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We continue our reading of excerpts from John Gresham Machen‘s book Christianity and Liberalism, which he wrote to help explain errors of the modern Church to laymen.

Although the book was originally published in 1923, it could have been written yesterday.  Machen walks us through the pitfalls of today’s churches and their aversion to doctrine.  For past entries, click on this Machen link.

I’ll offer excerpts from the full version, available thanks to Reformed Audio, via PDF.  Pages cited are the PDF pages.  Whilst I shall go through the book sequentially, I’ll divide posts by topic.  Subheads and emphases are mine for ease of navigation.

Today’s post is taken from pages 23-28, Chapter 2 – Doctrine.  Machen addresses St Paul’s theology.  Christian advocates of Mosaic law and critics of St Paul might be interested in what Machen has to say.

St Paul’s theological importance

… definite historical information has been preserved in the Epistles of Paul, which are regarded by all serious historians as genuine products of the first Christian generation. The writer of the Epistles had been in direct communication with those intimate friends of Jesus who had begun the Christian movement in Jerusalem, and in the Epistles he makes it abundantly plain what the fundamental character of the movement was. But if any one fact is clear, on the basis of this evidence, it is that the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but upon an account of facts. In other words it was based upon doctrine.

Only one doctrine

Paul certainly was not indifferent to doctrine; on the contrary, doctrine was the very basis of his life. His devotion to doctrine did not, it is true, make him incapable of a magnificent tolerance. One notable example of such tolerance is to be found during his imprisonment at Rome, as attested by the Epistle to the Philippians. Apparently certain Christian teachers at Rome had been jealous of Paul’s greatness. As long as he had been at liberty they had been obliged to take a secondary place; but now that he was in prison, they seized the supremacy … In short, the rival preachers made of the preaching of the gospel a means to the gratification of low personal ambition … But Paul was not disturbed … The way in which the preaching was being carried on was wrong, but the message itself was true; and Paul was far more interested in the content of the message than in the manner of its presentation

Galatia v Rome

He displayed no tolerance, for example, in Galatia. There, too, there were rival preachers. But Paul had no tolerance for them. “But though we,” he said, “or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal. i. 8). What is the reason for the difference in the apostle’s attitude in the two cases? … In Rome, Paul was tolerant, because there the content of the message that was being proclaimed by the rival teachers was true; in Galatia he was intolerant, because there the content of the rival message was false … The Judaizers no doubt were morally far from perfect, but Paul’s opposition to them would have been exactly the same if they had all been angels from heaven. His opposition was based altogether upon the falsity of their teaching; they were substituting for the one true gospel a false gospel which was no gospel at all. It never occurred to Paul that a gospel might be true for one man and not for another; the blight of pragmatism had never fallen upon his soul. Paul was convinced of the objective truth of the gospel message, and devotion to that truth was the great passion of his life. Christianity for Paul was not only a life, but also a doctrine, and logically the doctrine came first.

Paul’s alertness to false teaching

But what was the difference between the teaching of Paul and the teaching of the Judaizers? … To the modern Church the difference would have seemed to be a mere theological subtlety. About many things the Judaizers were in perfect agreement with Paul … But the trouble was, they believed that something else was also necessary; they believed that what Christ had done needed to be pieced out by the believer’s own effort to keep the Law. From the modern point of view the difference would have seemed to be very slight. Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical − not even, perhaps, the temporal − order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God’s law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified. The difference would seem to modern “practical” Christians to be a highly subtle and intangible matter, hardly worthy of consideration at all in view of the large measure of agreement in the practical realm … Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him; surely he ought to have applied to them the great principle of Christian unity.

… Paul did nothing of the kind; and only because he (and others) did nothing of the kind does the Christian Church exist today. Paul saw very clearly that the differences between the Judaizers and himself was the differences between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the differences between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all …

Modern distortion of Paul’s epistles

Certainly, then, Paul was no advocate of an undogmatic religion; he was interested above everything else in the objective and universal truth of his message … Sometimes … the modern liberal preacher seeks to produce an opposite impression by quoting out of their context words of Paul which he interprets in a way as far removed as possible from the original sense … The modern liberal desires to produce upon the minds of simple Christians (and upon his own mind) the impression of some sort of continuity between modern liberalism and the thought and life of the great Apostle. But such an impression is altogether misleading. Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of Jesus; he was not interested merely in general principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its center.

A Church without Paul?

If Christianity is to be made independent of doctrine, then Paulinism must be removed from Christianity root and branch …

Some men are not afraid of the conclusion. If Paulinism must be removed, they say, we can get along without it. May it not turn out that in introducing a doctrinal element into the life of the Church Paul was only perverting a primitive Christianity which was as independent of doctrine as even the modern liberal preacher could desire?

This suggestion is clearly overruled by the historical evidence. The problem certainly cannot be solved in so easy a way. Many attempts have indeed been made to separate the religion of Paul sharply from that of the primitive Jerusalem Church; many attempts have been made to show that Paul introduced an entirely new principle into the Christian movement or even was the founder of a new religion.  Some recount of these attempts has been given by the present writer in The Origin of Paul’s Religion, 1921. But all such attempts have resulted in failureThe Pauline Epistles themselves attest a fundamental unity of principle between Paul and the original companions of Jesus, and the whole early history of the Church becomes unintelligible except on the basis of such unity.

Tomorrow: Pauline continuity in the Church

 

Today, we continue our exploration of John Gresham Machen‘s 1923 book, Christianity and Liberalism, available thanks to Reformed Audio, via PDF.  Pages cited are their PDF pages.  Whilst I shall go through the book sequentially, I’ll divide posts by topic.

For past entries, click on the Machen link in the first paragraph.  The post below examines pages 20 – 22, the introduction to Chapter 2 – Doctrine.  Subheads and emphases are mine for easier navigation.

The decline of doctrine

Modern liberalism in the Church, whatever judgment may be passed upon it, is at any rate no longer merely an academic matter. It is no longer a matter merely of theological seminaries or universities. On the contrary its attack upon the fundamentals of the Christian faith is being carried on vigorously by Sunday-School “lesson-helps,” by the pulpit, and by the religious press

At the theological seminaries and universities, however, the roots of the great issue are more clearly seen than in the world at large; among students the reassuring employment of traditional phrases is often abandoned, and the advocates of a new religion are not at pains, as they are in the Church at large, to maintain an appearance of conformity with the past. But such frankness, we are convinced, ought to be extended to the people as a whole. Few desires on the part of religious teachers have been more harmfully exaggerated than the desire to “avoid giving offense.” Only too often that desire has come perilously near dishonesty; the religious teacher, in his heart of hearts, is well aware of the radicalism of his views, but is unwilling to relinquish his place in the hallowed atmosphere of the Church by speaking his whole mind. Against all such policy of concealment or palliation, our sympathies are altogether with those men, whether radicals or conservatives, who have a passion for light.

‘Experiential’ Christianity

“Teachings,” it is said, “are unimportant; the exposition of the teachings of liberalism and the teachings of Christianity, therefore, can arouse no interest at the present day; creeds are merely the changing expression of a unitary Christian experience, and provided only they express that experience they are all equally good. The teachings of liberalism, therefore, might be as far removed as possible from the teachings of historic Christianity, and yet the two might be at bottom the same” …

There are doctrines of modern liberalism, just as tenaciously and intolerantly upheld as any doctrines that find a place in the historic creeds. Such for example are the liberal doctrines of the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. These doctrines are, as we shall see, contrary to the doctrines of the Christian religion. But doctrines they are all the same, and as such they require intellectual defence. In seeming to object to all theology, the liberal preacher is often merely objecting to one system of theology in the interests of another. And the desired immunity from theological controversy has not yet been attained.

