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Our Proverbs 29:2B Society: Not Just Politics As Usual

June 28, 2013 7 comments

For today, some observations concerning the recent news, the U.S. Supreme Court rulings concerning laws about homosexual marriage. First, a few good articles for reference:  Al Mohler’s commentary and two posts from The Cripplegate (Jesse Johnson):  this first one  and this follow up.

A nominal Christian friend, generally indifferent about spiritual things, casually dismissed the recent news as basically “politics as usual.” Among the comments were platitudes about how we’re all corrupt and so even if we get rid of one bunch of politicians and form our own government, soon enough that government would become just as corrupt because people are corrupt and “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Also, “remember that this world is not our home” (suggesting complete indifference to the overall moral breakdown of our society in recent decades).  As to the Supreme Court’s striking down the DOMA law passed by both House and Senate in 1996, he added that “oh well, the current Congress can just do it again, just pass another law for the same issue,” and keep doing so every few years.

Aside from the obvious fact that the current divided Congress would not be able to pass such a law anyway, the specifics in this case make the situation far worse than this person realizes: Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, made a moral decision, finding the law unconstitutional precisely because it denied “the equal dignity” of same-sex marriage.  As Mohler well described it: he (Kennedy) asserted, quite forcefully, that opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in animus or hatred. In other words, Justice Kennedy, joined by four other justices, believes that opposition to same-sex marriage is wrong. In condemning a moral judgment, he arrogantly made a moral judgment.

Yes, politics and politicians have always been with us, and it is true in overall human government that “there is nothing new under the sun.” I once read commentary from C.H. Spurgeon that was very cynical of the government in his day. However, most societies throughout the centuries (thankfully, due to God’s common grace) are not experiencing Romans 1 wrath, such that those in leadership fail to uphold the law, call evil good and good evil, and reject the “concept that governments exist to check sin, rather than to promote it.”

John MacArthur has also pointed out the difference between normal politics and when government leaders step into the area of theology. From this 2009 phone interview (in reference to Obama’s pro-homosexual marriage comments to a group):

He has left the area of politics, and he’s entered the realm of theology. In other words, he is now attacking scripture. That’s not politics. That’s not Republican and Democratic politics. That’s not economic policy. That’s not, you know, what kind of health care we’re going to have. Now you have decided that you’re going to be the sovereign over morality, and when you decide you’re going to be the sovereign over morality, you’ve just set the Bible aside, you’ve set God aside. That’s a scary posture to take, because you now are the new god with the new sovereignty who will tell us what the new morality is.

The Temporary Spiritual Gifts: S. Lewis Johnson in 1 Corinthians 12

June 26, 2013 3 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 Corinthians series (this message), and this related message from his earlier Systematic Theology series, a look at the different spiritual gifts as set forth in the scriptures, and why some of the gifts are temporary (not permanent) spiritual gifts.

Four passages address the spiritual gifts – the two 12s and two 4s:  Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4.  The temporary gifts are largely sign gifts, the miraculous gifts:  apostles, prophets, miracles,  healings, tongues, utterances of knowledge and wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:8), and discerning of spirits.

Four reasons, biblical support, for why these spiritual gifts were temporary:

1) Scriptural hints:  Hebrews 2:3-4 indicates a progression: the word of God was spoken by our Lord, then moved in transition from our Lord to the apostles; and then, as the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us, it came to you and to us. There is a progression here and a progression in time, and it’s in the past, according to his understanding.

2)  Biblical principle: the analogy of Biblical history suggests it.  Dr. Johnson noted this very good point in his Systematic Theology series.  We can look at Old Testament history and the special times of miracles, in the ministry of Moses and later in Elijah’s day. Later came the arrival of the Messiah, the time of miracles in Jesus’ earthly ministry, followed by the time of the apostles (the book of Acts).

 When Israel entered into the land, the miraculous died out.  The signed gifts that Moses did, no longer were done. And for a long time, you’ll remember, no mighty signed gifts were performed in Israel.  Of course, God worked for Israel, He worked for David and He did remarkable things through those who believed in Him.  But the outburst of the miraculous performed by a man died out.  Now, if you had been an Israelite, you might have said, like many of my Pentecostal friends say today, “What Moses did, we ought to do.”  And you might throw snakes down or throw rods down, trying to make them turn into snakes and all of the other things that Moses did.  You might have struck the waters of the Red Sea and you might have struck the waters of the river — and none of those things would have happened because God did them through Moses.

