Saturday, December 30, 2017

Catholic Images and the Second Commandment

Most Americans are familiar with the Ten Commandments from our Sunday School days as kids. Some of us can even recite them from memory. For those who can't, the Commandments are found in Exodus 20:2-17 (and repeated in Deuteronomy 5:6-21). The Second reads, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God..." In spite of such a plain ban, buildings of the Roman Catholic Church are notorious for the presence of images and statues, especially of the Virgin Mary. Shrines are even built to them in Catholic homes.

The first problem is that Catholic portrayals of the Commandments hide the Second, a problem which I address here.

However, when confronted, Catholics will dodge the implications of the commandment by claiming that their use of images of saints is a matter of devotion, not worship, and, therefore, not a violation of the commandment. For statues of Jesus, they claim to be worshiping Christ Himself, not the statue; the statue is merely an aid.

I have dealt with the issue of saint worship elsewhere (such as here). I want now to address the worship of Jesus by use of images of Him.

In Deuteronomy 12:29-30, Moses gives the Israelites a grave warning: "When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.'" This was written during the Conquest, as the Israelites were driving out the pagans in the Promised Land, as God had commanded them. We see immediately that He is warning them not to get sucked into the worship of the deities of the pagans, the very perversions for which God had judged the Canaanites. However, that wasn't the end of the warning: "You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods" (Deuteronomy 12:31). Not only did Jehovah forbid the Israelites to worship the Canaanite deities, He also forbade them to use pagan forms of worship to worship Him!

This was an error that Israel had already made in their travels in the Wilderness. When Aaron, Moses's brother, had made for them the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:1-6), in imitation of the pagan rituals that they had known in Egypt, they did not call it a new god, as is often mistakenly thought. Rather, they called the image "Jehovah" (verse 5)!

This is the death blow to all of the pretenses of Rome. She claims that there is no harm in using an image of Jesus, an image just like those used by the pagan Romans in earlier Christian history (just as Israel had learned from the Egyptians), because it is an image of Jesus, not of Jupiter. Yet, that is exactly the pretense of the Israelites as they called the Golden Calf "Jehovah"! And it is equally judged by God's words through Moses: "You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods" (Deuteronomy 12:31).

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Proving God: God Blesses His Word Alone

As I write this, I am working through the reading list for an apologetics course. The books mention several bible verses on the topic, such as II Corinthians 10:4-5 and I Peter 3:15. And I fully understand why those verses get a lot of attention. They are of obvious importance.

However, two other verses come to my mind that don't appear in apologetics texts.

The first is Luke 16:31. it comes at the end of the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. In the story, impoverished, suffering Lazarus goes to Heaven, while the unnamed rich man, who had ignored Lazarus on his doorstep during life, goes to Hell. From there, the rich man begs the Patriarch Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers of the reality of judgment and Hell. Then Jesus, in the voice of Abraham, answers, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead." The rich man represents the atheist in modern America, who claims that he would believe in God, if He just gave whatever evidence the atheist happens to demand. but no, says Jesus, that's a lie. Any man who rejects the evidence of the Bible, in which God has spoken to all men, has rejected the principle of evidence. What evidence can there be above God's personal testimonial, not just to His existence, but to His nature, His will, and His provision for the salvation of His people?

The other verse is Isaiah 55:11: "So shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." This is the flip-side of the verse from Luke. Where that verse said that no evidence will avail apart from God's Word, this one promises that His Word will succeed where He has purposed it.

Nowhere in Scripture does any preacher, including Jesus Himself, ever seek to prove the existence of God. Rather, they all take it for granted, and then proceed to apply His truth to their respective audiences.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

One God Means One Law for All Men

There is a common teaching among evangelicals that the Old Testament Law applied to (or may continue to apply to) ethnic Israel alone, not to Gentiles. This is an especially popular view among dispensationalists, but is also held by some who claim to follow New Covenant Theology (often abbreviated as NCT).

When it comes to the ceremonial laws, that is, those laws regarding sacrifices and clean versus unclean foods, etc., I certainly agree that those laws were for the church of Israel alone. This is clear from Paul's discussion of circumcision (e. g., Romans 2:25). However, it makes the false assumption that all law is ceremonial law. Really? So God had no law against murder or adultery except for Israel? If that were true, then the Gentiles could not be called sinners, because sin is defined by the Law (I John 3:4). But, more fundamentally, if the Law reflects the righteousness of God, then to claim that it did not apply to the Gentiles is to claim that they were or are outside the rule of the God of the Bible. Who could accept such an absurdity?

However, in addition to these logical arguments, there are explicit statements of Scripture to the contrary: "We know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God" (Romans 3:19). Paul certainly saw no limitation of God's righteousness to the nation of Israel. He held that the Law made every man in the world accountable to God. Accountable how? "There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:22-23). Accountable as sinners subject to the justice of God! And what is the consequence of that justice? "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).

The next natural question to ask is, How were and are the Gentiles held accountable to God's Law when they didn't have the written word of God? It's a logical question, but one based on a faulty assumption, that no one knows God's righteousness except those who can read it. And I would certainly agree that reading God's standards is a powerful tool toward obeying them. But think about the implications of the assumption. Did Adam and the patriarchs have no knowledge about how to obey God? Of course not. The Law was written in their hearts, just as is promised in the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:10, 10:16, Jeremiah 31:33). And even illiterate Gentiles experience the Law of God as conscience (Romans 2:15). That is the basis for the stunning statement that Paul makes in Romans 1:18-20: "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 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." Ignorance cannot be claimed as an excuse because God has eliminated all ignorance!

There can be only one law for all men because there is only one God for all men!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The People of God: Apostate Israel or Sodom?

A large segment of American Evangelicalism, especially of the dispensationalist stripe, insists on calling the nation of Israel "the people of God," and, therefore, pushing American government policy to an inordinate support for the government of the State of Israel.

However, I deny that the Jews are any such thing, or that there is a special blessing or curse on America, depending on our political attitude toward the modern nation of Israel.

Why? Well, I have mentioned some reasons before, such as here and here. I want to address an additional reason now.

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends the Apostles out on an early mission to the cities of the Jews. He explicitly forbids them to preach to the Gentiles or Samaritans. And of any city that rejects their message, he says (Matthew 10:15), "Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town." He extends that warning more explicitly in Matthew 11:20-24: "Then He began to denounce the cities where most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 'Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty
Fire Falls on Sodom
works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.'"

This is an astounding warning! We know what happened to Sodom (Genesis 18 and 19): It was destroyed with fire and brimstone when ten righteous men couldn't be found in her. Yet, Jesus says, Sodom was more righteous than were these Jewish cities that rejected Him and His message.

