Friday, September 25, 2015

The Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception: Was Mary Really Sinless?

The Catholic Church holds as dogma the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Many Christians mistakenly believe that this refers to the sinlessness and virgin birth of Jesus. However, it is actually about the supposed sinless conception and life of Mary. Catholics claim that her sinlessness was
necessary to make her worthy of giving birth to the Lord. The doctrine is claimed to be from "tradition," but was only decreed as official by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854.

Christians should have a huge problem with this doctrine. For one thing, the Bible says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Jesus alone is exempted through His conception by the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 4:15, II Corinthians 5:21). If Mary escaped a sinful nature, then the Bible's teachings about our need of salvation all tumble like a house of cards.

However, in addition to this general objection, there are also specific biblical references which preclude the Catholic view.

We know, from Luke 2:24, that Mary made the sacrifice of atonement for a new mother (Leviticus 12:2). Specifically, she sacrificed two pigeons, the sacrifice for someone who was too poor to offer a lamb (Lev. 12:8). Mary was unclean, and thus had to atone, neither of which can be consistent with sinlessness.

The problem with the Catholic doctrine isn't simply that it is wrong, but rather because it undermines the office of Christ as Mediator between God and fallen Man. It has also led the Catholic Church actually to change Scripture. In Genesis 3:15, in what is called the Protevangelium, Catholic bibles have replaced "He will bruise your [i. e., the serpent's] head and you will bruise His heel," [emphasis added] with "she will bruise your head, and you will bruise her heel." These versions follow the Vulgate in changing the masculine singular of the Hebrew to the feminine singular in Latin. This has been used to justify giving a mediatorial and redemptive role to Mary alongside that of Christ, in explicit violation of I Timothy 2:5: "there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."

This is how this works: by giving Mary a role of redemptrix and mediatrix next to that of Christ, and then pointing out that Protestants reject any such role, the Church of Rome lays claim to providing a supposedly-superior form of spiritual security. However, since that claim is based on both false and falsified evidence, it is a deception, one that will lead many sincere people on the wide road into Hell (Matthew 7:13). That is why I persist in calling the Roman Catholic Church a cult, and in urging people to abandon her for the sake of their souls (Revelation 18:4).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In Honor of the Pope's Visit to the United States

Back in 1987, then-Pope John-Paul II visited the United States, including a stop in neighboring South Carolina. At the time, a co-worker, a professing atheist, said to me, "You must be excited." "Why?" I asked her. "Because of the Pope's visit," she replied. "But I'm not Catholic," I explained, to her blank face. She didn't understand the distinction between Catholics and Protestants. I am saddened to say that my experiences, even with Protestants over the years, has convinced me that few of us understand, either.

Beginning with the nailing of his 95 Theses on the Wittenburg Church door by Martin Luther on October 31, 1517 (so the 500th anniversary is approaching), Protestants have systematized our conflict with Rome in the so-called Five Solas:

Sola Scriptura: that our only infallible standard for spiritual truth is the Holy Bible, in the Old and New Testaments, and what by necessary logical consequence might be based on them.

Soli Deo Gloria: that our salvation and sanctification are for the glory of God alone, not based on any works for which a man might claim credit.

Solus Christus: that our salvation is based on the finished work of Christ alone, in His life, crucifixion, resurrection, and eternal intercession.

Sola Gratia: by grace alone, that is, by God's voluntary condescension, not because of any obligation that we have placed upon Him.

Sola Fide: that it is by faith alone, as the instrumental means, that the works of Christ are imputed to us for our justification.

These Five Solas (Latin for "alone") are the essential points of conflict between the churches of the Reformation and the Church of Rome. She has never changed her denial of these five truths, so our repudiation of her legitimacy must be maintained, for the rest of human history, if need be. Any ecumenical relationship, while she continues in her apostasy from the Gospel, can only carry Protestants into judgment with her. As Jesus Himself says (Revelation 18:4): "Come out of her, My people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues."

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Calling of the Jews, as Described in Jeremiah

In Question 191, the Westminster Larger Catechism asks, "What do we pray for in the second petition [of the Lord's Prayer]?" The answer says, in part, "In the second petition (which is, Thy kingdom come), acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in..." And the Directory for the Publick Worship of God, under the heading of "prayer," directs that prayer be made, among other things, "for the conversion of the Jews, the fulness of the Gentiles..." That is almost a direct quote from the Apostle Paul in Romans 11:25-26: "a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved..." It is these promises on which the catechism answer is based.

