Archive for April, 2006

Historical Reflections on Baptist Ordination

April 23rd, 2006 Posted in Uncategorized

A few weeks ago I participated in the ordination of a dear brother, Scott Bowman. As I thought about what that event entailed I realized afresh the scriptural principle that leadership is vital to the people of God. I suppose it was a French-speaking pastor by the name of Jacques Alexanian, who has spent nearly all of his ministry in Quebec and who has been something of a father in Christ to me, who first drilled this into my thinking and convictions.

Right from the very beginning of her existence the Church has had leaders. One thinks, for instance, of the Twelve appointed by our Lord to be witnesses to his life and resurrection. Or consider Paul’s admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, among the earliest of the New Testament texts.

Moreover, formally or officially recognizing the call of God on a man’s life to be a leader among God’s people is clearly grounded in the Scriptures (see Acts 13:1-3 and 1 Timothy 4:14). And Baptists, convinced that ordination to pastoral ministry was indeed a biblical pattern for the good of the Church, have ordained men since they first emerged in England in the mid-seventeenth century. For example, on February 16, 1769, in a London Baptist congregation, Abraham Booth (1734-1806), just twenty-four at the time, was ordained “to the pastoral office…according to the primitive manner, by prayer and imposition of hands.” [William Clarke, Introductory Discourse in A Charge and Sermon together with an Introductory Discourse and Confession of Faith delivered at the Ordination of the Rev. Mr. Abraham Booth Feb. 16, 1769, in Goodman’s Fields (London: G. Keith et al., 1769), 9].

Or consider the ordination of Thomas Morgan (1776-1857) to the pastoral charge of Cannon Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, England, thirty-three years later in 1802. Morgan was twenty-five or so at the time. A fellow Baptist minister by the name of John Sutcliff (1752-1814), a close friend of William Carey (1761-1834), introduced the occasion. Sutcliff noted that the church was “satisfied that” Morgan possessed “a ministerial talent” and was convinced that Morgan’s “doctrine [was] sound, and his manner of life becoming the gospel.”

The church therefore wished to ordain Morgan as their pastor, an ordination “accompanied with prayer, and the imposition of hands.” Sutcliff was quick to note that the hands to be laid on Morgan were “empty.” The laying-on-of-hands did not convey any ministerial gift. Rather, hands were laid on Morgan as “a solemn and significant rite; a fit sign of his being set apart to a particular office.” [Introductory Discourse in The Difficulties of the Christian Ministry, and the Means of surmounting them; with the Obedience of Churches to their Pastors explained and enforced (Birmingham, 1802), 6-7].

It was a privilege to be involved in such a historic and meaning-laden rite as Scott Bowman was set aside for pastoral ministry.

Irenaeus of Lyons on the Beatific Vision, Part I

April 21st, 2006 Posted in Church History, Theology

Over against all of the current inanities that are being said about Jesus Christ, why do Christians declare Jesus to be God and the only mediator between God and humanity? The second-century theologian Irenaeus (died c.202), who also had to face similar inanities in the form of Valentinian Gnosticism and Marcionism, can help us answer this question.

For Irenaeus, the only way we can know and see God was through love; and not our love for him, but rather, through his love for us. We know God because he first loved us. Thus Irenaeus writes of Christ: “So he united man with God and brought about a communion of God and man, we being unable in any other wise to have part in incorruptibility, had it not been for his coming to us.” (Demonstration 31).

Humanity cannot see God the Father by its own powers (Against Heresies 1.20.5). Not only is the Father beyond perception and thus unknowable and invisible, but mankind is lost in sin because of Adam’s fall (Against Heresies 3.23.2; 5.1.3, 16.3, 21.1, 34.2; Demonstration 31, 37), and thus incapable by nature of seeing God and saving itself (sine Spiritu Dei salvari non possumus) (Against Heresies 3.18.2, 20.2-3; 4.13.3; 5.9.2, 12.3).

