Archive for the ‘Charity’ Category

Charitable Reading

February 16, 2016

No one can force you to read people charitably, giving them the benefit of the doubt when they are ambiguous or make statements that sound heterodox. Indeed, even if you want to read charitably, you may not find it easy, particularly if you are a person prone to perpetual suspicion. It may be a habit you have to cultivate by careful practice of extending grace to those you read, especially when you don’t feel they deserve it.

If you choose to exercise charity, you can still note red flags – statements that raise some suspicion or doubt about the charitable assumptions you are giving the author. Reading people charitably is not the same thing as automatically accepting everything they say as correct, or being blind to their potential faults.

Charitable reading should lead to a response of speaking the truth in love. In other words, charitable reading can lead to charitable responses. Those responses can be critical responses, but they need not be caustic responses.

Christian duty demands charitable reading and responses, particularly when it comes to the brethren, and most of all when it comes to elders. This duty, however, has to be fulfilled in the heart, a place where no church discipline can fully penetrate.

When you are trying to read charitably and you come to a head-scratching comment from the author, ask yourself: how could that be understood in an orthodox way? am I missing some context that would make that statement legitimate? Avoid rushing to judgment, but instead exercise circumspection.

Don’t be afraid to ask the author what he meant, if you can. This should be done in an honest and forthright way of trying to identify the author’s intent. The goal is not to trap the author, but simply to discern what he actually meant by what he said. The goal is not harass or accuse the author, but instead to flesh out the meaning, identify the context, and perhaps define the nuance that the author may have been intending.

With dead or famous authors, this won’t always be possible. You may have to investigate for yourself what this person said in the context and on other occasions about the same subject.

When you see a red flag, and you are considering whether this red flag is more than just a red flag, consider the gravity of the fault implied. If the conclusion would be simply that the person is an inexact speaker or has a minor error in doctrine, that’s one thing. If the conclusion is that the speaker is a lost person, or a deliberate wolf in sheep’s clothing, that’s a more serious situation.

The more serious the situation, the more it behooves us to make sure we are correct before leveling a charge. While “innocent until proven guilty” may only be mandatory when you’re on a jury, it’s a handy reference for us to use in life. Moreover, while for minor things we may simply express a conclusion when we’re persuaded it is correct, it would be wise for us to use a higher standard when a more serious charge is being made.

Does charity demand that we always use “beyond a reasonable doubt”? That’s not my contention. Rather I’m suggesting that we should use discernment in the use of our tongue. James warns us of the dangers of the uncontrolled use of our tongues. We need to tame that monster, and it’s no easy task.

Proverbs 10:19 In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.

Ecclesiastes 5:2-7
Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by multitude of words.
When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.
Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.

-TurretinFan

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On the Exercise of Charity

August 28, 2008

I was recently told (by someone who was there), of a certain elderly Roman Catholic lady, unwilling to be so uncharitable as to pray that the unhelpful bank teller be damned in hell, compromised by indicating her intention to pray that the teller would be stuck in Purgatory.

I don’t bring this up to suggest that the woman was in any way expressing proper Roman Catholic doctrine or approved practice. I suppose that most Roman Catholic bishops would acknowledge that such a prayer would be improper.

I bring it up to highlight the need to distinguish between our own perceptions of Charity and true Charity. True Charity is turning the other cheek, not punching the villain with only 50% of your strength. It’s a lesson we can all learn, not just this otherwise sweet old lady.

-TurretinFan

Unity, Liberty, and Charity – Who said it first?

April 28, 2008

Introduction

I happened to be reading LP Cruz’s blog today, and noticed an article in which he ascribed to “a 17th century Lutheran pastor” the famous saying, “In the essentials, unity, in the non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, Charity,” or something to that effect.

It seems like sound-thinking and appeals to our softer side; but who said it first? LP Cruz’s post sparked my interest to dig deeper into the subject.

Melancthon

Ramage’s “Beautiful thoughts from Latin Authors,” ascribes the maxim to Melancthon, and notes that it has been carved in stone above his garden gate. (link) Cox too seems to maintain Melancthon as the originator, posting that quotation prominently on the title page of his biography of that reformer (link). Matthes likewise seems to be of the same view in his life and works of Melancthon (link), though my German and ability to read the older scripts is not good enough for me to be definitive. Hoefer also seems to be willing to attribute the saying to Melancthon (link).

Unknown

Belton thinks that the origin of the phrase is “really unknown,” though he seems to have found it in a few 17th century writers (link). This is perhaps the most honest and direct conclusion we could give, but it is our part as scholars to dig, guess, and delve. To that end, we cannot be satisfied with Belton’s willing agnosticism on the matter.

Witsius

Remarkably, the earliest I was able to find a reference (published 1719) to this famous maxim was in the works of the unworthy son of Francis Turretin, Jean Alphonse, who provides the saying with the addition of Prudence to the final line of the saying (link). J.A. Turretin appears to ascribe the phrase to Witsius. Cunningham (and others) agree that Witsius adopted this as his favorite motto (link).

Meldenius – not Augustine
Stanley ascribes the quotation to Rupertus Meldenius, and notes that it had for a time been falsely ascribed to Augustine (link). Jones notes the dubious ascription to Augustine here as well (link). Hamerton appears to have bought the Augustine line (link).

Narrowing it down Further

Hoyt lists both Meldenius (his preference) and Melancthon (link) (much the same thought here, as well).

Conclusion

Augustine was a rather obvious misattribution, his weighty name getting the credit for anything good in Latin among many Protestants. Ironically, the saying eventually came to be approved by a pope, as this thoughtful web page noted (link) and seems to have become taken essentially as dogma in other Catholic writings (e.g.). This may perhaps have been due to its misattribution to Augustine, though the pope seemed to have been aware of the dubious origin of the maxim.

