Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Astrology: Is Our Destiny in the Stars?

There's a big word that I want to talk about: syncretism. Have you ever heard it? Syncretism is the combination, usually unconscious, of contrasting worldviews. An example is the word that is being bandied about in some quarters, "Chrislam," to refer to a combination of Christianity and Islam. Paul describes syncretism in Colossians 2:8: "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ." The particular form that I want to address is the use of astrology by professing Christians, such as this woman who describes herself as "a Christian astrologer."

Her justification is from Genesis 1:14: "And God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.'" She says, "I feel that astrology was a tool created by God for us to understand ourselves better and to use as a spiritual tool. I feel that there are many biblical verses that support astrology." Notice her words, "I feel," not once, but twice. That is, her use of this verse (she also mentions Luke 21:25) isn't based on exegesis, an interpretation of the verse using grammar and its historical and biblical context, but rather on her feelings. That is always the start of syncretism, because "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9).

What does exegesis teach us about the role of the stars? Consider the case of Esau and Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac (Genesis 25:19-28). As twins, the two were born under the same planetary and stellar positions, the very things that are supposed to be determinative, according to astrologers. Yet, what do we know about their futures? "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (Malachi 1:2-3, Romans 9:13), polar opposites. Paul uses these twins, born under the same astronomical circumstances, as a case study (Romans 9:16): "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." That is, Esau and Jacob don't tell us anything about the planets and stars, but rather about the sovereign grace of God.

And that's the problem with astrology. It posits ultimate sovereignty, not in the hands of a living, just, and loving God, but rather in the paths of stellar objects, though they, too, owe their existence and positions to that God (Genesis 1:14, Job 9:8, Zechariah 12:1). And God has no tolerance for giving His glory to anything or anyone else (Isaiah 42:8, 48:11). In fact, He rejects anyone who tries to do so (Deuteronomy 29:18-20): "Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. The Lord will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and His jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven."

Monday, October 16, 2017

Christ, Our Conquering King!

Question 45 of the Westminster Larger Catechism asks, How does Christ execute the office of a king? And answers it this way: "Christ executes the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself, and giving them officers, laws, and censures, by which he visibly governs them; in bestowing saving grace upon his elect, rewarding their obedience, and correcting them for their sins, preserving and supporting them under all their temptations and sufferings, restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel."

There's a lot there, and I won't even try to address it all.

In Psalm 110:1, the Father gave a promise to the Son as part of the intra-Trinitarian covenant in prehistory: "Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool" (applied to the Son in Hebrews 1:13). The Father had determined to glorify the Son by giving Him visible rule over the creation. History has been the record of the fulfillment of that promise, as the rule of Christ is established over the kingdoms of the world (compare Daniel 2:44-45, Revelation 11:15).

The theme of the royal destiny of the Son is especially described in the second Psalm:
"'As for Me, I have set my King
     on Zion, My holy hill.' 

I will tell of the decree:
     The Lord said to Me, 'You are My Son;
today I have begotten You.       
     Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your heritage,
and the ends of the earth Your possession.
     You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.' 

     Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
     Serve the Lord with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
     Kiss the Son,
lest He be angry, and you perish in the way,
     for His wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in Him."
- Psalm 2:6-12 

What we don't see here is a description of the means of that conquest. There are militaristic expressions, but no mention of armies or weapons. In fact, Scripture denies a spiritual role for weapons of war: "The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds" (II Corinthians 10:4). So, no tanks or nuclear bombs, or even swords or arrows. What then?

Some of Jesus's last words during His earthly ministry are found in the Great Commission: "Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age'" (Matthew 28:18-20). Here, Jesus claims "all authority," that is, the very delegation of royal prerogative we find in Psalm 2. As King, what assignment does He then give His captains, the Apostles (and we after them)? To disciple the nations, part of which is to teach them to obey His Law.

Therefore, the answer to the assignment in Psalm 2 is no military conquest. Nor is it some waving of a divine hand from heaven. This is in spite of the obvious fact that either one would be within the power on omnipotent deity. Rather, the submission of all things to the crown rights of Jesus is through His people, as we proclaim the Gospel and train the nations to live as Christians. Evangelism and missions will conquer the world, because our Savior is already king!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Can There Be a Doctrine of "Evangelical Universalism"?

