Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Diagnosis Must Come Before the Prescription: Total Depravity

A memorial to the victims in Sandy Hook, CT
 The Bible says that "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23), and "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). While I can understand why unbelievers reject what God says here, I am bewildered by the reaction of professing Christians, who want to hold on to a basic goodness in men. I would ask such "Christians," Have people ceased to be sinners? Has there been some miraculous transformation in human nature, such that Scripture doesn't apply any more?

I cannot imagine any person - at least, one who seriously describes himself as a Christian - answering either question in the affirmative.

Rather, man's total depravity is taught all through Scripture. That is not teaching that men, or any particular man, are as wicked as we could be - though I admit that I wonder sometimes, such as after the Sandy Hook massacre. Rather, it is the teaching that every faculty, whether physical, mental, or spiritual, of every man is corrupted by the effects of sin.

While I have cited many passages on this issue (use the "total depravity" tag at the bottom), I want to add one that is rarely considered, Titus 3:3: "We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another." A key element in this verse is that Paul uses the past tense. He describes the nature that Christians had before our conversion. And he does not paint a pretty picture, certainly nothing that should be a basis for self-esteem!

What changes a person is not increased self-esteem, or social reform, or any of the other progressive psycho-babble proposals that are so popular these days. Rather, the solution is regeneration, that change of a man's heart by which the Holy Spirit gives him a new nature, not free from sin in this life, but free from the dominion of sin: "I [God] will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules" (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

The problem with the corrupt Christianity preached by Joel Osteen, Robert Schuller, etc., is that they try to hush up what Scripture says about sin and its consequences. Yet, that attitude is contrary to Scripture, such as Paul's comment to Titus cited above. But the question must then be asked of them, How can a man believe the good news of salvation if he doesn't first hear the bad news of the sinful condition from which he must be saved? Imagine the doctor who tries to convince a patient to undergo surgery if he hasn't first told him of the tumor that threatens his life. What would the reaction of the patient be? I know that I would never submit to surgery without a sufficient cause! In the same way, the unbeliever cannot repent and turn to Christ until he first knows his sinful condition and the eternal death that is its consequence.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

God's Love: The Fly in the Oneness Ointment

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us."
- I John 4:7-8, 16-19

This passage was written by the same Apostle John who gave us the Revelation. Yet, while that book can often be mystifying, I don't think anyone can say that of the portion I quote here. There is one central point, and he makes it eminently clear: It is, and has always been, God's nature to love. Therefore, we, His people, can express love confidently.

Orthodox Christians hold that the love God shows to us is a manifestation of that same nature of love that He had shared so intimately within the Trinity, the Father's loving the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Son's loving the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit's loving the Father and the Son. We have assurance of His love because it is an infinite and eternal love, preceding even our existence.

However, the Sabellian (or Modalist, or Oneness) believes in a monadic deity, a unitary oneness that had no companionship for the unknowable eternity before Genesis 1. He must ask the question, Whom did God love? Since he believes that there was no one else there to be loved, then his answer can only be "no one." And that presents a problem.

We do know from Scripture that it is contrary to God's nature to change: "I the LORD do not change" (Malachi 3:6, compare Numbers 23:19 and I Samuel 15:29). Therefore, since the Sabellian God did not have love in eternity past, then neither could He become loving, since that would have been a change of nature. A God without love would not be a redeemer, a sanctifier, or a merciful Father. Therefore, the Sabellian God cannot be the God of the Bible (John 3:16).

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Ethiopian Eunuch and the Mode of Baptism

On the Desert Road to Gaza
When it comes to the mode of baptism, all Baptists, most (maybe all) Pentecostals, and other groups, claim that it must be by immersion. They often even claim that the Greek word "baptizo" (from which the English word "baptize" is derived) itself means "to immerse." As I have argued before, such as here, that is not the case. I will here offer another proof that "baptizo," in fact cannot mean "to immerse" (at least, in some passages).

Most Christians know the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39). To summarize, God sends an angel to tell Philip to go to a place along the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. There, he sees an Ethiopian riding in a chariot, presumably with a driver, reading the scroll of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). He asks Philip to explain the passage. Philip does so, and the Holy Spirit blesses His word in the conversion of the Ethiopian. Ethiopian Christians claim this event as the origin of Christianity in Ethiopia.

Baptists often point to verses 38 and 39: "And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing." Since the two men went "down into" the water, and then "came out of" the water, the Baptists claim, then Philip must have immersed the eunuch in the water. In fact, pictures based on this story consistently show this supposed scenario. Here is one example.

Is there any desert in this picture?

However, there is a huge problem with this picture. the problem is found in verse 26: "This [area] is desert." Does the picture above show a desert? Obviously not! How likely is it that a desert road will happen to pass a river or pool deep enough to immerse a grown man? Extremely unlikely!

I conclude that this passage cannot be used as Baptists have commonly used it. in fact, I would take it to require the opposite of the claim of the immersionists. It necessarily requires that the baptism here described must have been by either pouring or sprinkling, not by immersion. 

This last image gives a more-likely scenario for the baptism.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

God's War on Idolatry

"On the day after the Passover, the people of Israel went out triumphantly in the sight of all the Egyptians, while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had struck down among them. On their gods also the Lord executed judgments. [And God said to Moses] 'Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. If you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. And I will do to you as I thought to do to them.'"
- Numbers 33:3-4, 51-52, 55-56

The main focus in the story of the Exodus is God's redemption of His people out of slavery in Egypt. It is a glorious story to every Christian, because it serves as a type of our rescue from slavery to sin by the atoning cross work of Jesus Christ.

