Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Absolution: Purchased by Christ, Declared by a Minister, not Granted by a Priest

According to the Catholic Church, "Absolution proper is that act of the priest whereby, in the Sacrament of Penance, he frees man from sin." That is, a Catholic member can go to his priest, confess his sins, and receive forgiveness from that priest. Granted, the article goes on to explain, "It presupposes on the part of the penitent, contrition, confession, and promise at least of satisfaction; on the part of the minister, valid reception of the Order of Priesthood and jurisdiction, granted by competent authority, over the person
receiving the sacrament." Notice what is not mentioned: the satisfaction for sin in Jesus Christ on the cross. Thus, the source of forgiveness is the dispensation of the church organization, not by the Person and work of the Savior.

The Catholic doctrine is explained as an application of the words of Jesus (John 20:20-23): "When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.'" This passage is from one of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Therefore, it was after, and presupposes, His redemptive work in the crucifixion and resurrection. Therefore, He had already achieved what Paul describes in Romans 3:25: "Jesus Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith."

What that means is that Jesus wasn't giving an original power to the Apostles - much less to any church hierarchy - to forgive sins. Ministers, instead, have the authority to declare to the true believer what Jesus has done on his behalf (Romans 5:6): "While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." If the person lacks faith, then any declaration by the minister is ineffectual (Matthew 10:13). It cannot save him apart from faith, not in the minister, but in Jesus Christ.

One may claim that there is no harm done by Rome to the person who understands the truth. And I would grant that (except, why then is he looking to a priest for absolution?). However, what about the person who doesn't understand? The harm is that he has been convinced to find his salvation in a man and the organization that man represents. And there can be none there! Rather, his only hope for absolution is by faith in the God-man who purchased that absolution on the cross two-thousand years ago. His conscience has been assuaged on a false basis, leaving him still in his sins! It is as if he has a cancer and thinks he has been cured by a sugar pill.

Monday, March 27, 2017

God Loves Us Too Much to Let Us Fall Away!

The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is very precious to me. I know the wickedness of my own heart to be well-aware that I would reject all that I have in Jesus Christ and never look back. I will never understand those that object to it, as if they are such spiritual superheroes that their eternity is secure in their own power alone. There are also a lot of people who hold to some version of perseverance while rejecting the other doctrines of grace. That is nonsensical, too, pretending that I can get saved by my own free will, but then throwing it away for the rest of my earthly existence. A poisoned headwater can never produce a healthful stream!

A precious verse on the subject is Jeremiah 32:40: "I [God] will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will never turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of Me in their hearts, that they may not turn from Me."

Notice the carrot-and-stick approach God uses. He gives the positive incentive of His covenant, His unfailing promises. Then He adds the negative incentive of "fear." That is, He gives warnings of the consequences of apostasy, not because a true believer can ultimately fall away, but as a means of keeping us on the path. In fact, that provides the answer to the Arminians who repeatedly bring up such warnings as Hebrews 6:4-6 as supposed proof that the believer is not secure. The writer of Hebrews was demonstrating this principle from Jeremiah, of God's giving us fear so that we will not turn away from Him.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Biblical Apologetics

"Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God, through the folly of what we preach, to save those who believe... Yet, among the mature, we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory... And, even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those are perishing. In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God... [For] the natural person does not
Paul Preaching
accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them, because they are spiritually discerned
- I Corinthians 1:21, 2:4-5, II Corinthians 4:3-4, I Corinthians 2:14

The classical apologetics approach is to memorize lots of facts: biblical manuscripts, archeology, evolution, etc. These facts are intended to answer every conceivable objection that an unbeliever might have. It is based on an assumption that unbelief is a matter of ignorance, and that enough facts will convince the unbeliever to become a believer.

The problem is that there is no such indication in Scripture. When we read the Book of Acts, what answer do the evangelists give to their audiences? A list of facts, an expectation that there is a common ground from which an unbeliever can be led to belief? Not even once. Rather, the Apostles always answered with Scripture.

