Thursday, February 25, 2010

What Is a Puritan?

Someone has asked me what is a Puritan due to the name of my blog. It is a good question. There is a large negligence of understanding this particular people group. Many a person believes that the Puritans in the US were wild men, fierce and freaky, religious fanatics and social extremists. It shakes me to think that this country at its very foundation owes a tremendous debt to these brave men and women whose shoulders we continue to stand on, though reluctantly, today. Being a blog, I cannot give an exhaustive look at the Puritan movement. However, I would like to give a quick historical overview and then look at the question, “Is this group still important to Evangelicals, today?”

The group first made an appearance in the mid1500's during the time of Queen Elizabeth I. The term, Puritan” was used in a derogatory fashion of this group's critics. The desire of this particular group was to “purify” or reform the Church of England, hence the name Puritan. They saw the Church of England as not moving far enough away from Roman Catholicism in the current reforms. When James I came to the throne, the Puritans asked him to take up some of the reforms they desired. Sadly, James rejected all but one of them. In the 1600's, we see Puritans splintering between separatists and those desiring to work within. The separatists, we know them as Pilgrims, left going to the Netherlands and then risking everything for religious freedom, head to the New Wold.

England had a civil war that brought Puritans into political power, sadly killing the king. The Puritans pushed trying to change and lost much of the goodwill that they had. During the Restoration of the monarchy, Puritans were under heavy prosecution and many left heading west, starting up the Massachusetts Bay Company. The Puritan desire for education, work, and individual responsibility continues to live on today. J. I. Packer writes, “the conventional image of the Puritans has been radically revamped....a host of recent researchers, informed folk now acknowledge that the typical Puritans...sober, conscientious, and cultured citizens: persons of principle, devoted, determined, and disciplined, excelling in the domestic virtues.”

What about Puritanism today? Can we learn anything from these people? One author suggests that we can learn from these great brothers and sisters in the faith is maturity, “a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity.” One would be hard pressed to think that we Evangelicals could convince ourselves that we have obtain such maturity. One does not have to look to far to see that we read less and less of Scripture, more and more fiction if we read at all. We rather jump from church to church than to build roots and do the tough work of living out our faith together. We are essentially the axiom “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

If we took a deeper look at this group, we would see that they withstood much, suffered many setbacks from being kicked out of England through the 1662 Act of Uniformity to fighting the elements of the pioneering terrain of Massachusetts at that time. They were unable to bring the needed corrections to the Church of England as they desired. They were unable to keep up the “city on the hill” in New England. Yet through these challenges, they built up on character, patience, hope, and faith. George Whitefield writes,

“Ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross; the Spirit of Christ and of glory then rests upon them. It was this, no doubt, that made the Puritans...such burning lights and shining lights. When cast out by the black Bartholomew-act and driven form their respective charges to preach in barns and fields, in the highways and hedges, they in an especial manner wrote and preached as men having authority. Through dead, by their writings they yet speak; a peculiar unction attends them to this very hour....”

One such book, an allegory, John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. In my next post, I will look closely at what J.I. Packer sights as six lessons we can learn from these great people. These lessons are bedrock to the name of this blog.

What do you think we can derive from these giants of the faith?

PuritanD

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Six Days of Creation: Are they God's workdays or 24hr. Days Part 2

Earlier, I shared what seemed to me a novel theory on the six days of creation being what one commentator called, “God's Workday.” The theory argues that these six days are analogous to man's days. The analogous theory's argument rests primarily on the interpretation of the seventh day.

Today, I would like to look at the traditional understanding, six 24hr. days of creation. There is strong evidence from Scripture that would demonstrate that the most natural understanding of “day” in Genesis chapter one would be a 24hr period of time. The line of argument is not difficult to follow and the simplicity would seem to point to an overall acceptance of the position by all Christians.

