Friday, December 27, 2013

Jehoshaphat and the Love of the Worldly

I have written before in opposition to the idea that God loves everybody, without discrimination, from Romans 9:13 and Psalm 5:5, or that we are commanded to do so, from Psalm 139:21. It is that latter theme which has come up in my own personal Bible study.

As I am reading through II Chronicles, I have reached the story of King Jehoshaphat of Judah. In chapter 18, he formed an alliance with the wicked King Ahab of Israel. In II Chronicles 19:2, we see the reaction of God to that alliance: "Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him and said to King Jehoshaphat, 'Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the Lord.'"

That is a judgment that should send alarms through the souls of all the latitudinarian evangelicals in America. Not only are unequal relationships tolerated, but even promoted, with some blubbery admonition to "love ever'body"! Friendships with unbelievers, business and political alliances, even marriages, in violation of such Scriptures as II Corinthians 6:14-15 and Revelation 18:4.

Holiness takes thought, discernment, not sentiment. No doubt, someone reading this, is saying, "But the Bible says not to judge!" Really? My Bible contains John 7:24: "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." And the story of Jehoshaphat demonstrates that God takes that standard very seriously!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Psalm 119:99-100, the Explanation for Why Evolutionary "Scientists" Don't Have a Clue

"I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep Your precepts."

With these words, the anonymous author of Psalm 119 reveals what is at the heart of the continuous controversy over the question of ultimate origins.

As are all men, unbelieving scientists (and their representatives in education and the popular media) are fallen; they are sinners. Thus, their moral natures are corrupted. However, they continue to be men, so they have the ability to reason. It isn't their ability to reason which is misaligned, but rather their worldview, which is built on erroneous premises.

As a rational human being, a scientist, a bureaucrat, or an educator, has the ability to study and describe the relationships among living things, such as between a plant and its pollinator, or between a carnivore and its prey. Where they fail is their inability to acknowledge the relationship of each creature or species to its Creator. Only a believer can recognize that.

The Apostle Paul describes this contrast in I Corinthians 2:14, "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."

This is the problem with court decisions which have banned the discussion of biblical creation, on the basis of "religious neutrality." Secularism isn't "spiritually-neutral." It is a contrary spiritual worldview, a view which has been given legal preference over orthodox Christianity.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Answer of Genesis to the Question of Stellar Distances, Light, and a Young-Earth Creation

In the conflict between the belief in a young-earth creation and evolutionism (whether atheistic or theistic), the evolutionist side often refers to the distance to some light sources as proof of an old earth, even billions of years old. Their argument is that, since it takes millions, or even billions, of years for light to reach the earth from some intergalactic sources, then the universe must be at least that old.

Some creationists have claimed that non-Euclidean geometry removes the necessity that light must take that long to get here. And that may be true. I simply don't have the mathematical knowledge to express an opinion on the matter. Fortunately for me, such knowledge isn't necessary, because biblical creationism doesn't require that system.

Rather, I believe that the book of Genesis already includes sufficient information to provide the answer.

In Genesis 1: 2-5, the Bible tells us that God created light on the first day of the creation week. That is, He created light as a thing in itself, not simply as the derivative effect of distant light sources. Those light sources appear independently as His handiwork on the fourth day. Why is that important? Because it indicates that light was already in transit between the newly-created light source in the distance and its being seen here on earth. In other words, those light sources were not created as the initiators of the light we see, but rather as the sources of continuous resupply of that light. Thus, for example, Adam saw light from the direction of Alpha Centauri for 4.3 years before he saw the first light actually produced by Alpha Centauri. In the same way, we will be seeing light from the direction of Andromeda for an eon before we see the first light produced by that neighboring galaxy.

So, I suggest that simple logic indicates that the vast stellar distance pose no issue for the belief in the biblical, young-earth creation. The revelation from God of His actions remains sufficient, unchallenged, and unadulterated.

Monday, December 2, 2013

II Kings 24:4, When Will America Pay the Price for Innocent Bood?

I am outspoken both in my support for capital punishment and opposition to legalized infanticide (euphemistically called "abortion"). I am frequently told that those two positions are inconsistent, since both involve killing people. I find that objection offensive and egregious, because it fails to distinguish between guilty life and innocent life.

I have written before about the parallel between abortion in our society and Molech worship in the Old Testament. But it is on my heart to speak on it again.

At the end of II Kings, the writer relates the account of the final destruction of the Kingdom of Judah by Babylon in 586 BC. The coming of the Babylonians during the reign of King Jehoiakim was God's judgment on the apostasy of the King's grandfather, King Manasseh, "for the innocent blood that he had shed, for he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord would not pardon" (II Kings 24:4).

We Americans have killed an estimated 52 million unborn (more accurately, preborn) children, just since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973 (some states, including my own North Carolina, had legal abortion prior to that time). That river of blood makes Manasseh look like Mother Theresa! I can't help but weep.

If Manasseh's murder of scores of children in his time brought about the destruction of his nation, what judgment has been earned by the blood of 52 million helpless and innocent babies? And what judgment awaits the American church, which has mostly stood quietly while that holocaust has continued? We rightly condemn the German church for its silence as the Jews were trucked away to the gas chambers. Do we not see the parallel to our own passivity as children are being ripped apart and flushed away?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Jeremiah 10:23, the Nail in the Arminian Coffin

I have watched a particular TV evangelist's show a few times recently. I shall not name him; the particular preacher isn't the issue. In a panel discussion, his co-workers have taken cheap shots at Calvinists several times. One thing they keep repeating is, "God doesn't predestine individuals." They claim that he predestines, not who, but that, i.e., that those who repent and believe shall be saved. Of course, they don't include any scripture references for this claim (because there aren't any), but rather keep repeating "whosoever will," as if that proves everything.

However, scripture does address their objection. Unfortunately for them, the Scriptures are against their claims, not for. Jeremiah 10:23 reads, "I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps." This is a poetic way of stating what the Apostle John says in his Gospel (John 1:12-13), "To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" [emphasis mine]. And the Apostle Paul tells us (Philippians 2:13), "For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." The Prophet and the Apostles agree that God creates belief; belief does not create predestination.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Just Thinking About Some Theological Stuff: Supralapsarianism

For the last couple of days, I have been pondering one of the deeper issues in Reformed theology: the division between supralapsarians and infralapsarians. How are those for fifty-cent words? Anyway, what I say below is my thinking process. I am not completely decided, so I in no way intend what I say to be taken dogmatically.  I am just laying out where my thinking is.

