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“Protestant Purgatory”? Confusion Regarding Regeneration and the Holy Spirit

March 28, 2013 14 comments

(Yes, it’s just a nickname, ‘Protestant Purgatory’… not actual purgatory, though something with the similar feature of a third “holding place” pre-Calvary.  Moving along to the main issue of this post: people who think Regeneration equals Permanent Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.)

A recent online discussion brought out something quite strange: Christians who actually believe the “Protestant Purgatory for Old Testament Saints” myth, the idea that the Old Testament saints were not regenerated (since they did not have the Holy Spirit indwelling) and did not go to heaven but to “Abraham’s Bosom,” a type of purgatory holding place until Calvary, at which time Christ moved them to heaven.  It turned out that this idea (at least the second part, about the OT saints not going to heaven) comes from a particular teacher of Internet and Youtube popularity; his teaching (link provided by the person in this discussion who believes this) can be found here.

The reasoning for this idea, as presented in the discussion, included emphasis on Luke 16, the parable/story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, along with other questionable ideas such as that the Old Testament never used the term “born again,” and thinking (without scriptural reasoning) that the disciples themselves were not saved and no different from unbelievers before Christ’s Resurrection/Pentecost.

As a friend later observed, “I think the problem is a faulty understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible and the history of redemption. It is not correct to say that only those who have the dwelling of the Spirit can be regenerated, because we are not saved by the dwelling of the Spirit; but we have the dwelling because we have been saved (or regenerated).”

Surely such confusion and error is a symptom of today’s “Youtube generation” and an evangelical community not grounded in the scriptures. Scanning through S. Lewis Johnson sermons on the topic of regeneration and the post-Pentecost indwelling of the Holy Spirit, for instance, I find that he stated, casually in passing reference: Now the Old Testament says that believers were regenerated, and so we have to answer, “Yes the Old Testament says believers were regenerated.” “Were the Old Testament believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit permanently?” Now personally I have to reply, “No.”  But he didn’t go through the OT scriptures to prove it, just assuming that everyone understood this.  John MacArthur likewise makes passing reference to this as a fact, as in his two part lesson about the salvation of infants that die: there are only two places a soul can go when it dies, either into the presence of the Lord (heaven) or away from God’s presence (hell).

So much could be said in response to this error/myth, but for a summary of the obvious hermeneutical and doctrinal problems here:

1) Does anyone else (among the scholars and Bible teachers) teach this idea?  The “checking principle” of hermeneutics demands humility on the part of anyone teaching a unique interpretation, that perhaps his interpretation is wrong.  Actually, it turns out that this idea (OT saints went to some holding area) is a “fictitious and fabulous” error of the papists, denounced later by Protestants such as (18th century) John Gill (Spurgeon’s predecessor, covenantal premillennialist and high Calvinist) (reference his commentary here).  Which makes one wonder why any 21st century Protestant Calvinist would teach an error from the Catholics of old.

2) Excessive focus on a parable and drawing strong doctrinal support from such a text.  Also this approach to God’s word ignores the whole body of teaching concerning the history of redemption and the nature of salvation and regeneration as taught throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.

3) Teaches the idea of purgatory, a non-biblical idea, and a non-biblical different “truth” for Old Testament times: a third place for the soul/spirit to go, rather than the two places of biblical Christianity (into the presence of God or away from God), this third place of limbo, a holding area or purgatory for all people who died before Calvary.

Expanding on point two above, the body of teaching concerning redemption, salvation and regeneration, S. Lewis Johnson in this message explains the logical necessity of regeneration:

regeneration is needed for three reasons. First, because of the condition of humanity, we are naturally dead. We are alienated and enemies. We are blind. We are hardened. We are slaves of sin. We are ignorant. The Bible says that if we have not been born again, that we are really of the devil, and so that the condition of humanity is sufficient to make very plain to us, the necessity of regeneration if we expect to enjoy the presence of God some day.

Regeneration is also needed because of the character of holiness; that sin separates us from a holy God, and because God is a holy God, he cannot have fellowship with sin, and we are dead in sin. And so the holiness of God separates us from him, and we need regeneration, a new birth. We need to become a new creation. And finally, regeneration is needed because of the character of heaven itself. In the Bible, we are told in the Book of Revelation that “there shall not enter into heaven anything that defileth.” Heaven is not like earth, and consequently, if we are to enter into heaven, we must be pure. Therefore, we need a new birth. We cannot enter into heaven, dead in sin. We cannot enter into heaven the slaves of sin. We cannot enter into heaven in any way touched by sin. What we need is a perfect righteousness and a perfect holiness, and that can only come to us through a new birth, and a consequent justification of life.

