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Appearance of Evil

I always look forward to reading the Standard Bearer. And I do mean, “look forward.” I’m always behind on my reading!

Thanks to Rev. Bruinsma in the September 15, 1994 issue urging us to walk a godly path in life. I like his quote highlighted on page 489. However, I’d ask that he take a second look at the word “appearance” (eidos) in I Thessalonians 5:22. I was reading in Strong’s, Vine’s, and BAGD. The passage actually exhorts us to abstain from true forms of evil, not, as Rev. Bruinsma seems to be saying if I understand him correctly, to avoid everything that “looks like . . . might be . . . could possibly be . ..” perceived by someone as evil.

If “appearance” means “looks like” wouldn’t that put Jesus’ lifestyle in question? Jesus ate with the tax gatherers and sinners, perceived by some to be “an appearance of evil.”

We must be careful of our choices: where we go, what we do, and what we wear. When I stop and think about it, trying to avoid everything that “might appear as sinful in the eyes of others” would be an impossible task.

Duane L. Burgess

Tucson, AZ

Response:

There is some difference of opinion as to the proper interpretation of the term “appearance” in I Thessalonians 5:22. There are a number of Bible scholars that wish to interpret the Greek term in question as “form” rather than “appearance.” They do so in order to avoid the perceived difficulty that is raised in the letter of Brother Burgess.

Although I do not consider it a grave matter of exegesis, I prefer to stay with the interpretation that I gave the term in my article: to abstain from that which might be perceived by someone as evil. Here are my reasons:

1. The term “appearance” in this passage comes from the Greek root word (eidon) which means “to see or perceive.” It refers, therefore, to the outward perception, the external appearance, of something that in reality might be quite different. For example, in Luke 3:22, we read, “And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him.” The word in this passage translated as “shape” is the same as the term translated “appearance” in I Thessalonians 5:22. The Holy Spirit came down in what appeared to or was perceived by men as a dove, but was in reality the Holy Spirit Himself. This same word is used similarly in passages such as John 5:37 and II Corinthians 5:7.

2. This Greek word for “appearance” (eidon) is also used to translate the Hebrew word “vision” (maarah ormareh). A vision, as we well know, is that which was seen or perceived by a person (even involving the use of all his senses), yet which was not reality, but only that which appeared to him as reality.

3. I prefer to remain consistent with this common usage of the term “appearance” when interpreting I Thessalonians 5:22. A child of God must abstain (in as much as is possible) from what may look like or be perceived as a sin by another, even though this may not have been the intention. There still exists, however, the difficulty that is raised by Brother Burgess: “trying to avoid everything that might appear as sinful in the eyes of others would be an impossible task.” I agree whole-heartedly. If I were to meet a young woman of my congregation in a restaurant in order to speak with her of an important matter concerning her life, it mayappear to my ungodly neighbor as if I were being unfaithful to my wife. If I were to enter a grocery store on Sunday to buy much needed medicine for my child who took ill during the night, that might be perceived, by another child of God, as a desecration of the Sabbath. Surely, we cannot avoid all appearance of evil. Nor need we, when it is necessary to realize or achieve a pure and holy purpose (as it was with Jesus). I believe, however, that this passage in I Thessalonians 5:22 directs our attention to the many times we as God’s children, without any thought for the consequences, place ourselves in a situation which we could well have avoided, and which as a result offends another. Even in those cases where of necessity such appearances cannot be avoided, the child of God who is sensitive to the instruction of this passage will seek (if possible) other means of dealing with the situation.

—Rev. W. Bruinsma

Putting the Record Straight

It was with a measure of dismay that I read the article of Rev. J. Tuininga in the December 26, 1994 issue ofChristian Renewal in which he made some remarks about the Protestant Reformed Churches in America.

The response to his article is found in the editorials in the February 1 and February 15, 1995 issues of theStandard Bearer.

In his article, Rev. Tuininga also makes reference to the independent Reformed churches, and it appears that he is the official spokesman for these churches. This is not the case. Rev. Tuininga is just giving his own opinion and views on this matter.

I am glad that Rev. Engelsma put the record straight.

H. Minderhoud

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Can an Independent be a Presbyterian?

I have been reading with interest the continued controversy in your pages over postmillennialism, what your paper describes as “Jewish Dreams.” Since I have not done specialized study in eschatology, I doubt that I have much to contribute to the primary issue. However, as a Congregationalist whose name is known to many readers of the Standard Bearer, I believe that I come under some obligation to question the accuracy of your editor’s passing comment that “John Owen was a godly, orthodox Presbyterian theologian” (SB, 3/1/95, p. 270).

I am pleased to hear Prof. Engelsma describe Dr. Owen as “godly,” “orthodox,” and a “theologian,” but something seems to be amiss when the primary author of the Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order—the 1658 revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith which has been the recognized doctrinal standard of Reformed Congregationalism for almost 240 years—is described as a “Presbyterian.”

This description was probably true in Owen’s earlier years, but I question the appropriateness of describing the primary author of a Congregational doctrinal standard as a Presbyterian. Perhaps Engelsma could provide some explanation of his description. Apart from further explanation, it would seem to make about as much sense to identify the primary authors of the Heidelberg Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus, as Lutherans.

I’d like to hear what Engelsma has to say in response, and to have him print that response for the benefit of his readers. If he continues to maintain that Owen was a Presbyterian, I would like to know if he would open the pages of the Standard Bearer to a serious debate of the merits of Congregational polity, perhaps pitting Owen’s views against those whose Congregationalism is beyond doubt. Surely Engelsma agrees with me that there is much confusion over church polity in Reformed circles; perhaps a public debate would be beneficial for all. Speaking as the publisher of a modem edition of the historic Congregational church order, the 1648 Cambridge Platform, I trust that Engelsma believes I might have something to contribute to that discussion.

Darrell Todd Maurina

Lawrence, MI

Response:

I referred to John Owen as a “Presbyterian theologian” in view of his strongly Calvinist theology. This included the doctrine of the covenant of God with the children of believers, requiring infant baptism. In his “Greater Catechism” of 1645, Owen wrote as one of the questions and answers:

Q. 3. To whom doth this sacrament (of baptism) belong? 

A. Unto all to whom the promise of the covenant is made; that is, to believers, and to their seed.—Acts ii. 39; Gen. xvii. II,. 12; Acts xvi. 15; Rom. iv. 10, 11; 1 Cor. vii. 14 (The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 1, The Banner of Truth, p. 491).

The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church (ed. J.D. Douglas, Zondervan) describes Owen as a “Reformed theologian” (p. 738).

Mr. Maurina is correct, however, that, although having begun well as an advocate of presbyterian church polity, John Owen became a congregationalist, or independent.

It is Mr. Maurina”s contention that, regardless of one’s theology, failure to maintain presbyterian church government disqualifies one from being, or being regarded as, a Presbyterian. Since “Reformed” is basically the same as “Presbyterian,” failure to embrace and practice presbyterian church polity disqualifies one from being Reformed. So important is church polity.

I agree with Mr. Maurina.

No theologian or church that fails to maintain presbyterian church polity is Presbyterian or Reformed.

I revise my description of John Owen accordingly: John Owen, although a Congregationalist, was a Calvinistic theologian who went seriously astray in his eschatology.

Yet another public debate?

—Ed.