The issue is a division over the order of the decrees. Supralapsarians place election in the mind of God before the fall into sin. That is, from Latin, "supra," above, "lapsus", the fall. Infralapsarians (also called "sublapsarians"), in contrast, place the fall ahead of election. That is, "infra," below, "lapsus," the fall. The difference is over whether God elected a people, then used the creation and fall of Adam to attain the goals of election. Or did He create Adam, who then fell, and then God elected a people as a remedy for the fall. Note that these are not intended to be considered actions in time, but rather the purposes in the mind of God.

To my mind, supralapsarianism reserves election to the issue of God's glory, alone. God is glorified when His attributes are exhibited. Accordingly, election served to satisfy God's existence, not man's. For example, Paul explains that predestination reveals the glory of His mercy (Romans 9:23), of His grace (Ephesians 1:6), and of His riches (Ephesians 1:18). While predestination certainly occurred in love (Ephesians 1:4-5), even that was first His love to us, not ours to Him (I John 4:19, but also in the entire passage of verses 7-21). In other words, to glorify His attribute of love.

In addition, it seems to me that only the supralapsarian view gives full credence to Romans 9:21: "Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel to honorable use and another for dishonorable use?" That certainly seems to place God's will as the a priori principle of predestination and reprobation, not a posteriori as required by infralapsarianism.

While both supralapsarians and infralapsarians place the decrees in the mind of God before the Creation, i.e., before time (see Ephesians 1:4, Hebrews 4:3, and Revelation 17:8), infralapsarians still view election as a remedy for the fall. Their reasoning is that to do otherwise makes God the author of sin. And I certainly grant that as a serious issue. However, I suggest that the objection must be made to Paul, not to supralapsarians. I don't know how to resolve this particular question. However, since I consider all of Scripture to be the Word of God, I must submit to what the Scripture says, and let my own doubts or questions fall wherever they may. And the question is, indeed, acknowledged even in the Scriptures themselves. In Isaiah 45:7, God says, "I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, Who does all these things."

And finally, I have a problem with the idea of God's doing something to remedy an action of man, as if He were caught by surprise. That makes the purposes of God subject to men, while Scripture puts men subject to the purposes of God (Isaiah 42:8, 43:7, and 48:11).

The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism correctly states that the chief end of man is "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." However, fallen man turns it around and acts as if God's chief end is to glorify man! Reformed theology is a correction to that crowning error of humanism. And supralapsarianism seems to me to be the consistent application of Reformed, i.e., biblical, theology.

Addendum on 12/1/13: I am reading the Reformed Dogmatics of Dutch-American theologian Herman Hoeksema. His answer to the question of God as author of sin seems reasonable. He says that sin lies in the motivation, not in the act per se. He gives the example of killing. Murder for gain is sinful; the execution of a criminal as an act of justice is not. Therefore, God's purpose in predestining the acts of the reprobate contains no sin, because His purpose is to further His plan of redemption of the elect. The act may be sin in the person committing it, because his motivation in the act is sinful, but that motivation is the responsibility of the sinner, not of the providence of God.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

God Keeps His Appointments: the Basic Case for Sovereign Grace

The temptation with which Satan brought about the fall of Adam was, "You will be like God" (Genesis 3:5). This is repeated (in the mouth of an anthropomorphized Babylon) in Isaiah 14:13, "I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high." And again (in the voice of the prince of Tyre) in Ezekiel 28:2, "I am a god, [and] I sit in the seat of gods." And the nature of man hasn't changed. Isn't it the thought of every unbeliever, wagging his finger in the face of God, "You aren't the boss of me"?

It is this fallen nature, which plagues even the hearts of believers, that causes the umbrage so many people, believers and unbelievers alike, take, when exposed to the biblical doctrines of election and reprobation. Yet, the word of God expresses these doctrines in simple and straightforward language.

Election is God's choice, before the creation of the world, of specific men to be saved from the judgment that their sins have earned. The simplest text for this principle is Acts 13:48, "When the Gentiles heard this [i. e., the proclamation of the Gospel], they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed."

In contrast, reprobation is God's choice, again before the creation of the world, of specific men to be passed over and left under the judgment that their sins have earned. We find this stated most simply in I Peter 2:6-8, which ends with, "They stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed" [NASB].

The immediate response to this, at least among Americans, is, "That's not fair!" Well, the Scriptures address that objection, even though God certainly owes no explanations. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 9:20-21, says, "Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?' 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?" The very question of "fairness" presupposes that we and God are equal. The biblical view is that we are no such thing. He is God; we aren't. So, when He acts like God, ours is to receive in gratitude and worship, not with the wagging finger of Adam's sin.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

I Kings 22:20, God Deceives the Wicked

Arminians snarl whenever the Calvinist doctrine of reprobation comes up. Reprobation is God's intentional hardening of the hearts of those that He has passed over in election, leaving them to the judgment that their wickedness earns them. Arminians claim that this makes God the author of sin, in violation of James 1:13.

And it must be confessed that James does indeed say there that "God tempts no one."

Yet, in I Kings 22:20, the inspired text has Jehovah seeking a spirit to "entice" (some versions, "deceive") Ahab, the wicked king of Israel. See also Jeremiah 20:7 and Ezekiel 14:9, where the same Hebrew word is used for God's deceiving of false prophets.

I think that the distinction between these two contrasting concepts is that James is addressing Christians, while the Old Testament references are to unbelievers. That is, God does not place stumblingblocks in the paths of believers, His elect and beloved people, but does trip up hypocritical professors, using their own wickedness to bring consequences into their present lives as a foretaste of their judgment to come.

This is reprobation! This is God provoking the sin nature in those whom He has rejected! And it not to bring about their repentance, but rather to confirm them in their spiritual rebellion.

