Saturday, December 31, 2011

Erastianism: The Trojan Horse of the Marriage Debate

"Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, 'You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.' Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, 'We are witnesses.'"
- Ruth 4:9-11

The Zwinglian Theologian Thomas Erastus is known for the philosophy named for him, Erastianism, which is a theory of church government that holds that the church should be subservient to the state in a Christian nation. This was in opposition to the Catholic doctrine that the state should be subservient to the church. And both rejected the Augustinian "two-swords" doctrine, according to which the church and the state are mutually independent.

The predominant view of American evangelicals toward state recognition of same-sex marriages is that such recognition should be forbidden. In fact, I bring the matter up because my own state is holding a March referendum on adding such a prohibition to our state constitution. I am opposed to that amendment for two reasons, neither of which, I am sure, is coming into the mind of my reader right now.

First of all, I am appalled by the bait-and-switch tactics used by the proponents of this amendment. The debate has focused on whether same-sex couples should marry. That isn't the issue being voted on! The question is whether the state should recognize such marriages, which is a logically-distinct question. By distracting the debate with the false question, the lovers of the state have an opening for their agenda, which leads to my second and main objection.

There are neutral principles in law that apply to everyone, banning fraud and force. In marriage, that is the legitimate basis for banning, for example, the marriage of children. Those principles are neutral because they are general, applying to all classes of people. However, this amendment forbids a minister, as such, from performing his duty in a situation opposed by the state. That is not general; it is specifically a restriction that applies to the minister in his spiritual role.

That is why I raise the warning against Erastianism. Certainly I understand that the minister should be accountable, primarily to God and secondarily to his church. However, to make him accountable to the state is the essence of Erastianism, and I must oppose it as such.

Take a look at the text I use at the top of this post. It is a famous portion of the story of Ruth, in which Boaz takes her as his wife. Notice what he does: he informs the elders of his marriage contract with Ruth. He appoints the town elders as witnesses. At no point does he ask their permission to marry Ruth. In fact, nowhere in scripture is the government given any role in marriage, except - as noted above- to prevent force or fraud. And that is exactly where we have gone off track. The church has surrendered the family to the state. Therefore, I oppose this amendment as more of the same, and plead for American Christians to throw off the shackles of Erastianism, and return to the biblical pattern for the church and family.

I will close with this passage form the 18th-Century Scottish Minister William Wilson, one of the founders of the Associate Presbytery: "The Lord Jesus Christ alone, as Mediator, is Head, Lord, and Lawgiver unto His Church, and to Him alone it belongs to give laws, ordinances, and statutes unto the office-bearers of His house, in their several [respective] spiritual and ecclesiastical functions and administrations... and unto the Lord Jesus alone it appertains to give instructions unto His ministers, to regulate them in the exercise of their ministry..."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is Infallibility of the Pope or of the Church Biblical?

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world."
- I John 4:1

The Church of Rome claims for itself that it is blessed with infallibility, that is, that it is incapable of error. She claims this for Her Church as a whole, and for the Pope in particular. In polemics against the churches of the Reformation, Rome claimed that this infallibility made her naturally superior to the Reformers, who explicitly eschewed any personal infallibility.

However, what do the scriptures say? We see above the statement of the Apostle John: The Christian must test the spirits, never accepting spiritual claims at face value, for there are false prophets in the world. In John 5:39, the same Apostle quotes the Lord's praise for those who search the scriptures for knowledge of Him. A little further in the New Testament in Acts 17:11, the believers of Berea are praised for "examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so."

In other words, the scriptures give the exact opposite surety from the Catholic Church: the foundation of our faith isn't from an infallible Pope or infallible Church, but rather from an infallible Bible, for "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Song 5:2-6, the Danger of Complacency

"I slept, but my heart was awake.
A sound! My beloved is knocking.
'Open to me, my sister, my love,
my dove, my perfect one,
for my head is wet with dew,
my locks with the drops of the night.'
I had put off my garment;
how could I put it on?
I had bathed my feet;
how could I soil them?
My beloved put his hand to the latch,
and my heart was thrilled within me.
I arose to open to my beloved,
and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with liquid myrrh,
on the handles of the bolt.
I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer."

We often hear sermons warning the unbeliever that he shouldn't put off closing with Jesus as Savior. And it is proper that we do so. However, there is also the danger of the believer's being complacent, somnolent, when Jesus comes to him. Why does Jesus come to the believer? There are many possible reasons: to give instruction, to comfort, or to apply discipline, just for starters. We see it happening in the passage above. The Lord knocks at the door of His beloved, but she doesn't want to get out of bed. Then, when she does rouse herself, He is nowhere to be found.

My mind dwells especially on the line where the woman complains that she has already washed her feet, and doesn't want to get them dirty again. I think of the shallow Christian who believes his sins are forgiven, and now he doesn't need anything else from Christ. Isn't that the very attitude that is so commonly produced by today's altar-call evangelism? "Thank you Jesus; I'll let you know when I need you again."

This passage applies, whether we are talking of the individual believer or of an entire congregation. We see the latter in Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me."

In a sermon in 1840, Scottish Presbyterian Minister Robert Murray McCheyne explains, "To awaken out of sleep is to see sin as it is - your heart as it is - Christ as He is - and the love of God in Christ. And you can see all this by looking to Calvary's cross. O! it is an awful thing to look to the cross and not be affected, nor feel conviction of sin - not to feel drawn to Christ." We have a saying, "Opportunity only knocks once." What have we missed by snoozing when Jesus was at the door?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

McCheyne on II Corinthians 5:14: The Heart of the Hypocrite


"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died."

Robert Murray McCheyne was a minister of the Church of Scotland in the early XIXth Century.

"We have so choked up the avenues of self-examination - there are so many turnings and windings before we can arrive at the true motives of our actions - that our dread and hatred of God, which first moved man to sin, and which are still the grand impelling forces whereby Satan goads on the children of disobedience - these are wholly concealed from our view, and you cannot persuade a natural man that they are really there."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ephesians 2:1 and the Erroneous Free-Will View of Man

"You were dead in the trespasses and sins."

Calvinism starts with a view of a spiritually-dead man, in whom God works by His sovereign grace to renew, regenerate, and justify. The various stripes of anti-Calvinist Christianity hold to a spiritually-able man who works his way to a relationship with God. To paraphrase, free-will Christianity teaches that a man is sick in trespasses and sins, while the Calvinist agrees with the Apostle Paul that the natural man is dead, completely unable to help himself spiritually.

