Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

R.C. Sproul on the Necessity of Classical Apologetics

[From the video found at , which was pointed out to me by Trey Jadlow.]

"[Formal certainty for the existence of God] can only be arrived at through a logical proof that is irrefutable. Classical Apologetics says that the case for the existence of God can be proven demonstrably, rationally, formally, and compellingly. So it's a little stronger than evidentialists [those who focus on observations from nature, history, and accounts of prophecies and miracles], who are more empirically-oriented. [Classical Apologetics] is the way apologetics ought to be done: you don't just say to the scientific community, 'Well, you're working on the wrong presuppositions,' or, 'You have the wrong worldview.' That's true, but you have to begin to show them that the conclusions they've drawn from their own evidence are formally invalid."


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Classical Apologetics: Summaries of the Ontological, Cosmological, and Teleological Arguments

[The following excerpts are from Classical Apologetics by R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley.]

The Ontological Argument [the argument from being]: Infinite being must exist because we cannot conceive of its not existing.

The Cosmological Argument [the argument from order]: The world is not only being, but orderly being, a cosmos. If so, its Author must be an orderly mind. Order sometimes seems to happen by chance, but it would not happen all the time by chance (or really any of the time, as we will see when we discuss teleology), for then it would not be a chance happening but an ordered one. The chance would be taken out of chance. Regular order is the order of the day and the years and the ages in the universe.

God alone has the power of being within Himself. He alone has ultimate causal power. Without something or someone who has the power of being intrinsically, we are irrefutably left with some type of notion of self-creation which... is an analytically false concept. The notion of self-creation is manifestly irrational as it blatantly violates the law of non-contradiction. We have an either/or situation. Either we must postulate necessary, self-existent being, or we must flee to the absurdity of self-creation, committing intellectual and scientific suicide. The law remains intact, ex nihilo nihil fit: out of nothing, nothing comes.

But does not Christianity assert a doctrine of ex nihilo creation? Yes, in a certain sense. The great difference between the Christian concept of creation and opposing views is at the point of self-creation. Within the concept of self-creation is the idea that once there was nothing--pure non-being (which, to labor the point [from the ontological argument] is unthinkable)--and then, "poof" [or: BANG!], there was something, like the rabbit out of the magician's hat. Only what happens [according to opposing views] is more stupendous that the feats of prestidigitation. In this magic show, the rabbit comes forth from nothing by himself. Thee is no magician to bring him forth, no hat out of which to pull him, and no concealed (or even partially becoming) rabbit who emerges. There is nothing. Pure potentiality. Absolute nothingness. The "Genesis 1:1" [first word] of self-creation would read: "In the beginning, nothing created the heavens and the earth." There is no sufficient cause for the rabbit, no efficient cause, no material cause, no instrumental cause, no formal cause, and no final cause. We have the pure effect with no cause.

The Christian view is not without its difficulties. It remains a mystery how a self-existent eternal being actually does His work of creation. The ex nihilo is limited in scope, however. It has primary reference to the fact that God did not use some pre-existent, external matter out of which He fashioned a world as a sculptor fashions a statue out of a mass of stone. But there is nothing analytically problematic about the notion of a self-existing eternal being. Far from Falsifying the concept, logic demands it. Christianity does have a sufficient cause, an efficient cause, a formal cause, and a final cause for the effect of this world.

The Teleological Argument [the argument from purpose]: Could purposive creatures be from a being without purpose? ... Could the source of all beings purposelessly populate the cosmos with purpose-seekers?

Creatures, as we have seen, can causally argue to orderliness and structure in the Creator. The question is: Did Being unintentionally make things which revealed Himself? Being omniscient, He would have at least foreseen it [whatever comes to pass, along with the possibility of arguing for the Creator]. If He did not want it to happen, He could have prevented it. Therefore, He must have wanted it to happen. That is, He intended or purposed it. Since He has willed everything to come to pass that comes to pass (or it would never have come to pass), He must have purposively ordained everything to come to pass. He not only purposed the [self-sonsciously] purposive but everything, whether it has a purpose in itself or not.

We are talking about God as the source of purpose. And if God is the source of purpose and the only one who could be the source of purpose, then He is the source of moral purpose as well. He would also have to be omniscient to arrange everything in a purposeful way. Consequently, being God, He would be incapable of error either in planning or in intention or morality. We do not want to labor this point at the moment  We simply not it lest there be some misunderstanding. If God is the purposer, He cannot do any nonpurposeful activities.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Today" in Hebrews 1:5/Psalm 2:7

[The following was originally posted on November 7, 2006.]

On November 1, 2006, John MacArthur was the guest on Albert Mohler's radio program.During that program, MacArthur graciously took calls from listeners. One of these calls (starting at 31:29 in the program) concerned MacArthur's teaching on "incarnational sonship." Addressing this issue, MacArthur said the following:

Let me make it real simple. He is eternally God. Jesus Christ is and always will be the eternal God- a member of the Trinity. He is eternally One of Three. And I don't have any problem with calling Him the eternal Son therefore. But I do understand that there is a uniqueness to His incarnation in that the Scripture says, "This day have I begotten Thee." And that's related to His incarnation.