This should be a thunderous warning to unbelievers. If you are reading this, but have never submitted to the lordship of Christ, you have great reason for fear. Judgment isn't waiting for you to die and pass into eternity. Rather, it is happening now, in this life, and is a costly burden to bear. The last chapter of I Kings goes on to describe the death of Ahab, lost without any remaining hope of redemption. I beg you not to follow his path!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

More on Ephesians 5:25 and Particular Atonement

I have written before on the relevance of Ephesians 5:25, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her," to the doctrine of limited (or particular or definite) atonement.

Most American evangelicals hold to the Arminian doctrine that teaches that God loves all men equally, without discrimination, contrary to, for example, Psalm 5:5 and Romans 9:13 (from Malachi 1:2-3). That belief runs into a major problem in this verse from Ephesians.

If the love of Christ for the church is the pattern for a husband's love for his wife, and if Christ loves everyone equally and indiscriminately, then logic requires that Paul's command is for a husband to love all women equally and indiscriminately. Obviously that is nonsense, but that is because the common evangelical doctrine is nonsense!

Just as the wife of such a husband would find no security in a husband's love that made no distinction between her and other women, the Christian can find no assurance in a Savior who makes no distinction between him and a rank unbeliever. The doctrine of a universal or general atonement could not be better designed to undermine evangelical assurance. Even if there were no biblical evidence against it, I would consider such a result a sure argument against such a doctrine.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Jeroboam and the Regulative Principle of Worship

In Reformed churches, there is a precept referred to as "the Regulative Principle of Worship" (hereafter, RPW). According to this principle, nothing is permitted in worship except that which is commanded in Scripture, or may be inferred from it. This contrasts with Lutheranism, which holds that all is permitted, except what is forbidden, and with Catholicism, which seems to have no principle of worship except the limits of papal imagination.

In the Directory for the Public Worship of God, adopted by the Church of Scotland with the Westminster Standards in the XVIIth Century, we read in the preface, "our care hath been to hold forth such things as are of divine institution in every ordinance; and other things we have endeavoured to set forth according to the rules of Christian prudence, agreeable to the general rules of the word of God."

The biblical basis for the RPW is primarily found in the IInd Commandment (Ex. 20:4-6, Deut. 5: 8-10): "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." While the commandment is narrowly tailored, addressing merely the use of images in worship, its application is broadened in the historical portions of the Old Testament.

In the story of Jeroboam, the first king of Israel after the dividing of the Davidic kingdom, we find two occasions of will-worship, i. e., worship after the desires of man, rather than the commandment of God.

In I Kings 12:33, Jeroboam goes "up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the people of Israel and went up to the altar to make offerings." Here, we see Jeroboam violate biblical worship in three ways: he changed the calendar of biblical feasts, to the point of creating a new month; he built an altar for worship away from the Temple in Israel; and he performed a rite which was properly for the levitical priests (compare Saul's similar sin in I Samuel 13:8-23).

Again, in I Kings 13:33, we see Jeroboam appointing a new class of priests for the "high places" (places of pagan worship). In fact, his standard was so lax, that "any who would, he ordained." This is a violation of God's institution of the Aaronic priesthood (Exodus 29:44).

And what are the consequences of Jeroboam's actions? I Kings 13:34, "this thing became a sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth."

Just as no responsible parent would leave it to his children to make the rules for the household, God does not leave it to His creatures to determine how to worship Him. That concept seems to me to be so obvious, even without the biblical instructions, that I cannot conceive how professing Christians can so easily disregard it. I have written before (use the tags below) on even Presbyterian churches which have become hardly more than pagans in their worship. Just as with His judgment on Saul, surely God will rebuke such rebellion among His professing people.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Christian Apologetic Against Buddhism

Buddhism sets a very different spiritual goal from evangelical Christianity. Where a Christian finds eternal life in redemption in Jesus Christ, the Buddhist seeks a cessation from eternal existence. Not only does this present a challenge to the missionary in a predominantly-Buddhist host culture, but it also challenges the evidential apologist. How does he approach "common ground" with a Buddhist, when there is no common ground?

On the other hand, the presuppositional apologist has a clear opening with the Buddhist.

According to Buddhism, the destiny of the individual is the consequence of karma. That is, that his future incarnations are  buoyed up or weighed down according to his good works or wickedness in this life. The goal of the Buddhist is to become selfless, a nonentity, thus escaping from the cycle of reincarnations. Also, according to Buddhism, all sentient creatures, even deities, are subject to this cycle; there is no objective umpire outside that judges the good or evil that the individual does.

Here is the presuppositional opening: the Buddhist depends on the inner marks of his conscience to judge his own works. While claiming not to know the God of the Bible, the Buddhist is guilty of precept stealing, the unspoken admission of Biblical truth to sustain his unbelief.

In this case, the Buddhist is relying on conscience, the inner testimony that his works are consistent with, or contrary to, the law of God. In fact, the Christian understands that conscience is the result of the law placed in our hearts by that same God. We see this in Psalm 37:31, where David testifies that "the law of God is in his [i.e., the righteous man's] heart." And in Jeremiah 31:33, where Jehovah, the God of the Bible, says, "I will put My law within them." This is an aspect of what Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-25, that the unbeliever knows in his heart that Jehovah is God, but suppresses that knowledge in unrighteousness.

Thus, with the Buddhist, the Christian must expose this tacit admission, both that Jehovah is God, and that He has placed the knowledge of righteousness in the hearts of men. Thus, the Buddhist is accountable, not to a faceless karma, nor to any opportunities for new lives, but rather to a righteous Judge, with only the alternatives of eternal life or eternal  death to come.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Brief Refutation of Amyraldism

In the mid-1600's, French Reformed Pastor and Professor of Theology Moises Amyraut (sometimes latinized to Amyraldius) created a controversy in the Reformed Church of France by suggesting a reform of Calvinist theology. He opposed the teaching of a particular atonement (the "l" in TULIP, for "limited atonement"), while maintaining the doctrines of election and reprobation. His views came to be known as "Amyraldism" (or "Amyraldianism"), or as "four-point Calvinism." This view can often be found professed by individual Calvinists. However, as far as I have been able to determine, only the Grace Brethren Churches hold it as official denominational doctrine.

I have written several times on the biblical case for particular atonement, so I won't attempt to do so again here. Use the tag at the bottom to go to those posts. Rather, here I will deal specifically with Amyraut's attempt to remove the doctrine from the Calvinist system.