In contrast to free-will Christianity, the Bible teaches that all of the initiative in salvation belongs to God, and none to man. Ezekiel 36:26 tells us, "I 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." That is, God changes our hearts, from the dead heart described in Ephesians, to a new living heart. And verse 27 continues, "And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules." Now that He has given us a new heart, He sends His Holy Spirit to work in it, leading and enabling us to obey Him. For, as Jesus Himself says, "no one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44). Unlike the free-willer, God says that we are unable to seek Him, so He draws us to Him by His own will and power.

But we believe and are then saved, right? Nope. Jesus died for us while we were still in our sins (see, for example, Romans 5:6, I Peter 3:18). We aren't saved because we believe; we believe because we are saved! But our part in salvation is to have faith, right? Nope, wrong again. Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God." Even our faith, our response to what Christ has done, is given to us by God. And John 1:13 says that Christians are "born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

But I know the free-willer is still holding on to his dream of contributing to his salvation. He's asking, "Alright, but I take it from there in my sanctification, right?" Nope, not that, either. Philippians 2:13, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." God's sovereign grace continues its work in us, conforming us to the holiness of Christ. As Paul also says in I Corinthians 15:10, "by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."

Only Calvinism is consistent with the teachings of Scripture that man is utterly helpless in his own salvation. Rather, it occurs - in every step - by God's grace and Holy Spirit.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Apostle Paul, Member of Presbytery

We tend to think of the Apostle Paul as a spiritual Lone Ranger, single-handedly establishing Christianity around the Mediterranean fringe. And it is true that he only occasionally speaks of companions, such as Timothy, Titus, John Mark, and Barnabas. He only gives snippets of the ecclesiastical organization which he established along with the congregations. But I do believe that he gave us such information.

In I Timothy 4:14, the ESV reads, "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you." That phrase "council of elders" is translated "presbytery" by the King James Version, the American Standard Version, and the New American Standard Bible, and "eldership" in Young's Literal Translation. "Presbytery" is a transliteration of the Greek word, while "council of elders" and "eldership" are translations. Either way, we see the church leaders joining together to ordain Reverend Timothy. I suspect that this same ceremony is what Paul intends in I Timothy 6:12, "Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." That is, Paul is urging Timothy to continue in the faith to which he testified in his examination by the presbytery.

Next look at II Timothy 1:6, "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands." Notice the switch in Paul's choice of words. In I Timothy, the ordination is by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Then in II Timothy, it is by the laying on of Paul's hands. I think that the logical implication is that Paul participated in the ceremony of the presbytery.

I see in these verses the kernel of the early church government. It wasn't bishops; nor was it democratic congregationalism. It was presbyterian.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Psalm 51:10-12, a Dividing Line between Hypocritical and True Believers


"Create in me a clean heart, O God,
     and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Your presence,
     and take not Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
     and uphold me with a willing spirit."

In an earlier post, I defined a hypocritical believer as a professing, but false, Christian who has hidden from himself the reality of his spiritual lostness. I believe that the text before us reinforces that contrast.

In it, we see David after II Samuel 11. In that story, he had been looking out over the city of Jerusalem from his palace. He saw Bathsheba bathing on her roof. Stirred by lust, he had arranged for the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, so that he could gain her for himself. After the Prophet Nathan rebuked David (II Samuel 12), David was overcome by sorrow over what he had done. Psalm 51 is the prayer he wrote, confessing his sin, and seeking a restoration of his damaged relationship with Jehovah, his God.

Consider also Psalm 38, another psalm by David. In verse 3, he describes the physical trauma caused by sin. In verse 6, "all the day I go about mourning." And verse 8, "I groan because of the tumult of my heart."

In both of these psalms, we see a man traumatized, sorrowful and cast down, because he is aware of his sin. That doesn't happen in a hypocrite. The hypocritical believer is self-satisfied with his spirituality, and would be quite insulted if anyone were to suggest that he isn't as holy as he imagines himself to be. He wears blinders, so he won't see the reality within him (though, of course, those blinders don't prevent him from seeing faults in others).

Further, even if a hypocrite were to recognize that maybe he isn't so spiritual after all, another aspect of his condition is that he won't consider his shortfall something to be concerned about, something that needs to be dealt with. And he certainly isn't going to respond positively if someone were to confront him about his complacency! Since he has no real relationship with God in Christ, he isn't conscious of lacking that relationship.

Prophets like Nathan make a true believer change. But they merely reinforce the blindness of the hypocrite. With just one exception: if the sovereign Lord sees fit to grant the hypocrite repentance (Acts 5:31 and II Timothy 2:25).

Friday, October 28, 2011

News: Baptists Turn Away Church for Being "Too Calvinistic"


News out of Owensboro, KY, reports that the Daviess-McLean Baptist Association has refused membership (by a lopsided vote of 104-9) to the Pleasant Valley Community Church. The story can be read on the Associated Baptist Press website. And the church's website can be seen here.

I especially want to bring to your attention the statement of the Association's credentials committee: "Our concern in the initial stages of our investigation revolved around the fact that Pleasant Valley Community Church’s confessional statement is one that (is) Calvinistic in nature. It affirms the doctrine of election and grace." This is a stunning expression of ignorance, considering the Calvinistic roots of the Baptist churches. The London Confession of Faith (1689), a Baptist adaptation of the Westminster Confession, says in Article 3, "God has decreed in Himself from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things which shall ever come to pass," which is quoted almost word-for-word in the objected portion of PVCC's statement of faith (60 pages?!?). The Confession continues, "By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of His glorious grace. Others are left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of His glorious justice."

Thus we can see that Calvinism is well-entrenched in Baptist roots. Doesn't this mean that the Association is aberrant, not Pleasant Valley? Consider this article on the tradition of Calvinism among Southern Baptists. And I chose the picture at the top for one very good reason: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, perhaps the greatest preacher in the English language, was both a Baptist and an unapologetic Calvinist!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Timothy 2:1-7, Does Paul Teach a Universal Atonement?

First, a celebratory announcement: this is my 200th blog post. As always, my prayer is that it will be to the glory of God and the edification of His people.

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, Who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth."

This passage frequently comes up in debates about the extent of the atonement. With all Calvinists, I hold that Jesus died for all of the elect, and only the elect, fully redeeming them from the just judgment for their sins. In opposition to this view, Arminians hold that Christ died for every person in the world, throughout history, making their salvation possible, but not certain. Arminians claim verse four here, "Who desires all people to be saved," as supporting their view. But does it really?

First, I have just one simple, logical question for the Arminian: if God desires something, anything, who can refuse Him? Wouldn't your interpretation of this passage logically lead to the doctrine of universal salvation?