Sometimes, however, the modern objection to doctrine is more seriously meant. And whether the objection be well-founded or not, the real meaning of it should at least be faced.

That meaning is perfectly plain. The objection involves an out-and-out skepticism. If all creeds are equally true, then since they are contradictory to one another, they are all equally false, or at least equally uncertain. We are indulging, therefore, in a mere juggling with words. To say that all creeds are equally true, and that they are based upon experience, is merely to fall back upon that agnosticism which fifty years ago was regarded as the deadliest enemy of the Church. The enemy has not really been changed into a friend merely because he has been received within the camp. Very different is the Christian conception of a creed. According to the Christian conception, a creed is not a mere expression of Christian experience, but on the contrary it is a setting forth of those facts upon which experience is based.

Tomorrow: St Paul’s epistles

 

Last week we looked at Revelation 15, as part of the Churchmouse Campanologist ongoing series examining the Book of Revelation.

Because so little of this important and final prophecy of the Bible is used in readings from the three-year Lectionary, it is an ideal candidate for this blog’s Forbidden Bible Verses, equally essential to our understanding of Scripture.

Today’s reading is taken from the King James Version.  Exegetical sources are given at the end of the post.

Revelation 16

1And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.

2And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image.

3And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.

4And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood.

5And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus.

6For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.

7And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.

8And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire.

9And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.

10And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain,

11And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.

12And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.

13And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.

14For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.

15Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.

16And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.

17And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.

18And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.

19And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.

20And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.

21And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.

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At the end of the previous chapter, we were left in no doubt that the awful and final judgment awaiting the end of the world was on its way.  Let’s recap with our two Bible commenters, the Revd Thomas C Messer, of Peace Lutheran Church in Alma, Michigan, and the 17th century Calvinist minister Matthew Henry.

Pastor Messer writes (emphases mine throughout):

no mortal will fully understand the just actions of God in sending forth His judgments upon the earth until the Last Day. Then, all will know and understand the righteousness of God, as all will know and understand that He alone is God and bow down to worship Him. For most, this will be too late, but for the faithful, this will be the Day of their great reward, for which they long.

However, Matthew Henry cautions us that, at that time, believers’:

… sabbaths would be interrupted, ordinances of public worship intermitted, and all thrown into a general confusion. God himself was now preaching to the church and to all the world, by terrible things in righteousness; but, when this work was done, then the churches would have rest, the temple would be opened, and the solemn assemblies gathered, edified, and multiplied. The greatest deliverances of the church are brought about by awful and astonishing steps of Providence.

Pr Messer gave his congregation a course in Revelation and has provided notes on his church’s website.  He has relied on numerous resources, one of which is the Lutheran Bible scholar and professor Dr Louis A Brighton’s Revelation, published in 1999 and part of the Concordia Commentary series for seminaries from Concordia Publishing House, St Louis, Missouri. Dr Brighton is Professor Emeritus of New Testament Exegetical Theology at Concordia University, St Louis.

Of Revelation 16, Dr Brighton explains:

The severity of God’s judgments will increase as the end of this world at Christ’s return draws nearer. In fact, this is the overall emphasis in this third vision of earthly events. While some of the events presented in this third vision repeat those in the second, in the third vision they are all intensified in order to portray God’s final warning of the seriousness of his judgment at the End. For example, in 8:8-9, one third of the sea is contaminated and one third of ocean life perishes, but in the corresponding plague in 16:3, all seawater becomes blood and all sea creatures perish. Thus the plagues of God’s wrath in the third vision urge the human race to repent before it is too late since no one will escape the final judgment” (Brighton, Revelation, CPH, p. 409).

Along with Pr Messer and Dr Brighton, Matthew Henry agrees that the seven vials — censers or ‘bowls’ in modern translations — described in Revelation 16 have a parallel with the plagues in Pharaoh’s Egypt and the seven trumpets earlier in Revelation 8 and 9.  Furthermore, these plagues will be common to all non-believers, wherever they are in the world. However, he also adds this observation, which is worth highlighting:

And the fall of antichrist shall be gradual; as Rome was not built in one day, so neither shall it fall in one day, but it falls by degrees; it shall fall so as to rise no more.

In verse 1, the ‘great voice out of the temple’ is that of Christ our Saviour.  Remember that in Revelation 6, only Christ has the authority to break open the sealed scroll.

The seven angels have no hesitation to do the Lord’s will.  The vial of the first angel in verse 2 contains a plague of sores intended for unbelievers, those with the spiritual ‘mark of the beast’.  Pr Messer observes the similarity to Exodus 9:8-12, adding:

the harmful and painful sores from this first bowl of God’s wrath will strike humanity all through the New Testament Era. We are not to take this literally, as though the entire human race will be struck down with literal “harmful and painful sores,” but rather that humanity will be afflicted physically by God’s wrath in many and various ways throughout history and that these afflictions will be intensified as the Day of Judgment draws ever closer.

The second and third angels (verses 3 and 4) throw vials on the waters around the world which turn to blood.  Our commenters differ in their interpretation of this verse.  Pr Messer takes it as a universal plague on our water supplies, whereas Matthew Henry says it refers to apostate Christian clergy who give people an equally false water of life through unscriptural church traditions, pretending that such things are holy and essential when, in fact, they lead to condemnation of the soul.

Verse 4, he says, pertains to the wars and slaughter committed in God’s name.  These events and acts resulted in much bloodshed, especially of the faithful.  Henry writes that what the two angels say in verses 5 – 7 support this interpretation.  God is avenging the blood of His saints.

Pr Messer points us to the significance of the altar in the Book of Revelation.  In Revelation 6:9, the souls of the martyrs are beneath the heavenly altar.  Later, Revelation 8:3-5 described the prayers of the saints accompanying the incense of the angel at the altar.  And, in Revelation 16:7 the angel ‘out of the altar’ proclaims God’s righteous judgments.

The fourth angel (verse 8 ) poured out his vial on the sun.  This indicates that during the New Testament Era — the ‘last days’ (from the first Pentecost until the end of the world) — God will pass judgment in various ways, one of which will be scorching heat, especially where it is less usual.  As with His other judgments, this is a call to repentance.  Yet, like the Pharaoh of Exodus, people do not respond to this plague with repentance; they choose to curse God instead (verse 9).

Our commentators agree that the darkness of the fifth angel’s vial in verse 10 is spiritual (in Pharaoh’s Egypt it was a literal plague).  The gnawing of tongues refers to the mental anguish and torment unbelievers experience.  Yet, despite this judgment — again, another call by God to repentance — they choose to blaspheme Him instead (verse 11).  Think of our society today.  Unbelievers go to psychiatrists for happy pills.  Some even seek ECT, a fancy acronym for a lobotomy!  People, wake up before it’s too late!

The sixth angel (verse 12) poured his vial, which dried up the Euphrates River.  Why the Euphrates?  Because it was significant to the Middle East and to the Jewish Israel of the Old Testament and the Church (the new Israel) of the New Testament.   This verse indicates a great and final battle between Christianity and its enemies, the symbolic (here) ‘kings of the east’ — Satan’s emissaries.

The ‘I’ in verse 13 refers to St John, who received the prophecy and visions of Revelation from Jesus Christ. The frogs serve as a reference to the plague which befell Egypt in Exodus 8:3-4. There, the frogs went everywhere.  Likewise, these unclean spirits will cover the Earth.  St John sees Satan’s blasphemous false trinity, described earlier in Revelation 12 and 13.  New in this reference, however, is the ‘false prophet’, which, Pr Messer says is the ‘beast of the earth’ — akin to a false holy spirit — referred to in the preceding chapters.  This false prophet points people towards the ‘first beast’, whereas the Holy Spirit of the Trinity always points people towards Christ, the Son of God.

