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News, Science - General

Genetically-engineered babies have now been born

Human experimentation has been happening around the world for the past four decades, with research scientists actively carrying out experiments on human embryos. The stated objective, in usually something noble-sounding: to learn more about human biology, or to possibly treat some disease conditions. And while few scientists will admit to an interest in cloning people, or in actually producing genetically-altered individuals, this is the direction our society is heading. Indeed, modern society does not value unborn babies enough to protect them, and at the same time society is terribly afraid of genetic abnormalities. Under these conditions – little respect for unborn human life, and little respect for those with genetic abnormalities like Down syndrome – it would seem human cloning and gene alteration is inevitable. But it isn’t acceptable yet. That became clear when, on November 26, 2018, the scientific and medical world reacted in horror to the announcement by Dr. Jiankui He at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, that he had created modified human embryos. These embryos had been implanted in their mother, and in early November, twin baby girls had been born in China. This was a world-wide first – the first genetically-edited full-term human babies.  What happened Ever since the 1970s introduction of in vitro fertilization of human eggs with sperm outside the womb, the stage was set for scientists to experiment on such embryos. Many people, mindful of the special nature of humans at every level of development, protested against such work. Even some scientists were nervous about the implications of these experiments. However, for many, the concern was only that individuals damaged in laboratory experiments should not be allowed to develop to term. They were okay with the human experimentation – they just didn’t want these babies to be born. As a result, a general understanding was reached between ethicists and scientists, that no experiments on embryos would continue longer than 14 days – at this point these embryos were to be destroyed. The 14-day limit was chosen because it is at this point that the embryos begin to develop specialized tissues and thus becomes more obviously human (Nature July 5, 2018 p. 22). But as the experimentation has become more sophisticated, scientists have begun to promote the idea of a longer timeline for their investigations. Thus, a conference was held in May at Rice University at which 30 American scientists and ethicists discussed “whether and how to move the [14-day] boundary” (Nature July 5, 2018 p. 22). About the same time, Nature magazine published an announcement concerning such research:

“At present, many countries …prohibit culture [of human embryos] beyond 14 days, a restriction that reflects the conclusions of the 1984 UK Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilization and Embryology (also known as the Warnock Report. Whether this rule should be relaxed is currently being debated” (May 3, 2018 p. 6, emphasis mine).

Scientists are clearly seeking to relax the rules governing their studies. “Germ-line changes” Research on human embryos has continued worldwide since those early days. However, all parties once agreed that on no account should modified embryos be implanted into a mother and be allowed to develop. The reasons included society’s disapproval of experiments on people, but especially because such individuals would carry “germ-line changes.” Changes to most cells in the human body have no impact on future generations – these changes die with that individual. However, changes to the gametes (egg and sperm) are called germ-line changes because these modifications will be passed on to each subsequent generation. It is not that the scientists involved actually object to germ-line changes. The problem is that they want their results to be predictable and “safe.” Any uncertainties could lead to catastrophic results, ensuing hostile public opinion and big lawsuits. It would be far better to proceed cautiously. Thus, it is illegal in the US and many other countries to alter genes of human embryos or gametes. However, within the last decade, another new biomedical technology has appeared on the scene that has drastically streamlined gene editing in numerous organisms. The CRISPR-Cas9 technology has made gene editing much easier and much more precise.* Obviously, it was a mere matter of time before someone used this to try his hand at gene editing in human embryos. The scientific community offered no serious objections when Dr. Jiankui He of China presented an account of such work at a conference at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York during the spring of 2018. At this conference, Dr. He discussed the editing of embryos from seven couples. However, at that point, this man made no mention that any of these embryos had been implanted into their mothers. Dr. He “edits” babies to be HIV-resistant According to a Nov. 28 news item at Nature.com (David Cyranoski's "CRISPR-baby scientist fails to satisfy critics") Dr. He recruited couples in which the male was HIV positive but the female was normal. Individual sperm cells were washed to remove any viruses and the cells were injected into eggs along with CRISPR-Cas9 enzymes carrying a gene for resistance to HIV infection. A total of 30 fertilized embryos resulted of which 19 were deemed viable (able to live) and apparently healthy. These were tested for the CCR5 mutation which confers resistance to HIV infection. From one couple, two of four embryos tested positive for the mutation. One embryo carried the mutated gene on one chromosome and a normal gene on the other, while the other embryo carried the mutation on both maternal and paternal chromosomes. These embryos were implanted into the mother who successfully gave birth to twin baby girls early in November. No information was forthcoming on the fate of the other embryos, although Dr. He now says that another woman may be pregnant. The response of the scientific community has been shock and horror. But why are they so horrified? Is this not what they have been working towards? The scientific community is afraid because the risks of this procedure at this preliminary stage of research, are substantial. There are, at present, major questions as to whether the genetic modifications will actually have the desired effect. A well-known problem is that the CRISPR apparatus sometimes cuts the chromosomes at other places as well as/ or instead of the desired location. This off-target effect has been found to be a major problem in some studies. In addition, most genes are known to influence a number of seemingly unrelated traits. This phenomenon is called pleiotropic impact of one gene on other genes. These risks are particularly serious when we consider that these are germ-line changes, that will impact subsequent generations from this individual. Response The same Nov. 28 Nature.com news item declared:

“Fears are now growing in the gene-editing community that He’s actions could stall the responsible development of gene editing in babies.”