But to particulars: Let's look at the context. Verse one ends with that same phrase, "all people," but the sentence continues in verse two, referring to kings and others in authority. Then in verse seven, Paul refers to himself as called to be a teacher of the Gentiles. Thus, in context, "all people" here cannot refer to "every individual without distinction," but rather to "individuals of every class or ethnicity." God desires, effectually, for the Gospel to impact every level of society, and every nation. And in this desire, He attains that goal! The Apostle John envisions the success of the Gospel in this very fashion (Revelation 7:9): "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands."

I can't speak for anyone else, but I prefer this vision of the success of the Gospel, over the Arminian view of potential redemption!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ezekiel 9:3-7, The Godly Must Speak Out!


"Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house. And He called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his waist. And the Lord said to him, 'Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.' And to the others He said in my hearing, 'Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at My sanctuary.' So they began with the elders who were before the house. Then He said to them, 'Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out.' So they went out and struck in the city."

This is a tough passage! It speaks of a time of latitudinarian spirituality. Anything goes. Everything is okay. Don't be judgmental. There are times of such ease throughout the Old Testament, See, for example, Deuteronomy 12:8, Judges 17:6, Judges 21:25, and Proverbs 21:2. And again in Ezekiel's time. But this time the Lord pours out His wrath against the lackadaisical church-member. He commands a man to go through Jerusalem and place a mark on all those who weep over the apostasy of their society. Then He sends others out to slay everyone without that mark.

Doesn't this describe our own time? The leadership of many churches deny the fundamentals of the faith. One prominent "evangelical" has now declared that there is no Hell. There have been ministers for decades who deny the divine inspiration of the Bible. And now we have loony theology flying all over the place, such as the Prosperity Gospel. But we mustn't criticize. Mustn't act superior. Mustn't judge. But John 7:24 tells us to judge, but to do it "with right judgment." And doesn't this passage from Ezekiel indicate that we face severe judgment ourselves if we disobey this instruction? Doesn't God reveal that He hates loose and impotent Christianity?

However, we must understand that we face not only God's wrath if we fail to judge error and sin, but also that we face the government's wrath if we do. In 1954, then-Senator Lyndon Johnson inserted a clause into the federal tax code to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches, if their pastors used the pulpit to criticize government. The Alliance Defense Fund is attempting to stir up pastors to resist this shackle on their work.

Acts 5:29 tells us that we must obey God rather than men. Since it is the duty of pastors especially, but also all Christians generally, to speak against the evils of our time, surely the tax code should be an inferior authority in our concerns. Let the Pastor, and each Christian, exercise his spiritual responsibility and constitutional rights. And what consequences the government brings on us, let us be honored to suffer for doing right (I Peter 3:17)!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Isaiah 53:2, the Danger of Images

"For He grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him."

The picture here shows an iconostasis, which is the display of images in an Orthodox Church. Unlike the Church of Rome, the Orthodox hold that the Second Commandment forbids carved images, but not
painted. Thus, no statues. However, I would contend that their distinction has no biblical foundation. As the Commandment (Exodus 20:4) says, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" [emphasis mine]. Notice that it clearly states "carved" or "any likeness."

But, other than the sin of disobedience (I John 3:4), where is the harm? That is the most-frequent question asked by today's latitudinarian Christian. That great Puritan preacher John Owen, suggests a good answer: "[M]en who are complete strangers to seeing the person and glory of Christ by faith have turned to images, pictures, and music to help them in their worship." Owen's position was that we walk by faith in this life, in preparation for the life of sight that we will enjoy in the eternal state (I Corinthians 13:12, I John 3:2, II Corinthians 4:18, 5:7, Hebrews 11:1). Therefore, images enter the religion of the individual or church which does not know Christ by faith. It is a sort of short-circuit, and fools that person into believing that he is in a spiritual condition that he does not truly have. That is why I used the Isaiah text at the top: it precisely makes the point that the experience we need to have with Jesus, the Suffering Servant, is not found in looking upon His likeness.

That is the danger: that images would create a spiritual complacency in a person which blinds him to his real need for the Gospel. To use an analogy, it is like filling the stomach with sand, creating a false sense of fullness, while the person is actually starving to death.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Reprobation of Pharaoh and the Comfort of Election


"The LORD said to Moses, 'Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.'"

We all know the story: Israel had taken refuge in Egypt during a time of famine in Palestine. God prospered them there, in spite of their oppression by the Egyptians. At this point in Exodus, it has come time for Moses to lead them to liberation in the promised land, but the Egyptians feared the loss of their labor force.

As we see in the verse above, God gave comfort to His people with a promise that He would overrule the opposition of Pharaoh, such that Pharaoh would actually be glad to set them free. However, He also has an eye to His own glory, and He chooses to harden Pharaoh, so that His hand will be made visible in the liberation.

Notice Exodus 7:3-5, "But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply My miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay My hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out My divisions, my people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out My hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it." We see here the biblical Calvinist doctrine of reprobation, God's choice to reject, in advance, an unbeliever for the purposes of His own justice and glory. The reprobation of Pharaoh is seen again in Exodus 9:12.

Why has God done this to Pharaoh? We do not need to guess, for He gives the explanation Himself. Exodus 9:16 tells us, "for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you My power, so that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth." God's first inspiration in all things is to promote His own glory. That is why Arminians hate the doctrine of reprobation. They want God's purpose to be to serve us. They hate it that He refuses to adopt their agenda! But His response is seen in Isaiah 42:8, "I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other..."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Matthew 26:39, The True Humanity of Christ

"And going a little farther He fell on his face and prayed, saying, 'My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.'"

Early in the Second Century, immediately following the time of the Apostles, a heresy arose called Docetism. The Docetists held that the human body of Christ was an illusion, since (they claimed) the divine cannot possibly be united with flesh. This was a particular variant of Gnosticism. We really don't see this heresy around much, though aspects of it pop up here and there. For example, Sabellians (represented mainly by the United Pentecostal Church) deny the Trinity, claiming that the three persons are actually merely modes of the one God. Since they hold that there is no Second Person of the Trinity, then obviously He could not have been united with a human nature. And Jehovah's Witnesses claim that the resurrection was only spiritual, not a literal resurrection of the flesh of Jesus. While neither of these is strictly Docetism, there are obvious parallels.