Amyraut's view boils down to this: 1) the Father has foreordained a certain number of individuals to salvation; 2) the Son died to atone for every sin of every member of the human race, without distinction; and 3) the Holy Spirit applies that atonement only to the elect. I think that the obvious reaction to this combination of precepts is that the Persons of the Trinity are put at cross purposes. However, the orthodox view of the Trinity forbids this. And Scripture concurs.

Jesus testified that He, the Second Person of the Trinity, does only the will of the Father, the First Person. See Luke 22:42 and John 5:19-24. And He further testified that the Holy Spirit, the Third Person, acts only in accord with the word of the Son (John 16:7-15). To have any contrary acts or intent within the Trinity is thus impossible. I consider this flaw to be fatal to any system of Calvinism which tries to incorporate the Arminian doctrine of universal redemption (except for the one who holds to universal salvation, which is a separate issue altogether.)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

An Answer to a Pentecostal Minister Regarding Predestination

I was recently watching a roundtable discussion on TV among several Pentecostal ministers. An emailer wrote in and asked the opinion of the panel regarding the doctrine of predestination. Among the responses was one by a panel member, in which he snorted, "'Whosoever will' is all you need to know." I believed that such a vacuous answer could not go unchallenged, so I emailed him the brief argument below. Due to his particular biases, I used the King James Version, rather than my usual ESV.  I will give his response at the bottom.

First, no one "wills" to come to God naturally, because we are all "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). As such, Paul says that "no one seeks God" (Romans 3:11). So you used that phrase to mean something that Scripture says is impossible. Rather, God must take the initiative to give us a new heart (Ezekiel 11:19-20 and 36:26-27).

In John 6:44, Jesus says, "No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." And Paul makes the same point in Philippians 2:13, "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure." It is God that creates the will in us to respond to the Gospel. It isn't something that we have in us. Yes, it is "whosoever will," but only because God gives us that will to begin with. What He requires, He provides (John 1:13). Paul says that God even gives us the very repentance which is a part of our response to the Gospel: "In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth..." (II Timothy 2:25).

This is why I believe in predestination, because I have experienced the truth that it is only by God's ordination that I believed (Acts 13:48), and because my Jesus chose me, I did not choose Him (John 15:16). That is my assurance, that He is faithful and unfailing, regardless of how frail and faltering I am (John 6:39, 10:28-29).

Edited to remove identifying remarks, he responded, "Sir I am sorry to say but you follow false doctrine and obviously lack an understanding of God 's Holy Word. May I suggest you get the Expositors Study Bible from then you will understand scripture. I will not debate this with you because I am very busy and if I need to be corrected on scriptures and doctrine then My pastors... will do that . Thanks"

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Problem of Evil: A Biblical Answer

A common argument against Biblical Christianity goes something like this: A good, omnipotent, and omniscient God is incompatible with the presence of evil in the world. Ironically, this argument from atheists is something that a Christian can actually agree with: evil is incompatible with the nature of God! However, the atheist then goes a step further and adds, there is evil in the world; therefore, there cannot be a good, omnipotent, and omniscient God, i.e., the God of Biblical Christianity.

The biblical answer to this dilemma must begin in Genesis, where God creates both the physical universe and mankind. These creations, by His own testimony, were "very good" (Genesis 1: 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, and 31). There was no aging, sickness, death, or futility, in the lives of men. However, Adam chose to reject the goodness of the world and rebel against God (Genesis 3:1-19). Thus, Man chose to bring the debilitation of age, sickness, death, and futility, both for himself and for the physical world over which God had given him dominion. See the explanations of these curses in Romans 5:12 and 8:22.

So, the response of the Christian to this challenge of the atheists is straightforward: God did not create a world containing evil. Rather, mankind chose to reject the good world we had been given, for a world of hardship. And, out of justice, God allowed Man to have the world he preferred.

Now, we can turn this question back on the atheist: by what standard do you claim that some of the conditions in this world are evil? Afterall, the atheist rejects the overarching authority of God to define good and evil. This is what apologists call "precept stealing." The atheist actually requires the truth of Christian theism to provide his understanding of evil. His very question assumes the truth of what he seeks to undermine! By positing the very idea of "evil," the atheist demonstrates the truth of Paul's words in Romans 1:18-19, "[They] by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them." That word "atheist" is a misnomer, in fact, a deception. The atheist knows the truth of the existence and righteousness of the triune God of the Bible. He then suppresses that knowledge, because he commits that sin of Adam all over again: he chooses to be his own god, but refuses to confess the consequences of that choice.

[This argument is borrowed, in part, from Scott Oliphint, the Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.]

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ruth 2:1-16, the Overflowing Covenant

[Because of the length of this passage, I'm not going to quote the whole thing, but rather refer to particular verses in it.]

Do you ever read portions of Scripture which just move your heart? Portions that give you a particular sense of gratitude to God and peace in His covenant? For me, Ruth, chapters 1 and 2, were such a portion. While I definitely believe that Ruth is historical, not allegorical, I also see in it strong and gratifying types of Jesus Christ, the ultimate biological expression of the events of the book.

In the first verse, we are introduced to Boaz, a kinsman of Ruth's late husband. In Hebrew, his name means "in him is strength," one of the clues that he is to be taken as a type for Jesus, his lineal descendant. The typology is reinforced by the placing of the events of the book, except the sojourn in Moab, in Bethlehem. The second verse describes Ruth supporting herself and her mother-in-law, Naomi, through gleaning, a biblical form of support for the indigent, established in Leviticus 19:9-10.  See also Deuteronomy 24:19. How beautiful it is to see this type of Christ providing his overflowing benefits to this alien from the covenant!

In verse 12, we have Boaz saying of Ruth, that she had "taken refuge under the wings" of Jehovah, an obvious indication of her true conversion. This was something that hadn't been clear earlier. In Ruth 1:16, Ruth had said that Naomi's God would be her God, but it wasn't clear that this was conversion, rather than mere loyalty to her mother-in-law. We see it confirmed, now, that Ruth had truly received the God of Israel by faith. This is a vibrant example of what is described in James 2:5, "Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?"

