Friday, September 30, 2016

Sola Scriptura: Did God Give Us Secret Instructions through the Pope?

One of the claims of the Roman Catholic Church is the the Bible is not sufficient for the conversion and sanctification of the Christian. Rather, she says, the Apostles left a Sacred Tradition which has been passed from bishop to bishop, down through history, a process called "apostolic succession." As the Catholic apologetics site linked here says, "Isn't the Bible Alone [sic] sufficient for us without all of the 'Tradition' that pollutes the Word of God with man-made stuff?  The answer is absolutely not."

Against this teaching, the Reformers taught one of the five solas, "sola scriptura," Latin for "Scripture alone."

In support of the Protestant view, I want to look at one of the things that Scripture says about itself in II Peter 1:3-4 (emphasis mine): "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and
godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire."

First, I want to point out that these verses are from the Apostle Peter, the supposed first pope and founder of the apostolic succession of one pope to another. Second, I want the reader to notice the pronouns that Peter uses: "us" three times, and "you"  once. While he refers to "He" or "Him" several times, he never once says "I" or "me." "He," that is, God, has granted "us" "all things that pertain to [eternal] life and godliness." We whom? Peter and his readers, the same ones he addresses as "you"! His emphasis is on the sufficiency of the truth that he share already with his fellow Christians, not a secret that will be kept by the pope until some time that serves his purpose.

Peter, the very man claimed by Rome as the beginning of their apostolic superiority, says that all Christians have what we need for eternal life and sanctification. There is no secret tradition, whether sacred or otherwise, of information for which we are accountable.

If the claims of Rome are contrary to the words of the man they claim as their founder, why do they make them? To my mind the answer is obvious: if the hierarchy of Rome has information that is essential for our salvation, and that we can get in no other way, then she has an absolute control over our salvation. And that is the exact spiritual bondage against which John Hus, John Wyclif, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Cramner, John Knox, and all of the other Reformers rebelled in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, and against which biblical Christian must battle even in our present day.

Monday, September 26, 2016

What About Those Who Have Never Heard of Jesus?

This question gets asked by all sorts of people: atheists, universalists (both the liberal and the supposedly-evangelical varieties), annihilationists. Anyone who opposes the justice of God eventually pops out this question as a final trump card. It really isn't so much.

Consider the Psalms.

In Psalm 19:1-4, David wrote:
"The heavens declare the glory of God,
     and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
     and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
     whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,

     and their words to the end of the world."

In a poetic fashion, David here describes God's revelation of Himself in the creation. The inanimate creation doesn't use literal speech, obviously. However, the beauty, order, and balance of the universe tells us that it came from the hands of a God who provides both beauty and sustenance for His creatures. This is also described in Psalm 104:10-16, where various creatures are described looking to the hand of God to provide for their daily needs. Poetry, true, but does it not eloquently reveal that dumb animals have more spiritual sense that do most people?

An anonymous Psalmist made a similar point in Psalm 98:2: "The Lord has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations." This time it isn't physical sustenance that is the topic, but rather the holy nature of God and the salvation that He has provided His people. That is, if dumb animals can depend on God for their daily bread, then men should know to look to Him, not just for bread, but for our spiritual welfare, too.

It is this latter revelation that the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 1:18: "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." But Paul looks at the other side of the equation. Where the Psalmists had described God's providential benefits to animals and to His people, Paul focuses on God's revelation of His wrath against unbelief. That is to say that there is no such thing as someone who has is ignorant of God, righteousness, and salvation or wrath. Rather, every man, woman, and child in the world has that information in every sensation coming to him from the world around him. However, the unbeliever hates that knowledge and suppresses it, puts it out of his consciousness, thinking thereby to avoid accountability for it.

So, in response to the question asked in the headline above, I ask a different question: should ignoring the truth exempt a person from accountability for that truth?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Our Need for a Mediator with God: the Gospel According to Job

"For He is not a man, as I am, that I might answer Him,
that we should come to trial together.
There is no arbiter between us,
who might lay his hand on us both.
Let Him take his rod away from me,
and let not dread of Him terrify me.
Then I would speak without fear of Him,

for I am not so in myself."
- Job 9:32-35 

Scripture tells us that all men are sinners (Romans 3:23): "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." That is a condition with eternal consequences, because sin kills us spiritually (Romans 6:23): "The wages of sin is death," and "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20). Our sinful condition separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2): "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear." Why is that? Because He is a holy God, and sin is rebellion against Him, and insults Him (Habakkuk 1:13): "You [God] are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong."

This is the spiritual situation addressed by Job in the verses above. He saw the condition of his heart and the affront this was to God. He despaired, because he could see no solution to his separation from God. "How can I be reconciled to my God?" was the cry of his heart. "Who will arbitrate between a guilty sinner and an offended God?" Who will bridge the separation between them?

