Archive for March, 2011

Matching Good Quotes/Thoughts to Bible Verses

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Over the months of listening to good Bible teaching sermons, I have picked up several biblical ideas and quotes — from what the preacher, such as S. Lewis Johnson, says — though I can’t always match up the idea to a specific scriptural passage.  But recently I have come across particular verses, either during my Bible reading or from others’ comments, that jump out and clearly affirm these particular ideas.

One of these matters is the question of how much did people in Old Testament times understand.  As SLJ often pointed out, it really comes down to an individual level.  Just as in our day some believers have great knowledge and understanding while others do not, so in the Old Testament age many believers probably did not have that clear of an understanding, but some (at least a few) very likely did understand a great deal.  Added to this point from Dr. Johnson, I have recently considered something Matt Weymeyer pointed out in regards to Luke 24 and the disciples on the Emmaus road:  Jesus expected them to be able to understand the sequence (with just the OT and no NT revelation), of Christ’s suffering and his exaltation, and called them “dull” and “slow” for not getting it.

As a fellow blog-commenter on Pyromaniacs pointed out, 1 Peter 1:10-11 tells us that the prophets did understand:  … the prophets … searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.  Sure enough, the sequence is there to make it clear that they at least did read their Bibles correctly and understood it.  They had to work harder, more diligently, but they could still find the answers in their Old Testament Bible.

The second matter comes from S. Lewis Johnson’s observations, from experience, regarding the cause of backsliding, or the type of person most likely to backslide.  I included the quote in this previous blog, during my study through Isaiah.  While reading through 2 Peter recently, 2 Peter 1:5-8 impressed upon me a strong connection with that very idea.  Notice especially verse 8, which fits so well with S. Lewis Johnson’s observations:  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, the person who does not make every effort, who is not increasing, becomes ineffective and unfruitful.  Verse 9 then continues with the warning for those who lack these qualities.  Verse 10 reaffirms the importance of what was just said regarding our continuing to increase in these qualities:  for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.


Is the Position of Senior Pastor Biblical?

March 28, 2011 4 comments

While listening to the live stream from the 2011 Shepherd’s Conference — General Session 5, Phil Johnson’s interview with John MacArthur — I was struck by the great variety of different gifts and emphases among different churches and preachers.  For John MacArthur’s overall thrust is church leadership and church structure.  The interview focused a lot on his great accomplishments in over 40 years as the senior pastor at Grace Community Church, including his leadership work in the early years, along with discussion about his future plans and what’s ahead for that church and its leader, now that MacArthur is in his seventies.

Amongst all the talk about leadership and senior pastor stuff, though, I kept thinking about Believer’s Chapel (Dallas) and the biblical teaching concerning church offices.  Believer’s Chapel is one of a very few churches that uphold the model of the early church: a plurality of elders, but no pastors or senior pastors, etc. Based on teaching in the book of Acts, and the New Testament epistles, they maintain that there is no such “office” of pastor.  Instead the church has elders, some of whom teach.  So Believer’s Chapel has “gifted men” who minister the word of God (including current teachers Dan Duncan, Matt Heidelbaugh, Mike Black, Geoff Brown and others).  Generally it’s Dan Duncan that does the main Sunday morning service (with some exceptions), but no hierarchy of “senior pastor,” “pastor,” “associate pastor” or similar titles exists.

From what I’ve considered, the Believer’s Chapel idea is more biblical.  The early church never had “pastors” and were not led by a single man at the top of a hierarchy.  Yet most evangelical churches, including Grace Community Church, hold to this tradition of having a church pastor as leader.  From brief googling on the Internet I could only find a handful of other churches, such as this one that do not have pastors as church leaders.  See also this article and related articles at that site, for further information.

Looking into the matter a little further, I’ve learned that the only scriptural justification given for the idea of a pastor leader is the reference to angels (messengers) in Revelation 2 and 3.  Sure enough, one’s particular view on church leadership will often determine the “interpretation” given to the word “angel” there, as evidenced by these two excerpts:  the standard answer from John MacArthur, versus a more detailed explanation from S. Lewis Johnson at Believer’s Chapel.


