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Thoughts on Contentment, and Zeal for Truth and Righteousness

October 15, 2019 2 comments

As I look back now on the last several years and God’s amazing work of Providence, I consider two issues that need balance:  godly contentment on the one hand, and the desire for what is right and true on the other; or, experiencing true contentment and gratitude to God for what He has done, while recognizing the evil in the world, including the major problems that occur at local churches among professed believers; rejoicing in the Lord in spite of the evil, recognizing what part each of us is responsible for– and leaving the rest, including the hearts and repentance of others, in God’s hands.  It is also the call to keep the long-term perspective, that we and everything around us are completely in God’s care and control, while still living in a very broken world.

I’ve seen God answer and resolve a situation that had continued for many years, something that appeared to be an unchanging, insurmountable circumstance (that I was just going to have to live with).  The original (major) issue has indeed been answered (along with many other unexpected blessings, side benefits);  as typically happens, one set of problems has been replaced with another, different set—albeit the new situation is more tolerable, a lesser degree of suffering and affliction.

A thousand years is as one day to God, and yet we get impatient when we don’t see change and results immediately.  Through this, though, I’ve come to realize that God is more interested in the process of our sanctification, our spiritual growth and maturity, our becoming more Christ-like, than in providing the immediate “fix” to our problems:  even when those problems involve truth and righteousness.  Yes, God is also very concerned about truth and righteousness as well – and yet there is His forbearance, that He puts up with so much evil and wickedness in the world, and He does not always change hardened hearts, even those of professed believers in a local church.  Reference 1 Corinthians 11, that there must be differences to show who has God’s approval.

Again I’m reminded of the reality that throughout church history, a lot of what happens within the professing visible church is a great disappointment.  Yet God allows it to occur, allowing wicked and unjust rulers within the church as well as in the secular government.  The churches in the 1st century were far from perfect; Christ had charges to bring against several of them (Revelation 2-3).  Many Christians today do not live near any decent church, and with others God has so ordered the circumstances to include attending less-than-ideal churches.  God’s word even addresses that point: the exhortation in Rev. 2:24-25

But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come.

and Malachi 3:16-18

16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. 17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

It also comes back to the handling of desires that are normal and good in themselves, such as the desire to attend a biblically solid, strong Reformed church.  Yet when God decrees otherwise, to then accept the negative answer and be content in God’s will, and to “hold fast what you have until I come.”  (Along the way comes the discovery, too, one that Spurgeon noted as well:  when God does not answer a prayer in one way, He provides the blessing in a different, unexpected way.)  Where possible, to push for change (so much as it lies within our own power to do so), yet still being thankful and praising God in the trial, as Habakkuk prayed and praised God, even though God’s answer wasn’t what he wanted.  Any desire that is proper in itself, becomes sinful (an inordinate desire) when placed above God and His will.  Here I also think about Daniel and his friends living in Babylon.  No doubt they would have preferred to be back in their homeland, to worship God at the temple.  Perhaps while in exile they experienced early-synagogue-type worship with other deported Jews, but maybe not.  All we are told about are the persecution experiences and Daniel’s private worship, how he worshiped in his own home.

I have also found my recent studies, such as Richard Baxter’s The Godly Home  very instructive, with a lot of great practical advice for dealing with less-than-ideal situations.  For instance, Baxter wrote at length about cases where spouses are not equally yoked, along with application to recognize what things we as individuals are responsible for versus what things are beyond our control, even describing some extreme (real or hypothetical) situations of his day.

A few selections:

if the husband is ignorant or is unable to instruct his wife, she is not bound to ask him in vain to teach her what he does not understand.  Those husbands who despise the Word  of God and live in willful ignorance do not only despise their own souls but their families also… for God has said in his message to Eli, “Those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed”

. . .

and the woman if she follows him must leave all those helps and go among ignorant, profane, heretical persons or infidels.

Answer: If she is one who is likely to do good to the infidels, heretics, or bad persons with whom they must converse.. or if she is a confirmed, well-settled Christian and not very likely, either by infection or by want of helps, to be unsettled and miscarry, it seems to me the safest way to follow her husband.  She will lose God’s public ordinances by following him, but it is not imputable to her, as being outside her choice.  She must lose the benefits and neglect the duties of the married ordinance if she does not follow him….

… What if a woman has a husband who will not suffer her to read the Scriptures or go to God’s worship, public or private, or who beats and abuses her….

