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The Kings and the Great Harlot

The Kings and the Great Harlot

There are three main players on earth during the last days – Satan, the Antichrist and the False Prophet. Even though they appear on the scene near the end, the principles that they represent have always been with us. Satan has done his dastardly work since before the Garden of Eden and there has always been those who oppose and seek to take the place of Christ: “And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” (1John 4:3). Those who are forerunners and minor fulfillments of the final Antichrist are antichrist (Note lower and uppercase). There have also been numerous personalities that foreshadow the ultimate fulfillment of the Antichrist – Antiochus Epiphanes, Nero and Hitler (to name a few). The fact that they were not the ultimate fulfillment does not minimize their evil. They stand as warnings to us that the final fulfillment of Scripture in the form of a world ruler who will attempt to take the place of the Lord Jesus Christ as the King of kings will certainly be fulfilled.

While many Christians are somewhat informed about the Devil and the Antichrist, they are less informed about the third person of the Satanic trinity – the False Prophet. Just as the Antichrist has his forerunners, so the False Prophet has his forerunners and principles that underlie his essence. We read about the False Prophet in Revelation 13:11-18. He occupies a central position in the drama of the last days and is symbolized as the beast from the earth.

The False Prophet has characteristics that are the ultimate fulfillment of the same principles that were manifest in each of the forerunners:

  1. He appears to be religious (Jewish in the Old Testament, Christian in the New Testament). He has horns like a lamb – a counterfeit of the Lamb of God (Revelation 13:11). He performs miracles, as if He is a true prophet (Revelation 13:13,14).
  2. He is in alliance with, and supports, the political power of the Antichrist (Revelation 13:15-16).
  3. He persecutes the true believers (Revelation 17:6).

Just as the Antichrist seeks to replace Christ, so the False Prophet seeks to replace the prophets of God.

Thus, we have Satan seeking to usurp God, The Antichrist seeking to replace Christ and the False Prophet taking the place of true ministers of the Gospel. However, there is a fourth figure: The Great Harlot – supplanting the Bride – the Church.

She is called the “Mother of Harlots”. The Bible never accuses the world or the heathen of committing spiritual adultery, but in the Old Testament, Israel is accused of adultery when she forsakes the Lord and enters into an illicit relationship with idols. (Ezekiel 16, 23; Hosea 1:1- 14:9 etc.).

In the New Testament, the Church is the bride, betrothed to her Husband, the Lord Jesus. But, she is also warned of the potential of adultery: “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4). Thus the spiritual harlots profess to be the Lord’s people, but have forsaken their true Bridegroom, Christ, and entered into an adulterous relationship with the Devil and the world and in the process made God their enemy.

Common to all the minor fulfillments of the False Prophet and false wife is an alliance with the political powers of the day. This alliance gives the political entity power over people that would not normally submit to an evil potentate. In exchange, the false prophets receive recognition, fame, money and influence. Here are a few of many examples:

  1. Balaam entered an illicit relationship with Balak the king of Moab and led Israel into physical and spiritual adultery for money. (It is also significant that the nation of Moab was born out an illicit / incestuous relationship).
  2. Israel rejected the Lord and His prophet (Samuel) and turned to a political system of kings for their answers, protection and help (1Samuel 8:7).
  3. Solomon married Gentile women who undermined his relationship with the Lord and seduced him to worship idols.
  4. Ahab, king of Israel, married Jezebel, a Gentile woman, thus entering into a forbidden relationship. Jezebel used this unholy alliance to lead the people of Israel into idolatry and, true to the spirit of the false prophet, persecuted and killed the true prophets.
  5. Many times Israel was seduced to enter into unholy alliances with Gentile nations in order to win military battles (Isaiah 30:1-7; 31:1; Ezekiel 17:15; Hosea 11:5 etc.). This is the same spirit of adultery in that they forsook the Lord and put their confidence in the arm of flesh, yet the Lord says “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the LORD.” (Jeremiah 17:5).

At the time of the Lord Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Sadducees had entered into an unholy alliance with Rome. They were given sovereignty in the practice of their religion and governance of the temple, money, and influence. In exchange they were to keep Israel subjugated to the Roman overlords. The High Priests and rulers of the Temple were all political appointees by Rome from the party of the Sadducees. It was this adulterous relationship and political expediency which led directly to the crucifixion of our Lord (John 11:49-50).

I trust by now you can see that the false prophets of the Old Testament always led God’s people away from the Lord and into an adulterous relationship with false gods and that whenever that happened, it incurred God’s wrath and ultimately led to their captivity: “The Gentiles shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity; because they were unfaithful to Me, therefore I hid My face from them. I gave them into the hand of their enemies, and they all fell by the sword.” (Ezekiel 39:23). The Lord is a jealous husband and requires that his bride be faithful to Him alone.

