Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Notable Quotes 5

I am glad you know when persons are justified. It is a lesson I have not yet learnt. There are so many stony ground hearers, that receive the Word with joy, that I have determined to suspend my judgment till I know the tree by its fruits… The way the Spirit of God takes, is like that we take in preparing the ground: do you think any farmer would have a crop of corn next year unless they plow now; and you may as well expect a crop of corn on unplowed ground, as a crop of grace, until the soul is convinced of its being undone without a Saviour. That is the reason we have so many mushroom converts, so many persons that are always happy! happy! happy! and never were miserable; why? Because their stony ground is not plowed up; they have not got a conviction of the law; they are stony ground hearers; they hear the word with joy, and in a time of temptation, which will soon come after a seeming or real conversion, they fall away. They serve Christ as the young man served the Jews that lay hold of him, who, when he found he was like to be a prisoner for following Christ, left his garments; and so some people leave their profession. That makes me so cautious now, which I was not thirty years ago, of dubbing converts so soon. I love now to wait a little, and see if people bring forth fruit; for there are so many blossoms which March winds you know blow away, that I cannot believe they are converts till I see fruit brought forth. It will do converts no harm to keep them a little back; it will never do a sincere soul any harm. – George Whitefield

Monday, June 27, 2011

Corpses Don't Have Felt Needs

In my area there is an insurance company who runs two incredibly opposite ads. One depicts a man who gets off with what appears to be murder and the other an altruistic claim to love helping those in need. Maybe I’m just more cynical than most people, but I can’t help but notice the absolute lack of substance in either commercial. The message of both ads is absolutely irrelevant: they are both pieces of rhetoric intended to drum up business. Almost all marketing is like this, I know, but these two ads by the same people for the same product, exemplify this in a higher degree than anything else I’ve ever seen.

Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. My interest is in this whole phenomenon of communication without substance. I am bothered because this is the model adopted by so many “evangelism” techniques of our day. Every attempt is made to find some catchy idea or buzz word that will resonate with hearers and address a “felt need,” assuming that this is what will get them to come to God. Precious little of modern evangelism contains any content. Feeling and emotion are what is addressed. Lost men’s greatest need is the one they never feel: their being dead in sin. Corpses don’t have felt needs because they don’t feel.

Let me backtrack a second and address a popular misconception. Reformed people are often accused of being droll, boring and emotionless. No doubt there are Arminians who are boring too. Theology has nothing to do with that. But it is wrong to assume that Reformed theology is emotionless because we speak against this appeal to emotions and feelings. Right out of the box, the Heidelberg Catechism tells us that we will feel gratitude to God when we understand how great our sin and misery are and how great a salvation Christ has accomplished for us. Gratitude is an emotion.

Secondly, Reformed worship feels boring to Arminians and Pentecostal types in particular, because they are used to a form of “worship” that has zero doctrinal content and is aimed at nothing else but stimulating emotions. Granted, this is more fun that being intellectually challenged, but it is not the Biblical way to address people.

Consider for a moment the times in Paul’s epistles when he breaks out in a joyful burst of emotion in praise to God. What prompted this? Was it a string of feelings-targeted statements accompanied by moving emotion-charged music? No. It was his response to dense, closely argued theological truth. That is the biblical model. Evading contact with the mind in order to get emotions whipped up – this is little more than a parlor trick. And yet this is all that most of contemporary Christian preaching, literature and music is. We now have churches full of people who live on fortune cookie slogans instead of sound doctrine.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Doctrine Is Not Important If Continuists Are Right

Acts 15:6-21 tells us of the Jerusalem Council which was convened to sort out the question of the relationship of Jews and Gentiles in the Church. Circumcision was more specifically the issue addressed, but the acceptance of Gentiles into the covenant community was the underlying issue. With regard to the inclusion of Gentiles, an argument is made from the ministries of Peter and Paul and the experience of their Gentile converts. In verse 8, Peter makes the explicit claim that the former distinction between Jew and Gentile must no longer exist because God has given the Holy Spirit to the Gentile converts in the exact same validating way that He gave to them. In other words, God has validated these converts; therefore, whatever differences between them which the Jews thought to be important must actually be insignificant

