Friday, January 30, 2015

A Resolution to the question of the apostatizing in Hebrews

Two factors have helped me come to, what I believe is a simple, yet thorough resolution to the troubling issue of apostasy in the book of Hebrews. They are (1) a consideration of the fuller context, more specifically, the occasional context of the book and (2) the paradigm of Covenant Theology.

A simple point to get is that the whole context of the book of Hebrews deals with the superiority of Christ over the Old Testament economy. The book was written, as its title suggests, to Hebrews – Jews, who might be tempted to return to the worship system of the Old Testament. I think all scholars are in agreement about this. This is the “occasional context,” as it is called; that is, the problem or occasion that prompted the writing of the Epistle. Hence the author goes to great lengths to constantly remind us that, despite all the glory of the Old Testament period and its ordinances, Christ is greater. Secondarily, we are informed of the abrogation of the Old Testament’s sacrificial system by Christ’s sacrifice.

Therefore if a person were wont to turn away from Christ to return to the sacrificial system of Old Testament worship, he would be going to something that had been completely evacuated of any meaning or efficacy. If one rejects the sacrifice of Christ, “there remains no other sacrifice for sin.” Not only so, but he would be denying the value of Christ’s sacrificial death. First of all, the Old Testament sacrifices were all forward-looking to the ultimate sacrifice Christ made for sin. Secondly, continuing in the practice of those sacrifices implies that atonement for sin has not yet been paid – hence it is a denial of Christ as our Surety.

As I said earlier, Covenant Theology provides a paradigm which completely obliterates all difficulty in handling this passage. The key to understanding it is this: God’s covenant people are not co-extensive with the elect.

Let me elucidate that a bit. All of Israel was God’s covenant people. However, not every single Israelite was among the number of God’s elect to salvation. Every Israelite did experience certain blessings as a part of the larger community of God’s people, but not every Israelite experienced the spiritual blessing of God’s regenerating work in his heart. Paul says, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” (Romans 9:6b) Every Jew was circumcised and offered the sacrifices prescribed by the Law. Every Jew experienced the blessing of God’s protection of the nation from invading armies, etc. But not every Jew was a child of Abraham by faith in the Promised Seed.

When we come to the New Testament, things are no different. We all willingly acknowledge that church membership is not co-extensive with salvation. Just because a person is a member of God’s covenant people (the Church), this does not automatically mean that he is a member of the elect. Therefore, like the unregenerate Jew, he may partake of many things which are blessings to his life. But these are not necessarily the spiritual blessing of new birth.

Applied to the “apostasy passages” of Hebrews, the difficulty is removed by noting that the writer is telling us that (1) the Old Testament sacrifices are forever done away with by Christ’s all-sufficient death. Hence a return to them would be foolish, because there no longer is any efficacy in them – not that there ever was efficacy in the actual sacrifice of a bull or lamb. The efficacy was in the forward-looking faith towards the Lamb of God sacrificed before the foundation of the world. If you don’t acknowledge Christ’s sacrifice for sin, that’s tough luck for you because there is no other sacrifice out there. The Old Testament ones have been abrogated. (2) Membership in the Christian Church is not co-extensive with membership in God’s elect. Therefore a person can attend at Christian worship and receive many blessings thereby and still perish, not because he lost his salvation, but because he was never among the elect in the first place.

This is why after the warnings given in chapter 6, the writer concludes by saying, “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” (v 9). Understood any other way, this passage is impenetrable, I think, because we would seem to be left with a scenario wherein the writer warns about the possibility of losing one’s salvation by apostatizing from the faith, then concludes his warnings by saying that salvation cannot be lost. Hence I feel confident that the paradigm of Covenant Theology is the only way to navigate this passage.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Tired of the Bible