In verses 15 and 16, we see Boaz instructing his workers to give Ruth her gleanings, not from the post-harvest field alone, but even from that portion of the harvest which had been gathered for the storehouses. God does indeed bless His people with fruitfulness. He promises this in Deuteronomy 16:15, "The Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands." But His blessing isn't just a blessing of sufficiency, but rather a blessing which overflows even to the unbelievers around us! We see this described in Matthew 15:26-28, especially verse 26, "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

In chapter 1, I described Ruth's envy of Israel's covenantal relationship with Jehovah. Now, here in chapter 2, we see here experiencing second-hand those same covenantal blessings. Why? Because was now herself in covenant with the faithful, covenant-keeping God! This is a type of us! We who were once strangers of the covenant (Ephesians 2:12), have now received the benefits of the covenant, through the Jews (Romans 11:11-12)! This is because Boaz's descendant, Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5), of whom Boaz was a type, received blessings from His Father to pass to us, His covenant people (John 15:15 and 17:18)! We have gleaned grace, sanctification, and glorification yet to come, typified here by Ruth, from the overflowing blessings of this same covenant-keeping God! To me, that is a source of great joy and comfort!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bishops in the Church (Part 1): the Bible versus Catholic Tradition

The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, and the churches of the Anglican Communion, all practice the form of church government commonly called "episcopalian" or "prelacy." This is in contrast to the "presbyterian" and "congregationalist" systems. They claim that church history refers to government by bishops, and is found in the earliest church Fathers, including those of the immediate post-Apostolic period. And, as far as that goes, they are correct.

The reason that I say, "as far as that goes," is that it is a half-truth, leaving out a lot of relevant information, especially the simple fact that the word "bishop," a transliteration of the Greek word "episkopos," was used very differently from the way these churches use it.

There are two New Testament verses that refer to the "episkopoi" of particular congregations. Note that: "episkopoi" in the plural, not "episkopos" in the singular. In Philippians 1:1, Paul sends salutations to the Church at Philippi: "to all the saints in Christ Jesus, with the bishops and deacons" (KJV). The other is Acts 20:28 (cf  KJV margin). In both places, modern translations read "overseers," which is the literal translation of "episkopoi." The Acts passage, which begins at verse 17, is especially important, because it begins by referring to the "elders" of the Church at Ephesus, Greek "presbuteroi," and then changes to "episkopoi" for the same men.

The importance of these two verses is that they refer to multiple bishops in single congregations, utterly contrary to the single monarchical bishops of the episcopal churches.  In fact, in the immediate post-Apostolic period, the term came to refer, not to a regional monarchical official, but rather to the pastor of a city church. St. Jerome, that prominent church Father so often quoted by Catholic apologists, said, in his commentary on Titus, "A bishop is the same as a presbyter... [S]o let bishops know that they are greater than presbyters more by custom than in consequence of our Lord's appointment..." What he is referring to is Paul's instruction to Titus (in Titus 1:5) to appoint "elders," i.e., "presbuteroi," in every church. Note the plural, a plurality of elders, not a single monarchical figure. Then he continues in verse 7, "For an overseer (episkopos), as God's steward, must be above reproach." Paul uses both Greek terms to refer to the same men in the same office. That is why the New Jerusalem Bible, a Catholic translation, translates "episkopos" as "presiding elder," not "bishop."

Thus, in two ways, both the New Testament and the first church Fathers contradict the use that episcopalians put upon them. In contrast, they support the presbyterian church of government, which not only permits, but rather requires, multiple elders to govern each local church.

For Part 2, click here

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Apostasy: A Critique of "Rome Sweet Home" by Scott Hahn

It is rare for me to be completely revolted when reading a book, especially a book on some aspect of theology, even theology that I disagree with. However, this book, the tale of the journey of a Presbyterian minister and his wife to conversion to Roman Catholicism, outraged me, with its appeals to sentiment, ignorance, and strawman arguments. Especially considering that it was written by a clergyman, someone that I would expect to write on a certain moral level. I definitely didn't find that level maintained in this book. In fact, two Bible verses come to mind to express my reaction. The first is Acts 20:30, "From among your own selves, will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them." The other is I John 2:19, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us." This book is a tale of bald-faced apostasy, with justifications that only the ignorant could swallow.

Let me begin with the most-deceptive elements. Scott Hahn begins by describing himself as a hardcore Calvinist in seminary. What he doesn't explain is why he chose to go to Gordon-Conwell Seminary, which is evangelical, but not Reformed. However, the answer becomes evident, even if unspoken. On page 31, Hahn informs us that he had come to "discover" that Saint Paul did not teach the doctrine of sola fide (justification by faith alone). Any Protestant reading that should be struck dumb, because we immediately think of such Pauline references as Romans 4:5, "To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." Then Hahn adds his assertion that sola fide isn't taught anywhere in Scripture, claiming James 2:24 as his support. The reason I make such a point of this is to demonstrate that Hahn had abandoned Protestantism long before his official conversion.

We see the reason for this when Hahn mentions that he had become involved with Norman Shepherd, who was forced to leave Westminster Seminary for undermining the biblical view of justification. Hahn even mentions Shepherd's heresy trial, demonstrating that he was well-aware that those views were outside the pale of Reformed doctrine. Shepherd was the father of the Federal Vision movement, which has disrupted Reformed churches with an attempt to bring back this exact Catholic doctrine of justification. Hahn went to his first pulpit with these views, at a Federal Vision church, but does not say that he informed his presbytery of his views, a deceptive act. While there, he also began to teach at a tiny seminary, i.e., in spite of the "major seminary" claim of one article promoting him. Again, we see that this "Presbyterian" minister was never really Presbyterian.

In addition to his justification heresy, Hahn began the ministry with erroneous views on the sacraments. He complains, p. 49, about the Protestant doctrine of the Lord's Supper - or Eucharist, as he prefers to say - that it is a mere symbol. This is repeated on page 56. Unfortunately for him, that is not the Protestant view, at least among Lutherans, who hold to consubstantiation, or the Reformed, who hold to a spiritual, noncorporeal Real Presence. As the Westminster Confession of Faith XXIX:7 says, "Worthy receivers outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death; the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses." Which solution would be worse: that Hahn was ignorant of this doctrine? or that he was knowingly railing against a doctrinal strawman?