This letter is sent to the angel of the church in Ephesus. Just to note, the angel refers to the leader of the church. We have no reason to assume that it refers to an actual angel, although that it is a possibility. The weight of evidence for that viewpoint is that every other mention of angels in the book of Revelation refers to actual angels. The word angelos can also mean messenger. So there are some who would say that this is a letter given to a certain angel who is associated with each of these churches. The problem with that is we have no such teaching about angels being associated with churches and we have no word of Scripture ever given to angels…they are always given to men and the word can mean leader. And since we don’t get to the futuristic part of the book until the third chapter, there is every reason to assume that the word angelos here means simply messenger which would be a representative from the Ephesian church, one of its leaders who had come to be with John perhaps on the Isle of Patmos and was bearing this very letter back on behalf of John and the Lord Himself to the church in Ephesus.

S. Lewis Johnson:

It would seem that the most obvious meaning is that since the term ungalas, translated “angel”, is found numerous times in the Book of Revelation, that we would take it that way.  But then most of us have certain agendas that we like to impose upon Scripture.  We have to avoid that, of course, at all times.

And so if you have in your mind the organization of the local church as being an organization of elders, or deacons, or trustees, or deacons, various ways in which churches are organized. And if you have in your mind that these churches would be ruled by a pastor, a minister who has authority by virtue of his office, then it would be very tempting for you to read this, “Unto the pastor of the church,” and think of the angel as a pastor of the church.    …

Now, the term occurs in the book numerous times. It always means an angel, that is a heavenly being created by God.   Why we should not rather take this to be an angel rather than the pastor, well that’s never been explained to me satisfactorily. If this is a reference to an individual, a human individual, it would be much more likely that he should be a man with a gift of prophecy or at least a prophet. And prophets did exist at this time in the Christian church. A prophet is an individual who receives messages from the Lord and who conveyed them to the church.  So it’s conceivable that one might have the gift of prophecy and be called a messenger, for that’s the essential meaning of the term ungalas in that sense.

But modern scholarship has generally taken the idea, taken this expression to mean, either the prevailing spirit of the church (for after all remember we are talking about a book that has many many symbols in it),  the angel being the prevailing spirit of the church — or an angelic guardian of a church of which we know very little, but of which our Lord knows everything; and perhaps even the apostle knew things that we don’t know.  So we are going to take it as an angel and we are going to take it as being an angel who acted in such a way as to be related to particular churches.

Here are a few more pages that specifically address this matter:  “Plurality of Elders” and “Is The One Pastor System Scriptural?” in more depth, coming down on the side of Believer’s Chapel:  One objection to the plurality of elders comes from an odd interpretation of the first chapters of the book of Revelation.  … This can only be seen by reading something into the text that is not there.  Nowhere in the entire New Testament is there any mention of a senior pastor having authority over a local congregation.

I also find it an interesting observation (again from an admittedly small sample of just two churches, both larger and non-denominational) that among these large churches, the church without a pastor-leader also happens to place more emphasis on Bible teaching itself, along with less discussion about church government, leadership and personality-leaders.  The senior-pastor-led church gets involved in semi-ecumenical organizations such as T4G and the Gospel Coalition, deemphasizing the “secondary” doctrines, and tends toward the briefer “standard” evangelical explanations (in contrast to more theological depth and explanation) for several specific texts.

In the long run, though, it is obviously part of God’s decretive will that most churches choose the pastor-leader model, a shortfall of human nature.  The elder-system churches may do a better job of taking all of God’s word seriously, even to the form of church government — and given the option I would attend such a church. Yet, in spite of ourselves, God has allowed many pastor-led churches to have effective and fruitful ministry.

Completing the 90-Day Horner Bible Reading Plan

March 24, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m nearing the end of the modified Horner Bible Reading plan for 90 days, now down to 13 chapters per day — and after tomorrow (finishing Malachi) down to 12 chapters.  It’s been fun and interesting, similar to my standard plan in the amount of reading, but always different readings (no lists repeating again) — plus more concentration in the Old Testament.

