25 December 2010

Something of a Diatribe on Tombs, Monuments, Traditions and Authority

Over the past several days I have foolishly perhaps engaged in a little cyber-nudging... something I no longer do. I think things are rapidly degenerating in the Bible-believing Church, and though there's something of a remnant of thinking and discerning people. They are few. With the raging culture wars I like to see every once in a while how tightly people are wound. It's pretty bad out there.

I've visited a few websites and raised a point or two regarding Christmas and the larger principles in play. I have several observations, which stem from these principles.

They will be familiar to the frequent readers of this weblog.

Where do we go to derive Biblical truth? Christianity is not a get out of jail free card. It's not just about getting our sins forgiven, it's about being reconciled to God, our Creator, our Redeemer. Packer had it right...it's about Knowing God.

To know Him, we communicate, there's a relationship. He speaks to us...how? And we communicate with Him...how?

We would all agree that we can know something of God the Creator by considering nature.

We also would agree that to know God as Redeemer we need Special Revelation. This would be His Word. In the Old Testament, that might have come by a Prophet or by what Holy Writings were completed at that time.

In the New Covenant/Testament we have the Final Word, Jesus Christ. He is the Final Prophet and once the generation of His specially commissioned Apostles died off...we are left with their inspired writings, the Word of God in it's complete form.

Now some would say we still have Apostles and Prophets. These would be Charismatics and Pentecostals of course.

Some would say Tradition (presumably Holy Spirit guided?) can augment and supplement Scripture. This category would include Roman Catholics and the vast majority of Evangelicals and Protestants, whether they admit it or not.

I contend this is THE issue to defining what a Church or The Church is or is not. I contend this is the issue out of which most other issues flow.

If Tradition is part of how we approach God, how we worship Him, if we as men can develop the Mind of God and derive ways to approach and please Him....then as I've said before I've got three choices....Rome, Constantinople, or Apostasy.

Protestantism would no longer have a leg to stand on. Because if Tradition is Holy Spirit inspired, who in the world did the Reformers think they were to challenge that and set up a rival tradition?

If they can legitimately challenge the Ancient Traditions of Rome-Constantinople, then the Tradition must not be Holy Spirit inspired....in which case either

a. there's no reason in the world why someone can't come along and make new traditions, which Protestants don't seem to like. or,

b. the whole Tradition-Authority paradigm is wrong.

I don't find very many people who really even want to consider this question of Authority. In the end, they're going to do what they want to do and they'll even try and find Biblical sanction for it...so they can say they're just trying to follow God's Word.

Just today over at one well known site, I've had both Colossians 2 and Romans 14 thrown at me to justify Christmas. Colossians 2 repudiates the commandments of men. The touch not and taste not were about the Jewish and or Gnostic commandments concerning certain foods and drinks....something most of the Baptists at that site would be quick to invoke if someone tried to have a beer.

I would also refer to Matthew 15.9 as well. Romans 14 is dealing with those who have Jewish scruples about keeping holy days like Passover and Sabbath. I guarantee Paul wasn't talking about keeping Saturnalia. What about the meat blessed at a Saturnalia feast? It's just meat, no big deal. Just like I can have a candy cane. Yes it's related to Christian-Saturnalia, but it's just some sugar. But what would Paul say about those who went and participated in Saturnalia....cup of devils, he'd say.

What about those who would try and bring Saturnalia into the Church? What would Paul say to that? Would he say we should try to claim it? Transform it?

Of course there's room for legitimate difference in the application of Authority. By no means do I expect everyone to agree with everything I say. But I find a self-willed spirit among many people who in the end...just don't care. They want to do it (whatever that may be) and they're not going to even consider doing otherwise.

I am probably the most irritated by those within Reformed circles. To many today, Reformed simply means...Calvinist Soteriology, the Five Points. If you believe in predestination, irresistible grace, and for most Eternal Security rather than Perseverance of the Saints....that makes you Reformed.

Right or wrong, Luther was an ardent Augustinian when it came to issues regarding Free Will and Predestination. His debate with Erasmus is famous and a little amusing. Luther by this definition was not only Calvinist, but Reformed as well.

But he must certainly was NOT Reformed. Why? Because it meant something far more than Soteriology, the doctrine of Salvation.