The question that this should raise in anyone's mind is, Did Jesus, therefore, prefer Sodom over these unbelieving Jews? And I think the answer is self-evident! The implication of that can only be that ethnicity has no standing in the purposes of God (Matthew 3:9, Galatians 3:7, and especially Acts 10:34-35). What implication does that have for the question I asked in the headline above? I will leave it to my reader to decide.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Why Does God Allow Evil to Continue?

In several places, the Bible talks about the effects of man's sins, not just on man himself, but on all of creation. That's because Adam was created to be the viceroy of God, the head of the creation. And, just as the bad decisions of a president affect our entire society, Adam's catastrophic choice brought ruin on the entire physical universe.

The primary reference is Genesis 3:17-19: "Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread." Moses touches again on this just a little later, in Genesis 5:29, referring to Noah: "Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands."

The Prophet Isaiah is even more graphic: "The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant" (Isaiah 24:5).

In the New Testament, Paul tells us (Romans 8:20-21), "The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God."

It is only natural to wonder why this curse continues. Why does God continue to allow hurricanes, earthquakes, AIDS, hunger, and war? And I think these verses allow us only one answer: God has ordained that the creation shall resist its human ruler until that ruler stops resisting God. That is, just as the creation was placed under a curse because of man's sin, it remains a curse until his sin ends. That is part of what is brought about as men turn to Christ in repentance and faith. "Through Him, [God shall] reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross" (Colossians 1:20).

"The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:19-23).

So the answer to the question I ask in the title is another question: How long will God allow evil to continue? How long will mankind prefer suffering evil to submitting to his proper Lord and God? They are the opposite sides of the same coin.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Christian Sabbath: A Continuing Delight

I have dealt with the Sabbath in three different ways in past posts. One was its continuing validity under the New Covenant. The Second was the proper observing of it. And the third has been to defend the Fist-Day Sabbath from attack by seventh-day sabbatarians, such as the Seventh-Day Adventists. My emphasis this time will be on its continuing validity.

One form of attack on the Sabbath is from an erroneous application of the true principle that the Mosaic ceremonial laws were fulfilled in Christ's atoning work, and are, therefore abrogated. This is why we no longer sacrifice lambs or treat some foods as unclean (another issue with the SDA's). The reason that the application of this true principle to the Sabbath is erroneous is because the Sabbath was not part of the ceremonial law (thought there are laws regarding the Sabbath).

Before I address that, there is one side issue I want to address. I often hear, "Jesus is our Sabbath." Really? Where does Scripture say that? Did Jesus perfectly fulfill and complete the Law? Of course. But in what way is the Fourth Commandment different from the other nine in that respect? Is Jesus our not-murderer? Does that mean that we are no longer bound by the Sixth Commandment? Obviously not! "Jesus is our Sabbath" is just one of those slogans that has been repeated so often without challenge that it is merely accepted as a truism. Well, I am challenging it. Show me the Scripture.

But back to my intended point.

What this objection fails to acknowledge is that the Sabbath wasn't a ceremonial ordinance (though it did gain some ceremonial adornments in the Mosaic economy). Rather, it was a creation ordinance: "On the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation" (Genesis 2:2-3). The Sabbath day had its origin, not with Moses, but with God in the original creation! That's why the commandment says, not "observe," but "remember" (Exodus 29:8). One remembers by looking back on something, not by beginning it.

Furthermore, we know that the Sabbath became an Israelite custom before it was inaugurated by Moses. Note Exodus 16:23, 25-26, four chapters before the Fourth Commandment: "Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning. [But] eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none." We have Moses's applying the Sabbath to the collection of manna, even before the commandment is given in chapter 20. Therefore, it was a practice among the people already!

I don't know why there is a special hatred of the Sabbath among today's Christians, even among those who claim to be Bible-believing. Why do we not want a day to enjoy the Lord and our families, without the burdens of our regular lives, as lawful as those burdens might be? God expects one day out of seven focused on Him, not on earning money or secular entertainment. I consider that to be a wonderful gift, not a restriction!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Judging the Truth of the Bible

In our political system, courts have the power to judge the validity of laws passed by Congress. What is the basis on which they  - at least, hypothetically - base their judgments? On the basis of the Constitution. That is, the Constitution has a higher, a priori, status than do Congressional acts. That makes sense, doesn't it? We expect to judge a thing by a standard which is higher than the thing judged.

That creates a problem when you seek to judge the highest thing. Against what would you judge the validity of the Constitution? In the field of law, there is no such higher standard.

That brings me to the discussion of the truth of the Bible. The challenge from the atheist is to prove the Bible. Yet, no one seems to notice the supposition hidden in the words of that question. That is, no one admits that it is a loaded question.

When the atheist (or whomever) demands proof for the Bible, he is demanding that the Bible be judged by a higher standard, one that he accepts. Not only must that standard, whether reason or experience, etc., be higher than the Bible, but it must be something that satisfies his intellectual nature. Thus, there are really two higher standards, with his mind as the highest of all.

Ah, here is that dastardly hidden supposition: that atheist is presupposing his own sovereignty, autonomy, his right to judge God.

This is as if some Congressman claimed that, before his law could be subjected to the Consitution, the Constitution must first be subjected to his personal satisfaction. Would he not be considered presumptuous? Perhaps even irrational?

Yet, no one makes any such judgment of the atheist who expects to judge God and His word before it can be accepted! Here is his argument, though it is never made explicit: "The Bible is not God's word; therefore, I am not responsible to its authority."

The only legitimate approach is to consider the Bible on its own authority. That is, for example, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16). Is that circular reasoning? After a fashion. However, as I have sought to demonstrate, a certain circularity is unavoidable when dealing with ultimate standards. If the Bible is God's word, then I must accept it as true. Any other approach assumes that it is not God's word, and is, thus, also circular: "It is not God's word; therefore, it is not God's word."

That's why no one in Scripture ever attempts to prove the truth of Scripture. The Prophets, Jesus, the Apostles, all assumed that it is absolute truth, and proceeded, not to prove it, but to apply it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Neutrality: There's No Need to Be a Fanatic!

Sin is an unpopular concept in today's culture. However, one sin is still acknowledged: to claim that anything is true, while something else is untrue. That is, the law of logic known as the Law of Non-Contradiction is now Public Enemy Number One. Of course, that popular opinion is self-refuting, because it says that it is an absolute truth that there is no absolute truth.

And this isn't just a secular problem. Even among professing Christians it is the "in thing" to say, "I believe X; you believe Y; but there is no way to know who is right, so we'll just agree to disagree." Well, I for one do not so agree! Why? Because to agree to that neutrality is a betrayal of God, the Bible, and truth.

In the words of Scripture (Joshua 24:15), "If it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." The context was a renewal of the covenant between Israel and Jehovah. Some of the Israelites had held on to the pagan deities that they had known in Egypt (verse 14). That is, they were hedging their bets, serving Jehovah one hour, and then the pagan deities the next. After all, why be fanatical about it? But Joshua rejected their neutrality, as did Jehovah. This is the same God who had warned the Israelites (Deuteronomy 4:24), "The LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God."