Did this concept originate with Paul? Is this a Christian imposition, and to be considered offensive by Jews? I answer no to both questions.

In Jeremiah 31:3-4, we find, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued My faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel!" This promise appears after long passages protesting the apostasy of Israel, which God would judge with the seventy-year exile in Babylon (e. g., Jer. 25:18). The prophet continues in verse 6, "For there shall be a day when watchmen will call in the hill country of Ephraim: 'Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.'" Verse 9, "With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back..., for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn." And 13-14, "I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and My people shall be satisfied with My goodness, declares the Lord.

"Don't these verses refer to the return of Israel after the Exile?" someone may ask. Modern Jews limit it to that application. On the other hand, dispensationalists apply it to the modern State of Israel. The problem for either interpretation is further down the passage.

In verses 18-20, the prophet tells us, "I have heard Ephraim grieving, 'You have disciplined me, and I was disciplined, like an untrained calf; bring me back that I may be restored, for You are the Lord my God. For after I had turned away, I relented, I was ashamed, and I was confounded, because I bore the disgrace of my youth.' Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he My darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the Lord." This is a description of the repentance of Israel, and return to faithfulness to her God, which certainly has not happened. Ancient Israel continued in apostasy, even rejecting and killing her Messiah, so that God destroyed their nation, city, and temple, in 70AD. And today's State of Israel is overwhelmingly secular. Under her laws, a Jew can be religious, agnostic, atheist, or even Buddhist or New Age. What he cannot be is a follower of Jesus the Messiah.

And in verses 33-34 (part of the same New Covenant passage quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12), God Himself says, "This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put My law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."  This is what Paul talks about, when Israel repents of her apostasy and turns, as a nation, to her Messiah, Jesus Christ. The key is found in Jer. 30:9: "They shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them." The restoration prophesied by Jeremiah isn't geographical or political, but rather a restoration through Jesus, the Davidic king (compare Isaiah 9:6-7 and Jer. 33:14-26). That has, demonstrably, not happened yet.

That same event is described by the Prophet Zechariah (Zech. 12:10): "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on Me, on Him Whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over Him, as one weeps over a firstborn." Their God, Jehovah, promises to send His Holy Spirit to change their hearts, so that they will finally recognize Who Jesus is, and what they did to Him 2,000 years ago. And He shall receive them (Rom. 11:26-27, Isa. 59:20-21): "The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins." Thus, both Old and New Testaments prophecy of a time when the Jews, en masse, will repent of their hardheartedness, and turn to their God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Another Clergyman Comes Out for Molech: Abortion

I wrote recently about some Episcopal Church clergy who were campaigning for the right to kill babies and rip their bodies apart. Now word has come out about United Church of Christ Minister Tom Davis, who has written a book, Sacred Work: Planned Parenthood and Its Clergy Alliances, in which he
claims that pro-abortion clergy teach "a form of humane theology." Yes, readers, Davis claims that a humane view of God requires a clergyman to advocate for the mass murder of unborn children.

Together with David, Presbyterian Church (USA) Minister Andrew Kukla explained on his blog that he loves everything about the organization. He said, "I love Planned Parenthood. I love the people that are Planned Parenthood. I love their ministry [sic]. I love that they live resurrection in a way I only talk about it." Hmmm... the "ministry" and "love" of Planned Parenthood, by which "they live resurrection." Are these men supporting abortion to speed these children on their ways to resurrection? Such doublespeak explains why the memberships of both denominations are imploding before our eyes.

In contrast, as I have also noted recently, true Presbyterians are publicizing the death industry behind the doors of Planned Parenthood.

Davis and Kukla, regardless of their claims or of their media images, are no clergy of Christ. In fact, I cannot accept them even as mere Christians. What they advocate is completely unlike biblical religion, but is actually a revival of the human sacrifices of Molech worship. Condemnations of these practices can be seen in Leviticus 20:3 and 20:5. Yet, the Israelites adopted that same practice, which was part of the apostasy for which God punished them in the Exile (see, for example, Jeremiah 32:34-35).

