Thursday, December 31, 2009

Puritan Classical Education Besmirched

Recently a Reformed magazine re-published Gary North's innocently titled "Classical Education." But the subtitle gives it away: Classical Christian Education is Like Marxist Christian Education, But a Lot More Subtle.

In his typical shocking manner, he contends that "at least a third" of Christian mothers have adopted a curriculum based on the worldview that endorsed homosexuality, polytheism, slavery, and female infanticide--pagan humanism.

Of course, being a short article steeped with unfounded generalizations and assumptions, it is not exactly clear what the author is condemning when he attacks 'Classical Education.' Such an education is a three-step process of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. And it teaches Latin. But it is the Latin that appears to be the focus of this diatribe:

"To force a child to learn Latin is to encourage him to accept the premises either of medieval Catholicism or the Renaissance"

The unspoken assumption is that learning a little Latin with edited sources will lead the child to read the entire Latin source--the sources being either the original Greeks and Romans or the medieval or Renaissance variations. Then the poisoning of the mind will be complete and humanistic elements will converge into a full-blown pagan worldview (or at least a severely retarded Christian world-view). As though that has not already happened before the popularity of Latin!

Assuming that the typical Christian has a weak grasp on the Biblical antithesis, this is a serious concern. And assuming that Latin is or can only be taught with the classics, this could be a concern as well.

Not only that, the poor near-sided Puritans imbibed the same sewage. North admits that the Puritans used the classical curriculum from the grammar schools to the universities (but fails to mention that Luther, Calvin, Knox, et. al. used it as well). More importantly, he fails to explain the cultural milieu in which the Latin (and the rest of the subjects) were taught.

The English society was homogeneous on a level modern Americans little comprehend. Even when the Puritans were outnumbered (most of the time), many of the laws and social expectations were strongly influenced by the Bible. The same schools that taught Latin, instructed in Bible reading, rehearsed the catechisms and reviewed the Sunday sermon. This religious instruction, integrated with the Protestant Gospel, included the work of the ministers (sermons, catechizing, weekly lectures and home visitations) and especially the household instruction, catechizing and devotions by the parents.

When the young are encircled by such a spiritual phalanx, learning Latin with edited texts was not a means to "separate Christian children from their parents." Not by a long shot.

On the other hand, such a culture no longer exists. And many self-proclaimed Christians are biblically ignorant on a scale that makes the Statute of Liberty appear like a toy doll. So, learning Latin (even without reference to the pagan sources at all) will do little and may even be harmful.

It is claimed that using such a method (or rather learning Latin?) for over 1800 years is a surrendering of education because it violates the Christian antithesis--isn't that what Van Til taught? Using the classical educational approach apparently imported "alien philosophical categories into the Church." Yet these 'categories' are never listed. And the historical "evidence" is vague at best. Many things are linked to unfaithfulness in the rise and fall of churches.

In fact, it is not exactly clear why using some useful tools of unbelievers (like learning a foreign language) is necessarily wrong or will necessarily lead to humanistic compromise. Much of the article is based upon a slippery slope assumption--a logical fallacy taught by unbelieving logicians everywhere. In fact, Aristotle first systematized logic--does that make it suspect? Perhaps the children learning logic may be tempted to read Aristotle?

Such an amazing effort to run Latin into the ground by asserting its negative affects in history leads to a curious logic: the last 150 years has seen the disappearance of Latin with a corresponding increase in secularism and decrease in confessional Protestantism. If this is the fruit of no Latin, give me Latin schools any day!

I do agree with him that a good dose of Calvin's Institutes is more needful than Latin. But then, do I have to have one without the other? Or cannot families and schools teach Latin and Greek (as they used to)?

More significantly, with all this hammering going on North has certainly hit upon something here. It is Calvinism that is needed now, not Latin. It is a renewed knowledge of the Law & Gospel thundered from the pulpit that is the crying need of the hour. To return to the good ol' days of educational superiority, families and churches need to ignore all the educational hype and turn to the good ol' confessions of yesteryear. Rather than hyping up the power of this or that curriculum or method, we ought to return our children to the lost tool of learning that should structure any legitimate method, the Puritan ABCs: Alphabet, Bible & the Catechism.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New Ray/HSLDA Study on Homeschooler Achievement

"This post briefly reviews preliminary releases of the new study conducted by Brian Ray for HSLDA called “Homeschooling Across America: Academic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics.” The full study is scheduled for release in November 2009..."

(more here)

(for analysis of past studies, here)

Monday, December 7, 2009

IV. Means of Grace: Power of God

The previous installment demonstrated that the Bible was a beneficial instrument in the hand of the Spirit. Although God could use any means and transform man immediately, He choose to work conviction, conversion, growth, fellowship, sanctification--indeed, salvation as a whole--within the context of the Bible. The Spirit and the Word go together. Thus, to have more of the Spirit is to have more of the Bible.

However, having more of the Bible does not boil down to simply knowing more facts about it, but, like that prophet of old, Ezekiel, we need to consume it into our spiritual bodies (Ez. 3:3). It should move beyond mental assent or even factual acceptance to a heart-felt zeal and motivation. The Word of God is our honey, milk, bread and meat (Ps. 119:103, 1 Pet. 2:1-3, Is. 55:2, 3a, Heb. 5:12ff.). As a matter of fact, our dependence upon the Word of God is our dependence upon the Word of Christ, for the two are one. We cannot live without Christ and His Word. Physical eating is necessary for physical living; spiritual eating is necessary for spiritual living. Feeding upon Christ is so closely associated with the Word, that to eat the Word is to eat Christ. Jesus declares as much:

"Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you...Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, "This is a hard saying; who can understand it?"...[Christ said] It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:52ff).

This means that any other method used by men or Christians to build up the Body of Christ, but bypasses this fundamental truth, is defective and contrary to Christ. Contrary to the Roman Catholic and Lutheran dogmas in which the physical eating of the elements in the Lord's Supper brings spiritual vitality, the Bible declares that the Spirit, through the Word received by faith alone, communicates the life of Christ. Christ declared that it is not the physical act that brings life but that His words bring life. Neither the Sacraments per se nor any other physical act brings spirit and life but only the Words of Christ.

Of course, all of the means, including the Word, depend ultimately upon the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Yet to create and sustain that union with Christ, one must believe in Christ as portrayed in the promises of the Word. For whatsoever is not done in faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). So, when we pray, fast, fellowship or worship-whatsoever we do--we cling to Christ as found in the Word. He is not separated from the Word, but, as demonstrated previously, is so closely related to it, by the work of the Spirit, that the Word is called milk, honey, bread and even life.

These truths alone should spur us to greater depth of knowledge and breadth of practice. The Bible is the bedrock of our life, yielding a framework of action, a direction in life, and motivation unto holiness. This truth should be instilled in our children so that they might value the Word highly and to hide it in their hearts (Deut.4:9ff.). Why would we wish to have less of the Word? We are sure to eat three meals a day (besides snacks and dessert), or to exercise our bodies, but we don't think twice about how we can arrange our time to hear, read, memorize, study, proclaim and practice the life-giving Word.

Perhaps we don't fully comprehend its power in our lives. Perhaps we are ignorant of how necessary it is for our Christian walk. To receive the Sacraments we need to discern the Christ of the Bible; to pray in faith we need to recognize God's will in the Scriptures; to hide the Word in our hearts we need to know the Bible as we know our car manuals; to lead our families and children we need to accept our duties as expounded in the Word; to fellowship with one another we need the confidence that unity is based upon the Scriptures. Every facet of our life should be hemmed in and supported by, nay energized by, that food which is sweeter than honey, more fulfilling than milk and taster than a fillet-mignon.

