Author Archives: Nicholas Sealy

Summer Seminar 2015: God Has Spoken

Why is I Corinthians in the Bible but I Clement is not? How did the Gospel of John make it into the Bible but the Gospel of Thomas did not? Who put together the books that make up our Bible and by what authority did they do so? Luther, Calvin and the other reformers taught that Scripture alone is the basis for all Christian life and doctrine. Is the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura that they taught still applicable to today or do we have other sources informing us of God’s will for our lives? One ancient figure by the name of Marcion was so disturbed by the apparent differences between the Old and New Testaments that he declared that the God who inspired the Old Testament was different than the God who inspired the New Testament. Vestiges of his beliefs still exist today. How do you resolve the differences between the Testaments? Indeed, are there any rules for interpreting the Bible at all? Theologians have labored for years to come up with principles that will allow us to interpret the Bible accurately. The art of biblical interpretation is called Hermenuetics and it is vitally important for all believers to understand how they interpret Scripture.

The Doctrine of Scripture is a historic Christian doctrine that answers those questions and gives us what we need to interpret the Bible correctly. Make plans now to attend “God Has Spoken: Understanding the Doctrine of Scripture” presented by the Session of Truth Reformed Bible Church of Golden, Colorado on Friday night, June 26th and all day Saturday, June 27th. The seminar will be held at Courtyard Denver West. There is no charge for a seat but advanced registration is required. Call 720- 248-8722 or click on “Summer Seminar 2015” to register for this valuable event.

Here are the details:

Seminar Name: God Has Spoken: Understanding the Doctrine of Scripture
Seminar Dates: Friday, June 26th through Saturday, June 27th
Seminar Location: Courtyard Denver West, 14700 West Sixth Avenue Frontage Road
Seminar Sponsor: The Session of Truth Reformed Bible Church, Golden, Colorado
Seminar Conditions: Free to all but advanced registration required.
Seminar Registration: 720-248-8722, www.trbchurch.com, click on “Summer Seminar 2015”
Seminar Schedule:

  1. Friday night 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Introduction and Session 1
  2. Saturday morning 9:00 am to 10:30 am. Session 2
  3. Saturday morning 11:00 am to 12:30 pm. Session 3
    Catered Lunch: 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm. Free to attendees
  4. Saturday afternoon 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Session 4 and Conclusion/Q & A

Seminar Sessions:

  1. History of Scripture and Canonization – Maks Nelkin
  2. The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura – Jason Bolt
  3. The Relationship of the Old and New Testaments – Doug Brode
  4. Hermeneutics – Nick Sealy

Defining Success

Recently we had a visitor to our body, a brother who is a Pastor in Eastern Europe. It was fascinating and enjoyable to hear him speak about his experiences in Sunday School and our men’s fellowship group. It’s a different world over there in some senses: their political and cultural history is hard to believe at times. I’m sure he has experienced things that the typical American evangelical would never have survived. But, in another sense – a more important sense – his experiences are just like everyone else’s. He deals with his own sin and sin within his congregation, works to bring his sheep to maturity in Christ and struggles with the false church and false teaching that has so deeply infiltrated the church at large. The words may be different at times, but the tune is exactly the same.

Nevertheless, we were curious about his perspective on the church. At one point in our discussion, we asked him what he thought about the American church as he saw it. The first thing that came to mind was this: we don’t know how to measure success in the church. In his experience visiting churches and especially in his experiences with western missionaries back home, he noticed that all we seem to care about is numbers. In fact, he had witnessed men manipulating this system for their own personal gain. He had seen men work to fill their pews on days when missionaries or church representatives were to visit – not with faithful members, but with people who had been bribed to show up just so the dollars would keep flowing. Amazingly, these westerners didn’t even care enough to talk to the people sitting in the pews to find out how effective their leaders were in ministry and whether they ought to continue their financial support. All they cared was that the church looked full and that was enough to keep the checks coming.

There’s a huge problem with basing success on the number of “prayers” prayed or butts in the pews: it creates huge negative incentives. Whether it’s wicked men outright deceiving (as our friend had witnessed) or changing the gospel to make it more palatable, people will do whatever they can to be or seem successful. I’ve seen the same types of things with my own eyes. I wrote last week about the “4 spiritual laws” – they are not the gospel that was preached by Christ or His apostles. And yet, they sound really nice and really caring and I’m sure lots of people have “success” getting people to pray the prayer on the back of the pamphlet. It doesn’t matter if they never see that person again, it’s another tic on the chalk board to send back to corporate. To them, it doesn’t matter that it isn’t the gospel of the apostles and they don’t care that such actions will only lead to their own destruction. Unlike them, I have no interest in Paul’s words from Galatians 1. Paul, dealing with those who we’re persecuting and infiltrating the Galatian church with a false gospel says in verses 6-10:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond- servant of Christ.

Paul says there are two types of “christian” leaders: those who serve men and those who serve Christ. If you are engaging in theatrics and deception to fill your pews to get the cash that comes with it, you are serving man (likely yourself). If you are preaching a false gospel to build a megachurch and garner acclaim, you are serving man. Whatever ways wicked leaders use to get those numbers, the result is always the same: truth is exchanged for a lie and God is dishonored. And if you are the one doing this evil you have an undesirable fate in store for you: you are accursed.

God’s Word does not create perverse incentives. Remember, this is the God who does not tempt us (James 1:13), it would be foolish to believe that his Word itself would tempt us. Just the opposite: when we are tempted we can look to God’s Word to see the way out that He has provided for us (1 Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, on these grounds alone, we must reject the idea that we succeed or fail based on the number of people we get to respond. So, I must agree with my brother from Eastern Europe – numbers aren’t the way to determine success. And I must agree with his solution: success is defined by faithfulness and obedience.

This question mirrors a question that came up to the nation of Israel: “what exactly does God want from us?” The Pharisees and their predecessors always assumed that the answer was ceremony and sacrifice. They are like the modern day leaders who assume that God wants lots and lots of people who say his name. But God doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want meaningless sacrifices and he doesn’t want empty praise. He says the same thing to Saul in one if my favorite passages from the entire Bible in 1 Samuel 15. Saul had been commanded by God to destroy the Amalekites and absolutely everything they possessed. Their men, women, children and livestock – everything. But Saul gets the bright idea to spare all the livestock for a time so they may be brought back and used as sacrifices to God. Samuel goes to confront Saul and in verses 13-23, with some of my favorite Biblical sarcasm, we see their interaction:

Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “ Blessed are you of the Lord! I have carried out the command of the Lord.” But Samuel said, “ What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.” Then Samuel said to Saul, “Wait, and let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” And he said to him, “Speak!”
Samuel said, “Is it not true, though you were little in your own eyes, you were made the head of the tribes of Israel? And the Lord anointed you king over Israel, and the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘ Go and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are exterminated. ’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord, but rushed upon the spoil and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”
Then Saul said to Samuel, “ I did obey the voice of the Lord, and went on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and have brought back Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God at Gilgal.” Samuel said,
“ Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
“For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He has also rejected you from being king.”