That believers before the Cross were regenerated and not the same as natural man is obvious.  Jesus’ words to Nicodemus make clear that to be born-again was a present reality, and something that Nicodemus, as a teacher, was expected to have known. If no one was regenerated with a new heart before the Cross/Pentecost, Nicodemus would have had a very good excuse for not knowing this.  That Nicodemus should have known this also makes clear that the Old Testament taught the same as the New, that believers of all times were given a new heart and that they went to be with the Lord at their death, same as with us in the Church age.  God’s word is also quite clear on where Enoch and Elijah went, that they were raptured and taken into the presence of God (heaven); to say they went instead to some other “holding place” until Christ’s death is unscriptural and ridiculous.

Matthew 16:17 tells us that flesh and blood had not revealed to Peter his understanding (that Jesus was the Christ), “but my Father who is in heaven. Throughout the Old Testament God chose and elected His leaders and prophets.  Daniel was one beloved by the Lord (Daniel 10:19).  Numbers 11:29 and Deuteronomy 29:4 point out that God did put His spirit on some individuals. The Deuteronomy text points out to the unbelieving people that “the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear,” which in context is a clear contrast between the great numbers of unbelievers and the relative few including Moses, Joshua and Caleb, who had been given a heart to understand.

S. Lewis Johnson Quotes Collection: Worldview, Church Life, and Other Categories

March 25, 2013 4 comments

As some people are aware, I have recently been posting daily S. Lewis Johnson quotes on facebook: a simple but effective way to increase general awareness of a great teacher, with fairly short quotes (up to 7 or 8 lines on a facebook status) highlighting various doctrinal points along with S. Lewis Johnson’s commentary.

As a follow-up from the facebook quotes selection, the following is a sampling of quotes from one category: Worldview / Philosophy / Apologetics.  See also the links to each category of quotes. These pages will be expanding over time as I continue to find and add more great quotes.   (Some of the quotes are expanded from the original facebook postings.)

Worldview / Philosophy / Apologetics

From  Gospel of John, message 80:

if it is true that these gospels are forgeries, and if it is true they have not come from the apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then we ought to be able to write gospels ourselves.  Is not that fair?  If these gospels are simply the products of men, then we ought to be able to write similar works.  Isn’t it striking that no one has ever written a work that has contended with the four gospels?

From Revelation series, message 12:

When you look at the philosophies of men you find that many of them are philosophies in which the world is looked at as being the continuous unfolding of the same thing, for example, in Hindu thought, and in some forms of Greek thought, the world is endless repetition. …The biblical picture, on the other hand, tells us that this world has a meaning and a goal and a destiny. That it’s created by God for his glorification.  Biblical history is therefore unique it moves from the first creation in the book of Genesis, to the new creation in Christ in Revelation chapter 21 and 22

From “Messianic Prophecies in Isaiah” message 5

“The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true, by the philosophers as equally false, and by the magistrates as equally useful.” — Edward Gibbons, quoted by S. Lewis Johnson

From 1 Corinthians, message 4:

“No reason for self-esteem here. The only kind of self-esteem that really counts is the self-esteem that comes when we realize we’ve been chosen. That’s the source of all ultimately valid divinely-supported self-esteem, when we know that we belong to the Lord.”

From Acts, message 42:

Acts 19:35, “who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis.”(ESV) — “He soothed their vanity with appeal to fame and legend; and it illustrates for us the important fact that what really is lasting is the truth of God.  No one knows today, except those who attend a Christian church, that Ephesus, ancient Ephesus, was the city where Artemis, the Asian goddess, the Asian goddess known as the many-breasted goddess of fructifying powers was worshiped; but people know about Jesus Christ and people know about Christianity.”

The Church and Christian Life

Suffering, Patience versus Anxiety

Eschatology

The Resurrection

The Holy Spirit, Assurance, and Our Spiritual Life

Prophecy and Application: Principle (Alva McClain) In Practice (Spurgeon)

March 20, 2013 2 comments

From my recent readings — Alva McClain’s The Greatness of the Kingdom and sequential reading through Charles Spurgeon sermons — comes a rather interesting parallel: a stated principle from McClain, followed by a good example of that principle in the same day’s Spurgeon sermon reading.