Perhaps we don't feel up to the task of feeding upon the Word. One may not be quick on his feet; another may take days to digest what he heard; still others may feel slow and ignorant. These may be true, but God knows what our frailties and weaknesses are and He knows we can learn from His Word. He gives us helps to expound the Word in teachings and actions. Friends, family and church officers are part of that Family given to us. Yet it is especially the minister who is the head chief (under Christ) in God's kitchen: it is his duty to prepare nutritious and tasty meals from that lovely and fruitful garden of the Word. His office is most important in the Household of God because his duty and responsibilities are intimately tied to the Word of God.

If you want to grow, mature and fortify your soul, you need that weak and beggarly vessel of God. Ephesians 4:12ff. explicitly declares this truth. If you wish to grow from the Word, then you must take seriously those whose specialty is that Word. Thus, Catechism classes, Sunday School, and Bible Studies (and any other means to achieve more of Christ & His Word) have been the mainstay of many churches. We would do well to use these times--or make new times (lunch, breakfast, special meetings, etc.)--to aid our learning and living out of the Bible.

The Bible does not come down from heaven onto our laps and through the miracle of osmosis generate spiritual maturity and perseverance. Rather, the power of God is manifested through imperfect vessels, especially ministers. And of the many tasks of the minister in bringing the Word of Christ to His people (counseling, teaching, writing, living, etc.), preaching is one of the most potent and important tasks.

[Next: The Foolishness of God]

Understanding the Means of Grace Series:

I.   What Are They?
II.  Passion for the Word
III. Benefits of the Word
IV. Power of God
V.  Foolishness of God
VI. What is a Sacrament?
VII.The Initiatory Rite

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cursory Thoughts about "A Christian Education Manifesto"

Recently a commenter on this blog asked if I would evaluate Israel Wayne's A Christian Education Manifesto (here).

Instead of a thorough evaluation of this document (which would include an in-depth examination of the author's other works), I decided to mostly take it at face value: after all, is that not the intent of manifestos? To summarize to the world what one deems important.

At the outset, it ought to be noted that the manifesto is helpful in certain ways. Presumably he is writing against the many lazy parents in Christian households. The copious proof-texting (in both a good and bad sense) could help many of these families get their acts together. It also heavily critiques the secular public school system.

1. Upon a short examination of the writer's credentials, it is striking that a man with no known theological training and examination thought he could write such a broad-sweeping manifesto single-handedly. In the council of many there is wisdom.

2. Where is the church? With such a conspicuous absence of such an important institution in the lives of all family members the manifesto ought to be re-titled: A Christian Family Education Manifesto.

3. Although claiming a Biblical worldview background, it is not at all clear that listing Bible verses with minimal commentary suffices as a manifesto let alone something part of a worldview. In what ways are these unique (?) elements of a Christian worldview?

4. Unfortunately, this spartan commentary lends itself to absolutist language, e.g., "Instruction of the young is given to parents and grandparents."--only, mostly, what?

5. Exodus 20:12 section clearly speaks to the modernistic mentality in education but seems to impugn all "government" education (however vaguely defined). A knowledge of Christian history will demonstrate otherwise.

6. The same section essentially calls the early church, Medieval church and Reformation churches well into the late 1700s 'socialists'. This seems to be a more modernistic Libertarian viewpoint that bypasses any historical dialogue. I may be in favor of localism in education but I would hesitate to label all of Christian education history as 'socialistic'.

7. 2 Chronicles 17:7-10 clearly ties the kingship with the priest and lay-leader's educational efforts to good effect. At the least, one should cautiously evaluate such Biblical evidence before announcing broad-sweeping declamations.

8. The Deut. 6:7 comment is brief and thus vague: what is a "24/7/365 discipleship paradigm"? In some homeschooling circles such language and proof-texting leads to a "homeschooling-is-commanded-by-God" doctrine (or at least it is the best educational option [and who wouldn't want the best for God?]).

9. Common grace is a concept that appears to be decidedly missing in this document. "A Christian parent must not turn the leading of their child over to someone who is spiritually blind." So an unbelieving piano teacher cannot instruct my daughter? A better question is to ask what is the Biblical basis of this assertion.

10. I am glad that the revisionist approach to history is renounced. Unfortunately, in most Christian circles such revisionism still exists in the form of a Deistic interpretation of history that downplays any theological distinctions in Christendom (hint: how many know that America was substantially founded by Calvinism?).

11. What was suspect earlier (that only parents may instruct their own children) is now made explicit: "It is assumed that the father and mother are doing the teaching. No one else is mentioned in Scripture as having that role." No one else...not even ministers? godly deacons? what about catechizing children?

12. This leads to a point about equivocation: what is the definition of education? nurture? etc.? Either no one can educate other people's children (contrary to the Bible) or the author is using more than one definition without informing the reader.

13. Apparently the OT plays a selective role, hence the absence of Deut. 30:9ff: "So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel...gather the people together, men and women and little ones...that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the LORD your God and carefully observe all the words of this law and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess." The Great Commission comes to mind as well.

14. There is curious logic here as well. Proverbs 9:10 is argued thusly: "Government schools lack the fear of the LORD,therefore cannot properly transmit wisdom, knowledge,and understanding." Just fill in ignorant or unfaithful parents in place of government schools and similar reasoning can be invoked.

15. Such family-centric emphasis makes good Reformed and Presbyterian (and old-fashioned Reformed Baptists) wonder about the educational, modeling and instructional role of the whole community of God? Does not Titus 2 encourage the older women (no mention of mother here) to instruct the younger women. By commonality of principle (LCQ 99) the same would hold for men and boys.

16. A misunderstanding of statistics is a common problem in America. In this case the 65-88% number does not include the actual training accomplished (or not accomplished) at home and at church. If the families and churches are weak, then sending the child to college is a dangerous thing indeed.

17. The point about leaders leading by example with the training of their children is much needed. However, too many Christians ignore such leaders anyway, seeking out popular leaders or (inexperienced) young men with young children.

18. "Education must be predicated on the foundation of Christ, not on humanistic thought." AMEN.

19. Unfortunately, since this manifesto is not clearly Reformed, it is not clearly "predicated on the foundation of Christ." Calvinistic education is different than the run-of-the-mill education.

20. In fact, this manifesto supplements the author's more explicit teaching in Homeschooling from a Biblical Worldview. One glaring problem in that book is a dangerous dance with legalism: "If parents focus on giving their children a Biblical worldview, I can assure you, their children will excel in everything they do. It's that natural cause and effect of the blessing of God. When we obey, we are blessed; we we don't, we are cursed" (p. 150, cp. 43, 13).

This is the moral summary of the author's approach--implicit in this document but explicit in his book.

The explicit Gospel message that we cannot obey and are cursed already is missing. Christians are sinners saved by grace so that even when we 'obey' we do not 'obey' enough to cause any blessing (Rom. 7:12ff.). If such a message is not the cornerstone of Christian education then Christian children will either grow up hypocrites or renounce the faith in anger as too many already do.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Plans of Religious Instruction--Hodge, Pt. 1

The following is an abbreviated reprint of "Religious Education Enforced in a Discussion of Different Plans," an address delivered by Professor Charles Hodge to the Presbyterian General Assembly of 1847.

The Presbyterian church at that time was concerned about the education of their covenant children. The local school system--so long a bastion of conservatism--was becoming neutered by the influx of immigrants and sectarian Christians. The local leaders and school districts were beginning to limit the amount and type of religious instruction in the schools to make way for a common denominator. In some cases the Bible was no longer being read; in most cases the unique denominational distinctives--Presbyterian, Congregational, etc.--were no longer being taught.

This alarmed the Presbyterians, those so proud of their history of catechizing and schooling. As a body they decided to create parochial schools. This address was a learned outline of the issues facing the church and her children. It points to interesting historical conditions. In light of today's discussion, it is quite illuminating. Read on:

"Our subject refers to the early, constant, and faithful religious instruction of children by the assiduous inculcation of the truths and duties taught in the Bible.

