Archive

Posts Tagged ‘doctrine’

The Reformed Confessions: Balance and Structure

March 20, 2017 3 comments

Following up from the last post, some more thoughts concerning the use of confessions in understanding Christian doctrine.  As I mentioned last time, it is actually the person learning individual doctrines apart from the confessions (which are a type of systematic theology, doctrinal summary) who is more likely to become proud,  full of head knowledge, and to have an imbalanced view concerning Christianity.  For the confessions provide a balance and a structure, considering all the doctrines and the proper view of them.

One example of this is the doctrine of predestination, which is addressed in the third chapter of the 1689 Baptist Confession.  The Credo Covenant blog  provides a good daily devotional study, a new post every day in the series “A Little Time with the 1689.” Each day’s post provides a look at a phrase or sentence from the 1689 Confession, in sequence through each chapter.  Recent posts addressed the end of the third chapter, on the doctrine of predestination.  Here the confession even has a response, from hundreds of years ago, to the common modern-day problem of “cage stage Calvinism.” So many today learn the Doctrines of Grace (aka the Five Points of Calvinism), outside of its original context (Old Calvinism; the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms) – and thus this one doctrine, learned by itself without proper perspective regarding other doctrines, often leads to pride and arrogance.  Yet the confession itself, in chapter 3 paragraph 7 well summarizes how we should handle the teaching of predestination:

The doctrine of the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election; so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.

Other examples of this include the understanding of different measures/levels of faith, and the balance between man as a fallen sinner and yet made in the image of God.  Without the confessions as a framework, too much emphasis may be given to the teaching that we are such wicked, depraved sinners (LBCF chapter 6) – while completely ignoring that we are also made in the image of God (LBCF chapter 4), and what it means to be image bearers of God.  Another common imbalance, often seen in “Sovereign Grace” New Calvinist churches, is to over-emphasize the sovereignty of God to the point of hyper-Calvinism and a passive approach to the Christian life, which thus reasons that since faith is all from God, everything comes from God, then “how can there be any difference between believers, such that some have ‘little faith’ and others have ‘great faith’?”  Again, the confessions – which themselves affirm the highest priority to scripture (chapter 1), and provide the detailed summary of what scripture teaches – provide in summary form the details of saving faith.  From the 1689 Baptist Confession, these excerpts from chapter 14 on saving faith:

The grace of faith…  is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened.

14.3 — This faith, although it be different in degrees, and may be weak or strong, yet it is in the least degree of it different in the kind or nature of it, as is all other saving grace, from the faith and common grace of temporary believers; and therefore, though it may be many times assailed and weakened, yet it gets the victory, growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.

Reference the full chapter, including scripture references for each point, here.

So, with the structure, balance and depth of the confessions as excellent summaries of Christian truth, we can heartily agree with and appreciate Charles Spurgeon, including what he wrote in his “Morning and Evening” devotional regarding faith (the March 7 entry):

The best servants of God are those who have the most faith. Little faith will save a man, but little faith can not do great things for God. Little faith is powerless to fight against the Evil One. Only a faithful Christian can do that. Little faith is enough to get to heaven most certainly, but it often has to travel the road in fear. It says to itself, “Oh, it is such a rough road, filled with sharp thorns and full of dangers; I am afraid to go on.” But Great faith remembers the promise, “Your shoes will be like iron and brass; and your strength will be with you all of your days,” and so she boldly pushes forward.

Do you want to be happy? Do you want to enjoy your relationship with Christ? Then “have faith in God.” If you don’t mind living in gloom and misery, then be content with little faith; but if you love the sunshine and want to sing songs of rejoicing, then earnestly desire to have “great faith.”

Arminianism: Error, But Not Damnable Heresy

December 12, 2012 16 comments

On occasion we in Calvinist circles come across someone with a very narrow definition of true Christianity, to the point of saying that Arminians are heretics: as in, not actual Christians.  Aside from the fact that the person may be confusing pelagianism and/or semi-pelagianism with Arminianism, such a view fails to see the difference between a serious error and misunderstanding, versus those we could not fellowship with as Christians.  As S. Lewis Johnson well summed it upWe’re all born Pharisees. We’re born again as Arminians. And the work of sanctification is to bring us to Calvinism.