That is why I am so hard-line regarding the correctness of Cessationism. Peter agued the validity of Cornelius' salvation because his household experienced the same outpouring of the spirit that the Apostles did on Pentecost. Continuists, if they are going to be consistent, will recognize anyone (Oneness, Romanist, Greek Orthodox, Mormon, whatever) as long as they can attest to the same spiritual gifts. They reason that if God isn't concerned enough about their doctrine to withhold Holy Ghost baptism, then surely these doctrinal differences must be insignificant. Before the so-called Charismatic renewal, no self-respecting evangelical would be caught dead “fellowshipping” with Roman Catholics. Now all this has changed. The existence of Charismatic Catholics has removed the barrier created by pesky little doctrines like worshipping, or praying to the saints, Transubstantiation, Purgatory, and image worship. That is why TBN is riddled with screwballs. Tongues-speaking, prophecy and words of knowledge are the equalizers for them. If they can do these things, nothing else matters.

They are wrong, wrong, wrong; but their logic is accurate. If these spiritual manifestations are genuine, then God must not care about their doctrine, because He is validating their ministries with His power. If it really is the Holy Spirit at work among the denizens of TBN, then we have no other option but to accept that God doesn’t mind Benny Hinn’s 9-person deity, or the manifold other blasphemies of the Word of Faith crowd. If God is truly passing out powerful manifestations of His Spirit to image-worshipping papists, then who are we to be more persnickety about doctrine than God? Of course, this leaves us only one of two alternatives: accept Continuism, or insist, correctly, on Cessationism.

As Reformed Cessationists, we affirm that all of the so-called manifestations of spiritual gifts among Charismatics of all stripes are in fact, false. God does not violate His own Word. He has emphatically closed the canon of Scripture with the book of Revelation. We can therefore rule out of hand that anything which emanates from, relies on, or promotes the existence and/or exercise of any one of the revelatory sign gifts is simply fraudulent.

Monday, June 20, 2011

With Man It Is Impossible

“Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible…”

This passage, if read honestly, proves to be the bullet in the brain of Arminianism. The context, of course, is the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30. Much ridiculous speculation has been done about the ‘eye of the needle.” One such attempt to soften the blow of Christ’s words is to render it “cable” instead of “camel,” as if threading a needle with a cable were easier than running a camel through it! Others have emasculated the text by proposing some imaginary gateway into Jerusalem to be the “eye of the needle.” These ideas are clearly wrong because the miss the absoluteness of the impossibility. The disciples’ response gives us the clue that this is how the impossibility is to be understood. They cry out in astonishment: “Who then can be saved?”

Surely this is beside the point. The point Jesus makes, as evidenced by the Disciples’ response, is not how much money one can have before it becomes a hindrance to entering heaven. The point is that “salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). Unless God does what is impossible for men, it doesn’t get done. End of story.

Notice that Jesus does not say, “With men it is difficult;” or, “With men it requires a sincere effort;” or “With men it hinges upon their decision.” No, friend. It is as blunt, succinct and as concise as language can express it: It is impossible.

“Impossibility is the sphere of God’s activity,” says Warfield. Which means only one thing: If God doesn’t save you, you don’t get saved. One of the most widely quoted sayings also happens to one of the stupidest: God helps those who help themselves. Wrong! This assumes that anyone can actually help himself. This Scripture bluntly denies. Moreover, the common understanding of the saying that we have to act to show God that we’re serious so that He will help us is a misunderstanding of the saying’s original meaning. It was coined by a Cynic philosopher who meant by it to say that people do things for themselves, then give an imaginary god the credit for that which they have actually done for themselves. This reminds me of Robert Kennedy’s quote, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” The source of this statement is actually George Bernard Shaw’s play “Back to Methuselah,” and the speaker is Satan! Talk about ‘out of context!’

Look again at something in the passage. Note the expressions used regarding salvation: “inherit the kingdom of heaven,” “enter the kingdom of God,” and “be saved.” We have here in this passage what appears to me to be the strongest Scriptural statement of the doctrine of inability. Any way you choose to phrase, whether it be inheriting the kingdom of heaven, whether it be entering the kingdom of God, or if it be being saved, Christ has one response: “With men it is impossible.” And because it is impossible for man to do, it is not to be done by man at all. The doctrine of inability leads us smack-dab into the doctrine of imputed righteousness. It is impossible for man to do anything tending to his own salvation, therefore God, with Whom all things are possible, must do it. The good news is that in Christ, God has done all righteousness for the elect. Their salvation hinges on nothing that they have, will or can do.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Notable Quotes 4

To begin with the passage where He says that He is come to ‘to seek and to save that which is lost.’ What do you suppose that to be which is lost? Man, undoubtedly. The entire man, or only a part of him? The whole man, of course. In fact, since the transgression which caused man's ruin was committed quite as much by the instigation of the soul from concupiscence as by the action of the flesh from actual fruition, it has marked the entire man with the sentence of transgression, and has therefore made him deservedly amenable to perdition.

