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Posts Tagged ‘Puritans

How Did Famous Arminians Celebrate Christmas?

Christmas brings up different emotions for me.  On the one hand, I have fond memories of Christmas as both a boy and an adult.  I have appreciated Christmas over the years.  Yet on the negative side is watching my own boys grow up in a culture where Christmas means one thing: presents.  Lost is the focus of the incarnation of God.

As a history buff, I am also torn on Christmas itself.  The practice of Christmas, as we know it now, is really the product of 19th and 18th century practices coming from Germany and England to the United States and because of the economic power of the United States, the practice of Christmas as focused on gifts and stuff is by in large an American edition to the holiday.  While both Germans and Brits did give gifts to each other in the late 19th century, the excessive nature of gift giving is a largely American focus.  Santa Claus, as we know him today, is the product of advertisement from 1931.  The really St. Nicholas was a bishop who was at the council of Nicaea and tradition tells us that he punched Arias for his blasphemy toward the deity of Jesus Christ.  Not the picture of Santa Claus we think of today!

When it comes to Church History, how did early Arminians celebrate Christmas?  I am only speculating based off information from that era and not off direct statements from Arminians themselves.

Let us begin with Arminius and the early Remonstrants.  No doubt they would have followed the Calvinist tradition of rejecting Christmas.  John Calvin had made Christmas illegal to celebrate in Geneva and Calvin viewed the day as more pagan than divine.  Calvin, like all the Reformers, viewed the Catholic Church as corrupt and vile. Calvin viewed the popery as the antichrist.  Calvin viewed the various Catholic holidays as having nothing to do with the gospel.  Calvin then rejected the Catholic celebration of Christ’s Mass (or Christmas).  Arminius, who studied under Calvin’s son-in-law and successor, Theodore Beza, would have likely rejected Christmas for the same reasons.  Arminius wrote much like Calvin on the popery and he too viewed the Catholic church as corrupt and he called her “the great whore of Babylon” (Revelation 17:5-6).  I suspect that Arminius would not have celebrated any Catholic holidays and neither would the Remonstrants.

By the time of John Wesley, England was a mixed bag when it came to Christmas.  The Puritans had sought to end the day called Christmas and even sought to officially change the name to Christtide.  The name didn’t stick.  The Puritans, like the Reformers, viewed themselves as Protestants and not Catholic and wanted nothing to do with the Catholic holidays.  The Puritan in 18th century America made it illegal to celebrate Christmas in many of their towns in New England.  They allowed “the strangers” (non-Puritan immigrants) to practice Christmas but only in their own homes.  The Puritans made sure to work on Christmas as to show they were not resting or celebrating with the Catholics.  In this environment, John Wesley came.  Wesley likely would have been in-between having strong love for the Church of England and his love for the Puritans.  Wesley never condemns the holiday but we find no record of him practicing it either.  Yet his brother Charles wrote Hark! The Herald Angels Sing which would become a theologically accurate hymn for Christmas that is sung even today by Catholics.

I suppose that we could bring up other Arminians in the past and show their views on the day.  What would Adam Clarke say?  Clarke opposed Charles Wesley’s organ playing in church so I suppose he would oppose Christmas in the church.  In his Bible Commentary Clarke notes in passing that Jesus was not born on December 25th and reasons that He was born possibly around late September since the shepherds were in the fields with their flocks (Luke 2:8).  Clarke makes no mention of Christmas.

Richard Watson likewise makes no mention of Christmas in his Theological Dictionary.  Watson does mention that Catholicism is heretical and unbiblical so it is safe to say that he would not have regarded Christmas with fondness.  Watson also takes aim at the heretical Catholic mass.

Today all Arminians that I know of have no trouble with Christmas.  The day has become a day to remember and ponder the birth of the Son of God.  I agree with Arminius and with others before me that the day is likely the day that Jesus was born on nor is a Christian less a Christian if they don’t celebrate Christmas.  In our day the birth of the Lord Jesus has largely become a day of giving of gifts, commercialism, Santa Claus and his flying reindeer.  The glory of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus has been either completely ignored by the secular or watered down by the Church.  I have often joked with my wife that it is the one time of the year that secular radio plays Christian songs and Christian radio plays secular Christmas songs.  It is the one time of the year that Christian radio will play Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” and secular radio will play a secular artist singing “Silent Night.”

The reality is that Christmas does cause us, no matter who we are, to atlases acknowledge Jesus.  Militant atheists want to deny that Jesus even existed yet Christmas points to the biblical reality that Jesus did in fact live and the world continues to acknowledge this.  Secularist want to remove Jesus from Christmas and, like Easter before it, make it about children and about more stuff (greed).  Yet the incarnation of God (John 1:14) is still there.  While December 25th was probably not His birthdate, the reality of the birth of the Son of God drives unbelievers and sinners mad.