Unlike Luther, the Reformed wanted to not merely remove the worst and most heinous abuses Romanism had introduced. They wanted to Reform the Church back to the New Testament pattern. Luther was not arguing for that, the Reformed were adamant about it. The Puritans were so-called because the Anglican Compromise was not good enough for them, they wanted to Purify the Church of England and Reform it.

In the end of course, I don't care one whit about Calvin, Luther, Winthrop, Owen, or any of them, and I certainly care not for Confessions and Catechisms whether they be Westminster, Augsburg, Heidelberg, or Belgic. They all must be judged by the criteria of Scripture.

But, we can't ignore history. Like it or not it has shaped the modern Church and our modern society. We can't just pretend it isn't there. While I could wish many were less concerned with tradition and more with the Word of God....that's the state of things. So, rather than ignore it, or try and claim sides....let's learn it and critique so that we can learn from it.

The Reformed in their process of Reforming the Church had many disagreements and there are certainly many different schools of thought and various factions. But certainly among the Genevan and British branches there was an understanding regarding the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, one that understood both unity and disunity, continuity and discontinuity.

They saw the twin dangers on the pages of the New Testament.

One, the temptation to Paganize, to accommodate and sycretize with the surrounding culture. They understood that God operates Monergistically. Salvation is His prerogative, He is the agent, and He therefore sets the terms by which we are reconciled to Him. The Old Testament order did not allow innovation in that it was a picture of the coming Redeemer. The New Testament could not innovate, because the Scriptures, the Revelation was complete and we did not need to add to what God has given us. He has given the Church what it needs to function in terms of life and doctrine.

The second temptation was to Judaize, to misunderstand the nature and fulfillment of the Old Covenant and to bring forward typical elements and foreshadowing signs from the Old and integrate them into the New.

Rome is built on these twin pillars of Judaizing and Paganizing. Luther as it were said, let's clean the pillars. The Reformed said....let's knock them down and trample them into the dust.

Traditionally (wink) this is called the Regulative Principle of Worship.

In terms of the Christian life, what is not forbidden is permitted....with wisdom of course.

But in terms of the Church and Doctrine, what is not commanded or taught is forbidden.

Luther and Canterbury (the Church of England) agreed with the first point on the Christian life, but also applied the same idea to Church and Doctrine. So, if it's not explicitly forbidden....it's fine. Rome was bad....but not THAT bad.

Today, most Evangelicals and Protestants, and the majority of Reformed people are by historical definition, Lutherans and Anglicans....at least in principle. They may not go that far and wear robes, and have archbishops, but in principle, nothing is stopping them from doing so.

What's most irksome is that I find Reformed people writing about Christmas and then citing John Calvin or some other Reformed figure from the past. Remember Christmas falls right in line with this whole discussion of Authority. This plays out in worship etc....

Most miss this. I've often heard people arguing over the merits of a piano vs. a guitar. Once you've said it's alright to either

a. borrow from Levitical example and incorporate that into the New Testament, or

b. innovate, for certainly we don't find the Church using instruments in the New Testament (or for a thousand years after)....

then piano vs. guitar is not about principle, it's about preference. You like po-tay-toe, I like po-tah-toe. Who's right?

The Eastern Orthodox church to this day does not permit musical instruments in their worship. Calvin, Knox, the Puritans, Spurgeon, and all the rest also rejected them. Even people like John Wesley believed they had no place in Christian worship. Not because they were sticks in the mud....they understood what the author of Hebrews meant when he said we're under the order of Melchisedec, not Levi.

Zwingli played numerous instruments, at home. It was common activity, not worship, not part of the Holy Communion with God when the saints gathered. He loved music but would not allow it in the Church.

And yet day after day I find 'Reformed?' people quoting Calvin and others on the topic of worship....but then they're using not only instruments but often much more....praise teams, puppets, whatever. And they try and argue that they're in line with the Tradition they so venerate?

I find it to be a little dishonest. If any of those men were alive today, they would not appreciate their names being attached to such activities and doctrines.

The one website extols Spurgeon, but then promotes Darby-ite Dispensationalism! Spurgeon had nothing good to say about Dispensationalism and it is systemically incompatible with Reformed theology....but they're going to put Spurgeon with a Santa hat on their page???? I come with the doctrine of Spurgeon's 1689 confession and they call me names and give Lutheran arguments based on Romans 14 and Colossians 2.