Phil Johnson also addressed the issue in this talk (Closet Calvinists: Why Arminians pre-suppose the doctrines of grace) at the 2007 Shepherds Conference (article version, Why I Am A Calvinist, Part 1), noting that “I’m Calvinistic enough to believe that God has ordained, at least for the time being, that some of my brethren should hold Arminian views.”  In God’s great providence, shortly after I observed an online incident (a person calling Arminians heretics) and the follow-up discussion on that issue, I came to this great sermon from Charles Spurgeon in my reading through Spurgeon volume 7, “EXPOSITION OF THE DOCTRINES OF GRACE.”  Here are some good points from Mr. Spurgeon:

 The controversy which has been carried on between the Calvinist and the Arminian is exceedingly important, but it does not so involve the vital point of personal godliness as to make eternal life depend upon our holding either system of theology. Between the Protestant and the Papist there is a controversy of such a character, that he who is saved on the one side by faith in Jesus, dares not agree that his opponent on the opposite side can be saved while depending on his own works. There the controversy is for life or death, because it hinges mainly upon the Doctrine of Justification by Faith, which Luther so properly called the test Doctrine, by which a Church either stands or falls. The controversy, again, between the Believer in Christ and the Socinian, is one which affects a vital point. If the Socinian is right, we are most frightfully in error; we are, in fact, idolaters, and how can eternal life dwell in us? And if we are right, our largest charity will not permit us to imagine that a man can enter Heaven who does not believe the real Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are other controversies which thus cut at the very core, and touch the very essence of the whole subject.

I think we are all free to admit, that while John Wesley, for instance, in modern times zealously defended Arminianism, and on the other hand, George Whitefield with equal fervor fought for Calvinism, we should not be prepared, either of us, on either side of the question, to deny the vital godliness of either the one or the other. We cannot shut our eyes to what we believe to be the gross mistakes of our opponents, and should think ourselves unworthy of the name of honest men if we could admit that they are right in all things, and ourselves right, too! … We are willing to admit—in fact we dare not do otherwise—that opinion upon this controversy does not determine the future or even the present state of any man!

Finally, in beginning to expound on what Calvinists do and do not believe, Spurgeon observed (something also applicable to other doctrinal differences among believers):

We have not come here to defend your man of straw—shoot at it or burn it as you will, and, if it suits your convenience, still oppose doctrines which were never taught, and rail at fictions which, except in your own brain, were never in existence. We come here to state what our views really are, and we trust that any who do not agree with us will do us the justice of not misrepresenting us. If they can disprove our Doctrines, let them state them fairly, and then overthrow them, but why should they first caricature our opinions, and then afterwards attempt to put them down?

Romans 12: Observations from S. Lewis Johnson

June 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Continuing through Romans with S. Lewis Johnson, the twelfth chapter begins the section often referred to as the “practical” part.  Of course, as SLJ notes, it isn’t that “doctrine” isn’t practical.  All doctrine is practical.  Rather, this section, Romans 12-16, is the concrete part of doctrine, as distinct from the theoretical part, Romans 1-11.

In the Romans 12 messages Dr. Johnson emphasizes the difference between God’s decretive will of everything that happens, versus God’s preceptive will — that which is pleasing to God.  We don’t know God’s decretive will until after the event transpires. But we learn God’s preceptive will from studying His word.  SLJ also taught about God’s two wills in several other places, including some of his Old Testament series, as for instance in From Egypt to Canaan: Studies in the Exodus, Gideon, and The Life of Samson.

In reference to hospitality (Romans 12:13), we remember the historical setting of ancient Rome. They didn’t have national chain motels along the roads, and the inns were not pleasant places.  Johnson relates further interesting historical information, the custom of certain families/clans within Roman society to establish their own hospitality with another family. If a member of one family that lived in Rome wanted to visit Jerusalem, they could contact this other family that lived in Jerusalem.  Identification between the two clans would be provided through tokens, each family having a part of a broken object, and the individual’s identity verified by seeing that their broken piece fit to the other family’s matching part.

John Chrysostom observed a very good point regarding Romans 12:15 (Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep), that it is much easier for us, even as believers, to relate to others’ miseries and sympathize in those situations, than to rejoice with others in their good news.  How very true that is.  Envy gets in the way when we hear of the good things that happen to others, the things of which they rejoice.

