Sunday, October 28, 2012

Muslim Insecurity Leads to Self-Destructive Riots

We have all seen the news stories: maddened crowds burning, chanting, screaming, even killing. Why? Because they were offended by a privately-made film which ridicules their prophet. That is the reality in Muslim-dominated countries. Where the peaceful debate over ideas is commonplace, and taken for granted, in countries with a Christian tradition (notice that I am not saying that they are Christian), in Muslim countries the free exchange of ideas certainly does not take place. Rather, in those countries, disagreement with majority views is suppressed with violence, both by government and by private individuals or groups. These riots have hit Arab countries, Pakistan, Muslim immigrant communities in Europe, and around the world. Where Muslims have free access to the media, and may publish their views, even critical of governments or other religions, reciprocal freedoms certainly are not found in Muslim-majority countries. Those who refuse to accept Islam face persecution, arson, rape, even murder. To my mind, there could be no more-eloquent proof that the faith of Muslims is indefensible, because their religion originated in the mind of a madman, not God.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

John Knox on Temptation

"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." This verse begins the description of the Temptation of Christ, found in Matthew 4:1-11.

 In a sermon on this passage, the Scottish Reformer John Knox left us some comforting remarks on the question of temptation of ourselves. Knox taught that God sends temptations "to open and make manifest the secret motions of men's hearts, the puissance and power of God's Word, and the great lenity [leniency] and gentleness of God towards the infirmities , the horrible sins, and rebellions of those whom he hath received into His regiment and care." Thus, he held that temptations have three purposes in the intentions of God.

 First, they reveal, on one hand, the true character of the believer, bringing up his strengths, weaknesses, self-deceptions, unrecognized motivations, and ignorance. Second, they confirm the accuracy, power, and effectiveness of scripture. And third, they reveal the mercy and leniency of God toward our failures. I find great sweetness in those thoughts.

Some would object with James 1:13, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one." Knox addresses this verse. He held that James wasn't speaking in an absolute sense, i.e., that God never sends any temptation to any person at any time. Rather, he understood James to mean that God doesn't send temptation with the evil intentions that Satan does. I think Knox's interpretation is supported by the account of the temptation of Job, such as Job 1:11 and 2:5. In those verses, we see Satan intending to undermine Job's faith. In contrast, in allowing Satan's efforts, God expects, rightly, as we later see, to be glorified.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

"Jesus's Wife," the Desperation of Unbelief

Images like the one above were all over the news for a while, with commentary about a fragment which supposedly proved that Jesus was married. The fragment was in Coptic, not even a Palestinian language. However, it had been discovered by a professor from the Harvard Divinity School, so that covered all of its inadequacies. That professor dated the fragment to the second half of the second century, that is, more than a century after the time of Christ's life on earth. Yet, it was given the credence that such scholars do not give the gospels written by the eyewitnesses of His life.

 I have found the hype around this story to be quite entertaining. Secular scholars and heterodox religious scholars trip over themselves to find evidence that supposedly upends the Bible. Yet, they are invariably embarrassed in their efforts.

 For one thing, one very large thing, it is well-known that the Bible speaks of the bride of Christ. For example, in II Corinthians 11:2, the Apostle Paul describes the Church at Corinth as a bride betrothed to Christ. And in Revelation 19:6-9, the Apostle John describes a wedding feast for Christ and His bride, the glorified Church. In other words, true Christianity holds that Jesus does have a wife, but this is a metaphor for His relationship to the Church. Thus, even if the fragment is legitimate, it doesn't necessarily teach anything that orthodox Christians don't already hold.

 However, once the fragment became public, evidence of its counterfeit derivation started to leak out. The Vatican and Baptist authorities quickly dismissed it, as would be expected. However, secular authorities also started to question it, and even the liberal Huffington Post. I believe all of this proves what Paul also says, in Romans 1:21-22, "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..."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Christ's High-Priestly Prayer: Unity, Yes, but with Whom?

"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one, I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You loved Me."
- John 17:20-23

In this passage, part of what is commonly called Jesus's High-Priestly Prayer, the Redeemer asks His Father to bring unity among Christians. Thus, to desire unity among believers is a godly and biblical desire. But then practical questions begin: with whom am I to have unity? How am I to bring about biblical unity? The problem comes because this isn't the only passage relevant to the question of unity. 

