a nation of alleged Christians.

Calvinists have indeed had a tendency to make this mistake, of assuming the children Christians (as opposed to treating them as if they were Christian, which is something altogether different) and should thank the Anabaptists for their warning and heed their advice to diligently evangelize their own children. Children need to be made aware of there inherent lost position, rather than a presumed position of being converted.

Persecution of the Anabaptists

The Protestants under Zwingli were the first to persecute the Reformation Anabaptists. Felix Manz became the first martyr in 1527. On May 20, 1527, Catholic authorities executed Michael Sattler. King Ferdinand declared drowning (called the third baptism) "the best antidote to Anabaptism". This sickening joke—that drowning was appropriate for those who promoted immersion, is one of the sorriest chapters of Christian history.

The Anabaptism call for moderate living and wealth distribution also resulted in persecution. It has been said that a "16th century man who did not drink to excess, curse, or abuse his workmen or family could be suspected of being an Anabaptist and thus persecuted." Some estimates are that thousands died in Europe in the sixteenth century.

The long line of the "true" church

God has always had a proper path for his children, so it is indisputable that there is a line from which, in a perfect world, the church would not stray.

In Old Testament times, Israel repeatedly strayed from the line, and God would lovingly bring them back, working through His prophets and supernatural intervention. This ended climactically in AD 70, when the Jewish age came to an end and temple worship ceased.

Mankind was "restored" back to the line by The New Testament church, as established through Christ by Peter, Paul, James and the other apostles. It wasn't long, however, until the New Testament church also wandered. We see this in the Roman Catholic Church both in her denial of the biblical doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, as well as in her insistence on extra-biblical doctrines such as the perpetual virginity of Mary.

So the Reformation, as an outpouring of God's grace and providence, pulled Christendom back to the "true" line. Yet differences developed, and so even among the Protestants and least some, if not all, were teaching some false doctrines.

The hope was, of course, that on the essentials the Protestants could maintain unanimity. On reality, this proved to be a false hope.

In one area in particular, the Calvinists, who were the closest to the Anabaptists, nevertheless believed that the Anabaptists were the cause of the separation. It wasn't on the issue of baptism, but the Anabaptist doctrine of the pure church.

A "pure church" is one in which all members are true, believing Christians. This is, of course, a noble and worthy aim. But it should be regarded as a lofty yet unattainable goal. Why? Because as Augustine pointed out, it is not biblical to assume that this goal can ever be achieved. He taught of the visible and invisible church, and that in the visible church there would always be imposters:
24Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27"The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' 28" 'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 29" 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' " (Matt. 13:24-30)
The parable of the weeds (and Christ's subsequent explanation) confirms that scripture tells us that at the end of history the visible church will contain both sons of God and sons of the devil. This is analogous to an individual's process of sanctification: while it is noble and proper and commanded that we imitate Christ, it is also just as certain and very unbiblical to assume than any human will reach that level of perfection. The apostle Paul, whom any Christian would hold up as the very model of how we should live, still spoke of constantly striving to perfect his own faith. Likewise, while the church should strive for purity, it is not only naïve to teach that it is possible for success, but also unbiblical.

In one way, the Anabaptists held to a rather Roman sounding belief in apostolic succession. In this sense, they were not reformers at all.

Apostolic succession

This is the theory that the Anabaptists were part of an apostolic succession of churches (or church perpetuity) from the time of Christ. That is, there had been a continuity of small groups completely outside the Catholic Church from New Testament times up to 1525, which continues on to today. Proponents of this view point out many common expressions of belief in these Catholic dissenters. The opponents of this theory emphasize that these non-Catholic groups differed from each other, that they held some heretical views, and/or that they had no connection with one another. This view is held by some Baptists, some Mennonites, and a number of "true church" movements.

Justification by Faith Alone

Sadly, some of the Anabaptists in many cases rejected the Reformed understanding of justification by faith alone. They denied the forensic nature of justification as explained by Luther and insisted that the only ground on which sinners can be acceptable to God is a "real" righteousness wrought within the justified person.
"Menno [Simons], and Anabaptists generally, did not accept Luther's forensic doctrine of justification by faith alone because they saw it as an impediment to the true doctrine of a 'lively' faith which issues in holy living." [Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville: Broadman, 1988), 269].
Perhaps it is fair to note that the Anabaptists thought they detected a tendency toward antinomianism in the Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone. That was what they argued against. But in doing so they undermined the very foundation of the biblical doctrine of justification. They left people to try to devise a righteousness of their own derived from the law, rather than trusting the perfect righteousness of Christ which God imputes to those who believe (cf. Phil. 3:9; Rom. 4:5-6).