One of the endorsements on the back cover of the book says, "This book is inspiring and exciting for any reader desirous of rediscovering, from a scripture base, the reasons why the Catholic Church believes, teaches, and practices its doctrines." But this is exactly what the book doesn't do.We read statements such as, "I had fallen head over heels in love with the Lord in the Eucharist" (p. 88), and "I felt the Lord unleash his power through his mother" (p. 89). This is sentiment, not biblical exegesis. He also mentions direct revelations "from the Lord" on pages 114 and 115. Voices in the head are, again, not biblical exegesis.

This book, as well as other publications from Hahn, are promoted by (some, not all) the Catholic Church in an effort to convert Protestants. You can see them at his website, linked at the top, as well as here. This is what plays into the Acts 20:30 reference above; Hahn hasn't just committed apostasy himself, with his family, he wants to convince the rest of us evangelicals to follow him! God's warning to us is found in Deuteronomy 7:4, "[He] would turn away your sons from following Me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and He would destroy you quickly." And God's warning to Hahn is found in Deuteronomy 13:5, "That prophet shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God."

A video by two ex-Catholic priests with a viewpoint opposed to Hahn's can be seen here

Monday, July 22, 2013

Does John 3:16 Imply a Universal Atonement?

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

The doctrine of particular atonement, also known as definite or limited atonement, is one of the five doctrines of salvation commonly called the five points of Calvinism.  It is probably the most controversial of the five, which is why you'll even find those who call themselves "four-point Calvinists," as if the five doctrines don't stand or fall together. Arminians are most shrill in attacking the Calvinist understanding of the atonement. In essence, the Calvinist says that God the Father gave a number of particular individuals to God the Son to be redeemed and to be regenerated by God the Spirit. This group is explicitly named, not just any unspecified number. Refer to John 10:29 and 17:2.

In contrast, the Arminian (and the semi-Pelagian of any type) holds that Jesus died for every person in the world, without distinction. In every discussion on the issue I can remember, the Arminian participant always threw out the verse above, arrogantly, as if it ended the debate. They act like a man who steps on an ant; he doesn't pause to see whether not the ant is dead.

I, however, suggest that John 3:16 tells us nothing about the extent of the atonement. Let us consider what it actually says: "God so loved the world." Even if the Bible didn't explicitly state this, would it not be obvious? The world is His creation. He devoted great wisdom to its form and orderly operation. Of course He loves it! But let us consider an analogy. If I tell you that 70% of Americans are white, what race is John Smith (just to pick a name hypothetically)? You would have to say that you don't know, because what is true of the aggregate implies absolutely nothing about the particular.

In the same way, to say that God loves His creation in aggregate, in no way conflicts with, for example, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated," (Malachi 1:2-3 and Romans 9:13). The particular takes precedence over the general.

There are plenty of more-technical reasons to demonstrate that John 3:16 doesn't mean what the Arminian claims it means. However, this simple logical argument seems to me the most-straightforward way to deal with it. So, whatever you might think of the doctrine of particular atonement, I deny that you have the option of simply throwing out this verse as if it trumps every other consideration. If you want to see other arguments, simply click on the tag below, and you will see what else I have written on the issue.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Keeping the Lord's Day Holy

"The sacred observance of one day in seven is God's appointed means for the cultivation of piety: when piety vanishes, orthodoxy necessarily follows it in due time."

This quote is from the Lectures on Systematic Theology (the specific lecture is available in this pdf) of Robert Lewis Dabney, one of the two best-known theologians from the old Southern Presbyterian Church. In this passage, he was stating his opinion that a lack of Sabbath concern in European churches, including both Calvin and Luther personally, was the reason that the European mainland was, even in his time, a spiritual wasteland. I am sure that, if he lived in our day, he would suggest that the same disease is what has destroyed the Protestant churches, his own Presbyterian Church included, have faded into paganism, even in the English-speaking nations.

The view Dabney was defending can be found in the Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 116: "What is required in the fourth commandment? Answer: The fourth commandment requires of all men the sanctifying or keeping holy to God such set times as He has appointed in His Word, expressly one whole day in seven; which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian sabbath, and in the New Testament called the Lord's day." (See also Questions 117-121). He held, and I also hold, that this view best summarizes the biblical teaching relevant to the Lord's Day, or Sabbath, for the Christian.

The opening biblical reference is Genesis 2:1-3: "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation." That is, the Sabbath arises from the creative acts of God at the beginning of history. Remember that; it is a crucial aspect of what I am advocating.

Next, it comes up in the IVth Commandment, in both Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

The objections to continuing Sabbath observance, even in its Christian first-day form, are twofold. The first is a general objection that the ceremonial law has been fulfilled in Christ, and is therefore no longer binding on the Christian. That principle is certainly correct. However, it is irrelevant here, because, as I mentioned above, the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, instituted thousands of years - at least- before the time of Moses. In addition, we have the New Testament concurring in Hebrews 4:9, "There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God." Thus, the Sabbath is found both before the ceremonial law was given and after it was abrogated in Christ. Therefore, it could not have been abolished with the ceremonies, such as the sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood.

The other objection is more specific. It is based on Colossians 2:16, "Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day." But that interpretation is only possible if you ignore the next verse, "These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ." This brings us back to the exact point I made in the paragraph above. Paul is encouraging the Colossian believers not to be shaken by the criticisms of the Jews, or of Judaizers in the Church, who advocated the continuing devotion to the Jewish ceremonies, e.g., the festivals and seventh-day Sabbath attendance at synagogue or the Temple. In other words, he is not referring to the Sabbath principle here, but rather to the now-superseded Jewish Sabbath. Otherwise, Paul's companion Luke would have been remiss in recording that the Christians met on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).  And Paul himself would have erred in encouraging the believers to take up an offering in their meetings on that day (I Corinthians 16:2). So, the general reading of Sabbath in Colossians 2:16 would make it contradict these two verses, and especially Hebrews 4:9 (quoted above). The narrow reading, i.e., that it is reference specifically to the Jewish Sabbath, must therefore be the correct interpretation.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Apocrypha and the Catholic Doctrine of Scripture

"If it is well-composed and to the point, that is just what I wanted. If it is worthless and mediocre, that is all I could manage."
- II Maccabees 15:38, New Jerusalem Bible

This verse is the penultimate verse of the apocryphal Second Book of Maccabees. Along with First Maccabees, this book is an accepted part of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canons of the Old Testament. The Eastern Orthodox also accept Third and Fourth Maccabees. These books describe the historical period between the prophecies of Malachi and the Gospel of Matthew.