In both Testaments, we can find repeated warnings that God expects His true people to be discerning regarding our allies. Leviticus 10:10, "You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean..." Leviticus 20:25-26, "You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine." Ezekiel 44:23 (speaking of the clergy), "They shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean." II Corinthians 6:17, "Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you..." James 4:4, "You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." Revelation 18:4, "Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, 'Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues...'" This last verse is especially applicable to my purpose in writing this, because it explicitly commands separation from the false church. Here in my local area, the Rev. Robert Austell, of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), a self-described "conservative evangelical," declared his candidacy for moderator of their general assembly.
In a presbyterian church, the moderator acts as chairman of the meeting, and the office is usually voted on at the beginning of the meeting, or annually, depending on the level of the court. In the election, Rev. Austell came in third of the four candidates. According to the article in our local newspaper, "while many congregations who share his theological views have left Presbyterian Church (USA), he and Good Shepherd are staying put. In a time of culture wars and deepening spiritual divides, Austell hopes to unite." 

The reporter is correct: many evangelical congregations have fled the PCUSA for more-conservative pastures, mainly in the PCA, but also the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, not to mention the new breakaway group, the Covenant Order. In 1982, the then-United Presbyterian Church (which merged the next year with the Southern Presbyterian Church to form the current PCUSA), ordained Mansfield Kaseman to the ministry, though he denied during his examination both the deity of Christ and the resurrection of the body. The inerrancy of the Scriptures is almost-universally denied by PCUSA officers. In 1923, J. Gresham Machen, then a minister in the northern Presbyterian Church, in his book Christianity and Liberalism, demonstrated that liberalism is not a version or interpretation of Christianity, nor even related to Christianity, but is rather a completely different type of religion from Christianity. Yet, this is what Austell wants to be united with. 

I want to ask him this question: how does the unity you seek line up with the Scriptures (see above)? To my mind, that is the only legitimate standard of judgment. And again to my mind, Austell's desire fails to match that standard.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Testimony of the Bible to Its Own Infallibility

"Question 157: How is the Word of God to be read?
Answer: The holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer."
- Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 157

As a Presbyterian, I resent the association, in the minds of many, of me (and my fellow churchfolk) with the liberal Presbyterian Church (USA). That denomination is just one of the Presbyterian churches in this country, and in no way represents historical Presbyterianism. The question above comes from the Westminster Larger Catechism, one of the traditional doctrinal documents that Presbyterians have professed ever since 1647. As can be seen, it describes a proper Christian understanding that the Scriptures are the very word of God, and must be received and honored as such by the true Christian. The Catechism reflects what the Scriptures testify of themselves.

Isaiah 55:11:, "[S]o shall my word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." God acknowledges the Scriptures as His own word, and promises their spiritual effectiveness.

Jeremiah 23:29: "Is not My word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?" The Word overcomes all resistance.

II Timothy 3:16-17: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." This is the central proof-text. The Scriptures are inerrant, because their divine Author is necessarily infallible!

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." Another powerful text, because of its simple and direct message. While the Bible certainly was written by human authors, it is not their word, but that of the Holy Spirit who moved them is such a way as to record His words.

Hebrews 4:12: "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." In a parallel to the Isaiah reference, the writer of Hebrews testifies to the power of the Scriptures to effect us in fundamental ways.

As you can see the Catechism correctly summarizes the very testimony that God gives to His own word. Those who deny the inerrancy of the Bible, yet claim to be Christians face this warning from Jesus Himself (John 14:28): "The one who rejects Me and does not receive My words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day." To reject the Scriptures is to reject Christ, and that choice will be recalled as evidence against you in the Judgment to come.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Romans 4:1-8, the New American Gospel of Legalism

"What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.' Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.'"

Part of the background of my church is the Associate Presbytery of Scotland, usually called by their nickname of "Seceders." I have studied them extensively, both because of that historical connection and because of the spiritual issues involved in their secession from the established Church of Scotland. I especially concentrate on the issues of that division which we see arising again in our modern time.

I won't go into the complex of issues that led to the secession. Rather, I want to address the one issue of neonomianism. Neonomianism is the teaching, not usually explicitly stated, that the Gospel is a form of Law ("neo" new+ "nomos" law), such that a person is not saved by acts of the Mosaic law, but rather through a new form of merit through repentance and works of new obedience.