Indeed, a commentator on one website reflected that “if this experiment is unsuccessful or leads to complications later in life … [it could] set the field of gene therapy back years if not decades.” In view of these concerns, many individuals and medical and scientific institutions released statements expressing condemnation for this gene-editing work. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, declared that the NIH “does not support the use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos.” The Chinese Academy of Sciences declared that Dr. He’s work “violates internationally accepted ethical principles regulating human experimentation and human rights law." A colleague and friend of Dr. He suggested that the gene-editing work lacked prudence, that it could, unfortunately, serve to create distrust in the public. Obviously, an important concern on the part of the scientists was that the promise of this technology not be rejected by the public. Dr. David Liu of Harvard and MIT’s Broad Institute (heavily involved in CRISPR research), insisted of He’s work: “It’s an appalling example of what not to do about a promising technology that has great potential to benefit society.” Dr. George Daley, dean of Harvard Medical School, summed up the feelings of many colleagues when he said:

“It’s possible that the first instance came forward as a misstep, but that should not lead us to stick our heads in the sand and not consider [a] more responsible pathway to clinical translation.”

In other words, many scientists seek to continue to pursue the goals also sought by Dr. He, only the rest of them will proceed more slowly and carefully. Conclusion It is largely Christian objections to treating human embryos as things, rather than as persons (made in the image of God), that has led to the ethical rules that control this research. It is a vestige of our Judeo-Christian heritage which limits scientists from just doing whatever they want. They have to obtain permission from ethics committees to conduct their particular research program. Of course, Christians want to see this work made completely illegal, but if political realities make such a ban impossible, then we can still seek to restrict this work as much as possible. It is interesting that a news feature in Nature (July 5, 2018 p. 22) articulated the fascination and unease that some scientists derive from this work. Bioethicist Dr. Jennifer Johnston of the Hastings Center in upstate New York, reflected on the respect that the human embryo commands even in secular observers:

“That feeling of wonder and awe reminds us that this is the earliest version of human beings and that’s why so many people have moral misgivings …..  It reminds us that this is not just a couple of cells in a dish.”

Are there any good results from this controversy over genetically-engineered babies? Perhaps there is one. The event may cause more people to pay critical attention to the experiments that are, every day, conducted on human embryos. Let the whole world know that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, from the very first cell onward, and manipulation in laboratories should have no place in our society. For further study * For more on this topic, see: Dr. Helder’s book No Christian Silence on Science pages 32-39 for a discussion on Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (ie. CRISPR). Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternberg’s book  A Crack in Creation: the new power to control evolution, page 281. Dr. Helder's article, providing further background to CRISPR, Natural Firewalls in Bacteria

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Calvin’s Magnum Opus: a review of "Institutes of the Christian Religion"

A “magnum opus” is an author’s greatest work. When it comes to John Calvin his Institutes of the Christian Religion is one of the classics of Protestant theology. However, as often as it is referenced, it is seldom read as a complete work from front to back. I first purchased my copy of the McNeill/Battles edition before starting pre-seminary studies in university, more than twenty years ago. Over the years I have read bits and pieces and there, often as a need or interest required but it wasn’t until this past year that I finally read the Institutes from beginning to end. In this essay, I will share some of the highlights of my complete tour through this theological masterpiece, and those highlights will include both points of appreciation and critique. I read the two-volume McNeill/Battles edition published in the Library of Christian Classics. This edition is based on the final version Calvin published in 1559. I also occasionally referred to the older editions of Beveridge and Allen, and even sometimes checked the original French and Latin. Different translations and editions Calvin originally wrote the Institutes in 1536 as a sort of catechetical handbook. It was never designed to be a systematic theology – such a creature did not yet exist. It was also not designed to be a book of extensive commentary on Scripture. No, its original purpose was catechetical – to summarize the teaching of Scripture on essential matters of faith and life. However, as the work progressed to its final form in 1559 – twenty-three years later – it did take on a more systematic form. In some places there is limited commentary on Scripture – for example, when dealing with the Ten Commandments (2.9) or the Lord’s Prayer (3.20.34-49) – and there are extensive references to Scripture, but generally Calvin leaves biblical exposition to his commentaries. A Scriptural foundation…most of the time His approach is typically theological, with the Scriptures explicitly as a foundation. However, by way of exception, there are parts that are more philosophical. For example, in 1.15.6-8, Calvin discusses the soul. There is almost nothing directly from Scripture in this discussion. Instead, Calvin works more with philosophical ideas from the likes of Plato. For a modern reader unfamiliar with Greek philosophy, this discussion is difficult to follow. Related to that, there are places where Calvin follows Platonic notions instead of biblical ones. One of the most well-known examples is how Calvin speaks of the body as the prison house of the soul. He does this in at least four places (1.15.2, 2.7.13, 3.7.5, 3.9.4). This devaluing of the body does not accord with the biblical worldview. In Scripture, the body is redeemed by Christ just as well as the soul (1 Cor. 6:19-20), and will be raised at the last day (1 Cor. 15). Well-read and it shows The attentive reader will pick up on Calvin’s copiousness – he read widely! Throughout the Institutes, Calvin refers to numerous authors going all the way back to the early church. Two stand out in particular. The most quoted and referred to author is Augustine. This is not surprising since Augustine is the most influential of the church fathers on the Protestant Reformers in general. Most of the time Calvin quotes Augustine approvingly, but there are also occasions where he dissents. The other author is Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian monk who lived from 1090 to 1153. While Bernard lived before the worst developments in Catholic theology, he was still not exactly a medieval quasi-Protestant. Nevertheless, Calvin made use of Bernard’s best insights. In 2.16.1, Calvin gives this beautiful quote from Bernard’s Sermons on the Song of Songs:

The name of Jesus is not only light, but also food; it is also oil, without which all food of the soul is dry; it is salt, without whose seasoning whatever is set before us is insipid; finally, it is honey in the mouth, melody in the ear, rejoicing in the heart, and at the same time medicine. Every discourse in which his name is not spoken is without savor.

Calvin appreciated Bernard’s fervor for Christ and his felicitous turn of phrase. Brilliant, but also inexplicable, word choices Calvin likewise employed language with a skilled eye to felicity. Calvin valued beautiful rhetoric – throughout the Institutes there are words so well crafted you may feel some salty moisture rolling down your cheek. Calvin’s Institutes feature numerous sections like this in 3.2.42:

Accordingly, in brief, hope is nothing else than the expectation of those things which faith has believed to have been truly promised by God. Thus, faith believes God to be true, hope awaits the time when his truth shall be manifested; faith believes that he is our Father, hope anticipates that he will ever show himself to be a Father toward us; faith believes that eternal life has been given to us, hope anticipates that it will some time be revealed; faith is the foundation upon which hope rests, hope nourishes and sustains faith.

Calvin was indubitably a master of using language to powerful effect. Regrettably, I have to say I also encountered instances where Calvin uses strong, questionable, or even offensive language. He uses strong language when it comes to unbiblical and dangerous ideas. But he also uses strong words for the person of his theological opponents: “blockheads” (3.20.25), “stupid men” (3.21.7), “swine” (3.23.12), and many other such insults. I have read enough Reformation literature to know Calvin was not unusual in using this kind of language – and our day tends to be far more sensitive about throwing invectives around in our theological polemics. I am far less inclined to give Calvin a pass on some other language he uses. In three places, Calvin uses the exclamation “Good God!” (3.4.29, 3.4.39, 4.16.27). In each context, it is clearly an exclamation and not a sincerely-meant prayer to God. The expression was used in Calvin’s original Latin of the 1559 edition (“Bone Deus!”), but for some reason he dropped it in the French. In each instance, the older translations of Beveridge and Allen omit these exclamations. I have encountered the same expression in the writings of Guido de Brès. I find it troubling and I cannot find a way to excuse it. I would suppose that, being former Roman Catholics, they became accustomed to using this exclamation to express great horror – a blind spot. Challenges and benefits For readers today there are some challenges in reading and benefiting from Calvin’s Institutes. Some of the discussion has less relevance to us. For example, I found the discussion about the sacramental theology of the Roman Catholic Church to be one of the most tedious parts of the work. It may be interesting from a historical standpoint, and it might still be valuable to someone actively engaged in apologetics with Roman Catholics, but for the rest of us, the temptation to skip through this section is difficult to resist. Persevering readers will encounter some of Calvin’s best and most well-known theological insights. Among them: The Scriptures serve as spectacles to help us see God clearly (1.6.1, 1.14.1) “…man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols (1.11.8) Calvin believes the world to be less than 6000 years old (1.14.1, 3.21.4) Justification “is the main hinge on which religion turns.” (3.11.1) Fasting “is an excellent aid for believers today (as it always was)…” (4.12.18) If baptism is to be denied to the infant children of believers because Scripture is silent on the explicit practice, then women should also be denied access to the Lord’s Supper (4.16.8) The Lord’s Supper should be celebrated frequently, preferably every week (4.17.43) Aristocracy, or perhaps a system compounded of aristocracy and democracy “far excels” all other systems of government (4.20.8) Revolts are possible when led by lower magistrates (4.20.30) Reading Calvin’s Institutes will remind Reformed believers today that Calvin is not the gold standard for what it means to be Reformed. After all, there are several points at which much contemporary Reformed faith and practice departs from Calvin. For example, in 4.3.16, he discusses the laying on of hands in connection with office bearers. He argued that this laying on of hands ought to be practiced not only with the ordination of “pastors and teachers,” but also deacons. Interestingly, the original Belgic Confession also said that all office bearers should be ordained with the laying on of hands. While there are Reformed churches which follow Calvin on this, there are also those (like the Canadian Reformed Churches and the Free Reformed Churches of Australia) which do not involve the laying on of hands in the ordination of elders or deacons. Conclusion Let me conclude with noting that the McNeill/Battles edition is generally well-done. There are comprehensive indices. There are immense numbers of helpful explanatory footnotes. It must be said, however, that some of these footnotes reflect the editor’s liberal theological bias. For example, in a footnote in 1.8.8, the editor informs us that Calvin did not hold to the modern view of a late date for Isaiah 45 and its mention of Cyrus. Well, I guess not, seeing as how Calvin believed the Bible to be the Word of God! As another example, in a footnote in 4.8.9, the editor claims Calvin does not explicitly support biblical inerrancy anywhere. While it would obviously be anachronistic to expect Calvin to affirm every jot and tittle of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (written in 1978) there is plenty of evidence to affirm Calvin has far more in common with biblical inerrantists today than their opponents. For most Reformed people today, Calvin’s Institutes will remain a reference. No one should expect regular church members to pick it up and read it straight through with profit. Those who try will almost certainly get frustrated and give up. We must be realistic. It is a work from an era in which theologians could expect far more from their readers. I wonder whether even many of today’s pastors would be able to digest everything Calvin serves up. Some of his discussions and references certainly went beyond my ken. We live in a strange time where we have more access to information than anyone else in the history of world, and yet, compared to Calvin from 500 years ago, we are dullards. Reading through the Institutes certainly drove that point home to me.

