Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

To Address Some Concerns (Part III)

I said previously that I would cover the whole question of tongues and SBC policy pertaining thereto in separate posts. However, if I don't just get on with the issue, it'll never get written, and so I've decided to just write one post about the question of charismatic gifts and my seminary choice. Next time I'll cover the women as pastors issue.

My attitude towards charismatic gifts today? In short, I haven't come to a settled theological opinion on the matter. I guess I'd be in the "open but cautious" camp described in Zondervan's "Are Miraculous Gifts For Today?" by Robert Saucy.

I have no desire to put God in a box. I do not see a clear Scriptural case for the outright cessation of miraculous gifts, and without one I must be open to the possibility of God's working in such manners. I've read both Reformed (e.g., Richard Gaffin's) and dispensationalist (e.g., John MacArthur's) cases for cessationism, and while they make many good points, I am not convinced. I have known personally people healed miraculously - but always in answer to prayer, and not through a human agent or "faith healer."

On the other hand, I am EXTREMELY skeptical of the alleged manifestations of the gifts I saw during my time in charismatic circles. I see no Scriptural reason to believe that tongues are anything other than interpretable human languages (how else could Paul have commanded an interpreter be present?) and, even more important, most of the charismatic churches I have personally experience utterly ignored Paul's instructions on their use in church (no more than three people, always with an interpreter, etc.).

And, I don't speak in tongues. I never have. I have never felt any desire to seek that gift - and I see Paul commanding us to seek higher gifts than tongues in the New Testament. In short, a Baptist education is not going to change my mind, or cause me any "cognitive dissonance."

With respect to prophecy, I am increasingly worried by the number of people I see - even in Baptist circles! - claiming "words from the Lord." To me, that is the claim of a prophet, and to speak in such a manner without being willing to stake one's life on it (that's the Deuteronomic test) is to treat the Lord's name far too casually. It risks breaking the commandment about taking God's name in vain.

And I do reject outright the idea common in charismatic circles - and championed by Wayne Grudem, among others - that New Testament prophecy is fallible. This would, first, render the whole New Testament questionable in terms of its accuracy (because the process of enscripturation is a form of prophecy, being inspired writing and speech); it would make any Scriptural test of a false prophet (such as that given in Deuteronomy) utterly useless; and it would remove the seriousness of false prophecy and allow untrue words to be casually dismissed as a natural consequence of the prophetic process. I find the arguments based on Agabus' alleged "wrong" prophecies untenable in much the same way as I am unconvinced about cessationist claims that 1 Corinthians 13 predicts the end of prophecy. In short, if there's prophecy today, it has to be perfectly accurate and its deliverer will be in absolutely no doubt about the message's origin - the same as it's always been.

(A short word, though, on the Southern Baptist International Mission Board's new policy for its missionaries. The IMB last year approved a policy forbidding any person who speaks in a "private prayer language" or who has been baptized in a church not holding to eternal security from being an IMB missionary. I find this policy reprehensible, because in my view the IMB is a servant to the churches, not their watchdog or master. It has no right to dictate to churches, who in Baptist ecclesiology have the right to nominate and recommend missionaries, what doctrinal standards must be met by their nominees beyond the statement of faith of the SBC, approved by those churches. And the Baptist Faith and Message is silent on the issue of tongues, and does not link the issues of eternal security and baptism - else it would require that Christians joining SBC churches from Pentecostal and other Arminian denominations be rebaptised. This it does not do, and so I share my friend's concern for the IMB's policy.

And, for that matter, so do many others in the SBC. I would not be surprised to see the policy eventually rescinded. After all, the present head of the IMB is on record as using a private prayer language. And though I disagree with him about that [see my comments on tongues as human language above] I support his right to hold that view in the SBC - because our statement of faith is silent on the issue.)

That's my short take on the charismata. Again, I'm not settled on the issue, and I think both sides are wrong in different areas, so I am open but very cautious. I believe that a pastor's primary preparation has to be in rightly handling Scripture, and not the charismatic gifts, and with that as my highest priority, I chose a Baptist seminary.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Great Quote

"While there is a great deal of mysticism among modern faith healers, they actually eliminate mystery from miracle, making healing predictable and, in fact, inevitable (naturalistic). No longer is a miracle the spontaneous and surprising work of God, but the right use of means, as predictable as any other scientific law. When God heals, it is not an interruption of natural laws. At its core, the faith healers proclaim a naturalistic faith. Salvation and healing are both human achievements." (Michael Horton)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Grieving a Friend

When a person joins the military, we call the commitment made "signing on the dotted line." The phrase calls to mind the sacrifices made and risk assumed by the person signing. Anyone who joins should "count the cost," so to speak, and I thought I did. I knew being a soldier could be dangerous; I knew it could get me hurt or killed.

Sadly, though, most of us who joined don't count the emotional cost of being a soldier. Military life doesn't just carry the risk of being hurt physically. Over the course of a career, you meet people and form relationships with many of them. The high-pressure environment of military life forges friendships like few other circumstances can. And since the risk to those friends is as real is the risk to oneself, military life means the virtual certainty that you will lose people you care about.