Tertullian, Res. Carn.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Unwitting and Unwilling

John 11:49-52 tells us, “But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”

This is an amazing text. It demonstrates, quite emphatically the sovereignty of God over men’s wills – even over the wicked. Even enemies of God, who hate Him and wish to rebel against His will, are still under His sovereign power and cannot so much as move apart from Him. Moreover, they are often used, unwittingly and unwillingly, as instruments for the very plans of God they wish to frustrate.

But this was not the first time that unwilling lips have been made instruments in pronouncing God’s plans. Balaam, planning to curse God’s people, finds that all he can do is bless them! He even declares the unchangeableness of God’s blessing: “God is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent” (Numbers 23:19) He further states, “Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it. He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel” (Numbers 23:20-21a).

Here’s where it gets interesting. How is Balaam’s unwitting and unwilling prophecy to take place? Caiaphas will supply the ground upon which Balaam’s blessing will come to pass. It is fascinating that Balaam, an unbeliever, was overruled by God and gave one of the most beautiful Messianic prophecies in all of Scripture. Then, centuries later, Caiaphas, a Christ-rejecter, was overruled by God to provide the fulfillment of Balaam’s prophecy.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Baptism is New Testament Circumcision

In theological discussion presuppositions must always be accounted for. It is foolishness to ignore presuppositions. This is why two people can read the same text and come away with two opposing interpretations. As a Covenant theologian, I do not for a second hide the fact that my presupposition is this: Covenant is the framework upon which everything in Scripture attaches. Everything which God has revealed, He has revealed through the grid of covenant. This seems like a fair conclusion. I do not believe this to be an artificial paradigm imposed upon Scripture. If we follow the Reformation principle of letting Scripture be its own interpreter, it seems clear that covenant is the underlying framework upon which all revelation is affixed.

Since the Baptist does not view covenant this way, he differs from the Reformed theologian when it comes to the administration of the covenant of grace. At the heart of the baptistic argument against infant baptism is the denial that baptism has replaced circumcision as the sacrament of entry into covenant with God. Reformed theology teaches that baptism is the New Testament version of circumcision. If this concept were clearly grasped, much confusion would be cleared away.

Having prefaced all that, let us now look at some Scriptural evidence for the contention that baptism is, in fact, Christian circumcision.

In Colossians 2:11, Paul tells us, “in Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision done by Christ." Before we proceed, it is crucial to remember Paul’s constant invective against those who insist that circumcision is necessary for Christians. It should be obvious then that whatever Paul is referring to here, he does not mean physical circumcision. Let’s let Paul explain himself. How does he say we were circumcised by Christ? He says, “having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith.” The first word of verse 12 (συνταφεντες), is a participle described the circumstances in which believers are circumcised. In other words, Paul is saying that we are circumcised with a spiritual circumcision (made without hands) with the circumcision of Christ and this is done by being baptized. It is common (based on Romans 6) to use burial as an illustration of baptism. Notice here though, that Paul uses burial as an illustration of circumcision. He says, “You were circumcised by having been buried…”

Therefore Paul concludes that in the New covenant, our baptism is our circumcision. It identifies us with Christ’s death. This is why Paul so adamantly opposed the Judaizers who wished to impose circumcision upon Christians. Baptism is the sign of our having been circumcised in Christ. For this reason physical circumcision in the new covenant is unnecessary. Baptism identifies us with Christ's death and faith is the means by which we united to Christ.

Looking back on the first New Testament administration of the sacrament of baptism, we see Peter actually equate circumcision with baptism. How, you ask. Precisely because when Peter says, “the promise is to you and to your children, and all who are far off," he is using the exact same formula that God Himself used when He instituted the sacrament of circumcision in Genesis 17:7. And the Jews understood this clearly.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Preaching On The Psalms 2

In the previous post I referred to goofy exegesis of the Psalms. Actually, I wouldn’t be so riled if the preaching were merely goofy. But all too often principles are asserted in the common hermeneutic that if closely examined, and carried to their logical conclusions, would destroy inspiration as we know it. This is nowhere more evident than in the exegesis of the Imprecatory Psalms.

