Saturday, July 26, 2014

Contra Annihilationism: "Destruction" is not the Same Thing as "Extinction"

As exemplified by the late John Stott, the philosophy of annihilationism has been spreading, even among professed evangelicals. Annihilationism is the belief that unbelievers do not suffer eternal punishment in hell, the traditional view, but rather are extinguished, either at death or at the final Judgment. While it has been connected historically to the Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists (and their Armstronist offshoots), this heresy has been gaining acceptance in more otherwise-traditional churches.

I am currently reading the book Hell under Fire, edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. While the book deals with evangelical universalism as well as annihilationism, I am currently reading just the annihilationism portion. In it is a chapter by theologian Douglas Moo, entitled "Paul on Hell," pp. 104-5. In it, he addresses the argument of annihilationists that "everlasting" and its synonyms refer to irrevocable extinction, rather than to continuous punishment. The Greek words at issue are olethros and apollumi/apoleia. He says: "Leaving aside, for the moment, judgment texts, none of the key terms usually has this meaning [i. e., 'irrevocable'] in the Old and New Testaments. Rather, they usually refer to the situation of a person or object that has lost the essence of its nature or function... The key words for 'destroy' and 'destruction' can also refer to land that has lost its fruitfulness (olethros in Ezek. 6:14; 14:16 [LXX]); to ointment that is poured out wastefully and to no purpose (apoleia in Matt. 26:; Mark 14:4); to wineskins that can no longer function because they have holes in them (apollumi in Matt. 9:17); Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37); to a coin that is useless because it is 'lost' (apollumi in Luke 15:9); or to an entire world that 'perishes,' as an inhabited world, in the Flood (2 Pet. 3:6). In none of these cases do the objects cease to exist; they cease to be useful or to exist in their original, intended state."

Friday, July 11, 2014

Does "Whosoever Will" Mean that Anyone Can Become a Christian, Just by Willing?

I have watched a certain well-known TV evangelist make fun of Calvinists a number of times. One of his subordinates even said one time, "'Whosoever will,' that disproves it [i.e., Calvinism] right there!" And I suspect that the majority of American evangelicals would simply nod their heads in unthinking agreement.

But is that actually what the Bible says? I happen not to think so.

Let's begin with the words of Paul. Consider Romans 3:11 (quoting Psalm 14:2), "No one seeks for God." Why is that? Ephesians 2:1, for we "are dead in the trespasses and sins." A dead person cannot will or choose anything. Jesus makes the same point in John 6:44, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him." For (Matthew 11:27), "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him." So, whose will is the deciding factor? Not ours, but His (see also John 1:13)!

So, how does "whosoever will" (Revelation 22:17) fit in? Again, Paul explains (Philippians 2:13): "It is God Who works in you, both to will and to work for His good purpose." Thus, we see that it is true that "whosoever will may come," but it is only because God works in us to create that will! So, TV preacher, that settles it right there!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

I Peter 5:2, More Testimony from Scripture Against Bishops in the Church

The first three verses of the fifth chapter of I Peter have some serious implications for church government.

"So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly, not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock." [Emphasis mine]

The words translated here as "elder" and "fellow elder" are forms of the Greek word presbuteros. The word translated "exercising oversight" is episkopountes, a form of episkopos, from which we get the English word "bishop." So, it can be taken to be a message from the Apostle Peter to elders to "bishopize," if I may be allowed to make up a new word. The Apostle goes even further in II Peter 1:1, where he addresses Christians as "those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours..." While the Pope claims "the power of the keys" to include or exclude from the body of Christ whomever he chooses, the true apostle eschews any monarchical pretensions. If only the equality of all believers was the motto of the supposed heir of the throne of Peter, I would possibly give his faith a little benefit of doubt.

This seems to me to be a fatal blow to the episcopalian view of church government, as held by Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholics, all of whom hold to an office of bishop that rules over the church in a certain district.

This passage is especially destructive to the views of the Roman Catholic Church, which claims Peter himself as the beginning of their line of popes, the bishops of Rome. Rome claims that Paul was appointed by Christ in Matthew 16:13-20 to be the head of the Church, an office which he supposedly passed on to his heirs, the popes. However, in the passage here, we have Peter's own words stating that bishopizing is the work of elders. The New Jerusalem Bible, a Catholic translation, uses "elder" in  the passage, but then instructs the elders to "watch over" the church. The New American Bible, the main translation used by American Catholics, says "presbyters," refusing even to translate the term, with "overseeing." To my mind, that is a tacit admission that the American bishops are fully aware of the implications of this passage.

In addition to the positive assertions in Paul's letters, especially I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, we have here in I Peter the biblical basis for the system of church government commonly referred to as "presbyterian." It is neither "episcopalian" nor democratic. Church government is not an issue of choice. The Head of the Church has laid out how He intends to rule in His body, the Church. And the Pope of Rome is clearly the enemy of Christ's rule over that Church.