Wednesday, April 26, 2006


We are now webcasting some of the Bible studies here at Providence. It's through SermonAudio.com, and the first one will be tonight at 7:15.

To view the webcast, go to www.sermonaudio.com. There is a “Live Webcast” button at the top- click it, and scroll down until you see “Providence Reformed Church”. Click the button to the right that says “view media” or whatever. Then you pick one of their servers (whichever one is green) and then if you want video and audio, or just audio. If you have just a dial-up connection, you probably just want audio. Otherwise pick both.

That should be it. Windows Media Player should launch and you should see the webcast.

If you like, you can either email me questions, or you can log into MSN Messenger and add me as a contact (mattpowell74@hotmail.com). Then send me a note, and I’ll open a conversation with all the remote people so you can ask questions by IM.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

More Sermons posted 

I've posted my two Easter sermons. The first one is from Ezekiel 37, and shows how Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones was a prophecy of the coming of the gospel, and how the gospel therefore promises us a resurrection, a spiritual resurrection. The second is from Colossians 3, and shows the link between resurrection and forgiveness.

I've also posted my first sermon from the book of John. It's called "The Beginning of the Light" and is taken from the beautiful prologue to the book of John.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Economics and Christianity 

Augustine sparked my interest with a post on medicine and the possibility of considering some kind of universal health care. Augustine, as you probably know, is a Christian, and one of my own denomination. And therefore I found his statement particularly interesting-

Do I believe that socialized medicine is an evil because I have biblical basis for such a thought or because my culture has inculcated this thinking in me?

This is a necessary kind of thinking for us to engage in. We often confuse our Biblically based beliefs with our culturally-inculcated beliefs. We should not hold onto beliefs merely because we've been told to, when such beliefs are contrary to Scripture.

But the conservative impulse in me (I'm not a liberal, classical or otherwise) tells me that we ought to be slow to throw out all the old beliefs and reexamine everything constantly. None of us individually have the wisdom that our collective forefathers had. And there were reasons for many of those beliefs. Proverbs 22:28 tells us not to move the "ancient landmark" which our fathers have set. If we tear down a barrier, we ought first to know why that barrier was there. And in particular, I believe there are many good and fine Biblical principles on which the system of capitalism is based.

Augustine says this, in a follow-up post:

We need to examine the issue more fully. I do not believe there is a God ordained economic model. I think there are God ordained economic precepts which fit within mercantilist, capitalistic, socialist, or blended economies. Are we assuming that a capitalist economy is the economic model of God? If so, would equally as Reformed people disagree in Germany, Scotland, and the Netherlands?

Again, we do need to examine our assumptions. But is it actually the case that God has said nothing about an economic system? And if He has said anything, is there enough there to extrapolate a system?

1. The Eighth commandment: Thou shalt not steal. Exodus 20:15
Private property is recognized in the Bible as a grant from God. We have what we have because God has given it to us to use, and this applies to our neighbor as well. A good deal of the generally moral teaching of Jesus, John the Baptist and of the Apostles goes to applying this very principle in practice. Does it change the issue essentially when it is the government stealing my property instead of my neighbor? I don't think so, and I'm guessing Augustine wouldn't think so if it was his property. Was Ahab's sin against Naboth only murder? If he had the right to simply take Naboth's vineyard, why the elaborate plot? It's ironic that the average city council in America today is more tyrannical than one of the worst kings in the Bible- today, Ahab would just declare a public use for Naboth's vineyard, a desire to open it up to more people, or perhaps call it a federal wetlands.

And see how Paul applies the eighth commandment:
2. Ephesians 4:28- Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.
Here we have the Biblically-based antithesis to stealing, as well as the solution to the very dilemma which Augustine proposed. First of all, the opposite of stealing in Paul's "old-man / new-man" dichotomy is working for a living. The thief is the ultimate parasite. We like to glamorize him in our movies, ever since Robin Hood really, but the thief is a worm. He never produces anything, just takes from others. He is a net drain on the community. The redistributionist politician is no different. He may tell himself he's a good guy because he steals from the rich and gives to the poor, but as a character in "Heist" says, "Who'd want to steal from the poor?" Private property does not become public property just because it's a rich person who owns it. And therefore, if there are those in the community who have need, then the solution to that is for us to work hard so that we have extra to give to others.