Part of this final battle will include dazzling ‘miracles’, intended to deceive (verse 14). This might be through elaborate magic or the occult, both of which are gaining in popularity. Even worse, it might be a false church proclaiming signs and wonders. They are Satan’s means of drawing people to him in this final battle.  True believers will be thin on the ground and, with the state our churches and world leaders today, we should not ridicule good Christians who think the end may be near.  Finding a godly house of worship is increasingly difficult.  Politicians are deceitful and governments corrupt.  So many business leaders are godless.  Our celebrities are concerned only with sex, bling and tattoos.  Then again, as the hymn says, ‘a thousand ages in Thy sight are like an evening gone’.  We might have some way to go yet.  Who can say?

This is one of the reasons I have been writing about Revelation.  Every Christian should know what it says.  Yet, so few clergy are prepared or willing to preach on it to their congregations.  Surely, that in itself is an ominous sign.  Note verse 15:

Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.

Those are Christ’s words and a warning that He will come suddenly, unexpectedly, like a thief.  Anyone who has been home during a break-in will attest to the abject fear of discovering a stranger in the house!  Similarly, those who are not expecting the second coming of Christ will be equally surprised.  Therefore, the faithful should ensure they are spiritually ready to receive Him. The unrepentant should examine their unbelief.  Are they are firm in their blasphemous rebellion?  Or are they truly without faith?

Verse 16 mentions Armageddon.  The literal meaning of the name is ‘mountain of Megiddo’.  Megiddo is a city located in Israel’s Jezreel Valley.  Pr Messer tells us that the battles fought there are mentioned in history (dating back to 1468 BC) as well as in the Old Testament (e.g. Judges 4:14-24; 2 Kings 23:29-30; 2 Kings 9:23-29; Zechariah 12:11).

Megiddo is situated in a valley but is surrounded by mountains.  Pr Messer asks us to remember that Revelation is written in imagery from Messianic literature of the Jewish tradition.  So, Megiddo would refer to a place of famous and bloody battle and ‘mountain’ in the Bible refers to momentous occurrences: Moses reception of the Ten Commandments, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, but also the redemption or punishment of God’s people (Isaiah 44:23, Ezekiel 6:3-13).  Pr Messer says in no uncertain terms (Hal Lindsay fans, take note):

regardless of what today’s dispensationalists and so-called “prophecy experts” claim, that Armageddon does not refer to a specific geographical location in which the final battle between the kingdoms of Satan and Christ will take place. Brighton summarizes, ‘Thus Armageddon is used here not as the designation of a particular geographic place, but as a terrifying metaphor of a war that will cover the expanse of the entire earth, since the whole human race will be caught up in it (see 20:9).’

The seventh, and final, angel of the vials appears in verse 17.  He pours his vial into the air. Matthew Henry explains that it refers specifically to:

the prince of the power of the air, that is, the devil. His powers were restrained, his policies confounded; he was bound in God’s chain: the sword of God was upon his eye and upon his arm; for he, as well as the powers of the earth, is subject to the almighty power of God.

The ‘great voice’ is God the Father’s, coming from His temple — the inner sanctum, the holiest part of Heaven.  He proclaims, ‘It is done’.  You would not be mistaken in finding a comparison with Jesus’s cry from the Cross, ‘It is finished’.  Both signify that God’s will has been done. There is nothing more to do. Furthermore, final calls to repentance are over.  That’s it.

Christ can now return to Earth; His Second Coming will take place.  What precedes it is a worldwide earthquake accompanied by thunder and lightning.  (The words are reminiscent of God’s delivery of the Ten Commandments on Mt Sinai (Exodus 19:16-18).)  This will occur on the Last Day.

In verse 19, Babylon — divided into three cities — falls.  Matthew Henry says the three cities could be a mix of three idolatries: false Christianity, which is also part Jewish and part pagan.  Now, although Babylon thinks that God has forgotten her, He delivers His almighty wrath.  Verses 20 and 21 tell us that the earth will be utterly destroyed.

And yet, the unbelievers will blaspheme God!  Of course, God has not given His divine grace to everyone to enable them to believe.  However, some will be living in conscious rebellion.  To those people this chapter should serve as a warning to repent and pray for His grace.

Next week: Revelation 17

Further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

‘Revelation – Chapter 16 Notes’ – The Revd Thomas C Messer (LCMS)

But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  — Matt. 5:39

Many pundits and comedians in the public eye have no qualms about criticising Christianity. Yet, other world faiths hold to many of the same tenets that Christians do: family order, worship, a firm set of beliefs.

So, why is it then that only Christianity is fair game?  Time and time again, I read such critics saying, ‘Well, Christians won’t do anything about it.  Other faiths will.  Christians are all about “turning the other cheek”, aren’t they?’

Yet, Jesus was no doormat.  If confronted verbally, He responded to His critics among the high priests.  Furthermore, His counsel to ‘turn the other cheek’ could be seen as an act of radical non-violence for His day.

A writer for Family Guardian Fellowship explains (emphases in bold mine):

I heard something I want to share, from an old sermon delivered back in the days when the average pastor knew a great deal more about scripture than the ones today; and the story goes:

“Back in the days of Christ, the Roman “masters” who were the indisputed rulers of man on earth, indisputed by all except Jesus and his followers of course. The accepted practice it seems was if you encountered a Roman soldier on your way and there was some mild altercation between you and he, he would strike you upon your cheek, often wearing a glove. The “proper” response was for you, the “peasant,” to immediately kneel bow your head, exposing the back of your neck. This of course would signal submission. If the anger was not quenched by this display of subservience, you were to prostrate yourself, putting your forehead against the ground and the Roman solider would place his boot on your neck (heard of the saying: “Under the heel of Rome?”).

But along came Jesus the Christ, who said: Don’t kneel to Rome, don’t bow before earthly authority. Bow only to the Father in Heaven — IF A MAN STRIKES YOU UPON YOUR CHEEK, TURN THE OTHER CHEEK! And act of absolute defiance and resistance to the tyranny of Rome.

Let’s set the scene for social interaction in His and the Apostles’ day and age.  A commenter on this subject at PublicChristianJohn — explains social behaviour of an inferior to his so-called betters:

It’s well known that at this time in history, both the Roman and Arabic world were very caste-based societies, where members of the upper classes could do pretty much whatever they wanted to members of the lower classes, largely with impunity. It’s also interesting to note that this caste system was reinforced by teaching civic responsibility and etiquette to children in school. In fact, there was a widely used and well-known teaching manual for this. One of the examples in this manual is of an upper-casteman and a lower-casteman meeting in a busy public roadway. According to the manual, the lower-casteman is required to get out of the upper-casteman’s way, even if it means falling into the gutter and becoming covered with filth and sewage. If the lower-casteman fails to yield the right-of-way, or doesn’t do so quickly enough, it is both the right and the duty of the upper-casteman to strike the lower-casteman and throw him aside, if need be, as an example to all onlookers of the consequences for failure to fulfill caste responsibility. This manual is full of similar lessons.

Many, if not most, of Jesus’s followers – both devoted and casual – were likely taught civics and proper social behavior from this manual, or one very similar to it … Given that many of Jesus’s followers were lower-castemen, Jesus’s criticism of this socially-allowed-and-required behavior was probably very popular.

In other words, Jesus advised His followers against kneeling before a Roman soldier or suffering  excessive insults to his person.  Therefore, Jesus advocates that the lower-caste person stand up to his superior quietly and allow him to strike his other cheek, as he would an equal.

