Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Tattoo Depression?

Okay, some folks might not find this too funny (Prov. 17:22, 14:13), but we're not making this up. Rather in light of certain official ecclesiastical pronouncements on the subject which one could be presumably excommunicated for disagreeing with, it could be considered quite relevant. Over at the papist libertarian LewRockwell site they have a mp3 podcast/interview entitled - believe it or not - "Tattoo Depression". (They got the free market Austrian economics wired, but leave something obviously to be desired in the religion department.) It seems in an financial downturn, according to the economist interviewed and what your common sense might tell you, people turn conservative. They start saving money, women's hemlines drop etc. So too it seems with tattoos and body piercings, all those popular and hip pagan post Christian fads. People - employers, employees, the general public - retreat from all that far out way cool stuff.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Witsius on 1 Cor. 11:4 and Headcoverings

Human nature being what it is, in an over reaction to a series of disagreeable events, many might be tempted to throw the baby out with the baptism water. This especially when it comes to anything having to do with what called itself in the end, the "Session of the RPNA(GM)". Nevertheless, in light of the official PRCE/RPNA position on headcoverings, the excerpt below regarding 1 Cor. 11:4 and headcoverings by Herman Witsius (1636-1708) ought to be of some interest.

His Sacred Dissertations on the Lord's Prayer, from which this is extracted was first published in Latin in 1689 and then translated into English in 1839. Presbyterian & Reformed Publications reprinted it in 1994, as well as his Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles Creed in 1993 (Latin 1681, English 1823). Previously P&R distributed a 1990 reprint of Witsius' The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man (Latin 1677). This last title was to make Witsius' name among English speaking churches and divines of his day. Reformed Academic Press has also reprinted his "Inaugural Oration on the Nature of a True Theologian" given on his induction in 1675 as professor of theology at the university in Franeker, which was first published in English in 1856 and very popular in Scotland.

That is to say Witsius at one time was a well known and highly esteemed Dutch Reformed theologian, however forgotten or ignored until recently. His Economy of the Covenants did what it could to mediate between the systematic theology of his teacher, Voetius and and the federal/covenantal/biblical theology of the German theologian Cocceius which was tearing apart the Dutch church of his day. Today, in that the Federal Vision theology - which is tearing apart the contemporary P&R churches - outright denies the covenant of works, Witsius is necessary and profitable theological reading for the church of Christ; perhaps even more pointedly, for those conservative and still orthodox North American Reformed churches which also deny the covenant of works, Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed and Schilder and the Canadian/American Reformed.

Granted, the Protestant Reformed deny the Federal Vision theology along with the covenant of works and only go on to teach eternal justification, but the covenant of works is taught in the Argument prefacing the Dutch Staten Vertaling or States General New Testament which is the annotated translation of the Old and New Testament called for by the historic Synod of Dordt of 1617-19 and published 1637. (See Haak's English translation of 1657 requested in 1645 by a number of Westminster divines including the Scots in toto, reprinted in 2002.) Wilhelmus a Brakel (1635-1711) was a contemporary of Witsius, as well an eminent Dutch pastor and theologian in his own right of the Dutch Nadere Reformatie or Second Reformation which ran roughly at the same time as English and Scotch Puritanism. In his classic The Christian's Reasonable Service (1701) only recently translated and reprinted in English in 1992 -1995, Brakel has this to say about the covenant of works:
Acquaintance with this covenant is of the greatest importance, for whoever errs here or denies the existence of the covenant of works, will not understand the covenant of grace, and will readily err concerning the mediatorship of the Lord Jesus. Such a person will very readily deny that Christ by His active obedience has merited a right to eternal life for the elect. This is to be observed with several parties who, because they err concerning the covenant of grace, also deny the covenant of works. Conversely, whoever denies the covenant of works, must rightly be suspected to be in error concerning the covenant of grace as well (p.354).
Truly there is nothing new under the sun. "(T)hat Christ by His active obedience has merited a right to eternal life for the elect" is precisely what the Federal Vision theology denies in the Joint Statement of 2007 as is clear from the sections on Covenant of Life and Union with Christ and Imputation (pp.5,6). Christ not only atoned for and washed away the stain and guilt of sin, he actually fulfilled the positive duties of the moral perfectly. Yet we digress.

