Friday, August 30, 2002

Dispensationalism II and Daniel's 70 Weeks

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post. I should point out that I am offering neither a defense or a critique (maybe later) of dispensationalism, but rather a brief look at its main ideas.

For purposes of completeness, I’d be remiss if I did not present the seven dispensations identified by classic dispensationalism:
  1. Innocence—Pre-fallen Man
  2. Conscience—From the fall to the flood
  3. Government—From the flood until the Abrahamic Covenant
  4. Promise—From Abraham until Moses
  5. Law—From the institution of Mosaic Law until Calvary
  6. Grace—From the cross until the Millennial Kingdom
  7. Millennial Kingdom—1000 year reign of Christ
Not all dispensationalists agree with all seven, but that is not important for this discussion. Also, merely breaking down history into logical eras, as mentioned in the previous post, is not unique to dispensationalism. Consequently, pointing out that early church fathers spoke of different administrations is not proof that dispensationalism is rooted in the early church.

The distinctive aspects of dispensationalism are not to be found in the dispensations, but in the dichotomy between Israel and the Church. Mathison1 summarizes (classic) dispensational ecclesiology into six propositions: 2
  1. God has distinct programs for Israel and the Church
  2. The Church does not fulfill promises made to Israel
  3. The church age is a mystery; no Old Testament prophets foresaw it.
  4. The present church age is an intercalation (parenthesis) where God has temporarily suspended his promise to Israel (because they did not accept Christ’s offer of a kingdom during his ministry)
  5. The church age began at Pentecost and will end at the rapture.
  6. The Church, as the body of Christ, consists only of those believers saved between Pentecost and the rapture. Therefore, it does not include Old Testament believers.
These are highly interrelated issues and I have no space, expertise, or time to go into details.

Regarding the church, dispensationalism views it as being unspoken of by the Old Testament prophets. One of the more interesting passages of scripture to look at, in order to get a dispensational perspective, is the 70 week prophesy of Daniel 9.

The seventy weeks (each week being taken as a week of years, or seven years—a point accepted by many Christians) consist of 69 weeks (483 years, although each year is 360 days— a Jewish lunar year) plus an all-important final week. The 483 years gets us from the time Artaxerxes sends Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2) to rebuild Jerusalem (the accepted starting point of the prophesy) up to Christ's ministry. There is not enough precision in the dates to make any exact statements, i.e., does it land us at Christ's birth or the start of His ministry?— but it certainly brings us to the apostolic period.

At the beginning of the prophesy, (Daniel 9:24), we are told of six things that will happen in the 70 weeks. The last is to anoint the Most Holy.

Very roughly, the interpretation of Daniel 9 is divided between those who view it as referring in its entirety to things that happen up to and shortly after Christ’s ministry, and those who view it as including events from both the first and second advents, with an unspecified gap in between. Dispensationalists are of the latter school, although not all “second advent” interpreters are dispensationalists.

The dispensational view is that after the 69 weeks, but before the 70th week, the Messiah will be cutoff and the temple destroyed (Daniel 9:26). The latter occurred in 70 AD when Titus invaded Jerusalem. Placing Christ’s crucifixion at no earlier than 29 A.D., then at least 41 years must pass between Christ’s death and the start of the 70th week.

The 70th week, according to dispensationalists, is the last seven years of history. The gap between the 69th and 70th weeks, as it turns out, is not 41 years, but thousands.

The long gap between the destruction of the temple and the onset of the 70th week is the present, parenthetical church age. It occurs as something of a surprise, and came about, so say dispensationalists, because of the Jew’s rejection of Christ.

God provides redemptive history for the gentiles (and some Jews) that accepted Christ. This is the present church age. During this time, He puts His dealings with the Jews in abeyance.

According to dispensationalists, the final week, as is well know to readers of the Left Behind series, is immediately preceded by the rapture (which gets the parenthetical church out the picture).

With the church out of the way, the events of the 70th week, now at least 2000 years following the end of the 69th week, and also known as the Tribulation, can unfold. This includes the arrival onto the scene of the antichrist. He makes a covenant with Israel for this final week (seven years) which he breaks midway through (Daniel 9:27). Upon breaking the covenant, he puts a halt to temple sacrifice. The end of the 70th week coincides with the Second Coming and the onset of the (delayed) Millennial Kingdom.

The distinction between the church and Israel is clear in this view. First, the church is viewed as an intercalation between the 69th and 70th weeks. When the rapture results in the removal of the church, animal sacrifices are resumed (which would be an abomination to Christians) in the temple. This is clearly an indication that, after the interruption due to the church age, God once again is turning his focus back to the Jews.

Dispensationalists do not base their view of the distinction between Israel and the church entirely on the interpretation of Daniel 9. However, looking at that passage demonstrates both one aspect of the difference (the resumption of sacrifice 3, which is obviously not in God’s plan for the church) and how it is linked to premillennial eschatology, in particular pre-tribulational rapture premillennialism, also known, fittingly, as dispensational premillennialism.

It is also easy to see why dispensationalists are among the staunchest (but by no means the only) Christian supporters of modern Israel, and how dispensationalism got an incalculable boost in credibility with the founding of the modern Israeli state. No doubt dispensationalism will gain additional converts should Israel ever actually begin construction of a new temple.

1Dispensationalism (Rightly Dividing the People of God?), Keith A. Mathison, P&R Publishing, 1995.
2 Mathison actually listed seven points, I collapsed his final two into one (point 6).
3 Actually, I don't think dispensationalism demands that the resumption of scarifices cannot occur before the rapture, but only that they definitely will occur in a rebuilt temple following the removal of the church, and will be halted midway through the final week (seven years).

Thursday, August 29, 2002


I am beginning a series of posts on the theological system of dispensationalism. I am doing this for several reasons:
  • Dispensationalism is probably the most common theology among modern evangelical Christians.

  • For the first time I am a member of a church were the dispensationalists far outnumber the Reformed. The two views are historic enemies in Protestantism, although the polemical dialogue is not as harsh as it once was.

  • It is a fascinating subject, both historically and theologically.

  • It is changing—although the vast majority of “real-people” dispensationalists still follow the classic school, the seminaries (as usual) now abound with various “progressive” variants of classic dispensationalism.
Today I will simply try to define dispenstionalism and give a brief history.1

A Definition of Dispensationalism

Dispensationalism has the following features:
  • It recognizes certain distinct dispensations, administrations, economies, or stewardships. During each dispensation, God deals with His people in a certain, specific way. The number of dispensations depends on the particular flavor of your view. We’ll see that classic dispensationalism held to seven, while some newer progressive views describe as few as two. This feature is often given as the definition of dispensationalism, even by its proponents. However, delimiting God’s dealings with man into different stewardships is not unique to dispensationalism and so cannot be regarding as a definition.

  • A literal hermeneutic of Biblical interpretation. This is (rightly) a source of pride among dispensationalists. However, it must be noted that it is impossible (even after excluding obvious metaphors) to develop a self-consistent interpretation of scripture based entirely on a literal hermeneutic. For example, we will look at prophesy that refers to Israel and at the same time mentions nations that no longer exist. Dispensationalists interpret Israel literally, as the modern nation state, but other countries figuratively, as inhabitants of a region.

  • Premillennial Eschatology. Dispensationalists believe that Christ will return prior to the millennial kingdom. Again, this is erroneously offered at times to be a definition of dispensationalism. In fact, premillennialism far predates dispensationalism, and there are non-dispensationalist premillennialists.