Paul, Preaching the Gospel on Mars Hill
This is something that I have been running into over the last two years or so. "Evangelical Universalism" is a doctrine held by people who claim to honor Scripture, but believe that all humans, without exception, will eventually be saved.

I admit that I am mystified by any such assertion. More particularly, I see explicit statements in Scripture that preclude such a possibility. I am including statements of judgment against unbelievers. However, the Evangelical Universalists (hereafter, EU's) aren't moved by those statements. Therefore, I am going to take a different tack.

To my mind, the bluntest statement precluding any form of universalism, evangelical or otherwise, is one sentence from Paul (Romans 14:23): "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." That one sentence leaves no room to suppose that there can be an unconscious means to eternal life. Rather, all such unconscious motivation is itself sin. Rather, what pleases God is only that which arises from faith, which must mean a knowledge and acceptance of His nature, His word, and the rule of life that He has given us in the Bible.

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (either Paul or a close associate of his) stated it even more forcefully: "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him." He repeats the requirement of faith, but then adds content to that faith. That is, faith, per se, faith in faith, is not meritorious, but rather faith in the proper object!

The EU movement claims a scriptural basis, in their effort to retain their "evangelical" bonafides. Yet, just by these two verses, I think they are completely excluded from making any such claim legitimately.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"Soul Sleep": Biblical History Says Otherwise

The Seventh-Day Adventists (and some other smaller groups) teach a doctrine of "soul sleep," i. e., the believe that the spirits of the dead are unconscious until the resurrection. The Jehovah's Witnesses - who come from the same Millerite roots - have a similar doctrine, holding that the spirits of the dead are actually annihilated, to be re-created at the resurrection.

Both doctrines are contrary to the orthodox, biblical view that the spirits of the dead are either in heaven (II Corinthians 5:8, Philippians 1:23) or in hell (II Peter 2:9), waiting to be rejoined to their bodies at the resurrection, to face the great judgment.

In addition to those verses, the concept of "soul sleep" runs contrary to the historical events described in Scripture.

In the Old Testament, we have accounts of two men who were whisked away to heaven, without first undergoing physical death. The first was Enoch, of whom we read (Genesis 5:24), "Enoch walked with God, and [then] he was not, for God took him." The other was the Prophet Elijah, of whom we read (II Kings 2:11), "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." Since neither man died, it cannot be asserted that his spirit went to sleep or was annihilated, can it?

In the New Testament, the Gospel writers (Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36, see also II Peter 1:16-18) tell us of the Transfiguration of Jesus, at which His disciples saw Him with Elijah and Moses. If Elijah and Moses are unconscious, or more so if they are annihilated, how could they appear with Jesus?

Moreover, we have the testimony of Jesus to the Sadducees: "As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living" (Matthew 22:31-32). The Sadducees had attempted deceptively to talk about life in the resurrection - deceptive because they didn't believe in the resurrection. In response, the Lord rebukes them, because God isn't God in some hypothetical future, but now, to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who had been long dead. They are alive now, He tells the Sadducees, and God is their God now

Soul sleep (or annihilation) is a false doctrine, contrary, not just to the doctrinal assertions of Scripture, but also to the experiences of the saints in Scripture.

Monday, October 9, 2017

How Many Ways of Salvation Are There?

One of the most distinctive teachings of classical dispensationalism is that there have been different means of salvation down through history. Especially my point here is the teaching that Jews were and are saved by obeying the Mosaic law. Most modern dispensationalists have repudiated that teaching, but it is still taught by heretics like John Hagee. In a newspaper interview, Hagee said, "I believe that every Jewish person who lives in the light of the Torah, which is the word of God, has a relationship with God and will come to redemption," and "I'm not trying to convert the Jewish people to the Christian faith."

That is heresy. It is also wicked, because Hagee avoids explaining the Gospel to people who do not know Jesus. Scripture includes strong warnings against that neglect: "If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:18). God considers Hagee to be a murderer of eternal souls!

