Monday, July 27, 2015

Paul Would NEVER Have Said, "Once Saved, Always Saved"

"Once saved, always saved" is a phrase that I associate with Baptists. That is how they say that a Christian can never lose his salvation.

The funny thing is that this doctrine originated as one of the five points of Calvinism, but it is held by people who deny, sometimes vehemently, the other four points. By removing the doctrine from its necessary connections, not only has it become confused, but it is actually destructive.

While holders of "once saved, always saved" (hereafter, "OSAS") would deny that it is, the doctrine has become an excuse for sinful living, the so-called "carnal Christian." Without its biblical connections, OSAS takes on the meaning in the mind of such a person, "I raised my hand, or responded to an altar call, so I have spiritual fire insurance for the rest of my life, no matter what." That person then feels free to ignore Christ's church and to live like a reprobate. He is the person described in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) as a person who hears the Gospel and "immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself" (Matt. 13:20-21).

When I get asked whether I believe in OSAS, I always hesitate, because it isn't really a yes-or-no question to me. Usually I respond, "I do, but I don't use that phrase." That often opens an opportunity for discussion, because the questioner will then usually ask what I mean. 

For one thing, in churches that teach OSAS, it is contrary to the rest of their theology, which is rigidly Arminian, or even Pelagian. It is irrational to claim that entry to faith is by human will and ability, but that exiting is forbidden by the will of God. Which is it? Are men spiritually sovereign or aren't they? Further, OSAS is inherently antinomian, i. e., it tends to encourage people to accept sin in their lives. 

Instead, I hold to the Reformed formulation, "perseverance of the saints." That is, I believe that the Holy Spirit works in the heart of a true believer, such that he perseveres in faith, sanctification, church involvement, and love of the brethren, until the final day, when he either dies and enters Christ's presence, or the Lord returns, and the believer is transformed into his sinless eternal state. Paul refers to this in Romans 8:30: "those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified." When God regenerates and converts a soul, He doesn't then abandon it to its own frailty. With Paul, "I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6, compare Psalm 145:20).

I think of Adam. In his pre-Fall state, he was without sin and in unhindered communion with his God. Yet, what happened at his first temptation? He gave it all up and brought spiritual death upon himself and all his posterity. And I am convinced that, if left to my own good intentions to remain faithful, I would also fall in the first second. That would make the Christian life a constant terror. I need, I depend on, I rejoice in, God's sovereign grace, which saved me, keeps me in the faith, and will glorify me, spiritually and bodily, someday. As the Westminster Confession of Faith III:6 says, believers "are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto salvation." It correctly gives faith as the instrument of perseverance, not its basis. That is the error I see in "once saved, always saved," that it fails to make that distinction. God's faithfulness is the only basis (II Timothy 2:13).

Friday, July 24, 2015

Infant Baptism: Explaining the Obvious, Romans 4:11

"[Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well."

As I have demonstrated on this website, I am a paedobaptist. I know someone is asking, "Is that anything like a  Southern Baptist?" But no, it's not. Rather, a paedobaptist (from the Greek words for "child" and "baptizer") is a person who believes in the baptism of the minor children of believers. This is in contrast to a credobaptist (from the Latin word for "belief" and "baptism," so "believer's baptism"). Paedobaptists include Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians, though for various different, even opposed, reasons. Credobaptists include Baptists (obviously!), most Pentecostals, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses, again for various reasons.

I am, to be more specific, a Reformed Paedobaptist, so I do not necessarily endorse the explanations of others, especially Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. The resemblance between our rite and theirs is strictly coincidental.

The passage above refers back to the events of Genesis 17. I bring the specific verse above into the conversation because it explicitly states that circumcision is a seal, i. e., a sacramental sign, of righteousness by faith. Yet, Abraham was explicitly commanded to circumcise the infant and juvenile male members of his household (Gen. 17:12-13).

This aims directly at credobaptist objections to the baptism of infants. As water baptism is the sign and seal of righteousness by faith (I Peter 3:18-21), they say, it cannot be applied to infants, since they are incapable of believing.

That argument runs smack into the argument of Paul in this verse. Circumcision, he says, is this same sort of seal, yet it is to be applied to the infants of believers, who, as the Baptists insist, are themselves still incapable of belief (we will set aside the case of John  the Baptist for this discussion, Luke 1:41). Therefore, there are no biblical grounds for withholding baptism from those same infants, under the New Covenant. Let me re-emphasize: if circumcision, as a seal of faith, was not to be withheld from the infants of believers, then neither is baptism to be withheld from them as such.

While he doesn't make the point in this passage, Paul's theology here is the same as that which he explains in I Corinthians 7:14: "the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." The children of one or both believing parents are holy, not individually, because of the righteousness of faith, but rather federally, under the umbrella - so to speak - of their parent's or parents' faith. Thus, they were to be circumcised under the Old Covenant, and are to baptized under the New Covenant.