Doctrine and the Spirit

May 10, 2012 2 comments

This week has seen some excellent blog articles on the ever-important topic of doctrine and the Holy Spirit:

Phil Johnson at Pyromaniacs:  “What is Written”

The Cripplegate:  Driscoll vs. Calvin, Doctrine vs. the Spirit

Then, from listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s Romans series (in Romans 10) recently, the following great words:

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.  …  Mr. Moody said, “I prayed for faith and thought that some day faith would come down and strike me like lightning.  But faith did not seem to come.  One day I read in the tenth chapter of Romans, ‘Now faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.’  I had closed my Bible, and prayed for faith.  I now opened my Bible and began to study the word of God, and faith has been growing ever since.”

If you want to know how to have faith, begin and grow, it’s through Scripture.  The reason the apostles had faith was because they had contact with Jesus Christ.  The only way in which you can have contact with Jesus Christ is through the Scripture.  By the Scriptures you may be with our Lord Jesus Christ.  You may be with Him when He preaches the word.  You may be with in that boat on the Sea of Galilee when the storm comes.  You may be with Him in the synagogue when He casts out the money changers.  You may be with Him as he makes his way toward Calvary.  You may even be with Him around the cross of Calvary, and Hear him cry out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”  You may be with Him in his resurrection.  You may hear the lessons that He taught the apostles.  You may really be there by the Holy Spirit.  You see, faith comes through contact with Jesus Christ in the word of God.  That’s the only place that you can find faith, but we go looking for every other place than that place.

Dan Phillips Sermon Series: Thinking Biblically

May 8, 2012 2 comments

Pyromaniacs blogger Dan Phillips is now also the pastor at Copperfield Bible Church in Houston, and I’ve had a chance to listen to some of his preaching, including his introductory message to a new series, “Thinking Biblically”: understanding the Bible and systematizing theology.

The audio encryption rate is only 16 bits, thus the voice loses a little quality and sounds a bit metallic, but the words and message are clear enough.  After reading his online material for a few years, and his two recently published books, I agree with a friend who noted that his voice doesn’t quite sound like what I expected, and his preaching lacks the sarcastic humor seen online. (No doubt the sarcasm comes from the context of dealing with sometimes difficult people online, a different setting than a local Sunday morning sermon.)  I have noted some style similarity, though, as in his use of the word “evidently” both in audio and writing.

His speaking style is easy to follow, casual like his writings.  The content is a good example of what all preachers who claim to uphold “sola Scriptura” should preach: actually looking in detail at what the Bible says and what it means.  The first message, an introduction to the series, considers three basic questions, and answers them — with scriptural support, in a message that covered a lot of ground in a survey-style approach.

  1. Is it possible to define the faith?  (reference 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Hebrews 1:1-2)
  2. Is it desirable?  Should we put together what the Bible says? (reference Psalm 19, Psalm 119:1)
  3. Is it Necessary? (Matthew 28:18, John 8:31-32)

On this last point Dan noted the meaning of the word disciple:  a pupil, a student.  The Great Commission in Matthew 28 is not what people often think, that this means to go out and evangelize and save everyone.  The wording instead is “make disciples”: enroll students in the school of Christ. A good analogy here, regarding the error of just preaching the basic salvation message and “get everyone saved,” would be if a church were to decide to promote and focus on marriage, and to do so by having a bunch of wedding ceremonies.  “The wedding is only the beginning.”

Throughout the listening, I could not help but notice the very obvious contrast between Dan Phillips and the poor preaching seen recently at a certain local church:  actually doing what you say you believe, by actually teaching the content of the word of God and explaining why it’s important to study.  It’s all too easy to just skim the surface superficially, and make a whole sermon filled with general statements about how important and how valuable God’s word is, and how we uphold “sola scriptura,” and recount the story of Martin Luther upholding the faith, etc.  Such a message only becomes hypocrisy, though, when the one preaching it rejects the truth of Genesis 1 and errs at numerous other specific points of scripture, with a superficial and loose interpretive approach of “what it really means.”  Unfortunately, it fools a lot of people who only listen to those great words rather than the detail.  Yet how much more satisfying is this positive, Bible teaching message, of actually delving into the word of God and noting what the Bible says about itself and about everything else, and to our biblical worldview.

How Precise the Bible Is

November 14, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s fairly common within discussions among Christians, to find individuals who confound and blur the meaning of basic words and meanings in the Bible.  How many debates continue because some refuse to accept that “day” really does mean a normal day.  Some will confound the term Israel, and carelessly mix and match different terms and passages in the Bible, to blur the distinctions between “Church” and “Israel,” between “Jew” and “Gentile,” or quote familiar passages that deal with one topic and apply some other meaning to it.