  • A emphasis on the Glory of God. This is hardly arguable—what is contentious is that classic dispensationalists claim that their system of theology is the only one that makes God’s Glory its centerpiece. Reformed theology is said (by dispensationalists) to be man centered instead of God centered in that it makes man’s redemption God’s chief purpose—rather than His own glory. Of course, Reformed Christians do not accept this criticism and point to the emphasis on God’s Glory that is evident in the Reformed Confessions.2

  • A clear distinction between Israel and the Church. This is the key feature, and the only one that is truly unique to dispensationalism. According to dispensationalists, God continues to make an ethnic distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles. There is a difference, for all time, between God’s redemptive plan for Israel and His plan for the Church.

A Brief History

Dispensationalism arose in the Plymouth (of late-Puritan Great Britain) Brethren movement sometime in the nineteenth century. The leaders of the movement in England included John Nelson Darby, Samuel Tregelles, and C. H. Mackintosh. The theology colonialized America where it found its most influential proponents in James H. Brokes, D. L. Moody, and perhaps most importantly, C. I. Scofield.

In 1909, Scofield published his classic Scofield Reference Bible. The detailed notes in Scofield’s Bible became, and in many ways still are, (they have been revised) dispensationalism’s text book and articles of faith. The advent and popularity of Scofield’s Bible is an important reason for the success of dispensationalism and its spread around the globe. (To be fair, its proponents would argue that its accurate Biblical interpretation is the primary reason for its popularity.)

Dispensationalists are slightly schizophrenic when it comes to the historicity of their views. They want to claim both novelty and early church support3. So at times, they point to the features of dispensationalism that are ancient (such as premillennialism) and at the same time point out how the early dispensationalists (especially Darby) were able to weave, for the first time, all the features into a self consistent theology.

Dispensationalist Lewis Chafer founded what would become the epicenter for dispensational theology: The Dallas Theological Seminary—which has produced such luminaries as John F. Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost, and Charles Ryrie.

More to come…

I’ll be looking into dispensationalism for some time. I hope you find the topic to be of interest.

1So far I am relying on two sources (in addition to the internet): Dispensationalism (Rightly Dividing the People of God?), Keith A. Mathison, P&R Publishing, 1995, and The Gospel of the Kingdom, Philip Mauro, Old Paths Gospel Press, 1927.
2 Indeed, the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is: Q: What is the chief end of man? A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
3 All movements want to avoid, if possible, the somewhat unfair stigma of newness. The question always arises: if this school of thought is correct, why did it take so many centuries to be revealed? All Protestants must deal with this question in response to Catholic criticism. Dispensationalism and the Charismatic movement (unrelated), being even "newer" than Protestantism, are challenged even more on this front. Part of the response is, whenever possible, to point out that aspects of the movement were actually present in the early church.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Age of Accountability

Oliver Tseng has a post on the Age of Accountability, and asked me to comment, given that I have been writing about Original Sin.

The Bible says nothing about an age of accountability.

We do know that God makes decisions prior to any acts of good or evil:
11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER." 13 Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." (Rom. 9:11-13, NASB)
The gut wrenching question is what happens to infants (including miscarried and aborted babies), toddlers, and the mentally handicapped who never have an opportunity to repent.

From the point of view of Calvinism, there is a normative progression for all believers as described by Paul:
and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Rom. 8:30, NASB)
Other verses (Rom. 2:4, 2 Cor. 7:9-10, 2 Tim 2:25) link repentance to salvation. Furthermore, repentance is itself is described as a gift from God. It is not a human work, although in appearance it manifests itself as such.
9 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Cor. 7:9-10, NASB)
If you must repent to be saved (and you must), then no biblically based system of theology is as encouraging to parents who have lost children as Reformed theology. For it requires nothing of man, no assent, and no self-righteous desire to repent: all are free gifts of God’s grace. There is nothing I did on my own as an adult in order to be saved—God can certainly offer the same gifts to a child from the instant of conception.

Children who are taken into heaven are not innocent, but recipients of God’s grace and mercy.

That is the extremely good news. You don’t have to worry that the child did not have a chance to repent, was not baptized, etc. Salvation is entirely from God. Thankfully, we contribute nothing.

Unfortunately, the Bible does not offer any assurances that all children who die receive the gift. Most of us make an appeal to God’s mercy in finding hope that such children were elect and did receive grace although too young to display any outward signs. Some Reformed denominations hold that children of believers are given special dispensation of grace due to the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants.

One of the great encouragements comes from King David, whose child born of his adultery with Bathsheba died. David wrote, of the time just after the child’s death:
22 He said, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.' 23 "But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me." (2 Sam 12:22-23, NASB)
There is no age of accountability. That would mean our salvation is in our hands, and that would be really bad news. Salvation is a free gift of grace that God dispenses to whom He pleases, including, I am sure, infants in the womb. If my wife and I had lost a child through a miscarriage, I would fully expect to see that child in heaven.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

More on Original Sin

Yesterday’s post on Original Sin elicited comments from astute readers Craig , Chris, and Evan pointing out that I was deviating from Reformed orthodoxy. The telltale sentence was at the beginning of the post where I wrote:
Original Sin does not mean that God charges us Adam and Eve’s sin as if we had committed it.
So what is the orthodox reformed position? Inasmuch as that is synonymous with what is found in the Reformed confessions I turn to the Westminster Confession which teaches:
VI.I. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptations of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit.[1] This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory. [2]

VI.II. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, [3] and so became dead in sin, [4] and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body. [5]

VI.III. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; [6] and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. [7]

(I wish I could write as cogently and economically as the Westminster divines.)
The points relevant for this discussion are [6] and [7]. The Westminster Confession provides the following scriptural support:
[6] GEN 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. 2:10 And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

ACT 17:26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.

ROM 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. 15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. 16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. 17 For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) 18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

1CO 15:21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. 49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

[7] PSA 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

GEN 5:3 And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth.

JOB 14:4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one. 15:14 What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?

I am not convinced, in reading the scripture (some of which does no seem to apply), that Adam’s original sin of disobedience goes on our debit column along with all the multitudes of sins we will commit. Nor I am not convinced (although I feel less strongly about this point) that this Westminster Confession is teaching. I do know it is what many claim as the orthodox Reformed position.

No, as I wrote yesterday, the legacy of Adam’s sin is something much worse—a total corruption of man’s character that puts us in a state where we are unable not to sin. Total Depravity is our heritage; that is what the scripture above is teaching us.

My position is probably more accurately represented by stating that guilt for Adam’s sin of disobedience in insignificant in comparison to our own inevitable sins resulting from our being conceived and born in a fallen state. So I would argue that it is utterly Calvinistic to see this esoteric point as being unimportant.

I think the reason alarms go off is that it appears to open the door to the Pelagian heresy, which held that man is essentially good and has the ability to keep the law. Pelagius had to remove the concept of original sin to avoid the possibility of man living a perfect life (which he thought was possible) only to stand condemned by Adam’s sin.

Catholics are not Pelagian, but they have a similar concern with the precise nature of Original Sin because of their doctrine of Immaculate Conception.

The Reformed Position on Total Depravity means that this point is totally irrelevant. We stand condemned from the time of conception (Psalm 51:5) because of the effect of Adam’s sin, not the sin itself. We are awash in our own sins of commission and omission.

In a weird sense I agree with Pelagius that God does not have an ace-in-the-hole that he will pull out if someone leads a perfect life. We had a Covenant of Works before the Covenant of Grace, and it is still in effect. I believe that if someone did live a sinless life that God would honor that covenant and not say “Great job—but unfortunately there is still Adam’s disobedience which I charge against you.”

Unlike Pelagius I do not believe this gives us a chance to work our way to heaven-- again, the Total Depravity thing. There is no Pelagian window because it is not just hard but utterly impossible for anyone to live a sinless life. Once again from the Westminster Confession:
VII.II. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

VII.III. Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.