Reading Nehemiah and Esther together has been interesting — two contrasting views of the same time period (after the Babylonian exile).  Recently I read Zechariah 12 and Revelation 1 together, a great combination since Rev. 1:7 directly references Zechariah 12:10.  Other great reading pairs have included Numbers 14 — where God swears by the truth that the glory of the Lord will fill the earth — a few days after Habakkuk 2:14, and Psalm 145:10-13 on the same day as Revelation 5, the time when Christ begins to take action — the arrival of the Kingdom is near!

Reading Deuteronomy always fits well with the later history, with the frequent reminders to the people of Israel to honor the Lord God and not follow the ways of the nations around them — and the sad result throughout chapters of OT history and prophets, that they did not follow God and that all the consequences that God warned them of indeed came to pass in their later history.

Psalm 119 has great wisdom, as in verse 36, so appropriate along with reading of Gehazi’s greed in 2 Kings 5:19-27.

Hebrews 13:13 (“Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured”) on the same day as Luke 23 is also very fitting.

The Problem With “Spiritual Disciplines”

March 21, 2011 1 comment

Several months ago I briefly looked at the terms “means of grace” and “spiritual disciplines,” mainly to understand the definition of the expression “means of grace.”  Now for a follow-up and more detailed look at the trendy idea of “spiritual disciplines” and what it’s really about.
A friend recently sent a link to a “Bible meditation” plan, asking what I thought of it.  The plan referenced “spiritual disciplines” and suggested specific ways to meditate on God’s word, including “relax your body” and “use your imagination to picture the truth when appropriate.”  (I explained what I thought of this, and the friend noted that I had confirmed the doubts she had about it.)
Bob DeWaay’s “Critical Issues Commentary” has been helpful for further research, as with these two articles:

The proponents of “spiritual disciplines,” such as Don Whitney, go beyond what the Bible itself defines.  Bob DeWaay said it well, that the “Means of grace are defined by the Bible and attached to God’s promises.  If we come to God in faith according to the means He has defined, He has promised to graciously meet us.”

However, the “spiritual disciplines” add many specific things to “do” in a subtle type of works-religion:

To summarize the directives in the chapters of Whitney’s book: spend more time reading the Bible, memorize more scripture, have a Bible reading plan, obey the Bible more, apply the Bible more, pray more, do more evangelism, make more plans for evangelism, serve more, use your gifts more, work harder at serving, use more time for spiritual things and less for wasteful things like entertainment, give more, fast often and regularly, spend time daily in silence and solitude, learn to hear the inward voice of God and then obey that inward voice, keep a journal, discipline yourself to write in a journal daily, study more, persevere more, and so forth. In fact, one could summarize, “think of whatever appears to be spiritual and godly and then do more and try harder.”

Many of these things are harmless in themselves, but with the teaching of “spiritual disciplines” they have become associated with the idea of becoming holy through disciplining oneself, as though by doing these things we could become more spiritual, more like Jesus.  For instance, “keeping a journal” is based on an idea only loosely connected to scripture, that since David penned the Psalms (inspired writings), our journal-keeping of thoughts and feelings is on the same level.  But back to the definition of “means of grace,” such a “blessing” for keeping a journal is not something that God promises — and inevitably sets us up for disappointment when such measures fail to give that extra blessing.

Bob DeWaay’s remarks about keeping a journal reminded me of something I remember reading years ago from C.S. Lewis, that keeping a journal was something he quit doing after becoming a Christian:  journal keeping was too self-focused, a very selfish activity that detracts from making us useful for God.  If by journal keeping we mean, keep notes about new things we discover in God’s word, fine — and I do that in fair measure, notes from certain Bible verses I read, or notes from various sermon series with commentary opinions.  But the “spiritual discipline” of journal keeping is the very thing C.S. Lewis also rejected, as too much self-centeredness.