When you read it through the lens of social history, this is very different to the doormat interpretation.

What of the present?  We are called to submit quietly to insults and torments.  We read in Acts that St Paul endured beatings, imprisonment and trial for his faith. Yet, Acts relates that he also let those in authority know that he was a Roman citizen with certain rights under law. He didn’t sit there silently.  But, what happens if a child is assaulted on the playground or an airline passenger witnesses a terrorist heading for the cockpit or a homeowner confronts a burglar?  Then what?

Dan Mayfield at A Conquering Faith writes:

For those who suggest that Christians never raise a hand in defense, and to those who insist that little boys take a beating by the schoolyard bully, they should live by that principle. And I too would teach young men to be men of peace, but I also want them to be prepared to defend their home and country. Failure to properly apply Jesus’ words almost always leads to wrong conclusions about self-defense of home or country.

No one should misunderstand what I’m saying here. I know that “the meek shall inherit the earth.” But nothing I’ve said here is contrary to any person being meek. Those passengers who stood up were heroes, but they may have also been among the meek of the earth. The Bible says not to return evil for evil, which is what many confuse defensive action to be. But disarming or subduing a criminal is not evil; and is not anything like “tooth for tooth” justice. Christians must be humble and meek and, if they are challenged in their faith and forced to carry some extra burden, then stand firm without budging an inch on what you believe. If they strike you to keep you silent, give them the other cheek and refuse to give in.

Many times people misunderstand the application of Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” reference much the same way people misunderstand the argument between murder and capital punishment; murdering versus killing is like vengeance versus self-defense. One is evil and one is not. There is no moral equivalency between the two. If a Christian subdues a deranged man trying to get into the cabin of a plane, he is a hero and the other man is a criminal. Those passengers who did this very thing were not acting in vengeance, and they were not returning “evil for evil”; but they also were not turning the other cheek.

This is a troublesome verse for many of us, and not all of you may be satisfied with these answers.  So, as Mr Mayfield suggests, those who advocate 100% non-violence and submission must conduct themselves in such a way.  However, as he points out, those who defend good and self-dignity against evil through reasonable self-defence also have a point.

The boundaries, therefore, lie in how far we go.  If a boy is involved in a fist fight, he may take reasonable measures to ensure his physical and mental health by landing a well-placed punch which serves to startle his attacker, not incapacitate him.  The airline passenger who tackles a miscreant in mid-air is protecting crew members and fellow passengers from harm.  The solidier who goes off to war is doing so to defend his home country from tyranny, directly or indirectly.

One does what one has to — but no more than that!

And what of the following verses — Matthew 5:40-41?

And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have [thy] cloke also. And whoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him two.

These also carry specific meanings in the Roman world.  Jesus’s advice is quite radical here, too.  Another commenter at PublicChristianOvert — tells us that Matthew 5:40 refers to Jewish law and that the following verse is about Roman law:

Presenting your left cheek is a demand of equality by striking with the open palm. It is not demanding a second strike, but demanding a dignified strike if it is at all deserved. This is clarified further with the next line which invokes Jewish law.  It [was] not legal under the Jewish law of the time to take the last clothing from a poor man and leave him unprotected for the night. In addition, public nudity was considered a shame against the viewer not the one undressed. You should not allow your brother to reach such a state that he doesn’t have clothing for his back and to protect himself in the cold of night. The final line in the passage is directed at Roman Law, which allows for a Roman soldier to demand anyone in the Roman controlled territories to carry a soldiers pack for one mile, but the soldier must not make them go further than one mile. By offering to go further you are in effect causing the soldier to break Roman law and put himself at risk of punishment.

In this way, Jesus is providing three separate examples to clarify his point and show how it applies no matter whose laws you must live under, be they Jewish or Roman.

Not so ‘doormat’ now, is it?

In fact, it’s rather subversive.

Something to think about.

The last two posts have featured excerpts from John Gresham Machen‘s Christianity and Liberalism, a short volume which he wrote in 1923 to expose Modernist error in the Church.

Along the way, he also adds insight about Western society.  Today, he critiques and criticises modern education methods.

Today’s excerpts are taken from pages 15-19 of the PDF version of the book, generously put together by Reformed Audio.  Subheads and emphases are mine for easier navigation.

Parents and libertarians will appreciate Machen’s discourse on the state of our schools today.  It didn’t happen overnight but rather 90 years ago.

Less individualism, more ‘experts’

Personality can only be developed in the realm of individual choice. And that realm, in the modern state, is being slowly but steadily contracted. The tendency is making itself felt especially in the sphere of education. The object of education, it is now assumed, is the production of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. But the greatest happiness for the greatest number, it is assumed further, can be defined only by the will of the majority. Idiosyncrasies in education, therefore, it is said, must be avoided, and the choice of schools must be taken away from the individual parent and placed in the hands of the state. The state then exercises its authority through the instruments that are ready to hand, and at once, therefore, the child is placed under the control of psychological experts, themselves without the slightest acquaintance with the higher realms of human life, who proceed to prevent any such acquaintance being gained by those who come under their care … liberty is certainly held by but a precarious tenure when once its underlying principles have been lostThe dominant tendency, even in a country like America, which formerly prided itself on its freedom from bureaucratic regulation of the details of life, is toward a drab utilitarianism in which all higher aspirations are to be lost.

‘Arrested development’

In the state of Nebraska, for example, a law is now in force according to which no instruction in any school in the state, public or private, is to be given through the medium of a language other than English, and no language other than English is to be studied even as a language until the child has passed an examination … showing that the eighth grade has been passed.  In other words, no foreign language, apparently not even Latin or Greek, is to be studied until the child is too old to learn it well. It is in this way that modern collectivism deals with a kind of study which is absolutely essential to all genuine mental advance. The minds of the people of Nebraska … are to be kept by the power of the state in a permanent condition of arrested development.

It might seem as though with such laws obscurantism had reached its lowest possible depths. But there are depths lower still. In the state of Oregon, on Election Day, 1922, a law was passed by a referendum vote in accordance with which all children in the state are required to attend the public schools. Christian schools and private schools, at least in the all-important lower grades, are thus wiped out of existence … When one considers what the public schools of America in many places already are — their materialism, their discouragement of any sustained intellectual effort, their encouragement of the dangerous pseudo-scientific fads of experimental psychology — one can only be appalled by the thought of a commonwealth in which there is no escape from such a soul-killing system … A public school system, in itself, is indeed of enormous benefit to the race … but when once it becomes monopolistic it is the most perfect instrument of tyranny which has yet been devisedPlace the lives of children in their formative years, despite the convictions of their parents, under the intimate control of experts appointed by the state, force them then to attend schools where the higher aspirations of humanity are crushed out, and where the mind is filled with the materialism of the day, and it is difficult to see how even the remnants of liberty can subsist. Such a tyranny, supported as it is by a perverse technique used as the instrument in destroying human souls, is certainly far more dangerous than the crude tyrannies of the past, which despite their weapons of fire and sword permitted thought at least to be free.

Widespread mediocrity

the materialistic paternalism of the present day, if allowed to go on unchecked, will rapidly make of America one huge “Main Street,” where spiritual adventure will be discouraged and democracy will be regarded as consisting in the reduction of all mankind to the proportions of the narrowest and least gifted of the citizens. God grant that there may come a reaction, and that the great principles of Anglo-Saxon liberty may be rediscovered before it is too late!

a lamentable condition must be detected in the world at large. It cannot be denied that great men are few or non-existent, and that there has been a general contracting of the area of personal life. Material betterment has gone hand in hand with spiritual decline.

the condition of mankind is such that one may well ask what it is that made the men of past generations so great and the men of the present generation so small. In the midst of all the material achievements of modern life, one may well ask the question whether in gaining the whole world we have not lost our own soul. Are we forever condemned to live the sordid life of utilitarianism? Or is there some lost secret which if rediscovered will restore to mankind something of the glories of the past?