They had welfare in the Roman Empire at the time Paul was writing. That welfare pretty much destroyed the Roman Empire, since it eventually took away everyone's incentive to work. Nobody cared when the barbarians came. The state owned everything, which meant nobody did. So nobody cared when the barbarians came and stole what essentially belonged to nobody. Oh, they cared when they sacked Rome and burned their temples and slaughtered them. But they didn't care when it mattered, when the barbarians were still at the borders. Today, we see the barbarians at our borders, and once again, everyone's so used to stealing from everyone else that few care enough to do anything about it.

Welfare of any kind makes a man a parasite. It makes him a government-sanctioned thief. It teaches him the lesson that prosperity comes from your connections, who you know, how to work the system to get everything you can. When enough people learn that lesson, the society collapses. And unfortunately, all too many of us have been so bought. I have government-subsidized student loans. Lots of people get the big child tax credits which end up giving them more than they paid in taxes. I am sure I would take them too if I were eligible this year, because I would convince myself that I would not fall prey to the mindset of a parasite.

But the Bible speaks otherwise. The solution to poverty is hard work, both by the individual and by the community of God. We cannot solve everyone's poverty. But we can do a lot for those in the household of God. On the other hand, "if any would not work, neither should he eat." 2 Thess. 3.10.

3: The Prince of Ezekiel
One of the consistent problems listed throughout the book of Ezekiel is the oppression of the poor by the rulers of Israel. Through dishonesty, corruption and force they stole constantly from the poor. After the destruction of Jerusalem, which came in part because of this corruption, a new national order is envisioned by the prophet. I want to focus on the role of the prince in this new order. We see the ordinances for the prince scattered through Ezekiel 45-48.

First, his land allotment was divided. He had a portion on one side of the temple district and on the other. He was no longer the god of the land, treating the temple as his own private chapel, with his wall against God's wall and his threshhold against God's threshhold. He was separated and divided, so that he could not oppress the people.

Further, he was prohibited from acquiring any more land than what God had given him. And he was also foridden to give any of his land to any of his subjects. This is a common way that ancient kings would build their power and cement their hold on power, at the same time punishing their opponents, by stealing land from his enemies (either overtly or covertly by using the state coffers to buy it for himself) and then giving it to his friends. In an agrarian economy, without land you were nothing. Without land you were a vagabond.

Today we live in a capital-based economy, where a man can be very wealthy and established without owning a scrap of land. And if you substitute land with capital, a socialist, mercantilist or blended economy does precisely what the prince is forbidden to do, and it is the way they oppress the people and keep themselves in power.

In our economy, it's done mostly through the tax code. The tax code is used to punish the political enemies of the party (the rich), in order to give handouts to those who will vote for the party. Both parties do it, though the Democrats are far more entrenched in this practice than the Republicans. In a mercantilist economy, this practice happens through protectionism and favored trade practices, giving valuable monopolies and guild rights to the political friends of the monarch or ruling power. And in a socialist economy, it happens by the wholesale theft of all of the land (read: capital) of the nation for the use of the ruling party, which party uses that wealth primarily to keep itself in power.

Only the capitalist system comes close to approximating what God has commanded here- that the prince be divided and limited, and that he be forbidden from using state power to manipulate the economic system for his own benefit. That everyone's own property be guaranteed secure.

Once we accept the idea that our property is given to us by Caesar for him to take away and give whenever he deems fit, then we have become subjects of a totalitarian state, in our minds. We have become slaves in our minds. And lest all this economic stuff seem unimportant to you- remember, Jerusalem was destroyed partly because of wicked economic practices.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Book review- What's the Deal with Wicca? 

This is a Mind And Media review, by Andrea Powell.

“The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn”

--Martin Luther

As a youth, I delighted in stories of mockery. My husband, Matt, tells a story of talking with a young woman about her witchcraft when he was a young man. She threatened to cast a curse on him. And with a cocky toss of his head, he dared her to. Matt tells this much better than I can, but I remembered it appealed to me to mock the devil and his fools. I’m afraid my first response to Wicca is to mock it. While mocking the devil, as Martin Luther encouraged, may be effective with the devil, to truly engage people in sincere discussion about the gospel, mockery will only undermine my desire to speak to those deceived by the philosophy of Wicca. I picked up Steve Russo’s book, What’s the Deal With Wicca: A Deeper Look Into the Dark Side of Today’s Witchcraft, expecting to be irritated by the whole discussion.