In the verse I quote above from the two epistles to the Corinthians, what does Paul tell us about the process of apologetics? He tells us that God didn't choose bald facts as the means to convert the unbeliever. Rather, He chose the folly of preaching (see also Romans 10:13-21). That's because belief doesn't come from an exercise of intellect. Unbelievers already know about God (Romans 1:18). Paul made that same point when he pointed out the altar to "the unknown god" in Athens (Acts 17:23). The problem isn't a lack of information, but rather that they hate God and the knowledge that they are answerable to Him. The problem for the unbeliever isn't ignorance but unbelief (Romans 8:7)!

What is the nature of the unbeliever that is addressed by the apologist? It is that Satan has blinded him, not to knowledge, but to consequences. It is only the Holy Spirit, not a list of facts, that can tear away that willful blindness, because spiritual truth isn't understood as bald facts, but as a spiritual revelation.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What Is a Sin unto Death?

In I John 5:16, the Apostle says something odd: "If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that." Three times in the one verse, John refers to a sin that leads to death. The interpretation of that phrase is one that has divided biblical Christians throughout history.

John Calvin says, "I have already said that the sin to which there is no hope of pardon left, is thus called. But it may be asked, what this is; for it must be very atrocious, when God thus so severely punishes it. It may be gathered from the context, that it is not, as they say, a partial fall, or a transgression of a single commandment, but apostasy, by which men wholly alienate themselves from God. For the Apostle afterwards adds, that the children of God do not sin, that is, that they do not forsake God, and wholly surrender themselves to Satan, to be his slaves. Such a defection, it is no wonder that it is mortal; for God never thus deprives his own people of the grace of the Spirit; but they ever retain some spark of true religion.
The Apostle John
They must then be reprobate and given up to destruction, who thus fall away so as to have no fear of God." And, to an extent, I agree with him. The apostate is condemned. the problem with that is that no man knows whether another is finally apostate, until that person is dead, so that he has no opportunity for repentance. Until then, the Christian has good reason to pray that God would restore the man who has lapsed from his profession. Therefore, I cannot accept that Calvin is correct here.

It is commonly held that John is referring to the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31). And I grant that is a plausible interpretation, because it is the only sin described in Scripture for which there is no forgiveness. I could see Calvin's interpretation in this case. However, I'm not sure that solves our problem, because Jesus didn't explain what constitutes blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, yet it is something that John considers discernible to his audience. Furthermore, since John was present when Jesus made that declaration, why didn't he use the words of Jesus, if that is the sin that he meant? So, while I agree that this interpretation is possible, I do not see it as probable.

My personal opinion is that John is referring neither to ultimate apostasy nor the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (which are probably the same thing). Rather, I think he means those sins that make the perpetrator subject to capital punishment, such as murder. That is, John expects Christians to support the godly social order, not to expect God to undermine lawful justice. he is repeating a concept of Moses's: "If a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance" (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). That land is polluted by the tolerance of heinous wickedness, and it is the responsibility of the godly man to work for, and to maintain, God's justice as the means of removing that pollution.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Everlasting Father" and "Father of Nations"

A major weakness of Modalism is the habit of its followers to take one isolated verse and interpret the rest of Scripture through that one verse. For example, they cite Acts 2:38 and subordinate all of the biblical references to justification by faith to their interpretation of that one verse. In the same way, they claim that Jesus is the incarnation of the Father on the basis of one reference, Isaiah 9:6: "For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." If you challenge them to produce a place that names Jesus "the Father," this is the only one they can produce. 

I will certainly grant that the verse does refer to Jesus, and describes the ministry He was to have as the only Mediator between God and men (I Timothy 2:5). However, I deny vehemently that it says or implies that He was to be God the Father in the flesh.

First, the titles in the verse refer to various offices that the Messiah would hold. He would be a Wonderful Counselor. To whom? To us. He would be Mighty God. To whom? To us. He would be the Prince of Peace. To whom? To us. He would also be an Everlasting Father. To whom? Not to us, the Modalist claims, but to Himself. To do such violence to grammar is a sign of a false hermeneutic. Modalists will talk about the importance of context in understanding Scripture, while yet committing this brazen act of ripping two words out of the context of their very sentence!