However, that is not the whole of the story.

I want to point especially at the words of Numbers 33:4, included above: "On their [i. e., the Egyptians'] gods also the Lord executed judgments." The ten plagues are seen to be on the Egyptian people, yet, somehow, they were also judgments on the deceiving spirits that they considered to be gods.

Jehovah continues in His exhortation to Israel: "Just as you saw Me destroy the gods of Egypt, so shall you do the religion of the Canaanites" (paraphrased from Num. 33:52). This demonstrates that the conquest of the Promised Land by the Israelites was not the capricious, vindictive act portrayed by liberal theologians. Rather, it was an act of judgment, one that was deserved by the Canaanites. Why? Because God is jealous of His divine prerogatives: "You shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exodus 34:14). Worshiping any god but Jehovah is to steal from Him what is properly His alone, an act of severe treason. That's why the abolition of it is the first of the Ten Commandments. Is the violation of the Prime Directive (to borrow a Star Trek term) not sufficient reason for capital punishment? I don't believe that any person can say that it is not, except as a self-serving effort to protect his own idolatry (Romans 1:18).

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Righteous Judgment: The Judge's Gavel in the Hands of the Chruch

Most Christians understand that God normally works through means. For example, when He heals our illnesses, He usually does so through doctors, medications, surgeries. When He converts an unbeliever, He does so through the means of the Christian who shares the Gospel with that unbeliever. This is not to deny that he also works miraculously, that is, directly, without means. It is merely a belief that miracles are necessarily the exceptions, not our daily experience.

The number one means that God uses in achieving His purposes in this world is His Church. For example, Psalm 149:6-9 describes the role of the Church in applying God's judgment in an unbelieving world:
"Let the high praises of God be in their throats
     and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
     and punishments on the peoples,
to bind their kings with chains
     and their nobles with fetters of iron,
to execute on them the judgment written! 

     This is honor for all His godly ones."

This is the downside of evangelism. As Paul says, our message is "to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life" (II Corinthians 2:16, compare the words of Jesus in John 9:39). While the Gospel is a source of life to the elect, those who are being made alive by the Spirit, it is a message of death to the reprobate, those who remain in their spiritually-dead state.

Jesus repeats the Psalmists message in Matthew 19:28: "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." The Apostles, who had suffered, and who were to suffer much more, even martyrdom, at the hand of the apostate Jews, were given this comfort, that someday they would sit in judgment on those very persecutors. 

What means will we use in applying that judgment? The Psalmist tells us "two-edged swords," a phrase which is explained in Hebrews 4:12: "The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." We also have the description of Jesus: "In His right hand He held seven stars, from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength" (Revelation 1:16). Thus, this judgment will not be by any prejudices of men, but rather by the applying of God's infallible word. And that word was given by Jesus Himself!

We live in an age of syrupy Christianity, a Christianity which must only speak sweetness and light, never the truths of sin and judgment. I call it the Osteenification of the church. But that is not the Christianity or the Church of Scripture. Shall we live by the standards of a self-esteem world? Or shall we apply the truth of God's Word, and warn of the judgment to come?

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Ordo Salutis: Justification Before Repentance

The contrast between Calvinists and Arminians is most visible in our understanding of the ordo salutis (theological terminology for "the order of salvation"). In what order (whether logically or chronologically) do the steps occur when a person is converted. Specifically, I want to address the place of repentance in that order: does justification precede repentance, as Calvinists hold? or does repentance precede justification, as the Arminians insist?

To my mind, there is an obvious logical requirement that justification must precede repentance. And in saying that, I mean logically, not that there will be a time gap between them. My question to the Arminian is, How can a man turn from his sin to a God whom he does not yet know? The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews addresses that same question: "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" (Hebrews 11:6). If repentance precedes justification, i. e., saving faith, then, by definition, it cannot have merit before God, because He rejects anything that is not of faith! The person must have the assurance by faith that God is now favorably disposed toward him, and will receive him as redeemed in Christ. Therefore, repentance cannot precede that act of grace.

The Old Testament also teaches us this truth.

Through the Prophet Isaiah, God tells us, "I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to Me, for I have redeemed you" (Isaiah 44:22). In the application of Christ's blood, the sins of the elect are blotted out, the meaning of "justification." We have been redeemed. Therefore, He says, return to Him, the definition of "repentance." God Himself makes explicit that repentance is not the basis of justification. Rather, just the opposite, justification must be the basis of repentance!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Counterfeit Tongues Movement

When discussing the issue of tongues, the primary text used by Pentecostals is Acts 2, the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit at the first Feast of Pentecost (the origin of the Pentecostal name) after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They point especially to the first four verses: "When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." Pentecostals still claim that a first or early sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in every individual is a repetition of this experience. They often describe it as a "prayer language."

But that isn't what you see if you continue in Acts 2.

The passage continues (verses 5-11): "Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." This is not the description of some unknown gibberish. Rather, those upon whom the Spirit has come are speaking known languages, though they were unknown to the speakers.

The Apostle Paul talks about this same experience in his first epistle to the Corinthian church, especially in chapters 12 and 14.

Paul says this: "There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me" (I Corinthians 14:10-11). As did Luke in Acts, Paul here talks about tongues, again not as random noises, but rather as known (though not by the speaker) foreign languages.

It is on this basis that I have issued a challenge several times to Pentecostals, especially of the Oneness variety, to prove that their "tongues" are real languages, and not merely random animal noises. While I have heard plenty of protestations of offense, I have yet to get even one effort to meet the challenge. Which, I think, proves what I have said elsewhere, that today's tongues movement is a counterfeit version of the original.