• 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.

    Summary

    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.

  • December 8, 2008 /  Uncategorized

    From the Larger Catechism:

    Q. 160. What is required of those that hear the Word preached?

    A. It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence,[1034] preparation,[1035] and prayer;[1036] examine what they hear by the Scriptures;[1037] receive the truth with faith,[1038] love,[1039] meekness,[1040] and readiness of mind,[1041] as the Word of God;[1042] meditate,[1043] and confer of it;[1044] hide it in their hearts,[1045] and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives[1046].

    Discussion

    In order to benefit from the preaching of the word of God, one must first come to church and hear it preached.  Nothing else will substitute.  Sermonaudio.com is nice, and hearing preachers on the radio can be edifying, but hearing the word preached along with the rest of the saints is more convicting, because godly conversation after the sermon, can drive the points of the message deeper into our hearts.  Following Christ is not a purely individualistic thing, we need the aid of our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as our elders, to guide us in our walk with God.

    Now, merely coming and warming the chair or pew is not enough.  Our minds must be fully engaged as we consider what is preached; what we are hearing should tell us that these are life and death issues — not as some popular so-called ministers who merely tell you how to improve your life.  From such who will not tell you that we must strive to seek Heaven (even as faith is a gift from God), and that Hell awaits for those who are faithless, careless or malicious, we must flee, so that we can hear the Gospel of grace preached.

    Choose as your minister one who makes the truths of the Bible plain.  Don’t listen to a storyteller, one who does less than explain the truths of the Bible.  They are a waste of time, no matter how large their congreagtion is.  Storytellers, and those who preach self-help sermons, will attract large audiences.  Those who preach repentence from sin and explain the Bible plainly will not attract large crowds (unless there is a revival) because there is little to appeal to those who are frivolous.

    Now, some things are obvious about how to listen to a sermon.  First, sit there.  Don’t let anything distract you.  Come well-rested; you will learn more. Clear your mind of the problems/joys of the week, and focus on the sermon itself.  Prepare on Saturday to hear the word on Sunday.  Pray that your mind would be enlightened by the Holy Spirit; ask that God would endow the minister with power from the Holy Spirit to make dark things clear.  Ask the Lord that you would be willing to obey what is faithfully preached.

    But remember, preachers are men, they make mistakes, both conscious and unconscious.  Some ministers are rogues, even some very popular ones.  This should not be a surprise, as even the Apostle Paul said (via Luke):

    Acts 20:28-30 (New King James Version)

    28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God[a] which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.

    Listen to the minister closely, and compare his teaching to the Bible.  Some ministers don’t teach that the Bible is infallible and inerrant.  Others are content to tell stories, teach self-improvement, and entertain.  Flee ministers that do not plainly explain to you what the Bible means.  This is all-important.

    Now, to the minister who preaches God’s word truly, we must still compare what he says against the Scripture, but we must receive the truth of God with meekness, realizing that the minister stands in the place of Christ.  As the preaching is faithful, it is Christ speaking to us, and we must heed it.

    After that, we must meditate on the Word, discuss it with other saints, and hide it in our hearts that we might remember it in a time of need.  Finally, we must doers of the word and not merely hearers.  We must bear the fruit that our Father in Heaven wants us to bear, showing that we are true believers.

    Are we equal to this?  No, but we trust that the Lord will enable us to follow his commands here, as he gives us grace through he Holy Spirit.

    May this be so for all of his people.

  • November 30, 2008 /  Uncategorized

    During times of national, ecclesiastical, familial and personal stress, it is good for believers, and even better for nonbelievers to sit down and ask, “Is God trying to send me/us a message?”  Now, not all troublesome occurrences are a result of God judging over sins committed.  The lives of Job and Jesus are examples of suffering where the trouble meted out was not due to any personal sin committed.

    But some suffering is due to judgment over sins committed.  We know more about David than every other character in the Bible, excluding Jesus.  Many sins during David’s time received rapid judgement, whether it was Uzzah, the census David commissioned without requiring the payment of the half shekel, his infidelity with Bathseba, etc.

    As a result, David in writing many of the Psalms asks the Lord to withhold judgment over sins committed, and remove his wrath from him.  He also asks the Lord to search him for sin.  David is in some ways closer to God’s heart than most believers today, though with many failings.  And, if we are honest with ourselves, our failings/sins are large as well.  If the Apostle Paul could call himself the chief of sinners, how much more is it true of you and me?

    So, back to the present age.  I am not telling you that the current economic troubles are a judgment from God.  I am saying that we have to consider that as a possibility both individually and corporately.

    Now, it would be too easy for me to turn this into a piece on the sins of the United States as a nation.  I could start with all of the sins stemming from lust, lying, stealing, murder, disrespect for parents/authority, covetousness, blasphemy, sabbath-breaking, idolatry, etc.  I’m not going there yet.  Why?

    1 Peter 4:17 (New King James Version)

    For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?