But back to the idea of the grace that God gives to us as we partake of His means:  can I actually observe the blessings/benefits I receive from the “means of grace?”  Being honest with myself, I must admit, frequently I’m unaware of such — the process is gradual, and too often even when I engage in regular activity such as Bible reading, my mind is easily distracted or otherwise dulled and not as attentive as it should be.  Yet God has even told us that the reading of His word is a “blessing”  (Revelation 1:3), and that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”  (2 Timothy 3:16).  Often enough, I find at least daily encouragement to continue living the Christian life — as in recent readings in Hebrews, Psalm 119, and other parts of God’s word.

The Lordship Controversy: Specials from the S. Lewis Johnson Miscellaneous Files

March 17, 2011 4 comments

In my recent exercise sessions, I’ve been listening to an assortment of topical messages from S. Lewis Johnson.  Interesting topics have included reviews of John MacArthur’s book Charismatic Chaos, another concerning MacArthur and the Lordship controversy, as well as John Stott, George Muller, and Israel and the PLO Peace Treaty.

The “Lordship Controversy” message was recorded in 1989, soon after the publication of MacArthur’s book, “The Gospel According to Jesus” and as an accompaniment to an article that S. Lewis Johnson had published in Christianity Today magazine (September 1989).  Amongst all the rhetoric over the years on both sides (and I have concurred with the MacArthur view, as best as I understand it), SLJ presented the proper perspective:  that we really need to understand the definitions and terminology that the different people are using.  Zane Hodge didn’t clearly define what he meant.  Ryrie apparently stated some things in an unclear way so that he was misunderstood, but elsewhere Ryrie stated his belief as one that is more accurate.  MacArthur for the most part is right, but in his book he showed some inconsistency — in some places saying that the believer first coming to Christ must give Him total 100% commitment/Lordship, but then backing off in other places and saying, well not 100%.

The matter really involves understanding the difference between justification and sanctification, and MacArthur’s book (as he himself has said) came out of his own frustration at seeing the easy-believism methods and techniques used to bring people to the Lord, but then not proving to be true conversions.  Interestingly, S. Lewis Johnson picked up on this as the likely thing that prompted MacArthur to write the book (the general feelings of pastors, teaching a lot and disappointed with the results), even though at that time he was unfamiliar with the details that MacArthur would mention in later interviews.  I recall, for instance, MacArthur telling about the times he met strangers (such as on airplanes), who asked him basic questions about how to be saved — and he would right then and there give a gospel presentation and guide them into making a confession of faith.  But then when he followed up with those people, the conversions proved to be incomplete and false.

The confusion between justification and sanctification, though, is an age-old one — and again I refer back to J.C. Ryle’s classic work, Holiness, as a good source for understanding the difference between these two doctrines.  See also my previous blog on the introduction to his book for more background concerning that book and the “Holiness” Keswick movement of the late 19th century.

The Earthquake in Japan: How Short is Our Interim of Grace

March 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Amos 3, in verses 4 – 6, puts forth three sets of “before” and “after” events.  The first one shows the “before” — when it is time to avert disaster.  The second phrase shows the “after” when the event has passed and the opportunity missed:

Before:  ​​​​​​​​Does a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey?    — No, the lion keeps quiet until he finds his prey.
After:   Does a young lion cry out from his den, if he has taken nothing? — By now the lion has caught the prey

Before:  ​​​​​​​​​Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth, when there is no trap for it?
After:  Does a snare spring up from the ground, when it has taken nothing?

And more clearly in verse 6,
Before:  Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid?
After: Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?

The personal application is clear.  As S. Lewis Johnson observed in this Amos message, sometimes in our lives we have opportunities to do certain things.  Then come seasons in our lives of lost opportunities, for the things we wish we had done.  In between, we live in this interim of grace, before judgment has fallen.

Early Sunday morning as I began my Bible reading time, the sun was shining so brightly, and what it represented came to me so clearly: this is still the day of grace, the time to seek the Lord.  As the song goes, “His mercies are new every morning,” and “great is Thy faithfulness.”

It was hard to believe, looking at the sun shining so brightly and calmly here, that calamity had struck another part of the world — so remote, and surely things here continue the same as always (the common thought that such things can never happen here).