All of these books are found in the Septuagint, the pre-Christian Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures. However, all four are excluded from the so-called Palestinian canon, the basis of both the modern Jewish and Protestant canons. The Orthodox accept all four simply on the grounds that they consider the Septuagint to be the authoritative basis for their Old Testament. And, it must be acknowledged, the manuscripts that survive of the Septuagint are far older than the oldest Hebrew manuscripts. The Church of Rome, on the other hand, pleads the actions of certain church councils (not any of the universal Ecumenical Councils), especially of the Third Council of Carthage, a provincial council that met in 397, and ratified by the Sixth Council of Carthage in 419. However, Rome rejects the Synod of Laodicea, 365, which excluded the Books of Maccabees. In addition, they claim the authority of Augustine, who accepted the books, but reject the opinion of Jerome who excluded them from his canon, i.e., the Vulgate Bible.

My point in mentioning these councils and church Fathers is that the Church of Rome cherry-picks its authorities. Since the Council of Trent "infallibly" determined to include the books, the Roman Church is forced by its own claims to profess only those authorities that agree with that decree.

The problem for the Catholic (and Orthodox) view is that it is contradicted by the very text that they are claiming as canonical. Look at the quote at the top of this page. The writer of Second Maccabees is worried that his book will be found to be mediocre! Would he have that fear if he were inspired, as, for example, Paul was? Rome claims that he was merely mistaken, unaware of his inspiration, because, they claim, the Scriptures aren't infallible in matters of science or history, i.e., "objective" facts. A-hah! Here we have the crux of the issue: in order to maintain its own infallibility, Rome is perfectly willing to cast away the infallibility of God! This is the reason the Reformers pointed their fingers at the papacy with the cry of "Antichrist"!

In contrast, Jesus, speaking to His heavenly Father, trustingly confessed, "Your word is truth" (John 17:17). That is the authority that I accept. As the Psalmist says (Psalm 119:160), "The sum of Your word is truth." Since no pope has ever died for my sins or risen from the dead, I will choose the words of Jesus over the words of Rome. I am secure in the trust that those words will never change.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tongues: Not a Blessing, but a Curse

Deuteronomy literally means "second law," because it contains the second enumeration of the Ten Commandments. It is primarily a book of the covenant, the terms of the treaty of relationship between Jehovah and His people. It includes blessings for covenant faithfulness, as well as curses for treason against the covenant. The verse I wish to highlight is in the latter portion.

Deuteronomy 28:49, "The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand."

There are a number of verses throughout the Old Testament that parallel this one. For example, Isaiah 28:11, "For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue, the Lord will speak to this people." Paul also quotes this verse to the same end in I Corinthians 14:21, and then adds in verse 22, "Thus, tongues are a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers." That is, to unbelieving Jews. Yet, where do we see the promotion of "tongues"? In church worship services!

The purpose of these verses, if I may paraphrase, is for God to tell Israel, "If you refuse to listen to Me, then I will continue to speak to you, but through languages that you do not understand." This was a judgment. It is as the parent who continues his warnings to an errant child, even as that child puts his fingers in his ears to keep from hearing.

I refer to these verses as the defense of my belief that glossolalia, commonly referred to as "speaking in tongues," is not a blessing, and is not intended for today's Church.

Hearing someone else speak in an unknown tongue is a final step in God's bringing discipline against a wayward believer or church. When a professing Christian hears other people speaking in tongues, that means that either he or his entire community has provoked the wrath of God and may soon anticipate some form of judgment. This is not a good thing!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Covenantal Envy in Ruth 1:6-18

"Then Naomi arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But she said to her two daughters-in-law, 'Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!' Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, 'No, we will return with you to your people.' But Naomi said, 'Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.' Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, 'See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.' But Ruth said, 'Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.' And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more."

 I am thinking about this passage as I prepare to substitute for the teacher of my Sunday School class tomorrow.

 It seems to me that the key verse for understanding the Book of Ruth is here, the latter part of the sixteenth verse of the first chapter: "Your people shall be my people, and your God my God." Note that I am not turning the book into an allegory, but rather seeking the purpose for including this historical event in the inspired text. Note the parallel phrasing here with the covenantal declarations of God: "I will be your God and you shall be My people," such as in Exodus 6:2-7, Leviticus 26:6-13, and Ezekiel 36:22-28. In those passages, it is Jehovah speaking in the first person of the covenant which He Himself is initiating, i.e., the Covenant of Grace. In contrast, Ruth is speaking only in the second person, referring to Naomi's people and Naomi's God. That is because she is speaking as one outside that covenantal relationship.

This is actually within the revealed purposes of God's covenant. In Deuteronomy 4:6, He says to Israel, "Keep them [i.e., the Law] and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'" Also Ezekiel 36:15-23, "And I will not let you hear anymore the reproach of the nations, and you shall no longer bear the disgrace of the peoples and no longer cause your nation to stumble, declares the Lord GOD. The word of the LORD came to me: 'Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before Me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity. So I poured out My wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them. But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned My holy name, in that people said of them, 'These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.' But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. 'Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.'"

 Having ignited this envy among Israel's pagan neighbors, how did Jehovah then satisfy it? I think the clear clue is verse 2 of Ruth 1: "They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah." That little tidbit reminds us of I Chronicles 4:4, which says, in passing, "These were the sons of Hur, the firstborn of Ephrathah, the father of Bethlehem." Then Micah 5:2, "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days." And its fulfillment in Matthew 2:6. This a shadowy connection to the coming of the Messiah, who was given to be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6, Isaiah 49:6 [compare Luke 2:32], and Acts 13:47). And the writer of Ruth (probably the Prophet Samuel), brings this down to genealogy. From the marriage of Ruth and Boaz came Obed, the grandfather of David, and thus the lineal ancestor of Jesus the Messiah! Thus, this one literary work demonstrates the covenantal envy of Israel's pagan comptetitors, in the purposes of God, and His sovereign satisfaction of that envy centuries later. I love it when Scripture strands come together like this!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Worship Worthy of the Holiness of God

"Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, 'This is what the Lord has said, "Among those who are near Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified."' And Aaron held his peace."
- Leviticus 10:1-3

 We have this brief narrative, in which Moses tells of us two of the sons of Aaron, the newly-appointed high priest," offering "unauthorized fire" (KJV, "strange fire") on the altar of the Lord. This may mean that, where they had been commanded to keep a continuous fire on the altar, they instead began their work with a newly-kindled flame. Or, as in Keil and Delitzsch, this may refer to an unscheduled time or in an improper place. The text here doesn't explain the reference, presumably because it was written by Moses at the time, or soon after, so the details would have been publicly known.