... If the soul were uncorrupted, if still by nature, as at the creation, it were instinct, with holy desires and aspirations, it would gather knowledge and nourishment from every thing within and without, and grow, by the law of its being, as do the flowers of the field, to be beautiful exceedingly, through the comeliness which God gives to all creatures in fellowship with himself. It is precisely because the mind is by nature dark, that it needs illumination from without; it is because the conscience is callous and perverse, that it needs to be roused and guided; it is because evil propensities are so strong, that they must be counteracted. To leave a fallen human being, therefore, to grow up without religious instruction, is to render its perdition-certain.

The same cause which makes religious instruction necessary at all, requires that it should be assiduous and long continued. It is not enough that the means of knowledge be afforded to the child: it is not enough that he should be once told the truth; such is his indisposition to divine knowledge, such the darkness and feebleness of his mind, that he must be taught little by little, early and assiduously; or as the Lord said to Moses, "when thou sittest in thy house, when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." It is a slow, painful, long continued process to bring a child born in sin, and imbued with evil, to a competent knowledge of God, and truth and duty, and to cultivate in such an ungenial soil the seed of eternal life. This, however, is the process which our apostasy renders necessary, it is that which God has enjoined, it is the one which he has promised to bless, the neglect of which is followed by his severe displeasure, and the all but certain ruin of our children.

This, therefore, is not the point which needs to be argued. It is universally conceded. The great questions are, On whom is this duty incumbent ? How is it to be discharged ? On whom does the Responsibility OF The RELIGIOUS EDUCATION OF THE YOUNG BEST?

In the First instance, on Parents. As to this there .can be no dispute. The relation in which parents stand to their children, implies an obligation not only to support, but to educate them, because they are bound to do all they can to promote the well being of those whom God has committed to their charge. Parents also have facilities for the discharge of this duty, which none others can enjoy; they have at least the competency for the work which strong interest in the welfare of their children can supply; and on them this duty has been laid by the express and repeated command of God. The neglect of this duty is at once one of the greatest injuries a parent can inflict on his children, and one of the greatest offences he can commit against society and against God. But while it is universally conceded that the obligation to provide for the religious instruction of the young, rests primarily on parents, it is almost as generally acknowledged that the responsibility does not rest on them alone. If a parent cannot support a child, it cannot be left to perish; the obligation to provide for its support, must rest somewhere. The ability of the parent failing, there must he some other person or persons on whom the duty devolves. In like manner, if parents are unable to provide for the religious education of their children, those children cannot innocently be allowed to grow up in ignorance of God; the responsibility of their education must find another resting-place. Men do not stand so isolated, that they may say, Are we our brother's keeper? they cannot innocently sit still and see either the bodies or souls of their fellow-men perish, without an effort to save them. This is too evident to be denied. Nor will it be questioned that so large a portion of parents are unable to provide adequately for the religious education of their children, as in all places and at all times, to throw a heavy responsibility as to this duty, on the community to which they belong. The inability in question arises in many, cases from the moral character of the parents; rendering them at once indifferent and incompetent. In other cases from ignorance. They need themselves to be taught what are the first principles of the oracles of God. And in other cases still from poverty, i. e. from the necessity of devoting so much time to secure the mere means of life, and of calling their children so early to share in their labours, that they are unable to attend in any suitable manner to the education of those whom God has committed to their charge.

If therefore, we look over any community, or over the history of the Church at any period, we shall find that a very large and constantly increasing portion of the young are left to grow up without religious instruction, where that duty has been left exclusively to parents. If, therefore, the work must be done; if the best interests of society, the prosperity of the Church, the salvation of souls, demand that the young should be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, others, besides parents, must undertake the work. Accordingly in every age of the Church, among every people calling themselves Christians, provision has been made, beyond the family circle, for the religious education of the young.

[to be continued]

III. Means of Grace: Benefits of the Word

The first and foremost theological relationship of the Word is with the Spirit. The Bible, either preached or read, is mightily used by the Holy Spirit to convert, sanctify and preserve the elect. As Ezekiel 37 demonstrates, the Spirit of Christ is pleased to use this humble tool of the Word to even resurrect spiritual Israel from the dead.

The Confession clearly echoes the Bible's own insistence that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). It is an instrument so closely aligned with the work of the Spirit that Paul claims that those who call upon God need the Word preached (Rom. 10:14ff.), for "it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:21). Indeed, the power of preaching the Word is the power of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:4). Turretin explains:

He [the Spirit] is not given to us in order to introduce new revelations, but to impress the written word on our hearts; so that here the word must never be separated from the Spirit (Is. 59:21). The former works objectively, the latter efficiently; the former strikes the ears from without, the latter opens the heart within. The Spirit is the teacher; Scripture is the doctrine which he teaches us.

Thus the Word has no intrinsic power but only that which the Spirit is pleased to bestow through it. Through the history of redemption, we find the Word of God commanding, explaining, transforming, admonishing and even chiding the people of God. It brings revival, reformation, renewal as well as discipline, rebuke and judgment. We see the transformation of Israel under Josiah's discovery of the Pentateuch (2 Kgs. 22:1ff). The New Testament Israel exemplifies this fact by its life-sustaining growth through the Word (Acts 4:4; 6:7; 8:4; 13:49; 19:20).

Of the various means of grace (Sacraments, prayer, family worship, etc.), only the Word of God inscripturated is the means of grace par excellence; it is the means of the Spirit upon which the other means depend. Any conscience event in the life of the believer--prayer, worship, fellowship, Bible study and all other means broadly considered--necessarily builds upon and requires the Word. From it flows the efficacy of the Spirit: whether the Sacraments, public or private worship, prayer or any other means of Christian growth, the Bible as read, and especially preached, is the foundational and continuous primary instrument of spiritual growth. This is manifested in the nature of the Word and its functions.

Firstly, the nature of the inscripturated Word is that it is the will of God to the Church. It is the mind of God in written form and as such is infallible, inerrant and God-breathed (1 Tim. 3:15ff.). It abides forever (Is. 40:8); it is living, active and sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12); it is sanctifying truth (John 17:17); and it is spirit and life (John 6:63). These characteristics set it apart from the other means of grace: the power and energy of the Spirit is closely aligned with the Word. Indeed, faith operating in the environment of the other means, whether public or private, cannot exist without the object of Christ, and Christ is found nowhere else than in the truthful and inspired Word.

Secondly, the Word functions in a much broader manner than the other means of grace. Broadly it is profitable for every aspect of the Christian's life: "...that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16). Narrowly, as it contains the Law of God it convicts, restrains and guides. It exposes sin, holds back wickedness in society and shows the will of God for believers. As it contains the Gospel of God it calls men to salvation, converts the sinner, and strengthens believers in the Spirit of Christ.

The Spirit is the prime mover and energizer in the life-birthing and spiritual growth of Christians, but He is pleased to ordinarily utilize the Word as the foundation of the believers who were "born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever..." (1 Pet. 1:23). The Word convicts sinners and calls them to repentance, and it places Christ and Him crucified vividly before the sinner as the object of faith and conversion (1 Cor. 1:18ff; Gal. 3:1). Within this context regeneration by the immediate hand of the Spirit marvelously transpires.

Moreover, the Word continues its function through initiation into the covenant by the Spirit who seals with the Word (Eph. 1:13). The Church, by Christ's power, is sanctified and cleansed by "washing of water by the word" (Eph. 5:26). Her fellowship and unity are based upon it (Acts. 2:46). The Bible as used by the Spirit of Christ guides believers into a closer walk with God (Prov. 3:1ff). Pointing out the depths of sin and the wiles of the devil, it lightens the path of godliness (Ps. 119:105, 130).

These truths alone should attract us to the Word and to find ways to learn more about Jesus as He is in the Scriptures. The Spirit is the energizing power of the Church, but He works in an environment of His choosing. And that is the Word heard, read, memorized, studied, proclaimed and practiced. Thus, why would we wish to spend less time in the Word?