For the uninitiated, the Imprecatory Psalms are those Psalms wherein people are cursed. Psalm 35 is a case in point. There are several songs in which David curses enemies. And then there are statements against enemies scattered throughout many of the other psalms, such as 139: 21, 22, which read: “Do not I hate them, O LORD that hate thee? And am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.”

Three proposed solutions to the ‘problem’ of the Imprecatory Psalms:

1. David is sinning. His sins are hatred, resentfulness, and vengeance. All God’s people are sinners, even the saints of the Old Testament. Christians are to love their enemies. Any statement of this kind is simply sinful.

This sentiment is clearly based upon the old “God hates the sin but loves the sinner” line. Is this true? Not at all. Before you rush to protest, let me ask: Is it the sin that God casts into Hell or the sinner? Look at these passages:

Psalm 5:4-6 For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.

Psalm11:5 The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.

Proverbs 6:16-19 These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

Romans 9:13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

So it is clear that at some level God does indeed hate His enemies. Therefore this first solution is a red herring. As children of God we are to mirror His character, which includes His hatred of sin and the sinner. Scripture forbids bitterness, yes; but, this hatred of God’s which we are to reflect is neither vindictiveness nor self-centered resentfulness. It is a holy hatred of anything and anyone who opposes the righteous will of a holy God and is therefore His enemy. This may be confusing at times in practice, but it is nonetheless true.

2. The Old Testament period was one of Law, harshness and vengeance. But the New Testament era is one of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. So the hatred and vengeance David was expressing was perfectly acceptable in the Old Testament era. In the New Testament we follow the Law of Christ, but David the Law of Moses.

This is the approach of Dispensationalism because of its sharp discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments. While we acknowledge some things discontinued, these are only those which God has revealed by precept or by necessary inference. There is a better priesthood, a better sacrifice, a redefined covenant people. But these are fuller expressions of the same Covenant of Grace. But when it comes to God’s moral character and the things He has professed hatred of, there can be no discontinuity or change. God is not a God who can change. What He hated in the Old Testament He still hates in the New Testament. In fact the New Testament expresses God’s hatred for sin more clearly than the Old, for He poured out His infinite wrath against sin on His own dear Son. The Sermon on the Mount is not a new Law contrasted with Old Testament ethics. It is an expression of what was intended by the Old Testament all along. Hence there is no discontinuity of ethics between the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, imprecations are not unique to the Old Testament. Peter curses Simon Magus in Acts 8:20. Paul imprecates the High Priest in Acts 23:3, Alexander the coppersmith in 2 Timothy 4:14, and preachers of a false gospel in Galatians 1. Furthermore, the greatest woes pronounced by anyone on anyone anywhere in Scripture are from the lips of Jesus Himself in Matthew 23.

Not only is this true, but the supposed New Testament ethics of forgiveness and mercy are taught in the Old Testament. In fact, many times the VERY WORDS use in New Testament are merely quotations from the Old! When Jesus summarizes part of the Law as loving your neighbor as yourself, He was not creating a new principle. He was quoting Leviticus 19:18. Exodus 23:4-5 give us case laws wherein kindness to enemies is demanded. The familiar “Vengeance is Mine,” is from Deuteronomy. The same David who wrote Psalm, also penned these words RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE of an Imprecatory Psalm: False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not. They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul. But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom. I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother. Psalm 35:11-14. And therefore, this second attempted solution fails.

3. The Liberals approach is unthinkable to any true Christian. They simply say that we have here a blatant contradiction in Scripture. This is such an abhorrent view that no Christian should give it the dignity of a response. It is a God-hating view developed by men who are God-haters. Period.

These are several ways in which these Psalms are handled. But not one of them is correct. The Reformed position, especial as it pertains to the doctrine of Inspiration, is the only way these texts can be treated correctly. If we wish to defend the traditional Reformed doctrine of Inspiration, then we must shun any interpretation which lets David, or the other authors of the Psalms, insert themselves into the text. Too often, much is made of David’s psychology and his emotions as revealed in the Psalms. While this may jump out at us in a shallow, surface reading of the text, it is incredibly dangerous to take this tack. To work, this approach would necessitate David’s having written a nasty song, fuming against his enemies, being vindictive and hateful. Yet we know from 139:23, 24 that this cannot be the case. It reads: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” This approach assumes that God allowed David’s rotten sinful attitude to be inscripturated to teach us how not to act. This overlooks the rather obvious fact that the Imprecatory Psalms have no indications nor hints that there is anything wrong with what David has written. Furthermore, it almost requires assuming that David just wrote what he liked and then God, liking it, said, “Hey, that’s good. I think I’ll inspire it.” That, my friends is NOT inspiration. Allowing the text to be colored even in the slightest way by the author’s personal thoughts, feelings and character effectively destroys and denies the Reformed view of Inspiration.