The dominant party in the Church of Scotland General Assembly held that the recipient of the Gospel had to go through several steps of preparation, through sorrow and repentance of sin and moral reformation. In opposition to these forms of merit, the Seceders, centered around a book called The Marrow of Modern Divinity, held to a Gospel of free grace. They insisted that all of the merit in the Gospel is in Christ alone, by grace alone, received by faith alone. In other words, they were defending the same solas that led to the Protestant Reformation two hundred years earlier.

The reason that I refer to this as the "New American Gospel of Legalism" is that the same errors that destroyed the Church of Scotland have become the doctrine of mainstream American Evangelicals. Even in the psychobabble that has become part of our daily conversation, "Just have faith," arises from this error. "Faith" has become the new works-righteousness. We supposedly merit salvation by having enough faith. This is even made explicit by the prosperity preachers. But isn't it what most people expect? "If I just believe hard enough, God has to give me what I want and take me to heaven."

However, notice what Paul says above about Abraham: "Abraham believed God." He doesn't say, "Abraham believed in God." Everyone believes in God, even if he doesn't admit it (Romans 1:18-21). James 2:19 says that even the demons believe in God! That puts the spiritual commitment of most Americans on par with that of demons!

But Abraham didn't just believe in God. He believed God, that is, he believed the promises of God. Go to Romans 4:20-25, "No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised. That is why his faith was 'counted to him as righteousness.' But the words 'it was counted to him' were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in Him Who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, Who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification."

That is to say, our faith doesn't earn us salvation (or blessings). Our repentance doesn't earn us salvation. Our reformation of our lives doesn't earn us salvation. The only thing that earns our salvation is the finished work of Christ in His crucifixion and resurrection. That sole merit is then applied to us by means of faith.

The biblical order is Christ, then justification, then faith, then repentance, and with all resulting in sanctification. Any other order requires the hearer to act upon a person and work that he doesn't yet believe in. Logic alone should convince us that is impossible!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Sabbath and Going Out for Lunch after Church

Question 117: How is the sabbath or the Lord's day to be sanctified?
Answer: The sabbath or Lord's day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to betaken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God's worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day.
- Westminster Larger Catechism 

At a former church, it was our practice all to go to lunch together after Sunday worship. It was a very small church, only about a dozen members, and we were widely dispersed, so participation was necessary if I were to have any sort of  relationships with my brethren. Doing that caused me great discomfort of conscience, because I believe that a Christian should avoid commercial activity on the Lord's Day. As the IVth Commandment says, we are not only to rest from our own labors, but also to relieve our servants of theirs. I am glad to say that my current situation doesn't put me in that conflict.

Some excuse eating out on Sundays as giving the wife the opportunity to rest. I think that is a good concern. However, I cannot accept that one person honors the Day by putting the work off on someone else.

Consider the Commandment itself (Exodus 20:10), "the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates." It is forbidden even to put the labor off onto one's employees or animals. I have seen this described as the first labor legislation.

Nehemiah expands this even further. Nehemiah 10:31 tells us, "if the peoples of the land bring in goods or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on a holy day. And we will forego the crops of the seventh year and the exaction of every debt." And Neh. 13:15, "In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food." Both of these verses describe people who willingly profit from providing Lord's Day labor to resting believers. Yet, this voluntary labor is still forbidden. And this is exactly what is happening when believers "honor" the Lord's Day by going to commercial establishments, where others profit from violating the Fourth Commandment.

Where I live, restaurants are swamped on Sunday afternoons. I sincerely believe that this grieves the Lord.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Are Jehovah's Witnesses the Fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy?

In Matthew 24:14, Jesus tells His disciples that "this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." I have twice recently seen publications from the Jehovah's Witnesses that their door-to-door visitation is the fulfillment of this prophecy. In how many ways can I demonstrate the nonsense of their claims?

First, I won't even go into the issue of the "gospel" that is spread by the Jehovah's Witnesses. Suffice it to say that I deny that their "gospel" is the Gospel of Scripture. But second, what I will go into is that the verse above even applies to our modern age. As I have stated elsewhere, I take a preterist view of that passage, considering it a description of the period leading up to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70AD. Specifically, I will demonstrate how the New Testament itself describes a "worldwide" spread of the Gospel. Not planetwide, obviously, but throughout their world, i.e., the Roman world.

Acts 2:5, "Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven."

Romans 1:8, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world."