What is really amazing about the Bible, though, is its precision, its very precise language revealed with even more detailed study of passages.  For instance, in the gospel accounts Jesus is careful to say that He was sent (eternal), not born.  Only one time does He say “I was born” and that was to Pilate; even there Christ quickly followed up with “and for this purpose I have come.”  Isaiah 9:6 also uses careful wording in the familiar prophecy about the Christ:  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.  The child born refers to His humanity, when He took on human flesh and was born.  The “son is given” refers to Christ’s Eternality, the Eternal Sonship.  The way we as sinful people carelessly handle God’s word, it could just as easily have been said “a child is given, and a son is born.”  But that misses the mark and does not convey the importance of Christ’s incarnation alongside His eternal existence as the Son of God.

Another Old Testament prophecy also takes pains to make itself very clear, to leave no room for misunderstanding.  Micah 5:2 tells us that He would be born in “Bethlehem Ephrathah” — not just Bethlehem, for Israel had another “Bethlehem” (in the north).  The text does not leave room for any ambiguity, any uncertainty as to whether our Lord fulfilled that prophecy.

We also see this precision of thought in the New Testament, as in Paul’s writings.  In 1 Corinthians 15:45-47, we have “the last Adam” and “the second man.”  Those terms can be easily confused, as where, for instance, Dr. Ironside found a book that misquoted it as “the second Adam” and “the last man” — and in his notes, for emphasis, wrote “No.  He is the last Adam and the second Man.”  As S. Lewis Johnson summed it up:  He’s the second Man because there are other men who will, of course, be related to the Lord God.  He’s the last Adam, however, because if he had failed, there was no other representative man who stood over against Adam the first.  So “last Adam” not “second Adam.”

The Five Points Of … Dispensationalism

September 1, 2011 8 comments

A recent online conversation about a new group email address for “5ptdispy” led to discussion of what is a “five point dispy” and belief statement lists generally.  We’re all familiar with the five points of Calvinism, the TULIP.  As I recently learned from a church history series, that five point list came about in the 17th century, in response to the early Arminians’ five point list of their doctrinal beliefs.

Another well-known list of Fives:  the Five Solas

But since we were discussing “what is a 5 point dispy?” here is my suggested list of the Five Points of Dispensationalism:
1.  Distinction between Israel and the Church.  The church is not Israel, it is not the continuation of Israel, and it has not replaced Israel.
2.  Israel’s Future. Israel has a future as a nation in the plan of God in which the Lord will fulfill the covenant promises He made to her in the Old Testament.
3.  Emphasis on the Biblical covenants set forth in scripture, and especially on the unconditional, unilateral Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants.  These take precedence over the theological covenants of Covenant Theology.
4.  Literal future kingdom of God upon the earth, which will last for a literal 1000 years, in which Christ reigns from Jerusalem, and Israel has a place of prominence among the nations.
5.  Literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic.  The Old Testament stands on its own and is not “reinterpreted” to have additional meanings.  Bible texts can have multiple applications, but have (one) singular meaning.

This is of course a “rough draft” statement, a basic overview, but one that does address the main doctrinal points of what dispensationalism really is.

Matt Weymeyer’s “Am I A Dispensationalist?”  expands on the first two of my five points.  A brief excerpt concerning item 2, Israel’s future:

The Old Testament promises of Israel’s restoration have not already been fulfilled.  The New Testament also teaches an eschatological restoration and salvation of the nation of Israel in fulfillment of God’s covenant promises. … Having considered the promises of restoration in their original Old Testament contexts, I am convinced that there is no way that these promises have already been fulfilled.

They were not fulfilled in the returns to the land from exile under Zerubbabel (536 B.C.), Ezra (557 B.C.), or Nehemiah (445 B.C.), and they cannot be rightly understood as finding their fulfillment in the present salvation of the church and/or the eternal state.  To put it simply, the Lord simply has not yet done what He has promised to do in these Old Testament passages, and for this reason I await the day when He will.

Second, I believe that the New Testament also teaches an eschatological restoration and salvation of the nation of Israel in fulfillment of God’s covenant promises. At this point, I should note that I don’t believe it to be necessary that promises be repeated in the New Testament for them to remain valid—if the Lord has made a promise in the Old Testament, and He has yet to fulfill that promise, one can expect that He will still do so regardless of whether or not it is repeated in the New Testament. In my reading, however, I find that the New Testament picture to be consistent with how I have interpreted the Old Testament.