For the first three centuries of the church, she was persecuted by Rome and thus there was very little opportunity for the church to enter into a relationship apart from the Lord. However, in 300 AD that all changed: Constantine came to power and married church and state. Constantine himself presided over the council of Nicaea, which would establish the doctrine for the organized church for the next 2,000 years! Not only did the emperor preside over the council but he had a powerful influence over the final creed that Nicaea produced. The adulterous relationship between the church and the Roman government is arguably the worst thing that ever happened to the church and it, and its consequences, are still with us today. The relationship was often stormy and at times the state was the dominant party and at other times the church was. This was just as it is in any carnal marriage where there is a constant struggle between the two partners for dominance, control and power. However, in spite of these difficulties both partners have gained enormous political and financial power through the relationship and the marriage produced many illegitimate children in the form of many false churches, denominations and members. Just as in the Old Testament, the church had forsaken her Bridegroom in order to enter this adulterous relationship.

The Reformers were also not able to separate from their whoredom with the government and all of them sought to use secular rulers for protection, money, and judicial systems to persecute and martyr true believers. This was true throughout Europe and found its low point in Calvin’s Geneva where the marriage between church and state was taken to new extremes so that the church became the weapon of the state and the state the weapon of the church. This pattern was reproduced wherever the Reformation spread. For example in Arminius’ Amsterdam, all senior officers of the church were appointed by the government and in most European countries the government collected the tithes on behalf of the church. (A repetition of the temple tax levied by the Romans).

At almost the same time, an even lower point would be reached when the serial adulterer Henry VIII appointed himself as “Supreme Head of the Church of England”. He did this because the Pope would not annul his first marriage. It is interesting how his physical adultery mirrored what the church had been doing for 1200 years (do you see a pattern here?). 800 years later, the Monarch of the United Kingdom remains the head of the Anglican Church worldwide, including the Episcopal Church in the USA. As such, The “Supreme Governor” formally appoints high-ranking members of the church on the advice of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Notice that Christ has no say in the leadership of the church. He is no longer the Bridegroom nor the Head – the government is. And just as with Constantine, the Roman Church and Geneva, the church and government empower and authenticate each other and false prophets facilitate the harlotry.

In all these examples the central truth is that instead of the false church looking to her true Husband for help, support, protection, and blessing, she looks to her illicit lover – the government. In exchange, she supports, affirms and empowers the state. She thus forsakes her Husband and enters into an adulterous relationship with the world. (Just as in the Old Testament this adultery was facilitated, encouraged and promoted by the false leaders who would persecute and kill true prophets who warn against this infidelity.)

No wonder that He, the Lord Jesus, describes her as: “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” (Revelation 17:5). Notice that she is not alone but is the mother of harlots. Traditionally, Protestants have said that this is Roman Catholicism, and while Catholicism is the ultimate incarnation (and mother) of this evil, all churches and denominations that have forsaken their true Head to enter into an alliance with secular rulers are likewise her daughters and harlots in their own right (Revelation 17:5). Remember that the contract between a harlot and her client is that he gives her money and protection while she renders him services – this reflects the relationship between church and state.

Notice how the Harlot of Revelation does exactly what the false church of the past 2,000 years has done:

  1. The kings of the earth commit fornication with her (Revelation 17:2).
  2. She sits on the Antichrist and is carried by him (Revelation 17:3, 7).
  3. She is wealthy and lives luxuriously (Revelation 17:4).
  4. She martyrs the true saints of Jesus (Revelation 17:6).
  5. She controls many peoples (Revelation17:1, 15).

This brings us to the USA in 2017: Many Christians and churches are again establishing a relationship between the state and the church. The government needs the votes of the church and the church needs the protections, “legitimacy” and esteem that comes from such a relationship. However, these are things that only the true Head of the true Church can provide. Only Christ can protect, legitimize and bring honor to His bride. But, because He is delaying His coming (Luke 12:45), she is turning from Him to another. The moment the believer and the church look to the government to provide what Christ alone can provide, they have committed adultery and forsaken the only true Head of the Church. (True to the pattern, the church is being encouraged to commit this adultery by false prophets who masquerade as true leaders of the church).

We have been deceived into believing that the government will help us, protect us, police morality in society and create an environment in which the church can grow and flourish. That is exactly the relationship that has been in existence in the USA for 250 years and for 450 years in the UK and Europe, and what has it produced? The church is declining spiritually and numerically at an unprecedented rate and is at an all-time low while immorality in society (and the church) is at an all-time high. 250 years of adultery has produced nothing except illegitimate children and false churches and cults. Yet many believe that the current American government is the savior of the church and that it will save the church and America (and even the world). It has not happened in the past and it will not happen in the future. When will we learn that endlessly repeating the same mistakes will not produce different results and that there is only One who can save, protect, keep and give legitimate offspring?

Almost without exception, the only times and places where the true church has prospered has been, and is, where the government is hostile to the church! This is not because there is some direct blessing in living in an unfriendly environment, but because it is in such an environment that the Church learns to look to her Bridegroom alone for all her needs and He in turn blesses her with true children and spiritual gifts.

Please note that I am not advocating civil disobedience. We are to obey the government as far as its laws do not contradict God’s commands (Romans 13; 1Peter 2:17; Acts 5:29 etc.). As such, we must fulfill our civic duties (Matthew 5;41; 1Peter 2:13-17), including voting (unless your conscience forbids it). We must pray for the government (1Timothy 2:1-2; Jeremiah 27:7 etc.) and pay our taxes (Luke 12:24,25; Matthew 17:27).