In contrast, Abraham is called "father of nations" repeatedly, in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, the phrase is applied to him three times in Genesis 17:4-6. That's three times in three verses! Paul refers to him as "father of nations" twice in Romans 4:17-18. So, five times in just five verses, in both testaments. So, if anyone does, I would think that Abraham has a better claim to everlasting fatherhood than Jesus does. After all, He is called "Father" in just one verse, and never in the New Testament. Challenged to show anyplace where Jesus refers to Himself, or is referred to by any of the Apostles, as "Father," the Modalist will only respond with steely silence.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Men and the Politics of Abortion

"David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, 'Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us. How then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.' But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, 'Is the child dead?' They said, 'He is dead.' Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, 'What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.' He said, While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, 'Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?'"
- II Samuel 12:16-22

These verses are from the passage that describes David's sin with Bathsheba. He had seen her bathing and desired for himself, even though she was a married woman. He got her pregnant, and tried to arrange circumstances that would make it appear that her husband was the true father, a scheme which failed. That husband, Uriah, was in the army, and David arranged to have him killed. Thus, David compounded the sin of lust with adultery and then with murder. Horrific under any circumstances, but especially in God's anointed king over His people..

After Uriah was killed, David took Bathsheba into his palace, where she gave birth to a son. However, God was displeased, and the infant died.

I see this as applying to our own day in the holocaust of abortion. So many men are impregnating women who aren't their wives. Then they are avoiding responsibility for those women and their children by sending them to the abortionists. Where David murdered the husband of the object of his lust, today's men murder the babies who are victims of their lust. Victimized women, compounded with victimized children, and the men avoid any accountability. In the story of David and Bathsheba, David accepted responsibility for his sins. Today's men rarely do.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Jesus on the Doctrines of Grace

When discussing the so-called Five Points of Calvinism, people tend to focus on the writings of Paul. that is hardly surprising, since he develops those doctrines much more than any other biblical author. however, he does not have exclusive claim on them.

Sometimes we forget that Jesus Himself taught about the doctrines of grace.

"'What must we do, to be doing the works of God?' Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.' So they said to Him, 'Then what sign do You do, that we may see and believe You? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, "He gave them bread from heaven to eat."' Jesus then said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' They said to Him, 'Sir, give us this bread always.'"
- John 6:28-34

Here we see effectual calling, an aspect of irresistible grace. It is not the will of men to believe. Rather, it is something that God causes us to do. That's why Paul says, "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (Romans 9:16).

"Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.'
- John 6:35-40

This section shows particular atonement ("all that the Father gives me"), irresistible grace ("will come to Me"), and perseverance of the saints ("I will lose nothing").

"So the Jews grumbled about Him, because He said, 'I am the bread that came down from heaven.' They said, 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, "I have come down from heaven"?' Jesus answered them, 'Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.'"
- John 6:41-44

And here we see reprobation ("no one can come to Me unless the Father draws Him").

Thus, in this one passage, John 6:31-44, Jesus teaches irresistible grace, particular atonement, perseverance of the saints, and reprobation (though not one of the big five). And his assertion that the saved will be those whom the Father has given Him is a description of unconditional election. Twice! The only one not here is total depravity.

I cannot see any alternative to the probability that the failure to see the doctrines associated with Calvinism is no accident, but rather deliberate blindness, which Jesus also talks about: "Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (Matthew 13:13).

Monday, March 13, 2017

Who Is the Only-Begotten God?

The first chapter of the Gospel of John is the highest concentration of christological declarations in all of Scripture. It culminates with, "No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him" (John 1:18 NASB). The Apostle tells us that Jesus is God, but is distinguished from the Father in His having been begotten. That is His office, as the Father's office is to beget, and the Holy Spirit's office is to proceed. It is not a carnal inference.