Unlike the suave and open-minded Christian of modern America, the God of the Bible very much believes in absolute truth. And He is it!

Jesus made the same point (Matthew 6:24): "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other." Therefore (Matthew 12:30), "Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters."

So, while it may be very sophisticated to choose both of every choice, Jesus is not sympathetic. The God of the Bible, whether in the Old Testament or in the New, rejects your neutrality. As we used to say, "It's my way or the highway."

Monday, December 11, 2017

Where Did the Righteous Go Upon Death Before Jesus?

This is an issue that has come up in several conversations recently. People keep asserting that they, i. e., Old Testament saints, went to someplace called "Abraham's Bosom," a phrase that occurs nowhere in the Old Testament, and only once in the New. You may recall that Jesus tells the story (Luke 16:19-31) of Lazarus and the Rich Man (traditionally nicknamed "Dives"). Dives went to Hell, but Lazarus went to Abraham's Bosom. The burden of proof is on those who want to claim that it is not an epithet for Heaven. So far, I have been given lots of insistence, but zero evidence.

Behind this evangelical version of Limbo is an assumption that the atonement in Jesus's blood could not have applied before it occurred in history. Why not? Don't we do anything analogous? When I sit down to eat at a restaurant, I receive my meal in expectation of the money I will pay for it after I eat it. A person gets to move into an apartment in the expectation of the rent he will pay later, not that he has already paid! That is the significance of the Revelation 13:8: "All who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain." The elect are written in the book of life in anticipation of the blood that will be shed for our redemption.

There is the answer to the question of the spiritual status of the godly down through history before the physical appearing of Jesus in Bethlehem. We were chosen, with the expectation of the blood atonement that would be applied at a later historical point (John 6:39). Therefore, the Old Testament saints were saved in no way different from us in the New Testament era (Acts 15:11). Why, then, should those saints require a different spiritual home from that which we will enjoy? There is no reason for such an assertion.

We also have more-explicit information on the subject. Most people know the story of Elijah, who was transported away without ever undergoing physical death. Where did he go? The text tells us: "As they [i. e., Elijah and Elisha] still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven."

There is no Limbo. There is no Limbo-substitute called "Abraham's Bosom." There are, and have only ever been, Heaven and Hell.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Is It a Sin to Say That There Is Hyperbole in Scripture?

A Skyline in Canaan?
In discussing Isaiah 14:3-23, I have denied that it refers to the fall of Satan. I insist that it really is about the king of Babylon, just as it says in verse 4. There is always someone who points out that there are specific references in the passage that exceed something that could be true of a mere human king. And, if one insists on taking a literal approach, that would be true. However, is it not inconsistent to insist on being literal about that, while being figurative about the subject of the passage? After all, Satan is mentioned nowhere in it.

My answer is simply that the Prophet is using hyperbolic language to emphasize the arrogance of Babylon, and especially of her king (compare Daniel 4:30-33). Hyperbole is a widely used literary form, using exaggerated language to emphasize a point. Yet, people accuse me of denying the inerrancy of Scripture by claiming that it contains hyperbole. Would I do so if I claimed that it uses poetry? Or allegory? Or humor? Certainly not! God uses all of the literary forms that any other form of human literature uses.

Here is another example: "Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven" (Deuteronomy 9:1). Would anyone suggest that Moses was literally saying that the Canaanites had skyscrapers in their defensive walls? I hope not! Rather, he is using hyperbole, deliberately-exagerrated language, to impress on Israel how powerful their human foes were, before pointing them (verse 3) to the power of their God: "Know therefore today that He who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you."

Hermeneutics requires the awareness of the literary form used in any particular passage. That isn't liberalism, but merely sound exegesis.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Without the Law, There is No Righteousness

I've noticed a certain reaction, whenever I cite from the Old Testament something which conflicts with another person's theology: "That's Old Testament, and we're under grace, not under law." Of course, that ignores the fact that most of the Old Testament  is not Law. It is also an abuse of Paul (Romans 6:14), who also said, "Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law" (Romans 3:31). So, the Apostle had no fantasy that the Law had no place in the life of a Christian (compare Matthew 5:19). From where, therefore, does this antinomian heresy arise?

It seems that everyone forgets the offer that Satan made to Adam: "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). We print thousands of pictures each year of the tree, the serpent lounging among its branches, while Even holds out an apple to Adam. It wasn't about the fruit! It is the words that are significant, and, in them, Satan offered - deceptively, of course - moral autonomy. The temptation to which the first man fell wasn't an apple, but rather the false promise of autonomy, to decide right and wrong for himself, rather than to receive the judgment of his Creator. Antinomianism is the same lie, but now distributed by men who claim to represent, not Satan, but God! Notice the element that those two words, antinomian and autonomy, share: "nomos," the Greek work for law. "Antinomian" means "against the Law," that is, God's law. "Autonomy" means "self law," again an opposition to God's Law.

What basis does God give for the righteousness that our lives should display (James 2:14-17)? God says, "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 19:2). Jesus paraphrased these same words in Matthew 5:48: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." In contrast to Satan, God says that our righteousness is centered on Him, not ourselves. the Apostle Peter quotes and applies those same words from Moses: "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy'" (I Peter 1:14-16). If Peter quotes the Mosaic Law to support his point, then he, at least, didn't believe that it has no role in the life of the Christian! He was no antinomian!

I give here the words of Paul, Peter, and Jesus against antinomianism. "Let God be true though every one were a liar" (Romans 3:4).

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Logical Use of Words and the Heresy of Modalism

I have frequent interactions with Modalists (also known as Oneness or Sabellians). They talk about Jesus's being His own Father. Or, when reading what Jesus says about the Father, they claim that His use of "He" and "We" really mean "I." I frequently respond that their doctrine deprives words of their meaning, undermining, not only communications among men, but, more importantly, communications from God to men. Either God uses deceptive language or He is utterly irrational, if Modalist exegesis is correct.

But I don't for a moment think that it is. Human reason is part of our having been made in the image of God (John 1:4, 9), which includes the ability to communicate. The need and ability to communicate imply the logical Law of Non-Contradiction, i. e., it is impossible for a word to mean both A and not-A (at the same time).

Consider how Jesus spoke about the Father during His earthly ministry: "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser" (John 15:1). He borrows from imagery that would have been familiar to the agrarian society of First-Century Palestine. What would a First-Century grape farmer think if he believed that Jesus meant that the vine and the vindresser were the same person? He would think, and properly so, that Jesus suffered from some form of dementia.

What if He had used imagery of our own time? "I am the software, and My Father is the programmer." Would any person, at least any English-speaking person, conceive that he might mean that the software IS the programmer? Yet that is the logic of  Modalism.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Science with Faith versus Scientism with Unbelief

Science is a useful and legitimate means of discovering and describing that which is. It cannot, however, describe what ought to be. That is why scientism, not science, per se, is opposed to biblical faith. I am using the term scientism in this sense: "The idea that the concepts of truth, falsity, explanation, and even understanding are all concepts which belong exclusively to science." It is a common justification for agnosticism and atheism.