It couldn’t be any clearer: God didn’t want sacrifices and offerings of the choicest of all the Amalekites had to offer – he wanted obedience. It doesn’t matter that a right sacrifice to God is a pleasing aroma. What matters is what he has commanded. And if you must disobey his command to achieve even a good end, all is lost. The ends do not justify the means. In the same way, it doesn’t matter that God demands that all mankind bow their knee to God. If we lie and cheat or change the gospel to get men to bend their knees and not their hearts to God, he will not be pleased with us. I am so bold as to say that God will be far more pleased with a minister of God who serves 1 sheep faithfully than all of the megachurch leaders and their millions of duped goats combined. Like Saul and the livestock of the Amalekites, no matter how good the intentions, they will be rejected.

It is not as if this sentiment is left out of the New Testament writings as well. Specifically, I want to look at some of Paul’s parting words from his last letter. I quoted extensively from 2 Timothy last week and I want to pick up near where I left off and look at chapter 4 verses 5-8 and 16-18:

But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul, as you’ll recall, is writing from prison and near his death. He has been facing trial in the roman courts and unable to preach and serve as he had done years earlier. He is looking at his life and recounting to Timothy – in the first quoted passage – how he measures his own success. Strange, isn’t it, how he doesn’t list or number all the churches he has planted? Or all the elders he has ordained? Or all the believers he has baptized? Or all the missionaries he has trained? It’s because that’s not the stuff that matters! What’s matters is that he has kept the faith. What matters is that he has persevered. And it gets even worse! Here at the end of his life almost everyone he knows has abandoned him. Every friend and brother has left him. He has no groupies following him around picketing his trial or serving him in prison. He is alone. And yet, he still declares success and knows that The Lord remains faithful to him. If Paul, the single greatest missionary and church planter in history doesn’t care about numbers, how stupid can we be to care about them.

We have less than 25 members at TRBC. I don’t say that to brag – boasting over small numbers is just as immoral as boasting over big numbers. We are about the same size as our brother’s church back in Eastern Europe. But, like him, we measure success based on our faithfulness to do what is demanded of us. We have rejoiced in the past couple of years as two new families have joined our body. And we will continue to preach the Word of God in the hopes that we might find more of God’s stray sheep and can bring them into the fold. But even if that doesn’t happen for another decade, we will continue to preach the truth and let God handle the consequences. Let Him bring whom He desires.

No Such Moral Dilemma

Recently, in my Sunday School class, we discussed the doctrine of lying. Specifically, I asked if there is ever a situation where a person may say something that is untrue and not be guilty of the sin of lying. Not surprisingly, the case of Rahab came up. As we discussed her story, it became clear to some that she was put into the classic moral dilemma situation. Philosophically speaking, a moral dilemma exists when a person is faced with a choice, the result of which, can only result in evil. These are the so-called gray areas – there is no black and white. The individual is put in a situation where they must weigh which choice will result in the greater good/lesser evil and make that choice.

I argued, and perhaps convinced some, that Rahab did not face a moral dilemma. In fact, I argue that there is no such thing as a true moral dilemma. Today I want to explain why. Let’s begin by looking at the story of Rahab. Her story is recorded in Joshua 2, though the important part for our discussion today are verses 1-5:

Then Joshua the son of Nun sent two men as spies secretly from Shittim, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” So they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there. It was told the king of Jericho, saying, “Behold, men from the sons of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” And the king of Jericho sent word to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them, and she said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. It came about when it was time to shut the gate at dark, that the men went out; I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.”

There are a couple things to glean from this passage. First of all, Rahab lied. There is absolutely no doubt about it: she purposefully spoke an untruth to the messengers from the king of Jericho. Second, I believe it is safe to assume that the king of Jericho intended to do unpleasant things to the spies from Israel. The terror of the Israelites had fallen upon the land and, especially in that case, kings don’t take kindly to foreign spies.

It is these two facts that some may use to setup the moral dilemma. Rahab was faced with a choice: lie to the king’s messengers or hand over the spies to certain death. This is an almost identical scenario to a choice that many germans were faced with in the 1940s: lie to the nazis or hand over the jews to certain death. In this scenario, it seems that no matter what you do, you are in sin. If you lie, you are (obviously) guilty of the sin of lying. If you hand over those you are hiding, you are an accessory to their murder. As a result, most people argue that since murder is a greater crime than lying, the better decision is to lie for the greater good.

This kind of scenario makes many people (including me) very uncomfortable. A standard way to try and resolve this problem is to argue that their is no scenario where you should sin, no matter what the cost. So, in the Rahab scenario, she should have told the truth – given up the spies – and trust that God will handle the consequences. In this case, the fact that handing the spies over will cause their death is not viewed as sinful. They won’t be the ones killing them and it is more important that they remain free from the blemish of lying. 

In response to this position, R. J. Rushdoony argues that, even though Rahab did face a moral dilemma, she is called righteous in spite of her specific sin of lying. In his book “The Institutes of Biblical Law”, he argues that:

Rahab had a choice to make: 1) she could tell the truth and surrender the spies, two godly men, to death. 2) she could lie and save their lives. This is the kind of situation the moralist hates and refuses to accept. Either course involves some evil, however the moralist seeks to deny it. The question is, which is the lesser of two evils? Our choices are rarely black and white ones; we rarely have the luxury of an absolute choice. But we do have the continual opportunity to make decisions in terms of an absolute faith, however gray the immediate situation. This faith Rahab had. Whether she lied or not was relatively unimportant as compared to the lives of two godly men. She lied and saved their lives. For this James singled her out, together with Abraham, as an instance of vital faith, of faith which was not a mere opinion but a matter of life and action (James 2:25). Again, Hebrews 11:31 singled this same act as an instance of true faith. It is useless evasion to try to abstract something from the act as praiseworthy while condemning her for the lie, and a violation of the unity of life. Rahab clearly lied, but her lie represented a moral choice as against sending two godly men to death, and for this she became an ancestress of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:5). For the moralist, it is important that he stand in his own self-righteousness, and Rahab’s alternative is intolerable, because it makes some kind of sin inescapable at times. For the godly man, who stands, not in his own righteousness but the righteousness of Christ, his own purity is not the essence of the matter but that God’s will be done. And God, in this situation, certainly willed that the lives of the spies be saved, not that the individual come forth able to say, I never tell a lie.

It’s clear that Rushdoony had no problem with the idea of a moral dilemma. In fact, he had no problem saying that Rahab did lie, but she did it to the glory of God. 

However, there’s a small problem with both of these positions: two New Testament authors call Rahab righteous for what she did! James, in his discussion of faith and works, says that “In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (James 2:25) And the author of Hebrews, in the hall of fame of faith, says that “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.” (Hebrews 11:31) How can you argue with what she did when we have authoritative proclamations of her righteousness?