Everyone who claims to be Reformed loves the Puritans and Pilgrims....but they repudiated Christmas and many of the other practices Evangelicals so enjoy. The Pilgrims were trying to escape the Constantinians of their day.

So why do they praise them? A scripture comes to mind from Matthew 23....

29 Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous,

30 and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’
31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.

Calvin and the rest were certainly not prophets, but I hope you see the analogy. I come cyber-visiting and bring the doctrines of those whom they laud and admire and they spit venom.

Those with a little more concern and sophistication often argue...it's not a holy day. It's a societal custom.

Then why bring it into the Church? When you do so....you're making it holy, or at least trying to.

If it's not sacred to them....then good night why do they get so upset when you question it? Why do they rage when you tell them you won't do it?

It's obvious it's not just a holy day.....maybe how they treat Thanksgiving.

It's what we might call a High Holy Day, and when you question it, it's like you're attacking Christianity itself. Could it be that the Gospel for such people is something a little different than what we find in the New Testament?

If you've read anything here, you know that I am arguing for the same Authority paradigm that the Reformed argued for. It's the same one you'll find with Lombard branch of Waldensianism, with the Hussite movements, and certainly among the Lollards in Britain.

The Waldensians were less solid on the issue of Worship, but most of them as well as the other aforementioned groups were in full agreement with the Regulative Principle.

What did it look like? I'm reminded of my local Church of Christ. They reject Christmas not because they've specifically formulated this doctrine, but for the simple reason that they can't find it on the pages of the New Testament. God didn't tell us to celebrate Christmas they would say. So liturgically it is ignored.

In private homes, you'll find many of them to varying degrees observe the day. I wish they wouldn't but I appreciate the understanding regarding the Bible as an Authority for The Church. Waldensianism seemed to operate this way. The leaders were concerned with the Authority of Scripture. That was THE basis for their rejection of Rome! But in practice, you'll find some Waldensians wrestling with cultural customs and various Romish folk superstitions. Some said the rosary, things like that. Medieval culture like our own was pretty powerful, pretty seductive.

Today, not only is the private principle lost, the whole notion of Authority has been jettisoned. Yes, completely thrown out.....even while they extol their virtues and wonders of Sola Scriptura.

Through sophistry it is either overthrown while still verbally affirmed, or in many cases it's simply not understood or thought about. The blame lies with the leaders who fail to teach the people the Word of God.

Where the Reformation failed was in regard to The Kingdom. They did not heed the vision and the rai·son d'ê·tre for the proto-protestants. The pre-Reform movements largely rejected the whole concept of Christendom....a Sacral society, an Imperial and Political Church. They understood the Nature and Principle of the Kingdom of Christ.

It was all based on the Word of God.

Today, we have Reformed people that argue over their Confessions. When someone questions the paradigm....they ignore it.

But it's the same thing. If someone comes along that they don't like they try and employ the Confession to run them out. But they themselves exhibit so clearly that they don't understand or even begin to follow the Confession they're making an Authority.

If you're against the Sabbath, they quote the Westminster Confession. If you say they're not keeping the Westminster Sabbath, they'll say, that's in the secondary standards. Right.

The Confession clearly teaches the Regulative Principle, but most Reformed Churches celebrate Christmas and innovate in the realm of worship. They might be leaps and bounds better than Willow Creek or Saddleback....but in principle they're the same. It's just a matter of taste.

But then they appeal to the Confession when they want to go after people who they think go too far in the realm of Baptism or the Lord's Supper. Even though they themselves do not hold to Baptism and the Supper in the same way the Reformers taught, nor even the Westminster Confession itself.

They'll tolerate Theonomists....even though their teachings on the law are directly contrary to the Westminster formulation. They don't mind that, but they sure mind Two Kingdom Theology. The Gatekeepers want to run that out and quick.

The Westminster Confession was drafted in the 1640's and was solidly Constantinian. There's an article that says the State can call synods and Church councils. The framers of Westminster believed in an Established Church....they just wanted it to be theirs.

In the United States after the 1776 Rebellion, they certainly didn't want the King of England to call councils, and the framers had set up a state structure that wouldn't work with Westminster. So, what did they do?

They changed it. They revised it and took out that clause. Changed the tradition? Can you do that?

