Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Prior to the very late 19th century, the preeminent theory of conception basically asserted that that during coitus the male inserted into the woman a complete but very tiny unformed human being. This theory is referred to by historians of science as “preformation”. This is to be distinguished from emboitement, in which a fully formed but very tiny human was believed to reside in the woman’s generative organs. From Eve’s firstborn all the way down to you, Gentle Reader, every human being was encased in her ovaries. If you don’t get it, think of Russian nesting dolls.

Prior to 1651, the prevailing view on reproduction was that of the two great ancient Physicians, Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.) and Galen (129-200 AD). (The Gospel writer Luke, who was a physician by trade, would have been trained in the teachings of Hippocrates.) The general theory held that the entirety of a babies identity came from the male, while the woman provided the environment in which the baby grew. If the “seed” for the baby came from the right testicle (which contained the “strong” seed), the child would be a boy, but if it came from the left or “weak” testicle, it would be a girl. Alternatively, there was a theory which said that the woman carried the “weak” seed, while the man carried the “strong” seed and that after copulation, the woman “decided” which seed would win. This, however, was a far less popular theory.

In 1651, William Harvey (yeah, the same William Harvey who discovered that blood circulates throughout the body!) published a book called De generatione animalium, in which he asserted that the preformed embryo resided not in the man, but in the woman. Ex ovo omnes (from the egg comes everything) was the famous slogan from the book. (We should note that in publishing this work, Harvey vindicated Henry VIII, who had executed various wives for not “giving” him a male heir.)

Now a debate raged, between the “old guard” who held that the males held the preformed embryo, and the ovists, who argued for the woman.

Spermatick worms (or animalcules) were first observed by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek ca. 1677. Their exact role in conception was not immediately understood, and indeed, for nearly two centuries, a primary school of thought was that tiny creatures were actually parasites. In fact, the very name we now use still bears this stigma: the organisms came to be called “spermatozoa” (singular: spermatozoon) because they were classified as parasites (entozoa, family prothelmintha) by the Anatomist Richard Owen in 1835.

Anyway, the debate raged between the ovists and the animalculists who asserted that it came from the sperm and was merely nurtured by the female. This debate continued for another 200 years. The mammalian oocyte (the ovum) was not actually observed until 1827 (even though Harvey had postulated its existence in 1651). Mammalian fertilization was not observed until 1875!

Amongst the scientific and medical communities, the ovists generally became the dominant faction. But (and this is very important!) amongst the general population (including the theological faculties of the Universities!), the animalculists remained dominant. Thus, it is completely understandable that almost universally in theological circles, contraception was condemned as sinful, because when a man prevented his semen from reaching its goal, he was killing a pre-formed embryo. Not until after 1875 could this opinion have changed, and frankly, not until this idea had fully germinated (pun intended) would the general public even remotely comprehend the idea.

Thus it should be of no surprise at all that it was not until the Lambeth Conference of 1930 that the first Christian church opted to stop calling (some forms of) contraception a sin.

For further reading, I recommend two books, both readily available at your local University library:

E. B. Gasking, Investigations into Generation, 1651-1828, London: Hutchinson, 1968.
C. Wilson, The Invisible World. Early Modern Philosophy and the Invention of the Microscope, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.
 
Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I will apologize in advance for the acerbic tone that this post will have, but even Paul found that tone to be effective on occasion (cf. Gal 5:12).

God told Adam and Eve they could eat of any of the plants (save the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) that he created. Did this mean they should eat, and eat, and eat and keep on eating? If they had ceased eating, would they have been thwarting the will of God?

God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food." (Gen 1:29) Do I sin against God if I don't like spinach and refuse to eat it? After all, God didn't say, “I give you some seed-bearing plants for food," or, "I give you the stuff that tastes good". God said "every," and "every" means "every."

Well, I figured I would chime in once, and only once, on this contraception issue, because the logic of the arguments has gotten so utterly ridiculous. And I mean that in a literal sense: worthy of ridicule. The latest episode (part 1 and part2) has appeared at Pastor Beisel’s blog… a blog I have enjoyed in the past, and I am sure I will enjoy in the future.

The gist of the argument (found primarily at this site) is thus:

In Genesis 1:28, God said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful, and multiply”…etc. The contra-contraception folks take this to be an absolute command to procreate, and anyone who thwarts it by preventing pregnancy through any means (chemical, physical barrier or timing) is sinning in doing so.