Anabaptist Heritage

Not just modern Baptists are the descendants of the Anabaptists. Several existing denominational bodies may be legitimately regarded as the successors of the Continental Anabaptists — Amish, Baptists, Brethren, Hutterites, Mennonites, Bruderhof Communities and Quakers. Some writers prefer to distinguish institutionally lineal descendants (Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites) and spiritual descendants (Baptists, Brethren, Bruderhof, and Quakers). Nevertheless, some historical connections have been demonstrated for all three of these spiritual descendants, though perhaps not as clearly as the notable institutionally lineal descendants. However, although many see the more well known Anabaptist groups (Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites) as ethnic groups, the Anabaptist bodies of today are largely not ethnically descended from the Continental Anabaptists. According to the Mennonite World Conference (MWC), "Today, close to 1,300,000 believers belong to this faith family; at least 60 percent are African, Asian, or Latin American."

Other legacies of the Anabaptists include:
  • Freedom of religion
  • Priesthood of the believer
  • Bible as the sole rule of faith and practice
  • Ordinances, not sacraments
All those who hold the idea of a free church and freedom of religion (separation of church and state) are greatly indebted to the Anabaptists. When it was introduced by the Anabaptists in the 15th and 16th centuries, religious freedom independent of the state was a radical idea, and unthinkable to both clerical and governmental leaders. Religious liberty was equated with anarchy.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Theistic Evolution (again)

Shaggy Maniac asks a theological question, one which I believe I have already answered.

He describes sexual reproduction as undirected. Let's grant this point. He then argues that if undirected processes can produce unique individuals, then why can't undirected processes lead to a diversity of the species? He then poses his main question:
So here's the theological question of the day for you, David. If by means of material processes and chance events, God can bring your unique life into existence and know you as God's child, why do you insist your God is incapable of doing the same thing on a grand scale, i.e. evolution, without needing to muck about? Or do you really believe that God sorted the alleles you were dished out and guided your father's sperm (by the tail, I suppose)? (boldface added)
There is an apples and oranges thing going on here. If I understand correctly, he is, at first, discussing my statement:
ID says undirected evolution cannot produce (in toto) the diversity of life, either explicitly or by implication.
Which is not a theological point whatsoever and, merely being tantamount (or nearly so) to a simple definition of ID, is beyond refute.

But let's move onto his query, and recall he posed it as a theological question. Let's again grant his (contestable, even scientifically) premise, that I arrived by purely material processes and chance events. Why then, he asks, do I insist that my God is incapable of doing the same thing on a grand scale, i.e. evolution, without needing to go mucking about?

Why, what ever gave Mr. Maniac the idea that I though God was incapable of such a thing? I never said that God was incapable—may it never be. If God wanted to create the universe and then step back and watch, He surely could do that.

You may have mistaken my belief that God didn't do that with one that states that God couldn't do that.

This is presumably related to my post about theistic evolution. There, I made the point that at most you can be a deist and believe in evolution. You cannot self-consistently be a Christian and believe in (undirected) evolution, only in theistic evolution, where God has intervened, at a minimum, in the case of man. You can claim that you believe in a sovereign God who has a plan of redemption for man and, simultaneously profess to believe in undirected, full-bodied evolution—as Ken Miller, I suppose, claims—but that is just another example of someone who is willing to trundle about life with a high degree of cognitive dissonance.

It is very simple, theologically. To be a theist is to believe in God. To believe in God is to believe in a sovereign God. (There is no other type—a non-sovereign God, one whose plans can be thwarted, is not a capital G god at all.) To be a Christian is to believe that this sovereign God has a redemptive plan for our species. Undirected evolution offers no a priori guarantee that our species would even show up on earth. Any number of natural processes might have prevented man from appearing. Evolution, left alone, might have thwarted God's plan. God, being sovereign would have intervened to ensure his plan was realized.