In my estimation, Christmas is neither good nor evil.  It is not biblical but it does point to a biblical reality: that Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:34-35).  Jesus was born to die (Matthew 1:21).  He came to shed His blood for our salvation.  This is the miracle of Christmas.  The incarnation of Jesus should cause us to worship and adore Him for what He did for our salvation (Philippians 2:5-11).

The world has no problem with the Baby in the manger.  They have a problem with their sins and with the Judge of all the earth (Romans 1:18-21).  While the unbelieving world will celebrate the birth of the Messiah this December 25th, we disciples are looking to Hebrews 9:27-28 and we declare the Jesus is Lord!

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/23/2014 at 4:30 PM

Where Was Arminius on Eschatology?

Unlike John Calvin, Arminius did not leave behind massive amounts of writings.  Much of what we know about Arminius comes to us from those who knew him and wrote about him after his death.  We have his letters which make up his Works.  I have read Arminius’ Works and they are both public and private debates he had with theologians of his day over the issues that would become Arminianism versus Calvinism.

One aspect we know little about with both John Calvin and Arminius is their eschatological views.  The Puritans were clearly postmillennialists and they found their views in the works of Calvin.  Iain Murray, in his book The Puritan Hope, documents how the Puritans passion for the gospel and for Christian living was based in large part because of their postmillennial views.

Arminians, like Calvinists, are not set on one eschatological viewpoint.  There is room in the body of Christ for various views.  The only view that all of us should reject is either a full preterist view that teaches that Christ has already returned or fixing dates (see the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Harold Camping for such a view).  We know that Jesus will come back (Acts 1:11; Hebrews 9:28) but we know not when.  There is room in the Church for various views on this issue and I am not fixed on one though I would align myself with partial preterism and toward a postmillennial viewpoint.

But where was Arminius on this issue?  I think the best we can guess is that he was postmillennial.  This seems to be the view of Calvin and the Reformers.  John Wesley was clearly postmillennial.  Postmillennialism was the dominant view at the time of the Reformation and even into the late 1800’s, it was the most common view.  I remember when I first was reading John Wesley and I was, at that time, a premillennialist.  I was shocked to see that Wesley was a postmillennialist.  I thought the view was only held by liberals who believed that mankind would usher in the millennial kingdom but was shocked to learn that not just Wesley but many others held to postmillennialism.

Dr. Vic Reasoner wrote an excellent book on this issue that he called The Hope of the Gospel.  His passion was to present a Wesleyan understanding of eschatology.  He goes back and shows how the early Methodists passion for revival and for world evangelism was based on their postmillennial views.  They believed that the preaching of the gospel would usher in the millennial kingdom.  They took serious the great commission because they believed Jesus, as King, was establishing His kingdom (Hebrews 12:28).  They believed that Acts 1:8 promised them the power of the Spirit to accomplish this mission and that the gospel would tear down the strongholds of Satan (Romans 1:16-17).  As Reasoner wrote, “They took Psalm 110:1 as they anchor.”

I am not here to persuade you on this issue.  Again, I know that Arminians and Calvinists alike disagree over this issue.  I know many godly Arminians who are premillennialists.  I know Calvinists who are as well.  I know some amillennialists brothers as well.  On this side of eternity, we see through a glass rather dimly.  I do know Jesus will return but I don’t know when.  Neither does anyone else (Matthew 24:36).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/24/2014 at 9:27 PM

Short Thoughts on Biblical Discernment

It troubles me that we have “pastors” and “Bible teachers” doing interviews today and they debate the problems of our society or the social ills of our time by appealing to their feelings or their own thoughts.  Rather than standing on the Word of God for their thoughts, they often give their opinions and want other Christians to stand with them behind their feelings.  These mega-church leaders often work from a pragmatic perspective on social ills and will do whatever and say whatever in order to keep the masses (and the money I would add) flowing to them.  They talk about “demonstrating Jesus” and “being like Jesus toward those whom we disagree” but they never quote anything from the Word of God to back this up.  They simply assume that because they are a mega-church leader, we should just accept what they say.