In that Witsius' favorite saying was "in necessariis, unitas; in non-necessariis, libertas; in omnibus, prudentia & charitas" or " in the necessaries, unity; in the unnecessaries, liberty; in all things, prudence and charity" and since he considered the headcoverings of 1Cor. 11 to belong to the category of liberty - arguably pertaining to men only - all parties and sides on the question might find his comments below of interest.

Beginning on page 84 with the Hebrew and Roman custom on headcoverings in worship, on page 87 he says:
. . . I wanted to show that the Romans had their heads covered during the worship of their gods. It was on this account that L. Vitellius, on his return from Syria, resolving that, with fawning and affected adulation, he would give divine honors to Caesar, went to him with his head covered and knelt down before him. (Suet. Vitel. Cap. II) On this passage of Suetonius the reader may consult the observations of Torrentius, who will furnish him with others on the same subject.

The Grecian institutions were very different. Macrobius uses this language. “In those places divine worship is performed, according to the Greek custom, with uncovered head.” (Satur. Lib. VIII) In this manner, Grotius informs us, the passage must be read, Chap. x where worship is said to be rendered to Saturn with uncovered head, according to the foreign, that is, the Grecian custom. Plutarch, writing about these same Saturnalia, says that they were performed with the head uncovered. (̀απαζαχαλ̀υπτω χξφαλή) Lucem facere, Festus tells us, was the phrase usually employed in that sense.

Paul, when writing to the Corinthians who were Greeks, gives preference to that custom. (1 Cor. 11:4) In doing so, he did not intend to lay down a universal law which should everywhere be observed. He [87] merely accomodated himself to a custom of civil life observed, at that time, by those whom he was writing. This is admirably, I think, explained by Altingius in a discourse already quoted. The Greeks, we have said, were wont to perform their sacred rites with uncovered heads, in the worship of their idols. Those who perpetrated dishonourable actions were in the habit of concealing their heads by throwing over them old tattered clothes. Those, again, who were engaged in any honourable occupation, were wont to keep their heads uncovered. Hence originated the proverbial expression, γυμνή χεφαγή, with naked head, applied to those who did anything openly and without shame. Now, as nothing is more noble than religion, they thought that its services should be observed with bare or uncovered head. At a subsequent period, however, when the Greeks, in considerable numbers, had abandoned idolatry, and gone over to the Christian faith, they appeared to have departed from the practice of laying bare the head, either in imitation of the Jews, or from an aversion to the ancient custom. From this change in their outward services, some of the their Greek neighbors might apt to fancy that they treated the Deity with profane contempt, in consequence of their abstaining from every expression of reverence in their new religious observances. Paul, therefore, exhorts that in praying or prophesying, they should attend to the proprieties of manner which were customary among the Gentiles, and that, after becoming Christians, they should not hold out [88] to strangers the appearance of being more ashamed of their new religion than they had been of their former idolatrous services. Such is the view given by Altinguis.

To this observation may be added one by Ludovicus Capellus. Both among the Greeks and Romans, says he, all respectable persons appeared in public without any covering on their heads, and were not accustomed to cover the head except when the were compelled by mourning, by disease, of by any necessary cause, or when broken down by effeminate softness. Paul, therefore, did not wish the Corinthians to attend religious services with the head covered, according to the custom of superstitious or idolatrous persons. Such a practice would argue a perverted, and certainly uncalled for ambition to follow the Jewish customs, or would betray δεισιδαιμονίαή, an unhappy and slavish dread of the Deity, and not that open freedom and boldness which Christians should cultivate and profess toward God. Or, in fine, he would give no countenance to an approximation, in Christian assemblies, to the effeminacy of some persons of that age, who gave out that they were unable to endure any severity of weather.

It must not be supposed that the same rule, which he had given to the Corinthians from a regard to their customs, would have been invariably given to Jews dwelling in their own country, or to Egyptians, or Arabians, who followed a different custom. The usages of civil life are endlessly varied by place and time. Consequently what, at one place and time, [89] is sufficiently becoming, would be, at another place and time, highly unbecoming. Yet the Apostolic rule has been in force, since that time, among almost all Christians. Is it because keeping the head uncovered is universally regarded by them as a token of reverence? I hardly think so. It has spread widely in the north, through the nations of France and Germany. But among the Jews, the Greeks, ancient Italy, and the whole of the east, the custom is wholly unknown. It appears, therefore, to belong to the liberty of the New Testament. With uncovered head, says Tertullian, because we are not ashamed. . . [90]

To this the Dutch Annotations mentioned above would seem to agree.