You cannot (logically) believe in the Christian God and simultaneously believe that our species was not ordained. You can only believe in a non-intervening god (deism) or an inept god (gee, I didn't reckon on that mutation, what am I gonna do now?)

Science Welcome

In my post below, announcing that I will be giving some ID talks this fall at several colleges, Ed Darrell makes two comments. His first is:
Why would you seek out religious groups to discuss "cosmological ID," were there any science in it?
To which I responded:
Why not? You don't [think] religious groups should discuss science?
Ed then replied:
Sure, religious groups occasionally study science -- but I've never seen any group that invited an ID presentation study science. What other science topics have these churches you're visiting studied?

Here in Dallas we have three or four churches that study science from time to time. Those churches are the ones the Discovery Institute avoids like the plague when they come to town.

A science-literate congregation appears to me to be one any advocate of ID avoids. Are there any counter examples?
A couple points to be made here. To begin, I infer that Ed believes all my talks are to Christian organizations on campus. If so, he is wrong.

More importantly, his first comment, if I am parsing it correctly, is meant to imply that there is no science in cosmological ID because, after all, if there were, why would a religious group be interested? This viewpoint is

(a) common, among both secular scientists and Christians, and

(b) patently absurd.

True, scientists and Christians alike profess a tension between science and Christianity. However, such a tension exists only in the minds of foolish men. Science is the study of creation—God's creation. An incompatibility cannot exist between the creator and the created. Christian groups are the most natural place to discuss science, apart (perhaps) from interchanges among scientists.

In Ed's second comment he states that he has never seen a church that invited an ID speaker study science. Ed is asserting his conclusion (ID is not science) in his premise.

He also needs to get out more. While it is true that churches I have spoken in probably don't have a Wednesday night quantum field theory class, while I talk to them about cosmological ID they are, in fact, learning and studying science—hearing and asking about super novae, nuclear chemistry, orbital perturbations, etc. This is independent of whether the ID is science. Taking just one example, the fact that an exploding supernova seeds its neighborhood with the stuff of planets and people most definitely qualifies as science, and it is also a critical fact in any cosmological ID talk.

Ed's point seems to be that if ID is science then why would the churches invite ID speakers, since churches are not in the business of science, ergo ID is not science. That is, in this case, it is convenient for him to trust the church's discernment in not permitting science to darken her doorway. He misses the boat completely. Churches inviting ID speakers is, in truth and rather obviously, irrelevant in the debate over whether or not ID is science. But if you wanted to take it as a sign one way or another, Ed picks the wrong direction. Science and Christianity (as opposed to scientists and Christians) are friends, and friends invite one another into their homes.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Lesson 27 John Calvin (1509-1564)

NOTE: Some of this description was cut and pasted from the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on John Calvin.

John Calvin was the greatest of Protestant divines, and, after Augustine, the most perseveringly followed by his disciples of any Western writer on theology. He was born at Noyon in Picardy, France, 10 July, 1509, and died at Geneva, 27 May, 1564.

Although the three great reformers are usually identified as Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, John Calvin was really a second generation reformer. He never met Martin Luther and was, by his own reckoning, converted not long before Zwingli's death. By birth, education, and temper Luther and Calvin, like Luther and Zwingli, were very different. Luther was a Saxon peasant, his father a miner; Calvin, like Luther in that he was born a Roman Catholic, sprang from the French middle-class. His father was an attorney in Noyon, where he practiced civil and canon law and served as the secretary to the Catholic Bishop. Luther entered an Augustinian monastery, took a monk's vows, was made a priest and ended up marrying a nun. Calvin never was ordained in the Catholic Church; his training was chiefly in law and the humanities; he took no vows and ended up marrying a Baptist. Luther's eloquence made him popular by its force, humor, rudeness, and vulgar style (once boasting about Rome's constant scrutiny of his every move that "If I break wind in Wittenberg they smell it in Rome." Calvin spoke to the learned at all times, even when preaching before multitudes. His manner is classical; "he uses the weapons of a deadly logic and persuades by a teacher's authority." (Catholic Encyclopedialop) He wrote French as well as Luther wrote German, and like him has been reckoned a pioneer in the modern development of his native tongue.