What we need is to be biblically discerning.  We need to think biblically.  We need to question all things (and I do mean all things) by the Word of God.  Whether it be theological, social, historical, fiction, non-fiction, etc. we need to question everything by the authority of the Word of God.  The Bible alone inerrantly and powerfully speaks for God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  The Bible alone is the authority by which we can speak for God (Ephesians 6:17).  The Bible sanctifies us by separating us from the false thinking of this world (John 17:17) and it keeps us from sin by showing us what God loves and what God hates.  The Bible faithfully reveals the mind of God to us (Psalm 119:15).  We are called to renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) and this comes from meditating on the Word of God that cleanses us from sin (Ephesians 5:26).  The Word of God alone cuts deep into us (both saved and unsaved) according to Hebrews 4:12-13.  The Bible is our source of spiritual food (Matthew 4:4) and we are to hunger and thirst for it (1 Peter 2:1-3).  The Scriptures are Christ-centered and Christ-focused (John 20:31).

The Puritans prayed,

I thank Thee for the holy Scriptures,
their precepts, promises, directions, light.

In them may I learn more of Christ,
be enabled to retain His truth
and have grace to follow it.

Help me to lift up the gates of my soul
that He may come in
and show me Himself when I search
the Scriptures,
for I have no lines to fathom its depths,
no wings to soar to its heights.

By His aid may I be enabled to explore
all its truths,
love them with all my heart,
embrace them with all my power,
engraft them into my life.

Bless to my soul all grains of truth garnered
from Thy Word;
may they take deep root,
be refreshed by heavenly dew,
be ripened by heavenly rays,
be harvested to my joy and Thy praise.

Help me gain profit by what I read,
as treasure beyond all treasure,
a fountain which can replenish my dry heart,
its waters flowing through me as a perennial river
on-drawn by Thy Holy Spirit.

Enable me to distill from its pages faithful prayer
that grasps the arm of Thy omnipotence,
achieves wonders, obtains blessings,
and draws down streams of mercy.

From it show me how my words have often been
unfaithful to Thee,
injurious to my fellow-men,
empty of grace, full of folly,
dishonoring to my calling.

Then write Thy own words upon my heart
and inscribe them on my lips;
So shall all glory be to Thee
in my reading of Thy Word!

I pray that I too would have a heart that longs for the Word of God and that the Word of God would be my guide, my sword, my hammer, my operating tool to cut out my own sins.  I pray that the Church of Christ Jesus would love the Word of God, proclaim the Word of God, evangelize by the Word of God, and allow the Word of God to dominate our very lives in all areas.  We must be biblically trained, biblically discerning, and biblical in all ways to stand firm for the gospel.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/28/2014 at 9:55 AM

Our Lack of Prayer Shows our Practical Atheism

The great Puritan theologian Stephen Charnock wrote about what he called practical atheism.  While Charnock was clear that atheism is foolish (Psalm 14:1), he was quick to point out that many claimed to be theists but they live as atheists.  They don’t seek God, refuse to obey His laws or His Word, fail to acknowledge Him as Lord over all.  They claim with their mouths that they believe in God’s existence but their lives reflect that they live as if God does not exist.

Atheists often are quick to say that they do not believe in God or any deity but they turn around and often pray (“Oh God!”) when they face trials or pain.  Yet the practical atheist says that they believe in God but they never seek Him either until, like the atheist, they need Him.  Trials often make us believers when we have not been seeking God at all until we come face to face with our immortality and finiteness.

I believe our practical atheism is best seen in prayer.  One can read the Bible, talk theology, blog on theology, fellowship with other believers, but they do not seek God in prayer and show their own practical atheism.  They don’t need God.  They trust themselves or the creations of mankind to help them get through.  They don’t pray for much of anything at all if they pray at all.  They ignore the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:5-8 where we read:

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Notice that Jesus says that His followers would pray.  He assumes prayer.  Jesus says, “When you pray.”  Not “if you pray.”  Furthermore, our prayers are to be focused not for others to notice us but instead we are to pray in secret to our Father who is in secret (a point the atheist cannot fathom).  Jesus says that our Father will then reward us.

Jesus goes on in verses 7-8 to show us that prayer is not to be like the pagans who used “empty phrases” thinking that their false gods would hear them.  They could not.  Jesus reminds us in verse 8 that our Father knows what we need before we ask Him.  The true God of the Bible is absolutely sovereign and He is not hidden.  God is able not just to hear my prayers but He is involved in every facet of my being.  His divine providence watches over all of His creation (Matthew 6:25-33).

Yet the practical atheist ignores all of this and seeks the world or his own wisdom.  His prayer life (if he has one) proves that he doesn’t really believe in the promises of God.  He doesn’t believe in the promise of Jesus either here in Matthew 6:8 or Matthew 7:7-11 or Matthew 21:22.  If he did, he would pray but because he doesn’t pray, he shows his practical atheism.