Now, I understand the response to what I just argued. Those unwilling to call her lie an act of righteousness will say that neither James nor the author of Hebrews specifically commend her for the specific deed of lying. If that was righteous, they say, wouldn’t it be mentioned specifically? And while I must concede the facts, I reject the interpretation. The only reason Rahab was able to send “them out by another way” was that she lied. Her lie is what saved the spies and later led to her being spared from the destruction of Jericho. If she hadn’t lied, she wouldn’t be part of the story. You can say that “God would’ve found a way” all you want, but you cannot deny that she was counted righteous for deeds that were a direct result of her lie. 

So, there’s a problem saying that she was in sin for lying and shouldn’t have done it.  Like most things in the Christian life, these two arguments represent extremes and the real answer is somewhere in the middle. Both of them are wrong in saying that Rahab sinned – the New Testament authors seem to deny this. But I believe that the more fundamental problem with both of these positions is that they believe she was actually put in a position where she had to sin. 

The problem with that position is that it makes God directly responsible for her sin. To understand that statement, you have to understand the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and compatibilism – a problem in today’s church. God is sovereign over all and has decreed all things that will come to pass. The standard evangelical response to this doctrine is “no, I have free will and God would never violate my will.” Well, that is simply not true. We see the opposite in God’s word time and time again: God has decreed all and what he has determined will surely come to pass, even when that means hardening someone’s heart (like Pharoah) or hating someone before they were born and condemning them to destruction (like Esau). However, we also see in Scripture and know from experience that men do make real choices. The doctrine of compatibilism says that man is not a mindless puppet – we have what theologians call a volitional will – the ability to make free choices. We are not coerced into any decision and have the ability to choose the way we want to go. Both of these things are true: God determines, we choose. This is compatibilism. 

With the doctrine of compatibilism in mind, we must look to the moral dilemma scenario. If compatibilism is true and the moral dilemma is a real thing, we are necessarily arguing that: God determines that no matter what we choose, we will be in sin. It is hard to say, if this is the case, that God would not be responsible for our sin since He put us in a position where sin is inevitable. This is probably why many people reject the doctrine of compatibilism. It is more than wrong to say that God would be responsible for sin, so there must be a better way to understand what is going on. I argue that we can’t reject compatibilism and that there is a better way to resolve this problem than fleeing to the doctrine of man’s sovereign free will. 

To understand the better resolution, and why there is no such thing as a moral dilemma, we must look to 1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

In the context, Paul is teaching the Corinthians about the mistakes of those who came before them. He is trying to warn them not to repeat the same mistakes that caused thousands of Israelites to die in the wilderness – the mistakes of those whom God had “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (v2)! Yet, despite their position, “with most of them God was not well- pleased” (v5). They were examples of what not to do. But Paul knew what the response to those examples would be: ” We are better than that! We would never do the stupid things they did!” So, Paul tells them that first, they must not be puffed up into thinking they will be free from any temptation. Temptation will come and they must be ready and willing to face it, lest they fall. But, and here’s the kicker, God will provide a way out from temptation. Don’t be puffed up, but rely on God who never puts you in a situation where you must sin and where you will turn out like those who came before.

Implicit in the argument above is the idea that God determines that you will be put in situations where you will be tempted. We know from James that God Himself will never tempt you, but He is the sovereign one who has determined you will face it from the world, the flesh and the devil. But this is the great hope we have from Paul’s teaching: He will provide a way. 

So, how does this help us with the Rahab scenario? First of all, it is clear that we must reject the idea of the moral dilemma. God has promised that he will provide a way. Paul isn’t addressing the Corinthians and giving them advice that doesn’t apply to anyone else. He is describing the Christian life! So it must have been the case that Rahab had options that were not sin. When we apply the analogy of Scripture, and use the James and Hebrews passages to help us interpret the story in Joshua, we see that lying – in her case – wasn’t sinful. He determined that she would be put in that scenario and be forced to decide whether to lie or hand them over. But, God provided her the way out in what seemed to be part of the dilemma in the first place and, as a result, rewarded her with her life, with a place in the genealogy of Christ, and with a place in the hall of fame of faith. Perhaps another time I will address the doctrine of lying in general, but for now we must accept that God called – albeit indirectly – her lie a righteous deed.

At the end of the day, those who say that we must do what is right and let God handle the consequences are correct. God gives us a way out so that we can do what is right. However, we must also have a perspective similar to Rushdoony and recognize that sometimes acts that may seem to be sinful are actually the righteous way to go. God, in his faithfulness, will provide a way out, but he also requires that we study His word and know His law so that we can understand the way we ought to go. It may, at times, be difficult to determine that way, but we have all that we need for life and godliness. If we have faith in Him and His word, we can learn that way, and apply it in the sticky situations that come up.

The Four Reformed Spiritual Laws

It may surprise you to hear that, at one point in college, I was on the student leadership team for Campus Crusade for Christ. That is, until I was told that they emphasized “spirit” and I emphasized “truth” and that we didn’t make a good fit. Apparently Paul was confused when he put those two together. 

You may think of me as a troublemaker for joining the group and getting kicked out. I certainly didn’t join to create strife or engage in meaningless debates. I joined because, up until the year that I joined leadership, the group had been an enjoyable place for fellowship. It was our local “youth group” – and not the corrupt megachurch kind. However, the year that I joined, corporate sent out some new leaders to the area who seemed to have only one thing in mind: handing out tracts and getting people to “pray the prayer” so they could report numbers back to hq. Obviously, I wanted no part in this, so I decided to push back. 

I’ll leave the positive case for biblical evangelism to one of our Missionary-Evangelists and simply say I do not believe evangelism-by-tract to be the way to go. And, as you probably know, Campus Crusade uses (or at least used) the four spiritual laws as their tract of choice. The problem with the four laws, aside from the tract issue, is that they promote a false gospel. Christ didn’t die simply because He loves all mankind (which isn’t true in the way they use the word love anyway). He died because of the sin of His people. There is much wrong with those “laws”.

One of my acts of “rebellion” was to write a biblical version of the laws. I simply took their structure and replaced the rules with Biblical truth. They are slightly tongue-in-cheek in presentation, mostly because I would never actually use a tract. But don’t let the harshness of the presentation deceive you: these are the truth. So, without any further ado, the Four Reformed Spiritual Laws:

1. God might love you, but He probably hates you.

If you are one of the elect then God loves you. The number of elect is drastically smaller than the number of the damned and it is therefore probable that God hates you.

Psa. 5:4-6; Matt 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-28; Matt 13:10-15; 2 Thess 2:8-12

2. Man is sinful and the enemy of God and deserves the full wrath of God.

God has a standard of perfection which no man can ever hope to live up to. From birth man is doomed to an eternity of damnation if nothing is done to appease God’s wrath.

Rom 3:10-18; Deut 32:39-41; 2 Kings 22:17; Rom 9:6-26

3. Jesus, the Christ’s death on the cross is the only propitiation for man’s sin.

Jesus, who is the Christ, led a sinless life and died on the cross as an unblemished Lamb to satisfy God’s wrath. The Christ’s resurrection on the third day is proof that He is truly the God-man and victor over death.