It is essential to bear in mind that for Irenaeus no created reality can be commensurate with God, even in heaven. God is always the Giver and humanity the recipient. See Against Heresies 4.11.2: “Et hoc Deus ab homine differt, quondam Deus quidem facit, homo autem fit.”

Although human beings cannot know God in their own strength, it does not follow that God cannot make himself known to them. Human beings can know God through divine love and are saved by this love.

Now, it is only through the Son that the Father is revealed. The Son is the agnitio Patris, mensura Patris, the manifestatio Patris, the visible Patris. The Son is the necessary mediator in imparting to men and women the knowledge of God the Father.

This revealing activity by the Son of the Father is a continuous one. It began at creation and will stretch into eternity. For Irenaeus, the Word was always present with God. Though Irenaeus does not define the relationship between Father and Son within the Godhead, his writings definitely imply the eternal generation of the Word. God was never without his Logos. The Son has, therefore, always been manifesting the Father.

This revelation of the Father by the Son depends on the good will of the Father (beneplacitum Patris) [J. Ochagavia, Visible Patris Filius (Rome, 1964), 66], for it is the Father that sends the Son (Against Heresies 4.11.2). The Son manifests the Father according to the Father’s benevolent disposition (Against Heresies 4.20.5). The Father’s transcendence rules out the possibility of his appearing to men and women; but the Father’s goodness leads to the sending of his Son to fallen humanity (Against Heresies 4.34.5).

David Robinson’s Blog

April 20th, 2006 Posted in Uncategorized

Great to find out that my friend David Robinson, pastor of Pastor of Grace Bible Church in Cambridge Ontario (www.gbccambridge.com), is blogging at Live By The Truth.

HT: Paul W. Martin.

Which Scottish Theologian Are You?

April 17th, 2006 Posted in Uncategorized

An interesting quiz, prepared by Free St. George’s. Follow this link… I scored as James Orr! I would echo Jenson’s (Jenson’s Blog) words: “I am not sure if the questions/answers are a true reflection of the theologians involved, but thanks to Free St. George’s for putting this quiz together.”

HT: Jenson’s Blog

Eminent Christians: 8. William Fraser

April 13th, 2006 Posted in Eminent Christians

In an article that appeared in a 1999 issue of the National Post entitled “Scotland’s Gifts to Canada,” author David Olive noted that “few countries have felt the impact of the Scottish diaspora more powerfully than Canada.” He went on to list sixteen Scottish pioneers who came to Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries and made enormous contributions to this country. What is striking about Olive’s list, though, is the omission of any Christian leaders. And yet the majority of the Scottish emigrants who crossed the Atlantic were deeply religious individuals and passionate about their Christian faith. Consider the eminent Gaelic-speaking Highlander William Fraser (1801-1883), who emigrated to Glengarry County, Ontario, in 1831.

Converted in 1817 in the Scottish Highlands, Fraser had studied for a couple of years in the 1820s, and then became for a period of time an itinerant preacher. He appears to have had “a herculean physical frame.” Trekking over the wildest of hillsides in all types of weather would have built up further reserves of physical fortitude and stamina, which would serve Fraser in good stead later during his pastorate in the Ottawa Valley.

Between the last quarter of the eighteenth century and 1870 various waves of emigration swept over the Gaelic-speaking Highlands which transplanted entire communities of Highlanders to the American continent. It has been estimated that during this period some 185,000 Scots left their homeland for Canada. Among them was William Fraser. While many of those who emigrated did so for land and worldly aspirations, the motivation that led Fraser to Canada was the opportunity to expand the Kingdom of Christ.

