Sunday, July 29, 2012

Shunning and the Christian Group

Εἰ δέ τις οὐχ ὑπακούει τῷ λόγῳ ἡμῶν διὰ τῆς ἐπιστολῆς, τοῦτον σημειοῦσθε μὴ συναναμίγνυσθαι αὐτῷ, ἵνα ἐντραπῇ[1] (2 Thess. 3:14)

But if anyone does not obey our word by this letter, mark this person and do not associate with him in order that he might be shamed. NAS
In a pluralistic culture like ours, the standard for what is right is a variable as the daily returns on the stock market. The sense of entitlement fits nicely within a pluralistic framework. After all, not only will I determine what is honorable and noble and right myself, I am without a doubt entitled to make such determinations. The level of ignorance and outright stupidity that has taken over debate in this country, at least at the common level, the practical level, has to be at an all-time high. In fact, it is so high that I wonder how it could possibly get any worse. I would be remiss if I didn’t provide some examples of what I am talking about.
Take the abortion debate as one example. Abortion isn’t argued along the lines of life, as it should be. The abortion proponent argues along the lines of reproductive rights. For the life of me, I cannot even begin to understand how killing an unborn baby can possibly be viewed as a woman’s right not to reproduce. Do women have a right not to reproduce? Well, in a free country such as ours, I suppose from that standpoint one could answer in the affirmative. However, within the Christian community that answer is a little more complex than this blog is intended to address.
Another example is the homosexual argument that anyone who supports the biblical view of marriage is a hater and a bigot. This argument is one of the dumbest arguments I have ever heard. Still, reasonably intelligent people fail to see just exactly how stupid it is. They attempt to make this argument in defense of the gay lifestyle. They insist that in order for you to be loving you must support and approve of homosexual behavior while at the same time criticizing others for saying that in order to be Christian you must denounce homosexual behavior. It just doesn’t make any sense. Why is it that we can disagree over politics and not be accused of being a bigot and a hater? We can disagree over religion and not be accused of being a hater. Christians believe that Muslims are lost, following a false religion and worshipping a false god. Yet, they are not accused of hating all Muslims because they believe that Muslims should repent and place faith in Jesus Christ. Christians do not approve of adultery, lying, or living together outside of marriage either. Yet no one accuses them of hating these people. The gay argument just doesn’t make sense.
What makes even less sense is how the Christian group has come to treat people who take up sides of an issue in direct opposition to the teachings of Scripture. Of the Greco-Roman culture and its influence on honor-shame, David deSilva wrote,
Those who violated those values, whether through adultery (attacking the stability of the family), through cowardice (undermining the security and the honor of the group), through failing to honor the gods or the rulers (risking the loss of their favors), through ingratitude (being unjust toward the generous and threatening to diminish their willingness to be generous) were held up to contempt.[2]
 It was in the context of this type of culture that the New Testament documents came into being. In the group culture of Mediterranean peoples, the honor-shame system was quite powerful and the language of this culture dominates much of the NT writings. An understanding of such social practices contributes a great deal to biblical studies. It was important to be an honorable person and to be viewed by society at large as honorable. Society had values by which one would maintain and even increase in honor. Of course, the opposite of this is true as well. If one did not live up to those values, they would be shamed. Hardly anything is worse in that culture than being shamed. It drove Judas to suicide. Enter the Christian group. The Christian group was very small and very distinct. Repeatedly, the NT writers fill their time writing and preaching about the divine values brought to them by the revelation of God in Christ. These values serve to identify who you are as a person. A person could not pass themselves off as Christian unless he or she lived by these values. And on those occasions where the effort was made to do so, the consequences were clear and could prove severe. This is what Paul had in mind as he penned this sentence to the Church at Thessalonica.
Repeatedly in the New Testament, the writers are concerned with the Christian group’s new source of honor: the values of Christ. Jesus taught these values to His apostles who later taught them to the rest of the Church. Essentially, these values demonstrate who the true follower of Christ is from the heart and who is an imposter, following Christ with their lips only. It was these new values that the Church, the Christian group must hold in high esteem for the values of the culture were now to be abandoned because they would be shame upon the believer. David deSilva comments, “Those who do not have faith do not have all the facts necessary to make an informed evaluation concerning what is honorable and what is censurable.”[3] This raises the question why so many so-called Christians are so quick not only to give the unbeliever a place at the table to discuss values, but even treat them as a source of authority on certain issues. In the NT Church, those who rejected the values laid down in the authoritative teachings of the apostles were recognized as being in serious need of correction and rebuke or perhaps excommunication. They were not issued the right hand of fellowship in the name of peace and love and unity. NT unity was a unity of truth as expressed in the NT documents. It was a unity of values as expressed in the values taught by Christ and His apostles. Rejection of this truth and these values came with severe consequences
Paul instructs the Christian group at Thessalonica not to associate with anyone who does not obey the instructions laid out in his letter. A person who claims to be a Christian but who rejects apostolic teaching is to be marked by the Christian community, noted as a rebel, set aside especially as one who disturbs and upsets the community by their conduct. Paul goes further than this saying that the Christian can keep no company with such a person at all. The idea is that the only company one can keep with this person is to evangelize them and encourage them to turn from their sin.
In I Cor. 5:11, Paul instructs the Corinthian Church to do the very same thing. Anyone who makes a claim to be among the Christian group as a follower of Christ and they are at the same time displaying disdain and a mockery of the values of that community: the community cannot have reciprocity with them as believers. The relationship has to be one of serious correction rebuke, or evangelistic. As for judging, Paul says we are to judge those who are in church. God judges those in the world. Abandoning the values of the Christian group as laid down by Christ and his apostles is abandoning Christ. It is marking yourself off from the group and demonstrating that you really are not part of the group. Individuals have no authority to change the values of the Christian group. Any attempt to do so must result in serious correction or even excommunication from the group.
Jesus gave the Christian group instructions on what to do when any member in the group failed to adhere to its values in Matt. 18:15-18. A witness to this failure as a moral obligation as part of the Christian group to go to this person and help them see their failure. Gal. 6:1 tells them to go with all humility and gentleness. If the person hears and repents from the failure, they have been recovered by the group. If not, the witness is to take a second person with them. If the individual refuses to listen, they are to tell it to the entire church. The church, having heard of the refusal to repent has a moral obligation to confront the erring member. If the member refuses even to hear the church, the individual is to be excommunicated and treated as a target for evangelism. They are not to be treated as someone with whom you respectfully disagree. The soul of this individual is at stake. The process of confrontation and rebuke and the threat of excommunication was how the Christian group produced shame upon the individual. This shame was intended to generate true repentance. II Cor. 7:10 tells us that sorrow that is according to God produces repentance. This sorrow is brought about by godly shaming, shunning, and loving confrontation.
Jesus Christ Himself considered the “one anothers,” “the Church,” “the Christian group” more important than any one individual. The truth and the values that make the Christian group what it is must be protected from error and values that serve to contaminate it. This is why Paul wrote that it only takes a little tolerance for leaven to contaminate and infect the values of the entire group. Error and ungodly values represent a threat to the very existence of the group. Since God’s values are fixed, changing the values of the Christian group essentially is impossible. The result of attempts to change such values is that the group ceases to exist. If no one held to the values of Christianity as laid out in the first century, there would be no Christianity, no true Church, no Christians. The truth and values of the Christian group are inseparable from the group. They are the group. Abandon the values and truth claims of the group and you abandon the group. To be a Christian is to adhere to the group's values and truth.