"I am not ignorant, that as the Israelites loathed the manna, because that every day they saw and ate but one thing, so some there be nowadays, (who will not be holden of the worst sort) that after once reading some parcels of Scripture, so commit themselves altogether to profane authors and human lectures, because that the variety of matter therein contained doeth bring with it daily delectation, wherein contrarywise within the simple Scriptures of God the perpetual repetition of one thing is fashious and wearisome. This temptation, I confess, may enter in God’s elect for a time, but impossible is it that therein they continue to the end; for God’s election, besides other evident signs, hath this ever joined with it, that God’s elect are called from ignorance (I speak of those that are come to the years of knowledge) to some taste and feeling of God’s mercy, of which they are never so satisfied in this life, but from time to time they hunger and they thirst to eat the bread descended from heaven and to drink the water that springeth to life everlasting; which they cannot do but by the means of faith, and faith looketh ever to the will of God revealed by the Word, so that faith hath both her beginning and continuance by the Word of God. And so I say, that impossible it is that God’s chosen children can despise or reject the word of their salvation of any long continuance, neither yet loathe it to the end."

 John Knox – Letter of Wholesome Counsel

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Gregory I on the Antichrist

I have however taken care to admonish earnestly the same my brother and fellow-bishop that, if he desires to have peace and concord with all, he must refrain from the appellation of a foolish title.  As to this, the piety of my lords has charged me in their orders, saying that offence ought not to be engendered among us for the appellation of a frivolous name.  But I beseech your imperial Piety to consider that some frivolous things are very harmless, and others exceedingly harmful.  Is it not the case that, when Antichrist comes and calls himself God, it will be very frivolous, and yet exceedingly pernicious?  If we regard the quantity of the language used, there are but a few syllables; but if the weight of the wrong, there is universal disaster.  Now I confidently say that whosoever calls himself, or desires to be called, Universal Priest, is in his elation the precursor of Antichrist, because he proudly puts himself above all others.  Nor is it by dissimilar pride that he is led into error; for, as that perverse one wishes to appear as above all men, so whosoever this one is who covets being called sole priest, he extols himself above all other priests.  But, since the Truth says, “Every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled,” (Luke 14:11; 18:14), I know that every kind of elation is the sooner burst as it is the more inflated.  Let then your Piety charge those who have fallen into an example of pride not to generate any offence by the appellation of a frivolous name.  For I, a sinner, who by the help of God retain humility, need not to be admonished to humility.  Now may Almighty God long guard the life of our most serene Lord for the peace of holy Church and the advantage of the Roman republic. For we are sure, that if you live who fear the Lord of heaven, you will allow no proud doings to prevail against the truth.

Gregory I, Epistle XXXIII. To Mauricius Augustus.

Can be found here

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hippolytus On The Antichrist

The Reformers are frequently accused of malice when they identify the Pope with the Antichrist. It is asserted, or at least, assumed, that they were retaliating against Rome for persecuting them. What has been largely forgotten is the eschatology of the early Church Fathers, particularly the 2nd & 3rd Century Fathers, such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Hippolytus.

Of particular interest is the short work of Hippolytus (died ca. 236), entitled “On the Antichrist.” Several factors are highly prominent in this work.

1. Rome is the 4th beast of Daniel 7.

2. The great whore in Revelation 17 is identical with the reorganized Roman kingdom, ruled by the Antichrist.

3. The Antichrist will rule over a “whore,” which is a universally understood Scriptural figure for an apostate church.

4. This “whore” will be a kingdom that will arise out of the remnants of a destroyed Roman Empire.

5. This “whore” will be Latin in orientation.

6. Antichrist, as head to this whore church-kingdom, will wage war on the saints, sending a second crop of martyrs to join those who were crying out under the altar (Rev. 6:9-10).

7. The Roman Empire is that which “letteth,” (hinders) the rise of Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:7).

8. Antichrist is the “little horn” of Daniel 7 & 8.

9. Antichrist is the man of sin/son of perdition (2 Thess. 2).

These are all amazing observations. First of all, the idea that Rome would fall and be divided into 10 lesser kingdoms could never have been guessed without the prophecy of Daniel. Identifying Rome with Daniel’s 4th Beast is easy for us, centuries after the fact. It is astounding though for Hippolytus to have realized this and to have understood that Christ’s church would ultimately be victorious over pagan Rome. Hippolytus wrote during the Age of Martyrs!