According to Philip Melancthon, John Calvin was "the theologian of the reformation." This in spite of the fact that Calvin, as a monergist and a predestinarian, who would argue that we had no more to do with our second birth than our first, was in direct opposition to Melancthon's synergistic view of regeneration. Interestingly, Melancthon and Calvin seemed to genuine affection for one another.

Some trivia: Calvin from the famous comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, was named after John Calvin. It is thought that this reflects the young male character's belief in predestination (as justification for his behavior). His stuffed tiger Hobbes gets his name from philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who held a dim view of human nature.

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

In 1536 the near reformer Erasmus died. In Belgium, the English martyr William Tyndale was strangled and burned for translating the bible into English. And in Geneva, twenty-six John Calvin released the first edition of his systematic The Institutes of the Christian Religion. It is acclaimed by many as the greatest theological work (uninspired by the Holy Spirit) of all time. A few years earlier Calvin had been awakened by the Lutheran movement. The Protestants were under persecution in France, and interestingly enough Calvin dedicated Institutes to Francis I, King of France, attempting to explain to his king that his theology was not an innovation, and certainly not a heresy, but a return to classic, biblical Christianity. He also implored the king to take action to restrain the persecutions.

Calvin would make this point over and over: the Reformers were not heretics, and the reformation was actually a restoration of the ancient and forgotten beliefs of the early church. It was the Roman Church that, especially during the medieval period, had drifted into apostasy and heresy.

Like Luther, Calvin was greatly influenced by Augustine and quotes him liberally in his writings. However, Calvin did not view Augustine as inerrant, and considered his views on baptism to be in grave error. Whereas Augustine believed that unbaptized babies who died were bound for hell, Calvin was in the opposite extreme, believing that the newborns of believers were of the elect and perhaps even Christians, and should be withheld from the Lord's Supper only because they could not discern the body of Christ.

Luther and Calvin were in complete agreement on every important theological matter apart from one: the interpretation of the Lord's Supper. Calvin was a Lutheran, and Luther was a Calvinist.

Calvin is established in Geneva

After many vicissitudes, and avoiding persecution, Calvin ended up in Geneva. From 1536 to 1538 Calvin had great authority there. This was his first attempt at reform, but he pushed the reform too quickly. The city council banished Calvin and fellow reformer and friend, William Farel. The two went to Strasburg for three years were he preached at a Huguenot church. This was undoubtedly a great time of discouragement for Calvin. He later returns, solidifying his position in the city. He died triumphant in peace in 1654, just as the Council of Trent was ending.

In 1540, in Strasburg, he befriended John Storder and his wife Idelette de Bure. The two were Anabaptists and part of a community of French refugees. They attended as many of Calvin's sermons and lectures that they could. They invited Calvin to their home and warm friendship developed.
Calvin worked endlessly: he took his pastoral duties seriously; he lectured at the University; he enlarged his Institutes from six chapters to seventeen and saw it published. As a disputant, with his clear vision and sound theology as well as his ability to present arguments, he was chosen as deputy for Strasburg in several conferences which strove for political and ecclesiastical unity. In each case the result was a stalemate. The only pleasure Calvin got from the first conference was a meeting with Philip Melancthon, a great joy to both men of God.

The hospitality of the Storders must have been very welcome to him, though he never spoke about money. He loved to think of them, as they styled themselves, his disciples, and he on his side admired their knowledge and love of the truth and 'the simplicity and sanctity of their lives'.

There were but two years of this happy friendship before sorrow came when John Storder fell ill and quickly died from the plague.

Calvin's friends thought he ought to marry and have a home of his own. He wrote to a friend that he would like a wife, specifying: 'The only kind of beauty which can win my soul is a woman who is chaste, not fastidious, economical, patient, and who is likely to interest herself in my health' And that, 'If she answers her reputation she will bring, in personal good qualities, a dowry large enough without any money at all.' It appears as that it was his friends who suggested to him, 'What about Idelette?' and his eyes opened to see her worth. She was about his own age, comely, kindly, and very intelligent. Suddenly he began to court her, and in a very few months married her.