How often have we first turned to the doctors of this world when we are sick (and we should not abandon seeking medical attention) but fail to go the Lord in prayer first.  We don’t believe in His providence or we would have been on our knees in holy prayer when we first felt ill or received the word that we were not well.  Our Father, says Jesus in Matthew 6:8, knows all of this by His sovereignty and care yet we ignore this and fail to seek His face.

How often have we ignored the promise of God in His Word to care for our needs (Matthew 6:11)?  How often have we shown our practical atheism because we fail to trust God and not be anxious for anything (Philippians 4:6) or about anything (Matthew 6:31-34)?  How often have we shown our practical atheism even in evangelism because we don’t pray for the lost (Romans 10:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-6) or even pray for laborers in the harvest fields (Matthew 9:37-38)?

Surely our prayer lives (or lack thereof) shows our practical atheism.  We claim we believe in the sovereignty of God but our actions show that we do not.  We testify to the truthfulness of Scripture yet how often do we ignore its precious promises (2 Peter 1:4).  We say that we trust in God but we go about as if we don’t trust Him at all.  We don’t believe in His providence in our lives.  We give Him no glory for all that He does for us even the smallest things like breathing, my heart beating, the ability to read and think, to be thankful that I can type this blog post.  We don’t acknowledge that God is over us in all things and that we need Him daily to simply survive.  This shows our practical atheism.

The true nature of the child of God is to be thankful.  Thankfulness in prayer is the mark of the disciple.  We acknowledge in prayer that God is sovereign, that He is in full control.  When we seek God, we are praising Him who made all things.  I love 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 in regard to prayer:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Notice that Paul says here that we are to rejoice always which would lead to praying without ceasing which would lead to giving thanks in all circumstances.  And why?  Because of God.  This is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus (v. 18).  God’s will is for us to trust Him, to rely on Him, to seek Him in prayer, and to be thankful for His rule over all.

Don’t allow this day to pass without prayer.  Prayer will turn your heart away from practical atheism toward trusting Him who is sovereign over all.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/22/2014 at 10:23 AM

Book Review: The Secret Key to Heaven by Thomas Brooks

I have always enjoyed reading the Puritans.  Their passion for theology shows in their writings as what you will not find is a bunch of subjective stories trying to illustrate Christian living but rather you’ll find theology worked out in the pages of their writings.  From Puritans that I disagreed with often (such as John Owen) to Puritans I have much in common with (such as John Goodwin), I have enjoyed how Puritan theology sought to glorify God through careful exegesis of the Scriptures.

The same holds true in this book, The Secret Key to Heaven by Puritan minister Thomas Brooks (1608-1680).  Brooks singular focus is prayer.  He wants us to see the confidence we can have in prayer and he wants us to see that heaven itself is waiting for the saints of God to come before the Lord in holy prayer.  In the book, Brooks leaves no stone unturned as you go from the basics of prayer to hindrances to prayer.  As typical with Puritans, the focus is the Scriptures and the glory of God.  Brooks is not writing a “purpose-driven” book on prayer but he is looking intently into the Scriptures to see just what God has said in His Word about praying.  Brooks shows the reader that prayer is not a vain ritual as Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:5-8.  He shows us that faith in God is the key to praying and answers in prayer (Mark 11:22-24) but the focus of our praying is not on our selfishness but upon the holiness and goodness of God (Ephesians 3:20-21).

As I read the book, I found nothing in it that an Arminian would reject.  Brooks does not teach on prayer from a Calvinist position (though I believe he is a Calvinist).  He hints at Calvinism only when referring to the sovereignty of God (deterministic views of God).  He believes, however, that a sovereign God is the only One who can truly be God in praying.  Why pray to a weak god?  Did not Jesus say that all things can be done in prayer (John 14:13-14)?  As I read this book, I noticed nothing that an Arminian would read (such as with John Owen) and completely disagree with.  I believe Arminians would be richly blessed reading this book.

Overall, you can’t go wrong reading Thomas Brooks’ work on prayer.  Many of the Puritans were prayer warriors.  The Puritan book, The Valley of Vision, shows this.  I believe that Thomas Brooks sought God.  From his writings he seemed to drip with a passion to seek the face of God and not His hand.  He wanted God to be exalted and he rightly saw that through prayer, God can and does glorify His name.  How much the Father wants us to seek Him!  Oh how much time we waste not praying and seeking God!  While I agree with Leonard Ravenhill that the secret to more prayer is praying in secret more, you can spark your passion for prayer by reading books such as this one.  I do highly recommend it.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

11/17/2011 at 4:30 PM

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