The line of thought for the six 24hr. days is as follows:

  1. The Hebrew word for “day” throughout Scripture when used with numbers always reflects a 24hr. day.
  2. The Hebrew word for “day” throughout Scripture when used with the terms “evening” and “morning” refers to a literal day. 
  3. Exodus 20:11 – The Lord is explaining why the Israelites are to keep the Sabbath. The reason – “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.” It is hard to imagine that those listening to the Lord would be thinking, “Wow, these days must have had years separating these days.” Or, “Yeah, these days couldn't be literal, they have to be analogous, because that makes the most sense.” 
  4. Exodus 31:17 – In a different context, the reasoning behind the Sabbath is given as, “that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”
  5.  7th Day – The lack of the phrase, “evening and morning” does not need to be understood as being a day without end. It may be explained that the lack of the phrase is to indicate that the Lord has never stop resting from His creative actions, not that the day did not end.

A general rule regarding the exegesis of a text is that the most natural reading/understanding should be preferred. An appropriate question is how did the Israelites understand the words found in both Exodus references. The Lord and Moses had an opportunity to help the listeners to understand what was meant when God stated days in both passages, if these references are not to be taken literally.

There has been a considerable lack of explanation regarding the two Exodus references when commentators or apologists defer to another theory regarding the days of creation. For example, the commentator that argued for the analogous position did not explain their position in light of the texts mentioned above. How does one who does not interpret Genesis creation literally, interpret the above passages? One is hard press to prove that the Israelites understanding would be anything but literal when reading Exodus chapter 20 and 31.

One of the issues facing the analogous position is the sense that God could not have created the heavens and the earth is six literal days. Why is there such a need to “extend” time in order that the creation can happen? Why do we as Christians have very little problem interpreting literally within the confines of genre everything but Genesis chapter 1? As one author pointed out, “Instead they (scientists) say, “Our science is based on universally accepted assumptions, and yet our findings disagree with the Creator’s account of what He did. His account must be incorrect.” And, we Christians seem eager to believe the “scientists” over the Creator. Your thoughts?

PuritanD

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Evangelicals and Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season. Here in Auburn, we have an ecumenical Lenten breakfast each Friday of Lent with one of the area pastors giving a brief devotion generally on the Passion of Christ. What fascinates me though is the struggle many evangelicals have with the idea of Lent. In this article I would like to look at the following questions: What is Lent; Should Evangelicals commit to such a practice; What does this look like?

What is Lent? Historically, the idea behind Lent goes as far back as Irenaus of Lyons. He wrote of such a season in the earliest days of the church, but it lasted only two or three days. If one was to investigate Polycarp and the Quartodeciman Controversy, there seems to be a hint of evidence that fasting was common the day before celebrating Easter. Behind Lent, was the idea of self-sacrifice (i.e. fasting), to bring about self-examination to prepare one's heart for the great celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord. The 40-day Lenten season of fasting does not seem to show up until the Council of Nicea in 325AD, which seemed to be primarily for new believers to be ready for baptism.

Why the 40 days? One does not have to search to far to see the importance of this number in the Bible. Moses was on the mountain fasting for forty days. Jesus was tempted in the desert for forty days as he fasted. Jesus after his resurrection was with his disciples for forty days. It would seem to be a good number to prepare oneself for the celebration of Easter. In conclusion, Lent is a forty day period of preparation for one to examine oneself prior to the wonderful celebration of Easter.

Should Evangelicals practice Lent? One could write a whole article on just this question. However, there needs to be two points of address. 1) History proves that Christians have practice some sort of preparation for Easter as early as Polycarp, prior to the formalization of the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformation. 2) John Calvin and the major reformers all practice Lent, divorcing the Catholic connection between fasting and penance.

Due to great fear of easily making Lent full of superstitions, the Puritans refrain1 from practicing Lent. However, this should not deter an Evangelicals from observing Lent. One's salvation and relationship is not based on any observation of special holidays, but by faith alone. As long as one is aware of the pitfalls as can be found in any observation, practicing Lent can be very rewarding in focusing our attention to Christ's passion and resurrection.