[1] Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Matthew Black et al., The Greek New Testament, 4th ed. (Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies, 1993), 541-42.


[2] David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 36.


[3] David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 62.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tim Keller’s Idea of Apologetics and Gospel Presentation


According to Tim Keller of Christ Redeemer PCA in NY, Christians need to be able to give a rational justification for faith. Presumably, merely giving the gospel is not enough. Unbelievers apparently need to be able to assess these reasons for faith so that they can find in them a compelling case for becoming a Christian. Keller says the “just believe” statement isn’t going to cut it, especially today. Secondly, says Keller, the Christian story must be presented “in a way that addresses the things that people most want for their lives.” I must confess that I have no idea what is happening in the PCA church, especially now that I have left it, but I can say that Keller’s remarks are far from being consistent with reformed thinking on both the cause of faith and the manner in which the gospel is framed up to the unbelieving world. The statements are more than a little disturbing.

As long as I can remember, I have always had an intellectual proclivity to be fascinated with the complex. As a believer, this proclivity has produced a keen interest in philosophy and apologetics. While my doctorate is in systematics, with a project in hermeneutics, I have logged several hours in apologetics. However, a few years ago I began to question my behavior in this area and to reevaluate my views. As a result, I have changed my views on philosophy and apologetics a great deal. I still believe it is good to challenge unbelieving thinking when it comes up. However, that challenge must remain faithful to the text of Scripture. In other words, faith can never be surrendered for the sake of making Christian belief make sense to a mind that the bible says is darkened, without understanding, held captive by Satan to do his desires, and that is naturally hostile to God. The question that Keller’s article raises immediately concerns the possibility of making the Christian faith actually make rational sense to an unbeliever. Is such an endeavor even possible? Secondly, is this what Scripture teaches? Moreover, is this approach the model we have in Scripture of Jesus and the Apostles? The next question concerns Keller’s idea of how we should give the gospel. Should we give the gospel in such a way that it appeals to the wants and desires of an unbelieving heart? Is that how conversion and regeneration work? I have thought for some time that Tim Keller’s views on an old earth should have him removed from the PCA as an ordained elder. Having read his views on apologetics and gospel presentation, I am quite sure he is out of step with the WCF on both issues. The text of all texts on the Christian’s duty is 1 Peter 3:15, which says,

 
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. [1]
The term “make a defense” is the Greek word ἀπολογία, which can be translated “defend, make a defense, or give an answer or answer.” Many apologists, so-called, contend that the picture here is one of a court room where a defense attorney defends his client before a court. Some aver that Peter had Socrates’ great defense in mind when he wrote his letter. These views are very problematic give Peter’s audience. It is clear, based on the context that Peter is concerned with how these believers reply or answer or respond to their opponents. The Christian group was under severe pressure to defect from its values and beliefs and return to those of the greater culture. The tactics were so great that actual physical threat may very well have been imminent. Peter’s goal was to shore up the courage and faith of the group by providing them with encouragement and giving them clear instructions on how to deal with the pressure. Remain focused on Christ as the center of your purpose. Set Him apart in your heart and recall who you are in Him. This was the first bit of encouragement.


The main consideration for how to understand Peter pertains to his audience. Peter is writing to the everyday common believer. He is not writing to philosophers or even theologians. He is writing to mostly converted Gentiles throughout what is known as modern day Turkey. It is true that biblical apologetics is about defending one’s personal faith in, and commitment to Christ. First, Peter is concerned about the state of the believers. They are clearly tempted to fear. Perhaps some are tempted to defect. Peter encourages his audience by telling them if they suffer for righteousness sake, they are blessed, which we should understand as honored. It is an honorable thing for the Christian group to suffer for the sake of God. These outsiders are making demands of the Christian group because the group has abandoned the values of the larger group, the culture in exchange for the values of Christianity. The values of Christianity are always set over against those of the world. The world feels threatened by Christian values. This holds true even in modern American culture where Christianity is often categorized with radical Islamic terrorists. It is very important for the believer and especially the elder and pastors to keep this in mind.
Peter instructs the believers to always be in a state of readiness to answer anyone who demands a reason for the hope that is you. Some apologists mistakenly think Peter has rationality, or logic in mind when he uses the word λόγος here. That view has little to commend it since this word is used in other places to merely convey the idea of cause. In Acts 10:29 Luke uses it in Peter’s question to Cornelius concern the ‘reason’ he sent for him. Jesus uses it to say that for this reason a man may divorce his wife in Mt. 5:32. It would be a grave exegetical error to argue that Peter is thinking of formal logic and reason in the philosophical sense in his instructions to these believers. These individuals spend their entire day, six days a week working to survive. They have little time to consult large volumes of philosophy in order to understand the sophisticated complexities of human reason. This could not possibly have been what Peter was thinking when he penned these words. On the one hand Peter wanted to remind the Christian group of their honor involved in suffering for righteousness sake. Honor was extremely important in the Greco-Roman culture. Secondly, he also wanted to ensure the believer did not respond with evil motivations, getting even for the attacks. Often times, when our faith is challenged, we tend to respond with harshness. We may be tempted to return insult for insult. This is not in keeping with the values of honorable behavior within the Christian group. Peter was right to be concerned with this because this is precisely how the challenge-riposte game of Greco-Roman culture worked. A challenge must be put down, so to speak or you lose honor. However, the Christian version of challenge-riposte was remarkably different as is so often the case with Christian versions of cultural practice. To maintain honor in the Christian group, one had to provide a very specific kind of response. It has to be a response of gentleness and respect. Secondly, your life had to support the idea that you were committed to the values of the Christian group. If you did these things, your riposte, your reply, your answer, your defense, you apologetic would be honorable before God and you would leave your accusers without any valid criticism to make of you. Finally, this response really puts to shame those who accuse you, or make demands of you. Remember, it is no accident that Peter points to the honor involved in suffering for righteousness sake, or to the shame coming on the accusers when your response to these attacks and demands is in accord with the values of the Christian group.