But that terrible earthquake is surely just as much a reminder of our sovereign God and His mighty power, so terrible to behold.  For many thousands of people in Japan, their day of grace has ended, their time of opportunity gone.  This earthquake also is a reminder of the dreadful judgment certain to come to the whole world, that this interim of grace has an end — when the grace of God finally ends and wrath comes to the lost instead.  We presume on God’s grace if we continue to think things will just go on as always.

It seems also that we are getting a preview of things to come, as described in Luke 21:25-26:  the nations distressed, in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves.

Covenant Theology, Amillennialism and Replacement Theology: A Brief History

March 14, 2011 2 comments

An online friend recently asked this question:
Covenant theology…I’m mixed up.  I agree with the big parts — grace, works, redemption through the ages, but why are so many CT’ers amils?  And that Israel is all but taken out of God’s promises?

Like many others, this person had come across various references to Covenant Theology, Reformed Theology, and other general concepts — mainly from reading Christian blogs — but had not (yet) researched the subjects enough, and so wanted a general framework of how all these pieces fit together.

Following is my response, a very brief overview from church history.  For those already more familiar with these issues this may seem too simplistic, and lacking in detailed explanation — but I put this forward for those desiring the basic framework.  I have also included a few links for further reference.

1.  Church Replacement Theology — the idea of the Gentile church taking priority over the Jews — began by the mid-to-late 2nd century, brought about as the result of increasing anti-Semitism and Gentile pride, as the church became increasingly dominated by Gentile believers (who forgot what Paul said about pride, in Romans 11) and the apostate Jews became increasingly hostile and continued to persecute the Christians.
For additional reference, see Barry Horner’s Future Israel, chapter 2, “The Patristic Period,” p. 39

2.  Amillennialism was invented by Augustine in the early 5th century.  Augustine first believed the standard view of the time, premillennialism, but he was also influenced by Greek platonic thought — the same thinking that produced gnosticism, the basic idea that physical and material is evil, and spiritual, non-physical is good.  Augustine was also morally repulsed by the behavior of some Christians, in a group called the Donatists, who took a rather carnal approach to the idea of the kingdom and enjoyed their love feasts (food, drink, revelry).  This was also shortly after Constantine, and the church enjoyed the power, privilege and protection of the Roman Empire.  Anti-Semitism was also quite strong, the Jews hated throughout the Roman world, and by that time they were scattered and clearly without power — so the biblical message that the despised and weak Jews would one day be given prominence and the other nations would come to them, appeared totally contrary (and unacceptable) to their observed world reality.  So Augustine formulated the idea of the spiritual-only kingdom, relating it to the Church triumphant, the Roman church of his day.  His new idea, amillennialism (which he described in “The City of God”), along with most everything else that Augustine taught, was incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church — and became (and still is) standard Catholic teaching.
Additional resources:
“The Allegorists Who Undermined the Normal Interpretation of Scripture,” by Mal Couch

Audio only:  Jim McClarty eschatology series: #89 “History of Amillennialism” and #90  “Augustine’s Amillennialism”

A thousand years later, Luther and Calvin came on the scene, and of course they came out of the Roman Catholic system.  They only reformed the soteriology — how we are saved, the doctrine of justification — but “imported” the rest of Catholic teaching including eschatology and ecclesiology, unchanged and assumed to be true.
Additional resources:

John MacArthur, “Why Every Calvinist Should Be A Premillennialist,” six-part series

3.  Covenant theology is relatively recent — developed in the 17th century, especially in Holland and central Europe.  It was developed largely in order to come up with a theological reason to support infant baptism, which was still practiced (from the Medieval Catholic era) and considered important as part of the church-government structure and census records.  The ideas of church-supremacy and amillennialism were already a given in this system, and several theologians of 17th century Protestantism came forth with the ideas of these three covenants and especially the overall “covenant of grace” for all believers since Adam.
Additional resources:

S. Lewis Johnson’s The Divine Purpose series
The History of Covenant Theology – I
The History of Covenant Theology – II