The Biblical evidence marshaled for the position is Gen 1:28, Gen 38:9 (the story of Onan), the legal proscriptions against harming a pregnant woman and thus harming her child or causing a miscarriage (cf. Ex. 21:22), and the various passages from Psalms which celebrate a full household (cf. Ps. 127:3-5; 128:3-4).

Furthermore, evidence from Church history is brought to bear, viz, that virtually all commentators prior to the 20th century condemned contraception.

Let’s examine these…

Do these people have no training in logic? Does it matter whether or not every LCMS Pastor ever in existence agreed with the anti-contraception position or not?

No. That is a logical fallacy called an "appeal to authority". Saying that Luther believed contraception was sinful is meaningless. The question is, was he correct?

If we assume he is correct just because he was Luther, then perhaps we ought to consider taking up his views on the Jews? Hey, Luther said "burn their houses" so let's all get together and burn their houses!

Good grief. No, what matters is what Scripture says.

And with that, we have disposed entirely of the irrelevant opinions of Luther, Walther, Kretzmann, et al. Now, let's consider the Biblical passages, shall we?

Let's begin with the horrendously puerile interpretation of Genesis 38:9 to mean that contraception is forbidden. Here, for example, is Luther:

"This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a Sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime to produce semen and excite the woman, and to frustrate her at that very moment." (LW 7.20-21).

Sorry, Martin, but you get an “F” in exegesis on this one. Let’s look more closely, shall we?

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, "Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother." But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so he put him to death also. (Gen 38:6-10)

Looking at the passage, we see that Onan was motivated by greed (if Er remained childless, Onan would get the firstborn share of the inheritance!), and that he deceptively and repeatedly pretended to be trying to fulfill his duty. What if Onan had not, in fact, "spilled his seed"? What if he had simply refused to even lay down with his brother's wife, as the law demanded? (cf. Deut. 25:5-6) What if he just went into the tent and chatted her up? Tamar knew what was happening, after all. Would he not have been equally guilty? The obvious answer is yes. Onan's sin, then, has absolutely nothing to do with him "spilling his seed" on the ground; it is entirely and only about deceiving Judah and not fulfilling his filial obligations under the law.

Don't come back at me with, "Well, Luther said..." because I don't give a rat's patooty what Luther said.

Second, as for Genesis 1:28, have they all forgotten entirely about a little thing called Two Kingdom theory? Procreation belongs to the kingdom of the left (aka, the Kingdom of Creation). God's statement to be fruitful and multiply isn't a command so much as it is an invitation. Calling a husband and wife's decision to control for the number of children they have "sin" is as ludicrous as calling my disdain for spinach a sin. And it’s as careless as telling your child that he doesn’t need to wear a helmet when he rides his bike, because if he wears a helmet, he’s not trusting God to protect him.

Lutheran husbands and wives are being plenty fruitful out there; these guys have no place telling them they're sinning by not being fruitful enough. The bottom line is that Scripture says nothing explicit about contraception. The story of Onan is not about contraception. The laws addressing someone who strikes a pregnant woman, harming her unborn child or causing her to miscarry, are not about contraception.

These guys are reading the Bible with a slide-ruler and compass, which is how Calvinists read the Bible, making up laws where no such laws exist. Scripture forbids such practice, and in fact Paul tells us to rebuke them sharply. (Titus 1:13) For shame. I pity any sheep put under such a yoke.

 
So, I'm not a big fan of television. Give me a book and a cup of Earl Grey, and I'm usually much happier. But I do have my faves. Law & Order (the original) always tops the list, of course. Reality television is for outright losers. With the sole exception of The Deadliest Catch, which (for some inexplicable reason) my wife and I are hooked on. Oh, and Dirty Jobs, too. Maybe it's a Mike Rowe thing.

Anyways, last week I happened to watch (again, inexplicably) Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

For those who have not seen it, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is a show about a "show", called (get this!) Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The "show" is a Friday night version of Saturday Night Live, broadcast from Los Angeles (well, Hollywood) rather than New York. (The writers were very careful in the second episode to state that this was not about SNL, by referring to Lorne Michaels and SNL in glowing terms.) What we see is a behind the scenes of all the workings, trappings, and personalities involved in producing and writing the "show". Now, having lived in Los Angeles, I'm pretty blasé about Hollywood culture. I'm not talking about the "Culture Wars" crap, in which I have no interest at all. I'm talking about living amongst these animals. So a show about "The Biz" ought to hold no power over me.