Monday, August 26, 2002

Original Sin

Original Sin does not mean that God charges us Adam and Eve’s sin as if we had committed it. It is much worse than that. Original sin means that man’s very nature was radically altered by the fall.

A baby is not brought into the world in a state similar to Adam and Eve before the fall, only to begin some downward spiral as the sins start mounting. No, human beings are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are born sinners.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5, NIV)
Man’s relationship to sin is summarized in the following table:

  1. Pre-fall man (Adam and Eve before the fall)

    • Able to sin
    • Able to not sin

  2. Post Fall Man (Any person before being saved)

    • Able to sin
    • Unable not to sin

  3. Reborn Man (Any person who is saved)

    • Able to sin
    • Able to not sin

  4. Glorified Man (Any person in heaven)

    • Able to not sin
    • Unable to sin

The true meaning of Original sin is that we are born into the state that is similar to Adam and Eve after the fall. It is impossible for us not to sin.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jer 17:9, NIV)

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. (Titus 1:15, NIV)
Not until conversion does God restore us to something similar to pre-fallen man. Of course, unlike Adam and Eve before the fall, we find ourselves in a totally corrupted world, and with corrupted bodies as our heritage, where temptation and examples of sin are everywhere. Although we have the ability “to not sin” (and to boldly split infinitives no man has split before) it usually doesn’t take us very long after conversion to commit our own original sin. By God’s Grace and Christ’s Sacrifice this doesn’t cause an entirely new fall from which we must time and time again be saved.

Are we, after conversion, exactly like pre-fall Adam and Eve? No. We are similar only in the fact that we can choose not to sin. The effects of our corruption are still with us.
but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. (Rom. 7:23, NIV)
Fortunately, we look forward to a time when we be in an infinitely better state and place. A place where we will lose the ability to sin.

The question always arises as to whether God knew Adam and Eve would sin. The answer is, of course He did. God was not the author of their sin, but he knew they would fall. His redemptive plan was already in motion- believers were chosen before the foundations of the world.
For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (Rom. 11:32, NIV)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph. 1:4, NIV)

Friday, August 23, 2002

Dead Faith

I am generating a post from a comment by Peter Sean Bradley to an earlier post. Peter wrote :
I realized that I was a Catholic when I was riding around in Tenth Grade during some Youth For Christ event and the YFC types could never stop talking about "faith." It seemed to me that talking about "faith" should end about ten seconds after it started, and the real focus should be on what you do thereafter. It didn't seem likely to me that God was going to base his decision on salvation entirely on what people said or thought, or thought they thought, but that what people actually did probably had something to do with who was saved or not saved.

This comment strikes at the core of one of the most pervasive problems in Protestantism (and one of my favorite stump issues): easy-believism. Say the words at a rally or an alter call and you are in. As you might expect, the recidivism rate for such people is very high.

I agree with what I infer to be the gist of Peter’s comment. I don’t think he was aiming for theological precision so I will skip a thorough analysis from a Calvinistic position in favor of a quick time-line clarification: The things you do that are meritorious (works) necessarily occur after salvation.

Necessarily in the preceding sentence has an important double application: meritorious works must follow conversion (whatever was done before, in the absence of Christ's righteousness, are but filthy rags - Isaiah 64:6) and they must happen if the faith is genuine. Most Protestants strongly agree that you cannot be a true believer in Christ without also being a disciple.

There is a minority position that there can be an indefinite delay-- that you can believe and remain carnal. Most Protestants rightly reject such a view. A new (true) believer’s faith will simultaneously result in discipleship, albeit (usually) immature and undeveloped.

Peter also wrote:
I do believe in the importance of man being freely able - and actually required to exercise his freedom - to respond to the grace that God undeservedly gives man.

Those in support of altar calls and similar mass-market methods for “getting” people to accept Christ acknowledge that many of the partakers are not genuine. They counter the criticism by saying it is worth it to reach the few genuine believers. (And if many go their entire lives with a false sense of assurance, well that may be cruel but in the larger view of eternity what does it matter?) And, they say, if you tell them the whole story, that accepting Christ brings along with it a requirement of discipleship, well you might scare them away.

Peter’s testimony counters this argument. He was turned off not because he was offered a too difficult faith, but one that was too simple.

Peter, Peter, Peter, if you only stopped there! But you go on to write:
Now, to a Calvinist this probably means that I'm predestined to Hell because I have been foredained from the beginning not to have the right kind of faith. I don't know. Down the road someone might be saying show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works.
I think you might be mistaking Calvinism with Fundamentalism. First of all, the easy-believism is not an issue among Calvinists. If you attend a Reformed Church you won’t get a chance to come up to the altar and say the Sinner’s Prayer and be given the secret handshake. Your comments, until this last passage, were directed at practices of non-Calvinistic Protestants (which is why it was so easy for me to agree!) So why the sucker punch thown our way?!

I don’t know of any Calvinist who would say you are predestined to hell because you are a Catholic. (Again, are you thinking of Fundamentalists?) They would say you are in a church with serious errors in its teachings, but that without question there are saved Catholics. Likewise there are professing Calvinists, who should recognize from their dead faith, that they have no assurance of salvation.

Calvinists love the book of James.

Hmm… sounds like that has bumper-sticker possibilities.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Rise to the Defense of Calvinism!

Kevin Holtsberry is questioning some of the Calvinistic doctrines. All those interested in such debates are directed here.

Baptism of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit regenerates the walking dead. This fortunate gift is given to those God has predestined for mercy. Once dead in sin, by the power of the Spirit they are converted to life in Christ.

The Baptism of the Spirit empowers believers with other gifts so that they can carry out God’s work. They can witness, teach, preach, serve, etc.

These are two separate actions of the Spirit.

For Christ’s disciples, these two events occurred at well separated times. They were first believers (so that had been converted) and later, after Christ’s Ascension, they received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

John explains, at least in part, why these distinct events were also separated in time:
38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:38-39)
The controversy today between Charismatic and non-Charismatic views is not about the existence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The debate centers around its timing.

If you read John 7:39 as referring to Spirit Baptism which was to come at Pentecost, then the gap during the apostolic period had a reason: the baptism had to wait until Jesus had been glorified (why? I don't know). This particular delay between regeneration and baptism (of the spirit) is obviously unique to the apostolic era. For all subsequent generations, Christ is already glorified, and there is no apparent need for a gap between regeneration and spirit baptism. The very fact that John describes the delay, and goes to the trouble of giving a reason for it, suggests to me that the delay is a special, not an ordinary circumstance.

Some (not all) Charismatic denominations accept this delay as normative for all ages. If so, a distinct, identifiable Spirit baptism is expected, and its prolonged absence ultimately affects (despite, in some cases, warnings that it shouldn’t) one’s assurance of salvation.

I don’t read the Bible as teaching that regeneration and spirit baptism are still separated in time. To me, John 7 instructs us that a universal delay was for the apostolic age only. I think if the delay were something that all believers were to expect, the writers of the New Testament would have gone to great lengths to associate such a watershed event with assurance of salvation.

That does not mean that I don’t think it could happen. God will do what He wills for His purpose. I think the evidence is that it is not normative, and I pray for those in Charismatic churches who have not had a genuine experience, including those that have had fraudulent experiences. Do not be anxious for something that has not been promised (a distinct, identifiable Spirit Baptism) as part of God’s plan of salvation. You are likely waiting for something you already received when you were regenerated.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

I have learned something about Catholics

I think I have learned something significant about the difference between Catholics and Protestants. It corrects a misunderstanding of mine. What I learned is no doubt old hat to the rest of the world, but it is new to me. And the insight is due to blogdom’s unique type of interaction. I doubt I would have grasped it without the unprecedented ability to hold thoughtful discussions with Catholics.