Next: The Power of God

Understanding the Means of Grace Series:

I.   What Are They?
II.  Passion for the Word
III. Benefits of the Word
IV. Power of God
V.  Foolishness of God
VI. What is a Sacrament?
VII.The Initiatory Rite

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

II. Means of Grace: Passion for the Word

II. Understanding the Means of Grace: Passion for the Word

We live in a society saturated with images: from still photos and billboards to magazines and television, to movies and Internet, Christians are bombarded with demands upon their time, energy and attention. Quiet (or even passionate) discourse and reflective thinking is not the excitement of the day: if there are no raging, emotional debates, then C-SPAN 2 is ignored for the easier-to-digest shallow one-minute sound-bytes on CBS. The visual medium lends itself readily to the exciting and exhilarating-as far as our eyes are concerned.

Adult Americans spend almost 4.5 hours a day watching television-this does not even count Internet or videos! Children watch even more television, not to mention video games. We are a society inundated with the visual. It can be very alluring. These mediums (TV, movie, art, etc.) are not evil per se, but they can be entrapments (and every age has its weaknesses) to a generation reared on the visual medium of stunning images and one-hour "documentaries." It is not simply that society teaches us to follow temptation with our eyes; we ourselves know the allurement of images and the difficulty of reading words. It is hard to concentrate on a book. Images are more "real" to us than the abstract words on a page.

Indeed, these images are so real that people are more excited when they find themselves on TV than with the simple fact that they actually participated in the televised event. These images become an existential moment-a personal encounter that rises above (below?) rational discourse. It is so real and personal that words are lost. When watching a movie we tend to suspend reality to such an extent that we are moved to tears, rage or joy. That is the power of the image. So, we need reminders of the supremacy of the Word and to have a passion in our lives and in our families that rivals Mel's Passion.

The positive side of the second commandment is further illustrated by the history of redemption. God spoke creation into existence; God spoke judgment and salvation to Adam and Eve; God spoke and Noah believed; God spoke and Abraham followed; God spoke His will to Moses, as the great prophet of the Old Testament, and spoke it to all subsequent prophets. Miracles did occur; visual surprises did arise; but these symbols were never suspended in the air, they were explained by the Word.

But there is more. The spoken Word, however powerful, was still not enough: God inscripturated His spoken Word. The Old Testament was as a child under age (Gal. 4:1ff.), but we have been privileged to live even beyond that age when the Bible was still incomplete. As even children today first learn through pictures and concrete items and then grow into adulthood-words and abstract thoughts-so the Israelites of old were given many visual signs. But in the New Age these have been vastly reduced to two: baptism and the Lord's Supper. Since God is merciful and knows our frailties, He has given us these visible signs and seals for our infirmities and weakness. Yet, these sacraments are useless without the preached Word Jn. 6:63). There must still be a passion for the Word.

The images of this world can be extremely alluring. I John 2:16 warns us against the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Thus, this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed in our day and age. We must recall our Biblical roots. From the temptation of the fruit in Eden that was attractive to the eyes to the temptation of Christ with a vision of the world's kingdoms, we know from the Bible the dangers of the eye-gate. On the flip side, there is a positive presentation of what should be done to combat this weakness in our flesh: the Word of God stresses the written or spoken,not the visual. Consider:

1) "In the beginning was the Word...."
2) The Bible gives little to no physically pictorial information about its heroes and villains, let alone about Christ.
3) The Second Commandment emphasizes the dangers of images.
4) From God's stern reproach in the Garden to the audible chiding by Christ on the
Damascus Road, God's revelation of salvation is predominately through words.
5) God chose the foolishness of preaching to raise the dead, Ezek.37:1ff.
6) The Bible itself is written-it is not a picture book for children.

Why is this important? Because when we realize and practice the centrality of the Bible in our lives, we will be daily transformed more and more into the image of Christ while dying unto sin. Thus, it should be our passion.

How is this so? Why is sanctification so tied to the Word? And in what ways does the Word challenge our lives? That's the next installment.

Understanding the Means of Grace Series:

I.   What Are They?
II.  Passion for the Word
III. Benefits of the Word
IV. Power of God
V.  Foolishness of God
VI. What is a Sacrament?
VII.The Initiatory Rite

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I. Means of Grace: What Are They?

Today there is little understanding of the public means of grace, what they are and how they impact our lives. This is especially so in the realm of Christian nurture: children and adults are properly encouraged to read the Bible and pray but public worship is omitted. How can there be growth and revival in the nurture of our children and our own lives if we ignore mother church and the public means of grace? It is my prayer this series will help remedy this defect.

I. Understanding the Means of Grace: What Are They?

In today's Christian bookstores you can barely find one book on the subject of the means of grace. Indeed, many Christians are not even sure what that phrase entails. Furthermore, these means of grace are either ignored (think of the many Christians wandering from church to church without a regular diet) or taken lightly (think of the lack of proper preparation). Hopefully, in this upcoming series the significance and proper place of the public means of grace will be explained in a useful fashion for all of us.

The Larger Catechism summarizes exactly what these means of grace--"outward means"--are:

Q154: What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?
A154: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation. [Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:42,

Just as exercising and eating helps create a healthy body, so, too, spiritual exercise, using the means of grace (both private and public), helps us grow our spiritual body. Many Christians intuitively understand this fact. Thus, they strive for a five-step plan toward better living, or seek after forty-days of a purposeful life. Yet, examining the Bible shows a more simple approach to spiritual growth: the Word, sacraments and prayer. The proof texts used above show that continuing in the truths of the Bible (Acts. 2:42 "apostles' doctrine"), partaking of the sacraments ("breaking bread", v. 42; baptism in Matt. 28), and exercising prayer endorses a healthy church: "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." These "outward means" are used by the Spirit of God to grow the church. This is proper church growth. Again, many Christian friends of ours intuitively understand this fact and attend weekly worship.

In the Reformed faith we distinguish between public and private means of grace. Such a distinction is implied in the above Catechism answer when it differentiates between "all his ordinances" and "especially the word, sacraments and prayer."

As used in theological works and the Confessions, the means of grace are strictly limited as public and official elements of public worship. It is not simply any such action of a believer that is a means of grace in this stricter sense, but only the preaching of the Word, the Sacraments and prayer. It can be argued that there is also a broader, private or unofficial means of grace in the lives of the Christians: Bible reading, study and memorization, daily prayers, fellowship, and private and familial worship. Although neither public nor official, the reason these could be called "means of grace" is found in the fact that they are tools used by the Spirit for spiritual growth--it is inconceivable that Reformed communities would downplay the significance of private and familial worship let alone Bible reading, Bible studies or private prayers. Thus, there must be some sense in which these are means of grace.

The importance of this distinction is discovered in the balance that it presents. If the public ordinances are emphasized to the neglect of the private ordinances, an unnatural Christian life develops. Amongst other problems, believers more readily become mechanical in their worship and less spontaneous in their private devotional lives. On the other hand, with a neglect of the public ordinances through a disproportionate emphasis on the private means (as especially demonstrated in contemporary Evangelical circles), the public ordinances are regulated to a position between tradition and irrelevance. In short, both sets of means are needful for a healthy Christian life. They must be properly integrated. (excerpt from Words of Life, Mathis)

Christ does not call us to be spiritual couch potatoes. Rather he calls us to an active life of faith and obedience through the power of the Spirit and the tools He fashions for our benefit. Most Christians grasp the private means of grace. So, it behooves us to take seriously the public means of grace.

Next: the Word.

Understanding the Means of Grace Series:

I.   What Are They?
II.  Passion for the Word
III. Benefits of the Word
IV. Power of God
V.  Foolishness of God
VI. What is a Sacrament?
VII.The Initiatory Rite

Saturday, October 31, 2009

October 31st: Protestantism & the West, Pt. 6

October 31st is the historical catalyst of Western liberties.