Now, I entirely agree with the above quote (as well as the rest of MacArthur's statements on this radio broadcast), except for the last two sentences of the quote.

But before I explain why I disagree with these sentences, I must mention that MacArthur, more than any other, is like a modern day John Calvin in terms of his careful exegesis of Scripture. Like Calvin, MacArthur has explained God's Word in such a way to provide spiritual nourishment for his congregation, truly engaging in pastoral ministry week after week. Like Calvin, MacArthur's pastoral ministry has yielded a set of commentaries on the Bible that have been beneficial to the Church as a whole. MacArthur truly deserves to be announced- as he once was by Albert Mohler when he spoke at SBTS chapel- as the expositor.

So, having said all that, to attempt to correct MacArthur's understanding of a verse of Scripture feels a bit like trying to show Lennox Lewis how he should throw a punch.

But, as they say, 'Biblical and Theological Studies students at Southern Seminary rush in where angels fear to tread.' So I'll go ahead and say that in this case I think MacArthur got it wrong.

The verse MacArthur mentioned was Hebrews 1:5 (the verse that, for him, started the original "incarnational sonship" controversy, as he points out in the article linked above), which is a quote from Psalm 2:7.

The question that must be answered about this verse is, "What day is 'Today'?" In other words, when the Scripture says, "TODAY I have begotten You," what day is in view? Now common sense informed by the basic story of Jesus would indicate that this refers to the incarnation. But common sense is no substitute for allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. So, what day is Today according to the verses in the immediate context of "Today I have begotten You"?

When viewing these verses in context, these references to the Day that the Son is begotten do not seem to refer to the incarnation, but rather to the resurrection and the specifically the coronation (the time after His ascension when Jesus is crowned as the universal King, seated at the right hand of the Father).

1. In Acts 13:33, Psalm 2:7 is also quoted and it is clear that the day that the Son is begotten is related to the resurrection of Jesus, as is indicated by the immediate context, and even within this verse with the phrase, "raised up." Jesus is spoken of as being begotten "today" in terms of the resurrection in a similar way as He is referred to as the firstborn from the dead in Colossians 1:18.

2. We must remember that “begotten” can carry the sense of being “brought forth.” In this sense, Jesus was begotten as God's Son on the Day that He "sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high," for on this Day His glory was brought forth before all the heavenly hosts. Psalm 2:7 also uses the phrase “this Day I have begotten You” to refer to the coronation of the Son, as seen in the context of Psalm 2:6,

"But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain."

The coronation is also seen to be the Day in Hebrews 1:5, which flows from Hebrews 1:3b-4:

"When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they."


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"Reconciling Your 'Wants' with God's 'Oughts'" by John Piper

[The following article appeared on the Crosswalk website in January of 2006. This excellent article by John Piper is as convicting and encouraging today as when I first read it, and so I am happy to re-post it here.]

If your "want to" does not conform to God's "ought to," what can you do to have peace? I see at least five possible strategies.

1. You can avoid thinking about the "ought to." This is the most common strategy in the world. Most people simply do not devote energy to pondering what they should be doing that they are not doing. It's easier to just keep the radio on.

2. You can reinterpret the "ought to" so that it sounds just like your "want to." This is a little more sophisticated and so not as common. It usually takes a college education to do this with credibility, and a seminary degree to do it with finesse.

3. You can muster the willpower to do a form of the "ought to" even though you don't have the heart of the "want to." This generally looks pretty good, and is often mistaken as virtue, even by those who do it. In fact, there is a whole worldview that says doing "ought to's" without "want to" is the essence of virtue. The problem with this is that Paul said, "God loves a cheerful giver," which puts the merely "ought-to givers" in a precarious position.

4. You can feel proper remorse that the "want to" is very small and weak - like a mustard seed - and then, if it lies within you, do the "ought to" by the exertion of will, while repenting that the "want to" is weak, and praying that the "want to" will soon be restored. Perhaps it will even be restored in doing the "ought to." This is not hypocrisy. Hypocrisy hides one of the two contradictory impulses. Virtue confesses them both in the hope of grace.

5. You can seek, by the means of grace, to have God give the "want to" so that when the time comes to do the "ought to," you will "want to." Ultimately, the "want to" is a gift of God. "The mind of the flesh is hostile to God . . . it is not able to submit to the law of God" (Romans 8:7). "The natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God . . . because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Corinthians 2:14). "Perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25).

The Biblical doctrine of original sin boils down to this (to borrow from St. Augustine): We are free to do what we like, but we are not free to like what we ought to like. "Through the one man's disobedience [Adam] the many were made sinners" (Romans 5:19). This is who we are. And yet we know from our own soul and from the Bible that we are accountable for the corruption of our bad "want to's."

Indeed, the better you become, the more you feel ashamed of being bad and not just doing bad. As N.P. Williams said, "The ordinary man may feel ashamed of doing wrong: but the saint, endowed with a superior refinement of moral sensibility, and keener powers of introspection, is ashamed of being the kind of man who is liable to do wrong" (First Things, #87, Nov. 1998, p. 24).