Modalists resist this reading, though it is widely accepted as that of the best Greek manuscripts. They prefer the reading of the King James Version, derived from the later manuscripts used by the Textus Receptus: "only-begotten Son."

The reason they want to hold on to that reading is because Modalists (and I am speaking of the variety known as Oneness Pentecostals) teach that "Son" refers only to the flesh of Jesus. they deny the deity of the Son, while claiming to believe in the deity of Jesus.

When I insist on the eternal deity of the Son, including the reference from John 1:18 in the NASB, they respond with, "Then who is His mother?" As they rightly add, Mary was the mother of His flesh. Therefore, they claim, if He was begotten in His deity, then He must have some kind of divine mother, just as the Mormons believe.

And that assertion is nothing more than that, an assertion, assuming that "beget" can only refer to the physical act of fatherhood. But that assertion is self-serving, ignoring other relevant biblical data.

In the Epistle to Philemon, the Apostle Paul says to that man (verse 10), "I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment." Paul is telling his friend that, in his time with Onesimus, he had led this useful slave to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He had begotten him spiritually, as Paul is quoted in their beloved King James, "I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds." And there is that pesky word "begotten" again.

The question that I have, then, for the Modalists is this: So, if Paul begot Onesimus, who was his mother? And, as is patently evident, the question is nonsensical. Just as it is when Modalists make the same challenge to John 1:18.

Paul in prison

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Eternal God: Against the Evolutionary God of Mormonism

"Of old You laid the foundation of the earth,
     and the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You will remain;
     they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
     but You are the same, and Your years have no end."

- Psalm 102:25-27 

One of the lesser-known doctrines of Mormonism is that God is only God here, not throughout the universe. Rather, he was once a man on another planet who was exalted to godhood by the God of that planet. In the same way, they believe that good Mormons will be exalted to godhood and receive their own planets. 

This is one of the most-explicitly antibiblical doctrines of Mormonism. The Bible explicitly tells us that the deity of God, the true, living biblical God, has always existed, and has always been God. Where the Mormon universe is eternal and self-existing (attributes of deity), the Christian, triune, biblical God is eternal and self-existing, and the universe has only a derivative existence: "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).

This alone should be sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the Mormon claim to the Christian name is a deception.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Perseverance by the Hand of the Lord Alone

As a Christian, I can testify of my own weakness. I know, without a doubt, that I would fall in a micro-second if my perseverance depended on me. However, I am thankful beyond words, that Jesus has undertaken, not just to redeem me, but to redeem me forever. In this case, it is the buyer who insists that "all sales are final -no refunds."

"The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
     when he delights in His way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,

     for the Lord upholds his hand."
- Psalm 37: 23-24

In these four lines of poetry, we learn so much about God's promise of faithfulness to His people. There is no cheap grace, no "once saved, always saved" nonsense here. For the promise isn't, "If you raise your hand, you will be set for life, no matter what you do." Rather, it is a promise that the Christian will be sustained in his walk, that is, in His life as a Christian. Furthermore, there is no prosperity-gospel promise of "now I am happy all the day. rather, it explicitly states that a part of the Christian walk is to stumble, as David did, in his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah (II Samuel, chapters 11 and 12). However, there is a promise here that such a stumble, though it may be severe or for a long time, yet it will not be permanent. Why? Because we are so spiritually-resilient that we will bounce back on our own? No, but rather because it is His hand, not our own strength, that upholds us (compare John 10:27-30). 

I don't understand that opposition of Arminians to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Well, Actually I do. They misrepresent it, and then reject it, what logicians call a "strawman argument." However, I find it of such comfort that I could not live without knowing it. My hope is in the hand of Christ, not my own strength.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Astrology: Is Our Fate Written in the Stars?

In chastising his congregants for consulting astrologers, John Calvin referred to Isaiah 44:25: "[The Lord] frustrates the signs of liars and makes fools of diviners, who turns wise men back and makes their knowledge foolish." The prophet here tells the Israelites that consulting astrologers is dangerous, because God deliberately deceives the deceivers, as punishment for the deceived. 