Fraser arrived at Breadalbane Baptist Church in the Ottawa Valley in the summer of 1831. But things were not well in the church and by 1834 Fraser had become quite despondent. A fellow Scotsman and Baptist minister by the name of John Gilmour visited him in the summer of 1834 and sought to encourage him. There must be fire in the pulpit, Gilmour admonished his friend, before there will be a blaze among the congregation. Fraser evidently took this admonition to heart. Fraser threw himself back into the work at Breadlabane. That fall and winter, the year 1834, there was a large-scale awakening throughout the region around Breadalbane. Between August and December, 1834, Fraser baptized fifty-eight new converts. By the fall of 1835 over one hundred had been converted and brought into the membership of the Breadalbane church.

Fraser also took extensive preaching tours throughout Glengarry county, often preaching in Gaelic since many of the settlers in this region were from the Highlands. In the Breadalbane church itself Sunday services were held in both Gaelic and English, the services following each other with only a few minutes’ interval. Both services together would take three hours, and sometimes more on special occasions.

Ever the pioneer church planter, Fraser made the decision to leave Breadalbane in 1850 and head west to Illinois. But he got no further than Bruce County. Initially, he lived on a farm adjoining Kincardine, where he held services in his own home in Gaelic and English. Eventually he moved to Tiverton, where he gathered a congregation of Baptists. When Fraser resigned this pastorate due to age and infirmity in October, 1875, the church membership stood at 354, a figure which would not have included members dismissed to form other Baptist churches in the area or those who might either have died or moved away from the district altogether. It is an amazing feat given the fact that Tiverton at the time was but a small village. About twenty years later, T.T. Shields preached some of his first sermons in this church.

Fraser died in 1883 after he had gone out to Manitoba to evangelize a community of Gaelic-speaking Highlanders. The trip proved too much for the old man. To his last breath the kingdom of Christ and its extension were his passion.

A Prayer by Edward Dering

April 13th, 2006 Posted in Prayer

Edward Dering (d.1576) was an Elizabethan Puritan. He is probably best known for his lectures on Hebrews. Browsing in his works the other day—M. Derings workes (London, 1597 ed.; repr. The English Experience, No. 448; Amsterdam: Theatrvm Orbis Terrarvm Ltd./New York: Da Capo Press, 1972)—I came across this prayer he wrote for use before his lectures. It is reproduced in a modernized form.

“Lord God, which hast left unto us thy holy word to be a lantern unto our feet and a light unto our steps, give unto us all thy Holy Spirit: that out of the same word we may learn what is thy eternal will and frame our lives in all holy obedience to the same, to thy honour and glory and increase of our faith, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

Sean M Lucas on Theology’s Top Ten

April 11th, 2006 Posted in Uncategorized

Great blog by Sean Michael Lucas on the top ten theology books of the Church—“You are what you read.” I think I would add Basil of Ceasarea’s On the Holy Spirit  and John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Concludes with this statement: “Learning the tradition is as much discovering wisdom about the consequences of ideas as warming one’s own heart.”

The Church of Scotland & Same-Sex Unions

April 7th, 2006 Posted in Current Affairs

Horrors! The Church of Scotland, once a bastion of our beloved Reformed Faith, is contemplating legislation that will allow ministers in that denomination to perform same-sex unions. For one way of responding, see here. For two other responses, see Carl Trueman’s comments and Sean Michael Lucas’ The Church of Scotland and the Need for Church Discipline.

Worshipping God or Worship Itself

April 7th, 2006 Posted in Uncategorized

Excellent analysis of contemporary worship songs by Tim Challies: Worship: From the Frying Pan Into the Fire. Thanks Tim.

The Influence of Francis Wayland (1796-1865)

April 7th, 2006 Posted in 19th Century

Francis Wayland has long been remembered as the President of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, a post that he held from 1827 to 1855. As the chief executive officer of what was the third oldest college in New England, the Baptist answer to Congregationalist Harvard and Yale, Wayland exercised an enormous influence on Baptist life and thought in the ante-bellum United States and, as we shall see, down to the present day. That influence is perceptible in a number of spheres.