Oops. I think I'm hooked. I was -- if not exactly a fan -- certainly an appreciator of West Wing, and Aaron Sorkin's new show looks to be just as good. A good cast with great writing.

Christianity has, so far, figured in heavily. Not religion -- Christianity. One of the supporting characters is an evengelical Christian. She is also decidedly not a kook. Harriet (played by Sarah Paulson) is (somewhat) attractive, her character makes a positive contribution to the show, she is cast as righteous without being self-righteous, and is eminently "likable". Last night, before the "show" went on the air, the cast is shown getting together for a quick prayer, and it is not the schmarmy, generalized appeal to some Unknown God kind of TV prayer as usually happens (like on Seventh Heaven); her character invokes the name of Christ and specifically identifies Him as the Son of God.

In fact, while certainly not perfect, her prayer last night should make Benke blush. I'm looking for a transcript, and will update if I find it.

UPDATE:

Harriett's prayer--

Blessed are you Lord our God,
Creator of the Universe and Father of us all,
Thank you for giving us one of your greatest gifts, a sense of humor,
and if you have time, please make something heavy fall on Matthew's head.
We say this prayer in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,
who had to have been funny to get so many people to listen to Him,
Blessed art thou, forever and ever, Amen.

It's not Church material, but it also doesn't equivocate.

On the other hand, for the first two episodes, the "show" is squirming under pressure from Religious Right groups who object to a sketch which the "show" refused to run on the first episode, but had decided to run on the second episode. (in the first episode, one of the "writers" (Matthew Perry's charater) referred to Pat Robertson as a bigot and the "700 Club" as a Klan gathering without the robes.) The sketch, titled "Crazy Christians," is only ever alluded to in the show (so far); we haven't seen the content. I'm willing to bet we never will. And I for one think that's good writing. I think we'll see hints of what some sketches are about (D.L.Hughly has a one-liner in previews in which he says, "Welcome to Pimp My Trike", which actually sounds like it could be an amusing pardoy ofthe MTV show Pimp My Ride), but I seriously doubt that the show will spend much showing the content of the "show".

So the show has created this bifurcation between Christians like Harriet and Christians like the readers of Rapture Magazine (yes, that's the name of the fictional magazine from the show). On the one hand, you have committed Christians like Harriet who seem to understand vocation and have a sense of Two Kingdoms, and on the other hand you have the Hal Lindsey/Tim LaHaye goofball Christians who are one step short of the Taliban.

Seems appropriate, and I for one, applaud the show for doing it.

The show is, of course, getting the expected commentary from the very demographic which it lampoons. See, for exmaple,
here and here. These guys display the very obtuseness that Sorkin is lambasting.
 
Monday, September 25, 2006

Over at St. Charles’ Place, there is a lively discussion of Baptism between Charles, Kelly Klages, and a Baptist sectarian. (EDIT: Turns out, the person with whom Charles and Kelly are debating is not a Christian at all, he (she?) is a Christadelphian.) (For those interested, the post is a follow-up to this one.) From the one of the comments of this sectarian, a typical Baptist misunderstanding of various NT events arose that I think needs addressing. The issue is the relationship of John the Baptizer’s administration of Baptism, Jesus’ Baptism, and the Baptism of Christian believers. Here is the comment:

First of all, regarding the thief on the cross, who says he wasn't baptised [sic]? Secondly, who is saved, who wasn't and who isn't, isn't up to mankind. God is the judge, not us. And if grace through faith saves all us non-thieves-on-the-cross, why was Jesus baptized? Why was John baptizing before Christ? If faith is all that's needed, why was the Ethiopian eunuch baptized after a confession of his faith?

Baptists make a very serious mistake of conflating John’s, Jesus’ and believers’ baptisms. In other words, John’s Baptism was a baptism of repentance, and (according to them) ours is also. Jesus’ baptism was an act of obedience, and (according to them) ours is also. Repentance and obedience are the two basic ingredients of baptism, in Baptist thought. Once this mistake is made, it is only logical that (in their system) Baptism must be done subsequent to a confession of faith. We Lutherans often argue this point with Baptists, but the argument seems to go nowhere with them, because we haven’t addressed the critical flaw. And the way we address the critical flaw is thus: Christian baptism has absolutely NOTHING to do with the baptism of the John the Baptizer.

