• May 11, 2015 /  Uncategorized

    From the Translators Preface of Calvin’s Commentary on the Book of Zechariah:

    ‘There have been many Commentators before and after the time of CALVIN, but it may be doubted whether any of them possessed his combined excellencies, especially the capacity of being so plain as to be understood by common readers, and of being at the same time so profound as to be interesting and instructive to the most learned; so that his Comments do in this respect retain, in a measure, the character of the book he interprets and explains.  Of his superiority over his predecessors we have the striking testimony of the learned Arminius, who, as he differed from him on several points of no small importance, may justly be considered to have been an impartial witness.  His words are remarkable,–

    “Next to the reading of Scripture, which I strongly recommend, I advise you to read the Commentaries of Calvin, on whom I bestow higher eulogies than Helmichius did; for I consider that he is incomparable in interpreting Scripture, and that his Commentaries are of more value than all that the library of the Fathers transmits to us; so that I concede to him even a spirit of prophecy superior to that of most, yea, of all others.”‘

    The quotation is a translation from the Latin from Merits of Calvin, p. 51, according to the translator of Calvin’s Commentary on the Book of Zechariah.  I have not verified this.




  • December 30, 2013 /  Uncategorized

    This is the outline of a psalm sing that we did at Trinity RPC on 12/29/2013.  It used the red psalter, The Book of Psalms for Singing.

    This highlights why Christians need to sing the Psalms, rather than uninspired hymns, because hymns do not deal with affliction, which is common to man.  Hymns typically deal with lightweight ideas that appeal to those who recognize no problems in their lives.

    If you don’t have affliction now, you will have it later in life, with high probability.  Being a Christian means having a share in the sufferings of Christ.  Look at Psalm 88, and see if that does not describe out Savior on the cross, taking on the sins of all of God’s elect saints.

    Topic Psalm Selection Verses to highlight
    Affliction is Normal 23C Whole psalm – there is comfort amid troubles in the valley of the shadow of death, and enemies
    Affliction is sometimes a test 66B Vv 10-12 How do we react to affliction?  Do we go to God, tough it out, complain, etc.?
    God’s Word comforts us in affliction 119G Vv 49-50 Recalling God’s Word brings peace.  Read it, memorize it, and meditate on it.
    Affliction leads us to learn God’s Word 119I Vv 67-68, 71-72 Often we don’t understand the value of God’s Word, until we are chastised for sin, or afflicted by God.
    Affliction makes us value God more 71A, B, C & D Whole psalm – Calling out to God for help, trouble from enemies, taking hope in God, and the strength that He gives, leading to revival of spirit, and praise to God.
    Affliction leads us to pray 77A & B Vv 1-15 We pray even we seem to get no answer from God, then we remember how God has acted in the past to save his people and us.
    Affliction shows us Christ and His sufferings 88A & B Whole psalm – We gain comfort knowing that the afflictions that Christ bore, and his perfect obedience through them, were necessary for our salvation.
    Affliction helps reveal God’s protection of us 124B Whole psalm – God protects us amid many who would harm us.  He guards and protects his Church.

    I hope you gain spiritual benefit from this.  We really benefited from it today, as it fit in with the sermon, and adult Sabbath School class, without any coordination.

  • August 9, 2010 /  Uncategorized

    I wrote the following in 1999 to a pastor in the RPCNA who foolishly invited two students for the ministry to visit a local Steelite who has a notable library.  The students were amazed by the library, but confused by the Steelite, who is a formidable debater.


    Dear YYY,

    Things have been exceptionally busy here so my remarks will be summary in nature.  My main difficulties with Steelites are: (not in order)

    1)  Tone.

    2)  Divisions in their midst.

    3)  Perfectionistic Ecclesiology.

    4)  Hermeneutics.

    5)  We cannot bind future generations to things which are:

    a)  not under their direct control.

    b)  not necessarily applicable to all Christians everywhere.


    I have generally resisted criticizing Steelites because I appreciate their serious approach to Calvinism.  What I write may not apply to all of them in entire.  Some it may not apply to at all, but I doubt it.

    Regarding point 1, the wisdom that comes from above is easily entreated, kind, teaching, leading, etc.  Some Steelites have adopted what seems to me to be a double-sided approach to criticism.  They can give it, but can’t take it.  Others slander them, in their eyes, but when I compare rhetoric, the attempt to injure is often stronger on the Steelite side.

    On point 2, who are the Steelites?  Are there any?  There are enough groups off in the wilderness calling themselves Steelites, that it is difficult to sort out which group is right.  The divisions are often over narrow (not necessarily unimportant) issues, which I can’t decide for myself.  I would prefer to call a church council to decide such things — I am not capable of differentiating between two sides which seem equally likely.

    If they unified, I might find them attractive — at least I’d know of a well-identified alternative to the RPCNA.

    The third point flows from the second.  They can’t unify with each other, much less with established groups.  Further, the discredited Traditional Postmillennialism that justifies the fragmentation, as there is no church in the period prior to the Millennium, to me is merely convenient, and not serious thinking.  I agree there are boundaries, and we ought to enforce them more tightly (I favor closed communion), but when the boundaries become so narrow that one has practically no one to worship with, there is trouble.

    On hermeneutics, church history is an excellent commentary on the Scriptures, particularly because we can see the accumulated results of false and true doctrines, with the results they have had as time progressed.  But to limit the scope to one narrow line of the church has dangers.  It virtually dictates the conclusion from the premises.  When one of the Steelites was asked by me what the difference was between his view, and that of Roman Catholic Tradition, the answer was stark, “Easy.  They’re wrong.  We’re right.”