His hearty support of the modern missionary movement—in which fellow Baptist William Carey (1761-1834) was a leading figure—was an important factor in stimulating a missions-mindedness among Baptist churches in America, something that has persisted to the present day in many quarters. As a result of his missionary passion, he was asked to write the authorized biography of the American Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson (1788-1850). The two-volume work sold an amazing 26,000 copies in 1853, its first year of publication, which would be a bestseller even today in the Christian book market.

Then, his rejection of Southern Baptist arguments for the retention of slavery played a key role in bolstering Northern Baptist opposition to that dreadful institution. His correspondence on this issue with the Southern Baptist leader Richard Fuller (1804-1876), found in Domestic Slavery as a Scriptural Institution (1845), capsulized the Northern Baptist perspective on this key ethical and pastoral issue of his day. From Wayland’s point of view, slavery was “repugnant to the scriptures, to conscience, and to the principles of the Declaration of Independence.” [Robert D. Cross, “Wayland, Francis” in American National Biography, eds. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 22:825].

His opposition to slavery led to his support of the nomination of Abraham Lincoln for the presidency and his conviction that in the war against the South God was on the side of the North. As he told his son in early 1861, before the onset of war: “God is about to bring slavery forever to an end.” [Francis Wayland [Jr.] and H.L. Wayland, A Memoir of the Life and Labors of Francis Wayland, D.D., LL.D. (New York: Sheldon and Co., 1867), II, 263]. There seems little doubt that Wayland played a role in turning Northern Baptist sentiment decisively against slavery.

Wayland’s perspective on the doctrine of salvation also helped mould Baptist thinking in the mid-nineteenth century. The classical Calvinism of eighteenth-century American Baptists like Oliver Hart (1723-1795) and Richard Furman (1755-1825) was falling out of favour, for theological precision was increasingly counting for less than church growth. This was especially so in the Northern United States and Wayland was a key figure in this theological transition. He was prepared to identify himself as a “moderate Calvinist” [Wayland [Jr.] and Wayland, Memoir of the Life and Labors of Francis Wayland, D.D., I, 125], but would not affirm particular redemption. In truth, his little regard for either systematic theology or church history contributed significantly to his failure to grasp the full dimensions of biblical soteriology.

In his doctrine of the church there were also some inadequacies. As Norman H. Maring has written, during Wayland’s day, “in place of the early connectionalism which had bound Baptists together in associations, a new interpretation of independence was paving the way for a contention that it was both wrong and dangerous to speak of the “interdependence” of the churches.” [“The Individualism of Francis Wayland” in Winthrop Still Hudson, ed., Baptist Concepts of the Church (Chicago/Philadelphia/Los Angeles: Judson Press, 1959), 136].

In this development Wayland’s thinking played a central role. He argued that “all ecclesiastical relations of every member, are limited to the church to which he belongs” and that even such beneficial organizations as missionary associations could be disbanded so as to make way for that “plan which was the most strongly marked by individualization.” [Cited William Ringenberg, “Wayland, Francis” in Donald M. Lewis, ed., Dictionary of Evangelical Biography 1730-1860 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), 2:1165 and Maring, “Individualism of Francis Wayland”, 157].

An excellent example of his stress on independence can be found, interestingly enough, in his “Introductory Essay” to the American edition of Eustace Carey’s Memoir of William Carey (1836), which occupies fourteen pages in the book. Carey was, above all things, a team player. But one would never get that impression from reading Wayland’s essay. For Wayland it is the frequent calling of William Carey “to be a pioneer, and to act alone” that he dominates his view of the Baptist missionary. [Eustace Carey, Memoir of William Carey, D.D. (Boston: Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1836), xxii].

This stress on individualism in Baptist life would have both positive and glaringly negative effects on Baptist life in the next century and a half. Dependent on the scriptural aspects of the thinking of men like Wayland in this regard, Baptists have rightly stressed the necessity of personally knowing God. On the other hand, the passion for so-called “soul liberty” that has been stressed by some in the Baptist conflicts of the last century can be traced in part to the ideological perspectives of nineteenth-century authors like Wayland.