What does practicing Lent look like? It is one thing to see the importance. It is another to understand how this works out in life. For Evangelicals, there is uncertainty due to a lack of participation for years. Some remember seeing people eat fish on Fridays presuming that this is what needs to be done. Others give something up (fast from) for the forty days thinking that they accomplish the task. Yet, they tend to forget that Lent is not simply fasting from something, but giving something up in order to draw closer in their walk with the Lord.

One person I knew gave up purchasing a favorite desert for Lent one year. However, their observation of Lent stopped there. A better practice may have been seeking out what they may do with the funds saved for the glory of God's kingdom. Remember, Lent is not just giving something up, but it is to refocus ourselves, re-examining, preparing ourselves for the passion and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

PuritanD

1 "Lent—Why Bother? To Lead Us to Christ" by Michael Horton; http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/february/15.55.html

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Six Days of Creation: Are they God's workdays or 24hr. Days

At Auburn Alliance Church, we are going through the book of Genesis and have spent some time working on God's creative acts in chapter one. It is perhaps the most controversial passage in the Bible and yet one of the most important. Christians seem to be stuck between a proverbial rock and a hard place trying to figure out how to make sense of all the material that has been thrown at them, especially in regard to how we are to interpret the term, “day.”

There are many theories out there in regard to the timing of each of the six days of creation. However, I would just like to discuss two of these theories in this brief article. In researching the first sermon on this series, I came across a commentator who strongly believes that the days are to be literally taken to be actually six days but not as calendar days.

He states, “Most probably the six days of creation are God's workdays, which are not identical to ours but are analogous to ours.” His reasoning: 1) the first three days could not have been solar because God made the sun and moon on the fourth day, and 2) the seventh day has no end. The phrase “and there was evening and there was morning” does not appear with day seven.

This was the first time I have ever heard of this view and find it quite fascinating. Though the commentator seems to have been able to bring out a better way of combining many different understandings, the reasoning seems a bit lacking. One may properly ask, “If there was no sun and no moon, how was there “evening and morning” in the first place?” Sadly, he does not elaborate on “evening and morning” phraseology in regard to days one through three if there was not a 24 hour period. The second question that must be present is, “Does this phraseology change meaning when the sun and moon are created on the fourth day?” In other words, when does the switch happen from analogous to actually 24 hour periods?

Upon reading the fourth day, one would need to surmise that the sun and moon where created to govern the Light and Darkness of day one. They were also though created to help man with keeping time, not to have time created at that moment. In other words, it is plausible that the 24 hour day existed prior to the creation of the sun and moon, but man would not have been able to identify it properly without these luminary bodies being created.

The other piece of the puzzle that the author mentioned is regarding the seventh day is missing the phrase, “evening and morning,” may not be indicating that the day is continuing but that God's actual rest from his creative act has not ended. Upon further observation of the creation account, one will notice that when God was done with what He was doing, we had the phrase, “evening and morning.” With the seventh day not having the phrase, one could simply interpret it to mean that God is continuing to rest from His creative activity.

The second understanding I would like to look at is to understand the six days of creation as being six, 24 hour days, which will be on another post. However, what do you think of the theory of an analogous workweek?

PuritanD

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Welcome

It is my heart's desire to reach out to my community in every facet made available to me. One such vehicle is the internet. With my church updating herself with her own web page, I have been challenged to put myself out there as well in the blogosphere. I have toyed with this idea on many occasions having my greatest supporter, my wife, encourage me to take such a step. So, here it is. I have decided to go with the Puritan theme.

Puritans have an important place in the history of the church. One of their strengths was to see their church and culture through the prism of God's Word. I like to consider myself as a modern day Puritan, looking at current events to theological events within this prism (God's Word). I will try to bring an informative dialogue on the many issues that effect the church and culture, and ask the question... How should we as Christians, members of one body, respond?

As Scripture reminds us,

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 ESV


Though Paul was writing to his spiritual son Timothy, these are words that we need to be reminded of today. More and more of us who claim to be Christians are less and less likely to understand what that means. As Christians, I hope that we can see the importance of equipping ourselves with the Scriptures to truly see our culture through the lens of God's Word and respond accordingly.

In His Grip,

PuritanD

Wednesday, February 3, 2010