Secondly, Hippolytus bluntly says that the Roman Empire is the hindrance, “that which letteth,” (2 Thess. 2:7) which must be removed for the Antichrist to rise to power. Again, this would have been easy to see in the 16th Century, but Hippolytus wrote during the 3rd. Tertullian had made the exact same assertion. In chapter 24 of “Resurrection of the Flesh,” Tertullian wrote, ““What obstacle is there but the Roman state, the falling away of which, by being scattered into ten kingdoms, shall introduce Antichrist upon its own ruins?”

Later Fathers held the same belief. When Rome was sacked by Alaric the Visigoth in 410, Jerome wrote to Ageruchia (Epistle 123), regarding the fallof Rome: “He that letteth is removed, and shall we not know that Antichrist is near at hand?"

Compare this with the following from the commentary of Matthew Henry on 2 Thessalonians 2:7 – “Something hindered or withheld the man of sin. It is supposed to be the power of the Roman Empire, which the apostle did not mention more plainly at that time…These prophecies have, in a great measure, come to pass, and confirm the truth of the Scriptures. This passage exactly agrees with the system of popery, as it prevails in the Romish church, and under the Romish popes.”

Thirdly, he identifies the Antichrist with the little horn of Daniel 7 & 8. He identifies the great whore Babylon in Revelation 17 with the kingdom ruled by the little horn (Antichrist) who comes to power out of the remnants of the Roman Empire that is broken into 10 lesser kingdoms.

Fourthly, he affirms that this Antichristian kingdom will be Latin in orientation, based on understanding the number 666 as referring to Rome. Irenaeus made the exact same identification (Against Heresies 5.30.3).

Fifthly, Antichrist would persecute the Church with more ferocity than pagan Rome ever did. The martyrs of pagan Rome were under the altar (Rev. 6:9-10) crying out to God for justice. These martyrs would have to wait for their brothers who Antichrist’s Rome would kill. Tertullian understood Revelation 6 in exactly the same way. In chapter 25 of his “Resurrection of the Flesh,” Tertullian writes, “In the Revelation of John, again, the order of these times is spread out to view, which “the souls of the martyrs” are taught to wait for beneath the altar, whilst they earnestly pray to be avenged and judged: (taught, I say, to wait), in order that the world may first drink to the dregs the plagues that await it out of the vials of the angels, and that the city of fornication may receive from the ten kings its deserved doom, and that the beast Antichrist with his false prophet may wage war on the Church of God; and that, after the casting of the devil into the bottomless pit for a while, the blessed prerogative of the first resurrection may be ordained from the thrones; and then again, after the consignment of him to the fire, that the judgment of the final and universal resurrection may be determined out of the books.”

To read Hippolytus’ work on the Antichrist, you would think it was written in the 16th Century by a Reformer. The main difference was that the Fathers believed that the 1260 days of Revelation were a literal 3 ½ years. They knew Rome would fall, but they seemed to have expected Antichrist’s Rome to fall after only 3 ½ years.

It is therefore quite libelous against the Reformers to quibble with their interpretation of Scripture with regard to the Antichrist. Christ is the head of His Church. Antichrist, if he be an impostor (which he is), must be the head of a false church. Antichrist is not a secular political figure. The Fathers held the exact same view as the Reformers in this regard. How incredible is it to realize that in the 230's AD someone was asserting that the Antichrist will be the head of an apostate kingdom-church based in Rome, built on the ruins of the fallen Roman Empire? The Reformers were not innovators!

Hippolytus’ work can be found here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Don't Lump Christianity in When You Blame Religion For the World's Trouble

It has long been a tactic of the enemies of Christ's Church to lump Christianity in with the rest of the world's religions when they claim that religion has caused nothing but trouble for the world. 

When I say that this has long been a tactic, I mean it. Arnobius of Sicca, a Christian apologist who died in 330 AD, responded to this very accusation when it was raised in his day. He writes:

"There have actually been fewer calamities since Christians appeared.

"Actually, regarding the wars which you say were begun on account of hatred for our religion, it would not be difficult to prove that after Christ was heard on earth, not only did they not increase but in great measure were reduced as a result of the repression of fierce passions.