Next week: Chapter 2 – Doctrine

Yesterday, in the first chapter — Introduction — to Christianity and Liberalism, John Gresham Machen set forth his reasons for writing it and indicated why modernism, or liberalism, is a theological error.

Today’s post provides further excerpts from the Introduction.  In it, we will read of Machen’s dismal view of Western society, despite its technological advances. Libertarians, with whom Machen seemed to empathise, will enjoy this entry.

If there is a case for Christian libertarianism, the quotes below go some way towards making it.

Machen wrote Christianity and Liberalism in 1923, but it might as well have been yesterday.  His insights may answer questions that you might have about the present day.

Excerpts come from pages 14 – 15 of a PDF version of the book, generously put together by Reformed Audio.  Subheads and emphases are mine for easier navigation.

Improvement yet decline

Scientific investigation … has certainly accomplished much; it has in many respects produced a new world. But there is another aspect of the picture which should not be ignored. The modern world represents in some respects an enormous improvement over the world in which our ancestors lived; but in other respects it exhibits a lamentable decline. The improvement appears in the physical conditions of life, but in the spiritual realm there is a corresponding loss. The loss is clearest, perhaps, in the realm of art. Despite the mighty revolution which has been produced in the external conditions of life, no great poet is now living to celebrate the change; humanity has suddenly become dumb. Gone, too, are the great painters and the great musicians and the great sculptors. The art that still subsists is largely imitative, and where it is not imitative it is usually bizarre. Even the appreciation of the glories of the past is gradually being lost, under the influence of a utilitarian education that concerns itself only with the production of physical well-being. The “Outline of History” of Mr. H. G. Wells, with its contemptuous neglect of all the higher ranges of human life, is a thoroughly modern book.

Role of the State

The whole development of modern society has tended mightily toward the limitation of the realm of freedom for the individual man. The tendency is most clearly seen in socialism; a socialistic state would mean the reduction to a minimum of the sphere of individual choice. Labor and recreation, under a socialistic government, would both be prescribed, and individual liberty would be gone. But the same tendency exhibits itself today even in those communities where the name of socialism is most abhorred. When once the majority has determined that a certain regime is beneficial, that regime without further hesitation is forced ruthlessly upon the individual man. It never seems to occur to modern legislatures that although “welfare” is good, forced welfare may be bad. In other words, utilitarianism is being carried out to its logical conclusions; in the interests of physical well-being the great principles of liberty are being thrown ruthlessly to the winds.

The result is an unparalleled impoverishment of human life.

Tomorrow: Machen on education

This post begins a series on John Gresham Machen’s book Christianity and Liberalism.

Although he wrote it for the layman, he discusses a variety of subjects in a highly learned way which I think you’ll enjoy reading.  Christians of all denominations will appreciate his orthodox views and love of scriptural truth. Libertarian secularists will admire his ideas on the state, education and why Western society gravitates towards the lowest common denominator.  You would never think that he wrote this volume in 1923.

I’ll offer excerpts from the full version, available thanks to Reformed Audio, via PDF.  Pages cited are their PDF pages.  Whilst I shall go through the book sequentially, I’ll divide posts by topic.  In the introduction, Machen tells us why he wrote the book, then discusses the state and education.  I envisage three posts from this initial chapter.  The first will certainly appeal to Christians and the next two have a more secular nature, which traditionalists and libertarians will appreciate. There will be ideas for everyone to savour and enjoy!

Any subheads below are mine, added to help divide the excerpts into topics for easier reading and reference. Emphases are also mine.

Today’s post covers pages 6 – 14 of the Reformed Audio edition.

Purpose of the book

The purpose of this book is not to decide the religious issue of the present day, but merely to present the issue as sharply and clearly as possible, in order that the reader may be aided in deciding it for himself. Presenting an issue sharply is indeed by no means a popular business at the present time … Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding. May it not discourage contribution to mission boards? May it not hinder the progress of consolidation, and produce a poor showing in columns of Church statistics? But with such persons we cannot possibly bring ourselves to agree. Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end. The type of religion which rejoices in the pious sound of traditional phrases, regardless of their meanings, or shrinks from “controversial” matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life. In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.

Introducing modernism, or ‘liberalism’

… [T]he great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called “modernism” or “liberalism.” Both names are unsatisfactory …  The movement designated as “liberalism” is regarded as “liberal” only by its friends; to its opponents it seems to involve a narrow ignoring of many relevant facts. And indeed the movement is so various in its manifestations that one may almost despair of finding any common name which will apply to all its forms. But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is one; the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism − that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity. The word “naturalism” is here used in a sense somewhat different from its philosophical meaning.

Modern society and science

The rise of this modern naturalistic liberalism has not come by chance, but has been occasioned by important changes which have recently taken place in the conditions of life. The past one hundred years have witnessed the beginning of a new era in human history, which may conceivably be regretted, but certainly cannot be ignored, by the most obstinate conservatism … it forces itself upon the attention of the plain man at a hundred points. Modern inventions and the industrialism that has been built upon them have given us in many respects a new world to live in; we can no more remove ourselves from that world than we can escape from the atmosphere that we breathe …

The industrial world of today has been produced not by blind forces of nature but by the conscious activity of the human spirit; it has been produced by the achievements of science

Though the most palpable achievements are in the sphere of physics and chemistry, the sphere of human life cannot be isolated from the rest, and with the other sciences there has appeared, for example, a modern science of history, which, with psychology and sociology and the like, claims, even if it does not deserve, full equality with its sister sciences. No department of knowledge can maintain its isolation from the modern lust of scientific conquest …

In such an age, it is obvious that every inheritance from the past must be subject to searching criticism; and as a matter of fact some convictions of the human race have crumbled to pieces in the test. Indeed, dependence of any institution upon the past is now sometimes even regarded as furnishing a presumption, not in favor of it, but against it. So many convictions have had to be abandoned that men have sometimes come to believe that all convictions must go.

Why Christianity is questioned

If such an attitude be justifiable, then no institution is faced by a stronger hostile presumption than the institution of the Christian religion, for no institution has based itself more squarely upon the authority of a by-gone age … the fact itself is plain, that Christianity during many centuries has consistently appealed for the truth of its claims, not merely and not even primarily to current experience, but to certain ancient books the most recent of which was written some nineteen hundred years ago. It is no wonder that that appeal is being criticized today; for the writers of the books in question were no doubt men of their own age, whose outlook upon the material world, judged by modern standards, must have been of the crudest and most elementary kind. Inevitably the question arises whether … first-century religion can ever stand in company with twentieth-century science.

Religion, it is said, is so entirely separate from science, that the two, rightly defined, cannot possibly come into conflict. This attempt at separation, as it is hoped the following pages may show, is open to objections of the most serious kind. But what must now be observed is that even if the separation is justifiable it cannot be effected without effort; the removal of the problem of religion and science itself constitutes a problem. For, rightly or wrongly, religion during the centuries has as a matter of fact connected itself with a host of convictions, especially in the sphere of history, which may form the subject of scientific investigation … Yet the investigation of events in the first century in Judea, just as much as in Italy or in Greece, belongs to the sphere of scientific history. In other words, our simple Christian, whether rightly or wrongly, whether wisely or unwisely, has as a matter of fact connected his religion, in a way that to him seems indissoluble, with convictions about which science also has a right to speak.