However, consider the Scripture above. We see Jesus showing true fear, real human emotion, in the face of His impending suffering and death. Trepidation cannot be a quality of His divine nature. Therefore, we see experiential evidence of His true humanity. He was a man, regardless of what Sabellians or Docetists can protest. And as a true man, in addition to His true divinity, Jesus can therefore sympathize with our own fears and sufferings (Hebrews 4:15). That is great personal comfort that we can take from the high theology of the dual nature of Christ!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Westminster Standards and Biblical Inerrancy

"We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts."
- Westminster Confession of Faith I:5

The first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith is devoted to the doctrine of scripture. The logical basis for that choice was that the Assembly wanted to set out immediately their standard for everything else that they would declare. Since they held that the Bible alone is and should be the source and judge of all that we are to believe about God, the spiritual condition of man, and the relationship between the two, they set their doctrine of scripture as the gateway to the Confession.

As you can see, in this paragraph, the Bible is called the "Word of God." In Paragraph 8, it is described as "inspired by God." And in Paragraph 9, it is called "infallible." We now use the adjective "inerrant" to mean the same thing.

The answer to question 4 of the Larger Catechism teaches the same precept: "The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very Word of God."

Thus, we see that the orthodox, confessional view of Presbyterians is that the Bible is inerrant, because it is the actual Word of God. The instrumentality of its writing is by men, but the words are from God. As Peter explained (II Peter 1:21), "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." While liberal Presbyterians have been denying the inerrancy of the Bible for the last century, the confessional statements above prove that the claim of such teachers to be Presbyterian is a deception.

I want to bring to your attention another part of those confessional statements. Both the Confession and the Catechism state that the inward witness of the Holy Spirit is necessary for the individual to believe the nature and teachings of the Bible. If the inspiration and necessary inerrancy of the Scriptures are self-evident, as the Standards teach, why don't all professing Christians, at the very least, believe it?

God in His own word says that we should believe because of who He, its author is. Zechariah 12:1, "Thus declares the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him..." He is the Creator of everything around us, and even our spirit within us. Thus He claims a singular qualification to be believed. Yet, so much of the world refuses to believe. And His word explains why.

Romans 1:18-20 is a description of the spiritual condition of unregenerate men. Notice especially verse 18, which describes "men who suppress the truth by their wickedness." Sinful men hate God's Word, so they suppress their knowledge of its truth. The Apostle Paul also describes this spiritual condition in two places in I Corinthians. I Cor. 1:21 says, "the world did not know God through wisdom." Natural wisdom blocks out the knowledge of God. And I Cor. 2:14 much the same: "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." The unregenerate man cannot perceive spiritual truth because his sin blocks it from his awareness. He is like the spoiled child who sticks his fingers in his ears and sing-songs, "La-la-la, I can't hear you," to avoid acknowledging the instructions or admonishments of his parents.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

John 17:15, Jesus versus the Rapturists

"I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one."

I have written before on the I Thessalonians passage that some premilleniallists claim teaches a "rapture," i.e., that God will take the Church out of the world to avoid tough times.

But look at the words above, from the High Priestly Prayer of Christ. His exact words are a prayer to the Father that He not take His people out of the world. If Jesus says the opposite of what the rapturists proclaim, what are we to think of the rapturists?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Zechariah 11:6, An Elegy for the American Republic

"For I will no longer have pity on the inhabitants of this land, declares the LORD. Behold, I will cause each of them to fall into the hand of his neighbor, and each into the hand of his king, and they shall crush the land, and I will deliver none from their hand."

I am currently studying Zechariah in an intense fashion. I have been working on it for several months. When I got to this verse, it struck home with so much of the reaction I have had to the recent "debt ceiling crisis." I have been so saddened by the imperial attitudes by both members of Congress and the President. They demanded the power to increase their own credit limit in order to borrow money in order to pay the interest on existing government debt! I know that I would never be allowed to do that with my own credit cards. Set my own credit limit? I don't think so! Pay the interest only? Isn't that what was done with the mortgages that supposedly caused the mortgage crisis? And the demand for tax increases by some (to which I expect the rest to capitulate)? What a foolish idea, in general, but especially in light of the historical habit of Congress to spend $1.50 for every $1 of tax revenue. It is like trying to cure an addiction by taking more drugs! Hand the alcoholic a beer!

Zechariah is warning of a covenant society that has earned an oppressive government. A previous pastor of mine regularly repeated his mantra, "We get the government we deserve." What kind of government is He bringing, when He warns that He will cause us to fall into the hand of the king?

I Samuel 8:10-18
"'According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.' So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, 'These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.'"

Does this sound familiar?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Paul on the General Revelation of God

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."
-Romans 1:18-23

The Bible clearly declares that God has revealed Himself in His creation. Theologians refer to this as "general revelation", as opposed to the "special revelation" found only in the Bible. It also insists that the failure of unbelievers to acknowledge that fact is not a matter of ignorance, but rather of the active suppression of the knowledge.

The same point is made in poetic form in Psalm 19:1-6, especially verse 1, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork."

I suspect that this is what we see in Adam, just after the Fall (Genesis 3:8), when he hides in terror from his offended Creator. The same verse says that "he heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden." Now, since we know God is a spirit (John 4:24), we also know that He has no body. Thus,I take this to be a christophany, a preincarnate appearance of the Second Person of the Trinity, in His mediatorial office. I think that the effort to hide refers to Adam's awareness of everything around him in the Garden as testifying to the sovereignty of God. That certainly should put him in terror, as everywhere he turned, he was reminded of his rebellion and the holiness and wrath of God! It also explains why it is His Redeemer who comes seeking him, now a fallen sinner.

Since Adam's Fall was only minutes old at this point, I think that we can assume that he still retained a greater sensitivity to the general revelation of God in everything around him, than would come naturally to us his posterity. Being far removed from that event in our own time, sin has increased our deafness, blindness, and willfulness, rendering us far less sensitive to God's presence. Thus was necessitated the special revelation in the Bible, which alone gives us the knowledge that leads to salvation.

The writers of the Westminster Confession of Faith (I:1) got it exactly right: "Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation; therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto his Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Did the Apostle Paul Consider Unbelieving Jews to Be "God's Chosen People"?

"I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." -Genesis 12:3

This verse , the beginning of God's calling to Abraham, is popular with certain dispensationalist preachers, most notably John

Hagee. He loves to quote it as God's supposed endorsement of the modern state of Israel and American political and military support for her. On his TV program, he has asked Jewish guests to stand, and then had his congregation give them an ovation. He also has the flag of Israel flying outside his church building, alongside the American and Texas flags.

But is that how the biblical writers understood it? By no means!