John’s baptism was a Jewish ritual, preached and performed as a prophetic message pointing to the imminent arrival of Israel’s Messiah. It was indeed a message of repentance. But, according to St. Paul, John’s baptism had nothing in common with baptism as practiced by the nascent Church:

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"

They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."

So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?"

"John's baptism," they replied.

Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance.” He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus. On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all. (Acts 19:1-7)

John’s baptism was important for the pre-Christian believers, but subsequent to Christ’s ministry, it was no longer adequate, for in John’s baptism, there were no promises. Paul makes an absolute, total and complete separation bwteen the two baptisms: one has NOTHING to do with the other. The Baptist teaching, therefore, that our baptisms are like John’s baptism, is contrary to the teaching of the Bible.

Second, what about Jesus’ baptism? His was an act of obedience, right? So ours should be, too, right?

Wrong.

Jesus’ baptism was “to fulfill all righteousness”. (Matt 3:15) While there may be a ritualistic cleansing component involved here (cf. Leviticus 1:9, and the washing of sacrifices), St. Luke quotes Isaiah in order to explain what Jesus’ baptism meant, in pointing out the anointing of the Holy Spirit. (cf. Luke 4:18 & Isa 61:1-2) Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of his ministry, when he proclaims the Good News promised by God in Isaiah 61.

So, no, Jesus’ baptism is most decidedly not about obedience. It is about the bestowal of the Holy Sprit, and the beginning of ministry. And just are our Baptisms. Which brings us to the third mistake Baptists mistake: the separation of water baptism from the Holy Spirit.

Ask any Baptist what Paul means in Romans 6, when he says that, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life,” and you will most likely get the answer that in this passage, Paul is not speaking of water baptism, but of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This separation of the two is among the most blasphemous and heretical positions the Baptists have in their theology. Let’s begin by explaining it.

Here is the Baptist reasoning:

Premise 1: If Romans 6 is talking about water baptism, then the implication is that something actually happens in baptism.

Premise 2: We know that nothing happens in baptism.

Conclusion: Therefore, Romans 6 cannot be speaking of water baptism.

Their cart outrunneth their horse. The fault of course is in premise number 2. Now some Baptists rather foolishly sidestep this issue by saying, “Oh, sure, Romans 6 is talking about water baptism, but it’s only symbolic.”

Only symbolic?! Then we only symbolically die?

No, folks, it’s a real death. It had better be. Jesus didn’t die so that we may not die. Jesus died so that we may live. We are not immortal in our current condition. We DIE. We rise again in Christ. We receive a new nature. Then we live forever.

But we have to DIE, folks. Baptist theology sidesteps this whole thing. There is no death in Baptist theology. Without death, there can be no life. This is why Baptist theology is heresy.

From premise 2 above, we know that Baptists don’t believe baptism is a supernatural act. From the “symbolic” argument, we know Baptists don’t believe that Christians must actually die in order to be “born again.” It’s just a symbolic death.

No, it’s as real as a bloody body on a cross, because it is HIS death that we die. We can’t survive on our own. To be sure, we die; I’m not saying we don’t. But if our death is not enclosed, encapsulated, clothed, wrapped in His death, then it’s permanent. No resurrection.

In a follow-up post, we'll deal with Baptism as a supernatural act.


 
Sunday, September 10, 2006
John over at Confessing Evangelical has a NAAACL post in which he deconstructs a bogus poll about 9/11.

Good work, John. I was in London that day, and the amount of support I recieved from the Brits was amazing. I was stranded in London for a week (I had been scheduled to fly home on 9/12), and when a flight finally came available, I took a cab from Wandsworth (which was the only place I could find an affordable hotel) to Heathrow. The cab fare was in the neighborhood of 30 pounds ($50, at the time). The cabby said the ride was free, but asked me to donate the equivalent amount to the Red Cross when I was back home. Which I did.

I will also never forget the TV image of the Liverpool FC fans singing their trademark club song, Elvis Presley's You'll Never Walk Alone, with American flags waving throughout the stadium.