With this in mind, we can evaluate Keller’s ideas on the Christian duty to provide a justification for faith and his thought on how we should share the gospel with unbelievers. The first problem is that of justification. What justifies one thing to a believer does not ipso fact justify it to an unbeliever. For example, I am justified in believing in miracles because the Bible records lots of them. The unbeliever would say just because the Bible records lots of miracles does not mean they literally took place. In order for the unbeliever to justify belief in miracles, they require something more than the Bible. It is precisely here that we depart from the idea of justification. Any attempt on our part to go along with this “type” of reasoning would be an act of disloyalty to God and to the Christian group. We bring dishonor on ourselves when we engage in such behavior. The challenge from the unbeliever is even greater here. The unbeliever will demand that you justify your faith in Scripture without referring to Scripture. The unbeliever refuses to admit they have faith in anything. To them, convictions about science and history are not convictions based on faith. When it comes to justification for faith itself, the unbeliever and believer have no common ground upon which to dialogue. The only common ground believers have with unbelievers is the internal revelation of God upon the unbelieving conscience. They know God exists. They refuse to admit that the kind of God Scripture reveals exists. They hate that God because He convicts them of their sin. He demands things of them and threatens their autonomy.

Finally, should we try to figure out the needs, desires, and goals of unbelievers so that we can present the gospel to them in a way that it appears to meet those needs, desires, and goals? Are the needs, desires, and goals of unbelievers already sanctified? Do their goals exists to glorify God? When Paul said I must die, be crucified with Christ, mortify these very needs, goals, and desires, what did he mean? Yet Keller says we use them as part of our gospel presentation? This sounds much like the gospel that Jesus is your life coach, He will make you a better husband, father, son, daughter, mother, employee, and hence more successful and therefore life will be so much more fulfilling. Is this the gospel? Isn’t this the very thing reformed thinkers have been repulsed by and concerned to rebuke for the last several years?The simple gospel of Christ crucified is what changes the world. Clifford McManis writes,
“Proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ is the most potent, lasting, penetrating, life-changing, liberating thing a Christian can articulate to any unbeliever, under any circumstances.”[2]
God chose the base of this world to use a foolish method to deliver a foolish and offensive message to redeem humans so that no one could boast. If you don’t believe that, read 1 Cor. 1:18-31 very slowly several times. Let Paul’s words in that periscope sink in. Then read Romans 1 and 3 again so that you may understand that justification for faith to someone who hates God and is opposed to the faith by nature is impossible. The only way for a person to truly justify faith in Christ is through the miracle of regeneration. Unbelievers will never reason their way to faith in Christ. It is a miraculous and gracious gift of God that is beyond their reach.



[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Pe 3:15.
[2] Clifford McManis, Biblical Apologetics (n.p.: Xlibris Corporation, 2012), 91.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Failure of Molinism


Recently, I have had a light conversation with a very good friend of mine, and indeed a noble, and honorable man in Christ, regarding the philosophy of middle knowledge. While my friend thinks the work on middle knowledge is akin to that of the order of decrees, I think it is far removed from such work. The motives of the two endeavors are truly at opposite ends of the spectrum in my view. It is one thing to work out a scheme on the basis of exegetical conclusions so that the findings may be framed in a cogent manner. It is quite another to begin with a commitment to an idea and then attempt to come up with how God could have accomplished His purposes consistent with that commitment without regard for the truthfulness or lack thereof of the commitment in question. Middle knowledge, or Molinism as it is called, does exactly this. It begins with a commitment to libertarian freedom and an insistence that God is like “x” without proving its case exegetically, and proceeds from there. The entire idea is built upon baseless speculation in my opinion and it does nothing accomplish the one thing it desperately seeks. It does not get God off the hook of being the ultimate cause of all things.

I am not going to engage in the complexities of the concept of middle knowledge. On the contrary, I am going to take a very complex idea and keep it simple. I realize that proponents of philosophy, and especially those who hold to some form of middle knowledge, be it Arminian or compatibilist will wince at such a treatment. Nevertheless, the reason for Molinism is much simpler than the complexities involved within the framework of the concept itself. The perspicuity of Scripture on God’s sovereignty makes an assessment of middle knowledge easier when you understand its foundational goal. I can see the faces of the φιλοσοφία φιλέω (philosophy love) as a frown runs across it now. We revel in the complex, in the intellectual pursuit, in the accomplishment of working through something that was difficult, challenging, that required great skill. However, is it out of a love for truth so that we may be transformed into the image of Christ or is it because of what it does for our own egos that we love the complex? I think that is a fair question and deserves some consideration.

The Purpose of Molinism

The ultimate goal of middle knowledge is to relieve God of the indictment that He is the ultimate cause of evil and suffering in the world. The only legitimate explanation for the existence of evil is the absolute liberty of the human will, or so it goes. The idea that God actually causes evil is unthinkable and offensive to the human mind in its finite and especially its fallen condition. As the indictment goes, if God willed evil to exist, and everything God wills to exist necessarily exists and nothing exists that God did not will to exist, and it is true that evil actually exists, then God, not man or even the Devil for that matter is responsible for evil. This portrait of God is simply unacceptable to those who would argue that God is not only pure good and pure love, He is pure good and love in how they would define pure good and love. Some have gone so far as to say that the sovereign God of the bible is a monster. He cannot be sovereign in the manner in which reformed thinkers frame it! Enter the Jesuit priest Louis Molina.

Louis Molina brought the idea of middle knowledge into its own in an attempt to solve the tension that exists between God’s decretive knowledge and man’s ‘free-will.’ Molina’s goal was to harmonize how God could know future acts of human beings without resulting in the kind of determinism represented in reformed theology. While more than one iteration of Molinism exists, the simple truth is that it exists for the purpose of preserving free will. In essence, Molinism is an attempt to reconcile the exhaustive foreknowledge of God with the free will of man.

The Proposal of Molinism

Molinism proposes that God’s knowledge of things that would be occurs logically prior to God’s necessary or decretive knowledge. Molinism proposes that God’s election is conditioned on what He knows free creatures would do if they were given prevenient grace. Molinism is interested in preserving a libertarian view of human freedom. This is essentially the primary goal of middle knowledge. The view is far more philosophical than it is theological. I say this because no amount of biblical exegesis will even come close to lending itself to the speculative propositions that are reflected in Molinism.

The Product of Molinism

In summary, the question comes down to whether or not Molinism actually succeeds in its goal. Francis Turretin writes,

“The design of the Jesuits was to defend the semi-Pelagian heresy of foreseen faith and good works in election, and to support the figment of free will in order the more easily to free themselves from the arguments of the Dominicans who rejected such a foresight (principally for this reason – that since there is no knowledge in God [unless either natural – of things possible – or free – of things future] all foreknowledge of faith and of good use of free will ought to depend upon, not precede the decree).”[1]



At bottom, middle knowledge exists in order to get God off a hook He is actually not on to begin with. The indictment against God is based on arrogance and a fallen understanding of necessary prerequisites for culpability. The tension that exists between sovereignty and responsibility exists by God’s design. The truth is that Scripture clearly and explicitly reveals that Adam was responsible for his decision to rebel against God and that God sovereignly decreed that he would do so. How those two revealed truths cohere is a profound mystery to the finite mind. However, this mystery is one we should appreciate instead of solve. It is a test of humility for the human mind. The typical tendency is to try to discover the answer, which in and of itself, is also a glorious wonder of human creation. However, the effects of sin tends to corrupt and pervert this aspect of the human intellect so that we engage in wicked speculation, arrogantly demanding answers that God obviously chose not to provide.