3)  The nature of certain gifts demands that they be temporary.  For instance, the Gift of apostles.  By the very nature of his gift, it is to be understood that that gift is temporary.  For one of the requirements of an apostle, for example, was that he should see the Lord.  The canon of scripture was not yet complete, and from the temporary gift of apostles we have most of the New Testament books.

We have in the beginning of the history of the Christian church in the New Testament, the apostles of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  They were individuals who are ones who have seen the Lord and his resurrection.  That’s one of the qualifications.  And so apostleship is something we don’t have today, because we don’t have the privilege of seeing the Lord and his resurrection.

I am not an apostle.  I have not seen the Lord.  The Twelve and then one to take the place of Judas who fell, and the Apostle Paul; these are the apostles.  I know the term “apostle” is used elsewhere in the New Testament of others because it has a twofold usage.  It’s used of people who are sent as messengers of churches, because that’s essentially what the word apostle means, one who has been sent.  Apostles of the churches: but they are different from apostles of Jesus Christ.

4)  The voice of history confirms the fact that certain of the gifts are temporary.

 Beyond the time of the apostles there is no clear indication of the persistence of the assigned gifts in both number and character.  There are some incidental things that are stated here and there, and we do not deny that miracles may exist, remember, because Christians pray.  James 5 may have been used, so you may expect here and there miracles to take place.  But in the sense that they took place in the times of the apostles, we have no indication of that in later history.

Hermeneutics and Presuppositions: The 144,000 In Revelation

June 20, 2013 15 comments

A popular Reformed preacher has recently taught through Revelation (an amillennial view), and several of his fans have shared  excerpts from his teaching, agreeing with and saying how great his teaching is.  Looking at the specific “points” made by this preacher, though, I am reminded of S. Lewis Johnson’s observations nearly twenty years ago, that in our day so few people really know their Bibles and are thus more easily led astray.

Now for a look at one excerpt, what has been said with reference to the 144,000 in Revelation 7 (and Revelation 14):

If the 144,000 spoken of in Revelation is an actual number then, we have a problem, because the Bible says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, rather the 144,000 is a symbolic number of ALL the Elect (saved and sealed by Jesus Christ) of both Jews and Gentiles and are found spotless in the Lamb Jesus Christ His Perfect Bride….if we take the 144,000 literally then one must conclude that there are actually 144,000 who are virgins, and as the text says they are blameless, which is a serious problem because we have all sinned.

Right away several problems can be noted in these two statements.  First is the “root problem” presupposition, that the description of 144,00 in Revelation 7 must be about soteriology and specifically saying something concerning the doctrine of election.  But let the text speak for itself, and Revelation 7 reads as a (future) narrative event, describing the calling of a specific group of saved individuals, during a future event.  (Thus it belongs in the category of eschatology, the doctrine of last things — not soteriology.)  Nothing in the Revelation 7 and 14 texts says: a) that these 144,000 are the only people ever saved; b) that these 144,000 are the only Elect; or even c) that they are supposed to be representative of the elect.

The passage itself, in Revelation 7:13-14, explains the meaning of this scene (the 144,000 followed by the multitude):    Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”  I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.

Revelation 7 and 14 are describing narrative events that occur during the Great Tribulation, a particular time period (yet future to our day) often described by the prophets in the Old Testament by several terms: the time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jeremiah 30:7), the Day of the Lord, Daniel’s 70th week, the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24; also reference Deuteronomy 4:30).  Here we note also that Revelation is a book that relies heavily on Old Testament understanding, with many, many allusions to Old Testament texts.  So we look at all of scripture and what it has to say concerning a certain future time period (and there are many such texts especially in the Old Testament but also references to it in the New Testament), and see that Revelation is also describing this future time period.  Revelation is a narrative text that sometimes uses symbolic language, not a book explaining soteriology through the use of symbols.