God's free and sovereign heart-changing work is our only hope. Therefore we must pray for a new heart. We must pray for the "want to" - "Incline my heart to Your testimonies" (Psalm 119:36). He has promised to do it: "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes" (Ezekiel 36:27). This is the new covenant bought by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 8:8-13; 9:15).


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Balloon Incident: A Confession

[This is re-posted; the original post was written on 2/14/12.]

Last night Abby and I went on a Valentine's date (beating the rush) to the Grape Leaf on Frankfort Avenue here in Louisville. (It was excellent!) On the way home, Abby suggested that we stop by Kroger and pick up some Valentine's balloons for the children. We bought Georgia a balloon shaped like a dog, and we bought Christian a heart balloon that played music when hit. Upon arriving back at the house, it was apparent that Abby's balloon idea was a stroke of genius; Georgia was utterly fascinated by the doggy balloon, and Christian seemed to enjoy his balloon as well.

But then...

All of the sudden, Christian decided that he was no longer happy with his balloon, and he decided that he would rather have Georgia's balloon instead. Georgia was still happily playing with her balloon, and so I had to reprimand Christian when he tried to take her balloon away. Then Christian began loudly complaining about his balloon. Abby warned Christian that if he continued complaining about the balloon, then she would pop it and throw it away. I agreed with her, and-- when Christian continued complaining-- I finally took a knife, popped the balloon, and threw it in the garbage. I was not feeling particularly angry when I popped the balloon (I did not yell at my son), but I was disappointed, and I wanted Christian to know that he should not complain about gifts given to him.

Upon having his balloon popped, Christian went ballistic: screaming and crying.

After Christian spent some time in his room, Abby decided to give him a shower and get him ready for bed.

I went downstairs to change into night-clothes. As I was changing, I began to think and pray about what had taken place. The Holy Spirit impressed Ephesians 6:4 upon my conscience, and I realized that Christian's anger at having his balloon popped was entirely predictable. It was late at night (from Christian's perspective) and I should have had compassion for his fragile emotional state due to his tiredness. There was a certain justice in what I had done, but I could have handled the situation better (by, perhaps, putting the balloon downstairs in "time out" until the morning, when a rested Christian may be more reasonable, rather than shocking Christian by popping the balloon).

I briefly discussed the situation with Abby, and then spoke to Christian; calming him down (because he was still somewhat upset), I told him that we were disappointed in how he acted regarding his gift. I also told him that I knew I had made him mad by popping the balloon, and that I was sorry. I told him that it was not our goal to make him angry, but to teach him right from wrong. Finally, I told him that I would buy him another balloon (though not the doggy one that he had been whining for), and that his mother and I expected him to be grateful for the gift. He seemed to accept this speech very well, and when he received his new balloon in the morning, he played with it without complaining. (BTW: Valentine's balloons from Kroger are rather expensive.)

This whole incident reminded me of the Youtube video of the dad who shot up his daughter's computer. An edited version of this video, which has gone viral, can be seen below: 
Regarding this video, Phil Johnson has commented:
I cannot endorse gun violence as an appropriate teaching tool for the father of a teenaged daughter... The first principle of biblical fathering is pretty straightforward: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). Deliberately embarassing a child in public is one of the most egregious ways of violating that principle. "The discipline and instruction of the Lord" is described in Hebrews 12:5-11. "He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness" (v. 10).
I'm still not sure that I agree with Mr. Johnson's statement regarding "embarassing [sic] a child in public" simply because in the case above the daughter's rebellious action was public, so it seems acceptable that the rebuke was also public. On the other hand, Mr. Johnson may be right, and it does seem like the shock of seeing one's computer shot-- like the shock of Christian seeing his balloon popped-- may be an action that would automatically provoke a child to anger. Parenting is a tremendous responsibility, and sometimes it is hard to avoid both indulging a child on the one hand, and unnecessarily frustrating the child on the other.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Relationship of the Mosaic Covenant to the Work of Christ

Ryan McGraw, "John Owen and Reformed Orthodox Trinitarian Theology," The Reformed Forum, 27 January 2017 [podcast]:

"The covenant with Moses was neither the Covenant of Works, nor the Covenant of Grace, but a super-added covenant... [Owen] argued that the Mosaic Covenant cannot be the Covenant of Works, because that covenant passed away under Adam when he fell, but the same Law is present and its curses proclaimed against those who are outside of Christ... [Owen said] Israel is not directly related to the Covenant of Grace by virtue of the Mosaic Covenant, so what they [the Israelites] have is the Law proclaiming the perfections of God and that they're dead in Adam, but you also have the primary idea that Christ the Mediator would one day fulfill the Law, and so the primary aim, then, of the Mosaic Covenant is to present the legal conditions that Christ would fulfill in [bringing about] the Covenant of Grace to save His people from their sins....