Witsius probably did help popularize the expression, but does not seem to have taken credit for its origin. Furthermore, the 1626 date of Meldenius’ publication is slightly before Witsius’ birth, which naturally seals Witsius off from further consideration.

Melancthon (1497-1560) is old enough to antedate Meldenius’ publication, and would even be old enough to cast Meldenius’ originality into question, but it seems that the garden gate of Melancthon’s garden may simply not date to Melancthon’s time (which would hardly be surprising), and there appears to be no other record of Melancthon having heard of the saying.

At the end of the day, Meldenius has the edge on the others, given that his usage was the first to appear in print – that we have been able to recover (though I have not even been able to recover that). Here’s an interesting brief discussion of Meldenius for those who may be interested (link). In short, L.P. Cruz appears to be justified in attributing the famous phrase to “Peter Medeirlin, a Lutheran pastor of the 17th Century.” If you explore the final link above, you will find some reasonable speculation that Meldenius is a pseudonym (yes folks, people did publish pseudonymously before the Internet) for Medeirlin, based on a rearrangement of letters.

Regardless of who originated the saying let us follow the modified form published by J.A. Turretin, in which we maintain unity among Christians on the essentials (the gospel), liberty among Christians on the non-essentials (other doctrines), and both charity and prudence in all things.

-TurretinFan

P.S. Thanks to Albert for catching an error in the original version of this post.

Heresy in the Guise of Charity

January 23, 2008

James Jordon, in a recent post at “Biblical Horizons,” has thoughts on this thesis: “it has been my observation that in every group there are those with a healthy catholic attitude toward other Christians and also those with a proud and condescending attitude toward others who call themselves Christians.”

James really ought to have capitalized that “c” in “catholic.”

Look at James’ examples:

– Lutherans … supposedly have better music.

Jordan pompously insists that instruments in worship are a “must” and goes on to complain that Lutherans have the best congregational song. There’s no accounting for taste, as the saying goes. I still love the sound of the voices of the congregation singing, unaccompanied, the Psalms of David.

– Baptists … supposedly are better at evangelism.

Perhaps Reformed Baptists are (though, frankly, I have not seen evidence to back that claim up). Non-reformed Baptists claim many proselytes, but most present a gospel message that is wildly distorted! One cannot be a “good evangelist” unless one has the gospel. Besides all that, Jordan is distinguishing between Calvinists and Baptists, which presumes he has overlooked the Reformed Baptists in the process.

– Roman Catholics … are supposedly better than “other Christians” at setting up hospitals and mercy missions.

Frankly, I have no way to evaluate the claim that he makes. I’m aware of plenty of non-Catholic medical (and the like) missions. Nevertheless, Catholics make up a large fraction of the population in some parts, so perhaps they have some edge in Jordan’s perception. The bigger problem is with Jordan’s blanket classification of Roman Catholics as Christians. While individual Roman Catholics (in the sense of adhering to an RC congregation) may be saved, just as anyone is saved, namely by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, Roman Catholicism is apostate: it is outside the visible church, because of its rejection of salvation by grace alone, and its rejection of justification through faith alone, as well as other things. Anyone who seeks salvation the way that Rome invites, will be lost. Nevertheless, God’s word is able to work even through corrupt means. Consequently, just because someone is affiliated with the Roman Catholic church does not mean he is lost.

– Methodists … supposedly “outdid” us in America.

What does Jordan mean? Jordan means that Methodists gained more adherants. Jordan rails against an “educated clergy,” claiming that this “eliminated vast numbers of men with pastoral gifts in favor of a scholarly elite.” Jordan’s an anti-intellectualism is natural, for those with sound thinking will see through his position. Nevertheless, it’s important to note why “Calvinists” insisted on trained preachers, rather than novices, in the pulpit. Not only does the Bible insist that elders not be novices (which would be cause enough), but practically this helps to stem the flow of heresy. It is easier for an uneducated man to be buffetted about from untenable position to untenable position, until his ego alights on a position that renders unassailable through force of dogmatism, without justification.

– Episcopalians … supposedly have been able best to work with “the halls of secular power.”

Presumably Jordan means “the civil magistrate,” or “the national/state/local goverment.” It seems to me that the Quakers outdid the Episcopaleans, but how does one measure such things. Jordan even goes further and asserts that, “Episcopal church government is closer to the Bible,” a statement that goes so far beyond supportable, that one wonders what Bible Jordan has been reading!

– The Pentacostals … are supposedly more enthusiastic.

Well, this is mostly true, but enthusiasm is only good when balanced. The Reformed tradition balances enthusiasm with order, discipline, and most crucially, with truth! Irrational exuberance is what leads to stock market crashes and disorder of every kind, including heresy.

Jordan’s thesis is not completely wrong. There are ways in which other Christians “outdo” us. The verse in question, though speaks to us as individuals, not the Christian church as a whole. Jordan is misapplying the verse as a platform to speak against sound doctrine and practice, and to blur the lines between Christian and heretic. This truly is a grave error, and one hopes that Jordan will repent from it. For those interested to confirm my representation of what JBJ said: (link).

May God give us wisdom to remove the beams from our own eyes,

-Turretinfan

UPDATE: Meanwhile, his fellow Federal Visionist, Douglas Wilson has post similarly perpetuating negative stereotypes of Calvinists (“Some die-hard Calvinists may have glanced at the title of this message–friendship evangelism–and asked, “What’s evangelism?” Or, if they are really die-hard Calvinists, perhaps they asked, “What’s friendship?””) here (link).


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