In McClain’s chapter concerning “The Nature and Interpretation of Prophecy,” (p. 141), comes this great point:

just as in any proper interpretation of Old Testament history Joseph is always Joseph and not Christ, even so in prophecy Israel is always Israel and never the Church. This does not mean that the preacher may never take a prophecy concerning Israel and apply it to the Church.  But he should always know what he is talking about, and make certain that his hearers know, so that there can be no possible confusion between the history and its typical application, or between a prophecy and any so-called “typical interpretation.” (emphasis in original)

Next came Spurgeon sermon #399, “A Peal of Bells.”
I’m not sure that Spurgeon necessarily made application specifically to the Church, but clearly he made application to our everyday lives in this age (and a very good and convicting sermon, too).  But before expanding on his application in his textual style of preaching, Spurgeon first explained the primary meaning and focus of his text, Zechariah 14:20:

There are days yet to come for whose advent we may well be eager!  There is the day when Ephraim shall not envy Judah, nor Judah vex Ephraim—for all the Church of Christ shall be one in spirit. There is the day when the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. There is the day, too, when Israel shall be restored to its own land—when its country shall be called no more desolate, but Beulah; and no more forsaken, but Hephzibah shall its name be—for the Lord delights in it. There is specially the day of the Second Advent —that day of days for which I think all other days that went before were made, that day which shall be the summing up, the total of all ages—for the fullness of time shall come—and Christ, in the fullness of His Glory shall reign among the sons of men.

Yes, Spurgeon, as a covenantal premillennialist, described some things in different terms than I would use, such as the statement “for all the Church of Christ shall be one in spirit” at the end of the second sentence.  Still, though, he explained and expressed his understanding that these events are “days yet to come,” as contrasted with the now past events of the First Advent (in the sentences preceding the above quote).  The primary meaning and the application are thus both clearly presented.  Also I consider that if Spurgeon had immediately launched into his application part without first explaining the literal meaning of the passage, such approach would have greatly distracted me from appreciating the application, burdened with the though, “that’s not what the text is about.”

Spurgeon here further revealed his literal approach to the word of God, avoiding the time-compression error so well described by McClain a few pages earlier:

we shall find in Old Testament prophecy no absolutely continuous and unbroken chronology of the future.  The prophets often saw together on the screen of revelation certain events which in their fulfillment would be greatly separated by centuries of time. This characteristic, so strange to Western minds, was in perfect harmony with the Oriental mind which was not greatly concerned with continuous chronology.  And the Bible, humanly speaking, is an Oriental book.

The unyielding determination of numerous commentators to pour the events of Old Testament prophecy into a rigid mould of unbroken time, has led to disastrous results. … it has led directly to a scheme of interpretations which is the main foundation of highly erroneous eschatological systems.
(Concerning Isaiah 9:6-7):  now consider what happens if an unbroken mould of continuous time is clamped on the prophecy. Because the regal Child did not immediately take the literal throne of David to rule the world, it is argued that such a thing will never come to pass. And then, to preserve the assumption of unbroken time-sequence which cannot allow room for any literal fulfillment of the second part of the prophecy at some future time, the throne of David on earth is changed into the throne of God in heaven, and Messiah’s reign is reduced to the “influence of the Gospel or the rule of God in the “hearts of men.” (emphasis in original)

The “Covenant of Redemption” and the Historical, Biblical Covenants

March 14, 2013 5 comments

The 2013 Shepherds Conference included this instructive message from Dr. Mayhue, When God Gives His Word: a good overview lecture concerning the six biblical covenants.  Mayhue’s list includes the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly (Numbers 25:13), Davidic and New Covenants — but not the “Edenic” aka “Adamic” covenant or the “Palestinian covenant.”  Looking at the explicitly named covenants, Mayhue’s inductive study through the Bible finds these six that are “very obvious, diverse and unmistakeable.” As we all know (or should know), only one of these, the Old / Mosaic covenant, is conditional, very unlike the other five.

Mayhue approaches the issue from the standpoint of the word “covenant” explicitly used in scripture, which is certainly true for these six covenants.  Some on both sides of the theological issue (CT and dispensationalism) have seen an implied “Adamic/Edenic” covenant — also called the Covenant of Works, one of the three theological covenants.  As to the Palestinian covenant (Deuteronomy 27-29), some see a separate covenant or a “renewing of a covenant”; but as Mayhue points out, no new information is given there that is not included elsewhere.