Rom 3:21-26; Isaiah 53:4-6; 1 John 4:10; 1 Cor 15:20-28

4. Repent unto everlasting life!

Only he that is granted repentance from God may be saved through the washing of rebirth and regeneration by the Holy Spirit and become an heir according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:3-7; Eph 1:3-12; Acts 2:37-42; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 13:1-5

I Don’t Have “Faith” Anymore

It bothers me when a good word is ruined. I understand that such a phenomenon is a product of the post-modern world we live in. And I understand that “by any other name, a rose smells just as sweet”. No matter what you call it, truth is still truth, morality is still morality. However, in the case of the word “faith”, my frustration is compounded by the fact that I can’t simply abandon the word entirely because it is too deeply infused into the Christian vocabulary.

The problem is that, nowadays, the meaning of “faith” in no way resembles what Biblical authors were talking about. Just to be clear, here is what faith means today: wishing. Faith is, apparently, the opposite of reason and knowledge. Faith picks up where thinking leaves off.

The standard “christian” picture is this: when a person responds to the Gospel, they know very little about God and what they don’t know is supplemented by faith. So, if you were to quantify it, the average new believer has single digit percentage – say 5% – of knowledge, and 95% faith. But here is where things get tricky.

According to the Scriptures, the christian should seek to increase their knowledge. They do this by hearing the Word preached, reading on their own, and using logic and reason to come to conclusions. However, if faith is really the opposite of knowledge, a very unfortunate truth emerges: the more you know, the less faith you have. As you increase in knowledge, the opposite must necessarily decrease. We can only add up to 100%. When a person has 50% knowledge, they’ve lost almost half of their faith. Where can one go in the Scrptures to support the idea that as one matures they lose their faith?

So, the response to the faith vs knowledge debate for many elders is to avoid knowledge altogether. These are the christians who balk at any form of evidence in favor of their position. In fact, they go so far as to say that evidence is dishonoring to God because it destroys faith. Though this position is incredibly wrong, there’s something to say about the consistency of it. At least they understand that if reason and knowledge increases, faith must decrease – per their definition anyway. They have, for some reason, fallen prey to a misunderstanding of the word “faith”. And, to be honest, I have no clue why. I admit I am no church historian so I have no idea when this phenomenon began to take place. I wish I did and that I could point to some faulty reasoning along the way to show why this is so wrong. Instead, I will go back to the source – God’s Word – to show that this understanding is wrong.

But, before I do, allow me to point out something very significant about the Scriptures. High-brow theological types like to say that the Scriptures are God’s “Propositional Revelation.” To put it precisely: “God supernaturally communicated His revelation to chosen spokesmen in the express form of cognitive truths, and that the inspired prophetic-apostolic proclamation reliably articulates these truths in sentences that are not internally contradictory” (Henry, God, Revelation and Authority). In other words, God didn’t just make the authors of Scripture feel what they ought to say, and then hoped that the end product was intelligible. He made sure that they knew what to say in a way that is logically consistent throughout the entirety of Scripture. God used propositions – statements that, by definition, are either true or false – to communicate. Furthermore, in many cases, God ordered those propositions to form arguments. And, in case you don’t know, arguments rest upon the foundation of reason and logic.

A wise woman I know likes to say that God is “not a God of confusion.” She is quoting from 1 Corinthians 14, a passage I’d like to quickly examine just in case you are doubting what I have to say. In this section, Paul is giving the Church instructions about order in relation to those with charismatic gifts. There were many in the church speaking in tongues and prophesying and it seems that a sort of pietistic/spiritualistic competition had arisen among them. Order had dissolved as everyone was seeking to speak at the same time and over one another. So, beginning in 1 Corinthians 14:29, Paul addresses the order to be observed when prophets are speaking:

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. -1 Corinthians 14:29-33

Paul assumes that the prophets are speaking as ones given the spirit (or special charismatic gift) of prophecy from God. He orders them to speak, one at a time, so that all may be exhorted by God. Then comes the phrase in question – but first take note of something. That last phrase is given as a reason! If reason is so evil, why did Paul give one? Why didn’t he just say “do this and have faith that what I’m saying is true and good” and leave it at that? Because that is not how Paul, or God speaking through him, choose to operate.

Go ahead and read any other epistle or any other didactic passage of Scripture and you will see that God gives reasons all the time. He uses them so that His people would increase in knowledge. Why would we seek to operate by a different standard? If the Scriptures contain reason, how can we say that the average Christian shouldn’t? If we are called to grow in knowledge, how can we abandon the tools God has given for the pursuit of it?

So, let’s return to the word in question: faith. We have to get rid of the idea that faith and knowledge are opposites. The opposite of knowledge is ignorance and the opposite of faith is unbelief. These two things are related, but they are not opposite sides of the same spectrum. Because I know it will be difficult to change this definition, I suggest you use the word trust instead. There can’t be trust without something to trust in. Furthermore, you can’t trust in something you don’t know. There can’t be trust without an object (in this case, Christ) and you can’t trust without knowledge of that object.

Consider this: when Paul gives his famous sermon on Mars Hill, he gives his audience lots of information about the unknown god. If knowledge doesn’t matter, why did he do this? Why didn’t he just say:

So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. ’ Repent and believe in Him.”

If knowledge doesn’t matter, this would be the expected response – this scenario requires the most faith. But, instead, he says:

Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children. ’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. -Acts 17:22-31

Depending on how you count, he gives at least fourteen pieces of information about the unknown god: the True God. In fact, he has the audacity to even furnish proof! If knowledge is the opposite of faith, why provide a single piece of information? He provides all of this information so that his audience has an object for their trust. Faith in an unknown god is no faith at all. Faith – or trust – in the God that Paul describes is what must accompany the repentance that Paul declares.

Before I finish, I must address at least two objections to what I’ve been saying. First, if God wants faith based on knowledge, why was anyone upset with doubting Thomas? John records this story in chapter twenty of his gospel:

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “ Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “ Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed. -John 20:24-29

This passage is used by some to prove that knowledge is not necessary. If someone has knowledge, that’s okay – but if someone has no knowledge and still believes, they receive extra special blessings. But there’s a problem with this interpretation: it doesn’t take into account the context of the situation. Think of it this way: Thomas was one of the twelve. He spent almost three years going around with Jesus hearing him teach and seeing Him perform miracles. He also, like the rest of the twelve, abandoned Christ when He was handed over to crucifixion. But unlike the others, he would not believe anyone when they said that Christ was risen. He wouldn’t believe the women. He wouldn’t believe the accounts of those who said the tomb was empty. And, worst of all, he wouldn’t believe the other ten who had seen him. It wasn’t that he required evidence that Christ was risen because they all required information to come to their conclusion – even Peter had to go to the tomb to see it empty for himself. His problem was that he wouldn’t believe in light of overwhelming evidence that Christ had risen. It’s not faith vs knowledge, it’s reasonable evidence (like, say, the Scriptures) vs unreasonable evidence (like seeing Christ Himself).