Now there are some today in very conservative Reformed circles that hold to the OLD confession and they want that clause back. I know several of these men who hold not only to that doctrine but to the Regulative Principle of the Westminster Confession.

They get run out too! The PCA, OPC, and many of the smaller groups won't tolerate it.

If you visit their websites they all sit and argue about this stuff....this what?


If you haven't seen Fiddler on the Roof, please do so. Tevya is singing the ballad of Protestantism as well as Judaism. The movie makes you wish you were Jewish and thankful that you're not all at the same time.

Traditions are great, but they can also be a curse.

I frequently say and will once again say.....Confessions and all other traditions are wonderful as guides. It's like a map that you can use to get the lay of the land. We don't live in a vacuum. We can't believe that we're the first generation in history to figure it out. If God's Word is timeless and eternal, and we've had the New Testament for 1900 years, then to fail and refuse to look back at those who have gone before is just plain ignorant and prideful. If you've come up with something that no one has ever thought of over the past 1900 years....you're most likely wrong. The Truth has never been in the majority, but it's always been there.

But when you make Tradition an authority, it becomes a chain, a road block.

Yes, that sounds rather loosey-goosey but the road I'm looking to follow is not some post-modern Emergent road.....I'm trying to follow the Scriptures and apply them to history and to today.

"And we always wear our hats. Why? I don't why, but it's a tradition."

As Tevye found out, the traditions were just forms, they were a structure to keep them together.

But they had no substance and so when challenged, they crumbled.

Many Reformed people today think the key, the dire need for the Church is....

more forms.

That's what will hold it all together. People don't need to know why, they just need to heed the forms and obey.

Part of the problem is the tendency to think of the Church as some kind of bureaucratic institution with buildings and letterhead, and even worse....denominations.

Paul didn't think much of denominations. He told the Corinthians as much. What we have today are people arguing over denominational traditions.

They use the documents (like Westminster) as a form or framework for the argument, but like the American Congress with Constitution....they don't really care what it says.

It's about who gets to hold the reins. It's politics on the denominational level. Just like in Washington, it's about power.

Reformed circles are pretty rare and unique in their discussions of doctrine. For most Protestants today, the real issues are...social politics, the quest for social power.

Constantinianism was briefly shed by a handful of people in post-Reformation Europe and by many in Colonial America.

The issues of Authority and Kingdom were never resolved by the Reformation and the birds have come home to roost.

The same ideas are generated and float around in each society and though they may disappear for awhile due to pragmatic considerations....like cutting down forests, planting fields, killing Indians, things like that,

or they may be suppressed by the intellectual climate and external circumstances....like frontier education, provincialism, and geo-political isolation,

in time they will appear. And, let me just say, the time is now.

America's story has always been pretty Constantinian and Imperial, even when it wasn't acknowledged or really thought about in those terms. Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, Lincoln's Second Inaugural, Wilsonian doctrine are actually profoundly theological, and profoundly heretical as well, but the Church in those days was trying to meet the needs of the frontier and was busy combating theological liberalism.

But today the Anglo-Saxon (that's me too) Imperium is in crisis and now more than ever, these issues are not open for discussion.

The Sacral Society is in crisis. It's not a time for thinking about these issues. It's a time of defense and counter-attack.

Things like Christmas either have to be,

a. Claimed, or

b. Destroyed

There can't be any neutrality. Like their hero George Bush said, you're either with us or against us.

Just one problem, America is not the Kingdom of Christ, so I'm categorically against them both theologically (in terms of Authority) and Politically (in terms of Kingdom.)

The suffix '-ism' denotes a system of thought, a philosophical grid, a worldview.

Sacralism is a word used to describe a culture being viewed as Holy or Sacral. Every society on earth does this to some extent. Fallen man does one thing....he builds Babylon, the Tower of Babel, over and over again. Knock one down, cut off a head, another grows back, it's rebuilt. Sacralism denotes a worldview or religion that worships a culture....its traditions, its history and myths, its symbols.

Christian Sacralism can also be called Constantinianism, because it was with Constantine and Theodosius that the Church 'shifted' and went from being a persecuted Remnant, a Pilgrim people....to a Sacral Society, an Imperial Christianity...or as depicted in the Apocalypse, a whore.

We've lost Authority, and we've lost Kingdom....what we have is Sacralism, an idolatry.