One might ask, and rightly so, where Scripture indicates that Hagee's teaching is heretical. I would refer him to the Epistle to the Romans, where Paul deals at length with the issue of salvation under the Old Testament. However, I will cite just one verse from Acts: "We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will" (Acts 15:11). The context is the Council of Jerusalem, at which the surviving Apostles and the elders of the Jerusalem-area presbytery met to hear the report of Paul and Barnabas regarding their evangelistic work among the Gentiles. It is Peter's response that we read in verse 11, proclaiming to the council that he expected for himself and his fellow Jews to be saved by the same grace through faith by which the Gentiles were finding salvation.

Scripture does not allow the belief that there is any way of salvation apart from that of Ephesians 2:8-9: "By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." This is the only Gospel message that a biblical Christian can declare, whether to Jews or to Gentiles.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Circularity and Presuppositional Apologetcs

As a Christian, my standard of truth can only be the Bible. That is not a rejection of logic. Rather, logic provides rules for combining information to produce valid results. The Bible provides the infallible truth from which I can then derive logical arguments.

In contrast, most atheists claim logic as their standard of truth (I say most, because there are some atheists who are explicit irrationalists).

The latter accuse me of circular reasoning, in that I start with the Bible as true, and from it develop my belief
in the necessary truth of the triune God, the sinfulness of men, young-earth creation, etc.

However, that accusation is full of unstated premises. First, it fails to consider the circularity of the rationalist's own worldview. Justify the use of logic without using logic in your justification. It's impossible! Second, it ignores the nature of logic, which requires external truths, but then provides rules for putting those truths into valid arguments. What is the source of the atheists external truths? No one says. And the third, the biggest one, is the assumption of autonomy, as I describe next.

The actual difference between the Christian use of logic and that of the atheist is not, therefore, that one is circular while the other is not. That is, in fact, not the case. Rather, the difference is an a priori judgment of authority. The atheist makes himself the authority in the judgment of truth. That is, he assumes the very conclusion that his logic is meant to demonstrate, that he is an autonomous master of fate. That is the destructive, even if unstated, circularity in the argument of the atheist. On that basis, the atheist excludes any evidence that requires his dependence, rather than his independence. Why must we conclude that the world as it is results from chance? Because we start with the exclusion of the possibility that it has a personal plan in its creation and organization.

The believer, however, makes no such a priori exclusion. In not assuming his autonomy, and thus excluding any evidence against it, the Christian can acknowledge the self-revelation of God in the Bible, and see everything as a demonstration of God's existence and providence. He sees that facts do not pop into existence to serve us, but fall into a necessary and good order according to their determination by the triune God, the only rational basis for the relationship between the one and the many.

Thus, the circularity of which the atheist accuses the Christian actually cuts both ways, but the atheist has the additional circularity of defining the evidence to fit his a priori assumption of autonomy.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Assurance Requires a Sound Foundation on God's Sovereignty

Building on a foundation of sand
My greatest objection to Arminianism is not that it is contrary to Scripture. It is, but so are a lot of things. Rather, my foremost objection is to the kind of God that Arminianism presents. The Arminian makes every man, every act of nature, even every animal, to be sovereign. That is, the Arminian believes that things can and do act apart from, or even contrary to, the will of God. Therefore, in the Arminian universe, God is the only entity is who is not sovereign. He is the doddering grandfather of Deism who created the world, set it in motion, and just wrings His hands, hoping that everything works out OK. Such a concept should make the Christian wretch in disgust!

In contrast, the biblical God, the God described by the Calvinist, is a God in charge, on the basis of whom the Christian has a rational hope and assurance, not only in this world, but in eternity, because he knows that they are under the intimate control of God on His throne.

Consider, for example, Jeremiah 23:4: "I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord." This is an unequivocal declaration by God of His intent to protect and prosper His people. There is no hemming and hawing, no hoping, no wishing. Rather, it is a straightforward statement of intent, and the expectation that His intent will succeed.

We see the same sentiment in the New Testament, in the words of Jesus Himself (John 6:39): "This is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day." Again, take note of the divine certitude. This will happen! Not might, should, would, or could. Jesus is confident, not in men or fate, but rather in His own sovereign decree, to achieve His purpose.

Even apart from the simple truth issue, why would anyone want a God like the God of Arminianism? I don't think I could survive the day with the assurance that I could have on that foundation of sand. I thank God that He is sovereign, and I am not!