"This entire construction comes out of [Owen's] wrestling with Hebrews 8-9, and trying to figure out how to contrast the Old and New Covenant... the Covenant of Works could not be, strictly speaking, re-administered of republished under Moses, because that era is gone. But, at the same time, there is such a strong contrast between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant that it can't be the Covenant of Grace either. So the only [option] we're left with is something of a parenthesis in redemptive history that's setting forth the legal conditions for Christ to fulfill....

"The 17th century Baptists tended to pick up this particular view."


1. In the above quotes, Dr. McGraw presents John Owen's view on the  relationship between the Mosaic Covenant and the work of Christ. I know that this is controversial within Reformed circles. However, Dr. McGraw's reading of Owen reflects my own reading of Owen. Also noteworthy: Dr. McGraw says that, in direct contrast to Owen, he tends to view the Mosaic Covenant as an administration of the Covenant of Grace, so he is not bending his presentation of Owen to fit his own view. So, I tend to believe that Dr. McGraw is accurately reflecting John Owen.

2. Even if those who disagree with Dr. McGraw's understanding of Owen's view can be proven correct (even if it can be shown that Dr. McGraw is misunderstanding Owen or that Owen changed his view over time), I believe that the relationship between the Mosaic Covenant and the work of Christ that is presented above is itself correct, reflective of the Bible's presentation of this issue.


Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Stefan Lindblad on *Ad Intra/Ad Extra*

The following notes are from the Southern California Reformed Baptist Pastors Conference, Session 3, "The Knowledge and Will of God: One or Three?"

"I want to consider... what we might call an architectonic motif in Reformed Theology: namely, an ad intra/ad extra distinction. Richard Muller writes that the ad intra/ad extra pattern is arguably a fundamental, architectonic device in the older Reformed Theology that offers considerable insight into the nature and character of the older Reformed approach to the questions of divine absoluteness and divine relationality. Hence, the significance of the division of the subject of Theology into 'God' and 'the works of God' needs to be noted. Again, citing Muller: the implication of this division is that Theology must define God as He is (insofar as that has been revealed) and then go on to define God in relation to all else (namely, His works)....

"The Reformed theologians wanted to understand something of God considered absolutely (that is, in Himself) and God relatively (that is, God in His relation to the created order)....

"A consideration of ad intra/ad extra does not make God, in His ad intra nature, separate and utterly unknowable... but it actually places God in a relation to His creatures. Now, this pattern of ad intra/ad extra appears consistently throughout the Reformed doctrine of God, and it is intended to indicate an essential foundation in God that provides an absolute, and therefore constant, dependable ground for all that God brings about in the work of creation and salvation, according to Muller.

"Concerning the divine mind, God is then said to have a necessary knowledge ad intra, and a free or voluntary knowledge ad extra (that is, with respect to creatures). Concerning the divine will, God is said to have a 'will of good pleasure' or a 'secret will' ad intra, and a 'will of the sign' or a 'revealed will' or 'perceptive will' ad extra....

"Notice this: the pairs do not indicate a distinction in God Himself, as if God were a composite of multiple intellects or multiple wills. The distinction here is in our apprehension. This is not an ascription of different attributes to God, as Muller notes, but it is the same attribute considered first ad intra and then ad extra....

So what? "With respect to God [this ad intra/ad extra distinction] underlines His independence from creation, but it also underlines the freedom of God: indeed, the freedom of God to create or not to create or to create even a different world than the one which he did create. It underlines the fact, then, that God was under no absolute necessity to create or even to redeem. At the same time, the distinction underlines the way in which the divine absoluteness serves not to exclude but rather to define the nature of the way in which God relates to all things external to Him. It actually assures the constancy of God's relation; indeed, it under-girds God's relation to the world as one of radical freedom. God is not contained by the world, compelled by the world, or constrained by the created order to be or to act in any way. And so the ad intra/ad extra model of God and His works tells us that all of the works of God have a foundation in God and an 'ending point' or 'term' in the created order.

"And thus all of the essential works of the Godhead are acts of the three Persons operating just as the one God. But these works, if you will, 'terminate' on one Person or another (in the incarnation, for example). In other words: the eternal decree needs to be understood as absolute. It is determinate and certain. It is not suspended on the desires of Man nor determined by anything outside of God. There is no preceding condition upon which the decree is suspended, and it cannot be impeded; it cannot be altered.

"And yet the decree is relative also. Relative in two ways: first in relation to the divine willing, which is actually capable of actualizing alternative possibilities in the created order and in relation to its execution in time with respect to its objects and the means by which those objects are realized.

"Here, then, we are seeing that there needs to be in our conception a basic distinction between the decree and its execution, between eternal providence and actual providence. Here, this basic Reformed motif of ad intra and ad extra has significant implications, then, for the way we understand the [divine] decree: not the least of which is a consideration of the will of God in particular..."


Monday, January 02, 2017

I Call it Heresy! (Redefining "Faith")

Recently, a school of thought has grown up within evangelicalism that insists that repentance and acceptance of the lordship of Christ is not necessary for salvation. All that is required is faith, defined as belief and acceptance. Repentance is a necessity for discipleship. This distinction between salvation and discipleship, however, is very difficult to sustain, as for instance, in the Great Commission, in Matthew 28:19, where Jesus commands his disciples to "go and make disciples." [Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 949-950.]