David, Kukla, and the Episcopal priests, and all who march with them for human sacrifice, in spite of their spiritual-sounding claims, are marching to bring God's judgment on America. As I have also written, God holds us accountable for shedding innocent blood. How many could the Israelites have sacrificed? Hundreds, maybe thousands, yet God destroyed their nation. What will he do for the tens of millions of innocent babies that we have killed, just since 1973?

Are these so-called clergymen accountable for their activities? Of course! In fact they bring upon themselves an even heavier judgment. God tells them, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1). Not that I believe that these men and women will be frightened merely by the words of God.

However, they will not be alone in their judgment. Does anyone really believe that the congregations that pay the salaries of these clergypersons can wash their hands of the actions of their clergy? God says to you (Jeremiah 23:16-17), "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, 'It shall be well with you'; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, 'No disaster shall come upon you.'"

I think of something else that God is saying to you: "Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues" (Revelation 18:4). Your money and membership are being used to support these pagan men and their vile activities. No matter how much you might cluck your tongue at them - and I am being generous to assume even that much - your passive support enables them to continue. And, as Jesus said in the Revelation, you will share in their plagues.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Baptismal Formula and the Jesus-Only Heresy

Every Christian, even the most lapsed professor of Christianity, is familiar with the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." It is not only used by virtually every church, Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox, but it is also a classic text in the explanation and defense of the orthodox understanding of the Trinity

One of the ancient anti-Trinitarian theologies is known variously as Sabellianism, Modalism, Jesus-Only Unitarianism, or Oneness Pentecostalism. In our day, it is associated primarily with the United Pentecostal Church. They hold that God is a unity, not a tri-unity of persons, but rather one Person who shifts among the roles (or "modes," hence the name) of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They accuse Trinitarians of tritheism, i. e., of worshiping three gods. Part of their support of this is the consistent reference to baptisms "in the name of Jesus" in Acts (e. g., Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48, and 19:5). Some of them even say that the verse in Matthew is a corruption, though there is zero manuscript support for their reconstruction.

However, Acts also presents a problem for their doctrine, one that I consider insuperable. 

In chapter 19 of Acts, Paul passed through Ephesus on one of his missionary journeys. Though he would later write an epistle to the church in Ephesus, he was not the original evangelist in that city. This church was founded by Epaphras, so Paul's visit here was with people that he had not previously known. He asks them, verse 2, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" To which they replied, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." They then inform him that they had received John's baptism, i. e., the baptism given by John the Baptist. So, verse 5, "On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus."

This includes the formula advocated by the Sabellians, "in the name of Jesus." But the passage tells us so much more: while these Ephesians knew about Jesus, they didn't know about the Holy Spirit. That is something that is told us only here and in chapter 8 (Acts 8:16). That indicates that there was instruction otherwise going on, not explicit in our text, instruction about the Holy Spirit, apart from Jesus. That is, trinitarian instruction!

To my mind, the logical implication is that these baptisms were indeed performed according to the trinitarian formula. Luke, the author of Acts, simply didn't include the full formula in the interest of brevity and flow of the story. It would have been tedious to read the full formula repeatedly, as often as baptisms occur in this book.

Thus, I would suggest that Acts not only does NOT support the doctrine the Modalists try to force on it, but actually demonstrates the opposite. That is, that our one God reveals Himself in three Persons, all of Whom are present and active in our conversion, sanctification, and - someday - in our glorification.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

God's Judgment on Manmade Religion


The Prophet Jeremiah gave his prophecies in the time immediately before and immediately after the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, followed by the subsequent exile of the Jews to Babylon. His sermons before those events were proclamations of God's judgment against Judah, for which these events were His judgment.

Notice the pattern in the quotations below:

Jeremiah 3:17: "They shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart."

Jeremiah 7:24: "They did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward."

Jeremiah 11:8: "They did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart."

Jeremiah 13:10: "This evil people, who refuse to hear My words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them."

Jeremiah 23:17: "They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, 'It shall be well with you'; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, 'No disaster shall come upon you.'"

Do you see what each of these verses says? God doesn't chastise Judah for a lack of religiosity. Rather, He chastises them for religious practices according to the inclinations of their own hearts. Judah even proclaimed her innocence (Jer. 2:35), and pretended not to understand why He was angry with them. God acknowledges that they have continued in their religious activities, but not according to His purposes (Jer. 7:9-11): "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I Myself have seen it, declares the Lord." Look also at Jer. 7:21-26.