    If he thought that was convincing, it had the opposite effect.  Tradition *per se* should not affect how we interpret Scripture, except to the degree that it teaches us how others viewed the Scripture.  We can learn from their arguments; we aren’t the first generation to interpret the Bible.  We keep the views of those that have gone before us if those views are correct, and if not, we give their views a dignified burial.

    On the final point, I like the Solemn League and Covenant; I believe it is a useful paradigm for how Christian States should interact.  But it is primarily a treaty between nations.  Once renounced by a nation, it would be a sin to those leaders renouncing it, but not to the next generation of leaders, though the results of the prior sin may still come as a punishment to the nation while they lead.

    For ordinary individuals, it is not possible for them to maintain the SLC.  The most they can do is pray and lobby.  Even that is done once any reasonable chance of reinstating the SLC is gone; it is then outside the power of those having sworn to uphold it.  As to binding children, it is even more true that we cannot compel them to maintain something outside their ability to accomplish.

    Imagine an oath that binds our children, and their children in perpetuity, only to marry within our fictional denomination, entitled “The Best Christian Group.”  It works well for a couple of generations, while TBCG is sound.  After that, TBCG begins to decay.  Are the great-grandchildren bound by the oath?  I say not, and it dangerous at minimum to commit to an oath that we cannot assure will lead to good.  I am leery of taking oaths for my children beyond the necessary God-appointed one of Baptism.  Beyond that, they must covenant with God themselves.

    I am also concerned with binding individuals to something not all individuals would be bound to.  With the Westminster Confession of Faith, I believe all Christians are bound to it, indirectly, because it is a faithful exposition of Scripture.  With the SLC, not all Christians are bound because of geography and ability.  I can see a French Calvinist at the time admiring the principle of International Calvinism, and praying for the day when France would have a similar treaty.  But he is not bound by the SLC; he might be bound by the principle involved if it is within his scope of power.


    I have gone on too long, and too late.  There are probably some errors and inconsistencies in what I wrote.  If so, point them out at your leisure.  I know my arguments are not nearly as precise as those of the self-called Steelites.  They probably can’t be; for them it is a full time vocation.  I have burdens.

    I am cc’ing A, B, and C on this one, for their review and advice also.  If you get anything useful out this Y, you are free to use it more widely.  My policy is this: Just ask me *before* you do it; I might have second thoughts.

    In Christ,



    Then, there was what a friend of mine wrote on the topic.  I include it because he is so erudite.


    This letter is a warning regarding certain teachings and practices of the Puritan Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. This group is causing division and chaos in the body of Christ, primarily through the efforts of Reg Barrow and Still Waters Revival Books. Before I discuss the details, I would like to make it known that I am a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. I believe firmly in the regulative principle of worship, exclusive a cappella Psalmody, exclusion of holy days beside the Lord’s Day, social covenanting, Presbyterian church government, headcoverings and the silence of women in the church, etc. These beliefs are shared by the Puritan Reformed Church, but in their efforts to bring believers back to the old paths, they have clearly gone beyond the requirements of Scripture.

    1. All Churches are Unduly Constituted (except the Puritan Reformed Church of Alberta).

    The session of this church teaches that the P.C.A., the O.P.C., and the R.P.C.N.A., etc., are not duly constituted churches, therefore apostate and without any authority. They regularly counsel people to disregard their vows of church membership and separate from their churches immediately (in violation of Deut. 23:21-23, Num. 30:2, Ecc. 5:1-7, etc.). They shun transfer of membership, responding to church discipline, or working for reformation within one’s own denomination as this would recognize the courts of other churches as being valid. Here is a typical quote from their literature:

    “Therefore, if the P.C.A. is not sound; and this being the case, the authority of the session at your particular church is unlawful. And, if the authority of the session at your particular church is not lawful, we cannot submit to it for conscience sake unless we wish to call God a liar, to have other gods before Him, and to make a mockery of the marks of a true church (by acknowledging the P.C.A. as a true church). Since you have made a claim upon our conscience in calling us to stand trial, we must refuse such a claim, choosing rather to obey God than man. We cannot and will not interact with you in any way that would force us to recognize your (alleged) lawful ecclesiastical authority.” (Larry Birger, “Why the P.C.A. is Not a Duly Constituted Church and Why Faithful Christians Should Separate From this Corrupted ‘Communion'”, 1996, found on the Still Waters Revival Books web page).

    The Puritan Reformed Church is thus actively engaged in sheep-stealing, as it views itself as the only duly constituted church known today. If you think this sounds cult-like, you are correct. If you think I am exaggerating ask Greg Price (the pastor), Greg Barrow (a ruling elder), and Reg Barrow (president of SWRB) to name an acceptable, duly constituted church, beside their own. Furthermore, can they name a duly constituted church anywhere on earth before March, 1996 when they adopted these doctrines?

    2. Elevating Second Reformation History to the Level of Scripture.

    Although they claim to believe in Sola Scriptura, this group in practice regards Covenanter church history as indispensable in obeying the Bible. Reg Barrow writes of his pastor: “Price demonstrates how and why uninspired historical testimony must be a term of communion … Price also proves how one cannot even keep the inspired commandments of God without the use of uninspired history [emphasis mine] (using the fifth and ninth commandments as examples).” He also writes: “How do you keep the fifth commandment without uninspired historical testimony? It’s impossible to keep the fifth commandment if you do not know who your parents are; and you can only know your parents via uninspired historical testimony…” (Reg Barrow, in an email response to a debate on covenanting, April 1997; similar comments are also found on the SWRB home page).