"Heresy," simply defined, is that which denies the fundamentals of Christianity. In the above quote, Erickson mentions a new "school of thought." This new "school of thought" contradicts three fundamentals of Christianity: the doctrine of saving faith, the doctrine of sin, and the doctrine of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The Biblical Definition of Faith

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." [Romans 1:16-17 NASB]

The gospel- or "good news"- message of Christianity is, as the verse above instructs us, a revelation of the righteousness of God. This message proclaims the righteousness of God Himself and also how sinful people can become righteous in His sight. The gospel is the power of God for salvation from the wrath of God (cf. Rom. 1:18), but it only grants salvation to those who believe: to those who have faith. It should be obvious, then, that a proper understanding of how God has defined "faith" in His Word is absolutely crucial for people's eternal destiny. The new "school of thought" mentioned at the beginning of this post defines faith as "belief and acceptance". This may sound like a fine definition of faith at first, until we understand what people holding to this new view are denying in light of Scriptural teaching.

In discussing the biblical definition of faith, it is helpful to understand the teaching of the Reformers on this issue. The Protestant Reformation, in a very real sense, was primarily concerned with the role and definition of faith in an individual's life. In debating against false teachers, the Reformers had to carefully search all of the Scriptures in order to understand the fullness of the biblical teaching on faith and to be able to give clear, concise statements of how we should properly understand "faith". During the time of the Protestant Reformation, when people were challenging the traditional Roman Catholic religion that was based on rituals and were asserting that favor with God came through faith in Christ alone, "the Reformers delimited three essential elements of saving faith. [These elements of faith are]: notitia (knowledge of the data or content of the gospel), assensus (the intellectual acceptance or assent to the truth of the gospel's content), and fiducia (personal reliance on or trust in Christ and his gospel)" [R.C. Sproul, Getting the Gospel Right (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 167-169].

The categories mentioned above are drawn out from Scriptures such as the following:

Now faith is the assurance [as in acceptance or assensus] of things hoped for, the conviction [as in trust or fiducia] of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand [as in "knowledge" or notitia] that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. [Hebrews 11:1-3 NASB]

Faith As More Than Intellectual Assent

The new "school of thought" mentioned at the outset of this post primarily denies the fiducia aspect of saving faith. People that teach according to this "school of thought" make statements such as:
Saving faith is simply being convinced or giving credence to the truth of the gospel. It is confidence that Christ can remove guilt and give eternal life, not a personal commitment to Him. [Charles Ryrie, So Great Salvation (Wheaton: Victor, 1989), 156, 119. Quoted in John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles (Nashville: Word, 2000), 27.]
To "believe" unto salvation is to believe the facts of the gospel. "Trusting Jesus" means believing the "saving facts" about Him, and to believe those facts is to appropriate the gift of eternal life. Those who add any suggestion of commitment have departed from the New Testament idea of salvation. [Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free! (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 27, 37-40. Quoted in John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles. (Nashville: Word, 2000), 28.]
But notice that the way in which the men quoted above define "faith" would not preclude each and every demon in Hell from automatically partaking in salvation. For if "faith" is only knowledge of "saving facts" and acceptance that those facts are true without any love for or trust in the Savior, then how could we avoid the conclusion that the fallen angels have all been saved? The devil certainly knows the Scripture as demonstrated in his temptation of Jesus (Luke 4:3-13). Furthermore, the demons were among the first to recognize Jesus' true nature as the Son of God and the Messiah (Mark 5:6-10). These evil spirits knew the facts about Jesus and accepted the truth of who He was, for they begged Him, knowing that He had power over them. But they were not saved, for they desired to depart from Jesus rather than follow Him, and their master, the devil, is still "prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour" (1 Pet 5:8 HCSB).

Faith in What?

After attacking this fiducia, or "trust", aspect of saving faith, the new "school of thought" goes on to undermine the notitia, or "knowledge", aspect of saving faith. The biblical presentation of the gospel is very clear in the assertion that there is a certain core of knowledge that is crucial to saving faith. As the Apostle Paul writes of the gospel,

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, [1 Corinthians 15:1-4 NASB]

In defining "faith" as only "acceptance" or "assurance," and in their attempt to grant this "assurance" to the greatest number of people possible, professors of the new "school of thought" present a sub-biblical view of the content of the Christian Good News message. As one leading proponent of this view has written,
[I]t is possible to believe savingly in Christ without understanding the reality of His resurrection. [Bob Wilkin, "Tough Questions About Saving Faith," The Grace Evangelical Society News (June 1990):1. Quoted in John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles (Nashville: Word, 2000), 46.]
By this statement, Wilkin has denied one of the doctrines that the Apostle declared to be of "first importance:" one of the doctrines that Paul clearly proclaims as necessary for salvation in the passage quoted above.

