Saturday, July 30, 2016

Mediators Between God and Man: Our Choice or His?

We all know the story of Moses. God chose him, speaking to him out the burning bush, to be His representative in the redemption of His people Israel from bondage in Egypt, and to represent the people to Him. This is what the Bible calls a mediator.

In Exodus 20:18-20, we see Moses as the representative of the people: "Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, 'You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.' Moses said to the people, 'Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.' The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was." The people feared to enter the presence of God, properly understanding that they were not worthy.

Moses's account continues (Exodus 20:21-24): "And the Lord said to Moses, 'Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: "You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you."'" In these verses, we see the other side of the coin. Where in the first verses, God appointed Moses to mediate between Him and the people, here we see the negative side, His forbidding of any other mediator.

When Catholics or Eastern Orthodox pray to Mary or any of their other myriad of so-called "saints," they ask them to intercede for them with Jesus. They ask them to serve as mediators!  The Catholic Answers website says, "Not only do those in heaven pray with us, they also pray for us." By whose appointment? Is it not by the appointment of men, in contravention of the commandment of God? Of course it is.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Does Job Teach "Soul Sleep"?

"Why did you bring me out from the womb?
     Would that I had died before any eye had seen me and were as though I had not been, 
     carried from the womb to the grave.
Are not my days few?
     Then cease, and leave me alone, that I may find a little cheer
before I go—and I shall not return—
     to the land of darkness and deep shadow,
the land of gloom like thick darkness,
     like deep shadow without any order,
where light is as thick darkness."
- Job 10:18-22 

The book of Job is often considered the earliest biblical book, set in a time before the revelations given to the faithful, even in the first books of the Old Testament. That means that Job was dealing with harsh spiritual experiences with very little knowledge of God's covenants or of His dealings with believers in history. Thus, we cannot look to him for an advanced theology of eternal life or the destinies of men. Some, as we can see in Job 19:25-27, but nothing compared to what a modern Christian knows as we read the book.

Given that limitation, what does he describe here? He is miserable, as can only be expected, after losing not just his material wealth, but also his ten children, all in one calamitous moment. In his misery, he is wishing that he had never lived. In the verses above, he is lamenting that he had not died at birth, so that the gap between birth and death would have been brief, with no opportunity for hardship. But now, his only relief is in the knowledge that his suffering will soon end in death, so that he can have a little cheer in that knowledge before he goes. Ah! Goes where? Not into the grave to sleep until the resurrection, but rather to a dark place. Not "dark" in the sense that he won't be able to see, but "dark" in the sense of unknown. As I pointed out above, he didn't have the revelation that we have of heaven and Christ's presence there. Job feared the realm of death, not as a bad place, but simply as a place about which he had no knowledge. Yet he had enough knowledge that he was headed to a place, one from which he could - hypothetically, but not actually, for now - return, a place that he calls "a land."

Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses like to find obscure verses in the Old Testament to deny the orthodox view of the afterlife. Their view is that the souls of the dead are in the grave, unconscious, with their bodies, a doctrine often called "soul sleep." However, even the earliest and most-obscure passages refute their error.

Job with His Friends

I also have a broader view of "soul sleep" here.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The "Age of Accountability": Does God Allow Some People to Sin?

I have heard it said in several different places that children below a certain age are either innocent of sin or are not held accountable for it. When I have asked for biblical justification for those statements, none has been forthcoming. One person said that the proof was the Jewish ceremony of bar mitzvah at the age of thirteen. Really? The best justification you can find is a Jewish ceremony, which is itself not biblical? Another person responded vaguely that a person cannot sin if he doesn't have the mental capacity to understand it as such. I will address how unbiblical that idea is in a moment.

We have a general statement in Scripture: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Notice that word: "all." I readily admit that "all" is often used in Scripture where context shows that it means "all of a class," for example, or is otherwise restricted, not intending "all without exception." However, there is nothing in the context of Romans 3 to restrict its use here. Nor do the advocates of an age of accountability make any effort to show that it is restricted. Yet, they equivocate and treat it as restricted without providing an exegetical basis for that restriction: "all except those under twelve."

On the contrary, I insist that Paul means all mere humans, without restriction. I, however, will give you my exegetical basis for that assertion.

In Psalm 51:5, David, the man after God's own heart, writes, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Far from any age of accountability, David laments the sin he had, not just as an infant, but from his conception. I don't see much wiggle-room there. Remember, this Psalm was written after David's murder of Uriah, adultery with the widow Bathsheba, and the death of their infant son. David's statement regarding sin had personal consequences for him.

A few pages over, look at Psalm 58:3: "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies." He is speaking of the reprobate here, that they are wicked in the womb, and go astray even as newborns. Again, there is no wiggle-room for sentimentalism here.

Lastly, consider the words of the Prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 6:11, we find, "I am full of the wrath of the Lord; I am weary of holding it in. Pour it out upon the children in the streets, and upon the gatherings of young men also." And in 7:8, "The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger." In both verses, God explicitly states that His wrath, and the judgment that arises from it, apply to the Israelite children. There is no allowance here for a belief that children aren't accountable for their sins and subject to the spiritual consequences.