Consider Galatians 3. In verse 7, Paul tells us, "Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham." Faith, not biological descent, is what makes one a descendant of Abraham. Thus, he says in verse 9, "those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." And in verse 14, "in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham [has] come to the Gentiles." It is Christians, whether of Jewish or Gentile ancestry, who inherit the promise to Abraham. Unbelieving Jews and the modern nation of Israel have no claim to that blessing. As Paul states it in verse 29, "if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise."

This is completely contrary to Hagee's Israelolatry.


I think the crowning text is Galatians 6:16, where Paul refers to the Church as "the Israel of God." This epithet is the logical conclusion of Paul's argument, that it is faith that makes descendants of Abraham. It is Christians who are a blessing to the world, not unbelieving Jews. And it shows that Hagee, in spite of his fundamentalist pretensions, either doesn't know or doesn't understand the Scriptures.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Is There a Message from God in Our Immigration Crisis?

"The sojourner who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. He shall lend to you, and you shall not lend to him. He shall be the head, and you shall be the tail."
- Deuteronomy 28:43-44

I have written before about the treatment of sojourners, popularly referred to as "illegal aliens," in our country. I consider it a mark of shame. But I am also thinking there is more to it.

Among the curses enumerated in Deuteronomy for unfaithfulness is the one above. God warns that he will economically downgrade His covenant people, and lift up the unbelieving immigrants among them. Have we not seen this? I see a lot of Hispanic workers in the store where I work. As a result of their work ethic, not only are they able to support themselves here, but they also send money home to their families. And after that, they have enough left over for a lot of beer! I know that I don't have enough left after the bills to spend so much on frivolous pleasures like that. And I know a lot of Americans who have become unable to keep up with their basic expenses.

In my earlier post, I protested the treatment of the sojourner in our society. The Bible speaks strongly against this. Exodus 22:21, "You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt." And Exodus 23:9, "You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt." Look also at Leviticus 19:33 and Ezekiel 22:29.

Our society has been retreating from its covenanted commitments for quite a while now. It looks to me as if God has chosen the particular curse that will strike most at our pride. Where we had looked to the Hispanic immigrants to provide cheap migrant labor or domestic service, "wetbacks" some people call them, instead God has blessed them to strike at our neglect of Him. What sorrow we should feel!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Thank God for the Wonder of Election!

"Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother

Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
I Corinthians 1:1-3

I was inspired to write this by the sermon at church this morning.

After leaving Athens, Paul went to Corinth, to establish a church there. This journey is described in Acts 18. This journey could not have been made gladly, because Corinth of that time had a reputation for immorality. Prostitution was endemic, including cult prostitution by both men and women. The name of the city actually became a by-word, "to corinthianize", meaning "to be devoted to sexual excess."

However, Paul came with a promise from God (Acts 18:10): "I have many in this city who are my people." Paul had the comfort of God's election, knowing that God had chosen from eternity past, particular individuals in Corinth to know Him through the ministry of Paul. I suspect that this would be a great comfort to all Reformed ministers, knowing that human sight may look on their ministries as hopeless, but God's purposes of grace guarantee them eternal success.

And what was the fruit of Paul's ministry? I Corinthians 6:9-11 demonstrates the triumph of the Gospel. "Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." The very people whose morality was the butt of jokes in a society known for bathhouses and orgies are now made new creatures in Christ!

I think this demonstrates a number of things. First, it shows the lie to the Arminian accusation that Calvinism kills the evangelistic spirit. Here it is actually the encouragement to Paul's evangelistic effort. Second, it exposes how small our view of grace is. As our pastor asked us today, who do we prefer for evangelism and church planting? Middle-class, upright people (which is not to say that I don't believe such people need the Gospel). Who would we least expect to reach? The very people that Paul announces were former prostitutes! Our hands are too clean and our Gospel is too small!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Luke 22:24-27, Does Christ Forbid Bishops, a Class of Clergy that Rules over the Rest?

"A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.'"

Referring to Titus 1:5-9, I have said before that the Bible knows no office of "bishop," except as a synonym for "elder." In particular, I believe that the office of monarchical bishop as it exists in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Episcopal Churches is opposed to Scripture, and, in fact, rebellion against the only Head of the Church. Such an office sets one clergyman in rule over his fellows. And, of course, the office of the Pope sets one man over even his fellow bishops.

I believe that the Westminster Confession of Faith (XXV:6) is correct in saying, "There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God." The passage above is a key support for this doctrine. If Christ forbids an apostle from ruling over the others, requiring them instead mutually to serve one another, how can any lesser person claim such authority for himself? I won't even go into what these verses say about the supposed supremacy of Peter!

Christ, as Head of the Church, has given her a government of elders, whether primarily ruling or primarily teaching. And these elders hold no rule over any other elder (except in the sense of mutual subjection). The Pope and all the popelets in the world have set themselves up in rebellion against their Head. How can such rebels feed the flock from illegitimate places of power? Yet this is the fundamental calling of their office (I Peter 5:2)!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

John Bunyan on Prayer


The Puritan John Bunyan is best known as the writer of "Pilgrim's Progress." But the rest of his ministry has been forgotten. For example, I didn't know until I started putting this post together, that he had spent twelve years in prison for his faith. He also wrote other spiritual works. The one that is relevant here was "I Will Pray with the Spirit" (available online here).

Bunyan was a sincerely spiritual man. I found the following quote in "Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer," edited by Joel Beeke and Brian Najapfour. I find so much that the Puritans said to be deeply convicting. I frequently ask God to give me the faith, faithfulness, and passion that they had.

Bunyan said, "Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the word, for the good of the Church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God." Notice the things that he includes in his definition of prayer: the attitude of the heart, the intimate devotion to the Trinity, and the scripture-based expectations. In fact, the Puritans were known for their advocacy of praying the Bible back to God, with the expectation that He would always be pleased to hear His own Word. That implies an intimate knowledge of the Bible. Can any of us read this without feeling ashamed of our cold and impotent prayers?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Is a Universal Gospel Inconsistent with a Particular Atonement?

"For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." - I Timothy 4:10

I've written on this topic before, but it has been on my mind again today.

There are several verses in Scripture which declare that the Gospel is universal, i.e., worldwide, without restriction of time or ethnicity, "no respecter of persons" (e.g., Acts 10:34). The verse above is one. John 3:16 is well-known. I John 2:2 is another. These verses are often thrown up in the face of Calvinists, as if our critics think that we have never seen them before.