The woman must at necessary seasons, though not when she would, both read the Scriptures and worship God and suffer patiently what is inflicted on her.  Martyrdom may be as comfortably suffered from a husband as from a prince.  But yet if neither her own love, duty, and patience, nor friends’ persuasion, nor the magistrate’s justice can free her from such inhumane cruelty as quite disables her for her duty to God and man, I do not see why she may not depart from such a tyrant.

Regarding things in our power to change, versus what is not in our power, he lists several limitations, when something is not in our power to change:

First, it is not lawful either in family, commonwealth, church, or anywhere to allow sin or to tolerate it or to leave it uncured when it is truly in our power to cure it.  … It is not in our power to do that which we are naturally unable to do.  No law of God binds us to impossibilities.  …

When the principal causes do not cooperate with us, and we are but subservient moral causes.  We can but [attempt to] persuade men to repent, believe, and love God and goodness.  We cannot save men without and against themselves.  Their hearts are out of our reach; therefore, in all these cases we are naturally unable to hinder sin.

Those actions are out of our power that are acts of higher authority than we have.  A subject cannot reform by such actions as are proper to the sovereign or a layman by actions proper to the pastor, for want (lack) of authority.

This section lists many other scenarios, as pertaining to authority, or what a superior forbids us to do, and even cases where “great and heinous sins may be endured in families sometimes to avoid a greater hurt and because there is no other means to cure them.”

Experience through the difficulties, along with wisdom gleaned from books such as the Puritans (including the above writings from Richard Baxter), are the things that God uses in our lives as we prayerfully look to Him for guidance every day, as we learn to keep the proper balance and to praise and thank God while desiring a change in the circumstances.  Above all, we pray the Lord’s Prayer and for His will to be done in and through the situations.

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.”

Hermeneutical Principles: The Error of Illegitimate Totality Transfer

August 18, 2011 7 comments

Through regular Bible study and sermon listening, come several hermeneutical principles for handling scripture.  These principles can be applied not only in our own study but also in discussions with others.  A few basic principles I’ve learned are called the “checking principle” and the analogy of faith.  The checking principle comes up in cases where one person has a unique interpretation, one that no one else upholds: in humility that person must consider carefully the reasons for his different conclusion.  The “analogy of faith” is more common, and comes from one’s understanding of all scripture:  scripture does not contradict itself.  If one passage has a meaning, that meaning must not disagree with other scriptural teaching.

I learned a third principle recently, the error of “illegitimate totality transfer,” a case of taking the meaning — the sense or concept — from one part of scripture and lifting that idea and wrongly applying it to another scripture that may have some of the same words but totally different usage.  In a recent online discussion, for example, someone brought up the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25.  Because all ten virgins had oil, and because oil elsewhere represents the Holy Spirit, this person concluded that all ten virgins had the Holy Spirit and were saved.

In this case, the person certainly had a unique interpretation (the “checking principle”), and also that idea contradicts other doctrinal teaching  (“analogy of faith”):  the perseverance and preservation of the saints.  People don’t lose their salvation.  Since the five virgins are later turned away, when Christ says He never knew them, they represent unbelievers, those who never had saving faith to begin with.

But going beyond these problems, comes the “illegitimate totality transfer” with that person’s improper concept of “oil,” which in some parts of scripture is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, but does not fit the case of this parable in Matthew 25.  Mike Riccardi well spoke to this particular Bible discussion with some great observations:

Jesus is employing an illustration, and in this case the oil just means oil. The point is right there in the text: be ready for Christ’s coming; don’t be spiritually lazy, because He’s coming any minute.

Not to mention, pressing the details in parables is (1) insensitive to the genre, and treating it more like allegory, and (2) often ridiculous, like here. What would we conclude? That some of us can store up “more” of the Holy Spirit, so that when Christ comes, we don’t have to go get more of the Holy Spirit from somewhere, and, as a result, miss His coming?

Better to let a parable be a parable, oil be oil, and the point of the passage be stated by the passage itself (Mt 25:13).

What the Reformers Did Not Reform

August 11, 2011 3 comments

It is so well-established, beyond excuse, that Luther and Calvin did not reform eschatology, or ecclesiology, but just imported those ideas from Catholicism. How ironic that now the “truly reformed” act just as arrogant, appealing to church history and tradition, as “the Establishment” of Roman Catholicism did to the reformers years ago.

This statement, from a recent online discussion and then posted on one person’s Facebook status, brought about some rather interesting, though predictable, responses from some of those “truly reformed” individuals who reject dispensationalism.  Their responses show only continued unbelief, which is beyond excuse, and ignorance of both history and theology.

