Larry Farlow

Commentary on Theology & Culture

May 25, 2016
by Larry Farlow
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Apple Pie Theology

Apple Pie TheologyOne of the questions that inevitably comes up when you study church history, especially the history of the Reformation, is whether the Roman Catholic Church should be considered Christian. On the one hand, they affirm the Nicene Creed which places them within the pale of historic Christianity along with Protestants and the Eastern Orthodox. On the other hand, they reject the notion of salvation by grace through faith alone. This puts them in the position of preaching a gospel other than the one affirmed by the apostles which, in turn, puts them under condemnation according to the Apostle Paul (Galatians 1:8-9).

So what are we to think about the Roman Catholic Church? Are they Christian because they are within the pale of Nicene orthodoxy or are they not Christian because they preach a false gospel? Additionally, how do we understand the difference between Nicene Roman Catholicism and something like Mormonism?

The answer lies in understanding the purpose of the creeds. The Nicene Creed in particular was not intended to be an exhaustive theological statement. It was formulated to address particular issues the church was facing at the time it was written – primarily the challenge to the divinity of Christ being put forth by the Arians. The Creed says nothing about the nature of the atonement, justification, etc. But, it does put up some boundaries beyond which a belief system cannot be Christian. So, from a historical and sociological perspective, religions within Nicene boundaries are considered Christian. But, this does not mean everyone who affirms Nicaea can be considered Christian from a theological perspective, as it is merely a starting point.

One way I’ve sorted this out is thinking of an apple pie. There are certain ingredients that must be present for a pie to be considered an apple pie. For argument’s sake, let’s say those ingredients are apples, sugar and nutmeg. Pies that contain apples, sugar and nutmeg can be classified as Apple Pies:

Nicene Apple Pie

Of course, we can add other things to the pie like rhubarb, for example, and it would still be an apple pie. But, are there things we can add that are so contrary to the pie’s purpose that, while technically still an apple pie, it becomes worthless as such? I think so:

A pie containing apples, sugar, nutmeg, sardines and garlic may be in the apple pie category technically but will not function as an apple pie in any meaningful sense.

Roman Catholicism is like an apple pie with sardines and garlic added – technically in the category of Christian but containing so many extra ingredients that are in conflict with the basics that it ceases to be Christian in reality.

For Mormonism and other anti-Nicene cults who call themselves Christian, the apple pie looks like this:

Mormon Apple Pie

They use peaches but call it an apple pie even though it is nothing of the kind and never has been. Mormonism began, not with Nicene orthodoxy from which they’ve strayed, but with heresy in which they’ve continued. They’re a peach pie masquerading as apple.

So while the Nicene Creed addresses essential beliefs it is not an exhaustive list of those essentials. The crux of Christianity is the gospel. If I affirm the divinity of Christ and the reality of the Trinity in sync with Nicaea but deny that the work of Christ alone is sufficient for my salvation, I have denied the gospel and forfeited the right to call myself a Christian. That is why, though we don’t place Roman Catholicism in the category of a cult like Mormonism, we must still place it outside the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: WinstonWong* via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

May 2, 2016
by Larry Farlow
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Retailer Announces New Policy

6737321913_282a13db70_zMajor retailer Bull’s-Eye: BULL (NYSE) announced Thursday that it was updating the access policy in all its stores. “Bull’s-Eye is an inclusive company and we want to be sure no one who walks in our stores feels excluded in any way,” said Eileen Wayleft, head of customer relations. “As a result, all those offensive ‘Employees Only’ signs will be taken down. From now on, every person who walks in our store will have access to every area. No one should be told they can’t walk through a door simply because they don’t happen to work for Bull’s-Eye.”

The retail giant also announced an end to parking places exclusively for the handicapped and expectant mothers. Wayleft said, “Any distinction made among people for any reason is discrimination, something that is against our values here at Bull’s-Eye.”