"For when we, so large a number as we are, have learned from His teachings and His laws that evil should not be repaid with evil; that it is better to suffer wrong than be its cause, to pour forth one's own blood rather than to stain our hands and conscience with the blood of another: the world, ungrateful as it is, has long had this benefit from Christ by whom the rage of madness has been softened and has begun to withhold hostile hands from the blood of fellow beings.

"And if all without exception who understand that are men, not through the form of their bodies but through the power of reason, would for a little while be willing to lend an ear to His wholesome and peaceful commandments, and would believe not in their own arrogance and swollen conceit but rather in His admonitions, the whole world, long since having diverted the use of iron to more gentle pursuits, would be passing its days in the most placid tranquility and would come together in wholesome harmony, having kept the terms of treaties unbroken."

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case Against the Pagans, Book I, Chapter 6

Source: Ancient Christian Writers, Volume 7, The Newman Press 1949

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Wesley the Heretic

The following paragraphs are a critique of some of the grossest errors taught by John Wesley. I have chosen a few citations from his works and then commented briefly on each citation. For clarity's sake, my words are in yellow. Wesley's are in white. Far more than what I have written could (and maybe, should) be written about the enormities of this man. Augustus Toplady gave him a trouncing on more than one occasion. However, the language of Toplady has frequently been regarded as over-the-top, Besides, Wesley somehow managed to create an image of sanctity which has made it difficult for the uninformed to believe that Toplady's charges were valid. This has created the illusion that much of the back-and-forth that went on between Wesley and Toplady was of a personal nature rather than a doctrinal one.  

Without further ado:

"I have often doubted, whether these were not the very persons whom the rich and honourable Christians, who will always have number as well as power on their side, did not stigmatize, from time to time, with the title of heretics. ... Nay, I have doubted whether that arch-heretic, Montanus, was not one of the holiest men in the second century. Yea, I would not affirm, that the arch-heretic of the fifth century, (as plentifully as he has been bespattered for many ages,) was not one of the holiest men of that age, not excepting St. Augustine himself. ... I verily believe, the real heresy of Pelagius was neither more or less than this: The holding that Christians may, by the grace of God (not without it; that I take to be a mere slander,) 'go on to perfection;' or, in other words, 'fulfil the law of Christ.' (6:328)

There are several gross errors these statements of Wesley’s:

First, he clearly disavows doctrinal integrity as having any place in salvation. You would think he had never read the Athanasian Creed, which explicitly denies that there is salvation for those who do not hold the Christian faith (as defined in that Creed). This, of course, is a fountainhead of anti-intellectualism.

Secondly, Wesley makes it clear without a doubt, that in his system, salvation is purely by works. Deny it till you’re blue in the face, but what else is it when a man says that the essence of Christianity is Wesley’s version of “perfectionism.” Moreover, Wesley picks the worst possible candidates if this were not his meaning: Montanus and Pelagius. There are hundreds of characters from the early history of the Church that he could have chosen to demonstrate his belief that doctrine doesn't matter. Yet he chose (A) a man who in practice denied the sufficiency of Scripture by making the Church’s life depend on constant new revelations from God; and (B) a man who denied the sovereignty of God. Notice that he has no qualms about calling Montanus a “arch-heretic,” even while defending him. Further, he is perfectly happy to accuse Augustine of slander against Pelagius. Yet in the same breath, he stiles him one of the holiest men of the 5th Century (second, perhaps, only to Pelagius!). I guess that means Wesley can still consider himself holy, in spite of being blatantly guilty of slander himself!

Thirdly, Wesley as much as asserts that God has no control over His own Church. The prime-mover of the Church in its doctrine and practice is not God, but the people with money. He sees the Kingdom of God working no differently than any banana republic in which the direction of the state is determined by clout and bribery.

Let’s briefly recap the track record of his two heroes. Montanus is an ascetic whose cult thrives in the 2nd Century by appeal to secret revelations from God. Montanus and company are spiritual elites. In keeping with this self-perceived superiority, they practice a very strict ascetic lifestyle. Pelagius, works as if there was no such thing as the Fall. Adam’s sin did nothing more than provide his posterity with a bad example. Sinless perfection is still attainable by anyone who will cowboy up and get to it.