It is quite respectable to claim, "I only believe what can be demonstrated by science." However, that is not really something a thinking person should say. Why? Well, let's start with the built-in, but unspoken, contradiction in the statement: By what scientific experimentation have you determined that science is the only legitimate source of truth? It is impossible to do so. The assertion is untestable, and, therefore, unscientific.

But the bigger problem is this: I think everyone would agree with the statement that there is evil in the world. There are things that happen which ought not happen. Innocent bystanders get mown down by drunk drivers. Small children die of cancer. Terrorists kill and maim men, women, and children who have done them no harm. But, again, we have an unspoken contradiction: how does science determine that these things are evil, or that they ought not to be? It cannot! Certainly it is true that scientists have an understanding that these things ought not to be. However, can anyone point to the scientific experiment by which any scientist demonstrated that truth?

No, no one can.

Rather, the scientist, or the atheist-on-the-street who preaches science, is making an a priori determination of what is evil, of what ought not to be. And what is the source of that a priori judgment? The Bible gives the answer: "They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them" (Romans 2:15). By the very declaration that something is evil and ought not to be, an atheist is declaring his suppressed knowledge that God is and that both the atheist and all other men are answerable to Him. 

Paul described this suppressed knowledge of God in Romans 1:18-22: "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 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. 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. Claiming to be wise, they became fools."

The atheist, while proudly proclaiming his unbelief, and claiming science as its justification, cannot help but reveal that his spoken claims are a deception, both to himself and to his audience. He cannot point a finger at anything that ought not to be without demonstrating that the biblical faith is true, and the triune God of the Bible is the only basis for rational thought and communication. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

What Does God Believe about Atheists?

In the Fourteenth Psalm, King David said a number of interesting things about unbelief.

In the first verse, he said:
"The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is none who does good."

He starts off without fanfare, proclaiming that unbelief is foolish. In our modern society, atheists proclaim their devotion to reason, to logic. But God is unimpressed with their declarations. Rather, He says, the problem is not logic, but righteousness. People believe in all sorts of crazy things, while proclaiming their rationality: aromatherapy, crystals power, aliens. But the question of God is in a class by itself. He has no place in their world of fantasies. Why? Because, in spite of their protestations, it isn't about logic. Rather, unlike crystals, candles, or little green men, the reality of God stands in the way of their hedonistic desires. 

David emphasizes this again in verse 3:
"They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one."

This is not news. We know from plenty of other places in Scripture that the natural man is wicked: Even as early as Genesis 6:5, we read, "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." The difference is that David moves that idea from the field of morality to the field of rationality. Men make their choices by reasoning from their wicked desires, not from a concern for objective truth.

However, David rips the band-aid off the delusion of the wicked in verse 5:
"There they are in great terror,for God is with the generation of the righteous."

While the atheist pats himself on the back, congratulating himself for kicking God out of his consciousness, David exposes his real fear that the awareness of God will creep back, exposing the shallowness of both his reason and his hedonistic devotion. the Apostle Paul makes the same point 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." Just like squeezing one end of a balloon, the suppression of awareness at one point threatens to burst out at another, to the terror of the unbeliever.

David offers a solution, one that requires true reason, in verse 7: "Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!" "Zion" is used in the Old Testament poetry as a reference to the church. the hope for the unbeliever is the Gospel proclamation sent out from God's people. What is the content of that proclamation? It is God's invitation to the wicked man, when he becomes weary of hedonism and hiding from the knowledge of God: "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  Incline your ear, and come to Me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant" (Isaiah 55:2-3).

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Law for All Men, Not Just for Israel

One form of antinomianism holds that the biblical Law is still valid (Matthew 5:18), but is, and has always been, only for Israel.

That is false.

Before I get to the Scriptural evidence against this assertion, let's just think about the logic of it. Israel was given a moral code to define her actions in the eyes of God: "Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness" (I John 3:4). Yet, according to the theologians of this stripe, Gentiles have no such standard. If sin is defined by the Law, but the Gentiles don't have the Law, does that not imply that Gentiles do not, therefore, have sin? If yes, according to what standard? And, whether one answers yes or no, does that not imply that Gentiles are not under the government of the God of the Bible? Isn't the source of their law their god, by definition?

I can't imagine how these antinomians can answer those questions. However, I don't have to wait for their answers because the Bible is explicitly opposed to any such concept of independence from God's Law.
The Ten Commandments

Paul tells us, "When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them" (Romans 2:14-15). Every man has a conscience, even those who are so wicked as to heave seared their consciences into insensitivity. And, according to Paul, those consciences reflect the Law of God written in our hearts. This is part of the image of God, remaining in us since the creation of Adam, and restored in the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:10, 10:16, from Jeremiah 31:33). Of course, that image has been marred by sin, so the law is not recalled perfectly in the heart. In that way, Israel had an advantage over the Gentiles (Romans 3:2).

While having the written Law was an advantage to Israel, that advantage falls far short of implying that the Gentiles were not accountable to God's Law. If that weren't the case, then would not the advantage have been with the Gentiles, for then they could never be accused of sin, and, therefore, had no need for a Savior? Yet, we know that is not the case, because Paul is specifically changed with carrying the Gospel to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8, I Timothy 2:7)! Why carry to the Gentiles something that they didn't need?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

"The Middle Way" or God's Way?

 It is rare to find a professing atheist in modern America. Rather, it is fashionable not to express assurednes in either direction. To be outspokenly Christian is disdained as fanaticism, while explicit atheism is considered arrogant. Instead, let us all be somewhere in the middle, Christian by heritage, but not too concerned about truth, or agnostic because we don't want to be dogmatic.

Stuff and nonsense, is my reaction! It is that of Jesus, too: "I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!" (Revelation 3:15).

God does not offer Himself as one option among many. He isn't an item on a smorgasbord, or an orphan preening in the hope that you will pick Him. That is a shabby view of God! 

The God of the Bible does not plead; He commands: "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). "This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ" (I John 3:23). There is no equivocation here, no middle among three choices. God tells us that it His way, with no other option.

We see here that God gives no consideration to modern moderation, Aristotle's middle way in every decision. This is a shocking concept to the modern American! Who does He think He is? God!?!? And the answer is, yes, that is exactly what He thinks.

There is no "golden mean" here. The options are obedience and disobedience, and the consequences of which option a man chooses."Now therefore fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods ... and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve... But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:14-15).

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Universe Without God: The Irrationality of the Atheist

In order to understand our world around us, whether in the informal sense of day-to-day living or in a formal,scientific manner, we must accept that every object that has come into existence and every action must have a cause. That is, when the pool ball rolls across the table, we understand that something hit it. We could never develop an understanding of the laws of the universe if we didn't have this presupposition.