Now to the second statement:  “if we take the 144,000 literally then one must conclude that there are actually 144,000 who are virgins, and as the text says they are blameless, which is a serious problem because we have all sinned.”  In the first place, what is so difficult to understand about the idea that 144,000 individuals are virgins?  Even in Jesus’ day there were eunuchs (Matthew 19:12), some of whom had made themselves so “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

But moving on to the next phrase:  the text says they are blameless, which is a serious problem because we have all sinned. Here again familiarity with the Bible and its usage of the term “blameless” must be considered.  A brief search through an online Bible reveals that the following individuals (all humans, who sinned) were described as “blameless”:

Clearly the Bible uses the term “blameless” in a different way than supposed by the teacher who thought of “blameless” as meaning sinless perfection.  Yet the Bible consistently uses the term blameless as meaning something else: our conduct and righteous living as redeemed sinners, the elect of God.  Other passages attest that God looks for and supports “those whose heart is blameless toward Him.” (2 Chron. 16:9).  Several of the Psalms speak of the righteous one, the saved sinner, as blameless, indicating that – even though indeed all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – God does look upon His saints as blameless; see, for instance, Psalm 15:2; Psalm 19:13; Psalm 37:18,37. Psalms 101 and 119 consider the “way that is blameless” and those whose way is blameless.”  This pattern continues in the New Testament, where again we are exhorted to righteous living and conduct, to be blameless.  The apostles were blameless in their conduct toward the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:10), and one of the tests for deacons in the church is that they be blameless (1 Timothy 3:10).

How appropriate S. Lewis Johnson’s statement (from his 1 Corinthians series) regarding the state of the church today, as seen in so many examples such as this one:

In evangelicalism, it’s much easier today for evangelicals to be led astray by false doctrine.  I personally believe that the reason is that evangelicals are not reading the Bible much these days.  They are not really studying the Bible much.  Sometimes they are reading books about the Bible, but a lot of times they are just attending evangelical services.  And therefore they are not themselves involved in the study of the Scriptures and pondering the words that are found in the Scriptures.

The Last (Divinely Sanctioned) Passover, the First Lord’s Supper: S. Lewis Johnson on 1 Corinthians 11

June 17, 2013 5 comments

Continuing through S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 Corinthians series, chapter 11 includes a mini-series, exploring the depth of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.  In a set of five messages (messages 27 through 31)  Dr. Johnson covers the Passover (as a type of Christ the final Passover Lamb); the Particular Redemption extent of the atonement (“Limited Atonement”); addresses the error of the Catholic Church while describing the variations of meaning (“this is my body”) within different Protestant groups; and notes the three components of the early church meeting.

Parallels between the Passover and The Lord’s Supper

  • Both are memorials for deliverance
  • Both are anticipations of future blessing:  Israel delivered from Egypt in order to be brought into the promised land.  The church of Jesus Christ: we in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper anticipate also the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ and the entrance and the fullness of the blessings that our ours by redemption. (1 Cor. 11:26  “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He come.”
  • Both were/are highlights of corporate worship: Israel’s yearly celebration of the Passover/  In the Christian Church, the Lord’s Supper is the highlight of worship.

The Passover service included four cups.  It is likely that the Lord used the third cup — the “cup of blessing”  (reference 1 Cor. 10:16).

Limited Atonement

I don’t like the term ‘limited’ because it seems to suggest that the grace of God is not full and great and sufficient for all.  It is sufficient for all.  Any believing person who comes to the Lord God will be received by Him.  It’s sufficient for all.  And I don’t know the elect.  The elect make themselves known by the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.  If I must answer the question, yes I believe in a limited atonement; but I would like to tell you Arminians who don’t understand the grace of God, that you do, too.

So you have plastered us with the term “limited,” but I say to you, your atonement is limited also, because your atonement, which you say is intended for everybody, doesn’t save everybody.  In other words, it is not all powerful.  My atonement that I celebrate is all powerful.  It saves everyone intended by the Lord God in Heaven.   So I like that atonement.  I love its power.  It celebrates the great power of our God in Heaven.

I do not want a God who is frustrated in his purposes.  I do not want a God who cannot do what he intended to do.   And so I must say, yes, my atonement is limited, but it is sufficient for all.