Dr. Bredenhof blogs at Yinkahdinay.Wordpress.com where this article first appeared.

Marriage, Sexuality

A careful look at the issue of birth control

Children: a calling and a blessing

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God calls the Reformed husband and wife to bear children. Just as marriage is a creation ordinance, so God’s calling to bear children is a creation ordinance. Strikingly, the first thing God says after He creates the woman for the man is that together in their marriage they must bear children: “Be fruitful, and multiply”(Gen 1:28). This command necessitates a link between marital intimacy and the begetting of children (if God in His Providence grants that possibility).[1] For the Reformed couple, this calling intensifies as they see from Scripture that God is pleased to carry on His covenant of structured fellowship also with the children of believers (Gen 7:7, Acts 2:39). Due to this promise, the Scriptures lay further weight upon God’s people to bear children (see Malachi 2:15 “And did not he make one?...And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed” and also 1 Timothy 5:14). Not only is bearing children a calling, but the Reformed couple also gleans from Scripture that children (many!) are a blessing from God (Psalm 127:3-5; Psalm 128:3-4). When the Lord grants little ones to His Church, their presence stands as a reminder of His love and favor and covenant promises. This does not mean the bearing of children is easy. God’s curse for sin affects all things, and this aspect of life in particular (Gen 3:16-19). While God has not made bearing and raising children itself a curse, His curse affects the bearing and raising of children. God has, due to sin, greatly increased a woman’s sorrow in bearing children, and at the same time increased her ability to bear them. The curse has also affected the husband’s calling to support those children. The creation from which he must derive their support works against him instead of with him. REGARDING THE USE OF BIRTH CONTROL GENERALLY The first two truths (that bearing children is both a calling and a blessing) almost put the issue of birth control to rest for God’s people. Indeed, some couples will conclude it is best to never prevent or plan the conception of children. If these couples faithfully raise all the children they bear unto the Lord, then the whole Church is thankful for their godly example and prays for more of their kind. However, as much as we want to caution against its use, we would argue that the reality of the curse of God for sin may allow for the careful use of (some forms of) birth control in some cases.[2] But because selfishness can quickly exploit even that statement, we begin discussing this matter by addressing the heart. Why would we prevent the birth of children? Birth control broadly defined is anything that can prevent the birth of children.[3] There are ethically legitimate and ethically illegitimate methods of birth control. However, even if one allows for the use of ethically legitimate methods of birth control in some cases, he must recognize they can be and often are used wickedly. The issue begins in the motives of the heart. The great question everyone has to ask (including newly married couples who are expected by so many to wait at least a year or two to have children) is: “Why? Why would I prevent the birth of children into my covenant home?” And the Reformed couple must answer this question honestly, for we easily deceive ourselves (Jer. 17:9). As the Reformed couple engages in this heart-probing, consider that the very origin of chemical birth control was the constant push for sex without responsibility in society. It’s not just necessity, but the desire for pleasure, that is the mother of invention. Google a chart of birth rates in United States history, and you will see that the line plummets after 1960 when chemical birth control went on the market, and that the line continues to steadily drop until it arrives at its lowest point in 2016.[4] The ever-increasing desire for pleasure combined with the ever-decreasing desire for responsibility in the world can affect us as Reformed Christians too. So as you answer “why would we prevent the birth of children?” consider the following kinds of questions: Do we seek a standard of living that far exceeds even that of our parents and grandparents in their child-bearing years (not to mention that of the vast majority of the rest of the world)? Have materialism, worldly comforts, and extravagant vacations clouded our thinking? God doesn’t desire that His children be at ease, but that they joyfully and self-sacrificially serve Him by raising children, all the while detaching from the things of this world. Are we selfishly guarding a worldly notion