The Prophet Jeremiah also addressed the question of astrologers (Jeremiah 10:2): "Do not act like the other nations, who try to read their future in the stars. Do not be afraid of their predictions, even though other nations are terrified by them."

In their advertisements and signs, astrologers, palm-readers, and "spiritual advisors" often include a cross, claiming that their foundation is Christian. It is OK to consult them, we are to believe, because they aren't like Pagan fortune tellers. But God says otherwise.

The person who goes to a fortune teller, whether of the Pagan or the professedly-Christian variety, is looking for a secret source of information, apart from the revelation that God has given us. That in itself is a pagan act, regardless of what Christian terminology anyone uses to clothe it.

Isaiah also addresses that mentality directly (Isaiah 8:19-20): "When they say to you, 'Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,' should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn." "The teaching and the testimony" are biblical words for the Scriptures (see Psalm 119). Thus, God opposes the use of fortune tellers, and directs His people to find their infallible revelation in His word alone. If a person is seeking spiritual knowledge outside Scripture, then he is committing two sins: one is to demonstrate a pagan mentality that seeks truth outside that given by God; and the second is to accuse God of inadequacy. What He gives you, you decide, is not good enough. Do you not recognize that as the same temptation with which Satan destroyed the bliss of our first parents (Genesis 3:1-5)?

No matter what you call yourself, if you consult astrology, or any other type of fortune teller, then you are a Pagan, not a Christian. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Is Satan Still the God of This World?

Jehovah's Witnesses like to point out the Bible refers to Satan as "the god of this world" (II Corinthians 4:4). And, as far as that goes, they are correct, though their application of that verse is self-serving and exegetically-unwarranted. Paul is obviously referring to this world spiritual system, not this world as the totality of everything.

The problem is that there are a lot of other things said about Satan, that the Jehovah's Witnesses (and a lot of other people) don't address.

Consider Luke 11:21:22: "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil." In its context, Jesus had cast a demon out of a man who was deaf-mute. The Pharisees claimed that He had done this by the power of Satan, the ruler of demons. The response of Jesus was to compare His actions to those of a burglar, who would first bind the master of a house, before pillaging the house of its goods. While we may be uncomfortable with Jesus's using a thief as an analogy for Himself, His meaning is clear. He wasn't acting by the power of Satan. Rather, He had bound Satan's power, and was now pillaging Satan's kingdom of its spiritual goods, those in bondage to his control.

Next consider John 1:31: "Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out." Jesus said this immediately after the Father had announced verbally that Jesus was His divine Son. Thus, His coming into the world was a strike against the power of Satan. Think of the demolition of a  building. Explosives are set at strategic points in the building, and then blown. the building doesn't collapse all in a single swoop. Rather, sections collapse in an orderly series into each other. This statement of Jesus doesn't indicate a single, catastrophic collapse of Satan's power, but rather a step in its systematic destruction.

We can confirm that interpretation with another verse, John 16:11: "The ruler of this world is judged." Jesus describes Satan in language equivalent to that of Paul. However, this ruler isn't basking in his power, for he has been judged. His destruction has been determined, and his overthrow has been initiated.

Paul repeated that assurance in Colossians 2:15: "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him." In His ministry thus far, i. e., everything from His incarnation to His ascension, had all served to undermine and overthrow the spiritual powers that had dominated the nations. Thus, when Paul described Satan as "god of this world" in one passage, it was with the understanding that he expressed in this passage, that Satan may be the head of the humanistic worldview that is opposed to God, but that worldview and headship have been defeated in Jesus Christ!

Satan is defeated, and his ultimate state has been determined (Matthew 25:41). See also Revelation 12:8-9, Luke 10:18, and John 12:31. The New Testament consistently portrays Satan as an opponent of Jesus Christ, but a defeated opponent. And, as Revelation 12:12 indicates, even what influence Satan retains in his defeated state, is only for a short time.