I was very impressed with Russo’s handling of Wicca. He wrote the book for those “already involved in Wicca, at the curiosity stage, or wanting to help a friend…” (p.9). He wants to help “sort through the confusion…about this earth-centered religion…give you some real answers about spirituality and your desire to make sense out of life.” (p.9) He did his homework. He documents the book well, and gives plenty of quotes from the “experts” of the religion. His concern and care for the youth being seduced by Wicca is apparent and winsome.

The bulk of the book is Russo explaining Wicca, the appeal of it and its doctrines. I can see why it is such an attractive religion to teens. It is a very self-centered, dramatic religion, steeped in secrets and pursuit of power. When I was discussing some of this book with Matt, he made the observation that Wicca appeals so well to teens because it is a religion that draws heavily on the religions of human history’s infancy. You don’t see mature, successful, powerful people using Wicca. It may be somewhat popular with celebrities, but they are the exception that proves the rule.

I don’t remember my teen years fondly. I remember being characterized by a false sense of importance, arrogance in the midst of ignorance, and a very distasteful self-centeredness. I suspect this is why I find many teenagers I come in contact with, annoying. It is a painful reminder of my own distasteful past. Teens are Russo’s target audience, and he treats them with respect and love. I don’t think I could have been so gracious. I’m thankful God has raised up such a man.

Russo successfully cuts through the confusion inherent in such a personally designed religion to lay out the basics. He describes the underlying principle for all behavior in Wicca to basically mean “that witches have the total freedom to do whatever seems right to them, as long as they don’t harm themselves or anyone else.” (p.19) He points out their fatal flaw of worshiping the creature instead of the Creator, and contrasts effectively Christianity’s Creator/creation distinction.

I did find times where Russo and I parted ways. For instance, he says, “A lot of kids today feel like the Christian church isn’t relevant to their daily lives. One of the problems is that they’ve bought into a religious experience rather than establishing a personal relationship with God.” He never defines religious experience. If he means they bought into an emotional experience devoid of any anchor to truth, then I agree--that’s a bad religious experience. When I hear the word religion, I don’t think of a dirty word. I believe the Bible uses the word very positively and usefully (see James 1:27 for instance). My religious experience is in the context of the historic, biblical creeds and church structure God has given His people. My religion is not dependent on feelings and experiences. I have real experiences but they flow out of truth, they don’t determine it. I don’t believe it is possible to have a “relationship” with God outside of His doctrine, outside of His covenant promises. I felt like Russo's use of the term religion only catered to the audience's misconceptions about religion.

I really appreciate Steve Russo’s use of God’s authority in scripture. However, I believe he inadvertently undermines his goal. While, encouraging people to look scripture up for themselves, he uses different translations without noting the translation. I found the following passage especially troublesome:

“God has every right to exercise his judgment and his power, but he also has the right to be very patient with those who are the objects of his judgment and are fit only for destruction. He also has the right to pour out the riches of his glory upon those he prepared to be the objects of his mercy-even upon us, whom he selected.” Rom 9:22-23.

I don’t know what translation he used because he doesn’t indicate it. As you can see, by comparing his chosen translation with the KJV below, his translation obscures God’s willingness to show wrath. Did he choose the translation he did to soften God for people? Did he not like what God said about Himself?

“What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,” Rom 9:22-23 KJV

How can he establish God’s word as a high authority when God’s word changes from translation to translation? His target audience, young people already prone to reject God’s authority, would only find it confusing. I don’t want to get into a long discussion of the modern day church’s use of translations, but I do think one of the problems with it is demonstrated in Russo’s book.

I appreciated Russo’s attempt to use logic to show the weakness of Wicca. I certainly believe God determined the rules for logic and they should be a tool in every Christian’s arsenal, but unfortunately his logic breaks down pretty obviously in at least a couple of instances. I am not trained in logic, so if I can spot a logical fallacy, it must be an obvious misstep. On page 129 he attempts to defend the Christian Bible by appealing to miracles. “And if you examine all the other religious leaders in the world, you will find that only the Judeo-Christian leaders were supernaturally confirmed by genuine miracles that couldn’t possibly be some form of mental or emotional experience or some kind of trickery.” But every religion has their story. In fact God says in Deut. 13:1-3:
"1: If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,
2: And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;
3: Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul."
Clearly He allows others to use miracles to deceive. The test is to be doctrine. We test the truth of something by doctrinal truth.