A very serious problem for middle knowledge is the tendency to place creation in an awkwardly arbitrary position. What was God’s criteria for creating this world rather than any of the other possible worlds? Most proponents of middle knowledge contend that it is because the actual world is the one that most people would exercise their freedom to place their faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, God created the world that He saw would result in the redemption of most people. This logical order of things places the redemption and salvation of human beings squarely in the hands of human will rather than divine choice. It also fails to prove what it assumes. After all, how does anyone know that the number of redeemed was the determining piece of criteria? The simple answer is we do not know and we have no earthly way of knowing.

Suppose there was another world God could have created where more people would have been redeemed but their fruit production would have been less on whole and far less on average than the world God did create. Which world is better and by what criteria can we say? Suppose there was another world God could have created where more people would have been redeemed but the degree of wickedness among unregenerate humans would have been far worse than the one He did create. Which world is better and by what criteria can we say? The point here is that even if Molinism were a valid way of looking at divine knowledge, it lacks the explanatory power to provide us with the criteria it requires and therefore, it is left with very flimsy assumptions for why this world and not another.

This is not the best of all possible worlds because it is the world in which the most people would freely choose to follow Christ. The best world is the world in which God is most glorified. Moreover, what glorifies God the most may be something different from what we actually think it is. Hence, the basic assumption of Molinism is just that: an assumption. It is an unproven assumption and in fact, it is an assumption whose proof is impossible given the revelation of God we have in Scripture. Another problem for Molinism is the fact that God must have recgonized that the in order to bring about circumstanes resulting in the salvation of one person, somewhere along the lines, the contingents that were necessary to produce those circumstances also produced circumstances that resulting in damnation for someone else. This scenario is unavoidable within the scheme of middle knowledge.

In summary, Molinism does nothing to disarm the skeptic’s contention that God is actually culpable for all the wickedness we see in the world. God could have decided not to create any world where any evil would have existed at all. Why is freedom to commit evil better than bondage to do good? The skeptic will say God still made the choice, knowing that evil was the price tag that came with freedom, to create human beings. God knew that the world He would create would result in most people ending up in eternal damnation and yet He still decided to create it. He knew that under these circumstances, an innocent 6-year-old would be gunned down while watching Batman in Aurora, CO. Still He created. Molinism does not get God off the skeptic’s hook.

Counterfactuals do not exist. Molinism has no way of showing they do outside of baseless philosophical speculation. There is no exegetical proof to show that counterfactuals are anything other than exegetical exaggerations of men attempting to reject God’s sovereignty to one degree or another. In addition, Scripture does not imply, suggest, or reveal anywhere than man is actually free in the libertarian sense. Of course, man is in control of his actions, but sin is in control of man. He has been taken captive by Satan to perform Satan’s desires. (II Tim 2:26) Satan has taken control of fallen man. ζωγρέω expresses the idea of control over behavior. It means to bring under control and to continue to restrain. The idea of prevenient grace is incongruent with Paul’s description of fallen man. Paul is telling Timothy that Satan controls the behavior of men in order that they would perform his desires. Freedom in the sense that middle knowledge expresses it is clearly not consistent with biblical revelation. Molinism expresses ideas that are built on baseless speculation. It argues for a model of libertarian freedom that contradicts Scripture, and that it cannot show is the best model to begin with. It does not actually accomplish its goal of smoothing the tension between sovereignty and responsibility and hence, God is still on the skeptic’s hook. Molinism fails on every front, exegetically, theologically, and even philosophically.



[1] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992), 213.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Little Faith: Sure Goes a Long Way


There are few words spoken and heard more often in the Christian community than faith. Perhaps love would be the only one I can think of that is in the running to head up the top of the “most frequently spoken words on Sunday” list. In fact, the word faith appears 246 times in the NASB. Love appears a meager 215 times. Just to satisfy your curiosity, because I know you were wondering, God appears 1303 times and if you include Jesus, it moves up to 2290 times if my math is right. That is correct, God is mentioned 10x more than faith or love and 5x more often than faith and love combined. Just as I suspected, the Scripture talks a lot more about God than it does about faith or love. That is very interesting. What can this mean? Perhaps you would know if you could read the sarcasm I hear in my head while I pin type these words to paper electronic document.

With all the attention the word faith receives, one would think we would understand it better than we do. After all, we are saved by grace through faith according the great apostle Paul. (Eph. 2:8-10) Moreover, since faith is so fundamentally important in Christian praxis, not to mention theology, it follows that Scripture is acutely lucid on the subject. The great confessions all uniformly and consistently give it its rightful place of prominence in their works. In fact, it appears in many confessions as part of their title. From the Westminster Confession of Faith to the modern “Baptist Faith and Message” of the world’s largest protestant denomination, it occupies a place of prestige, honor, and emphasis.

In spite of all the attention faith has received for centuries, even millennia now, and despite the attention it receives in contemporary times, for many professing Christians in the Christian group, faith is sorely misunderstood. If you ask three Christians to define faith and you are fortunate enough to get an answer, it is likely that not one answer will resemble the other. More than that, it is very likely that the variance in each definition will be alarmingly wide. What is even more disturbing is that of the three answers, it is highly improbable that a biblical definition of faith will emerge. There are a number of reasons for this phenomenon. This brings us to the purpose of this post. It is to ask and answer the question, “What is faith?”

Scripture says the righteous lives by faith. (Rom 1:18) Men are justified by faith (Rom 1:28) Christians are introduced into grace by faith (Rom. 5:2) Pagan Gentiles obtain righteousness by faith. (Rom. 9:30) Christians conduct the entire course of their lives by faith. (II Cor. 5:7) This dispensation of God is by faith. (I Tim. 1:4) We understand how the worlds were framed by faith (Heb. 11:3) By faith the patriarchs performed numerous noble tasks. (Heb. 11:4-40) Men gained the approval of God through faith. (Heb. 11:39) The saints persevere through faith. (I Peter 1:5) Faith has proofs. (I Peter 1:7) Without any hesitation or doubt, we understand that faith is a highly important concept in New Testament teaching. It would seem that at least one priority of the Church would be to inculcate its members in a deep and rich understanding of this word. Why many, even most Christian communities, fail at such a manifestly crucial task is quite puzzling in light of the fact of faith’s importance to the very existence of the community throughout its long history.