Faith As More Than Momentary Assurance

Having defined "faith" as "acceptance" or "assurance" in certain "saving facts" (which facts have been shown to be rather dubious in light of the above quote by Bob Wilkin), the new "school of thought" being examined here must account for the reality that many people, having accepted certain facts about Jesus and having come to assurance of their salvation, later reject the gospel message or lack assurance as to their salvation. So the question is, 'according to the new view, do these people who now reject the gospel or lack assurance then lose their salvation?' The answer of the new "school of thought" would be that these people do not lose their salvation. And many of us would agree that indeed, anyone coming to true faith in Christ cannot lose their salvation. So then the question becomes, 'according to the new view do these people who now reject the gospel or lack assurance then prove that they never had true faith?' The answer of the new "school of thought" would be that we should not question the salvation of those who utterly lack assurance or who have even completely rejected the gospel, for in their view, if a person has ever had an intellectual assent to facts about Jesus, then they are eternally secure.

As Bob Wilkin, who was quoted above, has clearly stated,
There is no time requirement on saving faith, the moment of faith, the believer receives eternal life once and for all, whether he dies shortly thereafter, or whether he lives for 100 more years, even if a person believes only for a while, he still has eternal life. [Bob Wilkin, Confident in Christ, quoted by Dr. James White; Dr. James White vs Dr. Robert Wilkin, "The Regeneration and Perserverance Debate"]
In the debate quoted above, Bob Wilkin gives a snapshot of how he presents the Jesus to a non-believer, saying,
One of the things that I like to do when I’m talking to people is I will say, ‘Jesus said, -He who believes in Me has everlasting life- Do you believe in Jesus?’ Oftentimes in America, people say, ‘yes,’ right? So I say, ‘well, what do you have?’ Y’know, Jesus says, -He who believes in Me has everlasting life.’ [People say,] ‘I don’t know.’ So then I say, ‘well, this isn’t rocket science- you say you believe in Jesus, and Jesus says (John 6:47) -He who believes in Me has everlasting life.’
According to Bob Wilkin, if at any time the person to whom he was speaking were to say, ‘well, I believe in Jesus, so I have everlasting life,’ then they would undoubtedly possess eternal life, no matter if they were to profess similar belief in Buddha or if they were later to become an atheist. Other proponents of this view have stated this position very clearly. Charles Ryrie wrote,
A believer may utterly forsake Christ and come to the point of not believing. God has guaranteed that He will not disown those who thus abandon the faith. Those who have once believed are secure forever, even if they turn away. [Charles Ryrie, So Great Salvation (Wheaton: Victor, 1989), 141, 143. Quoted in John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles (Nashville: Word, 2000), 27.]
Likewise, Zane Hodges wrote,
It is possible to experience a moment of faith that guarantees heaven for eternity, then to turn away permanently and live a life that is utterly barren of any spiritual fruit. Genuine believers might even cease to name the name of Christ or confess Christianity.[Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free! (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 107, 111, 118-119. Quoted in John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles (Nashville: Word, 2000), 28.]
But in direct contradiction to these statements, Jesus declared,

"If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." [Mark 8:34b-38 NASB emphasis added]

Also, the Apostle John clearly stated,

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. [1 John 2:19 NASB]

Notice that the fact that the ones spoken about in the verse above left the fellowship of the body of believers is taken as absolute proof that "they were not really of us." The view of faith as momentary assurance, as mere intellectual assent, which guarantees salvation even to those who eventually become atheists, does not agree with the biblical presentation of a persevering faith.

Vives Fide

The Protestant Reformers were used by God to proclaim the gospel message- the good news that justification is by faith alone- to a lifeless, ritualistic church. But we must understand that the Reformers consciously made the distinction between dead rituals and what they called vives fide, or "living faith". The doctrine of sola fide- or "faith alone," preached by the early Protestants- and taught in Scripture passages such as Romans 4:1-8 or Galatians 3:6-14- was not something at which the Roman Catholic Church could merely nod her head and go on her merry way, for faith is something that utterly transforms the life of the one in whom it resides. As a blind man who has just been given sight or a deaf man who has just been granted ears to hear cannot help but to change his lifestyle, so the man who has been given faith- who has formerly possessed a heart of unbelief, yet now trusts in Christ as his only Savior- will inevitably act in a manner fundamentally different than he ever imagined.

For this reason the Reformer, Martin Luther, wrote,

True faith, of which we speak, cannot be manufactured by our own thoughts, for it is solely a work of God in us,
without any assistance on our part. As Paul said to the Romans, it is God's gift and grace, obtained by one man, Christ. Therefore, faith is something very powerful, active, restless, effective, which at once renews a person and again regenerates him, and leads him altogether into a new manner and character of life, so that it is impossible not to do good without ceasing.
For just as natural as it is for a tree to produce fruit, so natural is it for faith to produce good works. [Martin Luther, "Justification by Faith" in Classic Sermons on Faith and Doubt, ed. Warren W. Wiersbe (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1985) 78. Quoted in John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles (Nashville: Word, 2000), 236.]