    This is simply Romanism in a new dress! The Edmonton group derives this cult-like approach from the writings of David Steele, who split from the R.P.C.N.A. in 1840 to form the Reformed Presbytery. David Steele, in The Law and the Testimony, equates Covenanter church history with the Testimony spoken of in Scripture (cf. Is. 8:20). The Bible is not enough, it must be supplemented with the historical experiences of the one true church (i.e., the faithful remnant church [e.g., the Steelites] ). Reading the literature produced by the Edmonton Steelite group and speaking with them personally, you will find little Biblical exegesis. Various Steelite and early Presbyterian authors are quoted as a defense for the Edmonton position in the same way a papal bishop quotes the church fathers, or an orthodox Jew quotes the Talmud.

    3. A Perfectionist View of the Church.

    The Edmonton Steelites also have an unbiblical perfectionist view of the church. (this point is intimately related to point number one) They follow David Steele’s teaching that any church that departs from the attainments of the Second Reformation in Scotland (1638-1659) is not a true church. Reg Barrow writes:

    “In sum, Christ commands us to flee from unlawful teachers, who are working for the destruction of his church (in perpetuating backsliding from reformation attainments)…we are forbidden by Scripture to remain in ecclesiastical fellowship with those who publicly deny the corporate testimony of the church as it has been attained at any given point in history (Eccl. 3:15) … Back sliding from attained growth in grace (i.e., corporate sanctification) is not edification, but destruction. Therefore, no authority working against any of these former biblical attainments bears God’s stamp of approval: God has granted no authority for backsliding.” (Saul in the Cave of Adullam, 1997, pp. 25, 29, 12).

    This is the linchpin of the Steelite heresy; it explains their cult-like isolationism and sectarianism. (Their new “converts” across the country worship in their homes alone with an order of service and a recorded sermon from Greg Price.) Throughout history, Christ’s church has had periods of Reformation and periods of backsliding. But, according to the Steelites, the moment a church backslides from any of the former attainments it no longer is a true church.

    This view is wrong because everything that the church was to believe and practice was taught by the apostles in the first century. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17) I believe the apostles were psalm-singers, practiced Presbyterian church government, required headcoverings, etc. Thus, the people of the Second Reformation in Scotland were simply following apostolic doctrine. The idea that any deviation from the former attainments renders a church unduly constituted is absurd, for no one in history has perfectly held to the attainments of the apostles. For example, the Second Reformation Church did not reestablish the order of widows taught in 1 Timothy 5:9ff and practiced for over three centuries in the early church. Calvin restored it to an extent, but it lost during the debates of the Westminster divines. Rutherford and Gillespie were in favor of the idea of the order of widows but did not restore the practice. Does this mean that the Second Reformation Church was unduly constituted because they did not adhere to the full attainments of the apostles and of Calvin in the First Reformation? The Steelites cannot even apply their own doctrine consistently.

    Furthermore, Calvin regarded the Lutheran church in his day as a true church and was close friends with Melanchthon until his death. Luther did not cling to the attainments of Calvin in Geneva. Was Luther part of an unduly constituted church; a false minister? John Knox regarded the Episcopal church of his day as a true church (though needing reform) and even preached in Episcopal churches when he lived in England. Furthermore, the Scottish church during Knox’s own lifetime backslid from some of the attainments of the First Reformation (e.g., the Tulchan bishops). Did John Knox immediately flee the church because he regarded it as unduly constituted? No. If John Knox, Andrew Melville, and others had been Steelites, there would have been no Second Reformation, for the church would have been abandoned as soon as it departed from the former attainments. The Steelite theories of attainment lead to ecclesiastical chaos — the church would have split every time there was the least bit of declension.

    The Steelite doctrine of attainments leads to absurdity, unbiblical perfectionism and ecclesiastical chaos. Furthermore, they are not even consistent with their own teaching. How do they regard ministers in these unduly constituted churches? According to the Edmonton group, all ministers in “unduly constituted churches” are participating in gross evil. These ministers are considered pretenders, false teachers, wicked covenant breakers. This would include Charles Hodge, Dabney, Bannerman, McCrie, John Murray, Greg Bahnsen, Van Til, Machen, Thornwell, G.I. Williamson, Carl Bogue, Shedd, Girardeau, etc., who all rejected Steelite distinctives. However, contradicting his own doctrine, Reg Barrow sells the works of many of these authors. Shouldn’t he be disciplined by his church for spreading this heresy?

    The apostle John warned of such men: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.” (3 John 9-10) “Now I urge you brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)

    For a more detailed discussion of this type of error, see also Richard Bacon’s book, The Visible Church and the Outer Darkness, and Church Unity: The Sin of Schism by John Macpherson reprinted in Napthali Press, Winter 1989.

    I do believe that there is declension in the P.C.A., O.P.C., and the R.P.C.N.A., but these are still true churches of Jesus Christ. They are not apostate like the Roman Catholic Church or modernist churches. As believers we must obey God, honor our vows, respect the church courts and patiently work for reform. Leaving a Calvinistic church should be the last resort, when efforts at reform have been rejected.