The doctrine at controversy is the extent of the atonement. Most Christians hold to a universal atonement, that is, that Christ on the cross died in an equal sense for every person without discrimination. Calvinists, such as myself, hold to a particular, or definite, atonement, i.e., for a specific class of named individuals, known only to God. We would say that the doctrine of universal atonement suffers from two fatal flaws: first, that it is thereby a hypothetical atonement only, not a certain one, or second, that there are and will be people in Hell for whom Christ died. I am appalled by either option and sickened that so many Christians are agreeable to such blasphemies.

Let me list a couple of places in Scripture that I understand to teach a particular atonement.

"At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around Him and said to Him, 'How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.' Jesus answered them, 'I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name bear witness about Me, but you do not believe because you are not part of My flock. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.'" -John 10: 22-30

"When Jesus had spoken these words, He lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, 'Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him. I have manifested Your name to the people whom You gave Me out of the world. Yours they were, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they know that everything that You have given Me is from You. For I have given them the words that You gave Me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom You have given me, for they are Yours. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to see My glory that You have given Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know You, I know You, and these know that You have sent Me. I made known to them Your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them.'" -John 17:1-2, 6-9, 24-26

Is there a conflict here? I would certainly deny so. It seems rather clear to me. Jesus received a known (to Him) class of named individuals to redeem on the cross. That part is clear from the passages from John just above. But it is equally and gloriously true that He is the Savior of the world! How so? Because the latter is taken in general, while the former is taken individually. Jesus is the Savior of every believing man, woman, and child anywhere in the world, of any ethnic background, from Adam to the end of the world. Every person who is saved is saved in Him (such as Romans 10:9-13). Furthermore, no one who is saved is or can be saved by any person or means other than Him (such as Acts 4:12 and II Thessalonians 2:12).

The Gospel is universal because it is the message of salvation to every time, place, and people (Mark 16:15). And because the atonement is definite and particular, every individual can know that His atonement is sufficient to satisfy the justice of God, and restore a right relationship between the Father and the repentant sinner. The universal Gospel is the warrant for every hearer to believe. The atonement is what satisfies both God and sinner that all his sins are forgiven (Isaiah 53:6).

No one can know in an a priori sense that he is one of the elect, for whom Christ died. This is only an a posteriori knowledge, arising from having believed. In fact, we are forbidden to meddle in the secret decrees of God (Deuteronomy 29:29). But no knowledge of election is required to take hold of that universal Gospel, and thus to be saved in Christ Jesus!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Prosperity of the Gospel in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards


Jonathan Edwards is probably the most famous theologian ever produced by the United States. Even though he died about twenty years before our independence, his preaching has been credited with beginning the great revival which inspired the colonials to resist British tyranny. I seek here to focus attention on Edwards' eschatological view, now called postmillennialism. It is seen especially plainly in his most famous sermon, "An Humble Attempt to Promote Prayer for Revival." Since Edwards' view is explained better than I can do in the article linked above, I will not attempt to do so. I wish here merely to list the Scriptures that Edwards believed taught the successful spread of the Gospel in this age.

In Genesis: 12:3, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4, and 28:14

In the Psalms: 2:6-8 (cf Hebrews 1:2 and 2:8), 22:27, 65:5, 65:8, 67:7, 72:11, 72:17, 98:3, 113:3

In Isaiah: 2:2, 11:9, 54:1-2, 54:5, 60:12

In Jeremiah: 3:17, 10:11, 10:15

Malachi 1:11

Romans 11:12 and 25

In "Taking Hold of God," Editor Joel Beeke comments, "In typical Puritan fashion, Edwards urged believers to turn these promises into prayers, calling upon the Lord to extend the kingdom of His Son. Christ's victorious position at God's right hand should move us to pray to God to establish Christ's royal dominion ('the rod of thy strength') in the very midst of His enemies (Psalm 110)."

Further information on the Puritan view of last things and its impact on missions can be found in "The Puritan Hope"," by Iain Murray. Other books on postmillenialism can be found here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Matthew Henry on Prayer


Matthew Henry is best known for his Bible commentary. However, among his lesser-known works was "A Method for Prayer." He developed this list of characteristics for powerful, effectual, and soul-satisfying prayer (as adapted in "Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer," edited by Joel Beeke and Brian Najapfour).

1. Address the infinitely great and glorious Being
a. with holy awe and reverence
b. distinguishing Him from false gods
2. Reverently adore God as transcendently bright and blessed
a. the self-existent, self-sufficient, infinite Spirit
b. His existence indisputable
c. His nature beyond our comprehension
d. His perfection matchless
e. infinitely above us and all others

In particular, adore the Lord as
1. eternal, immutable
2. present in all places
3. perfect in His knowledge of all
4. unsearchable in wisdom
5. sovereign, owner, and Lord of all
6. irresistible in power
7. unspotted in purity and righteousness
8. always just in His government
9. always true, inexhaustibly good
10. infinitely greater than our best praises

3. Give God the praise of His glory in heaven
4. Give Him glory as our creator, protector, benefactor, and ruler
5. Give honor to the three distinct Persons of the Godhead
6. Acknowledge our dependence on Him and obligation to our creator
7. Declare God to be our covenant God who owns us
8. Acknowledge the inestimable favor of being invited to draw near to Him
9. Express our unworthiness to draw near to God
10. Profess our desire for Him as our happiness
11. Profess our hope and trust in His all-sufficiency
12. Ask God graciously to accept us and our poor prayers
13. Pray for the assistance of the Holy Spirit in our prayers
14. Make the glory of God as the highest goal of our prayers
15. Profess our reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ alone

I don't imagine that Henry foresaw us going through all of these elements each time we pray. That would turn prayer into a chore, a matter of checking off a to-do list, rather than conversing with our Father in Heaven. However, as we think to cover them all over time, I would expect that our awareness of the grandeur of God would be magnified and our dependence on Him deepened. Those would seem to be worthy things!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Zechariah and Biblical Repentance


"The Lord was very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to Me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? But My words and My statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? So they repented and said, 'As the Lord of hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so has He dealt with us.'"
- Zechariah 1:2-6

The Prophet Zechariah shared the ministry with the Prophet Haggai in the period immediately following the return of the Jews to the land of Israel after their exile in Babylon. In a curious aside, archeologists may recently have found his tomb!

As I have noted before, repentance is a prominent theme among the writings of the Jewish prophets. When I consider the claim of classical dispensationslists that the Gospel isn't found in the Old Testament, I often wonder whether they are reading the same Bible that I am. But I digress...

Matthew Henry paraphrases verse 2, "Turn you to me in a way of faith and repentance, duty and obedience, and I will turn to you in a way of favour and mercy, peace and reconciliation." I think Henry brings out the essence of repentance: it isn't merely a sorrowing over one's sins, though that is part of it, but rather a change of course, a turning away from one's old path to a new path in fellowship with God. The Westminster Confession of Faith, in the chapter on Repentance unto Life, states it wonderfully (XV:2): "By it a sinner, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God, and upon the apprehension of his mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with him in all the ways of his commandments."