However, in order to avoid invoking God, the atheist posits that the universe had a beginning without a cause. He even gives it a name, the Big Bang, as if naming it explains it. Whether he believes that matter came into existence at that point, or holds to a steady state of pulsing matter with repeated big bangs, he must imagine an event of that unimaginable scale without a cause.

That presupposition, if consistently followed through, must eliminate the possibility of a comprehensible universe. If things or events can occur without causes, then irrationality rules, planning is impossible, science is impossible. Thinking is impossible.

Of course, people would not be able to function in the world if we lived according to that presupposition. How can I even fry an egg for breakfast if I operate as if events and things have no causal connection? Yet people do exactly that.

How does that happen?

It's easy enough to explain. The atheist makes such an extreme assumption to rule God out of his consciousness. Then he lives his life with the opposite supposition, that all things and events actually occur in a God-made world that operates according to rational laws, such as that of cause and effect.

The Bible describes exactly this schizophrenic mentality: "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 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. 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. Claiming to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:18-22).

Speaking through the Apostle Paul, God exposes the self-deception of atheism. The created world shows the existence, sovereignty, and righteousness of God. That is why the universe is understandable to us. But the atheist seeks to maintain the illusion of autonomy, that he is sovereign, not God (confer Genesis 3:5), so he is forced to suppress his awareness of God. Since the triune biblical God is why the universe is rational (Acts 17:28, Colossians 1:17), by excluding God, the atheist's world becomes irrational and incomprehensible. Therefore, in order to function in God's world, the atheist compromises, without admitting the compromise, by denying God with his mouth, while acknowledging God with his life. Thus, to use Paul's words, they become fools.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Government Is to Be the Tool of God, Not a Tool Against Him

The Signing of the Mayflower Compact
Conservatives like to talk about the United States as "a Christian nation." And I do not doubt that her original settlers had such a concept for the new land. However, when our current Constitution was adopted in 1787, Article VI, section 3, included this provision: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." This provision has now been expanded also to apply to state and local government. Therefore, no atheist, Jew, Pagan, Muslim, or any other spiritual reprobate can be barred as such from rule anywhere in the United States.

The problem is with the assumption that government is supposed to be "neutral" when it comes to religion. Even if neutrality were truly possible, that assumption is contrary to Scripture: "He [i. e., God the Father] put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church" (Ephesians 1:22). The Father has given to the Son to rule over all things. There is no exception given there for government. Also, if God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30), how can it be rational to exclude one collection of men, i. e., government, from that command? We also have the explicit command to kings in Psalm 2:10-12: "Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him." Scripture does not allow us the luxury of believing that one group of men, or one human activity, is exempt from the royal rule of the ascended Jesus Christ.

Scripture is not neutral regarding God's instructions regarding the spiritual qualifications that He has set for governors in a Christian nation: "Look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people" (Exodus 18:21). "The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, [he must rule] in the fear of God" (II Samuel 23:3). God's standard for any level of governor is that he fear God, be capable, trustworthy, and have integrity. Has that been our experience under our "neutral" government? I wouldn't say so.

The moral disintegration of our country isn't something for which I hold the government responsible. After all, the government is acting consistently with the moral basis it has been given, that of "neutrality." Rather, I hold Christians responsible for disobedience to God and His word. Christians dismiss so many of God's commands with an unthinking, "But that's Old Testament." Ephesians 1:22 is certainly not Old Testament! But, even if it were, where does the Bible say that accountability to God's standards ended with Malachi? Nowhere! It is only the bad theology that assumes the end of God's laws, leaving "neutral "government to become the tool of the anti-Christian. The anti-Christian has no qualms about making religious use of government, and Christians have capitulated to that conquest without any effort at resistance.

Friday, November 17, 2017

What Is Faith?

We have a lot of common sayings on the issue of faith. Two that I sincerely hate are "a leap of faith" and "you just gotta have faith." The first means that we should go through life making hazardous decisions with insufficient information. The second is what we say to people dealing with personal or general catastrophes. Faith in what? Or whom? Well, faith in faith, i. e., the New Age concept that insistent belief creates reality.

In contrast, Theologian John Frame, in his "Apologetics," p. 53, says, "Faith is not mere rational thought, but it is not irrational either. It is not 'belief in the absence of evidence'; rather, it is a trust that rests on sufficient evidence... So faith does not believe despite the absence of evidence; rather, faith honors God's Word as sufficient evidence." In other words, "faith" is not a mental insistence without regard to objective circumstances. Rather, it is a belief in the power of God on the basis of His Word, the Bible. Faith isn't the vacuous stubbornness of popular psychology and New Age religion, but rather has a particular foundation and explicit content.

We see that for example, in Jude 1:3: "Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." Here the brother of Jesus is referring to faith as a body of belief, of doctrine, which was held in common by believers. He is telling us that the content of our faith matters! That is the opposite of what we say in the phrase I quoted above. Paul referred to the same thing in Titus 1:4: "To Titus, my true child in a common faith..." The emphasis here is on content, too, but a content held in common among believers, equivalent to Jude's "that was once for all delivered to the saints." Both inspired writers reject faith as a feeling or as an individual insistence, but rather as something held in common among all true believers, with a specific content of truth.

Luke describes that content in Acts 6:7: "The word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith." The content of the faith is the word of God, i. e., the Bible, and to believe it is to be obedient. Or, to express the converse, not to believe it is to be disobedient.

Therein lies the problem with faith in faith, without content. it assumes, contrary to Scripture, that God honors disobedience as if it were obedience. Again quoting Paul (Ephesians 5:6): "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for ... the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience." Not doing things God's way cannot be the source of assurance that our common encouragements assume, because they bring, not His blessings, but His wrath.

Here is a definition of biblical faith (Westminster Larger Catechism 72): "Question 72: What is justifying faith? Answer: Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation."

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Deception of Autonomy in Liberal Theology

The theological left makes its reputation by tearing down traditional theology, the traditional view of Scripture, traditional morality, etc. Liberal theologians make their academic reputations through novelty, and the more vigorously they speak against traditional Christianity, the more "modern" they are considered to be. No matter how academically rigorous, a conservative theologian is not going to get the recognition of prestigious universities (such as Yale or Harvard) or mainstream media.

What is it for which such theologians are the social heroes that they are portrayed to be?

Take your mind back to the earliest stories in the Bible, in particular to the temptation of Adam. There was find Satan making this offer to Eve, if she would be eat the forbidden fruit: "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). The temptation of Satan to which Even (and then Adam) capitulated was this offer of autonomy. No longer would their spiritual world center on God and His word, but instead they would determine for themselves their standards of good and evil.