  • February 8, 2010 /  Uncategorized

    I have seen the consummation of all perfection, But Your commandment is exceedingly broad. [Ps 119:96, NKJV for all Bible Quotations]

    Most people, even most Christians, try to reduce God’s Law in some way in order to give themselves breathing room for things that they like to do, many of which the Bible would condemn as sin.  There are the simple ways of doing it:

    1) Saying that the Christian is under grace, and not under law, and thus there is no longer any law that the Christian is subject to.

    True, we don’t earn our salvation.  It is gracious in every way.  Consider Ephesians 2:8-10:

    8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

    We are saved by grace, and faith is the instrument that shows we have been saved.  Even the faith is a gift from God.  But after that, God calls the believer to good works, which are also the hand of God moving in the believer’s life.

    But, good works are not we we deem to be so, they are what God deems.  And the Law of God was given to the Church graciously. Consider Exodus 20:2, where God introduces the law to his people Israel.

    “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

    In a figure to Christians, God says to Israel that he has saved them without them having to do one single thing.  Now that He has saved graciously, He asks them to keep His Law to please Him, not that through it they might be saved.  No one, except Jesus, could perfectly keep God’s Law, and thus be saved — and that is why the Jews had sacrifices prefiguring the one ultimate sacrifice that could forgive, Jesus Christ.

    2)  Many Christians pick out notable sins, and call those the sum total of sin, and ignore lesser sins.  In some eras, it would be drinking, dancing, smoking, lewd entertainments, etc.  The sad thing is that people think that if they avoid only their subset of sins, they are than not sinning.

    We must point them back to the Law of God, which defines Sin.  As Romans 4:15b says “…where there is no law there is no transgression.”

    We can also mention that the Pharisees had a far more detailed code that attempted to make God’s Law easier to keep by making the rules more precise, using the teachings of the Rabbis of the past.  But, making the rules more precise means that the heart gets cut out of them.  It is more useful for me to know that I ought not to seek my own pleasure on the Sabbath, than to say, “Don’t do A, B, C, D, etc.”  The Law is powerful as it is; it needs no helpers.

    3)  Still others deny that God could care about what they do, if he exists at all.

    To these we should speak of the Last Judgment — that they will stand before God for everything that they have done, said or thought.  Their own consciences have a sense of right and wrong, given by God, yet warped by them, accusing others, excusing themselves for the evil that they do.  And, maybe we have to tell them about Hell.  Yes, Hell, with torture there forevermore, because they have sinned against the knowledge that they have, and have ignored the entreaties given by God through the Church and its members.

    4) Then there are sloppy Christians (myself sometimes included) who understand that the obeying the Law of God is a goal to be pursued, but don’t want to think too hard about the implications, because they are having too much fun.  They don’t want the details.  Some aim for a minimalistic version of the Ten Commandments, because like the Rich Young Ruler, they vainly think that they could keep such a demanding standard.

    Even Theonomists, who love the Law of God do something like this.  I like the works of R. J. Rushdoony, and would recommend them to you, but he errs in one place, where he says that the implications of God’s Law are not God’s Law.  No, the implications, if they are good and necessary, are also part of God’s Law.  How could it be otherwise?  Judges apply the Law and its principles to varying situations, because not everything is the same across cultures.


    There is a richer way to view the Law of God.  Jesus was the second Moses, and he brought the Law back to its original meaning.  The Saducees had clipped the Law down to the Pentateuch, and the Pharisees had confounded it with their traditions.  Jesus came and said (Matthew 5:17-20):

    17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

    Until Heaven and Earth disappear… the Law is valid until the Last Judgment.  Our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  Not easy to do; they were focused.  But Christ came to fulfill the Law, which has two senses: to keep it for his elect people, and to teach its fullness.  It is the latter concept that I want to focus on.

    In the next verses Jesus said:

    21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause[b] shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

    Jesus goes for the heart of the law, and not its mere statement.  It not only forbids the thing in itself, but everything tending toward it.  It not only forbids the thing in itself, but commands the virtues entailed in preventing the sin.  Jesus brings the Law back to its original meaning by making it apply to our hearts, which includes our thoughts and words, as well as our actions.

    The rest of Chapter 5 goes through many other related issues, including adultery, oaths, and more.

    The complex term that describes this interpretation is called Synecdoche. The idea is that there is the broad principle of the Law that represents a broader aspect of behavior.  The Law not only means don’t do that, but do do good things that are the opposite of the thing commanded against.  Also, the Law means don’t do lesser things related to the law in question.  Avoid all aspects of evil.  Let your aim be to promote good at all points.

    The Larger Catechism is a unique rendering of the what the Law of God means.  It takes the concept of synecdoche further, applying what the Scriptures say to each commandment, pressing the sense of the commandments positively and negatively.  The Larger Catechism looks at the Scriptures in broad and in detail, and sets out what the Scriptures condemn and approve.

    I will finish this next week, Lord willing.

    Your commandment is exceedingly broad
  • November 30, 2009 /  Uncategorized

    Isaiah 58:13-14 (New King James Version)

    13 “ If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words, 14 Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

    Psalm 37:4 (New King James Version)

    Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.


    Tav Blog has been more irregular than I want it to be, but I have caught up with many of my elder duties, and can post again.  Tonight’s topic is the Sabbath.

    There is a confusion in evangelicalism about the Sabbath.  There is the general neglect of the Sabbath by most evangelicals because there is seemingly no reiteration of it in the New Testament.