Second, I have to make it clear that the Scriptures describe that certain things must simply be believed. God doesn’t give the reasons for His own existence. He doesn’t fully explain how man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty work together (who are you o man, that answers back to God?). And, though the Word contains reason and argument, they avoid a worldly type of argument. Paul makes it clear in his first letter to the Corinthians that he was not seeking to be clever or persuasive as the world is persuasive. He makes it clear by saying:

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.-1 Corinthians 2:1-5

We have to understand exactly what Paul is arguing against. He isn’t arguing against knowledge and reasons, which he makes clear by saying that he preached Christ, and Him crucified. He did give them an object for their faith and reasons for them to believe that He is the correct object. However, he didn’t play games and seek to persuade them by speaking cleverly or rhetorically or deceptively. He wasn’t attempting to persuade them with lots of form and very little substance – the wisdom of the age. He relied simply upon the facts and the power that comes with those facts to give knowledge and, with God’s help, faith based on that knowledge.

Faith isn’t wishing. It’s trust. When you were born again you had faith based on the knowledge you had at the time. But, as one grows in knowledge and maturity, that faith should only grow. As you better know your God – the only true God – your trust in Him should be bolstered and established, not diminished. Reject the deadly idea that faith is the opposite of knowledge and trust the God whom you know.

Why Are We Here?

We have received some not-so-supportive responses to our recent polemic posts. We’ve been criticized for what we’ve been saying and how we’ve been saying it. Last week Pastor Doug responded to the question of tone. Today I’d like to respond to the more fundamental question – why say anything negative in the first place?

The answer to this question is quite simple: we believe that it is the job of the Church – and specifically the elders – to proclaim what is true and rebuke what is false. This has been the job of God’s authoritative representatives from the beginning. From Moses and the Prophets to the Apostles and their delegates, God has charged his representatives with the most solemn duty of speaking for God.

Our goal is to live up to the charge given by Paul in the third and fourth chapters of 2 Timothy. Paul is writing his last letter to his son in the faith to encourage the young pastor and to emphasize the most important parts of his ministry. It’s a powerful letter throughout, but everything in the first two and a half chapters is building up to this, the most important part of the letter:

But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

There are (at least) three important principles to glean from this passage. First, just because someone is acting “in the name of Christ,” it doesn’t follow that they are doing what is right. Second, the initial response to false teaching is to “continue in the things you have learned.” And third, elders are charged with preaching the truth and refuting false teaching.

The name of Christ is spoken by many who have nothing to do with Him. Go back and read all of 2 Timothy 3, 2 Peter 2 or Jude and try to deny this. Paul and Peter are not describing the leaders of other religious institutions – they are describing what will happen inside the Church. This shouldn’t be anything new. The history of the Church – especially everything recorded in the OT prophetic books – is filled with men rebuking the leaders of the Church for their sin. Nothing has changed in the New Covenant except for the fact that things are only going to get worse.

This fact is lost today and I think it is because of a misapplication of Philippians 1:15-18:

Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.

How are we to reconcile 2 Timothy 3 and Philippians 1? In Philippians, Paul is describing bad men teaching the right thing (the Gospel). In this case it doesn’t matter who the mouthpiece is as long as the truth is being preached. However, when describing false teachers, lies are in view and there is no circumstance where this is acceptable. To confuse these two wildly different circumstances exposes a fundamental inability to interpret the Scriptures. Just saying the name of Jesus doesn’t make you a legitimate Christian leader – faithfully doing what elders are ordained to do makes you one!

So, how should the elder respond to false teaching? They should hold fast to what has been delivered in the Scriptures. The Scriptures must be the sure foundation of everything the Christian, and especially the elder, does. But, the elder has an additional responsibility to build on this foundation: they must preach the truth.

Timothy is charged – in the most solemn manner that Paul could imagine – to preach the word, reprove, rebuke and exhort. Notice that Paul tells Timothy to do one positive action – preach – and three negative actions. According to Paul it isn’t enough to simply promote the truth, he must speak out against what is false. Nowadays we don’t take this command very seriously. The church has been convinced that as long as you say what is right there’s no need to condemn anyone else. Live and let live. Preach and let preach. Why can’t we just all get along? We do this because we don’t consider what a false teacher really does: they harm the sheep and make God to be a liar.

Harming one of God’s people is a serious matter. How did Jesus accuse Paul, then Saul, of his persecutions of the Church? Why do you persecute my people? NO! He says “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4) Jesus so identifies with His people that a malicious act against one of us is taken as a malicious act against Himself. You see the converse in Matthew 25 – a righteous act toward one of us is taken as a righteous act for Him. If this is true for God’s people in the case of physical harm, it is certainly true in the case of intellectual and spiritual harm. And if you don’t believe that teaching what is false is harmful to God’s people, read what Peter has to say in 2 Peter 2:

But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness

If they are fit for destruction, will those they teach be any better? If they will suffer wrong, can we expect only blessing for those who follow? If they receive the wages of unrighteousness, what will their followers earn? If the fate for these men is so terrible, how could it be any better for those they take down with them?

However, this is not all we can say about false teaching. What makes false teaching even worse is that it makes God out to be a liar. The elders are God’s officially delegated mouthpieces. We have been charged with preaching and teaching that which has been delivered to us. And what has been delivered to us but God’s own word? When anyone speaks a lie in God’s name it is evil, how much more so when it is one that has been specifically charged and appointed to speak the truth? God’s established authorities will be held accountable for those they care for and for what they say.

So, we speak out because it is the right thing to do. God has called His elders to refute what is false because he cares about his people who are being enticed by false teachers and because He cares about His name that is dragged through the mud when it is used to promote lies. As we look to the Church today, we see false teaching almost everywhere. There is no denying that things have gotten and continue to get worse. Turn on the “christian” TV station and you will see fool after fool that men have accumulated to tickle their ears. We speak so adamantly against what is false because there is so much falsehood out there! What other loving response could there be? Is it loving to see someone believing or teaching something false and turn a blind eye? We have been accused of hate for our actions – how much further from the truth can it be?! Refuting false teaching is the only way to save them from the destruction Peter describes in 2 Peter 2.

To preempt what is surely the first response to what I am saying, I must say that we do not do this because we think that we are the only ones that are right. We are not so foolish or arrogant to think that we have exclusive claims on the truth. We speak because we know we are not alone. God always has a remnant and we want to minister to them.

The Church today focuses almost exclusively on the world. Almost every service is “seeker sensitive” and organized to make unbelievers feel welcome. Every “ministry” is dedicated to taking the time, effort and money of God’s people and spending it on outsiders. All of this is done with a false piety that believes the world is all that matters. The Church has been very successful in accumulating “teachers in accordance to their own desires.” And while this is done, God’s people go unfed and neglected, told time and time again that they don’t matter. Do elders forget Christ’s identification with His people? When the sheep are neglected, God Himself is neglected. God always has a remnant and we want to minister to them.

So, if you are one of His in the midst of the wilderness that is the church, we want to encourage you. We want to help you get some meat. We don’t have any desire to steal you from your current congregation, we want to encourage you and help you know the truth so that you can work to refine it. We want a hearty and heart-felt debate based on the issues we raise so that people learn how to think and not just follow feelings or mysticism. And we must refute the lies that are being masqueraded as Biblical Christianity. God is not honored by falsehood, but He is most certainly honored when it is shown to be false.