More details regarding the specific Abrahamic and Davidic covenants can be found in these previous posts (AbrahamicDavidic, and also here), from S. Lewis Johnson’s Eschatology series which included separate messages on each of the covenants. SLJ’s Divine Purpose series also went into more detail regarding each of the theological and biblical covenants.

One other item to note. In keeping with a precise definition, that only explicitly named covenants are actually covenants, Mayhue gives his opinion regarding the theological “Covenant of Redemption.”  Yes, there was some “intra-trinitarian” deal going on there, as John MacArthur has termed it, as to the cooperation between the three persons in the Godhead and their agreement, before time began, concerning the election and salvation of God’s people, the elect.  MacArthur apparently also, like Mayhue, never calls this a covenant.  I understand that distinction, that the biblical covenants are quite different from the implied, theological ideas described in scripture, which some have also labeled as “covenants.”  Yet I also understand S. Lewis Johnson’s way of describing it, making the distinction between the theological covenant of Redemption and the biblical covenants, as he related in this message:

my basic contention has been that there is one great eternal covenant of redemption which is unfolded in a series of historical covenants.

and here:

I do not see myself that the covenant of grace is really a Scriptural covenant, but the covenant of redemption is a biblical covenant in my opinion, and the covenant of works is a fair representation of the arrangement that God made with Adam in the garden of Eden.  It has also been called the Edenic Covenant or the Adamic Covenant, as it is in the Scofield Bible.

As described in the Divine Purpose series:

Christ’s ministry is a condition of the Covenant of Redemption made between the persons of the Trinity.  In other words, each of the persons of the Trinity covenant to do certain things, and our Lord’s part of that Covenant is a condition for the accomplishment of the Covenant of Redemption.  That Covenant is a conditional covenant.  Now, because it’s a conditional covenant between the divine persons, there is a certainty of accomplishment of the terms of the Covenant bound up in the nature and being of the divine persons of the Trinity.  So what the Trinity, and what the persons of the Trinity take upon themselves to do, they are able to do, and they do do, because they are sovereign persons.  The sovereign Father.  The sovereign Son.  The sovereign Spirit.  And so they are fully able to accomplish all of the conditions, and they accomplish all of the conditions that they set upon themselves.

In the final analysis, I’m not convinced that the particular terminology used matters all that much. Some, such as John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, want to say that only the explicitly named covenants can be called actual covenants, and yet they understand the “intra-trinitarian” working — a doctrinal understanding that others see as an (implicit) theological “Covenant of Redemption” describing the same aspect of the Triune Godhead’s work.  The classic case of the word “trinity” comes to mind: we use the term to describe the doctrine, fully recognizing that the term “trinity” is never actually stated in the Bible.  Similarly, I don’t see a real problem with some teachers, S. Lewis Johnson in this case, describing the “intra-trinitarian” working as a covenant, a theological covenant among the Godhead “which is unfolded in a series of historical covenants.”  The overall issue is that we understand the purpose and importance of the explicitly stated biblical, historical covenants that God made with man, along with the understanding of the Triune redemptive purpose of God from before the foundation of the world.

Jesus’ Words: My Father and Your Father, My God and Your God

March 12, 2013 2 comments

Nearing the end of S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series, comes this interesting point regarding Jesus’ words after His resurrection, as recorded in John 20:17:

I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.

This is one of many places in the word of God, where we see the amazing precision of the words spoken.  After all, why did Jesus say “my … and your …” instead of the overall term “our … and our…”?  In the precise language used, we see the distinction in kind between us as adopted children, and Christ the eternal Son.

S. Lewis Johnson explains it well, describing in precise doctrinal terminology the difference between our relationship to God as our Father, versus the relationship that the Son has to the Father within the Triune Godhead:

There is a sense in which His God is our God and His Father is our Father, but there is a further sense which we do not share with Him in the paternal relationship with the eternal God.  He can say that God is His Father by eternal generation.  We cannot say that.  We can say that God is our Father by temporal regeneration.  But He can say it by eternal generation.  He doesn’t need any regeneration.  His relationship is an eternal relationship of Son.  The Father is eternal; the Son is the eternal Son.  We are now sons by temporal regeneration.  So our relationship is different from His, and yet we call Him Father.

The Greatness of the Kingdom: Alva McClain’s Classic Work

March 6, 2013 5 comments

Greatness-of-the-KingdomI’m now reading through this often recommended book, Alva McClain’s “The Greatness of the Kingdom,” considered one of the best treatments concerning an oft-neglected topic: the kingdom of God as presented in the scriptures.