They had not been married more than six months when the first of three pressing invitations came to him to return to Geneva. On September 13, 1531, amid great rejoicing and enthusiastic ovation, Calvin entered Geneva a second time. In this ordeal, God worked a tragedy into a blessing, creating a situation in which the people of Geneva welcomed Calvin and his reform.

Idelette greatly helped Calvin, and when she died 1549 he was devastated. At that point, according to his own words, he threw himself into his work. He wrote a detailed commentary on every bible book except Revelation, which he found to be impenetrable.

Arminius, the originator of a theology opposed to that of Calvin's system, gave an unbiased opinion of Calvin's works, saying:
"Next to the study of the Scriptures, I exhort my pupils to pursue Calvin's commentaries."
It is easy to see the wonderful providence of God in bringing John Calvin back to Geneva. This free and independent city with its democratic institutions was at that time, of all the places in the world, the most admirably fitted to be the scene of the great reformatory labors of Calvin. The great Scottish reformer John Knox would call Geneva under John Calvin the most Christian city in history.

Upon his return to Geneva, Calvin drew up a Church Order, a set of rules for governing of the church. It was based upon the teaching of Scripture that Christ has ordained four offices in the church: pastors, teachers or professors, elders, and deacons. The cornerstone of Calvin's form of church government was the office of elder. Pastors were to preach and to exhort the people. Elders were men of unusual spiritual insight who supervised the people, and visited and assisted the pastors. Deacons were general servers. Through this type of government, based on the Bible, Calvin was able to instruct and discipline the people spiritually.

Calvin labored to set forth a theocracy that would be an example of Christian life and government, and also be a citadel of evangelical truth that would conquer the power of Rome in all other lands.

Calvin put great emphasis upon Christian education. He knew that the Reformation would only be effective as people knew and obeyed God's Word. He devised a catechetical system for the young which was carried all over Europe.

Calvin's view on baptism is brought to light considering his own baptism and that of his wife.
  • Calvin believed that he was converted in his early twenties, upon hearing the theology arising from the Lutheran Reformation. He had been a lifelong Catholic.

  • As a Catholic, he had been baptized by sprinkling at infancy.

  • Although not a believer until his twenties, he viewed his and all baptisms as a sign of the sealing by the Holy Spirit. No matter that it took over too decades before he was illuminated—his baptism as a Catholic was legitimate. He did get baptized again.

  • His wife had been baptized by immersion as an Anabaptist. After she and her former husband became disciples of John Calvin, she was not baptized again. Her baptism, like his own, was considered legitimate.

  • Calvin's first born son was baptized as an infant. His other children died in infancy, before they were baptized.

The Burning of Servetus

The one event in Calvin's life that has cast a shadow over his name, and which has left him charged of intolerance and persecution is the burning of the heretic Servetus.

Servetus, who some believe was castrated at age five, was a Spaniard who opposed Christianity, both in its Roman Catholic and Protestant forms. He denied the Trinity and was the most audacious and even blasphemous heretic of the sixteenth century. He opposed the teaching of justification by faith and infant baptism. He was religious and superstitious, but not Christian—more of an astrologist.

Servetus had fled to Geneva from Vienna, France. Before he came to Geneva, he corresponded with Calvin, and Calvin did all he could to help this man see the truth of Christianity, but with no success. Servetus regarded Calvin as the pope of orthodox Protestantism whom he was determined to convert or overthrow. When Servetus first came to Geneva, he tried to align himself with the liberal city council that was somewhat opposed to Calvin. Calvin apparently sensed this danger and was in no mood to permit Servetus to propagate his errors in Geneva. Hence he considered it his duty to make so dangerous a man harmless, and determined to bring him either to recantation or to deserved punishment. Servetus actions were in one sense sedition — because in a theocracy there is a mixture of state and church, his attempt to overthrow the church was an attempt to overthrow the government of Geneva. Servetus was promptly arrested and brought to trial.

Calvin and other pastors in Geneva spent days with Servetus, trying to help him to see the error of his way, but Servetus was as hard as stone. He was convinced that the liberal council would throw Calvin out and let him out of jail.