Mr. McSwain is a Hypocrite

At the end of February, Steve McSwain wrote a blog for the Huffington Post titled “6 Things Christians Should Just Stop Saying”. McSwain writes from the perspective of the modern christian and details the six most offensive and untrue things that the old, nut-job christians say. It’s been a few months, and I’m sure many have condemned the things Mr. McSwain has said, but I can’t resist adding my two cents. The post is just so bad…

1. The Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God.

Mr. McSwain kindly informs us that the Bible is full of errors. He tells us that no one can prove him wrong because no one has access to the original manuscripts. Of course it’s true that we can’t look directly to the autographs to prove inerrancy, but McSwain apparently fails to recognize that no orthodox Christian attempts to go that route to prove inerrancy. He doesn’t seem to care about the reasons to believe in inerrancy and is comfortable condemning those that hold the orthodox position as liars without giving evidence for his view.

Since he doesn’t argue for his view, I don’t feel compelled to argue for my view. What I would like to know, however, is why McSwain even looks to the Bible in the first place. I read, study and apply the Scriptures because I believe it to be the Word of God that has been revealed through men and faithfully transmitted through history. But what can McSwain think of the Bible? If it is so “replete with errors”, why trust anything that the book has to say? I will venture to guess how McSwain determines the parts of the Bible that are in error: anything that he doesn’t like. Which leads to his second point.

2. We just believe the Bible

Under point number two, McSwain describes how he does not believe the holocaust actually happened and that he is a Nazi. At least that’s my interpretation of what he said…

You see what I did there? I have Mr. Koukl to thank for this fine rhetorical device. Any sane person should read what I assert above, read McSwain’s actual point number two, and conclude that the above interpretation is idiotic. There is, in fact, such a thing as the wrong interpretation.

McSwain informs us that Christians don’t believe the Bible, they believe in their interpretation of the Bible. Duh. In order to process any information I must interpret it. What he’s really trying to say is that any interpretation of the Bible is ok because the Bible means whatever you want it to. Again, I would like to ask McSwain a couple of questions. If any interpretation is valid, what do you think of my interpretation of his statements above? What would you say to someone that interprets 2 Peter 1:20-1 as saying that Scripture is not a matter of personal interpretation since such an interpretation would exclude your view? And what does sincerity have to do with the validity of a viewpoint or interpretation?

I don’t even understand why he brings this point up. If the Bible is “replete with errors”, there’s no point in looking to or interpreting it. There’s no real meaning of the text and, even if there was, it would be obscured by the many many textual errors. The takeaway ought to be: just throw the book away, there’s no way to get it right.

But what is the most fascinating aspect of this view? That McSwain writes an entire article (and, after looking at his website, apparently a couple of books) to prove that the orthodox Christians that interpret Scripture are wrong. So much for respecting their sincerely held interpretation.

3. Jesus is the only way to heaven

This entire section is just bizarre. McSwain claims to be a Christian, but misses the entire message of the Gospel. According to our kind interpreter, the only verse in the entire Bible that indicates the exclusivity of the Gospel is John 14:6. Furthermore, even though the plain meaning of the words of Jesus might indicate He is claiming exclusivity, to say so is just an incorrect interpretation of His words.

McSwain informs us that many sincere Christians interpret that verse differently. Again, I have to ask, what does sincerity have to do with anything? If I sincerely believe 2+2=5, does that make it true? Of course not! Yet, for some reason we should believe that sincerity is the magic talisman that makes any idiotic interpretation as equally valid the correct interpretation, if there were such a thing. But I still don’t know why we’re even talking about interpretation because this verse is probably filled with errors and bears no resemblance to anything Jesus actually said.

McSwain goes on to describe an alternate interpretation of the verse in question. Well, that’s not really true – he describes the context and why Jesus was talking to the disciples, but he never actually tells us how the words “no one comes to the Father but through Me” mean anything other than “you can only access God the Father through Me.” I don’t even know how to construct that second quotation in a way that doesn’t use basically all the same words – the meaning is so obvious in the original. Of course Jesus isn’t telling the disciples that Buddhists are going to hell (per McSwain’s straw man interpretation). But He most certainly is telling them that He is the only way. Thomas asks Jesus how they will know the way to the place being prepared for them. He doesn’t say: “as long as you are trying to be a good person and are being spiritual, any religion or belief system will get you there.” May it never be! He says that they will know the way if they follow Him because no one else can lead you there.

McSwain finishes this section by reasoning that no one can judge another interpretation as true or false because no one is infallible. This is utter nonsense. There is a meaning to what is in Scripture and it has been determined by the author of Scripture: God. John 14:6 is not a difficult passage to interpret – the plain sense makes common sense so there is no reason to add any other sense to it (again, thanks to Koukl for that explanation). Any other interpretation is about as valid as believing that John 14:6 teaches that we should only buy and drive Toyotas.

The most disturbing idea in this section is that Christians only claim exclusivity because of John 14:6. Again I have to ask, how has this “christian” missed the entire point of the Gospel? McSwain does not believe “Jesus was drawing a line in the sand between him and some new religion he was creating and all the other religions of the world.” That is true, Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion, per se. He came to free His people from bondage to sin by the power of His blood. He came to propitiate for our sin. He came so that those who were at enmity with God could be at peace with God. Without Him, you can’t be with God. What clearer line could there be!

4. The rapture of Jesus is imminent

McSwain isn’t really talking about the doctrine of imminence in this section, so the title is a bit misleading. In fact, I tend to agree with what he says here. I think that people like Hal Lindsey are crazy and they should stop making us look bad, but for very different reasons.

5. Homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle and it is a sin against God

At this point, I’m not sure I have much more to say about the actual doctrines in question. McSwain clearly rejects the Bible as authoritative or even helpful in discovering truth so it is nearly impossible to ground the debate. McSwain clearly think that morality is relative to the moral, spiritual and religious environment and not based on the objective moral law of God.

6. The earth is less than 10,000 years old

McSwain browbeats us yet again with high-sounding rhetoric and no content. He’s not stupid enough to think that the Bible could accurately describe the origin of all creation, but if you are, please keep it to yourself.

He finishes by exhorting Christians to stop talking and saying stupid things but instead to love. As usual, there is no definition of love or description of what loving actions look like. Just a sound byte.

Well, I have one statement that I would like McSwain and his confederates to stop saying…

No, it’s not about interpretation, even though he spent the entire article condemning alternate interpretations. Though this is incredibly hypocritical, inconsistent and intellectually dishonest, that’s not my biggest problem.

And no, it’s not about his low view of Scripture, even though I have no clue why he would even “treat the Bible as important” since it is so full of errors. In fact, I have no clue what he is using to ground any of his views other than his own feelings.

It’s: “I’m a Christian.”