I still have a long way to go in reading this, but for now just sharing a few great quotes and observations. McClain looks at the mediatorial kingdom as presented in scripture, beginning with the Old Testament theocracy in the nation Israel, with chapters that consider the mediatorial kingdom in history, and the mediatorial kingdom in the prophets. The mediatorial kingdom actually began – not with the monarchy in Israel, kings Saul and then David, but much earlier – with the nation coming out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership. One interesting observation concerning the importance of Moses’ leadership and the mediatorial kingdom:

By no device of exegesis can the force of this great prophecy (Acts 3:19-23), considered in relation to its original context and sense, be watered down to fit the theory of a “kingdom of grace” existing only in the hearts of men. On this point the terrible fate of Korah and his followers, as a swift judgment upon the rebellion against Moses, stands as a clear testimony as to the meaning of the prophecy concerning the regal authority of that coming prophet who will be a greater than Moses.

A good introductory comment concerning our attitude toward the subject:

it should be held axiomatic that any conception of the Kingdom of God which rests in large part upon a certain interpretation of a single text or passage of the Bible must be regarded with deep suspicion. In this category are the systems built around such passages as, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21) or “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:19) …. The doctrine of the Kingdom should be determined by an inductive examination of ALL the Biblical material on the subject, and it should not have to stand or fall by the inclusion or exclusion of isolated passages.

Also, this note concerning proper meaning and use of the term “spiritual”:

It is high time that this perfectly good term (“spiritual”) should be rescued from the abuse it has suffered at the hands of theologians who, either consciously or otherwise, have been under the spell of Platonic philosophy. Wherever and whenever we find God establishing a direct and personal relationship between Himself and other personalities, whether as individuals or as a group, regardless of place or conditions, such a relationship must be regarded as basically *spiritual* in nature.

The Trail of the Serpent: Seven Attempts of Satan to Thwart God’s Divine Purpose

March 2, 2013 Leave a comment

Returning to S. Lewis Johnson’s “Systematic Theology” series, I’m now in the section dealing with angelology and anthropology.  In “The Trail of the Serpent in the Old Testament,” S. Lewis Johnson highlights the original protevangelium (first preaching of the gospel) in Genesis 3:15.

Then he lists the seven times when Satan attempted to thwart God’s purpose of the coming Redeemer.

1)  The murder of Abel by Cain (Genesis 4:1-7)

2)  The unnatural union between men and demons, the demonic intervention in the human race (Genesis 6:1-9)

3)  The attempt in Pharaoh’s time (Exodus 1)

4)  The attempt in Jehoram’s time (2 Chronicles 21), when Jehoram killed all his brothers, the sons of Jehoshaphat, followed by the divine judgment against Jehoram himself, that only one of his sons was left to him.

5)  The attempt in Athaliah’s time (2 Chronicles 22:10-12), when for six years Athaliah reigned instead of a king from the line of David.

6)  The attempt done through Haman in the book of Esther  (Esther 3 and following)

7)  The attempt in Herod’s time, at Christ’s birth (Matthew 2, note especially verses 4 and 7)

I like how SLJ described these as “attempts … in the time of (so-and-so)”, highlighting the fact that these were really Satanic attempts, not merely the actions of particular men.  The New Testament scriptures add additional information regarding some of the above attempts, as for instance 1 John 3:12 tells us that Cain was of the evil one.  Several other scriptures tell us of the unnatural relations between humans and angelic beings: Genesis 19 (where the men of Sodom desired to “know” the two angelic men in Lot’s house); reference also 1 Peter 3:19-20, 2 Peter 2:4-5, and Jude 6-7.

In the very next message, SLJ lists seven attempts of Satan in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.  (Note here an overlap, that #7 above is also the first in this next list.)

1) The Birth of Christ (Matthew 2)

2) The Temptation of Christ (Matthew 4:1-11)

3) Through the Controversies of the Religious Leaders with Christ (Reference John 8:33-45)

4)  Through the Controversy of Christ with His disciples  (Matthew 16:21-23), Christ’s response to Peter “Get behind me, Satan!”

5)  On the verge of the Cross (John 14:30-31):  The prince of this world comes…

6) Satan, Judas and Christ (John 13:2, 27)

7) Satan and the Cross (Hebrews 2:14-15; Col. 2:15; 1 John 3:8)