Did he cry out without hope? No, for he gives the answer a little later (Job 19:25-27): "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another." This is one of the earliest expressions of the Gospel in the Bible. Job expressed his hope without knowing that Redeemer by name. But we know Him, because He is revealed in the New Testament (I Timothy 2:5-6): "There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time." That mediator, the arbitrator between sinful men and an offended God is the only God-man, Jesus Christ! "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved, for with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved" (Romans 10:9-10).

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Psalmic Prophecy of the Calling of the Gentiles

In Psalm 66:1-4, we find these wonderful words: "Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; give to Him glorious praise! Say to God, 'How awesome are Your deeds! So great is Your power that Your enemies come cringing to You. All the earth worships You and sings praises to You; they sing praises to Your name.'" The anonymous Psalmist makes a joyful call to the nations of the world to praise the God of Israel, the only true and living God. Then he makes a call equally joyous to God to take the Gentiles into His favor.

Let's consider, first, what it is not saying. Classical dispensationalism taught that the church was unknown in the Old Testament. Folks holding that system of doctrine claim that Jesus intended to create a political kingdom at His first coming, but was prevented by the unbelief of the Jews. As a result, He was forced to turn to the Gentiles, to build an unplanned church, until He returns to his plan for Israel during the millennium.

However, in this Psalm, we see that God had had a plan for bringing the Gentiles into His church long before Jesus's earthly ministry, and His Old Testament people knew about that plan (even if they lost sight of it by New Testament times). 

It is prophecies such as this one that are the basis of Paul's joyous hope for the Gentiles. That prospect was so valuable to him that he named himself the Apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13)! He understood the Hebrew prophecies to describe a turning of the Gentiles to the Jewish God, as those who "who were not My people" and "not loved" were instead to be called "sons of the living God" (Hosea 1:6, 8, 10; Romans 9:24-27). This is not "replacement theology" (as meaningless as that phrase is). While the Gentiles have benefited from the hardening of Israel, "Through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous" (Romans 11:11), and there is greater benefit yet to come, "if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean?" (verse 12), the benefit will also pass the other way, "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" (verses 25-26). When the number of Gentiles is complete, then ethnic Israel will again be revived, and the joining of the two groups will be so joyous as to be as if they had risen from the dead!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Jesus Saves: Effectual and Irresistible Grace in the Old Testament

One assertion made by Arminians is that God gives every person, without exception, enough grace to believe. They then claim that He leaves it to our free will whether to accept the offer of salvation.

Calvinists, in contrast, hold that every person, without exception, is a sinner (Romans 3:23), spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1), and, therefore, incapable of any spiritual good (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:10-12). It is only when God gives a man a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) that he becomes able to believe. And, in that person, God's grace is effectual. That is, we believe that Jesus does not merely make salvation available, but that He actually saves those for whom He died (Matthew 1:21, Ephesians 5:25).

It is that idea of effectual grace that I want to address.

Consider first Isaiah 53:11: "Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities." This verse is part of the well-known Suffering Servant chapter of Isaiah. It points to the then-future redemptive work of Christ, the "anguish of His soul." The prophet tells us that He would be satisfied, not by offering salvation, but by "mak[ing] many to be accounted righteous." To be accounted righteous is a straightforward definition of justification. This verse tells us that Jesus was satisfied with His sufferings because they would be effectual in the justification of many. Could He have been satisfied with a mere offer of justification which fails in many?

Next, look at Job 42:2: "[Job said,] I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted." This is Job speaking to God, acknowledging his subordination, on the grounds that God is omnipotent, able to achieve all that He intends. In fact, since Job is the far older book, it is his principle which is the basis for Isaiah's prophecy above.

Lastly, look at Psalm 135:6: "Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps." Like Job, the Psalmist acknowledges his subordination, because God is not restrained by anything outside Himself.

There is a sense in which Calvinists believe in "free will," that the will is free from coercion. However, we deny that it is free in the sense that a person can will anything contrary to his own nature. All men have a sinful nature, so our wills can only will sin, but freely, without external compulsion. In those whom he intends to save, God changes the will (Philippians 2:13), and effectually enables that person to believe. There is no other way.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Government Takeover of the Church?

I admit that I don't have much sympathy for the Jehovah's Witnesses, but the court case referenced here is a threat to orthodox churches, too.

In the Canadian province of Alberta, a provincial court has ruled that civil courts have the authority to intervene in ecclesiastical discipline cases. That completely undermines the self-government of the church, and revives the Erastianism of the European state-church system.

I hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith XXV:6: "There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ." There is no government Pope!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Why Do Some People Refuse to Believe in God?

In Psalm 52:3, ancient King David wrote, "You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right." Of whom is he speaking? The "mighty man" and "worker of deceit." The former word describes the atheist's view of himself: "I don't need a religious crutch." The latter is God's view of that same man. 