Two asides before I launch into the substance of this post:

  • I think what makes blogdom unique is the effort required to make a post. It is much more that a chat response, but much less than a polished article. Chat responses are spontaneous, unwashed reactions that are good for communicating small bits of information, but not good for developing larger concepts. Articles demand a proper amount of reflection yet, like a blog, most of that is way up-front. The rest of the time is spent on non-substantive tweaking and dealing with the vagaries of publishing. Blogs are just right. The good ones demonstrate thoughtful reflection, good writing, yet a concession to expediency.

  • As always, by Catholics and Protestants I mean the conservative Bible believing variety. I don’t know what the liberals of each group actually think, or even if they actually do think. They (the repulsive Bishop Spong comes to mind) are good for naught but sport.

Okay, here is what I have learned, pay attention: The seat of the papacy is the antichrist. Just kidding! I am in a bit of a silly mood, sorry.

The insight I have had (again, it is most likely a belated epiphany) has to do with what bugs one group about the other. I assumed that each had different side of the same coin as their most important point of departure. I am now reasonably convinced that each is most concerned about different sides of different coins. Protestants (well, at least this Protestant) are (rightly, honorably, and justifiably) still most concerned with Rome’s denial of Justification by Faith Alone (sola fide) and the unconscionable anathemas placed on the Reformers at the Council of Trent. The thing that bugs Catholics (at least those I’ve been talking to) most is the Protestant proclamation of Scripture Alone (sola scriptura) and the fact that is linked to the dreaded Private Interpretation.

Sola fide and sola scriptura are both important aspects of the Reformation, and are quite related. Nevertheless, the button to push for a Protestant tends to be sola fide, and for a Catholic, it is sola scriptura (and Private Interpretation).

Protestants believe that scripture is inerrant, inspired, and sufficient, and that the church does not have a legitimate claim to bind a believer either through its own interpretation or extra-scriptural revelation. Catholics do not like the sufficient attribute.

Many of the questions asked by Catholics are legitimate technical questions such as:
  • Don’t you really have a form of church tradition but you just don’t admit it?
  • How do you decide what is scripture? (i.e., what about the Apocrypha?)
  • What Bible translation should you use?
  • Can you self-referentially support sola scriptura via sola scriptura?
Good questions, none of which I will answer here, at least in this blog.

Actually I will say something about church tradition because it is one of the things most misunderstood about sola scriptura. It is not that we don’t have church tradition—we surely do. The difference is that we hold that it cannot bind the conscience. Sola scriptura does not mean that every Protestant must start with a clean page and write in his own theology by reading nothing but the Bible. That would be foolish. In addition to scripture, one’s theology is developed by parents, children, Sunday School, Sermons, peers, mentors, elders, other books, the world, nature, everything.

Sola scriptura means that you put everything you can to the simple test: Is this based on scripture alone? In carrying out the test you might still use other resources, but only as they are helpful in addressing the question of scriptural support.

No matter how much I admire a pastor or writer, I test what they are telling me against scripture. That is Private Interpretation. It does not mean I develop all doctrine by myself, locked in a room with only the Bible. I do my homework. I try to start with an open mind. I read what others have written on the same subject—both those that agree with where I am heading and those that don’t. I talk to people. I pray. But when all is said and done, I accept not what I want to believe and not what others want me or tell me to believe, but what I honestly believe I have discerned from scripture.

What seems to be unfathomable to Catholics is the nonchalant way in which we accept the inevitable: intelligent, well intentioned believers will reach different conclusions. Right from the start Luther and Calvin had disagreements. Across the spectrum of evangelical churches there are different views on baptism, the Lord ’s Supper, predestination, etc. It’s the old: In Essentials, Unity; in Non-essentials, Liberty; in All Things, Charity approach.

Now the things I mentioned are not non-essentials in all aspects. The Lord ’s Supper is mandated by Christ. A church that doesn’t celebrate the Lord’s Supper is an apostate church. However, God has chosen not to make it absolutely clear to us precisely what happens during the sacrament/ordinance. So most Protestants (not all, one can never say all) are not overly ruffled by the fact that there are different views.

The fact that we can agree to disagree (by no means always peacefully, but in theory anyway) on important concepts is utterly un-Catholic. That is why Private Interpretation rattles the cage of Catholics the way a denial of sola fide rattles ours.

That is the obvious thing I learned recently. The hot button issue is different for Catholics and Protestants. Not very earth-shattering, I readily admit.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

20 Somethings

This is the season of discontent among the twenty-somethings in regards to church. They don’t like the rules, the hierarchy, legalistic tithing, buildings, building funds, committees, spiritual deadness, the abandonment of a social agenda, etc.

There is nothing new under the sun. These young adults are not saying anything we didn’t say in our time. The season of their discontent is perennial. The only difference is that we forty-somethings now find ourselves in the role of conservatives rather than reactionaries. Their vantage point is much more fun.

This is a sort of open letter to those twenty-somethings, at least those who accept scripture as the inerrant word of God. If we don’t agree on that we have no basis from which to discuss other areas of concern. If you don’t believe the Bible, or if you think the New Testament stops after the four gospels, then I would like to have another discussion with you, but not this one.

So my premise is that you believe the Bible, but you see the modern church as being an invention of man which is failing miserably at doing God’s work, or at least your problem with today’s church is something along those lines. You seek something fresh, something that is true to God’s plan without the smothering oppressiveness that comes with today’s overly institutionalized church.

Attitude of Platitude

Let me get my requisite forty-something platitudes, which you will scoff at, out of the way. If you completely break from the traditional church scene and start something “new”, it will run for a while on its novelty and your youthful exuberance. It may last the better part of a generation. But slowly it too will institutionalize. Rules will develop. Agendas will diverge. Ad hoc leaders, in areas where none were intended, will emerge. In a shorter time than you can imagine your own kids will feel oppressed in your no-longer-new church. You will be the "youth" for only about ten more years, and that is stretching it.

That is not to say that you do not have legitimate gripes—you do. My plea to you is that you use your youthful energies to reform from within. Speak out loudly in areas where the church is falling short, or being legalistic, or not ministering to the community. At the same time listen to the older folk. Sometimes traditions stem from stubbornness, sometimes from wisdom.

Let’s look at some of the things that I am hearing you don’t like.


The modern church model is almost always some variant of a pastor, elders, and deacons. Some churches (e.g., Brethren) do not have a pastor but a group of elders.

Can church hierarchy be abused? Absolutely—maybe even often. Does that mean its wrong? No it means as fallen creatures we must be diligent in watching for corruption. You can play that role in your church. Does that mean we discard it because egalitarianism sounds like a better approach? No, not if a hierarchy is Biblically mandated. Read Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3. These list the requirements for being an elder. An elder is not, as I have read in one of the threads recently, “just being older”. The Bible doesn’t have to give requirements for getting older. An elder has some authority. Not absolute power, but some authority. Can you read Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 with an open mind and conclude otherwise?

Because we don’t like someone lording over us do not make the mistake that God could never have ordained such a burden, that it is all legalism. Read the Bible. Leave your church when it steadfastly refuses to do what is biblical, not when it insists on doing so.

I think the Bible has support for the model of a professional pastor. Paul’s instruction to Timothy is a big part of that. Paul also makes it very clear in 1 Corinthians:
In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:14, NIV).
There is an important qualification here: those who preach the gospel should be paid. If your pastor is not preaching the gospel, and refuses to do so, then it is time to leave that church (or fire the pastor.) Your church should be a mission to the community and even to its members, some (many?) of whom are not saved.