And being out of the ranks and backin civilian life does nothing to insulate you from that risk. Last Wednesday, I casually checked the news, and saw that another Canadian soldier had been killed in Afghanistan. When I opened the story, it was like a punch in the stomach. I recognized the picture before I read the name.

Nichola Goddard was a classmate, and a fellow soldier and gunner. But more than that, she was my friend.

I met her in my first year at Royal Military College in the fall of 1998. She was an outgoing, gregarious person with a big smile. One of the things that stands out in my memories the most is that, in a place where the use of last names was the norm even between close friends, she would always say, "Hey, Jeff!" as we passed in the hallway between classes. And we sat (suffered!) through many a class together, being both in the Arts stream at the College.

It was the following summer, though, where we came to know each other well through mutual friends. Nic had been in the same basic training platoon as my best friend, Kevin Laffin, and was in the same cadet squadron as my fellow drummer Mitch Rivest. As a result, when most of my first-year class went off to Saint-Jean-sur-Richilieu, Quebec for French training in the summer of '99, we wound up spending a considerable amount of time together. I remember various things: waking up at 5 AM for fire drills, standing outside the barracks shivering and swatting mosquitos; sitting with a bunch of buddies at our hang-out, Beethoven's, over peanuts and drinks, and Nic and her boyfriend Jay joining us even though it was their first anniversary going out together; my first visit to Ottawa on Canada Day '99, along with Nic, Jay, Mitch, and my buddy Bill Prince. I still have a picture of "Princess" and I all painted up for the occasion, me carrying a big Canadian flag - and if I recall correctly, it was Nic who took the picture.

It's funny how you remember all the little things at a time like this. Nic fretting, at the airport, over whether the airline would give her trouble for her biathlon rifle; the two of us being nominated for some Artillery regimental prize while at the College, and agreeing to decline because we were not trained as gunners yet; her advice to me about what to expect on Artillery training because she got the course before I did. The last time I saw her, she was finishing her temporary position as a training officer at Gagetown's Artillery School, where I was the Assistant Adjutant, and we were discussing public affairs and administrative issues.

All those memories sharpen the loss by themselves. Even sadder for me personally, I was privileged to catch a glimpse of her family life. Through the years I knew them, she and her husband Jay were literally inseparable, so much so that my buddies and I rarely ever referred to them separately; they were "Nic n' Jay." They met on basic training and had been going out ever since. I saw a comment Jay made to the media a couple days ago, saying that he had lost his best friend. He literally did.

She and her family were close. I recall a fencing tournament in my fourth year of College where she showed up, all excited, to watch one of the women's matches. Turned out her sister Victoria ("Tori") was fencing against the RMC team - that was the first of her family I met. And just two and a half years ago, Nic and Jay were in Calgary visiting her parents, and Mitch and I were invited to spend New Year's Eve (if I recall correctly) with their family. It was a privilege to meet them all.

Yes, she took pride in her work. She was a solid leader and as professional as they come. Everyone I knew at the Artillery School - and I knew practically everyone - had the highest respect for her. She cared deeply about her troops and about the mission she was on in Afghanistan. I'm sure, though, that it would have saddened her greatly to leave her family behind. It's the risk any soldier takes, and she knew it as well as anyone, but dying in battle would not have been her first choice. It's a testament to her love for the Army and her concern for her soldiers that she assumed that risk anyway. I'm sure she would have been proud that, in that last battle, all her soldiers made it out alive and that the Canadians defeated the Taliban soundly. She loved her job, and she died doing what she loved.

I'll keep Jay and her family in my prayers, and I'll be at the funeral Friday, God willing. As for Nic, it was a blessing to have known her, and I sincerely and painfully regret not having taken the opportunity to know her better. It really does take a loss to understand what you once had. Through times like this, we're reminded that every day really is a gift from above, and that we cannot take anything for granted.

Nic, good shooting. Stand easy.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I Know It's Been A While...

What a semester!

I have not had time to write anything, it seems. My first semester of seminary is over, and it's time to update a few things...

First, Erin's pregnancy is still going well. Her belly is getting bigger and her appetite is impressive. Unfortunately, the frequency of her trips to the bathroom has also increased... Not a night goes by where she doesn't stumble out of bed and stagger next door. Poor girl...

Life in Cochrane and at the seminary is a blast. I am loving every minute of it. The work is hard but fair, the professors knowledgeable and caring, the students sharp and congenial. I can't say I agree wholeheartedly with everything I've been taught, but I'm here to learn and that requires I face positions I might not agree with and seek to understand them. It's been a very worthwhile semester, in all.

Erin and I have been attending a new church over the last two months. It's called Symons Valley Community Church, and it is a church plant about a year and a half old. The church planter who's led the startup is a really gregarious and dedicated fellow, and his wife is a sweetheart. They are actively recruiting me to fill a hole that will open up in July when their current teaching / preaching "pastor" (a fellow student) leaves for other pastures. I would have very big boots to fill, and so Erin and I are praying about this decision.

I still intend to finish my series "To Answer Some Concerns;" I just haven't been able to devote the time to it yet. I will soon - there is one other, more immediate and sombre item I intend to address this week.

In short, God has been good and his grace has been more than sufficient. So stay tuned - if anyone's still out there....