When asked if they would be moving the cigarettes from behind the Plexiglas at register seven so smokers can buy a pack of Camels without feeling like second-class shoppers, Wayleft replied, “Are you crazy! Smokers should have their houses and children taken away from them and be exiled to…um, I mean no comment.”

Photo credit: ClaraDon via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

April 22, 2016
by Larry Farlow
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Condemned by The Writing on the Door

Condemned by the Writing on the DoorI find it fascinating that one of the signs that Western Culture is circling the bowl is the current obsession with said bowl and who can use it under what circumstances. Why is the latest front in the culture war sex-segregated facilities, whether they be locker rooms or public restrooms?

Believe it or not, the Bible gives us some insight:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature,have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. – Romans 1:18-20, emphasis  mine

Paul tells us the law of God, in other words the truth, is written on the hearts of men – all men, even unbelievers. Deep down every human being knows he or she is in rebellion against God and, apart from a work of the Holy Spirit, they do all they can to suppress that truth. When that rebellion is not just against God’s standards as revealed in His Word, but against the created order as well, suppression becomes more difficult. It’s one thing to suppress the truth regarding behavior that is not in line with God’s Word, I can, after all, choose to never crack open a Bible or expose myself to Christian teaching and thus avoid being reminded of my sin. It’s quite another to suppress the truth regarding the reality of who I am. If I’m a man trying to convince myself that I’m a woman, yet every time I strip down in front of the bathroom mirror my lie is exposed (no pun intended), I have to up my suppression game. It’s not enough to tell myself the lie, I must enlist others to lie to and for me as well.

That’s where bathrooms and locker rooms come in.

Bathrooms are everywhere – in the shopping mall, at the doctor’s office, in the grocery store, at Target. Everywhere we go we’re confronted with two doors, one for women and one for men. Bathrooms are also one of the last places in our culture where the sexes can legitimately be segregated. If I’m a man pretending to be a woman, I’m reminded of my lie every time I see these two doors and realize I cannot push the one marked “Women” and walk inside. So, in order to suppress the truth welling up within me, I must demand access through that door because that tells me other people also believe my lie and allows me to further suppress the truth.

Bottom line, this is not a quest for equal rights; it’s a quest to avoid reality and silence guilty consciences. But it won’t work. In the end, no matter how many states pass laws allowing men into women’s bathrooms or how many aging celebrities cancel concerts, men will still be men, women will still be women, and God will still be God and He will not be mocked.

Photo credit: Ric e Ette via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

April 8, 2016
by Larry Farlow
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Is Abortion Murder or Not?

Donald Trump recently created a firestorm when he suggested during an interview that women who have abortions should receive “some form of punishment” if abortion becomes illegal. Many, even in the pro-life community, were quick to cry foul. The president of the Susan B. Anthony List, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said she and her organization “have never advocated, in any context, for the punishment of women who undergo abortion.”  She went on to say:

“But let us be clear: punishment is solely for the abortionist who profits off of the destruction of one life and the grave wounding of another.”

Laying aside that it was Donald Trump who said it, is it really unreasonable to suggest that a person who breaks the law should receive some form of punishment (he did not specify what) for having done so? Most people, including many Christians, have no problem with that concept regarding other issues such as immigrants here illegally. Even though difficult circumstances may have led them to enter the country the way they did, if they broke the law most agree there should be some consequences. Why is this different?

I believe it’s two things. First of all, despite our claims otherwise, we don’t really see abortion as murder.  If a woman paid her next door neighbor to kill her two-year old, would anyone seriously suggest there should be punishment for the neighbor but none for the mother? Would any life circumstance or level of desperation on the mother’s part render her above prosecution? With the possible exception of an insanity plea, the answer is “no.” And even with an insanity plea, there are still legal consequences. So here’s the question, is a child in the womb as much a human being as a two year old? I believe one of the reasons abortion remains legal is because even many who oppose it don’t really believe taking the life of the unborn is the same as taking the life of the born.