As was said above, God clearly forbids vindictiveness and bitterness, but nonetheless, we must reconcile this with a faithful mirroring of His Divine character as His image-bearers; therefore, we too must hate what He hates. Furthermore, we must clarify that our hatred is precisely hatred because such are God’s enemies. We should never return evil for evil, nor refuse to extend forgiveness to one who repents. Notwithstanding, zeal for God’s glory should outweigh every other concern.

Admittedly, this is a difficult subject. And this is why, in my estimation, very few preachers expound the Psalms, and many of the few who do, do it poorly.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Preaching On The Psalms 1

At the beginning of his homily on Psalm 1, Hilary of Poitiers remarks that the most important thing to determine when reading the Psalms is: who’s talking.

It is no secret that many of the Psalms are Messianic; hence it is Christ who is speaking through the inspired prophetic utterance of David. Even when David is describing his own personal experience, the Psalm, though literally true of David, has a much fuller meaning and fulfillment in Christ. Psalm 22 is a prime example of this fact.

Often, when God speaks in the Psalms to David, it is clear that God is actually addressing Christ as David’s greater Son, and by addressing Christ in this way, God reiterates His covenant of grace to David as the representative king over God’s people. Psalm 89 is a case of this. Several verses can only apply to Christ as King over God’s people, while others clearly apply to David. In fact, verses 36-38 contrast Christ’s everlasting Kingdom with David’s which would come to an end.

It is also quote important to recognize the special status of the Psalms. They are not narrative: they are hymns. Indeed, the Psalms are the hymnal of the Old Testament Church (some would argue that they are the hymnal of the New Testament Church as well). As such, these Psalms were actually sung by God’s people. And because they were intended to be sung corporately, many of the Psalms are place in the mouth of Israel. In other words, it is Israel, God’s covenant people, who is speaking in some of the Psalms. See Psalm 130.

Considerations such as these go a long way, in my opinion to eradicating much of the subpar preaching that is done on the Psalms. Too often, the fact that someone besides David is the intended speaker in the Psalm is ignored, and therefore much goofy (for lack of a better word) preaching results.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Notable Quotes 3

There are phrases and title used in regard to Himself which argue that He was conscious of a quite uniquw relation to the world, or, more strictly, to a flock or people whom He acknowledges as His. Of these expressions we shall adduce a few. The terms commonly used in the doctrinal discussions of the atonement, and are drawn from Bible phraseology, such as SURETY, MEDIATOR, HIGH PRIEST, ADVOCATE - all representing Him as our substitute, who appears in the presence of God for us, and conducts our cause, - are not indeed found in the Lord's own words descriptive of Himself. But, beyond question, the thing is there; and He acts as fully conscious that, except through Himself, as Mediator, God could have no intercourse with man, nor man with God. He understands and consults the bests interests of His people in every respect: He took flesh, and knows the infirmities of human nature by personal experience, that He may sympathize with their condition, and compassionately conduct their concerns: He was lawfully called and appointed to that function. And not only so: the sacrificial languagee, which we find Him so frequently usinf, impies a Priest, though He does not expressly appropriate the term.

These title, both numerous and various, imply that He had a relation to manking which is unique; that He stood between God and man; that He was not an individual unit of the race, as all negative theology represents Him; but acting in a representative capacity for it. He assumes a position that no one but Himself could dare to occupy. Thus when He calls Himself THE WAY, in saying, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (John xiv.6), He is the exclusive Way; not only paving the way for others, but constituting, in His own person and the work the only way by which any could have access to God. That this is the meaning is evident from the subjoined words, "No man cometh unto the Father but by Me." Could Christ affirm this of Himself, if He were nothing more than a teacher, an example, or a merely human founder of a new religion? Certainly not.

George Smeaton, Christ's Doctrine of the Atonement, pg 51& 52