The Two Faiths of Scripture
The contemporary idea of “faith” suggests that the word has more to do with mental assent or psychological agreement than it does with anything else. Modern evangelicalism reduces faith to a psychological decision. If a person decides that going to church, signing the membership card, getting baptized and learning a little Christian vernacular is the right thing to do, they are, for all intents, and purposes, a Christian. However, becoming a Christian is never presented as a decision of the will in Scripture. The best place to investigate this question is James. James tells us that God chose the poor of this word to be rich in faith. The reason men possess the kind of faith that matters is because God chose them to possess it. Hence, it follows that those whom God did not choose to be rich in faith are not so endowed. According to James, there is a faith that is useless and one that is meaningful. James tells us in his argument of “mono-faith” versus “ergo-faith” that there is a remarkable difference between the two. Mono-faith is faith that is alone. It is the kind of faith that merely gives psychological assent to something, but takes no action regarding it. James asks us, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can faith save him? The idea is “does that kind of faith have the capability of saving him?” The answer is obvious to James. However, it is not so obvious to modern evangelicals in many cases. The concept of “mono-faith,” which is a distortion of “faith alone,” has served to corrupt the gospel of Christ and contaminate the Christian group with more false converts than one can count. James went on to say in 2:17, workless or fruitless faith is dead faith. Many evangelicals rightly say that we are saved by faith alone. However, what many of them really mean is that we are saved by dead faith. Nothing could be further from the gospel of Christ than such a concept.

James goes on to pit one imaginary man against another with one claiming faith without works while the other shows he has faith by his works. In other words, faith is quite visible. Perhaps those who think that faith can be without detection should consider what Jesus meant when He referred to the Christian group as a light on a hill. That analogy says we can be seen and that we are clearly distinguishable from darkness. How can we be light if we live just as those in darkness live? James’ point is that many people say they have faith, but those who really do show that they do by their actions, their deeds, their lifestyles.

James goes on to say that even the demons believe that God exists. So what, he says. If all you do is mentally assent to Christ, then you are no better off than the average demon. In addition, James says that the person who contends that dead faith is something special is empty-headed. Quite literally the word kenos means empty, one that is without any understanding or insight. This was really quite an insult to the one holding the view. James was far too concerned with God’s truth to lighten up a little for the sake of the senses of wicked men.

Abraham serves as James’ prime example. This is not surprising for Paul also referred to Abraham to the very same end. The idea is that Abraham’s faith was visible for all to see. Suppose Abraham told God he believed Him, but then did nothing. Would modern evangelicals think that Abraham possessed real faith? Genuine biblical faith? Ergo-faith? We know Abraham believed God because he acted. In accommodating language, what we would call theophanic language, God told Abraham that now I know you love Me and will not withhold anything from Me. Of course God knew this beforehand. Still, the point is that God’s revelation regarding Abraham’s love comes after Abraham’s act. According to the modern theory on faith, God would have said the same thing even if Abraham had not obeyed. If this were actually true, James’ words would be complete nonsense.

What then do we make of those who say they have faith in Jesus Christ, but whose lives do not indicate that their faith is a useful living faith? What do we owe these individuals? Indeed, we are indebted to God on their behalf to be sure. We are not free to allow them to exist in such a plight without loving them as Christ commanded. Paul tells the Corinthians that they are to judge those within the visible Church while God judges those outside. So much for the anti-judging at all cost view. In addition, in that same chapter, I Cor. 5, Paul tells the Corinthians that they are not to associate with anyone who wears the title “brother” if that person is immoral, covetous, an idolater, etc. In other words, if someone is claiming the title “Christian,” as if they are in the Christian group, saying they have faith in Christ, and living a life that contradicts this claim, we are told to reject their claim and not associate with them. This is the NT practice of honor-shame. The idea is that the person will be shamed by the Christian group until they repent of their shameful behavior or leave the group permanently. Members of the body of Christ are charged with protecting the body from “dead-faith imposters.” They are not good people just looking for relationships. They are plants of Satan placed there specifically to aid the roaring lion in his desire to devour the godly! Loving confrontation is the only way to deal with people who possess a dead, useless faith. This kind of individual does nothing but honor God with his lips while is heart is filled with the darkness of sin, held captive by Satan and when called upon, he will do the devil’s bidding.

We do the Christian group a terrible disservice when we turn our head the other way in the name of peace. We expose the group to hostile threats by the very enemy we are supposed to overcome. Moreover, we are not helping people by withholding the truth of their spiritual condition from them. I once had a pastor tell me he would not engage in church discipline because it was not his job to be that person’s Holy Spirit. To add insult to injury, he had a post-graduate degree from a reformed seminary. Another reformed pastor once told me that a woman could separate from her husband, repent and be forgiven and accepted in the church, and still proceed with an illicit divorce and that her repentance was true and just. He also refused to engage in discipline. Can you imagine what it will be like when we all stand before God and have to answer questions around why we withheld the truth from someone all because we didn’t want to hurt their feelings, or cause disharmony, or be perceived as overly critical? I realize some engage in this sort of practice filled with self-righteous hate and legalistic arrogance. Still, that is no excuse for us to avoid the right exercise of loving confrontation with those who claim to have faith in Jesus Christ, when their works clearly demonstrate they do not.








Sunday, July 15, 2012

Exodus International and Eternal Security


There is more controversy around homosexuality over at Exodus International and the sin of homosexual behavior. Recently, associate professor of New Testament Studies at Pittsburg Theological Seminary, Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon has called for the resignation of Alan Chambers, head of Exodus International. Apparently, over the last year Mr. Chambers has been reassuring individual professing Christians that they are secure in their salvation even if they persist in the homosexual lifestyle.

This comes at the subject from an entirely different angle but it is far from new. There are two distinct positions one takes with regard the issue of eternal security. The older position is known as the perseverance of the saints. This position argues that Scripture teaches us that genuine salvation results in a radical change of heart that producing a radical change in living and that this salvation may never be forfeited. In addition, if anyone abandons the outward change of life, this indicates there never was a genuine radical change in the heart to begin with and therefore, the person never knew the Savior. The parable of the sower illustrates this phenomenon well in its explanation of the different soils. Some soil may receive the Word, but it lacks the characteristics necessary to nourish it, and by and by, over time, the seed fails. John the apostle wrote about those who were once in the community of believers and later defected, “…for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us…” (I Jn. 2:19) I Peter 1:5 says that our salvation is not up to us, but rather, that it is guarded, protected, preserved, and kept, not by our own will or power, but by the very power of God Himself. That is true assurance. As Keith and Kristyn Getty sing, “No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand. Till He returns, or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I stand.” Amen!