What the modernist tries to do

Admitting that scientific objections may arise against the particularities of the Christian religion − against the Christian doctrines of the person of Christ, and of redemption through His death and resurrection − the liberal theologian seeks to rescue certain of the general principles of religion … and these general principles he regards as constituting “the essence of Christianity.”

It may well be questioned, however … Modern materialism, especially in the realm of psychology, is not content with occupying the lower quarters of the Christian city, but pushes its way into all the higher reaches of life; it is just as much opposed to the philosophical idealism of the liberal preacher as to the Biblical doctrines that the liberal preacher has abandoned in the interests of peace. Mere concessiveness, therefore, will never succeed in avoiding the intellectual conflict. In the intellectual battle of the present day there can be no “peace without victory”; one side or the other must win.

As a matter of fact, however, it may appear … that what the liberal theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to be long in a distinct category. It may appear further that the fears of the modern man as to Christianity were entirely ungrounded, and that in abandoning the embattled walls of the city of God he has fled in needless panic into the open plains of a vague natural religion only to fall an easy victim to the enemy who ever lies in ambush there.

Why modernism — liberalism — is an error

Modern liberalism may be criticized (1) on the ground that it is un-Christian and (2) on the ground that it is unscientific. We shall … be interested in showing that despite the liberal use of traditional phraseology modern liberalism not only is a different religion from Christianity but belongs in a totally different class of religions. But in showing that the liberal attempt at rescuing Christianity is false we are not showing that there is no way of rescuing Christianity at all … our principal concern just now is to show that the liberal attempt at reconciling Christianity with modern science has really relinquished everything distinctive of Christianity, so that what remains is in essentials only that same indefinite type of religious aspiration which was in the world before Christianity came upon the scene. In trying to … bribe off the enemy by those concessions which the enemy most desires, the apologist has really abandoned what he started out to defend. Here as in many other departments of life it appears that the things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending.

In maintaining that liberalism in the modern Church represents a return to an un-Christian and sub-Christian form of the religious life, we are particularly anxious not to be misunderstood. “Un-Christian” in such a connection is sometimes taken as a term of opprobrium. We do not mean it at all as such. Socrates was not a Christian, neither was Goethe; yet we share to the full the respect with which their names are regarded …

If a condition could be conceived in which all the preaching of the Church should be controlled by the liberalism which in many quarters has already become preponderant, then, we believe, Christianity would at last have perished from the earth and the gospel would have sounded forth for the last time … Vastly more important than all questions with regard to methods of preaching is the root question as to what it is that shall be preached.

Potential critics — Christian and secular

Many, no doubt, will turn in impatience from the inquiry − all those, namely, who have settled the question in, such a way that they cannot even conceive of its being reopened. Such, for example, are the pietists, of whom there are still many.  For these persons we have the highest respect, for we believe that they are right in the main point; they have arrived by a direct and easy road at a conviction which for other men is attained only through intellectual struggle. But we cannot reasonably expect them to be interested in what we have to say. Another class of uninterested persons is much more numerous … There are still individuals, they will say, who believe that the earth is flat; there are also individuals who defend the Christianity of the Church, miracles and atonement and all. In either case, it will be said, the phenomenon is interesting as a curious example of arrested development, but it is nothing more.

Tomorrow: Societal decline and the role of the State

Yesterday, I featured a Lutheran pastor’s gratitude to a great American Presbyterian of the 20th century, John Gresham Machen, for pointing out the errors of Modernism.

Today, we’ll look at the life of John Gresham Machen.  In subsequent days, I’ll be featuring quotes from his 1923 book, Christianity and Liberalism.

First, you’ll want to know how to pronounce this theologian’s name properly: ‘Gresham’ is ‘gres’um’ and ‘Machen’ is ‘may-chen’ (rhymes with ‘maiden’).

Early life

John Gresham Machen was born in Baltimore on July 28, 1881, to Arthur Webster Machen (an Episcopalian) and Mary Jones Gresham (a Presbyterian).  Mrs Machen undertook the religious development of her son by teaching him the Westminster Shorter Catechism in his childhood.  The family attended Franklin Street Presbyterian Church.

Mr Machen was a lawyer and, incidentally, 20 years older than his wife.  He provided well for his family, and young John was able to receive a private, classical education.  He learned Latin and Greek and received piano lessons.  He became a polymath, as his comments on art, government, philosophy and education in Christianity and Liberalism demonstrate.

In fact, Machen earned a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from Johns Hopkins University.  In 1902, he simultaneously studied for a Master’s in Philosophy there and for a degree in Theology at Princeton.  In 1905, his Theology studies took him to Germany, where the Modernism taught drove him towards a more orthodox Protestant position.

Home and away

The following year, he became an instructor of the New Testament at Princeton but did not sign a statement of faith. Machen would become the last of the great Princeton Theologians, among whom was B B Warfield, still widely cited and referred to among today’s orthodox Presbyterians.  Machen described Warfield, already well established at Princeton, as the greatest man he had ever met. Warfield emphasised doctrine and Scripture as being paramount for Christians.  It is no wonder, then, that this perspective would — rightly — appeal to Machen.

During the Great War (1914-1918), Machen was stationed in France with the YMCA.  Although he did not see active military duty, he worked as a volunteer near and at the front.  The First World War saw a number of advanced developments in warfare and weapons, among them mustard gas.  Machen was shocked to see the devastation these had wrought not only on towns and villages but on the infantry as well.  He was opposed to war as a means of settling international differences and disapproved of the Versailles Treaty as supported by family friend, President Woodrow Wilson.  Machen correctly predicted the future when he said of the treaty: ‘[W]ar will follow upon war in a wearisome progression.’

Career at Princeton

After the war, Machen resumed his post at Princeton.  Modernism, having started in the late 19th century, was now rampant throughout seminaries in Europe and North America.  Charles Porterfield Krauth had already denounced it in 1872 in American Lutheranism. Pope Pius X declared it a Catholic heresy in 1907.  Orthodox Protestants were equally concerned.  Machen was one of them.  He would become known — later, controversially, within his own denomination — as a scholar who could competently debate Modernism yet retain a sense of evangelism for the true faith.  His three books of the 1920s sealed his fate as a traditionalist: The Origin of Paul’s Religion (1921), Christianity and Liberalism (1923) and What is Faith? (1925).

It should be noted that whilst Machen held fast to orthodoxy and traditional Presbyterianism, he was not a biblical fundamentalist as we would consider it today. He was not an anti-intellectual literalist.  Nonetheless, the Modernist faction at Princeton had him in their sights.  Machen criticised minister and Princeton theologian Charles Erdman for accepting those in doctrinal error.  Erdman replied by saying that Dwight Moody, famous evangelist and founder of the Moody Bible Institute, would never have entered into such a controversy for fear of hampering winning souls for Christ.  The debate between Modernists and their orthodox opponents, whom they called ‘fundamentalists’, even though these men took highly intellectual and well considered positions on theology, escalated.

In 1929, this disagreement, which had culminated in the Modernist-inspired Auburn Affirmation, realigned the teaching of theology at Princeton. The Modernists, even whilst affirming the Westminster Confession of Faith, were actually not fostering them in their own teaching and theological outlook. Machen and other orthodox colleagues resigned to establish Westminster Theological Seminary, a noted institution today with locations in Philadelphia and London.

Socio-political positions

Those who would label Machen a fundamentalist (as we would define the term today) would no doubt infer that he was also a theocrat.  He was neither.  In fact, we might say that he was a libertarian, confounding conservatives and liberals alike.