Mr. McSwain, we get it. You’re hip and cool and new age and post-modern and all the rest of it. But you are most definitely not a Christian. To say so is just plain dishonest. Please, go start your own thing that you can define any way you want instead of hijacking the term “Christian.” Nobody cares how sincere you are about it, you reject everything that the Bible teaches and that the Church has upheld for 2,000 years. You’re free to believe whatever you want, but when you claim a label for yourself, everyone expects that you actually believe what others in that group believe. You can pretend that we’re all wrong, but please don’t pretend to be something you’re not.

The Cure for Salvation Doubt

One of my hobbies is to listen to a particular talk radio program called Stand to Reason. This isn’t your typical talking head show all about politics; the host, Greg Koukl, deals only with questions on the subjects of “ethics, values and religion”. Most of the callers are people who want to be apologists and call in to get help with some specific argument they are having with an unbelieving friend. The other majority of callers are atheists or “skeptics” who call in to prove that everything Greg believes is wrong. However, on a few occasions over the past couple of years I have heard one particular fellow call in to the show to get some help that really shouldn’t come from a talk radio host.

This fellow, I honestly don’t remember his name so let’s call him Bob, was pretty pathetic in a truly non-derogatory sense. He told Greg that he was disabled later in life so he could not work or even leave his mother’s house without assistance. Though he was a Christian, his mother was not and she refused to take him to church. So, over the course of many years in this position – despite the fact that he reads and listens to sermons – Bob had come to doubt his position as a Christian. The first time I heard him call in, his question was a simple one: how do I know I am saved?

Greg did his best to answer his question and, from what I can remember, gave Bob some hope. But over the years I have heard Bob call back with further despair and further doubt. Greg gave Bob all of the correct theological answers to the questions he was raising – what more did he want?

Though the answer had been brought up during every call, Greg was too busy attempting to deal with the theological issues that Bob was raising to realize and emphasize what the real problem was. Finally, after what may have been the third or fourth call from Bob over the course of a couple years, Greg sternly admonished Bob to find someone to take him to church. The real problem was that Bob was separated from the Body of Christ.

The solution for Bob – and for anyone in a similar position – was to become a member of a church. As I listened to Bob, I despaired that he couldn’t get the help and care he really needed because of his position.

While I admit that membership in a church doesn’t solve every problem, and that membership is not a guarantee of salvation in and of itself, it does have its benefits. First of all, in the process of joining a church you develop and establish a pastoral relationship. Second, by regular participation in worship services you receive the means of grace. And third, when elders faithfully exercise church discipline, you have a better chance of truly knowing your position. Allow me to explain each benefit in further detail.

When you are outside the church, you have no shepherd to take care of you. God has ordered the covenantal institution of the Church to provide men to watch over the souls of His sheep. If Bob had been a member of a church, he would have developed a relationship with an elder who could not only answer abstract theological questions, but deal with the personal issues behind them. A sheep without a shepherd can all too easily wander off and into pastures of sin or doubt.

To continue the sheep/shepherd analogy, when you are outside the church, you do not have access to the pastures where you receive spiritual nourishment: the means of grace. There is much more to the Christian life than listening to sermons on an iPod and reading your Bible by yourself. These activities are beneficial, the latter is certainly necessary, but they are insufficient. Hearing the Word faithfully preached, participating in good teaching, and taking communion all give the believer the spiritual nourishment necessary to face the trials and tribulations of life. Or, as the reformers classically put it: they convey grace; grace that, without which, you will become spiritually malnourished.

Lastly, when you are outside of the church by choice, there are no means by which you can be put out of the church as a result of discipline. The faithful exercise of church discipline is a mark of every true church because it is necessary for the body as a whole and for individual believers. Though you may never see it today, discipline is the means by which peace is ensured within the church. In most cases, this would look like correction within the body so that the sheep stay in the right pasture. In some cases, for the purity of the church, sheep must be put out of the flock entirely. If you are outside of the church by your own choice, you have put yourself in that most extreme position. Without discipline, it is nearly impossible to rightly know your position and, when you have de facto excommunicated yourself, it is almost guaranteed that you will doubt and despair over your salvation.

The problem for Bob, like so many others who call themselves Christians today, is that they are outside of the institution that should be taking care of them. While Greg can provide good theological answers, he doesn’t know who he’s dealing with the same way an elder should. And Greg can’t do what is nearly as important as providing the right answers: follow up and make sure that Bob gets better. Even though Greg and other podcasters may make theologically sound arguments or preach sound doctrine, grace is not conveyed through an iPod – it is only conveyed through the church. Without this food, I have no doubt that Bob was spiritually skin and bones and am not surprised he was at the point of despair. Lastly, Bob excommunicated himself by separating himself from the body of Christ. Because of this there were no elders available to examine him and tell him where he really belongs – whether that is inside the church being brought back to spiritual health or outside of the church and knowing for certain that he is not saved. Bob had put himself in a position where doubt is not only probable, it is necessary.

So, if you are that one person that is reading this post and not a member of TRBC, and you happen to be doubting your salvation: flee to the bride of Christ. It is only within the body that you can know and “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” (Heb 13:17) It is only at church that you can be nourished with the bread of life who promised that He has “come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” (Jhn 6:38-9) And it is only within the church that you have the opportunity to receive judicial statements from the Lord’s under-shepherds so that you may know where you belong; for only the elders have been told “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Matt 18:18)

Jesus and His Soul

Last week I wrote about the Chalcedonian Box and its usefulness in understanding the Incarnation. Each side of the box protects against one of the main heresies associated with this complicated doctrine. I’ve enjoyed studying these councils and heresies, and reflecting on my teaching on this doctrine in the past, but it pains me to say that the richest fruit from this study has been the realization that I have believed and taught something very close to the Apollinarian heresy.

Before, you get out the torches and pitchforks, allow me to present my previous teaching and the reasoning behind it. I will present you my argument as I developed it and therefore we must start with a discussion of Anthropology.

Anthropology, theologically speaking, is the study of man. My starting point for this discussion in particular, is that man has both a nature and a person. His nature is that which he shares with everything else of His kind. Every human has a human nature. Even more precisely, every human has the same human nature. Part of that human nature is that every individual human is a person. However, it is the person that makes each individual human unique. This is why we talk about people having different personalities.

Think of it this way: somewhere in China there are thousands of workers making iPhones. Each one of those iPhones is identical in its hardware capabilities – they can all do the same things, at the same speed, etc. Then you put some software on it and each iPhone is now individually identified by a unique serial number and can further be differentiated from other iPhones by downloading different applications, loading different music, etc. In the anthropology discussion nature is the hardware, person is the software.

The next question we must ask then is: where exactly does the person reside in man? Man has at least two parts: flesh and soul (I don’t intend to get into the bipartite vs tripartite discussion except to say that all the Ecumenical Creeds only mention soul and flesh and leave out spirit). Certainly each one of us is physically unique. Even identical twins aren’t precisely identical. This might lead one to believe that the personhood or individuality of a person resides in the flesh of a man, but I find two compelling reasons to put the person in the soul.

First of all, the image of God in which man was created (Gen 1:26-27) describes the soul of man. God is spirit and, the incarnation notwithstanding, has no flesh in which an image can be made. We are made in the image of God in that we have souls with a mind, affections and will.