As SLJ notes, most evangelicals see the Lord’s Supper as symbolic and a memorial, the Zwingli view.  Dr. Johnson himself aligned more with John Calvin’s view: I tend myself to feel that there is something in what John Calvin says.  That is, when we partake of the elements, there is a ministry from the Lord Jesus himself that we receive by virtue of His spiritual presence in our meetings and the ministry of Himself to us as we partake of the elements. 

As referenced in Acts 2:42, the early church meeting had three parts: teaching (the apostles’ teaching), fellowship and the breaking of bread (the Lord’s Supper), and prayer.

Spurgeon (and Other Classic Preachers) As Guest Preachers

June 11, 2013 5 comments

Last week at the Pyromaniacs blog, Dan Phillips described his recent “guest preaching” in which he delivered a Spurgeon sermon (Dan’s sermon here).

Dan’s “guest preaching” included an introduction to Spurgeon: a brief bio as well as explanation of some of Spurgeon’s word phrases.  For instance, Spurgeon’s expression “hearing the voice of Christ” came before the modern Pentecostal and charismatic movement.  Spurgeon understood that as hearing Christ in scripture.  Interestingly, Dan learned the idea from a book he read in Seminary: as a pastor’s break from other series, a great way to introduce the congregation to the great sermons and great preachers from Church History.

Lest anyone should be confused, this is not the equivalent of (unfortunate incidents) modern day preachers plagiarizing another preacher’s sermons as their own. The sermons from the 19th century and earlier are in the public domain, freely distributed; and full recognition is given along with introduction to the “guest preacher.”  Mark Dever has also featured “guest preacher” Jonathan Edwards, on one occasion when he preached Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.”

I have enjoyed reading Spurgeon sermons, sequentially through the volumes (nearing the end of volume VII now), and, like Dan Phillips, have come to appreciate Spurgeon, and for similar reasons.  Guest preaching of Spurgeon is a real treat, suitable and edifying to modern day listeners.

Beyond this one sermon from Dan Phillips, though, many Spurgeon sermons have been recorded in audio format and freely available, as here (Sermon Audio), also another collection at Spurgeon Gems.  Googling reveals a few other audio selections online, even a handful available on Youtube.

CCEL also has text and audio recordings from other classic preachers, such as this audio collection of Jonathan Edwards sermons.

Genesis Genealogies and The Age of the Earth

June 8, 2013 1 comment

From Dr. Barrick’s 2013 MacDonald Lectures Creation series, one minor yet somewhat interesting issue from the first Q&A: the age of the Earth and the question of whether there are any gaps in the genealogies.

The question is often referred to as whether or not the Genesis genealogies are “closed” (complete) or “open” (skip generations and have gaps).  The Old Earth view would stretch the supposed “gaps” out to fit hundreds of thousands or more years, which is simply unworkable.

Dr. Barrick holds to and presents the belief that the Old Testament genealogies have gaps, such that the earth could be as much as 8,000, 10,000 or even 25,000 years old.  He cites the writing of Henry Morris, “The Genesis Flood,” for this idea, as well as the mention of the genealogy gaps in 1 Chronicles, and the gaps in Aaron and Moses’ ancestry. (For further reading on this point, see “Hard Sayings of the Bible,” edited by Walter Kaiser and F.F. Bruce, which addresses this point.  Click here to view pages 140-142 in Google Books.)  He further notes extra-biblical “evidence,” the uncertainty of certain ancient civilizations, that even secular scientists argue among themselves:  low chronology, middle chronology and high chronology for China, Egypt, and even for Sumeria.

I too heard that idea of “gaps” and thus the earth could be as much as 8,000 or 10,000 years old, when I first studied Creation Science years ago, from reading The Genesis Flood and similar material.  But as pointed out in this article at ICR.org, the Genesis genealogy from Adam to Abraham does not have such gaps, and the other genealogies are not relevant to the question.  We are told the age (to the nearest year) of each individual, from Adam’s age when Seth was born, on down to Abraham.  The only “gap” is in the partial years, that each individual had reached a certain birthday plus some number of months, but less than the next full year.  So the genealogies do not allow for a “gap” of a few thousand years, but only of 37 years.