It is time to re-consider the vitality and viability of Christianity once again. Pragmatism is the only native American philosophy. And Americans live it to the hilt. Yet if we follow what 'works' why not follow Christianity?

This series is directed at encouraging American Christians to reconsider their roots and modern detractors to reconsider the historical significance of Protestantism. America is one of the best socio-historical evidences for Christianity.

Our freedoms were forged in the fires of the Reformation. And expanded through her children. And yet too many Americans wish to divorce these freedoms from the framework in which they were erected. They want the fruits without the Christian roots. If there is any cause and effect in the world, then this spells disaster for future generations.

Freedom & the Reformation

How is that so? Let a liberal historian from Yale explain the logical and psychological connections in a three-fold manner:

"How is it, then, that Calvinism is acknowledged, even by foes, to have promoted powerfully the cause of civil liberty? The reason lies in the boundary line which it drew between church and State. Calvinism would not surrender the peculiar notions of the Church to the civil authority. Whether the church, or the Government, should regulate the administration the Sacrament, and admit or reject the communicants, was the question which Calvin fought out with the authorities at Geneva, in this feature, Calvinism differed from the relation of the civil leaders to the Church, as established under the auspices of Zwingli, well as of Luther, and from the Anglican system which originated under Henry VIII…"

Thus, separation of church and state (a legal term not clearly defined until last century) began budding during the Reformation.

"A second reason why Calvinism has been favorable to civil liberty is found in the republican character of its church organization. Laymen shared power with ministers… Men who were accustomed to rule themselves in the Church would claim the same privilege in the commonwealth…"

The Presbyterian model is three-fold: a layer of courts (local church, regional church (Presbytery) and a national church (General Assembly)), joint-rule by laymen (elders) and ministers, and a written constitution. The people vote for their leaders and local issues. The people's voice is exercised through their elders at the regional and national levels. This republican system pre-dated America's by over two-hundred years.

"Another source of the influence of Calvinism, in advancing the cause of civil liberty, has been derived from its theology. The sense of the exaltation of the Almighty Ruler, and of his intimate connection with the minutest incidents and obligations of human life, which is fostered by this theology, dwarfs all earthly potentates. An intense spirituality, a consciousness that this life is but an infinitesimal fraction of human existence, dissipates the feeling of personal homage for men, however high their station, and dulls the luster of all earthly grandeur. Calvinism and Romanism are the antipodes of each other." (George Park Fisher, The Reformation, revised, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920), 207ff.)

In fact, historian and founder of Annapolis, George Bancroft (son of a Unitarian minister and no friend of Calvinism) declared:

"The fanatic for Calvinism was a fanatic for liberty; and, in the moral warfare for freedom, his creed was his most faithful counselor and his never-failing support. The Puritans...planted...the undying principles of democratic liberty" (A History of the United States, vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Brothers), 464)

He even declared:
"Calvin infused enduring elements into the institutions of Geneva, and made it for the modern world, the impregnable fortress of popular liberty, the fertile seed-plot of democracy."

(Literary and Historical Miscellanies, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1855), 405-406)

The Point of It All

The influence of the Reformation was not monolithic. And other factors were involved. And historians do debate on how and to what extent Calvinism influenced early modernity. Yet influence it did.

The theological influence of Luther and the Reformers is the most fundamental factor. As such I must mention again that the Gospel calls men to repent of their wayward actions and beliefs. Men, being bound in their sin, have guilty consciences they try to assuage, even to the point of creating entire new worldviews whole-cloth. But the Gospel of Christ, that He died for the sins of those who believe in Him and His work, can free such fettered consciences.

And a free conscience is a free man.

This entire series can be summed up by a modern encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics:

"In general it may be claimed for Calvinism that its influence has been an elevating and invigorating one. Abasing man before God, but exalting him again in the consciousness of a newborn liberty in Christ, teaching him his slavery through sin, yet restoring his freedom to him through grace, and leading him to regard all things in the light of eternity, it contributed to form a grave but very noble and elevated type of character, and reared a race not afraid to lift up the head before kings."

James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Part 5, (Kessinger Publishing, 2003), 153.)

Part 1, October Revolution
Part 2, Education
Part 3, Birth of America
Part 4, Early America
Part 5, Political Roots
Part 6, October 31st

For more info: For a scholarly assessment of Calvinism's influence read, The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion & Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism, Witte; for evidence that resistance to tyrant was part of the middle colony Reformed thought read, Revolution and Religion, Griffin.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Political Roots: Protestantism & the West, Pt. 5

“He that will not honor the memory, and respect the influence of Calvin, knows but little of the origin of American liberty.”

George Bancroft, historian, founder of Annapolis

October 31st was a revolutionary day, the birth of Protestantism. This series has explored in summary fashion the Christian influence upon Western civilization and America in particular.


The freedoms we enjoy as Americans have their historical roots in Christianity.

This is not simply an assertion from a biased observer but the assertion of several respected historians. The Reformed doctrines are being explored once again as meaningful beliefs that shaped and formed the early modern period. From Gorski's The Disciplinary Revolution to the detailed legal and historical examination of Witte and Berman, the Christian worldview is being examined as a real historical source of society, policy and legal rationale. It is certainly the case that these historians do not necessarily agree with the major tenants of Reformed thought, only examining how they impacted the thoughts and laws of those time periods.

And yet if our society and legal code have any historical connection to the past (and any nation will claim continuity with its own past), it is certainly a deep connection with Christianity. Other influences were certainly there but Christianity overshadowed them all.

Political Freedom

John Adams bluntly acknowledged the wide-spread influences of both the French-Calvinist’s work Vindicus Contra Tyrannos and the English Calvinist work of Ponet (A Shorte Treatise of Politike Power), both which defended the right of the people to rise against tyrants (The Works of John Adams [1851] Vol. 6, p. 3-4.)

Certain elements in the Declaration of Independence echoed past religious thought such as “all men are created equal,” which was originally expressed in the Puritan work Lex, Rex in 1644. Even further back in time, a Dutch Calvinist, Johannes Althusius, wrote Politica (1603), a complete systematic presentation of a representative Republican government including political resistance theory. Pre-existing resistance theories existed, but were not as fully developed until the Reformation under the likes of Calvin, Bucer, Knox, and others.

Daniel Elazar, professor at Temple University, member of presidential committees and founding member of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, asserted:

“In all of the places where Reformed Protestantism was strong, there emerged a Protestant republicanism that opposed tyrants even as it demanded local religious conformity. Reformed Protestants in England became the Puritans, whose name indicated that they wanted to purify the Anglican Church as much as the Catholic, which they had rejected. In the seventeenth century they launched the first of the great modern revolutions, the English Civil War, against royal absolutism, opening the way for modern democracy.” (World History Curriculum, Article 2)

In fact, he edited a work of fourteen essays written by various scholars and professors exploring the religious connection between the political idea of federalism and the Reformed idea of covenant. The Covenant Connection is a must read for Christians and detractors alike. He further claimed:

“A majority of the delegates to the Convention were affiliated with covenant-based churches…The Presbyterians, however, were already moving toward full-scale federalism. As Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., noted: 'More than either [the Congregationalists or Anglicans] the Presbyterians in their reliance on federalist and representative institutions anticipated the political makeup of the future United States.' Indeed, as the first government came into office under the U.S. Constitution in 1789, the Presbyterians held their first nationwide General Assembly. In the Presbyterian system, congregations in a local area formed a presbytery; several presbyteries in a region formed a synod; and then came the General Assembly. As a result, the system of federal democracy established by the U.S. Constitution has often been referred to as Presbyterianism writ large for civil society..." (Covenant & the American Founding)

The War

The Revolutionary War was partially fueled by religious concerns. John Adams explained:

"Where is the man to be found at this day, when we see [various bishops]...who will believe that the apprehension of Episcopacy contributed fifty years ago, as much as any other cause, to arouse the attention, not only of the inquiring mind, but of the common people, and urge them to close thinking on the constitutional authority of parliament over the colonies? This, nevertheless, was a fact as certain as any in the history of North America." (Works of Adams, Letter to Morse, December 2, 1815)

If parliament could institute a spiritual lord (Bishop) then certainly they could institute political lords. One of the most well-known political cartoons of that time, "An Attempt to Land a Bishop in America," shows a crowd of colonists harrying a Bishop back to England, throwing books titled "Locke," "Sydney on Government" and "Calvin's Works," shouting "no lords spiritual or temporal" (1768, see picture).