I think that this is a very clear refutation of the views of my credobaptist brethren. At the very least, they should have the charity to stop accusing Presbyterians of baptizing our children merely as a holdover tradition from Roman Catholicism.

Monday, July 20, 2015

I Have Something to Say about the Confederate Flag

My great-great-grandfather, Lorenzo Dow Cole, served in the 58th NC Infantry during the Civil War. I haven't been able to find much information about him. He was born in 1843, and volunteered at 19, so in 1862. He lived in Watauga County, in the northwestern North Carolina mountains. He was not a slave-owner, but rather a rural, mountain farmer. His interest was in defending his home from invasion.

I consider that an honorable cause.

I have a third national flag (the image in the lower right) in my home, though I do not fly it. While it is not the battle flag, the one we most-commonly see, it incorporates that flag in the field where the stars are in the US flag. I think it is very attractive. However, for me, the issue is to honor my Great-Great-Grandfather, who survived the war (or I would not exist), but was wounded at Chickamauga, and also lost a brother there.

The battle flag was adapted from the flag of Scotland, which uses the cross of St. Andrew (that is, the "X" shape). More specifically, it comes from the flag of the Covenanters, a group of Scottish Presbyterians who were persecuted by Kings James, Charles I, Charles II, and James II, for resisting their efforts to bring the church into subjection to the government. That is what the battle flag represents: a refusal to bow to tyrants, because we must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). The war wasn't about slavery; it was about northern Unitarians and Deists, trying to crush the Calvinism that was still strong in the South, due to her large number of Scots and Scots-Irish immigrants, who did not own slaves! That was an English concept (including selling some of the Covenanters into slavery).

Some versions use red for the cross of St. Andrew.

I resent two things about the current uproar over the flag.

The first is its misappropriation by scum, nutbags, evil men, such as the man who killed those good folks in Charleston and the Ku Klux Klan. They have no concept of honor or heritage, but only of satanic hate. And I mean that literally: I believe that racial supremacists are inspired by Satan to bring chaos and violence into our society.

The second thing I resent is some folks on the other side who presume to define for me what my heritage stands for, and what symbols I will be allowed to show my heritage. That is a form of theft, and they would never allow me to do the same to them.

That is why I decided to write this post. I am telling both groups that I refuse to be defined by them. The Vth Commandment tells me to honor my father and my mother, and by implication all my ancestors. As long as I do not violate the rights of others - and there is no right not to be offended - I refuse to capitulate to efforts to take away my right and responsibility to honor my great-great-grandfather.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Pentecostals and the Pope: Reversing the Reformation

 James Robison and Kenneth Copeland with Pope Francis

At a convention sponsored by the Kenneth Copeland Ministries, delegates were treated to a video from Pope Francis, in which he expressed his yearning, "Let’s give each other a spiritual embrace and let God complete the work that He has begun." The video can be watched on Youtube.

In the video, the Pope claims that the Catholic Church and Pentecostals share the blame for the separation between them. "It’s sin that has separated us, all our sins, the misunderstandings throughout history. It has been a long road of sins that we all shared in. Who is to blame? We all share the blame," he said. "We have all sinned. There is only one blameless, the Lord."

In response, Kenneth Copeland told the audience, "Come on, the man asked us to pray for him... Oh Father…we answer his request," Copeland prayed. "And since we know not how to pray for him as we ought other than to agree with him in his quest and his heart for the unity of the body of Christ… we come together in the unity of our faith, Halleluiah!"

Do you notice anything missing from the lovefest? I see no mention of the controversy between Rome and Protestants over such things as justification b y faith alone, the sufficiency of the scriptures alone, or the exclusive headship of Christ over His church. That is, neither Francis nor Copeland makes any mention of the reasons that Calvin, Luther, Cranmer, etc., were compelled by Scripture and their consciences to oppose the Papacy as a corruption of the Christian Faith.

That is hardly surprising. Afterall, Copeland and his ilk teach the same semi-Pelagian heresy that has always been taught by Rome. While Francis mumbles about sin on both sides, he sees no need to repent of his view of the Gospel, because these Pentecostals ( and others) aren't requiring him to move toward a biblical Gospel. Rather, they have been moving toward a papist Gospel of human ability, tradition over Scripture, subjectivism, and the blending of works with faith.

The Reformers labelled the Papacy as the Anti-Christ, and the Church of Rome as the great Whore of the Revelation. And in the five hundred years since, Rome hasn't changed anything but the window-dressing. Yet, she has managed to convince some self-described Protestants to de-Protestantize themselves, and return to her blasphemous bosom.

I for one say good riddance!

By no means should my comments here be taken to suggest that all Pentecostals share in the apostasy of these associates of Kenneth Copeland. However, I have yet to see their condemnation of these apostates.

God says, "Come out of her, My people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues" (Revelation 18:4).