Author Archive

Losing Old Church Buildings

Posted: December 8, 2010 by joelmartin in Christ & Culture, From the Heart, History, Worship

I’m hearing that the court case against the Virginia CANA churches may not go well. Truro, Falls Church and others may be forced to leave their historic buildings. I’ve never been a fan of the “defend the property” strategy, but this is still very sad news. Turning these buildings over to heretics is akin to the North African Church falling to Islam a long time ago.

With that said, it occurred to me today that one reason that it is such a blow to lose these venerable buildings is because there is so little chance of replacing them in our lifetime. Our theology of architecture is so impoverished, and the buildings that we typically build as Protestant churches are generally so awful, that losing these old buildings is a great tragedy.

Most new church buildings are ephemeral, not durable. They are ugly, functional, “multi-purpose” facilities where people worship in the gym. There is generally no art, no stained glass windows and nothing that would really differentiate these buildings from the prison-like school buildings that we build today. On the other hand, places like Truro have a simple elegance and exude a sense of tranquility and “churchiness” that is lacking in most modern Protestant facilities. It seems that Catholics have kept their senses and are producing some great buildings even today. I live down the street from one and I’ve seen many others, such as the gorgeous Holy Apostles in Meridian, Idaho.

So if we are going to continue to think that buildings don’t matter or that we need to build the cheapest, ugliest thing we can get away with and call it good, then losing the old places like Truro (and the many, many United Methodist parishes in Virginia that are gorgeous and given over to heresy) is a very sad event indeed.

The Omniscient Biblical Narrator

Posted: December 8, 2010 by joelmartin in Biblical Studies

I was recently looking over some of what Meir Sternberg wrote about the omniscient narrator in the Bible. Today I read the account of Ahab and Naboth in I Kings 21 and it brought Sternberg to mind again. The narrator of the account has access to Ahab’s conversation with Naboth, Jezebel’s conversation with Ahab, Jezebel’s letters to the elders and nobles of the city, and Elijah’s condemnation of Ahab. How can this be? We are never told of course.

The omniscient viewpoint is often used by the writers of the Bible and we often think nothing of it as we read. Perhaps later writers had access to sources around Ahab, or perhaps God simply revealed all of it to Elijah or a scribe of Elijah’s. Who knows? The Bible is very quiet about its method of composition and we can’t really peer behind the scenes with any confidence.

David Field provides some heartening evidence in this paper about how the world is improving for the Church:

Evangelical defeatism is a failure of historical perspective. After all, the statistics are out there. It took 1400 years for 1% of the world’s population to become Christians and then another 360 years for that to double to 2%. Another 170 years saw that grow from 2% to 4% and then, between 1960 and 1990 the proportion of the world’s population made up of Bible-believing Christians rose from 4% to 8%. Now, in 2007, one third of the world’s population confesses that Jesus is Lord and 11% of the world’s population are “evangelical” Christians. The evangelical church is growing twice as fast as Islam and three times as fast as the world’s population. South America is turning Protestant faster than Continental Europe did in the sixteenth century. South Koreans reckon that they can evangelize the whole of North Korea within five years once that country opens up. And then there’s the Chinese church consisting of tens of millions of Christians who have learned to pray, who have confidence in Scripture, who know about spiritual warfare, have been schooled in suffering and are qualified to rule. One day in the next century that Church – tens of millions of Christians trained to die – will be released into global mission and our prayers for the fall of Islam will be answered.

Amen! It is good to see evidence of postmillenial optimism. We walk by faith, not by sight.

Andrew Sandlin wrote a good post this week on the same subject that I keep seeing – Christians who use grace as a cover for antinomianism. Sandlin says:

We ourselves are required to rebuke evil and have no company with it (Eph. 5:11–13).

What many of today’s grace-talking non-judgmentalists actually want is a grandfatherly God who overlooks their rebellion and favors them despite their gross, unrepentant sin.  They want to fornicate, despise God’s church and its ordinances, observe pornography, abuse prescription (and illegal) drugs, profane God’s name, revel in lewdness, spurn the godly counsel of parents and pastors and teachers, eschew hard work, and otherwise lust to be accepted by an apostate, pagan culture — all while assuming the pious protection of God’s grace.