In fact, on May 20, 1775, the Presbyterian Synod was the first religious body to send a public letter to their churches reminding them to respect the Crown even while they encouraged their readers to obey the Continental Congress and to prepare their lives and souls for war. Most of the Continental army were Presbyterian laymen even as most of the New England minutemen were Congregationalists. These ministers--defending the Revolution or even fighting in it--were dubbed the "Black Regiment". Horace Walpole told Parliament that "there is no use crying about it. Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson, and that is the end of it."

(to be continued)

Part 1, October Revolution
Part 2, Education
Part 3, Birth of America
Part 4, Early America
Part 5, Political Roots
Part 6, October 31st

More info: October Revolution, Mathis.

Early America: Protestantism & the West, Pt. 4

If we call the American statesmen of the late eighteenth century the Founding Fathers of the United States, then the Pilgrims and Puritans were the grandfathers and Calvin the great-grandfather..."

Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn

October 31st is not just Halloween, it is the birthday of Protestantism. Luther's theological challenge changed the West. And this multi-part series summarizes some of those changes.


What many detractors of Christianity do not realize is that Protestants do not believe the Bible micromanages life. Even though the conservative Christians today wish to go "back to the Bible" they generally do not mean they wish to quote chapter and verse for any and all social or governmental decisions.

The same was true for early Americans. Yes, many more laws were directly tied to Biblical precepts (such as the Sabbath/Sunday laws), yet many other local laws were not. The doctrine of general revelation (here) gave rise to natural law and the freedom to apply Biblical principles to unique local circumstances.

In other words, any given law in the early American period was assumed (or argued) to be compatible with God's written Word.

Law & Christianity

Historically, the modern world--Modernity--began with the Reformation. Now more historians are publicly acknowledging what their older predecessors already knew: the substantive impact of Reformed thought in history.

One book in particular, Law & Revolution II, traces the theological outlooks that shaped both German and English legal thought from the Reformation through the 1600s. Published through Harvard University Press (Belknap), Professor Berman's well-documented book is a ringing challenge to many preconceived assumptions.

Ironically, from a non-Christian viewpoint anyway, the historical underpinnings of many modern legal assumptions--separation of church and state, freedom of religion and conscience--are found in Puritan Massachusetts. In fact, the jurisdictional distinction between church and state was already articulated in the 1600s: church censure (discipline) was not allowed to "degrade or depose" any government official (Puritan Political Ideas, Edmund Morgan).

The cultural assumptions at the time included the importance of Christianity as the social basis of the government. A Republic required knowledge, morality and religion as a cohesive tripartite foundation for good government. This is what the 1787 Congress stated (and the 1789 Congress re-adopted) two-hundred years ago when it adopted the Northwest Ordinance regulating the new American territory:

Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged [in the States to be formed from this Territory].

Although well-known as the chief architect of the Virginia "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom" Jefferson also sponsored (along with Madison) a "Bill for Punishing Disturbers of Religious Worship and Sabbath Breakers" and a "Bill for Appointing Days of Public Fasting and Thanksgiving."

In fact, Christianity was considered part and parcel of the common law of the land. US Supreme Court Justice Story argued as much and this fact was asserted several times by several courts over the history of the 1800s ("When Christianity was Part of the Common Law," Law & History Review, 16:27 (1998)).


"[T]he prevailing spirit of Americans before and after the War of Independence was essentially Calvinistic in both its brighter and uglier aspects"

Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, “The Western Dilemma: Calvin or Rousseau?” Modern Age, no. 1 (1971)

Hence the constitutional democracy that we all know today has its roots in that Reformed Protestant revival of the biblical idea of covenant which was not only important in the fight against tyrants and hierarchies but could be made operational in political systems that would protect liberties.”

Daniel Elazar, World History Curriculum, Article 2

Hamilton, a legal historian, an expert on constitutional and copyright law and a former assistant to Supreme court judges, discovered that:

"This [American] marriage of distrust in individuals but hope in properly structured institutions is no mere historical accident but has its roots in the Reformation theology of John Calvin…Others have made the more general case that Calvinist precepts permeated the culture at the time of the framing. Many of the Framers brought to the convention a background in Calvinist theology, with Presbyterians predominating among the Calvinists"

“The Calvinist Paradox of Distrust and Hope at the Constitutional Convention,” Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought, 2001

Modern detractors to Christianity are standing upon a legal foundation wrought in the refinery of the Reformation. The question is: if the foundation shifts from Protestant roots to atheistic assertions what will become of our liberties?

Part 1, October Revolution
Part 2, Education
Part 3, Birth of America
Part 4, Early America
Part 5, Political Roots
Part 6, October 31st

For more info: Separation of Church & State, Hamburger; Religion & the American Constitutional Experiment, Witte; The Covenant Connection, ed. Elazar.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Baby's First Snow

Yes, we got our October snow storm. It was actually a blizzard in some areas (like ours).

I had to shovel snow drifts over our northern exposed driveway. It was heavy and I was tired. I went out further to meet mom in the car.

Then the car got stuck on the hill. I got it further up the hill, just outside the driveway.

And it got stuck again.

Our neighbor helped us push it some and I revved the engine up the driveway. With the tires spinning and sliding on snow and ice, my hands spun quicker on the wheel.

Then I helped dig out someone's high-centered car. And shovel out a path to park it in.

I was even more tired.

But not as tired as my little baby girl.
She was napping the whole time, safe and sound during her first snow.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Birth of America: Protestantism & the West, Pt. 3

This Saturday marks October 31st, the birth of Protestantism. The last two parts of this series included a general overview of Protestant influence upon the West and especially its impact upon education.

Christianity birthed America thanks to Luther (

This part will emphasize the less well-known religious social foundations of America.


It is important to note the adjective 'social' as many today seem to only think in political terms. In the early modern period, before the rise of large, integrated, bureaucratic states, politics was only one of many aspects of a nation.

The social aspect, the institutional structures of family, school, church, government, etc., is the formal organization of the underlining cultural organism. The culture is the local, private and semi-private expectations and worldview outlooks that affect society. Naturally, there is a reciprocal relationship, but usually the larger institutions (such as the government) reflect the beliefs of the culture as a whole.

Jamestown, Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay

In both aspects of early America, religion played a dominate role. The wide-spread localism of this period allowed for religious and social diversity within a Christian context. Naturally, the localism arose from the vast size of the Eastern coast. Even so, Protestantism tied these diverse settlements together.

In 1607, Jamestown, although starting as a business venture of the Virginia Company of London, included a minister. And worship services were required morning and evening every Sunday. Catechizing the young came a few years later after women showed up. The particular denomination was Anglicanism. And its 39 Articles were clearly Protestant with a strong strand of Reformed thinking (the sovereignty of God and the depravity of man, here).

Presumably, many Americans know that both Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were founded by Protestants: Separatists and Puritans respectively. Both groups were ardent Calvinists. And they came for religious freedom.

Culture & Christianity

Parents were to inculcate their children with Christian practice and doctrine. That included especially the Bible and the catechisms. Church leadership especially encouraged this in the families all the while they catechized the same families and their children. The schools simply reinforced this Protestant outlook with Bible readings and the Puritan New England Primer.