The other version of eternal security comes at the subject from a very different perspective. It dismisses the lack of true change in a person’s life as inconsequential to the genuineness of regeneration, conversion, and repentance. Another Getty song expresses it well, “This the power of cross, Christ became sin for us, took the blame, bore the wrath, we stand forgiven at the cross.” Death is crushed to death! The power of the cross is not limited to its power to forgive sin, to release the debt we owe, but also to free from the power of sin. Oh, how deep the Father’s love for us, that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure. Behold the lamb upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders, ashamed I hear my mocking voice….it was my sin that held Him there. Christ died not  in vain. Why should I gain from his reward? I cannot give an answer. But this I know with all my heart, His wounds have paid my ransom! There is nothing so glorious and mysterious as God’s work of salvation in His only Son. What does it become when we reduce it to mere words that ring empty and are devoid of true transformation?

The OSAS (once-saved-always-saved) position is a perversion of the doctrine of perseverance. The idea that fruitless Christianity is a real possibility is a concept that is entirely foreign to the teachings of Scripture. Jesus said it at least a couple of different ways in the gospels of John and Matthew. In John 15:5, Jesus taught without ambiguity that everyone who abides in Him brings forth a large amount of fruit. The entire section when read in context serves as a sharp contrast between Jesus’ own view on fruit of biblical conversion and the modern OSAS perversion.

In Matthew 7:13-29 Jesus explicitly teaches that only those who hear God’s word and act on it will enter the kingdom of heaven. He goes to great length to demonstrate this teaching in his analogies of straight and narrow gates, his indictment against false prophets, and His construction illustration for building a house that will stand when the great tests come. Not everyone who calls Me Lord will enter, but rather, those who do the will of my Father, says Jesus. If OSAS were true, Jesus would never have been able to say this!

The apostle Paul wrote about this in Galatians as he attempted to strike a balance between the sinful tendencies of perseverance (legalism) and liberty (antinomianism). Here Paul draws up a list of specific works of the flesh. Porneia is one of those behaviors that Paul condemns in the strongest of language. This is a very broad word covering all kinds of various sexual behavior that goes against the express design of God in creation for human sexuality. This would include homosexual behavior. Paul clearly believes that the people who practice these sorts of behaviors will not inherit the kingdom of God. The focus of the participle in this case is on “the one practicing, doing, performing” these things. There is a stark contrast between light and darkness, freedom and bondage, flesh and spirit in Paul. There can be no doubt that those who practice homosexual sin, which is porneia, are clearly in grave danger of judgment. Paul says that the one’s practicing these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Finally, Paul clearly says in I Corinthians 6:9 that homosexuals will not inherent the kingdom of God. The NT text could not be clearer about God’s view of homosexual behavior. Without ambiguity, it is placed alongside other sins like adultery, fornication, lying, slander, etc. As such, it is insufferable and intolerable that Christians should accept this behavior in this lives. It is a behavior we all must eschew and debar. Hence, it follows that anyone coming into the Christian group must show repentance from all sin, to include the sin of homosexuality.

This being the case, what can we say about the exchange between Dr. Gagnon and Mr. Chambers? The better question has to do with Mr. Chambers’ authority for establishing and managing Exodus International in the first place. The greatest problem with parachurch organizations is just that; they are parachurch. No ministry should operate apart from a local Church. Every ministry must be a ministry of the Christian group, coming under the jurisdiction of a Session or Board of Elders, Pastors, and the Church itself. As a ministry, Exodus International should come under the authority of Church Elders, not a board of directors. This would ensure that the ministry could be held accountable as it carried out its mission of service to the believing community and evangelized the world. The idea that individuals can spring up and do their own thing without coming under the authority of godly leaders and elders is as American as it gets and is far removed from Scripture. If that were the case in this situation, the local leadership of the Church could review the teachings of Mr. Chambers and take corrective action.

Dr. Gagnon is right to be concerned and he is right to speak out. Exodus International wears the label “Christian,” and what happens there, by implication, is “Christian” in nature. Homosexuals that are told that they are saved regardless of how often they engage in porneia are unmercifully being deceived. It matters not that one plead ignorance in this case. The result is the same. Mr. Chambers should be subjected to correction and if he refuses, as it seems he is doing presently, he should be subject to church discipline as outlined in Matt. 18:15-18, Gal. 6:1, 1 Cor. 5, and Titus 3:10-11.

We will begin to see how the New Testament texts use deep-rooted values and codes to uphold a faithful and obedient response to God, and to sustain the new community in its quest to be conformed to the image of Christ and no longer to the society from which it had separated itself.[1] So says David deSilva in his work in Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity. The point is that the group was far more prominent in Greco-Roman culture than it is in many western cultures today and that is especially true in American culture. The extreme individualism of American culture is really quite antithetical to the culture in which the NT documents began to exist. This fact has served as a serious impediment to the American Christian’s ability to understand the text of NT Scripture. If we had a better grasp of the “group” we would be in a much better place to understand how the audience of the NT saw themselves within the context of the Christian group. Notice that deSilva implies the existence of a group was in large part dependent on the members of that group upholding the group’s value system. In other words, if enough members defected from the value system of the group, the very survival of the group would be threatened. This rings true today when so many have abandoned the values of biblical Christianity while still attempting to maintain their status within the Christian group. One way of departing from a group would be to abandon its value system. This would result either in the member voluntarily defecting from the group of being censured from the group. The honor-shame society of the NT lent itself well to group culture. If an individual engaged in behavior that violated the group’s values, the group would shame the person as a means to correct them and bring them back into conformity. However, if the individual persisted in their shameful behavior, the group would censure the person, effectively excommunicating them from the group along with all the privileges that came with being part of the group. Nothing was more stinging than to lose face in the eyes of the group. This kind of thinking is somewhat foreign to American culture, at least for the most part. However, the teachings of the NT imply that these practices were more than merely the product of their culture.

Group think seems to be built on eternal values. The imperatives of Christ and Paul along the lines of excommunication only make sense in light of group culture. It is for this reason that the modern Church would be well-served to revisit this perspective sooner than later. As it relates to the Chambers’ case, the Christian group could shame anyone espousing the OSAS perversion of the doctrine of perseverance, bringing them back into doctrinal conformity to the truth as expressed in Scripture. The word conformity is a good word. However, when you read it in modern culture, you catch a negative connotation. You feel it as soon as you say it. Non-conformist sounds noble, more honorable, more attractive than the word ‘conformity.’ Yet, the very foundation of the church is built on conformity to the truths revealed by the Son of God Himself. Refusal to conform to His word is a sure indication that there has been no heart-change. The fruit Jesus talked about was conformity on the part of His true disciples, his true followers, true members of the Christian group. If parachurch organizations were part of the Christian group, perhaps it would be easier to manage false teachings and deceitful practices. Perhaps we would have a more effective mechanism for correcting those within and protecting the sheep from those without. No ministry should be an island unto itself.





[1] David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 18.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Review of Arminian Article Relating to Sovereignty

ALLOWING IS NOT COMMANDING


Randal Rauser, PhD

Over the last week I have heard on at least three different occasions claims made to the moral equivalency of God allowing x and God commanding x. The argument has been made by Christians to demonstrate that if I accept that God providentially allows evils like genocide and infant sacrifice, I should have no problem if God also commands genocide and infant sacrifice. The argument has also been made by non-Christians to argue that if I have a problem with God commanding genocide and infant sacrifice, I should also have a problem with God allowing genocide and infant sacrifice.