Rules are also a pain. Who makes them? Well if God makes them then they are not to be questioned, just obeyed. If man makes them then by all means feel free to challenge them. There are rules in the Bible for the worship service. Some are very difficult to understand and controversial. My point here is not to discuss, for example, the true meaning of 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11, but only to point out that however they are interpreted they sure look and smell like rules, so it must be that it pleases God that the worship service is not freeform.


Here you are on very solid ground, as long as you don’t include in legalism (which we are warned about) the biblically ordained hierarchy and biblically ordained rules. Strict tithing (see the discussion in Rachel's Journal and the fascinating comments) is legalistic—the New Testament clearly teaches that God doesn’t want your offering if is given as a work rather than a cheerful sacrifice. All kinds of legalistic minutiae work their way into churches like parasites: Acceptable styles of music, clothing, food, drink, Bible translations, etc. Be vigilant against legalism but, as much as possible, identify it and work to reform from within.

Spiritual Deadness

This is a huge problem in many churches and often you are the solution. The youth make an invaluable contribution in this area. In our church, the youth are out and about in the community witnessing in a reckless abandon than is beyond the capabilities of the older folk. Our youth evangelize in the streets and the malls (from which they get kicked out) and their testimonies invigorate and inspire the older members of the church. It is what they contribute to us. If your church is dead, work to quicken it. If a church is dying and the youth leave, they have killed the church by abandonment.

Social Activism

This is a very challenging area. I agree that one of the great failings of the modern American church is that it has abdicated its role in feeding and caring for the needy to the government. At the same time, conservative evangelical churches are typically politically conservative as well (in the U.S.). So we love to complain about big government and bloated welfare but we are seemingly happy that we don’t have to do anything about it. We should be saying to the government, you don’t have to feed the poor because as we once took care of the problem, we will do it again. Lobby for church monies to be used to help the poor. There are many ways this can be worked, and this is a mission field that, due to its neglect, is crying for fresh leadership. You can fill that role. You may be surprised how much support you’d get from the rest of us.


I’ll probably write more on this later—but I am out of words for the moment!

UPDATE: see posts by 20-somethings Brianna Leone and Joshua Claybourn
UPDATE 2: See the post by another 20-something Mike Congrove

Monday, August 19, 2002

Naaman the Syrian Leper

25But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; 26but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."(Luke 4:25-27) Jesus caused an uproar at the beginning of His ministry when He spoke at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. So incensed were the Jews that they forcefully led Jesus to a cliff outside of town for the purpose of murdering Him.

When He began to speak at at the synagogue in Nazareth, as recorded earlier in Luke 4, Jesus stated that He had come to fulfill the Messianic prophesy of Isaiah. Luke wrote:21And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." 22So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, "Is this not Joseph's son?" (Luke 4:21-22) This would appear to indicate that when Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, and then proceeded to teach, the Jews were not outraged; indeed they marveled at his eloquence. However when he spoke of Zarephath and Naaman they became filled with wrath and dragged Him from the synagogue.

Let’s take a quick look at one of these Old Testament stories: Naaman the Syrian leper (2 Kings 5:1-19).

Naaman was a sworn enemy of Israel and a commander in the army of the King of Syria, in whom he found great favor. Naaman had taken a Jewish wife; a young woman captured during a raid into Israel.

Naaman was also a leper. His Jewish bride told him of a Samarian prophet who could heal his leprosy. With the king’s blessing, Naaman took letters of introduction and silver, gold, and clothing as gifts and journeyed to Israel. Eventually Naaman met Elisha, who instructed him to wash seven times in the Jordan. Naaman, after some persuasion, did so and was cleansed. He vowed to worship the God of Israel from that day forward. Elisha refused the gifts offered by Naman.

What triggered the anger of those listening to Jesus teach? After all this was a well known story to the Jews in the synagogue.

What angered the Jews was the coupling of this story to Jesus’ Messianic proclamation. The message was clear:
  1. He was the Messiah, He came to free the captives (c.f. Luke 4:18-19).

  2. This salvation would be for the Gentiles and Jews alike, and not for the Jews universally, for there were ‘many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’

  3. Salvation would be by the grace of a Sovereign God, for Naaman’s cleansing was not a reward for anything he had done, but a gift to an unlikely and unworthy recipient. To make it absolutely clear that works were not involved, even Naaman’s offering was refused. (In an interesting twist, some of Naaman’s money and clothing was surreptitiously accepted by Elisha’s servant Gehazi, who ended up getting Naaman’s leprosy as a punishment for his greed.)

The Jews didn’t mind hearing Jesus claim that He was the Messiah. They wanted someone, anyone to free them from Roman tyranny. Yet when He taught the He had come not to free a nation from occupation but to free His people, including Gentiles, from their uncleanliness, they wanted to kill him. It is an interesting “mini gospel encapsulation” contained in just a few passages from Luke 4.

Friday, August 16, 2002

Mail Call

One on my very first posts was on What is A Christian1. The post contained a list of Christian essentials, including the inerrancy and sufficiency of scripture. After the list, there was a paragraph with the heading Axiomatic Christianity. The paragraph began with my recollection of a physics professor who taught Relativity axiomatically, by starting with the axiom: vacuum is vacuum and then deriving all the necessary concepts and equations. I then wrote:
I believe Christianity lends itself to an axiomatic approach, and the proper axiom is the first item in the list [of Christian essentials] above, restated here:

AXIOM: The Bible is the inerrant and sufficient inspired word of God.
The idea being that all the items in the list of essentials are derivable from the axiom.

Months later, a reader has taken me to the shed over that post2. He wrote:
Dear David,

Your first absolute (the inerrant and sufficient inspired word of God) you posit as being the axiom of Christianity from which the other absolutes are "derivable". This way of apprehending Christian truth is thoroughly and deeply wrong. Christianity does not, as you claim, lend itself to an axiomatic approach; such an approach leads inevitably to a deficient understanding of Christianity.

First of all, the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture is not, in any sense, the axiom of Christianity. The starting point of Christianity is the mighty acts of God in human history: the call of Abraham; the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt; the giving of the Law; and above all the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Next in importance after these historic acts of God is the establishment by Him, through those acts, of the people of God: the people of Israel in the Old Covenant and the Church, the new Israel, in the New Covenant. Next in importance is the faith, witness, and experience of the people of God. Finally, out of that faith and experience, as a product of the covenant relationship with God, and in witness to the acts of God, the Holy Scriptures were produced. Outside of the covenant which produced the Scriptures, it is not possible to discern their message or receive their meaning.

You cannot treat the Holy Scriptures as a repository of seed data from which theological truths can be derived by intellection. Christianity is not a matter of belief in the sense of intellectual assent and knowledge; it is a relationship of the heart with Jesus Christ, it is belonging to His Body the Church, and it is the acquisition of His gift of the Holy Spirit. What Christ offers us you can never know by the intellect; you can only know it by experience. And it is not knowing facts or affirming principles that matters, but knowing a Person.

In Christianity, it is the only-begotten and immortal Word of God that is primary, not the written word. Look to Islam or Mormonism for a religion where the written word is truly primary. It is telling that none of the historic creeds of the Church teaches what, for you, is the axiom. Neither the Apostle's Creed, nor the Nicene Creed, nor the decrees of the ecumenical councils, mention belief in the Bible, as such, as an article of faith. Not until the sixteenth century is this "axiom" mentioned, in the Protestant confessions. It is surprising that the Church waited fifteen centuries to articulate explicitly what is thought to be the axiom of the entire faith.