Zechariah illustrates where Judas failed to repent. The story is told in Matthew 27:3-10. In verse 3, we see that Judas "changed his mind." But what does he then do? Plead for the forgiveness of God and the disciples? No, as verse 5 tells us, he committed suicide. In other words, Judas certainly sorrowed over his sin, but he didn't depart from it to walk in a new way. That is what distinguishes his sorrow from repentance.

Returning to Zechariah, we see that God has punished the forefathers of the prophet's audience, and this remnant acknowledges the justice of God's judgment (verse 6), a step that Judas failed to take. Then in verse 12, a new character appears, the Angel of the Lord, who pleads, "O Lord of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?" Along with most orthodox readers, I consider this Angel to be the preincarnate Second Person of the Trinity, because He is frequently addressed alternatively as the Lord Himself. Here, He intercedes on behalf of Jerusalem, acting in His role as Mediator. This is another essential difference between sorrow and repentance: true repentance relies on the intercession of Jesus Christ, the Mediator. Repentance doesn't restore or create holiness; rather, it serves as a step in applying the imputed righteousness of Christ, which alone restores our standing before God the Father.

Then in verses 16-17, Jehovah responds to this intercession: "Therefore, thus says the Lord, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the Lord of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. Cry out again, Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’"

Here are the steps that Zechariah shows for true repentance: sorrow for sins, a new path of obedience (not that this can be done infallibly, since the person is still a sinner), dependence on the intercession and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, and a restored relationship with God. Leaving out any step necessarily overthrows the reality of the others.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Isaiah 55:6-9 vs The Worship of the God of Chance


Seek the Lord while He may be found;
     call upon Him while He is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
     and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him,
     and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
     neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
     so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts."

If you ask an unbeliever, "What is two plus two?", he will respond, "Four." Is it ever anything other than four? Of course not, he will say. So ask now, "Where does the sun rise?" "In the east," he will tell you. Does it always rise in the east? Never the west, or appear in the center of the sky? "How silly!" he will probably say.

Yet, he will play the lottery, expecting that luck will eventually pay off for him. Or ask the origins of the world around him, and he will unthinkingly respond,"Chance." And he will say it without any consciousness of the logical tension between that belief and his earlier statements.

My point is this: the world operates according to laws, predictable laws. That is because it was created by a God of laws. The very predictability of the universe is a consistent evidence of the hand of God. However, the unbeliever covers his eyes at that evidence, even as he admits the particular examples that he himself acknowledges.

This is what Paul talks about in Romans 1:18-22, especially 18b, "by their unrighteousness [they] suppress the truth." To acknowledge the God Who made them would force the unbeliever to acknowledge that he is in rebellion against Him, and deserving of His judgment. That he can never permit! And it is this that the Christian confronts in apologetics and evangelism.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My Governor is a Shameless Hypocrite!


I have written several times on the issue of abortion. See, for example, here, here, and here. My friends are often amazed at my vigorous opposition to legalized abortion, because my social views tend to be quite liberal. However, as I see it, we are talking about the extermination of innocents here!

Recently, our state legislature passed the "Women's Right to Know Act," which required a waiting period and an ultrasound before permitting an abortion. Governor Beverly Perdue vetoed that bill on June 27. Her reasons are astounding! Madame Governor believes that the bill had two fundamental flaws: it interfered in the relationship between a woman and her doctor, and it failed to respect women's judgment.

Let's consider that first objection, that the bill interferes in the relationship between a woman and her doctor. North Carolina also has laws establishing insurance regulations, restricting access to prescriptions, requiring medical licensing, and banning medical marijuana. Does Madame Governor suggest that the state doesn't already interfere in the relationship between a woman (and man) and her doctor?

Her second objection, that the law fails to respect women's judgment, is even more laughable! North Carolina bans the use of midwives for the delivery of babies (unless they are otherwise licensed healthcare workers). So the state has criminalized a major choice for women during childbirth. The state restricts access to alcohol, tobacco, and certain drugs. Don't those laws "fail to respect women's judgment"?

I must seriously question the judgment of this one woman, my state's governor, when she won't let a woman buy a joint, or even have a beer without state approval, yet she objects to mere information for a woman contemplating killing an unborn child. That is a seriously disturbed order of priorities!

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!" -Isaiah 5:20

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Reformers and the Doctrine of Prayer

While it wasn't their only motivation to prayer, both Martin Luther and John Knox gave much attention to the commandments to pray.

Luther focused on the Third Commandment (Second Commandment according to the Lutheran division): "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain" (Exodus 20:7). According to Luther's understanding of this commandment, not taking the name of Jehovah in vain is a negative way of commanding that we are to use it only according to His word. Lack of prayer means not taking His name as He desires, and thus is a violation of this commandment.

On the other hand, Knox developed his position from a wider range of texts: Psalm 50:14-15, Matthew 7:7-11, Matthew 26:41, I Thessalonians 5:17, and I Timothy 2:13, 8. In his "Treatise on Prayer," Knox explained, "He who, when necessity constrains, desires not support and help of God, does provoke His wrath no less than such as make false gods or openly deny God." Thus, in Knox's mind, lack of prayer is tantamount to paganism or atheism!

Both men said - and I want to emphasize - that they did not mean the Christian of frail conscience who struggles to overcome his sense of unworthiness when approaching the throne of grace. We are unworthy! Anyone who approaches God on the basis of his own worthiness doesn't understand his sinful state nor the necessity of the atonement in Christ. However, for the believing sinner, that atonement covers his unrighteousness, so that he can come before a loving Father God. Consider the text that I would add to the list above, Hebrews 10. Consider especially Hebrews 10:14 and Hebrews 10:19-23.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Deism as the American National Religion

"As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 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. For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority."
Colossians 2:6-10

About 90% of Americans are professing Christians. In fact, Islamists often refer to that fact, along with American materialism and immorality, as supposed evidence of what Christians are really like. I suggest that not only are they wrong, but that the profession of Christianity is based on self-deception.

In any discussion, that is, of the sort that we call "water-cooler" conversations, whatever the topic, how common is it to refer to the biblical standards for judging the matter? In fact, there is even a presumption that most subjects, e.g., economics, politics, education, employment, family, have no distinct Christian evaluation or solution. They are considered spiritually neutral. But that view itself is contrary to Scripture.