Although church membership was low (probably due to the high admittance standards), attendance was over 50% through the 1700s. Virtually all Americans were Christians of one stripe or another.

From Bibles, catechisms and sermons, most of the books were religious in nature. One of the most popular children books for over 100 years was a Puritan poem about judgment day, the Day of Doom. Newspapers, speeches and debates were couched in religious language, especially the Calvinist language of "providence." Even Paine's Common Sense used Christian language and imagery.

Politics & Christianity

Election day sermons were the mainstay in New England, while practiced occasionally elsewhere. This old tradition gathered the state leadership into one building to hear the chosen minister expound their duty to God. Several such sermons included a public defense of resistance to tyrants. Sermons were also preached during artillery drills, funerals and public holidays.

Political leaders, one and all, spoke the language of Christianity. Many were devout Protestants (John Jay, Patrick Henry, Roger Sherman). A few may have been borderline Deists (Washington). And even fewer were outright Deists (Jefferson). And some were hard to figure out (Madison).

Yet the Deism of Jefferson was not publicly known. And the Christian climate of the time was such that the stigma of the title 'deist' was even avoided by Jefferson. During his run for president in 1800, he was accused as such (without any real evidence). He publicly denied the charge.

The Declaration of Independence (as the organic foundation of America) explicitly mentions God and providence, rooting American liberties in Christianity. The Continental Congress pronounced several days of prayer and thanksgiving in explicitly Christian language, enacted public prayer and implemented chaplains.

All those state constitutions mention God and religion explicitly. The lack thereof in the Constitution makes sense in light of the state and local concerns of a nation-wide establishment of a single Christian denomination--what mother England had at the time.

Nevertheless, the new Congress still funded chaplains, asked for days of thanksgiving (via Washington), attended public facilities for worship services, and even condoned an American edition of the Bible (more here).

Several state constitutions still had a form of Christian establishment after the formation of the Constitution, with some including religious vows. In fact, the 1778 South Carolina constitution stated:

"The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of this State."

(Article 38)

(to be continued)

Part 1, October Revolution
Part 2, Education
Part 3, Birth of America
Part 4, Early America
Part 5, Political Roots
Part 6, October 31st

For more info: Religion and the American Experiment, John Witte, Jr.

Education: Protestantism & the West, Pt. 2

October 31st is the birthday of Protestantism. This short series is designed to bring to light the lost history of the revolution of 1517 and how it substantially created most of the West as we know it today.


Many American's think that the Enlightenment was the only significant force for change in early modern Western history. Yet some of the ideas of that movement already existed. And more importantly such ideas of education, liberty and democracy already existed and were promulgated by the Reformers and Puritans alike.

Part one of this series gave quotes about the historical importance of the Reformation in the formation of the West; this second part will focus on the educational impact of the Reformation.

If history has any lessons for modern Americans, certainly the success of the Reformation ought to be one of them.

Ancient Education

The idea of teaching each and every citizen of a nation has probably existed in the isolated corners of history. The Greek states and Rome never had universal education, reserving any serious formal education for the wealthy (almost always the male) and certainly not for the slaves.

Christianity changed all that.

Already in the centuries after the resurrection of Christ, catechetical schools were established to teach rudimentary skills and doctrines to prepare for church membership. And such education included both sexes. The local pastors would tutor as well. Some of these catechetical schools were virtual colleges in their own right.

With the collapse of the Roman Empire, it was left for Christianity to hold together the remnants of civilization. So alongside homeschooling, other schools were created, expanding in type and number during the Middle Ages: monasteries, city-schools, cathedral schools, guild schools and the famous grammar (Latin) schools. From the 800s onward more and more universities were formally established, expanding the source of knowledge while preserving past wisdom.

Reformation Education

In many ways, the Reformation was an educational endeavor so deep in its impact that Americans still feel its reverberations today. The Bible that the Middle Ages had little access to was written in Latin. The Reformation changed that. It was now translated into the local languages. The Bible now became central once more in the life of the church, families and society.

Martin Luther and other Lutheran leaders pushed for the erection of more schools to help the poor peasant families. Some of the Lutheran states even made literacy a mandatory requirement for full church membership. Likewise, Calvin and other Reformed leaders in Scotland and the Continent promoted formal education by establishing catechetical classes (religious training) and local schools for boys and girls. The Reformed Moravian Bishop, Comenius, is considered by many the father of modern education.

As strange as it may sound to modern ears, preaching and the weekly lectures were educational events in the lives of many Protestants because the minister was typically the most educated man among them (being university trained). It was these university-trained preaches, the Puritans in particular, that influenced our modern educational system both in Britain and America. While depending on home-based literacy, they pushed for wide-spread literacy and basic theological training for everyone.

Early American Education

"We boast of our common schools; Calvin was the father of popular education, the inventor of the system of free schools."
George Bancroft, Historian, Founder of Annapolis

The Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647 in Massachusetts decreed the erection of schools in various towns. Such an attitude toward education was embedded in early America:

"Through the Puritans who settled in New England, and later through the Huguenots in the Carolinas, the Scotch Presbyterians in the central colonies, and the Dutch in New York, Calvinism was carried to America, was for long the dominant religious belief, and profoundly colored all early American education.” (Cubberley, 299)

Even the curriculum reflected Reformed beliefs. The New England Primer, with its "In Adam's fall/we sinned all", included the Westminster Shorter Catechism (question and answer format). It was the most popular school book for over 100 years. It was a common practice for minister to teach in school or tutor in private. All the while these leaders promoted schooling.

Many of the first state constitutions before 1800 included some form of provision for education: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Georgia. Other states, such as New York, similarly provided for wide-spread education even without a constitutional mandate. In the spirit of Puritanism, the famous Northwest Ordinance of 1887 of the US Congress declared: "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."

What It All Means

"In the countries where Calvinism became dominant the leaders included general education in their scheme of religious, political, and social reform.” (Cubberley, 330)

The historical irony is clear: the contemporary detractors of Christianity were educated in a system historically rooted in and propagated by Christianity and the Reformation in particular.

Part 1, October Revolution
Part 2, Education
Part 3, Birth of America
Part 4, Early America
Part 5, Political Roots
Part 6, October 31st

More info: Godly Learning, John Morgan; History of Education, Cubberley; American Education, Cremin.

Monday, October 26, 2009

October Revolution: Protestantism & the West Pt. 1

On October 24, 25, 1917, after overthrowing the tsar in February, the Bolsheviks and Soviets united in toppling the newly establish Russian government. This is popularly known as the October Revolution.

On October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk nailed 95 Thesis to the Wittenberg door, beginning the overthrow of papal power. This too is an October Revolution.

The former brought about repressive communism. The latter brought about the beginning of liberty and democracy.


Naturally, any logical, historical or religious arguments that this author could employ would be held with great suspicion. Such a claim about the transforming power of the Reformation requires more substantiation than the clever writing of a pro-Reformation pastor.

Many scholars of the past and present readily, if not begrudgingly, admit to the dynamic and positive impact of the Reformers and their progeny. In fact, the fire of liberty of conscience lighted by Luther was fanned ever brighter by Calvin and the Puritans.

The influence these scholars write about is not a monolithic force that transformed Western civilization in one fell swoop. It was not the only historical source of change either. And as a rising force in the early modern era, Protestantism, especially the Reformed/Presbyterian brand, matured in its self-understanding and application of the basal principles nascent within its religious soul. Such nascent (and sometimes fully articulate) principles included liberty of conscience, liberty of vocation (work), liberty of church from state and liberty of the people from tyrants.

Unlike today, religion was determinate of that time period. Even though many of the historians to be quoted are not Reformed (Calvinists) themselves and may even repudiate it in favor of another system of thought, they honestly admit to its importance in the historical development of the West in general and in particular wide-spread education, republican self-rule, political revolution and the formation of America.