Remember, also, the words of Paul: "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 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. 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. Claiming to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:18-22). Paul is describing the lie hidden in Satan's temptation. Though Adam and Even did eat the forbidden fruit, they did not receive the autonomy that they had been promised. Rather, they found that they were still conscious of God and His Law and their accountability to Him. What had changed is that they were now sinners, and hated that knowledge. Their posterity, which is all of mankind (Jesus excluded), would find this same thorn in our consciences. And, apart from regeneration, it is our nature to hate that knowledge and to suppress it from our awareness.

This is where the liberal theologian comes in. He talks about a god, and maybe a Jesus, something which is recognized by even the hardened unbeliever. But the liberal god has no bible, no Law, no righteousness, no Hell, but only touchy-feely concern for our self-esteem. The natural, fallen man can handle that god. He can get on that theological train because it keeps his conscience quiet, and leaves him with what Satan promised, the ability to decide for himself how to live, how to determine truth, and to be satisfied with a life without God. Or so he imagines.

The problem is that the offer of the liberal theologian is just as much a deception as it was from the mouth of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. And, just as was discovered by Adam and Eve, that deception gives no reward of autonomy, but rather only the judgment of death: "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).

Monday, November 13, 2017

Grace and Faith Do not Justify Antinomianism!

One thing at which Dispensationalism has succeeded is in making modern evangelicalism utterly hostile to God's Law. A phrase everyone seems to have memorized is, "We are under grace, not under law," a corruption of Romans 6:14. I bet you can't remember what the rest of the verse says!

However, one thing I have frequently noticed is that this shibboleth gets drawn out only when something in the Pentateuch disproves something an evangelical says. But, whenever the subject of homosexuality, for example, comes up, that same evangelical will pop out with Leviticus 18:22. And quoted correctly, unlike Romans 6:14!

There are so many problems with this doctrine, called antinomianism. Just logically speaking, it is offensive! The Law is the expression of God's moral nature. His precept for us is to reflect His holiness: "Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep My statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you" (Leviticus 20:7-8, quoted in I Peter 1:16). If a person rejects the Law out of hand, is he not rejecting the holiness of God? And with what is he replacing it? Whose holiness will he now imitate?

Also, biblically speaking, the assertion that Romans 6:14 eliminates the Law from the life of the Christian is contrary to what Paul himself tells us elsewhere in the same epistle: "Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law" (Romans 3:31). How can the same man in the same epistle endorse the Law in one verse and repudiate it in another? What does the assertion that he does so say about the view of Scripture of such persons? Or of the God who inspired the Scripture?

Let's look at another comment by Paul regarding the Law: "The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted" (I Timothy 1:9-11). Ah, here is the solution! The Law is not for those who are now living consistently with our new nature in Christ. It is for those who require an outside limit on their wickedness. Notice that he even includes false doctrine. That's something very few people will consider, a proper role of the state in the suppression of heresy.

Lets look once more at Romans 6:14, but the whole verse, properly quoted: "Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace." Now we can see that Paul's contrast isn't between law and grace, but between grace and bondage to sin. This is exactly what he says in I Timothy, that the Spirit-controlled man has his sin nature shackled on the inside. But the natural man has no such control, and, therefore, requires an external control, the Law of God.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Either Jesus Is God, or God Has Been Deceived!

In two different places, the Prophet Isaiah tells us that God does not share His glory: "I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other" (Isaiah 42:8); "My glory I will not give to another" (Isaiah 48:11). Both statements are clear, bold, and unequivocal.

However, we then have this statement from Jesus (John 17:5): "Now, Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed."

In the Old Testament, "God" (Hebrew, "Elohim") without qualification, as here in Isaiah, usually refers to the Trinity collectively. However, if a person denies that, or denies that it is the case here, then he has even greater difficulty in these passages, because they then become the words of God the Father. We have God's claiming that He does not share His glory. Then we have Jesus's claiming that He has shared, and will share, the glory of God the Father.

That can be nothing less that a claim that He is Himself that God who spoke through Isaiah!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Society Has a Choice: Wickedness or Righteousness

"When a land transgresses, it has many rulers,
     but with a man of understanding and knowledge,
     its stability will long continue.

When the righteous triumph, there is great glory,
     but when the wicked rise, people hide themselves.

When the wicked rise, people hide themselves,     
     but when they perish, the righteous increase."
- Proverbs 28:2, 12, 28 

The Book of Proverbs is the most practical book in the Bible, addressing every area of life, both for the man on the street and for the man in the highest socio-economic strata of society. Here the writer, apparently Solomon, addresses the latter, the leaders of society.

His first comment, verse 2, describes much of what we see in modern America. He says that a society where wickedness becomes commonplace will be plagued with a multiplication of government officials. As our society has moved away from its biblical traditions, have we not seen an expanding swarm of bureaucrats, promulgating more and more laws? Is there not a mindset that says that social order will be restored if we just come up with the right regulations? Of course there is! It is a humanistic mindset which claims that morality is a matter of law, not grace, and even that is the autonomous laws of men, not the sovereign laws of God. It is the plague of tyranny!

The second comment, verse 12, also describes a humanistic society in moral breakdown. As biblical morality has broken down, have we not become a society of fear? We often hear of a golden age when no one had to lock his doors at night, or where no parents had to explain "stranger danger" to our children. People lament the loss of neighborliness, because too many people fear walking the streets of their own neighborhoods, due to gangs. When was the last time a woman felt safe walking down her own street? 

The third comment, verse 28, also describes the fear of peaceful people, sealed in their own homes for fear of the chaos outside. Yet, unlike the other two verses, this one describes a solution: "When they [the wicked] perish, the righteous increase." Note that God, speaking through Solomon, does not advocate a new social program or a new government agency as the solution, but rather says that righteousness will increase as the wicked perish! The wicked do not need self-esteem or social support. Rather, society needs for them to be removed. We have absorbed a humanistic mindset that says that wickedness is a disorder, for which the rest of society is responsible. It isn't! Wickedness is a choice, and violence is its consequence. Humanism, therefore, puts the welfare of the wicked ahead of the welfare of the peaceable members of society. Therefore, until that mindset is changed, we can only anticipate that wickedness will continue to dominate American society.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Godly Men Love God's Sabbath

When talking about the importance of the Sabbath, I have noticed that most Christians will make a dismissive remark about its being ceremonial law. That statement is false, since the Sabbath long preceded the time of Moses (Genesis 2:2-3). Even more, though, it ignores the role the Sabbath played in the rest of the Old Testament. The godly people of Israel valued the Sabbath. In fact, that quality is used in the Old Testament as a distinguishing mark between pious and nominal Israelites.

Before the Babylonian exile, God, speaking through the Prophet Jeremiah, warned the people of Israel, "If you do not listen to me, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and enter by the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched" (Jeremiah 17:27, but look at the whole passage from 21 to 27). Yet, we know that Judah ignored the warning, and it was fulfilled in the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586BC.