Look at I Corinthians 1:18-25. Look especially at the second half of verse 20, "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" Where is the wisdom of God found? Jesus Himself tells us (John 17:17): "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." The foundation of truth is the Word of God, not some supposed common ground we share with unbelievers.

In fact, "neutrality" is exactly the presumption of unbelief. The average American believes that there is a god (note lower-case "g"), while simultaneously believing that he/she/it is irrelevant to life. This is properly labeled "Deism," not Christianity. In other words, while most Americans label themselves Christian, they are in error. The true national religion of America is Deism!

Paul gives the contrasting position in Colossians 2, quoted above. He gives the contrast between naturalist precepts and biblical faith, which is founded on the deity of Christ. He uses that principle himself in his sermon on Mars Hill (Acts 17). Look especially at Acts 17:28: "In Him we live and move and have our being." Our lives exist in God's world, under His laws, according to His plans, whether we are willing or not. There is no neutrality here; rather, there is only truth contrasted with error. In fact, biblically-speaking, unbelief isn't neutral. In Romans 1:18-21, Paul warns us that unbelievers "by their unrighteousness suppress the truth," and are "futile in their thinking." To seek common ground with them is to seek futility, the very opposite of rationality!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Matthew 13:10-15, Truth and the Natural Man


"Then the disciples came and said to Him, 'Why do You speak to them in parables?' And He answered them, 'To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them."'"

I am currently reading "The Battle Belongs to the Lord" by Westminster Seminary Professor and Reformed Apologist K. Scott Oliphint. Recently, a short phrase stood out in a remarkable way: "Unbelief is designed to miss the obvious." First, I just kind of nodded in agreement. Then I felt a more vehement, "Y'know, that is so true!" Then various scriptures on the issue started to come to mind.

First was the one quoted above, which comes immediately after Jesus gave the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. The Disciples asked Jesus why he told truths to the people in obscure stories. Notice His response above (verse 11): "to them it has not been given." It wasn't coincidental that the truth was obscured to them, but intentional! But why? Verse 15 tells us, "For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them." The truth was withheld from them as punishment for the very hardness of their hearts which first hated the truth! This is commonly referred to as "judicial hardening."

Then I thought of the Apostle Paul, in Romans 1:18, the second half of the verse, which reads, "men who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." Unbelievers don't merely ignore or avoid the truth, they actively suppress it. They seek to bury it, so that their wickedness can reign unchallenged!

Then the Prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 7:11-12): "They refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts." Then the next verse (Zechariah 7:13) gives His reaction: "'As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,' says the Lord of hosts." The hardness of the hearts of the reprobate brings the judgment of the hardness of God's heart toward them. That is a frightening truth!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ezekiel 33 and Simple Repentance

In the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XV, Section 2, we find this profound statement regarding repentance: "By it a sinner, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God, and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments." We find almost identical wording in Question 76 of the Larger Catechism.

I love these expressions, and I am grateful to God for the wise men who summarized the teaching of the Bible on this subject in such succinct but profound words.

However, there is also a precious simplicity and child-like joy in the expressions of Scripture on the same matter. Consider the words of the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 33:11), "Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?" Here we see the turning to which the Westminster Standards refer, but notice the appeal in them. Jehovah doesn't simply lay out the nature of repentance, but strenuously urges the elect to avail themselves of it.

And verse 19, "When the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by this." This is more of the dictionary-style definition we see in the Standards. As if God lays out for us precisely what repentance is, to ease our finding of it in our hearts.

And here, both in the words of the Standards and the words of God Himself, the nature of what He requires is laid out as simply as possible. Therefore, He adds this promise (verses 14-16), "though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live." Is the very promise of Jehovah Himself enough?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Samuel 17, David, Goliath, and the Sovereignty of God

Vv. 19-26, "Now Saul and they and all the men of Israel were in the Valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. And David rose early in the morning and left the sheep with a keeper and took the provisions and went, as Jesse had commanded him. And he came to the encampment as the host was going out to the battle line, shouting the war cry. And Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. And David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage and ran to the ranks and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him. All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid. And the men of Israel said, 'Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. And the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel.' And David said to the men who stood by him, 'What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?'"


Vv. 41-47, "And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, 'Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.' Then David said to the Philistine, 'You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hand.'"

This story has entered our common lexicon. Even the most biblically-illiterate person has heard of David and Goliath, and uses their names any time an apparent underdog defeats a better-provided opponent. However, that popular version of the story actually misses its significance.

First, consider Goliath. A last survivor of the race of giants, Joshua 11:22 (eleven and a half feet, or about four meters, tall, v. 4), heavily armored and weaponed. All of the greatest fighting men of Israel, even comparably accoutered, were too afraid even to face him.

Second, consider David, the youngest of eight sons (v. 12). In fact, he was even the youngest of the five sons who were too young to join the army (as implied by the fact that only the three eldest were at the battle, v. 13). He refused Saul's armor and sword (vv. 38-39). Instead, he approached the giant with just his shepherding staff and a sling with five stones ( v. 40). Both in his person and in his provisions, David was no match for this foe of all Israel.

What does David say? Verse 45, "You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, Whom you have defied." He counters the humanistic bullying of Goliath, not with human strength, reasoning, or arms, but with the name of Jehovah his God. Notice especially how this contrasts with Goliath's earlier curses in the names of his own pagan deities, verse 43. David takes these curses, not as a personal insult, but rather an aspersion against the God of Israel (vv. 26 and 45).

And now we see the real nature of this battle. David's words continue, verse 46-47, "This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hand." He understands that Jehovah is jealous for His own deity. And indeed, He could have struck down Goliath directly, with a mere thought. However, in His grace, God condescends to bless us His people, by allowing us to be the means that He uses for His purposes. David is just a boy, with only the weapons of his shepherding, facing a battle-hardened, heavily-armed literal giant. He is perfectly aware that he has no native ability to defeat this foe. Yet his faith assures him that his God is not limited by our powers and talents, but rather acts by His own power and intent.

The significance of this story isn't that Jehovah, the true and living God, has a guiding concern about borders and political competition. Rather, His concern is for His own glory. As He Himself says (Isaiah 42:8), "I am the LORD; that is My name; My glory I give to no other, nor My praise to carved idols." This is the exact principle that Goliath explicitly challenged! And subordinately, He is concerned for the safety and conversion of His elect people. As David says in verse 47, he intends that "all this assembly may know that the Lord saves..."

In the words of Paul (I Corinthians 1:27), the true moral of this story is that "God chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong." Is this not something we need to know in our own daily spiritual confrontations?