Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jude, That Obscure Little Epistle, and the Doctrines of Grace

"Now unto Him that is able to keep you that ye fall not, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with joy, that is, to God only wise, our Savior, be glory and majesty and dominion and power, both now and forever, amen."
- Jude 1:24-25, Geneva Bible

I use the Geneva Bible here instead of my usual ESV for two reasons. One is that it simply has a loftier rhythm to it, to my ear, though there is no material difference between the two translations of these verses. And the other is because of the archaic use of pronouns that shows the use of the plural here. Jude isn't addressing a particular person, but rather the church as a whole.

Of the so-called Five Points of Calvinism, the most maligned is probably Limited Atonement, while the most accepted is the Perseverance of the Saints or, as many Baptists phrase it, "once saved, always saved." Given the pride of fallen men, that should hardly be surprising.

One doesn't hear much about the Epistle of Jude. Not only is it painfully brief overall, but it also addresses a string of eschatological concerns, so it just doesn't get talked about as much as, for example, Paul's epistles. But here it explicitly touches on a doctrine that can be misused as a justification for spiritual complacency, but should, rather, serve as a great comfort to the struggling believer.

Notice how it combines major themes from other books of the Bible. Where Jude reminds us that God is able to keep us, we are reminded of the words on Jesus in John 10:28, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand." And "to present us blameless before Him" recalls the words of Paul in Ephesians 1:4, "He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him." Thus, contrary to the view of most Baptists, our perseverance is grounded in His predestination of us. Then Jude justifies this perseverance as, not for our sakes, even as profitable as it is, but rather because of the glory it brings to God.

This is where I believe that the Calvinist rises above the Arminian: while the Arminian is concerned to preserve his own pride and supposed native righteousness, the Calvinist is concerned only with the glory of God and establishing His righteousness.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kindly Teasing Baptists!

"I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea..."
- I Corinthians 10:1-2

Referring to this passage, Neil MacMichael, a Scottish Presbyterian minister of the mid-1800's, came up with this light-hearted jab at his Baptist brethren:

"1. The Israelites were baptized, both adults and infants, for the Apostle declares it.

2. They were not immersed, a fact which Moses and other inspired writers testify.

3. The Egyptians who pursued them were immersed.

4. The Israelites had baptism without immersion, and the Egyptians immersion without baptism.

5. The baptism of the Israelites was salvation, and the immersion of the Egyptians drowning."

Friday, July 2, 2010

Augustus Toplady on Creedalism

"Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you."
- II Timothy 1:13-14

Augustus Toplady, a solidly-Calvinist 18th Century Anglican churchman and author of the classic hymn "Rock of Ages," chose this text to defend the use of creeds in Protestant churches. For him, that referred to the Thirty-Nine Articles, but would apply equally to Reformed or Lutheran formularies, as well.

In a sermon preached on Christmas Day, 1770, Toplady interprets the Greek translated above as "sound words" to mean "the copy, pattern, or outline of sound doctrines." It must be recalled that Paul is addressing his protege here before the completion of the New Testament canon. Therefore, it appears that Paul must have provided some form of doctrinal statement, informal perhaps, against which Timothy could test his own teaching.

Toplady explains, "[W]ithout some given model, or determinate plan of doctrine, deduced from the sacred Scriptures, it will be impossible, either for ministers or people, to form just and connected ideas of divine things. Unless the pearls, which are scattered at large in the gospel-field, be marshalled into some kind of order, and reduced in a regular chain, we can never preach, as the apostle directs, according to the analogy of faith, i.e., in exact agreement with that nice connection and mutual relation, which the several doctrines have in common with each other, so as to make of the whole one consistent, uniform, unclashing system..." That is, without a systematic presentation of doctrine, not only can the various preachers not check that their teachings are consistent both with each other and with their predecessors, even just one preacher cannot check his consistency in one point with himself at another. In addition, each preacher would be stuck reinventing the wheel. For example, without a formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, he must explain it anew himself, from scratch. That is an open invitation, not just to theological novelty and innovation, but even to heresy! Come to think of it, that is a pretty good description of the American ecclesiastical scene!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Some Thoughts on Limited Atonement

A field of tulips
My personal view on the matter of the atonement is that of Bible-believing Reformed orthodoxy, that the Father eternally decreed a particular race of people, the Son eternally undertook their redemption in the fullness of time, and the Holy Spirit eternally undertook their regeneration and sanctification in this life.

First, let me point out that the phrase "limited atonement" is a misnomer. It came into popular usage because the "L" fits the TULIP acronym. "Definite atonement" or "particular atonement" better reflect the actual meaning of the phrase. It is the understanding of the Reformed or Calvinists that the atonement in the blood of Christ was intended for the elect, not humanity in general. If anything, it is the Arminian who holds to a limited atonement: while the Calvinist insists that Jesus fully and effectually atoned for the sin of the elect, the Arminian holds that He actually only potentially atoned for the sins of all without distonction.

I am not going to address the biblical support for the Calvinist view of the atonement. That has been handled elsewhere better than I can do. I intend merely to address some logical issues that arise in my own mind.

For example, if Jesus atoned for the sins of all men, then that necessarily implies that there are some who are or will be in Hell for whom Jesus died (I'm passing over those who hold to universal salvation, which avoids this issue, but doesn't enter the biblical discussion). In addition to being a repugnant thought, it would also necessarily imply that the blood of Christ is insufficient for salvation. If that is so, then no one can have any hope of eternal life!

Also, consider the implications for the Person of Christ.

If the Second Person of the Trinity has died for some that the Father has not decreed His purpose to save, and that the Holy Spirit has not undertaken to regenerate, then we set up a war within the Trinity, an obvious impossibility! That would introduce a logical slippery slope to Arianism, depriving Christ of His essential divinity! This is why the Pelagians of the hardest core, the United Pentecostal Church on one hand and the Jehovah's Witnesses on the other, deny the doctrine of the Trinity. While their error is greater, one must at least acknowledge their logical consistency!

Logically speaking, I think that one who holds to a universal atonement must acknowledge that he makes either the atonement insufficient or the Person of Christ impotent, or both. No doubt someone reading this will say he believes no such thing(s), but rather that it depends on us. That response in itself concedes my point, as it cannot answer directly this accusation, but rather turns to man, which is my very objection! My salvation is in Christ alone, not myself, nor in any mere man!

I hold, as an accurate summary of what Scripture teaches, what the Westminster Confession of Faith III:6 says: "As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only."