One response:  the Reformers did reform eschatology.  They got rid of purgatory, and Wikipedia says that purgatory is part of eschatology.  Leaving aside the lack of credibility for their source (Wikipedia and similar sites), consider just what purgatory really involved:  not “the afterlife” or “last things” but a works-based salvation system, which is part of soteriology and not eschatology.  The whole purpose of purgatory is to provide a works-based way for the works-based sinner to gain (by works) salvation and go to heaven.

Another response:  the Reformers did reform ecclesiology.  They departed from the Catholic church system.  Again how ridiculous a claim.  Leaving one church-state system, and then setting up a new (Protestant) church with the same ecclesiastical model of a church-state (even continuing infant baptism and keeping the government and church firmly together), is not reforming ecclesiology.

The next response:  why can’t you just accept that the Reformers did study eschatology, and through their own study and exegesis they came to the amillennialist conclusions?
Answer:  because they didn’t.  Luther and Zwingli both considered the book of Revelation as non-canonical.  Zwingli preached at his local church through every New Testament book–except the book of Revelation.  John Calvin did not reject Revelation from the canon, yet he wrote commentaries on every New Testament book except Revelation.  Calvin further thought premillennialism meant that eternity only lasts for 1000 years and dismissed that as an absurdity.

For an overview look at actual church history, and the beginnings of replacement theology, amillennialism and Covenant Theology, refer to this previous blog.

Unbelief: Those Who Say “It is Not Necessary to Believe . . .”

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

From listening to S. Lewis Johnson teaching through Matthew 4, the temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness, comes the following gem:

You’ll notice also as you ponder ways in which men have attacked the faith, when they are guided by Satan, they do not, as a general rule, attack point blank the revelation that is found in the word of God.  They usually come with some kind of questions that suggest doubt concerning the Scriptures.  Ordinarily, you do not have a man who does not believe in the virgin birth stand in the pulpit and say, “I do not accept the biblical accounts of the virgin birth; the Lord Jesus was not born by a virgin.”  They do not normally say that.  They usually will say, “There are those who believe the Lord Jesus was born of a virgin, and there are those who believe the Lord Jesus was not born of a virgin; it is not necessary that we believe this doctrine.”  That is the usual way in which unbelief appears.  It is the kind of expression that casts doubt upon the word of God:  “it’s not necessary.”

How true this is:  the real enemy of biblical Christianity is not the overt anti-Christian message of atheists — it is those who come in among the church and take issue with some of the doctrines of the faith.  Where the scripture itself is clear and to the point, such individuals will come in and declare that belief in such-and-such a doctrine is optional — “not all Christians believe this,” and “Christians can believe this other way…”  It goes back to Satan’s word to Eve in the garden — questioning God; did God really say thus?

I can especially relate this to the so-called “second order” doctrines — truths clearly revealed in Scripture, part of God’s overall revealed word yet not part of soteriology — nonetheless doctrines that all true believers will love because they are in God’s book the Bible.  “God’s people are not offended by God’s word.”  Yet how many professing believers will come forth and proclaim that, because such doctrines are not “necessary for salvation” therefore these are really fringe issues and thus we can treat these as optional.  I have in mind specifically the doctrine of biblical creation, something clearly taught (not at all vague or unclear language) in Genesis 1 — and explicitly affirmed again in Exodus.  Yet I still recall the satanic words of a local church preacher on this point:  that not all Christians believe in a young earth, and we can still be Christians even though we don’t believe this.

Some might object to my calling this “satanic words.”  But what else can this really be called?  How is this any different from the example quoted above, or from the spirit of Satan’s words to Eve?  Even Peter once said the words of Satan, and Jesus rebuked him appropriately:  “get thee behind me, Satan.”

ICR’s (Institute for Creation Research) recent devotional also addressed the matter of “fringe issues” as compared to secondary doctrines that are revealed in scripture, observing that “Perhaps the rule might be, if it’s an essential doctrine, teach and defend it at all costs; if it’s a secondary doctrine, teach it in “meekness” and love (2 Timothy 2:25).” and concluding:

Is creationism a fringe issue? No! Few doctrines are so clearly taught in Scripture. Is it crucial to salvation? No! But it is essential to adequately understand the great primary doctrines for it is foundational to them all. Furthermore, it is the subject of origins which the enemy has identified as a major battleground, vowing to destroy Christianity over this issue. Here we must stand, if we are to guard our faith.