After the exile, the governor of Israel - appointed by the king of Persia, but God's man - Nehemiah, remembered these words, and tried to start the restoration of Judah on better footing. First, he recognized the pattern of Sabbath desecration: "In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself! Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, 'What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath'" (Nehemiah 13:15-18). Both the Jews themselves and the foreigners resident among them were trampling God's day, just as their ancestors had in the time of Jeremiah. They had learned no lessons from their seventy years of exile.

So, he commanded reforms: "As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day. Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. But I warned them and said to them, 'Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.' From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath. Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love" (Nehemiah 13:19-22). This passage shows both the binding nature of the Sabbath for the people of God and the responsibility of the civil magistrate to fence the day from abomination.

This is the basis for the Westminster Larger Catechism (question 117): "The sabbath or Lord's day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to betaken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God's worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day." Though the day has been changed from the seventh to the first, the Sabbath principle is just as binding as it was to Jeremiah and Nehemiah.

Governor Nehemiah

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Prosperity Gospel: A Baptized Get-Rich-Quick Scheme

The Proverbs say a lot about how a man is to support himself and his family and advance in the material aspects of his life. However, I am often left wondering if Christians have read that book. Maybe it has languished as part of the dispensationalist dismissal of the Old Testament (except the portions that they can use for their wild-eyed eschatological theories).

I am especially troubled by the Prosperity Gospel movement, not just here in America, but, increasingly, spreading in the mission field, especially Nigeria and the Philippines. These ministers, mostly of a Pentecostal origin, who claim that the Christian life consists in the accumulation of shiny objects, such as fancy cars, big houses, expensive suits, or big hairdos. The favor of God, they claim, is evidenced by flashy stuff, especially for their ministers, such as Creflo Dollar's private jet.

This is not God's way. While He calls Himself the one who teaches us to acquire wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18), He also says, "Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist" (Proverbs 23:4).

Where is the balance here? Wealth is clearly not sinful, since He promotes it. However, in the getting of wealth, there is much more that He has to say.

Proverbs 28:6: "Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity, than a rich man who is crooked in his ways." Let's start with priorities. Wealth is not worth the selling of our souls, as Dollar has. If faced with the choice, then the man of God sticks to his integrity. It cannot be for sale.

Proverbs 28:19: "Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty."  Godly wealth comes from legitimate, honest work. The example here is agriculture. This isn't a way to get rich quick. Rather, it is the day-in, day-out work of honest labor. Dishonest, instant gains will just as instantly disappear, leaving a man with "plenty of poverty." 

The next verse, Proverbs 28:20, is even stronger: "A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished." The drive to get rich quick will have the opposite effect, as God will give that man the consequence of poverty. Notice the contrast between faithfulness and the drive for easy wealth. They cannot coexist (Matthew 6:24). 

And lastly, Proverbs 28:22: "A stingy man hastens after wealth, and does not know that poverty will come upon him." This verse addresses the opposite extreme, the stingy or miserly man. This is not about thrift, something which is otherwise commended in Scripture. Rather, this is about the man who turns a blind eye to the needs of his neighbor, though he has the means to help him (Proverbs 14:21, 21:10).

I keep thinking of these principles, as I watch people shelling out money for lottery tickets. Where does that money come from? We know that poor people are more likely to buy lottery tickets. They are spending their mortgages, or their kids' college funds, or even money that would have gone to putting food on their tables. God will not honor such foolishness.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Circular Reasoning in Christian Thought

A true Christian will always base his spiritual views on the Scriptures. This is both proper and necessary. If I believe in God, then I must believe what He says. That seems obvious to me.

However, the atheist responds with an accusation of circular reasoning. That is, the Christian's knowledge about God is based on the Bible, and His trust in the Bible is based on his knowledge of God. And, as far as it goes, the accusation is true.

However, there is an unstated premise in the atheist's attack. That unstated premise is that the atheist does not use circular reasoning. Is that premise true? In order for a conclusion to be true, then its premises must be true and organized according to the objective rules of logic.

Here is the atheist's argument, in the form of a syllogism:
     Truth is based on logic.
     Logic does not produce a belief in the bible.
     Therefore, the logical person does not accept the Bible as a standard of truth.

Do you see the problem in this argument? Actually, there are two problems, one stated and the other not.The stated problem is that the conclusion is a restatement of the first premise. That is called "begging the question," a logical fallacy. The second problem is that this argument is a logical argument. That is, logic is used to prove that logic is superior to the Bible. Or to be explicit, using logic to prove logic is itself a circular argument. In fact, it is impossible to avoid a circular argument to prove an ultimate standard of truth.

Therefore, the accusation of the atheist applies to himself as much as it does to the Christian.

However, I deny that circularity is a fatal accusation against biblical Christianity. Why? Because it is also the flaw of the argument against Christianity. Think of it this way: If God is real, and the Bible is true, then what it says is ultimate truth. By its very nature, that which is ultimate has no higher standard against which it can be judged. Therefore, it can only be judged according to its own presuppositions. Then, the evidence against Christian theism can only be, not that we didn't start with evidence, but rather that it leads to irrational results, such as contradiction, or something which is demonstrably false. That means that the burden of proof is not on the Christian, who is acting according to reason with proper justification, but rather on the atheist to demonstrate the falsity of the Bible.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Mission of the Church: Our Marching Orders