I really loved Russo’s call for his readers to examine truthfully the biblical faith and Wicca. On page 135, he says, “Biblical faith is based on facts. God is not some vague All, or force, or some imaginary thought.” I believe this is the only legitimate way to respond to lies of the devil. Christians are people of the Word. We live and fight with the truth of Scripture. It’s the cults (like the Mormons’ “burning in the bosom”) that use vagaries and experientialism.

I found the first part of this book very helpful in getting the facts of Wicca straight, and I really liked Russo’s appeal to absolute truth. Later in the book, when he tries to establish the Bible’s authority, I found his use of logic weak in several areas. I do think it had some strong and valuable points, however. At the end of the book, we part ways when it comes to his use of soteriology. While I don’t think a discussion of predestination would be helpful in this context, I do think it has implications for how we witness to people. Ideally, I would like to see a call to repentance from self-love and rebellion against God, and a call to complete submission to one’s Creator. God’s sheep will hear His voice.

Friday, April 14, 2006

False Devils 

Andrew posts eloquently on the subject of false devils, which go right along with false gods. Just as a false god helps us avoid dealing with the true king of creation, so a false devil helps me avoid dealing with the real sin in my heart.

The Body of Christ 

I have serious issues with what is known as the Federal Vision in general. Lee has done a lot of very good work analyzing some aspects of this movement, and I'd heartily recommend his analysis. But there is one part of their critique of American religion which resonates quite deeply with me. I have heard it said that one of the aims of the proponents of the "Federal Vision" is to recapture a vibrant ecclesiology. And I see this as a crying need in Christianity today. Now, pursuing this end by focusing entirely on the objectivity of the covenant ends up looking a lot like positional salvation- I am saved because of where I am. I think of Jesus in Luke 13 saying that many will say to Jesus, We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets, and He will say to them, Depart from me, I don't know who you are. Just being present in church and participating in the sacraments, having the word taught in your presence is not going to be enough to gain entrance to the kingdom of heaven.

I state this as a criticism of the FV, but it just as much applies to most of the church today. Church to so many is just something I show up to, an event that I am at. Perhaps I have some friends or family there; perhaps I participate in certain events or programs. But all too few congregants or churches really see the church as the body, the people of God, the family of Christ.

Reading about salvation in Scripture, either Old or New Testament, one sees constantly and clearly that we are not saved as individuals, to have an individual relationship with God, with churches merely existing to provide some services to bolster that individual relationship. Yet this is the way it seems we commonly view our salvation. Instead, the consistent promise of salvation throughout Scripture, from beginning to end, is "I will be your God, and you will be My people, and I will dwell in your midst." That is, He saves us as individuals by ushering us out of our present associations and fellowships and into a new fellowship, the fellowship of the people of God. A holy nation and royal priesthood. I do not believe it is possible to conceive of salvation Biblically outside of the concept of fellowship, both vertically with God and horizontally with God's people.

As I preached through the subject of communion this became very clear to me. One thing in particular that stood out to me is that many of the traditional defenses of church discipline are drawn from passages that are talking about communion. The reason for church discipline in these passages (1 Corinthians 5, 1 Corinthians 11, for example) is the need to safeguard the fellowship that God has called us to. The table fellowship we are called to is perverted and polluted when we knowingly profane the table with unbelievers and hypocrites. And this is why we must practice church discipline. Yet so often church discipline, if it is practiced at all, is seen as an end of itself, and the Lord's Supper is used as a means of accomplishing church discipline. No wonder that so many, having practically abandoned the idea of fellowship in the body have also abandoned the practice of discipline.

The failure to propose a workable solution does not invalidate the recognition of a problem. The FV proponents have thrown the creeds out in an attempt to address the problem of a revivalist, individualistic ecclesiology in the church today. But in fact, the solution to the problem is in the historic practices and beliefs of the church. Our forefathers recognized all these same things themselves, and expressed these truths in the creeds. As is so often the case, we can address these problems by recapturing a fuller view of the theology that the church has always confessed, without the need for innovations which have already been rejected a thousand times.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Hi, anyone still there? I've been gone at Classis in Wyoming, and then I've been home without my family for the last week. Things have been kind of weird around here. But I got my last two sermons up. They finish the series on communion.

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