Note that I am not denying the inspiration or the inerrancy of Scripture; but I am saying that to place it at the base of an intellectual system is unworthy of the fullness of the faith. The way to Christian truth is to hear the proclamation of the Gospel; to submit oneself, heart, soul, and intellect, to Christ as King and God; to flee to the apostolic Church, the pillar and bulwark of the truth; to receive proper catechesis, in which the authentic tradition of the Church is imparted to one, heart to heart; to be born again through the waters of Holy Baptism; to participate fully in the worship and life of the Church; and humbly to follow the way of salvation, coming into closer and closer union with Christ, and ultimately becoming a partaker of the divine nature. In the context of that life in Christ, in communion with and loyalty to the apostolic Church in every age, one may humbly offer one's finite and fallen intellect to help clarify the revelation of God for oneself or others; outside of that context, the intellect, trying to synthesize Christianity anew out of axioms and logic,
is doomed to failure.
(emphasis added)

I replied to his email stating:
Dear [Reader],

I don't know how to respond, actually. I agree with most of what you wrote. I should have called it Axiomatic Christian Apologetics instead of Axiomatic Christianity. I did not mean to imply one could teach oneself to be a Christian. As for the historic creeds, everything in them is found in scripture, so with the above modification, I stand by what I wrote.
Actually, in rereading his email, there is much I disagree with. The main purpose of my reply was to concede the point that one cannot pick up a Bible and, with no divine intervention, intellectualize oneself into an authentic Christian.

To which he replied:
If you agree with most of what I wrote, then (a)I totally misunderstand your theological position or (b) I didn't make myself clear (or (c) both).

I think your axiom is wrong to such an extent that I was shocked to see it so baldly stated. To me it is a serious misunderstanding of the role of the Holy Scriptures in the life of the Church. It was unheard of before the Reformation.

It is true that everything in the creeds is found in Scripture; but the sufficiency of Scripture is not found in the creeds. There's a reason for that.

1 Going back to your first week or so of blogging is like reviewing the first few episodes of a long running television series. The style is so different from what eventually jelled that it is almost unrecognizable.
2He is not the first reader to object to that post. In fact, given that I only had about 20 readers that first week, a relatively high percentage found it wanting. He is the first to object in a while, and the first to object so fully.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Jerry Falwell

I have read some more posts about bloggers wanting to be delinked from the JesusJournal. Now I have no dog in that fight, and I think they should honor anyone’s request to be delinked, no muss no fuss. What bothers me is that one of the common reasons for wanting to be delinked is that the site contains, gasp, an article written by Jerry Falwell.

I understand that Falwell has made some unfortunate statements. And he is no Calvinist so I have vast areas of disagreement with his theology. He is a sinner and imperfect, as are we all. But of this I am sure: He has been instrumental in bringing far more people to Christ than I will ever be. Do I think the Lord will greet him as a good and faithful servant? You betcha I do.

Christianity is offensive. Few of us, if we received the media attention Falwell gets, would escape their ridicule any more than Falwell. On these pages, I’ve accused the largest professing denomination of Christians in the world of apostasy—there goes my chance for elective office! If the secular media despise Falwell—well I personally put that in the credit rather than the debit column.

I find it utterly distasteful that he is not only the secular media’s whipping boy but also serves in that capacity for much of Christian blogdom.

It's too HOT

Yesterday the temperature here in New Hampshire reached 98° F. New Hampshire! I was expecting snow by now.

Flashback to November, 2001:
Na├»ve Homebuyer moving from Southern Virginia: We like this house, but it doesn’t have air conditioning.

Real Estate Agent: (Condescendingly) You don’t need air conditioning in New Hampshire!
Anyway, that is my excuse for not writing on anything profound today. The heat, compounded by the fact that our study (well, the room with the computers) is the hottest place in the house.

I know, I shouldn’t complain. As I quoted (from memory, so quite unreliable) Mark Twain to my wife the other day: “Don’t tell people your problems; half of them won’t care and the other half will think you deserve them!”

The Lord’s Day

A long, long time ago I had a discussion with Jeffrey Collins (who obviously should still be in our prayers) about The Lord’s Day. At some point the fact that the Sabbath was “moved” from the seventh day to the first day was brought up. I remember stating that I thought what we called the first or seventh day was arbitrary.

What has been working in the recesses of my mind is the admission that I was inexcusably ignorant about how the change occurred. Or, more accurately, how a “new day” (the Lord’s Day) came to replace the Sabbath.

Apparently, both days were “holy” in the apostolic period. Paul preached in the synagogues on the Sabbath, but the early Gentile Christians worshiped on the first day, The Lord’s Day:
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. (Acts 20:7, NIV).
There is also an indication that Paul was defending this shift (and therby providing apostolic sanction) when he wrote:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. (Col. 2:16, NIV)

In 321 A.D. Constantine issued an edict recognizing The Lord’s Day as the one sacred to Christians (and instituted the long forgotten “blue laws” prohibiting commerce on the first day.) This was reinforced by both the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) and the Council of Laodicea (364 A.D.)


I once had an elder at a Presbyterian church who sort of melded the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day: he took his day of rest to extend for the 24 hours from sunset on Saturday to sunset on Sunday. What do you think of this? I always held the cynical view that he wanted to go for ice cream after the Sunday evening service, but didn’t think that was an appropriate Lord’s Day activity. His modified definition gave him that flexibility.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

God's Providence

Light blogging today. I am taking the gang to Lake Winnipesauke. These random interruptions will continue until school begins.

The recurrent discussions on God being outside of time have been bouncing around inside my head. I have been thinking about various things: God’s Will, His Providence, chance, luck, man’s free will, God’s Sovereignty, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, pork belly futures, etc.

How do all these things fit together?

I don’t have a clue. I can only begin to grasp these things if I tackle them in bite-sized chunks.

I have blogged before about God’s Sovereignty and Will, and also about our free will. Today I will take a peek at God’s Providence.

In particular, I was curious as to whether or not God’s Providence is the same as God’s Sovereignty. No clear answer there, but I was able to muster a sense that the concepts, though related, refer to different things. Providence is the particular way God chooses to use His Sovereignty. Whether I can fully convey the distinction remains to be seen.

When I wrote of God’s Sovereignty, I discussed the three types of His Will: Decretive(that which He decrees—it will happen), Preceptive (that which He desires but doesn’t decree, such as our obedience) and Permissive (that which He permits, good or bad).

Providence is the combination of all forms of God’s Will along with His foreknowledge-- all working together to sustain creation. His foreknowledge includes knowing the state of our hearts at any instant. Our hearts control our desires, to which our free will is beholden. His doesn’t make us make choices, but He knows how we will choose.1

Providence is the amazing amalgamation of these different aspects of God’s Sovereignty and foreknowledge that permit Him to govern the universe without violating man’s free will. The “factoring in” of our free will into God’s Sovereignty is called concurrence. Providence states that God chooses to use his Sovereignty to govern in a way that is sustaining, glorifying to Him and dignifying for us. His Sovereignty clearly accomodates other manners of governing; He chose the manner we call Providence.

Providence explains the amazing stories we all hear about resources from unexpected sources permitting glorifying work to go forward when all seemed lost. Providence explains how great good came from the great evil perpetrated against Joseph by his brothers.

In the likely event that I wasn’t cogent, allow me to cheat in my summation and simply quote the Westminster Confession2:
God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

1 Including the fact that, apart from divine intervention, we will not choose Him.
2 In reading the Westminster Confession, regardless of whether I am in agreement, I am always amazed at the quality, especially in terms of economy, of the writing.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

More on Ecumenism

I thought I would continue with the ecumenical theme from yesterday. Today I will be using a clear example from scripture. A case where Paul encountered someone who was teaching a different gospel. Paul did not tolerate the diversion from the true gospel. He did not dismiss the crime, chalking it up to unimportant intellectual differences that shouldn’t be of concern to true believers united in their love of Christ. No, he publicly condemned the error and labeled it as hypocrisy.