That's what modern American Christianity is....it's a war not for Christ's Kingdom, it's a battle for the Sacral ideal and vision. Traditions are to be hallowed, endorsed, emphasized, magnified. The Authority is....Western-ism, Christendom. The stakes are about power. The weapons of this warfare and many of its battles....cultural icons.

Somehow Godliness has become synonymous with gain. Gain doesn't just mean money. Money is but a tool, a means not an end.

We're going to do what we want, the way we want it, and we're going to wipe our mouths when we're done and say, "I've done nothing wrong."

To conclude, the discussion about Christmas if you haven't grasped it by now.....

is not about Christmas. It's much bigger than that. That's just one of the little culture icons. It's not about the theology of Christmas....it's about the whole Theology of Authority and of the Kingdom. That's why they get pretty rabid when you touch their sacred day.

Personally, I don't care if you put a dumb tree up in your house and sing Kum Ba Yah around it. What I do care about is the fundamental questions that few seem to be interested in.

I don't find it in the Church at large, and for the most part I don't find it in Reformed Circles either. That's why I gave up them years ago. Occasionally I venture to some of the sites that are esteemed as being Conservative and Reformed. I'm either ignored or called names. I listen to their arguments and its like the year is 1310 once again. I'm reading some Roman apologetic written against Waldensians. The arguments are the same. The discussions are the same....arguing over traditions, wrangling over the words of men.

Somehow a man-made tradition becomes freedom and following the Word of God becomes bondage. Do you want to see bondage? Quit celebrating Christmas and then watch what happens during the month of December as people scurry about thinking they HAVE to buy this or that, decorate, bake, entertain etc.....all because Christ made us free? It's very reminiscent of the yoke which was removed.

I'm happy to do those things, but not under some kind of obligation that men have made that says....do this to be a good Christian.

"We're not doing it for those reasons," they say. We do it because:

'I love the Christmas season that brings us back to Christ in very focused way. It fills my heart with His grace and joy when I read, study, and ponder the Scriptures about God becoming a human. Simply astounding!'

Pity that your Church must utterly fail to do that the other 51 weeks of the year. Pity that God's Word the other 364 days a year isn't good enough. Pity that the Symbols God has given aren't sufficient. I guess Baptism and the Supper aren't exciting enough. Pity that you have to look at tree with bulbs and drink Eggnog to see the Incarnation. And Pity that you don't see understand the issues behind all of this.

People died for these principles. Hooper was burned because he refused to wear vestments. To him, it was that big of a deal. God had not commanded it. The New Testament did not sanction it. The Levitical order could not be appealed to it. It was fulfilled in Christ.

I'm glad you like doing those things. What if I liked praying with beads? Can I introduce that into the Church as well? Are you a legalist if you deny me the right to do so?

It would seem the Pyro's over at Pyromaniacs have set fire to any Biblical sense they ever had! They're Calvinistic Dispensationalists a la John MacArthur. When I bring them Calvinism I'm attacked. When I argue for New Testament liberty...I'm being called a legalist....from Dispensationalists??!?!?!?


The Medieval Order could not even conceive of the New Testament Church in a non-Sacral, a non-Monistic, pluralized societal structure, one in which wheat and tares grew together. If you didn't accept the status quo and the Authority of the Church than you were not only a heretic you were a traitor. They were synonymous. The same is true today in Christian circles.

If you don't embrace Americanism, you're a heretic. If you reject the Holy Kulturkampf, you're a heretic. If you question their authority, you're a heretic. You don't question, you submit....and the Ecclesiastical Aristocracy will tell you what to believe.

They seem to miss the irony of the fact that most Reformed churches are filled with ex-Baptists, ex-Catholics, ex-Assemblies of God, ex-mainline liberals.....all who questioned the Tradition-based Authority of their leaders and compared what their leaders said to the Word of God. That's why they left and are sitting in those PCA's and OPC's.

But now that they've arrived....you can't do that anymore. Because we're right. We've got THE tradition. Just don't question it. If you do, they'll just ignore you. Visit Green Baggins and see.

If they were alive in 1517, they would have burned Luther at the stake.

And if I can be even more irritating, if they had been alive in 1776, they would have been fighting for the Crown....the Establishment.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’
Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets

*I removed the comment thread from this article. It had been hijacked by someone who came here for deceitful purposes.