Romans 10:18, "But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for, 'Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.'"

Colossians 1:5-6, "Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing..."

Colossians 1:23, "if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven..."

So, it seems clear to me that the Jehovah's Witnesses have wrenched yet another verse out of context, and imposed their own error upon it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Israel is the Church is Israel

One of the enduring influences of Dispensationalism is the belief in a radical discontinuity between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church. Some people even believe that Jews are saved in a way different, i.e., by obeying the Law, from Gentile Christians.

However, this is not the historic Protestant view. In sermons, confessions, and commentaries from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries one will often see references to the "Church of the Jews" when referring to Old Testament believers. In his comments on Isaiah 54:10, John Wesley said, "God will not cast off His Christian church, as He cast off the church of the Jews..." What may shock many American evangelicals is that such usage is actually quite biblical!

In the original Hebrew of the Old Testament, "congregation" was the word "qahal." In the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Old Testament, a Jewish translation, "qahal" was translated by "ekklesia," the exact word used in the Greek New Testament for "church." Some of the verses where "qahal" is found include Num. 20:6, 10, Dt. 5:22, 9:10, 10:4, 18:16, 31:30, Josh. 8:35, Judg. 20:2, 21:5, 8, I Sam. 17:47, I Kgs. 8:14, 22, 55, 65. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

In the New Testament, we have two verses which strongly identify the people of God under the two testaments. In Acts 7:38, Stephen refers to Moses and Israel in the desert as the "congregation in the wilderness." "Congregation" here is the Greek word "ekklesia," and is translated "church" in this verse in the KJV and ASV. And looking at it from the New Testament perspective, the Apostle refers to the church, in Galatians 6:16, as "the Israel of God."

How did this come about? The key is in Romans 11. Verses 8 through 10 tell us that God has hardened ethnic Israel. This is their judgment for rejecting their Messiah and cooperating with the Romans in His murder (refer back to 9:33). Then verses 17-21 tell us that the natural branches of the olive tree, representing ethnic Israel, were cut off, and wild branches, representing Gentile Christians, were grafted in. Notice that these are two sets of branches, but of one tree.

The dispensationalists overlook the words of Paul in Galatians 3:7, that it is faith, not blood descent, that makes one a "son of Abraham." Also, in Romans 2:29, "a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart." As he explains in I Corinthians 7:19, "For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God." And Philippians 3:3, "For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh."

Of course, I cannot deny that there are differences between the people of God under the two testaments. I simply believe that the differences are matters of administration, not nature.

But there is more: Paul doesn't end with the wild branches grafted in, as if ethnic Israel no longer had any place in the purposes of God. Just as He pruned them out for unbelief, a day will come when their hardness will abate, and they will return to their God. Romans 11:24, "For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree." And that thought continues through the next several verses.

This was also an Old Testament promise. Zechariah 12:10, "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on Me, on Him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over Him, as one weeps over a firstborn."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Election in the Book of Acts

The Book of Acts is a history book, the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. This in no way undermines its infallibility. However, such books aren't generally useful as a doctrinal foundation. They tell us more about what God and His people have done, rather than what they have taught or believed. The reversal of that hermeneutical principle is how we ended up with some of the more bizarre doctrines of some Pentecostals, such as the modalism of the United Pentecostal Church. However, that is not to say that there is no theology in it; I merely suggest that it be used as support for a doctrine, not the foundation.

For example, sovereign election is most-explicitly a Pauline doctrine, though it is certainly prominent throughout both Testaments. Somehow, the Pentecostals overlook it while mining for their distinctive doctrines in Acts.

First consider Acts 4:27-28, "Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, Whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place." This is a portion of the prayer of the Apostles after they had been hauled before the Sanhedrin. I think it is especially significant that the Apostles find comfort and renewal in their knowledge that all that had occurred was only according to the prior plan and purpose of God.

And in Acts 13:48, we read, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." Arminians are especially annoyed by this verse. They try to say that those that believe are appointed to eternal life. They gnash their teeth when anyone points out that the Scriptures teach the opposite order: those whom God has appointed to eternal life come unfailingly to believe.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Inconvenient Holiness of God

"For You are not a God who delights in wickedness;
     evil may not dwell with You.
The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes;
     You hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
     the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man."
- Psalm 5:4-6

Liberal ministers and the average nominal American Christian both love to talk about a loving God. "I believe in a loving God who accepts me as I am," they say. And it is true that love is a core attribute of God. See, for example, John 3:16 and I John 4:16. However, they wax eloquent over the love of God, not because they enjoy praising Him, but rather because it enables them to block from their consciences the other attributes of God, especially His holiness.