Secondly, many Christians confuse the role of the civil government and the role of the church. The civil government has been given a ministry of justice, temporal and imperfect justice to be sure, but justice nonetheless. The God-ordained job of government is to reward good and punish evil (Romans 13:1-5) and few things are considered as evil by God as the taking of a human life made in His image. For this reason God, through Noah, instituted capital punishment for murder (Genesis 9:6). I’m not suggesting, lest the firestorm begin anew, that women who procure an abortion should be executed, just pointing out the seriousness of murder in the eyes of God. Our judicial system, as did the one set up by God for the nation of Israel, recognizes differing levels of murder with differing levels of punishment. One thing it does not do, however, is have a class of murder for which there are no legal consequences.

The church, on the other hand, has been given a ministry of grace. She is charged with going into all the world and preaching the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20), urging people to repent and offering the grace and peace of God to all who will come to Him. This includes murderers like the Apostle Paul, women (and men) who procure abortions and even the doctors who perform them. Not even Kermit Gosnell is beyond the grace of God. But, here’s the thing, the grace of God and temporal punishment by the civil government are not mutually exclusive. When the murderer on death row comes to Christ he’s set free from his sin but not from prison. Ministering God’s grace to people does not require that the temporal consequences of their sin be removed. Government and church operate in two different spheres with two different charges from God. And while the spheres necessarily intersect, we dare not confuse one with the other.

So what should the legal consequence be for a woman who has an abortion if it again becomes illegal? I don’t think there’s a single answer to that question. It probably should vary from none in some cases to very serious ones in others depending on the circumstances. But, that there should never be any at all, ever, is not an acceptable answer for those who claim to value the lives of the innocent.

February 24, 2016
by Larry Farlow
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The Insufficient Christ of Roman Catholicism

The Insufficient Christ of Roman CatholicismHow can a sinful man be reconciled to a Holy God?

The answer to this question was the hinge on which the Reformation turned. Martin Luther and the later reformers answered that question differently than did the Roman Catholic Church of their day and churches in the Protestant tradition continue to answer it differently than the Roman Catholic Church does in our day.

The Protestant answer is by faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (solus Christus). In other words, Christ is sufficient. In His active and passive obedience, Christ did all the work necessary for the justification of His people. As Jonathan Edwards said “You bring nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”

There is ample scriptural evidence for this position but none more clear than Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The Roman Catholic answer, however, is that Christ is necessary and very, very helpful to be sure, but He’s not sufficient. His work must be supplemented by men for them to be reconciled to God.  In fact, the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century declared that salvation by grace through faith alone was an “anathema,” meaning those who believe that are cursed. The pronouncements of Trent remain Roman Catholic doctrine today.

This idea that Christ’s work must be supplemented was brought home to me when I read the eulogy for Justice Antonin Scalia delivered by his son, a Roman Catholic priest, who said in part:

We are here, then, as he would want, to pray for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner; to this sinner, Antonin Scalia. Let us not show him a false love and allow our admiration to deprive him of our prayers. We continue to show affection for him and do good for him by praying for him: that all stain of sin be washed away, that all wounds be healed, that he be purified of all that is not Christ. That he rest in peace.

Heartfelt words but troubling words as well. Notice we are to “continue to do good” for Scalia by praying for him, praying specifically that “all stain of sin be washed away.” Friends if “all stain of sin” is not “washed away” at the moment I pass from this life into the next I have no hope. No amount of prayers can help me at that point. The writer of Hebrews tells us “…man is appointed to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). There is no opportunity to get right with God after the door of death closes behind us.

Thankfully, because of the finished work of Christ, we don’t have to face the moment of death unsure if our sins have been washed away, unsure if we’ve done enough. If we’ve trusted in Christ alone they have been washed away because He’s done enough. In John 19:30, Jesus said “it is finished.” He didn’t say “My part’s done, now get to work,” He said “It is finished” – full stop.

Are you trusting in Christ alone for salvation? If not, I urge you to do so and to rest in His finished work. As Lord’s Day 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism says that is our only comfort in life and in death.

 

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