The trial of Servetus was left to the civil court, which charged him with fundamental heresy, falsehood and blasphemy. The city council at this point was not favorable to Calvin. The libertines hoped to use the Servetus situation as a means of getting Calvin expelled from Geneva. The court's decision was:
"Inasmuch as you, Michael Servetus of Villanueva in the Spanish kingdom of Aragon, have been accused of terrible blasphemies against the holy Trinity, against the Son of God and other principles of the Christian faith, whereas you have called the Trinity a devil and a monster with three heads, whereas you went about to destroy poor souls by your horrifying mockery of the honor and majesty of God, too wicked to be mentioned, whereas refusing to be taught in any way, you called Christian atheists and magicians, whereas, whereas, whereas . . .

"We, the mayor and judges of this city, having been called to the duty of preserving the church of God from schism and seduction, and to free Christians of such pestilence, decree that you, Michael Servetus, be led to the place of Champel and be bound to a stake and with your book be burned to ashes, a warning to all who blaspheme God."
The verdict was "guilty," and the sentence punishment by fire. Calvin, agreeing that Servetus should be put to death, opposed the state's method of execution and pleaded for the sword to be substituted for the fire. The council refused Calvin's request. The final responsibility for the burning rested with the city council, not Calvin.

Had Servetus been executed in any other way than by fire, his death would have passed almost unnoticed. It should be remembered that Servetus was, at one time, captured by the Inquisition. Had he not made good his escape, he likely would have been executed by the Catholic Church rather than the City Council of Geneva.

Calvin considered Servetus the greatest enemy of the Reformation and honestly believed it to be the right and duty of the state to punish those who offended the church. This act was based on the Old Testament principle of death for heretics
anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death. (Lev. 24:16).
Calvin also felt himself providentially called to purify the church of all corruptions, and to his dying day he neither changed his views nor regretted his conduct toward Servetus.
We should not be too hard on Calvin in the matter of Servetus, for the spirit of the day among all, except the Anabaptists, whether Catholic or Protestant, was to put heretics to death. The treatment of heretics was an error of the age, and we dare not judge Calvin by our twentieth century standards. We must remember that Servetus was given a fair court trial, which lasted over two months, and that he was sentenced by the full session of the civil council in accordance with the laws which were then recognized throughout Christendom.

It should be noted that no Catholic or Anabaptist was ever executed in Geneva for the sake of his religious conviction.

Calvin's course in regard to Servetus was fully approved by all the leading Reformers of the time. Melanchthon, Bucer, Bullinger, Farel and Besa all felt that Calvin and Geneva dealt fairly with Servetus. The city council sought the advice of the other cities in Switzerland as to the fate of Servetus and received the following answers:

From Zwingli's city: "No severity is too great to punish such an offense. Our preachers are in total agreement with what Calvin thinks of his doctrine."

From Schaffhausen: "Stop the evil, other-wise his blasphemies, like a crawfish, will eat away the members of Christ!"

From Basel: "Do what lies in your power to convince him of his error. If he persists in his folly, then use the power which is entrusted to you by God to prevent him by force from any further injury to the Church of Christ."

Even Melanchthon stated to Calvin in a letter, "I have read your book in which you clearly refuted the horrid blasphemies of Servetus . . . To you the Church owes gratitude at the present moment, and will owe it to the latest posterity. I perfectly assent to your opinion. I affirm also that your magistrates did right in punishing, after regular trial, this blasphemous man."

Public opinion has undergone a great change in regard to this event, and the execution of Servetus which was fully approved by the best men in the sixteenth century is entirely out of harmony with modern ideas.

When Servetus was informed of the decision of the council, he was stunned at first, and then began to rant and rave like a mad man. Again, Calvin went to Servetus, hoping to lead him to Christ, and said to him:

"Believe me, never did I have the intention to prosecute you because of some offense against me. Do you remember," he spoke now with a tender voice and not in a tone of reproach, "how, in danger of death, I wanted to meet you in Paris sixteen years ago in order to win you to our Lord? And afterwards when you were a fugitive was I not concerned to show you the right way in letters until you began to hate me because you were offended by my firmness? But let's not talk about me, nor of the past! Are you thinking of asking forgiveness of the everlasting God whom you have blasphemed on so many occasions? Are you thinking of being reconciled to the Son of God?"

Servetus became quite serious and humble as he faced the certainty of death. He asked Calvin to forgive him, and perhaps he asked Christ for forgiveness also. It is recorded that he spent the last twenty-four hours of his life repeating over and over again, "Jesus, Son of the eternal God, have mercy upon me!"