Second, every disembodied soul in heaven or hell is still a person. I admit that they are, in one sense, incomplete and waiting for the day when they will be given their bodies again – either a glorified body for the saints or an eternally damned body for the reprobate – but they are not incomplete in respect to their personhood. As a disembodied soul, they have every necessary characteristic of personhood.

So, I argue that each man is a person and their person resides in their soul. What does this have to do with the incarnation? In the past I have argued that Jesus did not have a soul because I made an error in reasoning. I argued that since personhood resides in the soul, if Jesus were to take on a soul he would necessarily be taking on another person. In other words, the second Person of the Trinity possessed some individual that was miraculously created in the womb of Mary. The obvious problem with this argument is that it describes the Nestorian heresy (that Jesus is two persons) and so, I rejected it.

Instead I argued that Jesus had all the elements of a soul (mind, affections and will), but that they were from his Divine nature. In one sense you can argue that a human soul is unnecessary – our soul is simply a reflection of God’s character so why have the reflection when you can have the real thing? Where we have a soul, Jesus has the divine nature.

This is where I must admit I was wrong. I was ignorant of both the Nestorian and Appolinarian heresies. Though I believe my logic was valid, at least one of my premises were false. My reasons were different, but my conclusion was Appolinarianism. If this position is true, it means that Jesus cannot heal or save our souls according to the council of Constantinople I. Clearly, to teach that Jesus does not have a soul is in error, but which of the premises above are false? How could Jesus take on a soul and not take on another person? I now believe I have the answer.

First, back to our Anthropology: how does personhood reside in the soul? Here we must assert that the soul itself is part of our nature and personhood is (figuratively speaking) “applied to” our soul. In other words, personhood is not part of or a characteristic of the soul, for a characteristic is a feature of or subordinate to some thing. Our personhood is the uniqueness of our souls – it determines the non-essential characteristics of the soul – so the soul must be ontologically subordinate to the person. Though inseparable, they are distinct. If you are familiar with the Ecumenical Creeds, that last phrase may sound familiar.

I believe the answer is to more precisely define the Hypostatic Union. The doctrine Hypostatic Union describes that Jesus is one person with two natures, but before now I have not considered where this union actually is! In reading through the Chalcedonian and Athanasian creeds, it seems that the answer has been there all along. So allow me to quote from these creeds (with my own emphasis added), and then give my answer. The Chalcedonian creed states:

The distinctiveness of each nature is not nullified by the union. Instead, the properties of each nature are conserved and both natures concur in one person and in one reality.

And the Athanasian creed states:

Who, although He be God and Man, yet His is not two, but one Christ: One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance but by unity of Person.

The Hypostatic Union is precisely the union of the second Person of the Trinity with the person-ness (to necessarily coin a phrase) of the human soul of a man. At the incarnation a man was created – flesh and soul. At the creation of any other man, a unique person would be part of creation and (again figuratively speaking) “applied to” that soul. However, in the case of the Incarnation, the second Person of the Trinity was “applied to” that soul. Jesus having a soul doesn’t pose a problem to understanding the Hypostatic Union – it clarifies it by telling us exactly where that union exists!

To put it concisely: the two natures are united by personhood.

Let me conclude by saying that I don’t think I’ve changed the orthodox position, but I hope to have clarified it – even if it is only in my mind. Perhaps you already understood this and I’m a bit slow. Whatever the case, I hope you do two things:

  1. Be berean. Test these things against the Scriptures to see if they are so. Hold fast to the good and throw away the bad.
  2. If you find the bad, please bring it up. Comment here, send us an email or give us a call. Clearly I am not infallible. I believe this teaching to be true and good but am open to argument from the Scriptures.

Christology and the Chalcedonian Box

Christology, the branch of theology dealing specifically with the second Person of the Trinity, has lately been the source of much personal meditation. It all started a couple of years ago when I preached on the Incarnation (you can listen to a slightly modified version of this sermon on the podcast here). More recently, there was vigorous debate in my Sunday School class when I asked the class to describe how exactly the fulness of Deity could dwell in bodily form (Col 2:9). So, when I found a link to a lecture about the natures and person of Christ, I set aside an hour to listen and learn.

From this lecture I learned about the Chalcedonian Box. I’m not sure who came up with it, but it is a nice visual aid that helps to clarify our understanding of the incarnation. And, as the lecturer Fred Sanders said, you can’t put God in a box… unless you’re a clever theologian. The box is supposed to provide the boundaries for our discussions about Christ. If you want to remain orthodox, you cannot go outside the box. I don’t intend to provide all the detail from the lecture, but here is the box and some explanation of its meaning:

Only clever theologians can put God in a box

Since you’re probably not going to listen to those lectures, let me explain each of the borders:

The Top: The Nicene council declared the Arians to be heretics. The Arians essentially argued that since Jesus was begotten, he was created, and since he was created, he isn’t fully God. The council rightly argued: only God can save us. If Jesus wasn’t God, he can’t save us. Therefore, Jesus is fully God.

The Bottom: The council Constantinople I declared the Apollinarians to be heretics. The Apollinarians argued that Jesus was essentially a meat puppet (my term, not theirs) possessed by the second Person of the Trinity. They argued that Jesus did not have a soul. Therefore, Jesus did not possess a complete human nature. The council rightly argued: that which is not assumed is not healed. In other words, if Jesus assumed only the flesh of a man, only man’s flesh can be saved. But if Jesus was to save the souls of men, he must have had a soul. Therefore, Jesus is fully human, possessing both the flesh and soul of a man.

The Left: The Ephesus council declared the Nestorians to be heretics. The Nestorians argued that Jesus was two persons: Jesus the man did things that God couldn’t do and Jesus the Deity did things that man couldn’t do. For instance, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the man part of Jesus wondered where Lazarus was while the God part of Jesus later raised him from the dead. The council rightly argued for what is called the Hypostatic union.  Jesus could not have been two persons because such a belief sabotages the fullness of the incarnation and, necessarily, human salvation. Therefore, Jesus is one person.

The Right: The Chalcedonian council declared the Eutychians to be heretics. The Eutychians argued that at the incarnation, the Divine nature (Godhood) and human nature (manhood) mixed to become a new nature (something like Godmanhood). The Eutychians did not explain how the merging of a finite human nature with an infinite divine nature could in any way affect the divine nature and create the third category. The council rightly argued that the two natures must remain distinct. What Christ was he remained, what he was not he became. Therefore, Jesus has two natures.

That is the chalcedonian box: the things we can say with certainty about the Incarnation. As long as you stay within those bounds, you are orthodox. Within the box you must develop your own understanding of how the incarnation actually works. You can contemplate how Christ can be both God and man, and how two natures exist in one person. Like all good frameworks, the box frees you to meditate, philosophize and reason on this subject without fear of being a heretic.

I have personally found the study of this box, or more precisely the study of these councils and heresies, to be extremely beneficial. I’ll have more to say about my teaching on the incarnation soon, maybe even correcting what I’ve taught in the past, but for now I hope you can mediate on these things for your edification.