    God does not need to reaffirm what he has already said.  Once He has said something, he would need to inform you of any changes.  If he says nothing, you should assume there is no change.  After all the Scripture says in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” and in Malachi 3:6, “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”

    We know that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice.  Once the perfect sacrifice came, there was no longer any need for further sacrifice of animals that did not in themselves forgive sin, but pointed to the sacrifice of Christ.

    But of the moral law, Christ himself said in Matthew 5:17-20, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    Christ affirmed the Law in full, while fulfilling its ceremonial aspects as the perfect sacrifice.  Thus the moral demands of the law continue.  Even if the New Testament does not explicitly repeat the commands against incest (leave aside what John the Baptist said to Herod Antipas the Tetrarch), those commands still stand because God has not repealed them.

    The Main Point

    Okay, so we should still keep the Sabbath.  Americans by nature interpret all the commands of God in the most latitudinarian way, so, once convinced of the Sabbath, they do not see it as a time of holy rest from the things common to man in the rest of the week, but rather as a time for human rest and leisure: Watch Football. Gardening is so relaxing. Yack with friends over matters that are not very spiritual at all.

    But the idea of the Sabbath is expressed in clear terms in Isaiah 58.  The Sabbath is not a day where we are to do our own pleasure.  We are to do that which pleases God explicitly.  Following our own pleasure, whether in things that excite us, or immoderate physical rest (don’t take a significantly longer nap on Sunday than you take the rest of the week), or doing anything else that we enjoy that does not fit into the framework of Piety, Mercy or Necessity is not keeping the Sabbath.

    Is this too much to ask?  Only if our hearts are not with God.  I encourage you, fill the Sabbath full of good things that the Lord loves.  The antidote to not keeping the Sabbath is to look to the good things that we are supposed to do, and do them.  Catechize your children.  Memorize Scripture.  Read the Bible.  Pray.  Have discourse over the things of God.  Read the writings of faithful saints on the matters of God.

    But turn aside from doing your own pleasure on the Sabbath day.  Ignore what you want and live to please God, as you will do in Heaven.

  • July 13, 2009 /  Uncategorized

    In 1995, I wrote a letter to Grace Valley Christian Center’s elders.  I did not write it to the general congregation, though I had received a membership directory from a family that had recently left GVCC.  I’m not a divisive guy — I talk with the leaders, not those who are lead.

    In my letter, I included my paper on Authority, a doctrine that GVCC had abused badly.  I wrote this to try to convince the elders of GVCC of their error.  The elders wrote many scathing responses to me and I summarize them here, together with my counter-responses.

    After so many years, I have no bitterness against the elders of GVCC, but I am puzzled at their lack of willingness to respond without recourse to threatening harrassment lawsuits.  What are they trying to hide?  Or, did Pastor Mathew command them to say that?

    Abuse of authority in the church is not unheard of, but is unusual.  I am no friend of antinomians who try to tear apart church government because there are some churches that govern badly, with self-interest.

    Go ahead and read what I have written.  Unlike Pastor Mathew, I am not beyond criticism, and am willing to take rebukes where needed.  I serve as an elder in my Presbytery, and have the respect of the brothers.  If you find I have spoken amiss, and will not repent, please speak to them.  (I will provide the proper e-mail adresses upon request.


    To those at Grace Valley, I have one recommendation: leave.  If you don’t know where to go I have one excellent church in mind: Covenant Reformed Church of Sacramento.  It’s the best church in the area; I say that having been a member there, and knowing the leadership.  They lead gently, but firmly.

    Consider what I write: I am a conservative elder in a conservative denomination.  I have submitted what I have written to some of the smartest elders in the denomination, and they approved of what I wrote.  Do not listen to Pastor Mathew, who is self-appointed, and who has appointed elders directly, rather than via election, as most elders receive their office.  There was no presbytery that called PG Mathew.  Beware Grace Valley.

  • April 27, 2009 /  Uncategorized

    This is _______, the church planter in _________ – we spoke a few times at Synod this year.

    I’ve been enjoying your blog (or rather, the 25% or so that I as a financial layman can follow). Your prognosis (correct me if I’m wrong) seems to be short/medium-term “doom and gloom” – thinking aloud, for instance, that once we reach a debt load of 150% of GDP foreign lenders will probably chicken out. That sounds like a move toward a second Great Depression.

    Now, I’m not writing you for investing advice or anything like this. Instead, I’m writing as a fellow church leader to get a discussion going on what you think the church can do in view of such a scenario. The typical evangelical reaction (see Hal Lindsey; Y2K, et al.) seems to be panic and self-defense: I’ll move into a bunker with canned soup and a rifle in case anyone comes for my stash or my family – and I’ll certainly “flee the burning cities” (to quote Doug Wilson’s letter to Gary North pre-Y2K). That seems more than a little different from the historic Christian reaction to disaster. It was Christians who, over the ages, went back into the plague cities to care for the sick and dying, often at the cost of their own lives.

    Further, riffing on Nassim Taleb (I just read Black Swans), it’s wiser to prepare than to predict. So, ruling elder Merkel, how do you think the church (as local congregations especially, but also as denominations and presbyteries) should be changing its way of operating to prepare for the unknown?

    I appreciate the Christians that read The Aleph Blog.  Hey, you are my brothers in Christ.  I owe you far more than everyone else.

    As for my pastor friend who wrote to me, he brings up an important issue.  What do we as elders do in times of trouble?