It’s always interesting when you have same premise — the moral equivalency between allowing and commanding — used for completely opposite ends. I disagree with both conclusions however because I disagree with the starting premise. In this brief commentary I’ll present two arguments against it, the first one general, the second aimed specifically at Christians.

The argument for everybody

In response to Pete on this issue I presented the following two scenarios, the first allowing and the second commanding:

(1) Mr. Jones sees Billy picking on Tommy. He allows Billy to pick on Tommy for two minutes and then steps in, using Billy’s bullying as a teaching moment for both Billy and Tommy so that neither will bully in the future.

(2) Mr. Jones commands Billy to pick on Tommy. He insists that Billy pick on Tommy for two minutes and then steps in, using Billy’s bullying as a teaching moment for both Billy and Tommy so that neither will bully in the future.

As I noted to Pete, most people will recognize that Mr. Jones’s actions in (2) are morally problematic in a way that they are not in (1). Human beings recognize that there are many things which it are morally permissible to allow but not to command.

It should not be surprising then that God likewise may allow things that he would never command.

(Of course a person could retort: “But Mr. Jones could never allow Billy to kill Tommy. And yet God allows things like that every day.” In response, we could note several points at which God is disanalogous to Mr. Jones. But that would take us too far afield. Instead, I’ll simply observe that even if you want to argue there are some things that ought never be allowed, that is still a different moral issue from commanding those same things.)

The argument for Christians

If allowing is the same thing as commanding then there is no moral distinction between God allowing x and God commanding x. This has absurd consequences that should make any self-respecting Christian theist run from this kind of argument.

Recently a man in Canada made headlines because he (allegedly) killed, dismembered and then ate an acquaintance all while filming it. If the allowing is morally equivalent to commanding premise is true then there is no moral difference between God allowing this atrocity and God commanding it. And from this it follows that it is possible for God to have commanded the man to kill, dismember and eat his acquaintance.

In other words, if one accepts this premise then they must accept that anything that happens as the result of a moral agent’s actions could have been commanded by God. And that’s crazy.

RESPONSE

Initially, I think it is important to point out how this analogy between human permission and divine decree fails. God has not taken a passive position in the activities of creation. In order for this analogy to work, God must take a passive position similar to the one humans opt to take. As God, He cannot do this. To do so would be a surrender of sovereignty. God cannot surrender His sovereign control over all things even for a nanosecond without at the same time ceasing to be God. Eph. 1:11 says that God is the one who is working all things according to the counsel of his own will. Again, Romans 8:28 says God works all things for the good of those loving Him.

Hence, divine decrees, in reference to God, are one single act only. As Shedd says, God knows by decree. What God knows He decreed and what God decreed, He knows with certainty. God does not know a thing that cannot happen as if it could actually happen. Contingencies are known as just that, contingencies that could never happen because the very thing they are contingent upon, God has not decreed nor known as actual. God did not decree them and therefore He does not know them as actual, but rather, only as the possible. This is not an easy concept for finite humans to conceive.

Dr. Rauser’s response really misses the crux of the argument. To use his example, Mr. Jones has a moral responsibility, a duty if you will, to stop the bullying if he can. If Mr. Jones does not stop the bullying, then it follows that he is morally culpable for allowing evil to continue even though he could have stopped it. I know of no rational human who would argue to the contrary. If you witness a rape and you can stop it and do nothing, you are a villain yourself. To those who know to do what is right, and fail to do it, it is a sin.

Dr. Rauser seems to overlook the idea of moral culpability as it relates to God. The argument against the parallel existence of God and evil is exactly here. In essence, the argument says that God’s failure to use his power to stop evil when He could easily do so impugns His just character. It nullifies the Christian claim that God is all-good. Dr. Rauser’s example does not seem to account for this criticism. While it may be a different kind of moral failure to murder than it is not to stop a murder, it is still a moral failure. The same is true of commanding a murder. It does not matter if I commanded a murder or refused to stop one within my power, I am still morally culpable. I stand condemned for refusing to do the good that was well within my power. This, it seems to me, is the point of the argument against the Arminian and Dr. Rauser softens it up quite a lot and then constructs his argument.

It is true that God never commands sin. What God commands is holy and right and it is so because He commands it. When God commands that Israel cleanse the land of Canaan, we feel that we need to defend God’s action. We do not. God ordered the annihilation of men, women, and children who were wicked in all that they did, sworn enemies of Himself, against all that is right, and holy and good. God was perfectly within His right to issue the command, and no human being has any right whatever to speak one word of criticism about it. We are all rebellious sinners and He is a perfectly moral God always doing and willing what is right. The proper Christian response to God’s actions is really quite simple: may it be according to your will, my Lord. Moreover, we ought to say this with great humility, respect, and fear.

We must recognize the wickedness that still lies within our own deceitful hearts on such matters. It is undeniably true that the sin in us continues to resist and fight against the perfectly holy and sovereign God wherever it can.

The Arminian will always struggle with theodicy because of the presuppositions in that system about what is fair. For example, it doesn’t seem fair to destroy innocent children. What innocent children? Show me an innocent child and I will show you the Christ child. Beside Him, there has never been an innocent child. The reason we are so tempted to think this act immoral is because we fail to grasp what it means to sin against a holy God. Our view of sin is terribly flawed and this is due to the fact that we refuse to acknowledge a perfectly holy and just God. Without saying so, we think sin is not so bad and God is more like us that He actually is. Sin is a mistake in our thinking and God is like our worldly fathers. Sin isn’t a big deal and God understands our rebellion.

In closing with Dr. Rauser’s analogy of bullying, we must say that God ordained the bullying incident, because nothing happens that God did not decree. God knew it would happen because He planned it from the beginning. The bullying will serve to glorify God in one way or another for God works all things for His own glory. The bully is commanded not to bully and he is responsible for obeying God’s command. The object of the bullying, if he is a lover of God will have the bullying work for his own good in life for that is God’s design for him. In short, God decreed the bullying even though His command is not to bully and He will mysteriously use this act to glorify Himself. God’s mercy is demonstrated in that the bully is not immediately destroyed the minute he violated God’s command. We believe God’s care comes in the good that will result from the bullying later in life. Of this we are persuaded because we know God keeps His word. Pride lifts us to places where we have no business. We raise our fists to God and demand He behave in a way we consider moral. We place our standards upon God all the while demanding we be freed from His divine law. We argue that it was wrong for the Canaanites to be killed, men, women, and children. We demand that God enable everyone alike to repent and believe the gospel. Election we hold in contempt and disdain. We demand that God let people off the hook if they never heard the gospel. It wouldn’t be fair to judge them. We scream that everyone deserves a second chance to avoid eternal damnation. We deny that God could be loving and just and sentence people to eternal fire. How dare God behave this way! Yes, we are arrogant sinners judging God in one way or another, sometimes willingly and openly, and at other times, most unwittingly. Either way, we are without excuse. And yet, while we may be without excuse, God has seen fit to make sure that we are never without grace.