     In our original creation, God gave our first parents certain responsibilities in the new world. As the bearer of the imago dei, Adam was given the tasks of exercising dominion in the world, reproducing, and organizing the fruitfulness of the world (Genesis 1:26-30). In these ways, Adam was to be God’s viceroy, exercising a role analogous to that of God, but subordinate to Him. However, Adam rebelled against God, and marred the image, such that his descendants bore, not the image of God, but rather the image of Adam (5:3). As a result, Adam was cursed with death, and all his labors were cursed with futility, and His wife was cursed in all her familial relations (3:16-19). Yet, the viceroyal calling of Adam was not revoked, as we see in its renewal to Noah after the Flood: “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Every beast of the earth and every bird of the sky and all that moves on the earth and all the fish of the sea will fear you and be terrified of you. Every moving thing that lives will be food for you. I give you everything, just as I gave you the green plant” (Genesis 9:1-3).
    We continue to see hints of this dominion covenant as the covenantal history continues. For example, we see God’s promise to Abraham that all the nations will be blessed through him (e. g., Gen. 12:2-3). Part of this plan is seen in the mediatorial role that God gives His people toward the rest of the world, such as Abraham’s intercession in 18:22-33, and Jacob’s altar work in 35:1-15. The godly seed are called to rulership, such as in 27:29, 41:38-49, and 49:10: “The scepter shall not depart from judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to him will be the obedience of the people.”
    Under the Old Covenant, this calling reached its pinnacle in the royal priesthood: “You will be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 16:6). Yet, this calling was not limited to israel or to the Mosaic economy, as the Apostle Peter made clear: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may declare the goodness of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9). Peter expands the calling explaining it as a responsibility to represent Him who bought us to the unbelieving rest of the world. He says that, as priests, we are to offer up spiritual sacrifices (verse 5). What are those sacrifices? Our bodies (Romans 12:1), our material possessions (Philippians 4:18), our praises (Hebrews 13:15), and our prayers (James 5:16). Thus, everything in our day to day lives is subservient to our calling as priests. Our bodies are to be given for the work of God. Our possessions are to be given for the work of God. Our praises are to be given in our work (as Piper says, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever,” p. 35). And our prayers are to be offered for each other and for the recipients of our message.
    As God’s nation of priests, Israel was explicitly instructed to portray Him to the nations. There was both a passive sense of this mission, such as in Deuteronomy 4:6: “Therefore, keep and do them [i. e., the Law], for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations which shall hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” Among other things, the Law was intended by God (preceptually speaking, not in the sense of a failed decree) to make His people a shining example to the pagan nations around them. This theme, too, was repeated in the New Testament: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a basket, but on a candlestick, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
    It is this shining example that leads to the fulfillment of the promises of the Father to the Son: “All the ends of the world will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the nations will worship before You” (PSalm 22:27). Notice especially here the fulfillment of Piper’s thesis of missions leading to worship. Also, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, in those days ten men from every language of the nations will take hold of the garment of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (Zechariah 8:23). Thus, we see that a missionary concern didn’t start with the New Testament.
    The missionary calling of Israel was not merely passive, however. God’s calling to them was a call to action: “Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled… [For] you are My witnesses, says the LORD, and my servant whom i have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, that I am He… I, even I, am the LORD, and besides Me there is no Savior… therefore, you are My witnesses, that I am God” (Isaiah 43:9-12). God reveals Himself to israel, with the explicit intent that that nation would then be His witnesses, His missionaries, to the rest of the world. While Israel fell far short of her calling, her failure wasn’t absolute. We have the story of Ruth, in which a Moabitess comes to believe in the true God (1:!6), in spite of the restriction in Deuteronomy 23:3, and becomes an ancestress both of King David and of Jesus Christ.
    Another principle in the Old Testament is the creation of the new heavens and new earth: “I create a new new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create, for I create Jerusalem for rejoicing and her people for joy. I will rejoice in jerusalem and be glad in my people; and the voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying” (Isaiah 6517-19). In this new heavens and new earth, “All flesh shall come to worship before Me, says the LORD” (66:23). Peter adds that, “according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (II Peter 3:13). Contrary to the claims of the premillennialists, this cannot be a reference to the eternal state, because there will still be death and a need to eat (Is. 65:20). Rather, this is a description of the New Jerusalem, the church in its prosperity (ibid., verses 18-19, Heb. 12:220, where righteousness shall dominate (II Peter 3:13), though some sinners remain (Is. 65:20). This is a description of the result of the mission of God, a prosperous church in a world, not where the curse has been completely eliminated, but in which the Gospel has created a world in which the nations are largely converted and living lives commensurate to their spiritual state: “There shall no longer be an infant who lives only a few days, nor an old man who has not filled out his days. For the child shall die a hundred years old, but the sinner being a hundred years old shall be accursed” (ibid.).
    It is against this Old Testament background that we see the significance of the missionary heart of Jesus: “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom… But when he saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion for them, because they fainted and were scattered, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘the harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He will send out laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:35-38). This reveals three things about the divine mission: first, it is based on the compassion of Jesus; second, it is the responsibility that he gives to His disciples; and third,  a missionary goes out only by the calling and sending of God (compare Isaiah 6:9). This is an astonishing passage, because we know that the purpose of Christ was to redeem the elect (john 3:16, Ephesians 5:25, etc.). However, this passage shows us that, separate from the issue of election, He was not blind to the rest of humanity, but was, rather, filled with sorrow by their sin, spiritual blindness, disease, futility, and even their stubbornness. Consider His statement in Matthew 23:37: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you, how often I would have gathered your children as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not!” These same people that he condemned to judgment for the murder of the prophets (see the previous verse and the Parable of the tenants, Matthew 21:33-44), brought Him to tears of sorrow over their hardheartedness.
    Out of this compassion, Jesus passed His missionary heart on to His disciples in the Great Commission. So important is this to God that the Holy Spirit inspired it over and over, as the Apostles wrote the New Testament. Of course, the best-known version is that of Matthew 28:18-20: “Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth. 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, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’” These three sentences teach us two main things about the call of Jesus to evangelize. First, our mission is not a power in ourselves, but is, rather, dependent on His mediatorial kingship. The mission of the Christian is to serve as the frontline combatant in Christ’s conquest of the nations (Revelation 11:15). He has already gained all of the authority necessary to apply His claims to the nations: “I have installed My king on Zion, My holy hill. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession” (Psalm 2:6, 8). The Father promised Him the nations, and the Great Commission is His claim to that which was promised. So important is this authority to our mission that He mentions it twice, as the basis of our mission, and as the unfailing encouragement to continue the battle, even in the face of apparent failures. Second, the Great Commission indicates what a mission is, the things that our divine and royal general has given us to do. Not just to proclaim the Gospel, and not just to win a convert here and another there, but, through His effectual authority, to disciple the nations, which means to convert them, to baptize them, and to train them in obedience to God’s word. This is not evangelism as extraction from the world, but as overcoming the world!
    In Mark 16:15, we have the words of Jesus explicitly to the Eleven: “Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved. But he who does not believe will be condemned.” This version of the Great Commission appears to be aimed specifically at the Apostles, not disciples in general, both because of the introduction to it (verse 14), and also because of the miraculous consequences. The extraordinary signs were for the verification of the ministry of the Apostles ( Mark 16:20, Acts 14:3, II Corinthians 12:12, Hebrews 2:3-4). However, it does indicate to all Christians the importance of profligate proclamation of the Gospel.
    Finally, in His last earthly sermon, Jesus announced to the gathered, but frightened, Church, “You
shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We see some of the same themes from Matthew, but made more explicit. There, the Lord had promised the power of His authority in the mission of the Church. Here He tells them that that authority would work by the presence of the Holy Spirit. There, He had sent them to all nations. Here He assigns them a concentric geographical series to achieve that assignment: Start in jerusalem, your current environs, then expand to the immediate surrounding area of Judea and Samaria, and then on to the rest of the nations of the world. We quickly see the fulfillment of this battle plan, as the persecution that broke out after the stoning of Stephen first drove disciples into Samaria (Acts 8:5), then to Gentiles in general (ibid., 10:45), and then to more-distant regions (ibid., 11:19). Paul took it to the final stage in deliberately seeking out unreached regions for his mission: “I have strived to preach the Gospel, [but] not where Christ was named, so that I should not build on another man’s foundation” (Romans 15:20).