I also have one sociological consideration that comes to my mind: if some people believe that children either have no sin, or are not under judgment for sin, then children who die would automatically go to heaven. If that is the case, then wouldn't a loving parent kill his children, to guarantee their eternal solicitude? Since the professors of this doctrine fail to do so, I can see only two logical consequences: either they hate their children, or (what I think is the true case), they do not believe their doctrine as strongly as they claim.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Appointment of a Mediator: The Purview of God Alone

"Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, 'You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.' Moses said to the people, 'Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.' The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was."
- Exodus 20:18-20

These verses appear immediately after the revelation of the Ten Commandments. They reveal the affect that the words of God had on these, His covenant people. In a word, they were terrified! This is both the proper and the natural response of the person who is outside Christ. In our lost condition, we are violators of God's righteousness, and can expect nothing from Him but wrath (Ephesians 2:3). This was early in the revelation of the redemptive purposes of God, but they already had the stories of Adam's fall (Genesis 3), the Noachic flood (Genesis 6-7), and the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 18), so they were well-aware of the consequences of sin.Their fear was a completely rational reaction.

However, what is God's response? While their sin certainly did create a chasm between God and His chosen people (see Isaiah 59:2), He chooses, by grace alone, to bridge the gap by the appointment of a mediator, Moses. Was Moses without sin? Certainly not. In fact, we know that God refuses to allow him to enter the Promised Land because of his sin (Deuteronomy 32:48-52). So, how could a sinner serve as mediator between God and other sinners? In was according to his own merit, it was impossible. The difference was that the mediatorship of Moses pointed to the greater Mediatorship of Christ (Deuteronomy 18:15, Hebrews 3:1-6, 4:14-15, 12:24).

One thing stands out in these descriptions of mediatorship, that is that in neither case was the mediator chosen by the human side. Rather, God alone decided whom He would receive on behalf of sinful mankind.

Consider how different this is from the concept of saints in the Roman, Eastern Orthodox, and (some) Anglican churches. Sinful men appoint for themselves other sinful men and women, and pray to them to mediate between their devotees and God. Not only is that contrary to the biblical pattern, but it undermines the one-and-only Mediatorship of Christ (I Timothy 2:5). How can sinners appoint another sinner to represent them to the sinless God? And why? When there is already a God-appointed and sinless Mediator interceding for us before the throne of God (Hebrews 7:25), is it not wickedly presumptuous to appoint a second, sinful mediator of our own creation? Yet that is what we see in the church buildings of the papal church.

To my mind, that can only be taken to mean that the congregations of Rome are no churches of Christ.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Are the Children of Christians Little Pagans? A Case for Infant Baptism

At first, one may look at the title I have used and expect that I am about to address the issue of discipline in the home. I certainly acknowledge the importance of that, but, no, it isn't my concern here.

Rather, I want to address part of the prejudice among evangelicals against infant baptism. Do credobaptists, that is, those who hold to the baptism only of professing believers, really think of their children as pagans, heathens, idolaters, atheists? I think that is the question that will help to eliminate their prejudice against paedobaptists, that is, those of us who believe in baptizing also the children of one or both believing parents.

To my mind, the key verse is I Corinthians 7:14: "The unbelieving husband is made holy because of his [believing] wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her [believing] husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." Paul is addressing a situation where one spouse in a marriage is converted to Christ, while the other remains in unbelief. He tells the believing spouse that he or she sanctifies the unbelieving spouse. On what grounds does he say so? Because, if that were not the case, then their children would be no different from the children of pagans. Since they are not, then there is something different about having a Christian parent.

I don't at all believe that Paul is teaching presumptive regeneration here (associated with Abraham Kuyper). That is, they aren't automatically Christians. After all, we are saved by faith in Christ, not by genetics. Rather, they are federally holy, or holy collectively with their parents, not necessarily in a personal, redemptive sense.

This is taught in other passages, as well, in both Testaments. In Isaiah 54:13, God says, "All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children." Our God takes a special interest in the children of His people. He even lays claim to them as His (Ezekiel 16:20)! He repeats Isaiah's promise in Acts 2:39: "The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself." These aren't promises that all of the children of believers will eventually become believers. We know of examples of children from godly homes who repudiated that heritage as adults. Think of Abraham and Ishmael. Abraham begged God to regenerate Ishmael (Genesis 17:18), but God's sovereign answer is "No" (verse 19). But God does promise that His eye is on our children, to bless them. Even in Ishmael's case, God says, "As for Ishmael, I have heard you [Abraham]; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly" (verse 20).

This is part of why Presbyterians baptize our children. We don't believe that baptism will save them. Nor do we believe that baptism is a promise of their future salvation. Rather, we believe that God has placed His special claim on out children as His own, so that they have a right to the mark of the covenant of grace.