    Because of our sinful natures, Christians tend to point the finger out, and do not focus on the sins of the church.  We need to focus on ourselves; God is more concerned about the condition of his saints than the condition of unbelievers.

    So, what are the sins of the church at present, and are they big enough for God to be judging us?  The sins of the church are similar to those of the world:

    • Adultery; divorce
    • Laziness to our employers
    • Lying when an honest answer would be tough
    • Covetousness
    • Sabbath-breaking
    • Worshiping God in ways He has not commanded.
    • Putting anything else ahead of God.
    • Disrespect for parents/authority
    • Lack of zeal for God
    • And more…

    If we are honest, all of us Christians can see some failure here.  Much as the unbelievers may be being judged in the current crisis, that Christians are being judged is more clear.  Consider the sermons that you hear.  Do they convict you of sin, or are they on the order of “here is how to improve your life.”  Teaching you how to improve your life by itself is a false gospel.  Preachers telling you to be good is a false gospel.  The true gospel tells us to trust Christ only, and put no confidence in ourselves.

    The Lord is knocking on the door of the Church, and telling us that He has a beef with His saints.  Let us let him in and talk with us, and then let us repent.  The problems of our nation will not disappear before the problems in the Church.

    May the Lord have mercy on His church in this difficult time.

  • November 17, 2008 /  Uncategorized

    Welcome.  My name is David Merkel, and you can read my professional bio over at my site dedicated to finance and economics — The Aleph Blog.  The contact information is the same as well.  This initial post is intended to tell you about the rest of me, and what my intent for The Tav Blog is.

    At age 16, I became a Christian after attending a Bible Study held by students of my HIgh School (Brookfield Central in Brookfield, Wisconsin).  I finally understood what the Bible said about salvation by reading John 3 and Ephesians 2.  What I wanted to learn during years of listening to Catholic Priests preach I learned in about two hours.  When I turned 18, I began going to Elmbrook Church.

    After High School I went to The Johns Hopkins University, and after three years, received my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Political Economy (Economics).  During my last year there, I attended Faith Christian Fellowship.  I went to the University of California at Davis To try to get my Doctorate in Applied Economics, and in the process joined what was going to become Grace Valley Christian Center (warning, do not join).  I met my wife-to-be, Ruth, there and after my dissertation committee fell apart, and I realized that my dissertation would fail unless I fudged it like many graduate students did, I punted and became an actuary.

    After leaving GVCC, my wife and I joined Covenant Reformed Church of Sacramento.  Good congregation and pastor, and I learned a lot in a short amount of time.  We would have loved to stay there, but the company that I was working for, Pacific Standard Life, was in the process of failing.  We moved to the Philadelphia area so that I could pursue other actuarial work at AIG.  We joined Broomall Reformed Presbyterian Church.  I learned a lot about faith in Christ while we lived there, and my family grew from two to seven children during that time.

    Finally, when my opportunities at Provident Mutual began to run out, I took my biggest jump to go work for the St. Paul in Baltimore.  We joined Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church in Beltsville, Maryland.  During the intervening years, we adopted our last child, Grace.  The congregation also elected me to be an elder, and so now I serve the church in many ways:

    • At our local congregation.
    • As an elder, helping oversee the work of the Allegheny Presbytery of the RPCNA.
    • Working on the Finance Committee and Trustees of the the RPCNA.

    That’s my wonderful life so far.  A wonderful Savior, Jesus Christ.  A wonderful wife, who has homeschooled our children.  Eight children altogether, with two in college.  Great pastors who have taught me.  I am very happy.

    So What of The Tav Blog?

    The Tav Blog fills a void in my thinking.  The Aleph Blog is for business, and so it is apolitical, and mostly mute on many religious and cultural issues.  This is my place to express the things that are near my heart, on the topics of religion, culture, and less importantly, politics.

    I don’t expect many of my readers to agree with me as I write at The Tav Blog, and certainly not agree with everything… I often find myself in the minority on a number of things, but I do my best to serve my Savior.  So, if you will, join me in my musings at The Tav Blog.

    • If you are not a Christian, I will encourage you to become one.
    • If you are a Christian, I will encourage you to become Reformed/Presbyterian, and to consider the cultural decay that infects much of our churches.
    • If you are Reformed, I will encourage you to consider the RPCNA, and to consider the cultural decay that infects much of our churches.
    • Beyond that, I will try to put things in their proper places.  The economy may fall apart, but if we have peace with God, food, clothing, and shelter, we have nothing to complain about.

    Why is this called The Tav Blog?  Well, as Aleph is the first letter in the Hebrew Alphabet, Tav is the last.  This is for my residual musings, which are in the long run more important than what I write about economics and finance.  After all, I am writing about eternity here.

    With that, if you can bear with me, join me as I explore the world that our great God created in 144 hours, somewhat over 6000 years ago.  May God bless you richly.