Calvin to Cranmer on Church Unity

Posted: November 12, 2010 by joelmartin in Anglicanism, Church History, History

Thomas Cranmer desired a general council of the Protestant churches to unite them in confession and form a western, Protestant Church. Oh that it would have happened! God in his providence did not see fit for that to occur. But here is Calvin’s response to Cranmer on the subject:

I know moreover, that your purpose is not confined to England alone; but, at the same moment, you consult the benefit of all the world. The generous disposition and uncommon piety of his Majesty, the king, are justly to be admired, as he is please to favor this holy purpose of holding such a council, and offers a place for its session in his kingdom. I wish it might be effected, that learned and stable men, from the principal churches, might assemble in some place, and, after discussing with care each article of faith, deliver to posterity, from their general opinion of them all, the clear doctrines of the Scriptures. It is to be numbered among the evils of our day, that the churches are so divided one from another, that there is scarcely any friendly intercourse strengthened between us; much less does that holy communion of the members of Christ flourish, which all profess with the mouth, but few sincerely regard in the heart. But if the principal teachers conduct themselves more coldly than they ought, it is principally the fault of the princes who, involved in their secular concerns, neglect the prosperity and purity of the church; or each one, contented with his own security, is indifferent to the welfare of others. Thus it comes to pass, that the members being divided, the body of the church lies disabled.
Respecting myself, if it should appear that I could render any service, I should with pleasure cross ten seas, if necessary, to accomplish that object. Even if the benefit of the kingdom of England only was to be consulted, it would furnish a reason sufficiently powerful with me. But as in the council proposed, the object is to obtain the firm and united agreement of learned men to the sound rule of Scripture, by which churches now divided may be united with each other, I think it would be a crime in me to spare any labor or trouble to effect it. But I expect my slender ability to accomplish this will furnish me with sufficient excuse. If I aid that object by my prayers, which will be undertaken by others, I shall discharge my part of the business. Melancthon is so far from me, that our letters cannot be exchanged in a short time. Bullinger has perhaps answered you before this. I wish my ability was equal to the ardency of my desires. But what I at first declined, as unable to accomplish, I perceive the very necessity of the business now compels me to attempt. I not only exhort you, but I conjure you, to proceed, until something shall be effected, if not every thing you could wish.

Perhaps we will see more unity built from the confusion of our day, although it now seems doubtful.

Engraven on Brass

Posted: November 10, 2010 by joelmartin in Latter Day Saint (Mormon) Interests
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Anyone familiar with the story of the Book of Mormon will know the phrase, “plates of brass.” These plates are one of many sets of plates that we read of in the book. We encounter them early on, in I Nephi 3.3:

For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of thy forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass.

I came upon one possible inspiration for this idea last night as I read I Kings in the King James Version. In the section describing the building of Solomon’s Temple, I read:

And every base had four brazen wheels, and plates of brass…and also upon the mouth of it were gratings with their borders…For on the plates of the ledges thereof, and on the borders thereof, he graved cherubims, lions, and palm trees…
[I Kings 7]

Now the plates mentioned in Kings are of a very different nature than those in the BOM, but the phraseology is the same, and could easily be the kernel of an idea: the Jews worked in brass, brass would endure unlike scrolls and could preserve an ancient record. Also, the well-known interest of Masons in Hiram of Tyre and Joseph Smith’s interest in temples suggest that he would know this passage of Scripture with some familiarity.

Evolution and Space Policy

Posted: November 10, 2010 by joelmartin in Creation/Evolution
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For a long time I have believed that one of the motivating forces behind our space program is to attempt to prove Darwinism by seeing it on other planets. This article confirms it to me.

Based on the geology of Mars’s northern plains, the new study suggests that bodies of water formed as groundwater slowly seeped through cracks in the crust. This process would have made oceans and lakes quickly—within just a few years—but also could have sustained the bodies of water over millennia.

However, even when Mars was supposedly wet, the planet likely didn’t have a very thick atmosphere. Many scientists therefore think that if life as we know it evolved on Mars, the best places to look for it would be where liquid water would have been protected from extreme temperature changes and damaging ultraviolet radiation from the sun.