    I have thought about this a great deal, and this is my opinion: first, as elders and pastors, we do not seek our own safety, but we seek the best for those that we care for in our flocks.  We are shepherds; we do not abandon the sheep.  I knew of some ministers that panicked ahead of Y2K, but what does that say to the members of the congregation?  We must tend the sheep.

    Second, we counsel our flock to be generous in adversity, giving as much or more in bad times, that we might aid those in our congregations who fall on hard times, and even those beyond our congregations, where the needs lend toward the furtherance of Christ’s Kingdom.

    Third, we must keep the lines of communication open in the flock to find the needs as they arise.  We must teach members to seek our help, and not go over the the credit card companies, who will devour them if they get a chance.

    Fourth, much as we teach against greed, we must teach against fear, which comes from a greed for safety.  Our safety is in our Lord, as much as our prosperity is, so call the flock to trust in their God for their safety.

    Fifth, beyond that, we should be prudent with the resources of the church, so that we have something to give when the need arises.

    Sixth, we should set up a diaconal network among the congregations, to aid in needs that are too big for any one congregation to meet.  We should do it at two levels — a presbyterial network, and then a synodical network.  That will bind our congregations together in a proper way.

    Seventh, we should pray.  Pray that our God would have mercy on his church, and that the gospel would be furthered in hard times.

    May the Lord bless us in hard times.  Things are looking a little better now, but I think it is an illusion that will be shattered.  May the Lord have mercy.

    Your Brother in Christ,


  • March 9, 2009 /  Uncategorized

    Acts 2:32 sets forth the claim of the apostles and disciples — they had seen Jesus Christ (Y’shua ha’mushiach — pardon my poor transliteration of the Hebrew) risen from the dead in a physical bodily form.  This witness is a major key of Christianity.

    Many, perhaps most of these men and women would go to their deaths concerning this witness.  Thus, most of the usual tales of why the Bible is not accurate fall flat.  People don’t go to their deaths to defend something they know is not true.

    Those listening to Peter preaching at Pentecost (Feast of Weeks / Shavuot) could go and talk to the apostles/disciples and see if a consistent story was told.  They could listen to the prophecies that were fullfilled from Psalms 16 and 110, and Joel 2.  Three thousand were converted that day.  The story circulated by the authorities that the disciples stole the body of Jesus could not stand up to the miraculous signs and wonders of the day, and the witness of those that had seen the risen Jesus Christ, of which there were at least five hundred.

    What could make despondent followers of a dead teacher react with fervor?  The truth that the teacher was alive, and was ruling from heaven.  After the death of Jesus the disciples and apostles hid.  They did not want to be killed as well.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ and the empowering of the Holy Spirit overcame their fears, and the taught the truth of the risen Messiah, Jesus Christ.

  • March 2, 2009 /  Uncategorized

    My congregation, Trinity RPC, has tried planting churches over the last seven years without much success.  We ran into difficulties, but one of the main ones was households where the wife or children ran the show.  The husband/father might be in favor of a more Biblical type of church, like ours, but the wife would whine and moan (I am not exaggerating) about how the small congregation would not meet the needs of their children.  We would need to have extensive ministries that were children-specific within their exact age groups to qualify with the wife, and/or the kids.

    That is an example of a very American family that wants church on its own terms, rather than on Biblical terms.  Americans are culturally individualistic, rather than Biblical in their beliefs.  The Bible stresses that families are the predominant form of social order, and secondarily, the Church.  Wives and children should submit to their husbands/fathers, and if the congregation he deems best isn’t the most fun, well, learn to love it.

    Church is not about fun, it is about faith in Christ.  It is about learning to please God, and please your neighbor in all ways consistent with the Bible.  Anyone who chases their own personal pleasure implicitly or explicitly runs away from Christ, who asks us to take up our cross (regard ourselves as dead to the pleasures of the world) and follow him.

    Congregations are built through sacrifice.  Someone has to be the first family there, with children happy to worship God, even if they have no peers as friends.  Is that less pleasant than a large well-established church?  Of course, but I have seen men abdicate their responsibilities to the truth in order to make their wives and children happy at a larger church where the gospel is not faithfully taught, but there are extras that tantalize the wife and children.

    Men, if you do not rule your wives, if you do not rule your children, your families are useless to the kingdom of God.  You must put first things first in your lives, and put the church of God first, where the word is ministered faithfully, even if that church is small.  Look to the teaching of the Word first.  It is that that changes lives, not optional youth programs.

    Husbands and Fathers, choose what is best for your wives and children.  Seek the pure teaching of the Word of God, and do not settle for something that pacifies their desires for religion that is fun.

  • December 22, 2008 /  Uncategorized

    1. The New Testament has no concept of annual and monthly ceremonial cycles. In the Old Testament there are such cycles, which were suitable for teaching the Church in its infancy. The one permanent cycle was the weekly Sabbath. Only the Sabbath is based only on God’s say-so. Though God decreed them, years, months, and days are based on the intermediaries of the sun and the moon. Optimistically, the church year, with its seasons and special days, is an attempt to re-create the old covenant system with its annual cycles. Men like that because they like ceremonialism, and dislike the simplicity of the Sabbath. Pessimistically, it is a means of importing small amounts of paganism into Christianity, through dependence on festival days relating to the change of seasons.

