Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Westminster Standards and Biblical Inerrancy

The Westminster Assembly
"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.