Some people assume that the historical events related in the early chapters of Genesis cannot be precisely dated because we cannot be certain whether the genealogical lists are complete (“closed”) or whether they skip generations and have gaps (and are thus “open”). The issue is irrelevant because the timeframes given in Genesis are measured by the number of years between one event and another event, regardless of how many generations occurred between those “bookend” events.

As Barrick said, even if there were gaps we are still talking about a young earth, not millions and billions of years as some old-earth advocates would try to stretch the “gaps” to fit.  But the Genesis genealogy doesn’t have such gaps, so we can know that the earth is approximately 6000 years old (with a variance of possibly 37 years from Adam to Abraham), not 8,000 or 10,000 years old.

Biblical Creation Observations: the Problem of Death, and Is it Poetry?

June 5, 2013 5 comments

Continuing with Dr. Barrick’s 2013 creation series, some key points and responses to common objections to young earth creationism.  (From Barrick’s lectures #3, “The Problem of Death,” and #4, “Is It Poetry?”)

In reference to the theological issue of death, as in animal and plant death supposedly for millions and billions of years before man, old earth creationists sometimes point to Romans 5 and “reason” that the issue of spiritual death only relates to man’s death: the death of plants and animals is irrelevant.  As one undecided pastor remarked years ago in a conversation about death before Adam, “Ahh, but what kind of death was Paul talking about?”  Another pastor, firmly set in the Old Earth view, somehow thinks that plant and animal death is “normal” and part of the overall creation that God purposed, of course completely unrelated to Genesis 3.

Here we note that, indeed, Romans 5 is talking about spiritual death, in a comparison and contrast between the first and last Adam.  Yet Romans 5 is not the full answer or even a “prooftext” for Old Earth Creation, since of course we look at all of God’s revelation.  Genesis 3 is the first obvious text, and we also note many other OT texts which equate “blessing” with “life” and “curse” with “death.”  Another text to consider is Romans 8:19-22, which clearly links the curse put on the creation, not willingly, and  this curse affecting the creation is clearly linked to man’s sin – and the promise of redemption given both to redeemed sinners, as well as to the creation: the future Resurrection of the Righteous, and the future deliverance for creation itself.

Regarding the common claim that Genesis 1 is just poetry, I often think of a  John MacArthur quote (from the 2009 Shepherd’s Conference), emphasizing that: Genesis 1 is not poetry, and that the person who admits that ‘Genesis 1 purports to be a narrative account, only I do not believe that account’ is a better interpreter of scripture than the one who says ‘I believe Genesis but it’s just poetry.’  Dr. Barrick devotes a full message to this topic, with major responses to the ‘Genesis is poetry’ line.

1)      Genesis 1 lacks  parallelism, a major feature of Hebrew poetry.

2)      The grammar is same as that of the narrative style, not poetry.  Barrick references a study (through ICR.org) in which the scientist worked with a group of statisticians. They tabulated and analyzed all the grammatical features in the original Hebrew, of many passages recognized as narrative (such as 2 Kings 5), as well as passages recognized as poetic, and even passages considered part poetry and part narrative.  No surprise here, but Genesis 1’s grammar came up as on the extreme narrative category.

3)      Genesis 1’s lack of imagery and symbolism.  Compare it to Psalm 104, poetic verses about the creation.  Why would anyone think Genesis 1 is poetry, in comparison to Psalm 104?

4)      Even if an account is poetic, that in no way negates its truthfulness. Or as Barrick described it, “Poetry provides no automatic confirmation of a lack of historical veracity.  The genre style of a text has no connection to its truthfulness or historicity. We have non-true prose: it’s called fiction.  Even in secular literature, who would dismiss the classic poem “Charge of the Light Brigade” as of no value since it’s just poetry?  Looking more closely at biblical texts: compare Judges 4 (narrative account) with Judges 5 (Song of Deborah), and Exodus 14 (Deliverance through the Red Sea) and the song in Exodus 15.  Each of these provides one narrative account followed by a poetic version of the same event.  Psalms 78, 105 and 106 provide additional examples. Do we think these cannot be taken as fact, taken seriously, just because it’s poetry? No way.