Finally, I would like to simply close with the following statement by the apologist James White:
I’m going to gladly accept the characterization that I believe that saving faith is more than mere intellectual assent because the Protestant Reformation has condemned as a heresy that perspective from the very beginning and I join with that. [Dr. James White vs Dr. Robert Wilkin, "The Regeneration and Perserverance Debate"]
[The above article is adapted from a blogpost that I originally published on 2/24/06.]


Friday, December 09, 2016

Suffrage Within the Church in Electing Elders

[I originally posted the following in April of this year. This week, Denny Burk published a blogpost on the same topic: "Does the congregation have a role in 'appointing' elders?" Dr. Burk reaches similar conclusions to what I post below, though he may be more 'congregational rule' than 'elder led' in his view of church government. Wanting to be a part of the current conversation on this topic, I offer this again.]
3 points about the above video:

1. Yes, it may have been made with sexist intention, and sexism is wrong.
2. It is, however, genuinely ironic and funny.
3. The real point is that most people have not been educated or prompted to consider their right to vote, and that definitions matter. (This is why I used to show this video when teaching Political Science; I think that someone could have just as easily gotten a bunch of guys to thoughtlessly sign a petition against men's suffrage.)

With that goofy introduction out of the way: this post is not about women's suffrage, or suffrage in general. This post is about suffrage within the church, specifically in regard to the election of elders. I believe that, just as people in society at large have not adequately thought through issues related to voting, we within the church have not adequately thought through the role that voting plays in our congregations.

Concerning suffrage within the church, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 declares: "Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes." In line with this statement, I was brought up under a tradition of regular church business meetings, wherein the congregation would vote on various issues facing the church. Though, at times, the business meetings were viewed as alternately either boring or contentious, no one questioned whether they should be occurring.

In college, I lived in a different town, and I became involved in an independent church, the pastor of which was very strong on the elder-rule model of church government. He basically believed that the congregation did not need to vote on anything. Whereas I remained convinced that the New Testament gives warrant for the congregation electing deacons, I followed my then-pastor's conviction that elders should be appointed by other elders, and that the elders should make virtually all of the decisions for the congregation as a whole; I did not see that the need for any church vote regarding the installation of elders. I believed that my conclusions on this matter were warranted from Titus 1:5, in which Paul instructed Titus (who was a pastor), "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city, as I directed you." This passage seemed to indicate the Titus himself, and not the various congregations, was in charge of installing elders for the congregations.

When I became a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, my thinking on elders unilaterally appointing other elders was challenged. Surprisingly, the decisive challenge (moving me back into a more historically Baptist direction) did not come from a Baptist, but from a Presbyterian. For a Missions class, I was required to read Robert Reymond's Paul, Missionary Theologian. In discussing aspects of church government seen in Paul's missionary activity, with specific reference to Acts 14:23, Reymond notes:

The verb xειροτονέw literally means ‘choose, elect by raising hands’. The action described here probably means that Paul as an apostle simply appointed elders when he first planted a church, just as missionaries often do today when they first plant a church. This ‘appointing’ did not preclude, however, his seeking the church’s will in the matter by asking the congregation for a show of hands. (502n10)

The idea seems to be that elders will initiate the choosing of other elders, but that the congregation will play an important role in confirming the calling of those elders. Practically speaking, this makes sense in at least two ways:

1. Men who may be considered for the role of elder might tend to put on more of a pious manner when around the already-appointed elders than when around others.  Members of the congregation who are not elders may have insight into ways that a man's character does not line up with the qualifications of an elder.

2. In general, if the congregation does not respect a certain man (perhaps not through specific moral fault in the man, but rather through his not having labored among them for an adequate time), then-if that man is installed as an elder with no formal congregational input-it might be hard for the congregation to accept the new elder's pastoral authority.

John Calvin made a similar point as Reymond, in an even more expansive way, when he considered the question, 'Should a minister be chosen by the whole church, or only by colleagues and elders, or by the authority of a single pastor?' Calvin answered:

Those who attribute this right to one individual quote the words of Paul to Titus “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city” (Tit. 1:5); and also to Timothy, “Lay hands suddenly on no man” (l Tim. 5:22). But they are mistaken if they suppose that Timothy so reigned at Ephesus, and Titus in Crete, as to dispose of all things at their own pleasure. They only presided by previously giving good and salutary counsels to the people, not by doing alone whatever pleased them, while all others were excluded. Lest this should seem to be a fiction of mine, I will make it plain by a similar example. Luke relates that Barnabas and Paul ordained elders throughout the churches, but he at the same time marks the plan or mode when he says that it was done by suffrage. The words are, Χειροτονήσαντες πρεσβυτέρους κατ εκκλησίαν (Acts 14:23). They therefore selected (creabant) two; but the whole body, as was the custom of the Greeks in elections, declared by a show of hands which of the two they wished to have. Thus it is not uncommon for Roman historians to say, that the consul who held the comitia elected the new magistrates, for no other reason but because he received the suffrages, and presided over the people at the election. Certainly it is not credible that Paul conceded more to Timothy and Titus than he assumed to himself. Now we see that his custom was to appoint bishops by the suffrages of the people. We must therefore interpret the above passages, so as not to infringe on the common right and liberty of the Church. Rightly, therefore, does Cyprian contend for it as of divine authority, that the priest be chosen in presence of the people, before the eyes of all, and be approved as worthy and fit by public judgment and testimony, (Cyprian, Lib. 1 Ep. 3). Indeed, we see that by the command of the Lord, the practice in electing the Levitical priests was to bring them forward in view of the people before consecration. Nor is Matthias enrolled among the number of the apostles, nor are the seven deacons elected in any other way, than at the sight and approval of the people (Acts 6:2). “Those examples,” says Cyprian, “show that the ordination of a priest behoved not to take place, unless under the consciousness of the people assisting, so that ordination was just and legitimate which was vouched by the testimony of all.” We see, then, that ministers are legitimately called according to the word of God, when those who may have seemed fit are elected on the consent and approbation of the people. (Institutes 4.3.15)

