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.