    If any dates have a right to recognition, it is the God-appointed dates of the Old Testament. But Paul argues to the Galatians, who were in danger of going back to the old Jewish ceremonies, “But then, indeed, not knowing God, you served as slaves to those not by nature being gods. But now, knowing God, but rather are known by God, how do you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements to which you desire to slave anew? You observe days and months and times and years. I fear for you, lest somehow I have labored among you in vain.” (Galatians 4:8-11, MKJV) It is possible in Galatians 4 that Paul is speaking of Easter, which dates back to the early second century, at latest. Regardless of whether it was Easter, or a Jewish day, the argument remains the same – man-appointed days are not allowed.

    Here are the two passages that are allegedly contrary to my position: “One indeed esteems a day above another day; and another esteems every day alike. Let each one be fully assured in his own mind. He who regards the day regards it to the Lord; and he not regarding the day, does not regard it to the Lord. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, does not eat to the Lord, and gives God thanks.” (Romans 14:5-6) and “Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbaths. For these are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)

    The Colossian Church had problems with Judaizers who wished them to keep the Old Testament ceremonial law, together with its calendar. Paul tells them not to go back to the old forms, and not to let anyone judge them because they do not keep the Old Testament ceremonial law.

    The Roman Church had a situation where the Jewish Christians observed Jewish holy days privately. For the sake of peace in the church, Paul admonished the church not to let the Jews to force their practice on the Gentiles, or vice-versa. After the Temple was destroyed, the Jewish Christians very naturally abandoned even private worship practices. It was clear that God no longer wanted them, because the place that was the geographic core of that worship had been destroyed. Prior to that point in time, Jewish Christians occasionally used the old Jewish ordinances in ways that were understood not to be morally binding in a general way on Gentiles or Jews. In Acts 21, even Paul occasionally did this, but he made sure that it was not a morally binding practice for all Christians to follow.

    Christians do not have a vivid ceremonial system similar to that of the Old Testament. We have something better. We worship God in Spirit and in truth; we do it through the one mediator, Jesus Christ. We have no need of shadows; the reality is here. The Old Covenant ceremonial system has been replaced by that of the New Covenant, where we worship God in greater simplicity, with the preaching of the word receiving greater prominence than before.

    But if the Old Testament ceremonies and days are not acceptable, how much more the days made-up by men? The Bible is quite plain when it comes to the worship of God. God does not want anything that he has not commanded for religious worship. It was true of the Israelites when they created images of Jehovah, added special days, and worshipped Jehovah by sacrifice apart from the Temple, after the Temple was built. God had strict rules on worship – there was only one way to do it.

    Though in the New Covenant, we worship God in greater simplicity, the strictures remain. There has been no revocation of what is a moral law, even if the ceremonial aspects of it have been fulfilled in Christ. God gave us the Sabbath as a perpetually binding ordinance. It was in effect before the Law was given, as well as afterward. It leads Christians to corporate worship, and rest. It is an in-your-face reminder that God owns our time, by calling us to what will bless us, once a week.

    Christmas and Easter take away from the Sabbath; people go to church twice a year, and think they are done with the public worship of God. By eliminating services on Christmas, and preaching about the Sabbath on Easter, consciences might be pricked as to their true duty to God. Further, Christians might gain a better perspective on how special the Sabbath is. This will only happen when they lose the competitive days of Christmas and Easter, which, due to their prominence, and the energy people expend on them, have a greater place in the hearts of Christians than the Sabbath does.

    Christmas achieves what the Sabbath can’t; everything is closed. To suggest that something similar be done each Sabbath will be disregarded at best.

    2. Christmas and Easter have pagan accretions; Christmas has a possible pagan origin. The beginnings of Christmas, like Easter, are lost in obscurity. Unlike Easter, it begins very late, in the third or fourth centuries. It is possible that Christians at the time proposed a day to celebrate the incarnation for one of two reasons: a) to fight Arianism, by stressing the humanity of Christ, or b) to compete with an existing Pagan ceremony to Mithra, together with the whole Saturnalia celebration. The conclusion held by many of the Reformers was that of the latter. They believed the Church syncretized with paganism at that point to aid the conversion of Romans to Christianity.

    Whether the syncretism occurred at that point or not is uncertain, but it is by no means uncertain with respect to the seventh through twelfth centuries. Saints’ days and days like Christmas and Easter were set very consciously in place of pagan festivals as the conversion of Europe went on. The old practices were retained, but the God they worshipped had a different name. This affected church worship, as well as private superstitions in the home. Thus we get the Christmas Tree, Yule log, wreaths, etc.

    It is not proper for Christians to be superstitious. It gives credence to the idea that there are powers out of the control of God; things that must be appeased apart from him. Christians, like Israel, are to purge their lives of religiously significant things that do not proceed from scripture. The Israelites were to destroy all traces of the Canaanite religion, lest it would prove to be a snare to them.

    On the mission field, it can be relatively easy to get people to confess Christ. It is often harder to get new converts to get rid of their idol shelf. Getting rid of the idol shelf is more than a renunciation of the false Gods (which are nothing) that lay behind it. It means rejecting the religion of your culture. The new believer is not rejecting his culture in entire when he gets rid of he idol shelf, but it is perceived as such by outsiders.

    Christmas and Easter are like that, with all of the pagan accretions, as well as genuine Roman Catholic religious significance. They are religiously significant days that do not spring from a command of Scripture. It is difficult to get Christians to lay them aside, because of long established cultural practice. They are snares that goad Christians back to high church liturgy, together with a multitude of other sins associated with the seasons.