The Spread of Calvinism

As much as Calvin's practice in Geneva, his publications spread his ideas of a correctly reformed church to many parts of Europe. Calvinism became the theological system of the majority in Scotland, the Netherlands, and parts of Germany and was influential in France, Hungary (especially in Transylvania) and Poland.

Most settlers in the American Mid-Atlantic and New England were Calvinists, including the Puritans and Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam (New York). South Africa was also founded by mostly Dutch Calvinist settlers beginning in the 17th century, who became known as Boers or Afrikaners.

Sierra Leone was largely colonized by Calvinist settlers from Nova Scotia, who were largely Black Loyalists, African Americans who had fought for the British during the Revolutionary War.

Usury, Capitalism, and the Protestant Work Ethic

One school of thought about Calvinism is that it brought with it a revolt against the medieval condemnation of usury (lending money and charging interest), helping to set the stage for the development of capitalism in northern Europe. Furthering the cause of economic development was the widespread idea that a sign of being elect was good citizenship and hard work—the so-called Protestant Work Ethic.

Calvin expressed himself on usury in a letter to a friend, Oekolampadius. In this letter, he criticized the use of certain passages of scripture invoked by people opposed to the charging of interest -- he re-interpreted some of these passages, and suggested that others of them had been rendered irrelevant by changed conditions. He also said, though, that money should be lent to people in dire need without hope of interest.

German sociologist Max Weber noted that Protestants, especially Calvinists, played a prominent role in early-20th-century business success. He noted that "business leaders and owners of capital, as well as the higher grades of skilled labor, and even more the higher technically and commercially trained personnel of modern enterprises, [were] overwhelmingly Protestant."

Friday, September 02, 2005

Cosmological ID Talks

I will be giving at least four cosmological ID talks in the near future. Two in the community, two (hopefully getting bumped to three) at colleges. I'll announce details as they are firmed up, in case you are interested.

Theistic Evolution

The denizens of Panda's Thumb like to point out that one can be a Christian and believe in evolution.

There is, in my opinion, truth to this: I think one can be a Christian and believe in theistic evolution (more about that, anon.)

They often parade Brown Professor Ken Miller as an example of how one can be a Christian (in this case a Catholic) and affirm evolution. Their strategy is transparent: educated, enlightened Christians affirm evolution; muddle-headed bumpkin fundies with multiple rows of buck teeth do not.

While there is truth to their premise (that a Christian can believe evolution), there is also distortion by omission. They do not tell the whole story.

Since Miller is their willing poster boy, I will write based on what I know of the Roman Catholic stand on evolution. Given that I am not a Catholic, it goes without saying that I welcome all corrections should I distort Rome's position.

I hope to make the following two points.
  1. The flavor of evolution that the Catholic Church permits among her flock is theistic evolution. This is quite different from naturalistic evolution as championed on places like Panda's Thumb. If Ken Miller supports purely naturalistic evolution, then he is not doing so with the approval of his Church.

  2. Theistic evolution is a form of Intelligent Design (ID).

Let's start with some working definitions:

Deism: The belief that god created the universe, but did not and does not intervene post-creation. (A long-dead god is compatible with deism.)

Nauturalistic Evolution: The theory that the diversity of life is due to genetic variations arising from natural mechanisms: mutations and parenting. In this view, all species are derived from one (or a few) initial, primitive types of organisms whose origin is considered interesting but not relevant. Here the view of man is: he is nothing special, he shares common descent with other primates, and as a species he was not inevitable.

Theistic Evolution: A spectrum of views that affirm genetic adaptation and common descent, but invoke, at a minimum, two supernatural interventions: the initiation of life and the "creation" of man. The quotes are around creation because the theistic evolutionist (here we limit ourselves to the Judeo-Christian theistic evolutionists) agrees that man evolved, but he must also agree, at a minimum, that the evolution of man was, at least in part, directed. All other species can be at the mercy of impersonal naturalistic forces, but man, at some level, had help. This is rather obvious because:
  • To be theistic is to believe in God.

  • To be theistic, but not deistic, implies belief in a sovereign and intervening God.