You know the punch line. The person Paul condemned was none other than Peter. We read of the account in the book of Galatians:
11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? 15We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (Gal. 211:16, NKJV)

Peter, if not explicitly then at least implicitly through his actions, was teaching that works are required for justification. No doubt Peter also understood that grace was necessary for justification, but by his actions he was, in effect, stating that in addition to grace one had to act as a Jew and do the works of the law in order to be justified. Peter was teaching:

Faith (by grace) + Works --> Justification

As is clear from the rest of Galatians, Paul uses this incident with Peter to segue into teaching a different (in reality the only) gospel:

Faith (by grace) --> Justification + Works

From the rest of the New Testament, we know that Peter corrected himself and ceased his Judaizer error. Paul, in challenging rather than tolerating Peter, did him a great loving service. As for Paul, John Calvin theorizes that the credibility of his (Paul’s) entire ministry depended on his fortitude in standing up to Peter.

We live in an age where society worships at the altar of tolerance. I think we have to resist grabbing onto the humanists’ coattails.

Now none of the bloggers I have been reading, who are presently discussing ecumenism, advocate sacrificing truth for the sake of a false unity. In fact they all rightly warn against it. And other parts of scripture tell us not to let insignificant doctrinal differences divide us. Nevertheless it is inescapable that a zeal for truth and a zeal for unity will, at some point, collide. The question is always: are we disagreeing on something essential. If so, then we need to work on correcting whoever is in error, recognizing that it might be the same person I see everyday in the mirror.

Paul’s rebuke of Peter can serve as a model. Their positions differed by some amount. Clearly Paul’s circle was not big enough to accommodate Peter’s position. If you stress unity among believers whose positions differ as much as those of Peter and Paul (which by today’s standards may not be so rare), then I would say gracious debate, rather than unity, is called for.

The lack of unity does not mean a lack of discussion. In fact, it calls for discussion. Let me use as an example one of my fellow (and one of my favorite) bloggers, Mark Shea.

Mark Shea is one of the preeminent Catholic blogger-apologists (with extremely enviable site traffic). I have had more than a few discussions with Mark and his readers in his comments sections.

From my perspective, and I must stress I am not speaking for Mark, we are not unified in the sense that unified is being used here and in the other posts on ecumenism. From my view (again, I am not speaking for him) our differences are very much like the differences between Peter and Paul in Galatians.

I could not go on a joint mission with Mark; to me our messages are incompatible. I would not feel comfortable encouraging someone to attend Mark’s church. If I had an opportunity to witness to (yes, sheep-steal) one of Mark’s readers would I do it? In a heartbeat.

And yet I go to Mark’s site daily looking for edifying discussion. The fact that I cannot claim “unity” with him does not mean that I can’t learn something from reading his blog. It doesn’t mean I have to pretend he doesn’t exist. And it doesn’t mean that I think he is not saved. It means that I think his teaching is false in an essential area, and that I cannot pretend that it doesn’t matter. I have to call him on it. And he should do the same for me.

Providing the tools to challenge and debate one another may be the greatest benefit blogging has to offer. Before the advent of Christian blogging, I had much less opportunity for discussion outside of my comfort zone. It has been a wonderful development.

Monday, August 12, 2002

A wee comment on Ecumenism

Chris Burgwald has an interesting post on ecumenism (he supports it). Mark Byron has a follow-up over at U. of Blogistan.

I agree with Chris and Mark, in principle. Christ's high priestly prayer of John 17 is a prayer for unity of all believers. However I must once again play the role of the shrew of blogdom. For the quest for ecumenism must always be regulated in light of (frightful) passages such as:

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! (Gal. 1:8)

So the question, and it is a difficult one, is whether a different church or denomination is preaching a different gospel. If so, then there can be no basis whatsoever for unity.

Historically, the Roman Catholic Church accused the Reformers of preaching a different gospel, and vice versa. Were they incorrect in perceiving their differences as irreconcilable? Were they simply irrational-- overcome by the gut-wrenching emotionality of the schism? Do we know better in this reflective, enlightened age?

These are unpleasant questions that must be asked. It is not popular to take a stand against ecumenism. But passages such as Gal. 1:8 cannot be ignored.


Martin Luther had a student named Johann Agricola, who, to Luther’s dismay, became a proponent of not “just” an erroneous doctrine, but a full-fledged heresy: antinomianism. This term, apparently coined by Luther, means anti-lawism. It arises, either from an honest misunderstanding of what the New Testament teaches about grace and the law or from a darker motivation: as a justification for a license to sin.

There is a happy ending, at least for Mr. Agricola: he eventually recanted his antinomianism.

The antinomianism manifesto is largely based on a misreading the book of Romans (which actually contains some of the strongest refutations of antinomianism). In chapter 6, we read:
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Rom. 6:14, NASB)
Antinomians take this to mean that the moral law of God is not applicable, not binding, and not relevant for Christians who, after all, are saved by grace and grace alone.

A bona-fide antinomian believes that you are actually free to sin because, after all, you are not under the law. This conclusion is so pathological that one must wonder if anyone actually believes it is what the Bible teaches. It is much easier to suspect that such a person is just looking for a justification of his sinful lifestyle.

The position opposite to antinomianism is legalism, which teaches that we must obey God’s moral law perfectly or nearly perfectly to obtain our salvation.

Both antinomianism and legalism misunderstand the relationship between grace and the law. I posted about the law recently and will try not to repeat myself. Except that I will borrow a few sentences from that post that summarize the purpose of the law to those under grace.

The law teaches us what sin is. And that we are sin. And so, being the antithesis of what we must be, we are hopelessly lost. We need a savior who can fulfill the law and then die, under no condemnation, and endure our punishment. We need Christ.

The fact that we are no longer under the law means that our salvation is no longer dependent on our hopeless attempts to obey it perfectly. Christ has done that on our behalf, but not so that we would then be free to revel in our lawlessness.

In this post I will just point out a few verses that are aimed squarely at antinomianism. Although Luther may have invented the term, antinomianism was already found in the early church.

In the book of Romans, Paul writes:
Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. (Rom. 3:31, NASB)
If Paul, in Romans, writes as if anticipating the heresy, other New Testament passages attack actual early occurrences. In Jude, we read:
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 4, NASB).
And Paul, writing to the Galatians:
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Gal. 5:13, NASB)
There are many other passages warning us about antinomianism including the writings of John, Peter, and James. Clearly, God, understanding our depravity, knew that man would attempt to debase even such an amazing gift: which is God’s grace through Christ Jesus.

As a Calvinist and a firm believer in Justification by Faith Alone (Sola Fide), I am sensitive to the cavalier use of the accusation of antinomianism. It is a charge sometimes leveled against Reformed Christians by both Roman Catholics and non-reformed Protestants. Indeed, many people, upon hearing the basic ideas of Calvinism for the first time, reflexively equate it to antinomianism. A common initial response (usually spoken as if they are the first person clever enough to come up with the argument) is “I might as well do whatever I want, because I am either of the elect or not—let’s eat, drink, and be merry.”

Calvinism understands the purpose of the law in the life of the Christian. The Holy Spirit will give the elect the desire to obey the law and the ability not to sin. If you are willfully disregarding God’s moral law don’t take false comfort that Calvinism teaches you might be of the elect. You are lost and in need of repentance.

Friday, August 09, 2002

Regulatory Principle

Churches often struggle with the question of acceptable practices in the Worship service. The Regulatory or Regulative Principle addresses this problem thusly: The only acceptable worship is that which is explicitly taught in scripture. If the Bible doesn’t mention a particular activity, such as the use of drama, then it must be avoided.

According to its proponents, the Regulatory Principle is biblical. It is ordained by God for reasons that include the fact that sinful men cannot invent acceptable ways to worship a Holy God. Anything we do invent is likely to be an abomination.