    3. It is difficult not to impute some sort of religious intent to Christmas, even in private observance. Why do anything special on the day, consistently, year after year? There is no natural reason for it. Businesses and governments take the day off to a degree unequaled during the year. The giving of gifts, the decorations, etc., identify people as a group who say the day is special. The Roman Catholic Church can ably explain to us all why it is so, better than anyone else. No other explanation gets close. Because of the identification with Catholicism, and the non-necessity of observance, the day must be shunned by Christians.

    The Christian life is more thoroughgoing than mere church observance. Some will say it doesn’t matter what you do at home regarding Christmas, just so long as you do not engage the church in worship then. What we do at home is crucial. We spend most of our time there. Family worship goes on seven days a week, compared to one for the church. Are families allowed differences in worship compared to the church?
    No. We aren’t allowed to take symbols of another religion into our houses. It is disloyal to consciously identify with foreign gods.

    4. Christmas (and Easter) favors empty ritual. Being part of the broader church calendar, it should not surprise anyone that the high liturgical “churches” tend to get the most mileage out of the days. To them, they are a native part (the highest parts) of a complex ceremonial system. To Protestantism, they are pasted-on. The Protestant emphasis on Sola Scriptura is at odds with days that have no warrant for existence, much less public or private celebration.

    It is therefore no surprise that these days introduce practices into Protestant churches that would not be countenanced on other days of the year. Churches that sing psalms may toss in a hymn or two. Churches that would never consider liturgical drama might have it then. The same is true of special music, choirs, etc. There is a pressure toward pageantry.

    Having been a Roman Catholic, I cannot overemphasize that the smells, bells, candles, lights, clothing, decorations, and themes of high church liturgy have real power. The sensuality, even when done in a classy way, has a deadening effect on the verbal information content of the whole affair. The minister or priest may teach what he wants, but the people are attracted to the ritual of it. These are the things that modern Protestants get a taste of at Christmas and Easter. This taste leads some into abandoning the simple gospel for high church liturgy. It is better to eliminate the elements of high church liturgy, that those who are prone to that sin do not stumble.

    It is true that the subtexts of Christmas and Easter, the Incarnation and Resurrection, teach doctrines that are of surpassing importance to Christianity. In my opinion, the other factors within the season deaden what good these doctrines can do. Also, by walling the doctrines off into a segment of the year, it limits their usefulness year round. The resurrection should be taught every Sabbath; it is that central to the Gospel. The more liturgical the church, the less freedom there is for the gospel to escape the shackles of the church year. It is difficult to preach things other than what the church year encourages.

    But though important, the incarnation of Jesus is overemphasized. The chaining of the preaching of these doctrines to a time of year contributes to a sense of ordinariness of them. Those that only attend twice a year have heard it all before. Many think of Jesus as an infant, rather than as Savior, King, or Judge. The ideas that might jolt them out of their complacency do not fit well with the themes commonly given with Christmas and Easter. Clever men can wedge the jolt in, but that is rare in churches that are given to ritual.

    5. There are many things that the Bible leaves silent that inquiring minds would like to know. Among those things is a lack of knowledge of the date of the birth of Christ. It takes a lot of chutzpah to pluck a day out of the year and tell God we’re going to celebrate the incarnation of His son then. What right do we have? What command? Why should God be happy with this behavior? From the scriptures, we know he is most pleased when we follow his simple commands. Creativity in things religious is at its best dimly appreciated by God, and more often condemned.

    If God had wanted us to celebrate the birth of Christ on a given day, we might have expected a number of things to be revealed to us: a) the date of the birth, and b) a command to celebrate it. We have neither.

    As an aside, there are improper interpretations of scripture that have latched onto Christmas as result. The most common one in my culture is the idea that the Magi were there at the birth of Christ. They showed up when Jesus was two. There are other misinterpretations and fables that are more widely held in other cultures.

    6. Not that all Christians go in for Santa, but some do. The main problem here is lying to the kids. When they discover that Santa, whom they could not see, is a lie, they will be tempted to wonder if God is a lie. After all, they have it on the same authority.

    A related problem is greed. The crush of gifts at that time of year creates perverse incentives for children that must actively be fought. Children that are prone to greediness will find that sin encouraged. Birthdays have a similar problem to be managed.

    7. The time could be put to better use than the myriad tasks that go into a Christmas celebration. Go to the library, or onto the Internet, and scan newspapers written in December. There are always articles on the stress from busyness, depression, burnout, etc. due to Christmas. Idols make demands that wear us out. This is not a proof of the illegitimacy of Christmas, but when things of lesser value bear bad fruit, we must test them for legitimacy.

    I am not trying to tell Christians what to do with their free time. That is a matter of Christian Liberty. Nonetheless, our consciences need to be pricked to consider issues of relative value. In my opinion, there are better things to do; personally, I like doing my taxes on 12/25! It is my way of making common what others falsely regard as sacred.


    1. It is not legitimate for Christians to make up their own days with religious significance.
    2. Christmas involves Christian in syncretism with Roman Catholicism and paganism.
    3. Christmas is a religious day with Roman Catholic content.
    4. Christmas and Easter promote high church liturgy at the expense of the gospel.
    5. Christmas is without support in the details of Scripture.
    6. Santa Claus encourages people to lie to their children.
    7. The time could be put to better use.

    For these reasons, all Christians should dissent from Christmas and Easter, and other holy days, and their associated practices.


    Now, for those that want more, I offer you a piece by my friend Brian Schwertley.  It is more detailed, with more references, and more technical terminology.