It is little wonder that Wesley’s life epitomized both errors. In the first place, by his own account, his choice of Arminianism or Calvinism was decided by the flip of a coin, a sort of “laying a fleece before God,” or a “casting of lots.” Toplady quite fairly mocks this sort of cavalier behavior. With regard to the latter, what else is Arminianism but a slightly (deceptively) modified Pelagianism? By denying that the righteousness which pleases God is the perfect imputed righteousness of Christ, Wesley does more than lay the groundwork for a universal atonement (which her vigorously defended), but he throws open the door to Universalism.

You may think that that charge is harsh or unfair, but I assure you it is not. I will demonstrate this from his own writings.

First, he writes,

“Whether they embrace this religious opinion or that, is no more concern to me, than whether they embrace this or that system of astronomy. Are they brought to holy tempers and holy lives? This is mine, and should be your inquiry; since on this, both social and personal happiness depend, happiness temporal and eternal." (8:246)

Notice that Wesley says that a person’s choice of religion is no different than any system of astronomy. Writing, as he did, in the 18th Century, he was thinking of the geocentric versus heliocentric models of the solar system. Secondly, he implicitly assumes that true Gospel holiness is attainable without any reference to the Christian faith. Moreover, he goes so far as to say that a person’s eternal destiny is determined, not by God (or even an adherence to the true form of the Christian faith – with or without grace), but simply by one’s life, i.e., works.

Secondly, he writes to a Roman Catholic:

“My dear friend, consider, I am not persuading you to leave or change your religion, but to follow after that fear and love of God without which all religion is vain. I say not a word to you about your opinions or outward manner of worship…Be your form of worship what it will, but in everything give him thanks; else it is all but lost labour. Use whatever outward observances you please, but put your whole trust in him; but honor his holy name and his word, and serve him truly all the days of your life. Are we not thus far agreed? ... Let the points wherein we differ stand aside; here are enough wherein we agree, enough to be the ground of every Christian temper, and of every Christian action… I hope to see you in heaven.” (10:80-86)

Suffice it to say that herein lies a denial of the whole Reformation. “Protestant or Catholic, who cares, as long as they are living a decent life?” As if a decent life is the entry ticket to heaven. Does Wesley really mean to say that the blasphemous, idolatrous Mass is adiaphora? Does he mean to say that violation of the 2nd Commandment is a non-issue? Does he mean to assert that worship of a false god does not have any bearing on salvation? You bet, he does.

In recent months there has been a furor over Rick Warren’s statements and actions which were labeled, rightly or wrongly, “Chrislam.” It started with an assertion that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, which, of course, is patently false. Whatever else may be said about the so-called “healing” between Christians and Muslims, Scripture asks, “What communion hath light with darkness?” What saith Wesley?

“[N]or do I conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mahometan world to damnation… I believe the merciful God regards the lives and tempers of men more than their ideas. I believe he respects the goodness of the heart, rather than the clearness of the head; and that if the heart of a man be filled (by the grace of God, and the power of his Spirit) with the humble, gentle, patient love of God and man, God will not cast him into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, because his ideas are not clear, or because his conceptions are confused. ‘Without holiness,’ I own, ‘no man shall see the Lord;’ but I dare not add, ‘or clear ideas.’” (7:353-354)

My assertion has proven true: Wesley’s universal atonement has led directly to Universalism. Not only are Romish idolaters saved by their works. (Newsflash to Wesley: they already believe that), but actual heathens and even Muslims will be saved in the same way that Christians will be – by works! Not only is he is perfectly comfortable inserting his own words into Scripture, but he mocks anyone who places a premium on accurate doctrine. Only one kind of person would do this: a scoundrel who doesn’t believe in the sufficiency of Scripture and who denies the Scriptural teaching of Divine Sovereignty. Much has been said about the vitriolic way in which Toplady wrote to and about Wesley. The above citations (not one of which was specifically address by Toplady), show that Wesley more than deserved the slap-down that he got from Toplady.

All quotes are from The Works of John Wesley (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI (1996). The references as formatted as follows: (Volume: Page). 

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