Machen was wary of government interference in personal liberties.  We’ll see more of this in subsequent posts in an exploration of Christianity and Liberalism. However, here are two examples:

Blue Laws (these prohibit Sunday trade), about which Old Life Theological Society tells us (emphases mine):

J. Gresham Machen, then a resident of Philadelphia, wrote a letter to Gifford Pinchot, the governor of Pennsylvania and requested the retention of the Blue Laws as they were then written …

Machen argues not for the magistrate to enforce divine law, but for the advantages that come to everyone when the law protects the practices of some citizens.

Prohibition (the Volstead Act), from Chapter 9 of Crossed Fingers — How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church:

Very late in the meeting, when all but eight of the members had gone home, someone introduced a motion defending the Volstead Act (Prohibition). Machen voted against it. The moderator then did something highly irregular: he asked if Machen wanted his vote recorded. Machen told him he did not … Machen said he did not believe that “the Church in a corporate capacity, as distinguished from the activity of its members,” should go “on record to such political questions.”

The Presbyterian Church at the General Assembly had repeatedly come out against the consumption of alcohol. The Progressives and the fundamentalists had been joined together in the Great Crusade against liquor for over a decade by 1926. General Assemblies had repeatedly taken a public stand on this issue. To take a public stand against Prohibition would have separated Machen from many of the fundamentalists who made up the bulk of his lay followers … This is probably why the Moderator had singled out Machen, forcing him into a corner: to undermine Machen’s moral leadership.

His vote was easily exploited as a sign of his personal intemperance, even though he was a non-drinker, since not everyone was aware of his personal habits. Such whispered slander was made even more plausible by the fact that his brother Arthur led an anti-Prohibition society. This position was consistent with Machen’s philosophy of nonintervention of the State into a citizen’s personal affairs, something he had made quite explicit in the introduction to Christianity and Liberalism. This philosophy was not made clear by opponents who wished to discredit his actions.

D. G. Hart [of Old Life Theological Society] believes that this vote cost him the chair of apologetics at Princeton …

Final days and last words

Machen died on New Year’s Day 1937 at the age of 55.  He was never in robust physical health, yet he managed to maintain a busy work schedule and outside commitments.

His final speaking engagement was in North Dakota.  Winters in the northernmost central United States, as I can attest to, take other Northerners by surprise.  You can become very ill quite quickly with one ailment after another.  So it was with Machen.  He contracted pleurisy there in December 1936.  After Christmas, this developed into pneumonia, for which he was hospitalised.  Unfortunately, he never recovered.

His nearly-last words were in a telegram to friend and colleague John Murray:

I’m so thankful for active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.

Legacy — Orthodox Presbyterian Church

Even Machen’s opponents in the secular sphere realised what a great mind he had.  HL Mencken was one of these.  Of Machen, he wrote:

Dr. Machen himself was to [fellow Presbyterian and famous lawyer and politician, William Jennings] Bryan as the Matterhorn is to a wart.

Three years before his death, Machen became concerned about Modernists in Presbyterian missions.  He established The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.  The Presbyterian General Assembly declared this board unconstitutional and invited Machen and his sympathisers to separate from the PCUSA.  Whilst some ministers did so, Machen and seven others refused.  The General Assembly suspended them from the ministry. This news made sensational headlines around the nation.

Consequently, Machen and a few other ordained supporters formed the Presbyterian Church of America.  The PCUSA filed a lawsuit against the new church over its name. As a result, in 1939, the fledgling church changed its name to Orthodox Presbyterian Church, described as being Reformed Evangelical.

Machen also founded a magazine called The Presbyterian Guardian, listed in my Resources.  You can read more about it here.

In the meantime, you might wish to watch this video from Reformation Audio, which explains more about Christianity and Liberalism.  It’s under five minutes long:

Tomorrow: Introducing Christianity and Liberalism

Apologies, Lutheran bloggers and readers, for the parlous state of The Episcopal Church (TEC), which used to be known as the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America (PECUSA) but has since been rebranded in a simplistic and pedestrian way.

This search for the pedestrian and quasi-secular continues with embarrassing news stories, such as the recent lesbian clergy wedding by Massachusetts Bishop Thomas Shaw.  Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod featured this story in his post of January 13, 2011, ‘They Used to Call This a Boston Marriage’.  He gives us the report from Virtue Online, complete with pictures. It’s embarrassing for orthodox Anglicans reading this thinking, ‘Oh, dear — what must the Lutherans must think of us?’  That was my reaction, anyway.  Then again, I’m waiting for a similar event to occur in the liberal branch of American Lutheranism, the ELCA, which partners with TEC on various initiatives.

I stopped reading Virtue Online several months ago, having read from some of his commenters elsewhere that David Virtue is particular about the niceness and tone of his readers’ reactions.  Fortunately, he has allowed a range of spiky and informed comments about this unbiblical event, a few of which follow:

Mike4winns: ‘By using the words like marry, first lesbian marriage and marriage ceremony, the normalization of this sinful behavior continues.’

marinemama: ‘… it has seemed inevitable for a long time that the radicals would take over. TEC is not a god; unity is not a god. Unity may be a good thing, but it’s not more important than truth; it’s not more important than the word of God …’

AnnoDomini: ‘Well, the Episcopal Divinity School used to be headed up by Carter Hayward, who lived on campus with her same-sex partner. This is the divinity school where one of the women priestesses in training gave a homily on how the Eucharist was like forced oral sex — and was applauded for it. That was decades ago. The rot has long since completely destroyed the once-beautiful Anglican faith.’

My reaction is that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Synod should declare TEC anathema and expel them from the Anglican Communion.  It’s called church discipline — they’ve had too many aberrant clergy and apostate goings-on over the years.  However, the Druid poet Rowan Williams, supporter of the emergent church and all things touchy-feely, would never even think of such an action.

This inaction upsets many Anglicans. So does the lack of biblical preaching and doctrinal instruction.  As a result, a number of Anglicans have moved to other Protestant denominations.  Case in point is Pastor Mark Henderson, christened and raised an Anglican.  He is now a pastor in the Lutheran Church in Australia and describes himself as an Anglo-Lutheran.

This is his experience as described in his Glosses from an Old Manse post entitled, ‘Machen on the Grammar of the Gospel‘:

I was trying to figure out why the Anglican Church of my place and time did not believe or teach the 39 Articles.

Many will agree.  Eventually, Pr Henderson:

joined the Lutheran Church by profession of faith (16 years ago), after discovering that all that is best in the Anglican 39 Articles of Religion finds fuller and clearer expression in the Augsburg Confession. I’m still fond of the Anglican Church, but often perplexed by it …

Many of us are.

In any event, Pr Henderson credits the founder of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), John Gresham Machen, with bringing him to understand the error in the modern Church:

Since I was recently accused of being crypto-Reformed I thought I might as well go the whole hog and recommend a book by a Reformed author. “Christianity and Liberalism” (published 1923) is the book and J. Gresham Machen* (1881-1937) is the author. I’ve been re-reading it while on holidays (as I get older I find it less important to read “the latest”, and more beneficial to read and re-read what is best from the past) …

… this book is an incisive study of the differences between orthodox Christianity and liberal Christianity on several crucial doctrinal topics – God, humanity, the Bible, Christ, salvation and the church. This was actually one of the first Christian books I ever read … I’ll forever be grateful to Machen for innoculating me against liberalism. Of course, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since 1923, but it’s surprising how little of what Machen has written could be discarded as irrelevant today, which is probably why this book has remained constantly in print for 80+ years while other books on the same subject from the period have passed into oblivion.

Tomorrow, inspired by Pr Henderson’s post, we’ll begin taking a look at John Gresham Machen along with Christianity and Liberalism.