Why does the atheist not believe in God? Or, maybe I should say, why does he say that he doesn't believe in God? He will often give plenty of logical-sounding reasons, such as evolution, or evil in the world, etc. But those are a cover. God, who always knows our heart of hearts, diagnoses unbelief, not as a logical problem, but rather as a love of sin. To admit that the God of the Bible is real, and is the kind of God He says He is, is to admit that, first, the atheist is not God, and second, that he must choose between his secret knowledge of God and his love for rebellion against that God.

David describes it here in this Psalm: "You love evil." Notice that God doesn't offer to stage a debate with the atheist. At no time does He plead for a chance to prove Himself. After all, He is God, and you, I, the atheist on the street, or any conglomeration among humans, can demand no accounting of God's acting in His deity.

David's language here is a poetic version of Paul's words in Romans 1:18: "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." It would be funny if it weren't so horrific! All the time that the atheist is making his excuses for not believing in God, God is saying that He doesn't believe in atheists!

However, thanks to God, David also gives the solution. He continues in Psalm 52:8: "I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever." While the atheist is confident in the false presuppositions that form his illogic, the godly man depends on God's mercy, because that man of God is fully conscious of his wicked heart, of the judgment of God, and of his need for forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Reprobation: A Sorrowful Truth

"You are our Father,
though Abraham does not know us,
and Israel does not acknowledge us; 

You, O Lord, are our Father,
our Redeemer from of old is Your name.
O Lord, why do You make us wander from Your ways
and harden our heart, so that we fear You not?
Return for the sake of Your servants,
the tribes of Your heritage.
Your holy people held possession for a little while;f
our adversaries have trampled down Your sanctuary.
We have become like those over whom You have never ruled,
like those who are not called by Your name."

- Isaiah 63:16-19 

These are very sad words, near the end of the prophecies of Isaiah. Much of the Book of Isaiah is God's declarations of the apostasies of Israel, and her coming judgment at the hands of the Babylonians. And, as a member of the society, Isaiah has natural feelings of sorrow over the spiritual condition of his nation. In these verses, he gives vent to that sorrow. However, we don't see what we often see people say in the face of impending tragedy. At no point is he mystified about why things are happening. He never wonders why God can't seem to do anything. His reaction is very different.

Look at the questions he asks: "O Lord, why do You make us wander from Your ways and harden our heart?" His gut reaction is to attribute all to the sovereignty of God. This is the doctrine of reprobation. In our modern society, even among professing evangelicals, we have a serious problem with this doctrine. After all, aren't we the masters of our own fate? Of course, that very reaction is proof of how far bald-faced humanism has come to dominate both society and professing church. The goal of every man is self-actualization, happiness, self-fulfillment. And, of course, religion is supposed to serve those goals.

However, the Bible-believer must reject that worldview. What does the Bible say? "So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Corinthians 10:31). Ah, that is quite the reverse, isn't it? Life isn't for our fulfillment but for God's! That's why my own Presbyterian forefathers started both of our catechisms with that precept: "What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." The cite as proof both this verse from First Corinthians and Romans 11:36.
Notice that the principle of both Scripture and the Catechisms is God-centered, while society is man-centered. Not only are those contrary principles, they are hostile principles, necessarily in conflict with each other. Thus, I understand the hatred that people, whether professing Christians or otherwise, have for this doctrine. It is because it is a declaration of war on their comfortable self-love.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Irresistible Grace in Job: God Alone Is Sovereign

A common criticism that Arminians make of Calvinists is that we supposedly build our theology on one or two texts. However, that is a simple strawman argument, demonstrating that most Arminians get their information about Calvinism from other Arminians, not from the writings of Calvinists. We Calvinists are accused of reading Romans 9 to the exclusion of the rest of Scripture, which, Arminians would have us believe, say nothing about reformed theology. As is often the case of things which are repeated but never challenged, this is a case where it just isn't so.

Who is seated on the throne?
On this doctrine, I want to consider two verses from the book of Job, a book which should make most evangelicals uncomfortable, especially those of the prosperity stripe.

In Job 41:11 (compare Psalms 24:1 and 50:10), God is speaking: "Who has first given to Me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine." This is the basis of reformed theology, the understanding that God is God and we are not, and all things belong to Him, including us. I consider this the fundamental error of Arminianism, the effort to preserve man's "free will," as if it is our trump card against God's sovereignty over us. Scripture certainly makes no such exception.

How do we know that is His intent? We know by Job's answer in Job 42:2: "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted." Notice that Job interprets God's words in their broadest sense, to mean that God is not bounded by anything in the created world, even man's preferences. God's will is free, and cannot be thwarted. He does not bow before any supposed sovereignty among men. Rather, He is unreservedly sovereign over men.