  • To be theistic and Judeo-Christian implies a belief that God had a sovereign plan for man.

  • God, having a plan for mankind, decreed (by means unspecified) that mankind should exist.

  • God intervened, therefore, at some point, to ensure man evolved.

At a minimum, God intervened to imbue man with a soul. However, it is fair to say that if one wants to remain within the most generous pale of Judeo-Christian orthodoxy one also affirms that God did not simply decide one day that a certain primate species had, fortuitously, evolved to a state of readiness, but rather he had in mind, from the beginning, man as he is today (in His image).

Note that the physical and the spiritual cannot be completely separated. One cannot, as a Christian, say that religion and biology are completely orthogonal. To be a Christian, in even the broadest, most liberal sense, is to affirm that God had something to do with creating man. He may have used evolution as his means, but he had our species in mind from the beginning.

So in a nutshell:
  • To be a theistic evolutionist one must believe that man is special and was inevitable.

  • To merely believe in a god, but not to acknowledge that man is in anyway special is to be a deist, not a theistic evolutionist.

  • You can believe in naturalist evolution in it its fullest expression and believe in god, but you cannot be a theistic evolutionist. For naturalistic evolution can never acknowledge that man is special or inevitable. The most religious you can be and still believe in naturalistic evolution is to be a deist.

So what about the Roman Catholic Church? The previous pope, John Paul II pronounced:
[T]he theory of natural evolution, understood in a sense that does not exclude divine causality, is not in principle opposed to the truth about the creation of the visible world, as presented in the Book of Genesis. (Emphasis added)
We see here a clear indication that it is theistic evolution that the Catholic Church approves (but doesn't demand.) The Catholic Church does not permit a view of evolution in which God played no role, or one that asserts man is neither special nor inevitable. JP II added, in the same letter:
The world created by God is constantly maintained in existence by the Creator.
That is not a statement that is compatible with naturaistic evolution. Go try it out in a Panda's Thumb comment. Yet it is this letter from JP II that is often cited as evidence that Rome approves of evolution.

Theistic Evolution is Intelligent Design

From what I have read of Ken Miller, his view is that of the escapist: he protests that the religious conflate philosophy and biology. This sounds clever but it is actually a copout. For reasons that I've described, you cannot be a theistic evolutionist and deny that supernatural intervention was utilized in the creation of the human genome. In what I have read of Ken Miller, he cannot be distinguished from a deist. In his coauthored open letter to Benedict XVI we read:
The Pope (John Paul II) accepted that biological Evolution had progressed beyond the hypothetical stage as a guiding principle behind the understanding of the evolution of diverse life forms on Earth, including humans. At the same time, he rightly recognized that the spiritual significance that one draws from the scientific observations and theory lie outside of the scientific theories themselves.

Miller joins in the quote-mining of JP II. In the same letter Miller quotes, JP II added:
Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man.
All that Miller, Panda's Thumb, and the misnamed NCSE want you to hear is this: The pope said evolution is just fine for Catholics. But John Paul II never stopped there; he added conditions that would get him unmercifully skewered on Panda's Thumb: supernatural intervention, and the acknowledgement that man, in a spiritual and physical sense, cannot be the result of purely natural forces.

For a timely reminder of the naturalistic evolutionist view of man, take a look at this post from a Panda's Thumb overlord (and read the comments, too.) The author of the post is also the author of this fine piece of scientific thought. Do we suspect Roman Catholic approval of this view of humankind?

Of course, that said, the theistic-evolutionist does biology using the same tools as his purely naturalistic colleagues. In the same manner, I can do physics just like anyone else. (The difference is that my fellow physicists, even the most atheistic, do not implode if someone mentions God, even in a physics classroom.)

So we are left with this: To be a theistic evolutionist is to acknowledge common descent, to acknowledge what is commonly called macroevolution, and to proclaim that the tools of the trade are those of science.

It is also to acknowledge that God has intervened, as a genetic engineer and not merely a spiritual advisor, to ensure the arrival and sanctity of at least one species: man.

We have a name for that viewpoint. It's called Intelligent Design. If Miller is a theistic evolutionist, then he is also an IDer. If he is but a deist, then he is out of touch with the Catholic Church and should, by reasons of common courtesy, refrain from sending advice to Rome.