of marriage? Are we stingy with respect to our time? Children require a tremendous sacrifice of time and energy – often around the clock. This sacrifice means less time fishing, hanging out with the guys, or sitting in front of the television or computer. Wives, is your view of physical beauty defined by the world? For a woman having children involves a sacrifice not only of her time and personal desires, but also her very body. After several children, she may look in the mirror and feel embarrassed about the dramatic changes she sees. Husbands, do you assure your wife that she has not been “ruined” as the world would say, but that she is beautiful with a beauty that the world cannot see? We can’t say for another couple That said, there is no biblical rule as to when each couple’s quiver is full, and due to the reality of the curse upon life in this world, there are factors that a couple may legitimately consider in thinking about family planning. A mother may face health issues, even ones that can endanger her life and lives of future children (just a few examples include multiple c-sections, extreme diabetes, and cancer). The mental and emotional health of especially the mother may have to be considered (taking care not to cover up selfishness). Postpartum depression is a real issue. In addition, some women are simply physically and emotionally frailer than others. Maybe there is a child (or children) with special needs requiring a great deal of time and energy. Maybe the house is full and teetering on the edge of Mom and Dad’s ability to faithfully rear the children. In these cases (and perhaps others), we believe God’s people have to make judgments with much prayer and soul-searching. This matter is intensely difficult, especially because the old man inside us can be so deceptive. Even sincere Reformed believers may disagree. We must all use sanctified wisdom and live coram Deo (before the face of God). The rule we believe is biblical is that we ought to have as many children as we are able to have, understanding “able” to mean not merely as many as we can have without cramping our lifestyle, nor meaning necessarily as many as we are able to physically produce. Rather, “able” means, able to faithfully raise in the fear of the Lord.[5] Each couple must stand before God. If a couple’s honest answer to that is three, so be it. If it is fifteen, or as many as we are physically able to bear, so be it. The key principle is that we are honest with ourselves before God and are vigilantly on the lookout for selfish motives hiding under the pretense of spiritual ones. And we ought to pray that the preaching ever warns us of that possibility. WHAT BIRTH CONTROL IS ETHICALLY PERMISSIBLE? If a couple before the face of God honestly believes they ought to use birth control at a certain time in their life, what forms are ethically acceptable? All Reformed couples ought to personally research the matter in order to make God-honoring decisions. Here is what we have discovered in our own research.[6] “Emergency contraception” First of all, we must begin with the conviction that life begins at conception.[7] So many doctors (some Christian ones too), speak of life beginning at various other points in the growth process of the fertilized egg. What one says about when life begins will determine what one says about what forms of birth control are ethically permissible.[8] All forms of chemical birth control that are taken after intercourse, such as the “morning-after pill,” RU-486, “emergency contraception,” etc., are abortifacients (drugs which induce abortion). Using these drugs after intercourse, and if you have conceived (which one does not know) it is no different from going into an abortion clinic to kill your child a few months later. It is murder. Other forms of chemical birth control Regarding chemical birth control one takes regularly, such as the birth control pill (whether combined or progestin only), shots, and IUDS, the Reformed couple must be aware of the facts. According to the recently published God, Marriage, and Family[9] these common forms of chemical birth control work to prevent the birth of a child three ways: The first is by preventing an egg from being released. The second is by thickening the cervical mucus so that the sperm cannot reach the egg if an egg is released anyway (which some experts estimate happens as often as 50 percent of the time). The third is by making the lining of the uterus incapable of supporting the life of a newly conceived child given the first two methods fail. There is no ethical issue in itself with the first two actions of the pill. But the third causes an abortion. So the question becomes, do the first two methods of the pill ever fail? We quote from the book mentioned above:

Statistically speaking, when taken as directed, these various types of hormone-based birth control methods are effective (in their first two lines of defense—that is preventing conception CG) 99.5 percent of the time…. From this fact, one can know for certain that while “the pill” is effective in preventing ovulation and preventing fertilization, it does not prevent all fertilization. While there is no statistical data to indicate how many births are terminated by the third mechanism, one can be assured that it does occur.[10]

Though admittedly, the possibility of breaking the sixth commandment here is small, it is still a possibility, and therefore chemical birth control ought not be used by the child of God.[11] This leaves only three ethically legitimate methods: natural family planning, barrier methods, and surgical sterilization.[12]  CONCLUSION  As with every matter in the Christian life, obedience begins in the heart. A heart that responds to the gospel of redeeming grace is filled with gratitude. Gratitude needs a riverbed to flow into. That riverbed is the law of God. We hope we have given some help in determining what God’s law is and is not in these matters, and in setting forth the principles by which we may live in godliness. May God bless us as we live before His face as husband and wife, and as we bring up the godly seed He so graciously gives us. ENDNOTES This is not the only purpose of marital intimacy as the Roman Catholic Church wrongly teaches (among other passages see 1 Corinthians 7:5 and The Song of Solomon). Otherwise a couple who could not bear children would be required to abstain from marital intimacy. Neither does it imply that every act of marital intimacy must have the possibility of conception. However, it does mean a couple must seek to bear children in their marriage. The argument to the contrary from the case of Onan in Genesis 38 does not take into consideration the issues of levirate marriage involved in that passage. This includes everything that prevents conception, to the murder of children conceived but not yet born. 1.8 children per woman, and it’s only that high because of the Hispanic population. We understand even the question of what it means to faithfully raise children in the fear of the Lord will garner disagreement. This aspect too bears serious consideration and discussion as each couple stands before God. It would be worthwhile to read a portion of the book God Marriage and Family we refer to a few paragraphs later. Pages 123-129 are germane. Another worthwhile resource is the book, Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? by Randy Alcorn. In addition to those sources, we have conferred with believing doctors we know personally. This is another article, but the main reason for this position is conclusive. At the moment of fertilization there is a complete genome (determining gender, eye color, height, body type, etc) in the new being. Therefore, the new being is another individual life separate from that of the father and mother. If an individual being with a complete genome, separate from the life of the mother and father is not a separate life, then what is it? If you ask a doctor (even some Christian ones) if a particular form of birth control causes an abortion he may say no, but that may be because he believes life does not begin at conception. He may also further confuse the issue by stating that this particular drug cannot terminate a pregnancy. This is because he may define pregnancy as beginning later than the moment of conception. The authors cite their credible medical sources. Kostenberger, Andreas J., and David W. Jones. God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation. 2nd ed. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. 337, footnote 29. Print. There are some Christian women who take birth control pills as medicine for other physical maladies. If that is you, then you ought to also use barrier methods of birth control to prevent the possibility of breaking the sixth commandment. We are not now saying anything about whether or not these should be used in any individual case, we are merely stating that these are the only ethical forms to use.

This article was originally published in the April 15, 2016 issue of The Standard Bearer and is reprinted here with permission. Rev. and Mrs. Griess live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Assorted

Age

Editor’s note: When Dr. Adams turned 90 this year, his colleague, Donn Arms, was reminded of a prayer Adams had written back in 1978 for a book titled, Prayers for Troubled Times. Adams was nearing 50 at the time, and the prayer is one that may inspire many middle-aged readers to speak something similar to our God. And for younger readers, it offers something to consider: what would an older you wish the younger you had done more of?

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I’m tired. _____As I grow older _____fatigue comes sooner. _____This worn and weary frame _____no longer functions _____as it once did. That I may continue to serve You _____and live the rest of my days _____to their full _____is my prayer. I know, Lord, that I must learn _____to recognize limitations, _____to choose among opportunities, _____to eliminate excess baggage. But that knowledge comes hard. _____I am not wise; _____I need to understand _____much more that I now know _____of the practical application _____of your Word _____to these matters. Forgive me Lord _____for not learning sooner, _____for wasting time _____and dissipating energy _____I now wish I had. _____I see the importance _____of these commodities _____now that I am beginning _____to run short of them. I want to serve You _____to the end, _____not in a lackluster manner, _____nor in weariness of flesh, _____but vivaciously, _____conserving and wisely using _____all my remaining strength __________for Your glory, _______________Amen.

This is reprinted with permission from a February 6 post at Nouthetic.org.

Religion - Roman Catholic

The Roman Catholic Bible

Why do Protestants have 66, and Roman Catholics 73 books, in their Bibles?

We can cooperate with Roman Catholics (RC) in the pro-life movement – I have done so for many years – but we cannot overlook the divide between us. The gulf that separates us has always been theological. The RC Church says the Bible is not sufficient for our lives: she makes the audacious claim that tradition is as important as the Bible. In fact, all RC teaching regarding authority in the Church and in the life of the faithful centers on the triad of the Bible, tradition, and the magisterium (the teaching office of the Roman Catholic church with the pope as its head teacher).