God makes a final effort to call His covenant people to repentance (verses 5-7):  "If you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever." Yet, in the face of His mercy, Judah refuses. Jer. 8:6: "They have not spoken rightly; no man relents of his evil, saying, 'What have I done?' Everyone turns to his own course."

What was the real religious devotion of Judah? (Jer. 9:13-14): "They have forsaken My law that I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice or walked in accord with it, but have stubbornly followed their own hearts..." It is that same error described above: will-worship. They preferred the spiritual exercises that they had invented (or borrowed from their pagan neighbors) over those commanded by God in His word.

This is a description of two times in our own Western history: it was part of the complaints of the Reformers against the Church of Rome that she had polluted Christian worship with pagan images and pageantry not authorized by Scripture, and again in the "seeker-friendly" neopaganism which is spreading in our own time.  Rome has added additional "sacraments" and dogmas, not to mention the superstious praying to angels and saints. She is the exemplar of "following their own hearts." And why is that so bad? Jeremiah answers that question, too (Jer. 17:9): "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick." While Rome pretends to an authority to legislate faith and morals beyond the mandates of Scripture, God says that the reservoir from which she draws is deceitful (which is not to exempt Protestant innovators of the same criticism).

Judah's apostasy here is in violation to the First and Second Commandments of God (Exodus 20:3-4). While Rome attempts to obscure the Second by subsuming it into the First, by doing so she merely demonstrates that her error is no accident, but is willful and deliberate. In my own tradition, it is called the Regulative Principle of Worship, and is explicitly enjoined in the Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 109: "The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God Himself." That is our rejection of the worship in the Church of Rome.


This truth led to an essential warning in the Westminster Confession of Faith (XX:2): "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to His Word, or beside it in matters of faith on worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also."

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Doctrinal Accountability: Can Anyone Avoid It?

"They have spoken falsely of the Lord
     and have said, ‘He will do nothing;
no disaster will come upon us,
     nor shall we see sword or famine.
The prophets will become wind;
 
     the word is not in them."
- Jeremiah 5:12-13 

This is an Old Testament version of Romans 1:18: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." Paul continues (verse 21): "For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." The Prophet and the Apostle are both testifying against the claim by some that they don't believe in God: those men and women are lying! They know full well that God exists and that they are accountable to Him. As Paul also says (verses 19-20), "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."

This is sometimes referred to as "natural theology," the witness that God has revealed of Himself in His creation, so that all men know of Him, even if they pretend otherwise. Why? That is what Jeremiah is talking about: they believe that they are not accountable for what they refuse to acknowledge. I compare it to the bratty child who sticks his fingers in his ears and sing-songs, "La-la-la, I can't hear you," with the belief that he can then claim not to know what his parents said to him.

Do responsible parents allow their children free rein under this pretense? Of course not! And neither does God allow the atheist to escape judgment, simply because he pretends that he doesn't know, or believe in, God. 

Jeremiah also addresses a Catholic error, the concept of "implicit faith," i. e., the medieval doctrine that the Christian believes whatever the (Roman) church believes even if one does not know it personally.While Rome no longer teaches this doctrine explicitly (please forgive the pun), it is, nevertheless, the heart of the practice of most Catholics. In other words, they admit that they aren't personally familiar with the content of Roman doctrine, but accept it implicitly, not on the basis of evidence, but rather because their Church advocates it. Jeremiah's remarks here, directly, and Paul's indirectly, cut through this form of self-deception: intentional ignorance is no excuse!

Is there anything more explicit about where our doctrines should originate and be tested? I say, emphatically, yes, there is! In Isaiah 8:20, that prophet tells us God's prescription: "To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn." Passively receiving the teachings of the Church of Rome (or of any church or teacher), without
checking them against the Scriptures, is to indicate that you are void of spiritual light.

Remember what the bible says of the believers in Berea (Acts 17:10-11): "The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and, when they arrived, they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." I know that Catholic apologists have demonized the Protestant teaching of sola scriptura, but here it is, in Old Testament and in New. Your spiritual welfare depends on it!