After the above statement on suffrage within the church in electing elders, Calvin then gives the following important word: Other pastors, however, ought to preside over the election, lest any error should be committed by the general body either through levity, or bad passion, or tumult. (Ibid.)

With all of this in mind, I  believe that when it comes to electing elders, the already-appointed elders should take a lead role in both bringing new candidates for eldership before the congregation and in presiding over the election of new elders. HOWEVER, candidates for eldership must be confirmed by the whole congregation. The biblical warrant for the congregation both electing officers and exercising church discipline (Matt 18:17) means that there is definitely a congregational aspect to church government.

I will say that I am still a bit uncomfortable with the Baptist Faith and Message declaration about "democratic processes," simply because the term "democratic" has such philosophical and historic baggage. HOWEVER, I fully concur with the statement in the Reformed Baptist Confession (1689):

The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself; and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church, if there be any before constituted therein; and of a deacon that he be chosen by the like suffrage, and set apart by prayer, and the like imposition of hands. 
( Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 4:14; Acts 6:3, 5, 6 )
 (26.9, emphasis added)


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Psalm 118: A Thanksgiving Psalm

The text of Psalm 118 is as follows [from the NIV 1984]:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.
Let Israel say:
    “His love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say:
    “His love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say:
    “His love endures forever.”
In my anguish I cried to the Lord,
    and he answered by setting me free.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
    What can man do to me?
The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
    I will look in triumph on my enemies.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.
10 All the nations surrounded me,
    but in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
11 They surrounded me on every side,
    but in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
12 They swarmed around me like bees,
    but they died out as quickly as burning thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
13 I was pushed back and about to fall,
    but the Lord helped me.
14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
15 Shouts of joy and victory
    resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
16     The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;
    the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”
17 I will not die but live,
    and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
18 The Lord has chastened me severely,
    but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness;
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
    you have become my salvation.
22 The stone the builders rejected
    has become the capstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Lord, save us;
    Lord, grant us success.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine upon us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
    up to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will give you thanks;
    you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.
A few of notes re: this Psalm:

I love how this Psalm is bracketed by thanksgiving to God. The Psalm begins and ends with the same words of thanksgiving (vv. 1, 29). In the middle of the Psalm, there is the repetition of thanksgiving concerning "The LORD's right hand" (vv. 15-16). There are several other modes of expression in the Psalm, such as supplication (v. 25), or a poetic recounting of historical events (vv. 10-12), but these are all within a Psalm of thanksgiving. This reminds us, that however we address God and others, our lives must be characterized by constant thanksgiving (1 Thess 5:18).

But this thanksgiving is not just an individual action. The psalmist is calling upon his hearers/readers to thank God with him. This is a reminder that we are to be concerned with bearing witness concerning the goodness of the LORD, that all nations would praise Him.

And why does the psalmist give thanks to God? First and foremost, because of Who He Is. God is good; He is the one with an ever-enduring love. I fear that many of us, even if we do mention the things we are thankful for on Thanksgiving Day, tend to focus overmuch on the things rather than the Giver of those things.

The psalmist does not give thanks to God on the basis of God giving him a charmed, trouble-free life. The psalmist does not feel that he must pretend that his life is trouble-free. Instead, the psalmist writes: "In my anguish I cried to the LORD" (v. 5). On Thanksgiving Day, many are feeling anguish: especially those who are separated from loved ones due to death or distance. It is a comfort that we can still cry out to the LORD in our anguish, and that-by faith-we can be assured of His help.

The psalmist points to the gospel in his praise. The psalmist writes of the righteous man, who is rejected by unjust authorities, and who is vindicated by God (vv. 22-23). The Apostle Peter interprets this image of a rejected then exalted "stone" as fulfilled by Christ (Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7), who was put to death by the religious and governmental authorities of His day, but who rose again, showing that He had conquered sin, death, and Hell on behalf of all who believe in Him.

There are many other points that could be made about this Psalm. Contemporary songs have been written, which draw upon its various verses. But allow me to leave you with this: on this Thanksgiving, it is good to meditate upon the Word of the LORD and truly give Him praise.