In fact, Rome insists that the Bible is dependent on the Church. She defends her position on the ground that the Church both logically and historically preceded the Bible. Hence, the Biblical writings have authority because the Church receives them as holy and divine. As The New Catholic Encyclopedia puts it: “The Catholic receives the Scriptures from the infallible teaching authority of the Church.”

This view was one of the key reasons that led to a break in the RC Church. The 16th century Reformers believed that the RC Church had substantially departed from the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. They were convinced that centuries of extra-biblical tradition had led her progressively away from the simplicity of New Testament Christianity.

The Apocrypha

The place of the Apocrypha in the RC Bible marks the difference between RC and Protestant versions. The word Apocrypha is Greek for “things that are hidden” – it is a collection of (depending on how they are divided) between thirteen and fifteen Jewish books written between circa 200 BC and 70 BC in a Semitic language other than Hebrew (such as Aramaic), or in Greek. All but a few were accepted as divinely inspired by the RC Church and integrated into their version of the Old Testament1.

In many Protestant editions of the Bible, the apocryphal books were gathered into a section of their own and usually placed between the Old and the New Testaments. In others, they were omitted. Much of the Apocrypha was rejected because of the principle of authenticity. Their historical anomalies and theological heresies made it impossible to accept them as from God despite their authoritative format – they could not be from God and contain error at the same time. And nowhere in the apocryphal books are God’s redeeming mercies in the promised Messiah exhibited, which is plainly the unifying message of the canonical Old Testament books.

Martin Luther’s Bible translation (1534) groups the Apocryphal books together at the end of the Old Testament under the caption: “Apocrypha: these are books which are not held equal to the sacred Scriptures and yet are useful and good for reading.” Article 6 of the Belgic Confession states the Reformed position:

“The Church may certainly read these books (the Apocrypha) and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books. But they do not have such power and virtue that one could confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion. Much less can they detract from the authority of the other holy books.”

To illustrate the difference between the Old Testament canon and the Apocrypha, I will focus on three books.

Tobit narrates the personal history of Tobit, a devout and charitable Jew in exile. One of the principal themes is patience under trial, with trust in divine Providence which is symbolized by the presence and action of the angel Raphael. It teaches an unbiblical conception of angels and demons.

First Maccabees recounts the background and events of the 40-year (175-135 BC) struggle for religious and political freedom led by Judas Maccabees and his brothers. It explains the feast of the Dedication of the Temple, a key event in the survival of Judaism which is commemorated in the feast of Hanukkah. The Jewish scholar, Norman Podhoretz points out that a great many American Jews would be surprised to discover that one of the most widely observed of their holidays, Hanukkah, is based on an event recounted in First Maccabees, which, written in Greek, is in the Apocrypha but not in the Hebrew Bible.

(And while we are speaking of the Hebrew Bible, it is interesting to note that while Protestants and Jews do not agree about Jesus, they do agree about which Old Testament books belong in the Bible. The Protestant Old Testament is the same as the Hebrew Scriptures (except for the order of the books). Roman Catholics, on the other hand, add additional books – Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch and 1 & 2 Maccabees – as well as some extra sections to Daniel and Esther, to form their version of the Old Testament. Though most of the Old Testament books are quoted frequently by New Testament writers, these extra RC books are never quoted.)

In Second Maccabees we find one of the key passages on which the Roman Catholic Church bases its belief in purgatory: “Therefore [Judas Maccabees] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” With this text the RC Catechism encourages prayers for the dead offered explicitly in the Mass.

Tradition and the Bible

We and the Roman Catholics do agree on some things, like the shared beliefs expressed in the Apostles’ Creed. The problem with the RC Church is with what she has added.

She has always maintained that her own traditions are vehicles of divine revelation. The RC Church justifies her belief in tradition on the basis of her theory of doctrinal development. By this she means that certain doctrines were implicit in the early Church, but became explicit as the magisterium (the teaching office of the church) defined and explained them over time. The Second Vatican Council declared in the 1962 Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation that there are not two separate and independent sources of divine revelation but a single divine revelation expressed and available in different forms. Thus tradition and Scripture “form one sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is committed to the Church.” It said:

“It is clear that sacred tradition, sacred Scripture, and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contributes effectively to the salvation of souls.”

Rome defines tradition this way: “as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her (the Church).”

This belief, however, elevates fallible human thought on par with the infallible Word of God. And what we discover is not a development of doctrine but a departure from it. The RC exaltation of tradition, the papacy, and the Church, is a depreciation of the authority of Scripture and the supreme authority of Christ. In his The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary Johannes G. Vos points out that the effect of making tradition a rule of faith and conduct along with Scripture is to make void the Word of God by the tradition of the Church. “For the Bible is interpreted in accordance with tradition, not the tradition with the Bible.”