Many churches take essentially the opposite approach: If the Bible does not forbid a practice, then it is acceptable-- providing, of course, that it is edifying.

The Regulatory Principle holds that this type of Christian liberty applies to life, but not to the worship service. Those who support the Regulatory Principle acknowledge that it may seem oppressive, but that’s the way it is. To ignore the Regulatory Principle, say its adherents, is to start down the slippery slope of looking for new and flashier ways to entertain the flock, lest they drift away.

It’s an amazing debate, actually. Do whatever it takes to win souls for Christ versus stick only to what the Bible tells us to do, nothing more nothing less.

The Regulatory Principle is codified in several confessions, including the Westminster Confession and the London Baptist Confession of 1689. In the latter we read:
But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.
The Westminster Confession contains essentially an identical statement.

One of the stronger scriptural supports for the Regulatory Principle comes from the book of Deuteronomy:
"Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it. (Deuteronomy 12:23)

And two passages that demonstrate the dangers of inventing methods of worship:
1 Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. 2So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. (Leviticus 10:1-2)

8"These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." (Matthew 15:8-9)

Easy to State, Hard to Practice

Although not everyone accepts, even in theory, the Regulatory Principle, I do think that all fair-minded persons would say that it is a reasonable position. You can understand how someone would hold such a view, even if you do not.

The trouble comes in putting it to practice. The Bible does not give us a Sunday bulletin with an order of service. Though we may want to do what we are commanded (and only what we are commanded), reaching any sort of consensus is problematic. At least we know we are to pray and to read God’s Word (everybody agrees with that). We know we are to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (but how often?) We know we are to baptize (but when and how?) Are testimonies biblically-based parts of worship? How about messages and announcements? What about clapping after an especially beautifully rendered song? The questions are endless.

Probably the most contentious issue is in the area of music. Must all hymns be Psalm based? Some churches do not use modern Praise and Worship style songs—claiming that only the “classic” hymns are appropriate. Yet these “old” hymns, relatively speaking, are more modern than classic, with virtually all of them coming from the last quarter of Christian history.

My own view is that the Regulatory Principle is sound, but we should use critical discernment in declaring something as “out-of-bounds”. Scripture gives us many guidelines, but not all are terribly specific. Let not the specificity come from man instead of the Bible. Men (elders) who base restrictions and regulations on their own tastes violate the very principle they seek to uphold.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Humorous Scripture

I am taking a couple days off both work and blogging for some mini family vacation. So today’s blog is a summer rerun. One of my earliest blogs was about humorous scripture passages. I offered one, and got a couple more through the comments. Since there are a fair number of new readers to this blog, I thought that perhaps I could get some additional contributions.

My offering (from May 15) was this:
God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out. But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, "I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches." Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, "I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. (Acts 19:11-16, NASB)

Woe to the unbeliever who dares to invoke the name of Jesus! The very evil spirit you are attempting to combat may beat you and rob you of your dignity.

Craig Schwarze contributed this verse:
If a liar and deceiver comes and says, 'I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,' he would be just the prophet for this people! (Micah 2:1)

And from Dawn, aka Ladydusk,
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord . Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. (2 Kings 2:23-24)

Have anymore? I need enough so that I can write a book! Come on people!

My next post will probably be on Thursday or Friday.

Mark Byron: Balaam's Donkey in Numbers 22:21-41.

Joel Garver: I've always been amused by Gideon's exchange with the Lord in Judges 6:17-18, particularly when Gideon says, "Wait here, will you, while I go get a present for you?" And the Lord says, "I'll wait til you get back."

Jason Steffens: The greatest pick-up line ever told: Song of Solomon 6:4.

Henry: "No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you." (Job 12:2)

R.W.: I like Paul's afterthought in Acts 26:29, at the conclusion of his hearing before King Agrippa: "I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am--except for these chains!"

And another from me: Abraham's bargaining for Sodom in Genesis 18:23-33.

Monday, August 05, 2002

Presuppositional Apologetics

Over the weekend, I posted this introduction to Presuppositional Apologetics over at blogs4god. If interested, read it there but leave your comments, if any here, as bogs4God is sans comments.


Preterism is an interesting and growing (quietly, it seems to me) eschatological complement to either the amillennialism or, especially, post-millenialism. It is usually subdivided based on degree: either (hyper-preterism and preterism) or (preterism and moderate preterism). So if you encounter someone who claims to be a preterist, you need to probe a bit to see if they are of the strong or weak subspecies.

So that I am crystal clear, I will use the hyper and moderate adjectives and drop the ambiguous unmodified “preterist”, unless referring to both.

Preterists believe that all (hyper) or most (moderate) New Testament prophecy has already been fulfilled, culminating in 70 A.D. when Roman Legions invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. Hyper-preterists even believe that the Second Advent and the accompanying resurrection (of the saints) have already occurred and as such they have to interpreted much differently than orthodox Christianity has been teaching for 2000 years.

I myself have some preteristic leanings, although not enough that I would label myself even a moderate preterist. I have never been able to convince myself that any of the eschatological views is totally self-consistent with scripture—so in my own muddled (and also not totally self-consistent) picture of the end times, I accept some of the moderate preterist claims.

Preterists base many of their views on the difficulties found in Christ’s Olivet Discourse, especially as recorded in Matthew 24. I don’t have time for anything near a complete exposition of their position, but I can highlight a few points.

Here is an abridged version of the Olivet Discourse (from Matthew 24):
1Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down." 3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" 4And Jesus answered and said to them: "Take heed that no one deceives you. … 6And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are the beginning of sorrows. 9"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. … 14And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. 15 "Therefore when you see the "abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), 16"then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains… 21For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be… 28For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. 29 "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. … 34Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.

The Olivet Discourse contains timelines, apocalyptic prophesy, and descriptions of the fulfilling of prophesy. In some sense, Preterists and dispensationalists choose opposite hermeneutics: The preterists take the time references literally and the apocalyptic descriptions as imagery, while the dispensationalists do the reverse.

The preterist views the Olivet Discourse as a continuous exposition on a single time period: from the time Christ spoke the words to about one generation (40 years) later (when some of those present would still be alive). The terminus of the discourse’s prophesy is about 70 A.D., when the Temple was destroyed. To the preterist, this is no coincidence.

According to a preterist:
  • In verses 1-2, Jesus is clearly referring to the destruction of the Temple.

  • In verse 3, the disciples ask Him when will this happen, and the signs of his coming, and the end of the age. The question presupposes that these will happen at the same time. If this were a question based on a false premise (that these occurred at the same time) the Jesus would have corrected the misunderstanding.

  • Then the discourse describes the tribulation. This is taken to be the Roman invasion and atrocities that accompanied the destruction of the Temple. For some of the specific prophecies one can find support in the writings of Jewish historians such as Josephus. The eagles of verse 28 refer to the Roman standards.

  • Things start to get dicey in verse 29, given that it begins with the pesky work immediately. The astronomical phenomena are not supported in history, so verse 29 must be viewed as “eastern” style symbolism.

  • To the hyper-preterist, the second advent and resurrection described in verses 30-31 is the real thing. To a moderate preterist, these are not the events but likened to them and signifying not the end of times but the end of an age. To all preterists, what happens in these verses is spiritual only.

  • The preterist stride is regained in verse 34, which is taken in its plain reading: all these things will happen within a generation (~40 years). Some of the deciples present when Jesus is giving the Olivet Discourse will still be alive.

In summary, preterists believe that the Olivet Discourse was describing events that would occur not in the distant future but in the first century. The apocalyptic aspects of the Olivet Discourse did not refer to the end times, but the end of an age: the age of Judiasm. To the preterist (of any degree), the destruction of the temple was a major event in redemptive history that has been largely ignored by most Christians.