Monday, July 9, 2012

Episcopal Church on GLBT Ordination & Discrimination

Recently, the Episcopal Church approved a proposal that would amend two canons in an effort to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Make no mistake about it; this move has little to do with legitimate discrimination, a necessary function of life, and everything to do with the authority of Scripture. Perhaps we could say that the problem resides in an interpretive paradigm that is firmly rooted in enlightenment thinking, so called. But this would only be begging the question in my opinion. Hermeneutical problems always have in back of them theological paradigms that are quite inimical to sound doctrine. This is due to the sin within all of us. It serves as an ever-present threat that every believer would do well to acknowledge and take the appropriate precautionary steps in light of its undeniable presence. After all, Satan roams around as a roaring lion with an intense desire to devour through deceit and deception. If He cannot accomplish that end, well, he will seek your life and well-being. He seeks to place within you that one thing which brought fallen men and angels to where they are today: doubt! Denominations who commit apostasy only do so from the perch of doubt. The Episcopal Church doubts God’s word on the issue of human sexuality and as a result, she abandons it, and in so doing, she abandons God. Jesus said he that is of God keeps, does, practices God’s word. What is one to make of the idea of discrimination? I have written about it before and I suspect I shall write about it often because those who seek to distort the gospel with the liberal sexual ethic of modern culture do not fail to bring it up at every opportunity. How shall we, the believing community who does not doubt God’s holy word, respond to the implied charge of discrimination? I do not wish to take what I think is a very simple exercise and compliment it for the sake of taking up space and wasting your time. The answer is indeed a simple one. Here is the question: does the church discriminate against certain people when it comes to ordination? The answer is yes, she does. She discriminates against people who have certain criminal records. She discriminates against people with certain moral values. I could go on and on. Is the church the only entity to engage in some form of discrimination? Absolutely not! The police forces of our communities discriminate all the time. Without writing about all the different entities that engage in some sort of discrimination, I think it is clear that discrimination is a part of every entities' policy to one degree or another. The real question is “should the church discriminate at all?” And if she should, what is the criteria by which the church should be discriminating about who she ordains to shepherd God’s flock. No Church is autonomous in any matter, least of all the matter of ordination. Just as the laws of the United States require authority from her constitution, so the Church must come under authority to Scripture when she looks to create polity. Scripture provides unambiguous imperatives for how discriminating the Church must be in who she ordains to the ministry. 1 Tim. 3:1-7 provides clear guidelines for who God would have leading His Church. One of those requirements is that the person being ordained must be a "one-woman kind of man." In other words, not a man who has wondering eyes that are prone to sexual immorality. The list is quite lengthy and it serves as God's discriminatory practices for ordination. It then follows that the Episcopal Church's aim to refuse to be more discriminating in the ordination process is misplaced and unbiblical. Where Scripture clearly demands discrimination based on a number of criteria, one being sexual practice, the Episcopal Church rejects it. In so doing, she rejects God. Those who are of God keep God's word. Non-Human? Finally, the EC clearly implied that to refuse to ordain gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people is the equivalent of treating them as though they are not human. The statement is so preposterous that it is almost unworthy of treatment. But not quite. First of all, why limit your anti-discrimination policy to gay behavior? Are we to assume that other behaviors that would disqualify one from ordination in the EC would also terminate their humanness? I think that is a fair question. What about the untrained? What about pedophiles? If discrimination on the basis of sexual expression is evil, why are other forms of discrimination considered morally acceptable? Who owns the list of morally acceptable discrimination for ordination in the Church? Clearly Paul was working on an older version. This is where the grand interpretive paradigm shift enters the discussion. Somehow we can accuse Paul of cultural bias in these passages when we don't like his teachings but in those other passages, the ones about love and hospitality and social good, we want to keep those ones. Every apostate church and theological system has at least two things that accompany them: doubt and autonomy. We doubt God's word, His authority, His sovereignty, and we deeply desire to set our own standards and serve our own desires. So goes all apostates and so goes the Episcopal Church.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Calvin on Original Sin - Worth Repeating

As Adam’s spiritual life would have consisted in remaining united and bound to his Maker, so estrangement from him was the death of his soul. Nor is it strange that he who perverted the whole order of nature in heaven and earth deteriorated his race by his revolt. “The whole creation groaneth,” saith St Paul, “being made subject to vanity, not willingly,” (Rom. 8:20, 22). If the reason is asked, there cannot be a doubt that creation bears part of the punishment deserved by man, for whose use all other creatures were made. Therefore, since through man’s fault a curse has extended above and below, over all the regions of the world, there is nothing unreasonable in its extending to all his offspring. After the heavenly image in man was effaced, he not only was himself punished by a withdrawal of the ornaments in which he had been arrayed—viz. wisdom, virtue, justice, truth, and holiness, and by the substitution in their place of those dire pests, blindness, impotence, vanity, impurity, and unrighteousness, but he involved his posterity also, and plunged them in the same wretchedness. This is the hereditary corruption to which early Christian writers gave the name of Original Sin, meaning by the term the depravation of a nature formerly good and pure. The subject gave rise to much discussion, there being nothing more remote from common apprehension, than that the fault of one should render all guilty, and so become a common sin. This seems to be the reason why the oldest doctors of the church only glance obscurely at the point, or, at least, do not explain it so clearly as it required.

This timidity, however, could not prevent the rise of a Pelagius with his profane fiction—that Adam sinned only to his own hurt, but did no hurt to his posterity. Satan, by thus craftily hiding the disease, tried to render it incurable. But when it was clearly proved from Scripture that the sin of the first man passed to all his posterity, recourse was had to the cavil, that it passed by imitation, and not by propagation. The orthodoxy, therefore, and more especially Augustine, laboured to show, that we are not corrupted by acquired wickedness, but bring an innate corruption from the very womb. It was the greatest impudence to deny this. But no man will wonder at the presumption of the Pelagians and Celestians, who has learned from the writings of that holy man how extreme the effrontery of these heretics was.

Surely there is no ambiguity in David’s confession, “I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me,” (Ps. 51:5). His object in the passage is not to throw blame on his parents; but the better to commend the goodness of God towards him, he properly reiterates the confession of impurity from his very birth. As it is clear, that there was no peculiarity in David’s case, it follows that it is only an instance of the common lot of the whole human race. All of us, therefore, descending from an impure seed, come into the world tainted with the contagion of sin. Nay, before we behold the light of the sun we are in God’s sight defiled and polluted. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one,” says the Book of Job (Job 14:4).




John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).

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