Interpretation of Scripture

Rome does not allow private interpretation of Scripture out of fear that heresy could undermine the authority of the Bible and the Church. Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) stated: “God has delivered the Holy Scripture to the Church, and…. in reading and making use of His Word, (men) must follow the Church as their guide and teacher.” The same Pope also said that it is impossible for any legitimate interpretation to be extracted from the Bible that is at variance with the doctrine of the Church. Any interpretation that is opposed to Church doctrine is therefore false.

In other words, the RC Church professes to provide divine guidance for her members. She demands recognition as the infallible interpreter of the Scriptures. Any official decision on doctrine must be accepted as final. Here the authority of the Church is openly acknowledged as superior to the Scriptures. This is contrary to the Bible and detrimental to the welfare of the Church. The 16th century Reformers were in unanimous agreement in their opposition when Rome claimed that teaching authority lay in the magisterium with the pope as its chief shepherd under Christ.

The Council of Trent (1545-1563)

The Reformation of the Church was the Lord’s intervention to lead His Church back to the Gospel. The decline of medieval Christianity was very gradual. The more serious errors didn’t arise until as late as the 14th and 15th centuries. Eventually the result of this descending darkness was serious. The problem was with what Rome had added to the Bible over the centuries.

In the wake of the Reformation, the Council of Trent was called to reform the RC church from within. In their discussions the council clearly had the writings of Luther and Calvin in mind. But the doctrinal positions adopted by the Council of Trent were essentially restatements of beliefs and practices of the later Middle Ages. These were teachings that the Protestant Reformers had struggled against. The line between RC’s and the Reformers became clear through the decisions made by the Council of Trent, especially when it declared tradition and the Bible equal sources of faith.

Since the Council of Trent the question of canonicity has been settled. On April 8, 1564, it listed by name the sacred and canonical books of both Testaments: 46 (45 if Jeremiah and Lamentations are counted as one) for the Old Testament and 27 for the New Testament. And it added:

“If anyone, however, does not accept as sacred and canonical, the same books entire with all their parts, as they are accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the Old Vulgate Latin edition… let him be anathema.”²

Since the Council of Trent, the books of the Apocrypha have had binding and canonical authority in the RC Church.

Bible Reading

In 1898, to encourage Scripture reading, Leo XIII promised that anyone who read the Bible at least 15 minutes a day would earn an indulgence3. A notice concerning these indulgences is ordinarily printed in the first pages of Bibles published for RC.

Bible reading, private and liturgical, is strongly encouraged as a means to spiritual perfection, although it is not necessary for salvation. The Catechism states: “The Church ‘forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful…to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.'” Today the hunger for the knowledge of Scriptures among countless RC is apparent. Many have joined Bible study groups.

Conclusion

At this juncture, we may well ask whether recent developments in the RC Church show a reversal of unbiblical positions. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) opened the door for new discussions with Protestants in general, and more recently with evangelicals in particular. But did it officially change the older doctrines that precipitated the great divide of the sixteenth century? Has the Council of Trent been formally reversed by these new developments? Not at all! New formulas have been adopted; a new way of thinking has been embraced. But the decisions made by the 16th century Council of Trent still stand.

In other words, churches in the Reformed tradition should reaffirm that the Bible alone is the Word of God. By that Word alone the Church lives. The Church ought never to say anything less than the Bible does. Neither is she authorized to say anything more, lest she fall into grievous error by attempting to be wiser than God whose will is sufficiently taught in His Holy Word. The Bible and the Bible alone is the Christian’s infallible rule for faith and practice. The historian J.H. Merle d’Aubigne wrote many years ago, “The only true reformation is that which emanates from the Word of God.” Ultimately the greatest fruits of the 16th century Reformation will be lost if we turn away from the Gospel and the Word of God.

End notes

1 If you end up talking to Roman Catholics about this subject you should be aware that they use the word Apocrypha differently. They don’t apply it to the extra books in their Bible, but rather to books outside their Bible that claim authorship by either Old Testament figures (like The Apocalypse of Abraham) or New Testament writers (like the Gospel of Peter).

2 “Anathema” is the same as our “excommunication.” In the RC Church you can receive a minor excommunication – exclusion from the sacraments – or a major excommunication also known as anathema, which the The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I describes as “being excluded from the society of the faithful.”

3 Roman Catholics believe that even after a sin is forgiven a payment still needs to be paid. Indulgences can be used to make this payment. To restate it, when God forgives a sin the eternal punishment for that sin – Hell – is eliminated, but Roman Catholics believe that temporal punishment for the sin must still be endured – the believer must spend some time in Purgatory. Every indulgence earned, means less time in Purgatory.

Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. Many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections.


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