First Principles

The quotes from various notable historians are best understood against the fundamentals of the Reformation. One of the first principle doctrines of the Reformers (Lutherans and Calvinists alike) is the primacy of the Bible. As God's written will for His people it is considered not only the guidebook for the individual but for the society as well. This belief so permeated the early modern period that the US Congress condoned an American edition of the Bible, and the public schools included Bible reading well into the 20th century.

Three other basal principles included the sovereignty of God, the moral depravity of man and covenant theology. The first doctrine emphasized God's rule over all creation (providence), eventually becoming the bedrock for resistance to tyrants who claimed absolute rule. The second doctrine emphasized the sinfulness of man, even in his intellect, eventually becoming the bedrock for limited government. The third idea of covenant was especially developed in Reformed churches, emphasizing that formal and public agreements between different parties. This became the social glue for republican self-rule.

These and other Protestant doctrines are now being explicitly analyzed by historians for their social impact. Even if many readers deny these Christian doctrines, they were certainly believed by many in the past and acted upon. What a man believes that he will do.

In General

Let not Geneva be forgotten or despised. Religious liberty owes it much respect, Servetus notwithstanding.

John Adams, Essay XIX, Works, vol. 6, 1851

“While the Calvinistic faith was rather grim and forbidding, viewed from the modern standpoint, the Calvinists everywhere had a program for political, economic, and social progress which has left a deep impress on the history of mankind."

Ellwood Cubberley, A Brief History of Education, 1922, 175.

"In general it may be claimed for Calvinism that its influence has been an elevating and invigorating one. Abasing man before God, but exalting him again in the consciousness of a newborn liberty in Christ, teaching him his slavery through sin, yet restoring his freedom to him through grace, and leading him to regard all things in the light of eternity, it contributed to form a grave but very noble and elevated type of character, and reared a race not afraid to lift up the head before kings."

Religion and Ethics, Hastings, Part 5, 2003, 153.

“Grave as we may count the faults of Calvinism, alien as its temper may in many ways be from the temper of the modern world, it is in Calvinism that the modern world strikes its roots, for it was Calvinism that first revealed the worth and dignity of Man. Called of God, and heir of heaven, the trader at his counter and the digger in his field suddenly rose into equality with the noble and the king.”

John Green, History of the English People, vol. II, 1903, 280.

Part 1, October Revolution
Part 2, Education
Part 3, Birth of America
Part 4, Early America
Part 5, Political Roots
Part 6, October 31st

More readings: Law & Revolution II: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition, Harold Berman, 2003.

Money for Homeschooling Will Fix America

I received a letter begging for money. But the begging was couched in less beggarly-language than other letters. It painted a gloomy socio-political picture of America's woes. Clearly things are moving from bad to worse.

But (the letter continued) there is hope for such abysmal times as this!


That "Christ-centered education, one-on-one discipleship, and the liberating principle of individuality." Of which very "few political leaders, schools, media sources, or even churches that would encourage something as transformational as homeschooling."

Movements abound, draining time, money and energy for the small faithful churches that fall under their shadows. They don't get the same promotional power of homeschooling. And apparently very few churches would encourage something as transformational as homeschooling--and that is a good thing. They ought rather encourage something as transformational as the Gospel.

On the other hand, homeschooling is on the rise. Everyone is jumping on this bandwagon. It is now a cultural phenomenon. And it does change lives--but then so do many other things in life.

What will change the world for the better? What is a veritable reformation of life? What is the hope for the future?

The Gospel of our Lord & Savior, Jesus Christ. And that Gospel is found in faithful churches with uncompromising pastors and zealous members--whether they homeschool or not.

Want to change the world, to have a better place for your children, to contribute to something healthy, strong and growing?!

Then support the Gospel. Join a Reformed church. A Calvinist church. Give them your money. Pray. Fast. Use the means of grace in conscious realization of your unworthiness.

And pray the Lord of the Harvest to come with power and grace.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Fate of Faith, Family and the Future

Sixty-five percent of Mosaics and Busters in America (ages 18-41) “have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important.” Twenty-nine percent of that group is “absolutely committed to the Christian faith.” Three-percent of that same group have a Christian worldview.


Does that shock you? It shocks me—that’s my age group!

The Barna group statistics define a worldview as believing that “Jesus Christ lived a sinless life, God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and he still rules it today,” salvation is a free gift of God, Satan is real, Christians should witness, the Bible is accurate and the source of moral, absolute truth (unChristian, p.75).

What does this mean for the faith, the family and the future?

First of all, it means the objective content (faith) of Evangelicals is rapidly disappearing. Without the Biblical worldview as the guiding principle of millions of Christian’s lives, wrong decisions and actions will increase; holiness will decrease. Churches will become businesses and entertainment centers. Truth will die by a thousand qualifications. And more importantly, we will shame Christ.

Second, the Christian family will crumble. Religious speak will still exist, but it will be hollow and mechanical. Families may act Christian but believe falsehood. Parents will live and act in ignorance of Biblical truth. Children will be swallowed whole by cults and outright unbelief. Generations will be lost.

Third, (and I speak as a man) the future will be lost—the future of America at any rate. We are even now seeing that loss. As the culture goes so goes the nation; and as the churches go so goes the culture. Culture is religion externalized.

“Why did this happen? What can I do?” you may ask.

Hosea 4:6 is God’s warning to those who know Him but do not know Him: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee…”

Strong but true words. American churches and families must take it to heart. It is certainly not the case that conservative Christians as a whole are purposefully trying to avoid more knowledge of God and His Word. It certainly is not that. Yet the statistics (from the last ten years at least) point to increased deviation from the Bible in principle and practice. Something is amiss.

Unfortunately, this is not all. Barna’s poll of born-again Christians shows that almost forty-percent believe “if a person is good enough” they can be saved. 57% of Evangelicals allow for other ways to heaven than solely through Christ (2008 Pew study). Even learning a “worldview” is for naught if the Gospel is missing from its foundation.

The Barna study should be a wake-up call. But it will not be a wake up call if no one takes it to heart. I take it to heart. It grieves me. Does it grieve you?

Although increasing in understanding and wisdom does not automatically bring salvation or even sanctification, it is certainly fundamental. Without proper knowledge there is no growth. How can the spiritual tree of your life increase in Christ if you don’t know the difference between rotten and healthy fruit?

Perhaps you have heard this all before. Do you believe it? In which case, continue the struggle, pray for a revival and continue to help your family and support faithful churches. Do you still doubt? Reread those statistics. Either way, take Hosea 4:6 to heart. Re-examine your beliefs in detail:

1. Who is God? Is He omnipotent, omniscient? So what?
2. What is sin? How extensive is sin? How does this impact my family?
3. Who is Christ? Was He sinless? Why is this important?
4. How are we saved? By works? What is faith alone? So what?

This is just the tip of the iceberg: for to simply define terms is not enough, we must know how they relate to other truths and why they are important in the Christian life. The admonition in Hosea is not to only have intellectual knowledge of God (is God really satisfied with that?)—no, Hosea wants us to know the what as well as the how and why.

Do you want to be the generation that was destroyed for a lack of knowledge? Do you want our churches to be bastions of Biblical truth, seminaries of in-depth learning that challenge your preconceptions? Or do we want to remain spiritual children feeding on milk instead of feeding upon solid food? (Heb. 5:12ff.)

The Reformation of Luther, Knox and Calvin began as a return to the Word of God, specifically the Gospel—both the knowledge and use of it. The First & Second Awakenings followed the exact same path. That means you have to get your hands dirty and dig into the rich soil of the Bible—learning theology, doctrine and terminology. Difficulties and differences will arise (there is no growth without spirit-wrought effort and conflict), but the rewards will be rich.

To change the fate of the faith and family in America, we must awake from our collective slumber, leave our old ways and turn to Christ, learn from godly ministers (even of old), train our children and desire the sincere meat of the Word--nothing less than an entire generation is at risk. Can you do less?