Notice what this Psalm tells us. God doesn't delight in wickedness and evil may not dwell with Him. He opposes the boastful, evildoers, liars, the bloodthirsty, and the deceitful. In fact, David even tells us that He hates them!

We find similar words in Habakkuk 1:13, "You are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong..." And in Isaiah 9:17, "[He] has no compassion on their fatherless and widows, for everyone is godless and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly."

We find in Psalm 5, Habakkuk, and Isaiah that God isn't constrained by our fleeting standards of sophistication or political correctness. He doesn't allow us to divide Him, receiving the characteristics with which we are comfortable, but excluding those which might make us uncomfortable. David repeats this theme in Psalm 139. In verses 19 and 20, he pleads, "Oh that You would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against You with malicious intent; Your enemies take Your name in vain!" Then he says of himself in verses 21 and 22, "Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies." David professes hatred for the enemies of God! I suspect that this is a major part of the reason that God refers to David as "a man after My own heart" (I Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22).

Finally, isn't it significant that those who deny or ignore the holiness of God are repeating the very words of Satan, when he tempted Eve, "Did God actually say..." (Genesis 3:1)?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Election Means The REAL God Ain't You!

As I have noted before, I don't believe that the religion of modern America is Christianity, but rather Deism, i. e., the belief that there is a God, but He doesn't take an active role in the world. Americans love our religiosity, as long as it doesn't interfere with our own sovereignty over our lives! Just enough religion to be comfortable, but not enough actually to affect how we live.

The problem is this: the God of the Bible doesn't allow Himself to be boxed in that way. He has a discomfiting habit of insisting that He is God and we aren't.

Consider Psalm 115:3, "Our God is in the heavens; he does all that He pleases." Short but straightforward. As is Psalm 103:19, "The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all." And again in Psalm 135:6, "The LORD does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths." The sovereignty of God was a favorite theme of the psalmists.

The Prophet Isaiah chimes in on the theme. Isaiah 14:24 and 27, "The Lord of hosts has sworn: 'As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand... For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?'" For, as the prophet also says in Isaiah 42:8, "I am the LORD; that is my name; My glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols."

And the Prophet Amos gives us God's words in Amos 3:6, "Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?" He declares that God is even sovereign in bringing disaster. Job reinforces this point in Job 2:10. "'Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips." The inspired text even reinforces his point by telling us that Job's comment wasn't sinful!

American evangelicalism is sinfully man-centered, especially that portion known as the "Prosperity Gospel." In contrast, the Bible is radically God-centered. I suspect that this is the reason that the bulk of American evangelicalism is losing membership and growing increasingly impotent. God has given the professing Christians what they wanted: their own spiritual sovereignty. And it has destroyed our nation's spiritual heritage.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reprobation in the Old Testament

Reprobation is the flip side of the doctrine of election. Just as God, out of His free and sovereign grace, has ordained some to mercy, out of His sovereign holiness and justice, He has ordained the rest to perdition for their sins. While many Evangelicals balk at this doctrine, it certainly isn't because of any lack of biblical support for it, especially in the Old Testament!

Consider Deuteronomy 2:30, "Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the LORD your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that He might give him into your hand, as he is this day." God had purposed the destruction of Sihon and his people, so He hardened the king's heart.

And Joshua 11:19-20, "There was not a city that made peace with the people of Israel except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. They took them all in battle. For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses." Here we see the same act of hardening, but over a larger area.

Or the case of the son's of Eli, I Samuel 2:25, "'If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?' But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the LORD to put them to death." Eli tried to warn them about their evil ways, but God had already determined on their destruction, so He hardened their hearts against the words of their father.

Arminians resist the significance of these passages. They hold that God only hardened the hearts after the respective people had already hardened their own hearts, i.e., what is known as "judicial hardening." However, that appears nowhere in these passages, except in the case of the sons of Eli. Rather, the Arminian commits the very error that Paul refutes in Romans 9:21: "Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?" As Creator and Lord, God has a sovereign right to use His creatures as He sees fit. Our only option is to bow our heads and bless the Lord for His justice.