We continue with the Churchmouse Campanologist series on the Book of Revelation, much of it part of the ongoing Forbidden Bible Verses, those omitted from the three-year Lectionary yet equally essential to our understanding of Christ and God’s will as set forth in the Bible.

Today’s reading comes from the King James Version.  Exegetical sources are listed at the end of the post.

Revelation 15

1And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God.

2And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.

3And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.

4Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.

5And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened:

6And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles.

7And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever.

8And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled.

————————————————————————-

Having read about the seven seals and the seven trumpets earlier in the book, we now begin looking at the next series of judgements, those of what many refer to today as the seven bowls — the censers or vials.

Several years ago, the Revd Thomas C Messer of Peace Lutheran Church in Alma, Michigan, gave his congregation a series of lectures on the Book of Revelation.  These posts have relied in part on his notes for these talks.  One of Pr Messer’s sources is Dr Louis A Brighton’s Revelation, published in 1999 and part of the Concordia Commentary series for seminaries from Concordia Publishing House, St Louis, Missouri. Dr Brighton is Professor Emeritus of New Testament Exegetical Theology at Concordia University, St Louis. Of Revelation 15 and 16 (next week’s entry), he explains:

Chapters 15 and 16 of Revelation display the third and last vision of events on earth. As in the first two earthly visions (6:1-8:5 and 8:6-11:19), there are seven scenes. In this third vision, each of the scenes is introduced by an angel with a censer. The first five scenes (16:1-11) depict events that take place concurrently: each covers the same time period, from Christ’s ascension up to Armageddon. The sixth scene (16:12-16) describes the last battle, here called Armageddon, which takes place just prior to the end of this present world at Christ’s return. The seventh scene (16:17-21) envisions the End at the second coming of Christ.

Our Lord Jesus Christ gave the visions described in Revelation to the apostle John whilst he was in exile on the Greek island of Patmos in 95 AD.  Revelation 15 opens with St John’s vision of angels carrying the seven ‘plagues’ in the censers, God’s final judgments on unbelievers.  St John is stricken by the sight of this final vision, which is ‘great and marvellous’.

Verse 2 refers to ‘a sea of glass mingled with fire’.  Pr Messer and Calvinist Bible scholar and minister Matthew Henry (1662-1714) differ on their interpretations of these words.  Messer writes that the Church is still doing battle with Satan and his agents at this time (‘mingled with fire’), however, the Church is peaceful and serene as ‘a sea of glass’ during this time.

Matthew Henry, on the other hand, offers three possible interpretations of his day, which were that a) the ‘sea of glass’ referred to the temporal world, which would soon be shattered;  b) the sea alluded to the pool in the temple in which the priests performed their ceremonial ablutions (Christ’s faithful shared in His righteousness); or, c) these words referred to the Red Sea, enabling Moses and the Israelites to cross in safety by the light of a visible torch, yet swallowing up Pharaoh’s pursuing armies.

Whatever interpretation you prefer, the message is that true Christians will experience Christ’s protection during this tumultuous time.  They will have vanquished the ‘beast’ and, as such, be joyful and eager to praise Him in song.

Verse 3 tells us that the saints sing of Moses and the Lamb, Jesus Christ.  In other words — Law and Gospel.  The moral Law indicates their sins to them and the saving message and Sacraments of the Gospel redeem them.  Pr Messer says of this and the following verse:

The song here echoes the song sung by the Israelites (cf. Exod. 15) in response to God’s deliverance of them from the tyranny and suffering they endured in Egypt. God brought them to salvation through the waters of the Red Sea, even as God has brought us to salvation through the waters of Holy Baptism. The words of the song glorify God as the Lord and Judge of all nations in view of the fact that He alone is Holy (just as we sing in the Gloria in Excelsis). The faithful know that there is only One, True God, and that all nations will bow down to Him in the end.

In verse 5, St John sees the tabernacle in Heaven open.  Consider how the Jewish Temple was structured.  From the time of Exodus, only the most pious of people were allowed near the Holy of Holies.  Even today, people are not normally gathered around a church’s altar unless invited to for part of the service.  So, to see the heavenly tabernacle must have been an amazing sight for the apostle.  However, the significance is even more profound.  Matthew Henry explains:

… we may understand, 1. That, in the judgments God was now about to execute upon the antichristian interest, he was fulfilling the prophecies and promises of his word and covenant, which were there always before him, and of which he was ever mindful. 2. That in this work he was answering the prayers of the people, which were offered to him by their great high priest. 3. That he was herein avenging the quarrel of his own Son, and our Saviour Jesus Christ, whose offices and authority had been usurped, his name dishonoured, and the great designs of his death opposed, by antichrist and his adherents. 4. That he was opening a wider door of liberty for his people to worship him in numerous solemn assemblies, without the fear of their enemies.

At this point, seven angels emerge in all glory (verse 6), ready to carry out the final divine judgements of the censers — the ‘plagues’.  The ‘golden girdles’ refer to sashes which the high priests wore.  This meant that the angels came as God’s emissaries to do His will.  The plagues signify His wrath upon unbelievers.

Verse 7 talks of ‘one of the four beasts’ delivering the vials — bowls or censers, each with a plague. Henry tells us:

Now from whom did they receive these vials? From one of the four living creatures, one of the ministers of the true church, that is, in answer to the prayers of the ministers and people of God, and to avenge their cause, in which the angels are willingly employed.

The chapter concludes with a vision of ‘smoke from the glory of God’.  Comedians often make fun of this biblical image when they satirise God, but there is a serious side to it.  Generally speaking, Man would not have been able to cope with (for lack of a better expression) God’s full presence.  Some scholars say it would have been too dazzling and brilliant a sight.  Others say that Man is too sinful to understand and appreciate it.  Still, other commentators say that in some events — the Ascension, for one — a gathering of angels forms what looks like a cloud around God or Christ for this reason.

Note that the judgments described in the Book of Revelation are accomplished in an orderly fashion, befitting Providence.  One follows another according to God’s divine will.  Those who have been reading this series will recall that St John must experience intervening divinely-inspired visions in order to fully understand the next series of judgments.  And, so it is with the smoke described in verse 8.  The time has not yet come for those on Earth to fully experience God’s presence.  Nor could they understand the judgments to come until His will had been fully accomplished.

Pr Messer elaborates:

Brighton, “So terrifying would be God’s holy judgments in the form of the plagues which John was about to witness that no one could penetrate these inscrutable righteous actions of God until they were completed at the End itself (see Rev. 10:5-7; cf. 16:17-21; 19:1-8). In other words, no mortal will fully understand the just actions of God in sending forth His judgments upon the earth until the Last Day. Then, all will know and understand the righteousness of God, as all will know and understand that He alone is God and bow down to worship Him. For most, this will be too late, but for the faithful, this will be the Day of their great reward, for which they long.

Matthew Henry says that the ‘interests of the antichrist’ will be so wrapped up with the temporal order — politics and government — of the day that (emphases mine):

he could not be destroyed without giving a great shock to all the world; and the people of God would have but little rest and leisure to assemble themselves before him, while this great work was a doing. For the present, their sabbaths would be interrupted, ordinances of public worship intermitted, and all thrown into a general confusion. God himself was now preaching to the church and to all the world, by terrible things in righteousness; but, when this work was done, then the churches would have rest, the temple would be opened, and the solemn assemblies gathered, edified, and multiplied. The greatest deliverances of the church are brought about by awful and astonishing steps of Providence.

Next week: Revelation 16

Further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

‘Revelation – Chapter 15 Notes’ – The Revd Thomas C Messer (LCMS)

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