The Lord's response is surprising. He doesn't ask simply, "Why didn't you do things the way I told you?" Rather, He rebukes it as an affront to His holiness.

We see a similar rebuke, also to the priests, in Malachi 1:6, "'A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My fear?' says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise My name. But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’" There, the priests feign ignorance of their sins: "How have we despised Your name?" they ask.

Manmade worship, labeled theologically as "will-worship," is an affront to God's holiness because it places His worship at the whim of fallen, sinful man. It brings His worship down to our level, rather than up to His. It treats His worship like actual manmade worship of pagan deities. It is no longer worship but abuse. John Calvin (II.8.17), describes it as, "the licentious daring which would subject the incomprehensible God to our senses..." This principle is known in Reformed theology as "the regulative principle of worship" (hereafter "RPW"). It is often phrased as, "Whatever is not commanded is forbidden."

This contrasts with the Lutheran concept, which holds that, "Whatever is not forbidden is permitted." These Protestant views I consider to be consistent with Paul's admonition in I Corinthians 1:40, that "all things should be done decently and in order." And, of course, it contrasts with Catholicism, which holds that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, and can therefore create whatever he wants in God's name. 

The RPW is prominent in Reformed confessional tradition. In the Second Helvetic Confession, the confessional standard of the Swiss and Hungarian Reformed churches, Chapter V, we read, "[W]e teach that God is to be adored and worshiped as He Himself has taught us to worship, namely, 'in spirit and in truth' (John 4:23 f.), not with any superstition, but with sincerity, according to His Word; lest at anytime He should say to us: 'Who has required these things from your hands?' (Isa. 1:12; Jer. 6:20). For Paul also says: 'God is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything,' etc. (Acts 17:25)." And in the Westminster Confession, the confessional standard of Reformed churches in the Scottish tradition, usually titled "Presbyterian," XXI:1, we read, "[T]he acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture."

 This narrative in Leviticus is a case-law application of the Second Commandment. The fact that God puts His worship in such a prominent place in His Law indicates how important it is in His estimation, regardless of how lackadaisically we treat it. That is why I personally could never, in good conscience, be a member of any but a Reformed church. That is not to say that I think that only the Reformed are Christians. In fact, if my family attended an orthodox Lutheran church, where now they attend none, I would bless God, and not quibble. But in my own actions, my conscience is more thoroughly trained, and I would not make that choice for myself.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why I Do Not Hold to "Signs and Wonders" Christianity

"How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will."
- Hebrews 2:3-4

This passage seems to me to undermine the entire premise of Pentecostal churches and the Charismatic movement. Signs, wonders, miracles, and [some] gifts of the Holy Spirit were given, not to create a superior class of Christians, but rather to confirm the Gospel message. That last part is why I am more accepting of such things in pioneering missionary works, especially in predominantly-Muslim areas. However, that proviso certainly does not apply to the United States!

Paul is usually quoted in favor of the continuing Pentecostal gifts. After all, he claimed to speak in tongues more than the rest of the church (I Corinthians 14:18). But why? Afterall, Paul himself said (verses 2-4) that tongues benefit the speaker alone, not the church. So why does he advocate them?

In a later passage (II Corinthians 12:12), Paul says, "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works." These miraculous gifts were marks of his true apostleship, in contrast to the false apostles of verse 11. This same point is made in Acts 14:3, "So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their [i.e., Paul and Barnabas, who is called an apostle here] hands." Again, the miraculous gifts are God's signs of the authenticity of the apostolic message. This is also why Jesus Himself rebuked those who seek signs (Matthew 12:39); they aren't for you!

That brings us back to the Hebrews passage above: The signs and wonders were the marks of the apostolic message, not of spiritual superiority. Thus, those churches which advocate them in the modern church are actually undermining the biblical message, applying what ended with the apostles to modern Christians, and further creating guilt and despondency in those church members who don't experience them. I am being generous in saying experiencing "them," since I actually believe that their modern expressions are counterfeits. I will note that a few Pentecostal groups actually acknowledge this difficulty, but then get around it by claiming that their clergy are modern apostles. This especially marks the New Apostolic Church, but is also found in many independent congregations. This is also why the Roman Catholic Church is so welcoming to charismatics: the Catholic hierarchy claims a continuing apostolic authority!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sola Scriptura: Biblical Authority versus Catholic Tradition

"...[T]he [Catholic] Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence."

The statement above is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997), the official doctrinal organ of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. I quote it here as proof from their own words that Scripture, contained in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, is not their ultimate source of authority. They confess that they hold their extra-biblical tradition to be of equal authority. I consider this to be a gross equivocation; I believe that they give their tradition superior authority.

With the Reformers, I hold that such an equation is impossible. That is, I would suggest that the Scriptures forbid any comparable authority outside of themselves. Therefore, to claim that tradition is equal to scripture is actually a roundabout repudiation of the authority of scripture. Jesus addressed this issue Himself in two portions of the New Testament.

First, in Matthew 6:24, He said, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other." He was explicitly addressing the rule of money, but His principle applies to any dual system of authority.

And second, He criticized the Pharisees for this very act of equivocation, in Mark 7:6-8, "And He said to them, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.'" In almost parallel phrasing, our Lord condemns the very act that the Catholic Church officially endorses!

The scriptures testify to their own sufficiency. II Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, "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." Not "for some good work," thus needing additional revelation, but "for every good work."

That is why the Westminster Confession of Faith I:10 reads, "The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture." Someone might object that the Confession is a tradition. And that is certainly true. The principle of sola scriptura doesn't mean the repudiation of all tradition. That would be impossible. Rather, it means that ultimate authority resides in scripture alone; the confession, and all other traditions, are subordinate to the authority of scripture.