The many “prophecies”, public prayers and speeches by church leaders in support of Trump, or any other government – no matter which party, has led countless Christians to trust in man and the state, rather than the Lord. They have done exactly what the False Prophet will do in the end: “… and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast…” (Revelation 13:12). Each prophet in the Old Testament who put a stumbling block before the people of Israel and led them into adultery was severely judged and likewise the False Prophet and all who follow his example will be cursed.

By the way, whether a politician is “pro-Israel” seems to have become a litmus test to divide the good from the bad. In the process we have forgotten that the Antichrist will also (initially) be pro-Israel and will sign a peace accord with her!

It is noteworthy that the same spirit of the Old Testament Jezebel reappears in Revelation 2:18 and that “Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20). Just as the Old Testament type dies a terribly and ignominious death with her lover, the king, so too will the New Testament antitype die a terrible (eternal death) with her lovers. Even more significant is the warning that the Lord will also kill those who have been born out of this illicit relationship (Revelation 2:23).

Even though Nebuchadnezzar had been raised up by God for a specific purpose, the three young Israelites would not bow before his image. May there be others today who will confess: “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18).

Dear friend, if you have posted on Facebook, tweeted or preached in support of Trump (or any other politician) and hoped in them for the protection of the church and its values, you have committed adultery against your Bridegroom and you will be judged with the Mother of Harlots unless you repent!

The voice from heaven is already calling: “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” (Revelation 18:4).

Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly… For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted – you may well put up with it!” (2Corinthians 11:1-4).

When God Makes a Missionary

When God Makes a Missionary

After a year of work we have finally republished Br Willie Burton’s book “When God Makes a Missionary”.

When God Makes a Missionary is the life story of a missionary (Edgar Mahon), written by one of the greatest missionaries of the last century – William F P Burton. This book tells of how God changed Edgar Mahon from a rough-living transport rider, during the South African diamond and gold rush, into a missionary, who would reach thousands with the Gospel and affect the lives of people for many generations. Willie Burton was famous for his ability to hold young and old spellbound by the wonderful stories of God’s great works in the remote jungles of Africa. Stories about miracles, divine protection and provision, and of the transforming power of the Gospel. When God Makes a Missionary will thrill, move you to tears and excite worship through the story of the life of Edgar Mahon.

It is available on Amazon at cost ($4) http://a.co/iq2Ylem

It is also available as a free Kindle (and .mobi and .pdf) download here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/749180

I believe that all young people (and others) should read this very exciting book.

Who was Arminius?

Who was Arminius?

The article below is different to my usual articles in that it is more technical and a bit longer (7 pages).
Most Christians’ (Calvinist and non-Calvinist) understanding of who Arminius was, and specifically what he believed, is shaped by a 400 year-old propaganda campaign which grossly distorts the truth.
So, I humbly submit this to those who may be interested in the truth about Arminius.
To my one or two Reformed friends; this is not a personal attack on you, or what you believe, and I trust you will receive this as part of my own genuine search for the truth.

A Review with Personal Comments on:
Arminius . A Study in the Dutch Reformation
. by Carl Bangs

1.     Introduction

This article is not a review or critique of the book as such. It is simply my perceptions of the book, but also my observations regarding Arminius and his theology, as compared to my own.

In my almost five decades of serving the Lord, I had never read anything substantial on Arminius and purposely avoided reading his theology as I wanted my doctrine to be based on  the Scriptures and not on that of any man. But, over the past year I began to recognize that my understanding (as of most other Christians) of Arminius and his doctrine was increasingly being shaped by the false image created by Calvinists. I felt it essential therefore, at this late stage, to find out as best as I could, who Arminius was and exactly what he believed. (See below for some of these false notions about Arminius and Arminians.)

My initial research indicated that this book by Bangs is the most complete and authoritative on the life and doctrine of Arminius. However, be warned; it is not an easy read. It is more of an academic thesis on Arminius and his doctrine, but also on the theological, ecclesiastical, economic, and political circumstances in the Netherlands in the late 16th and early 17th century in which Arminius lived and worked. The book is filled with endless details of names, family connections, and even the addresses where the various characters lived. A lot of this information simply clouds the central issues and slows reading down to a crawl. But, the book has been very helpful to understand the many outside factors that had an impact on Reformed theology, churches and universities in Holland at the time as well as the factors that ultimately led to the Remonstrance a year after Arminius’ death. It also is probably the most detailed and complete biography on every detail of Arminius’ short life of 50 years.

The book does outline Arminius’ doctrine and the evolution thereof, but I would have preferred to see a bit more detail on his views. However, it is understood that it is primarily a biography and history of the Arminius and the Dutch Reformation and not a detailed expose of his doctrine.

2.     Common Fallacious Ideas on Arminius.

Having made the statement above that Arminians and Calvinists alike have a mistaken idea of Arminius and his doctrines, I felt it necessary to quote a sample of the many such statements.

Arminius asserted “…that man is saved by good works as well as faith. He admitted that virtuous heathen might escape hell, and surmised that in the end all men would be saved” (Will and Arial Durant. The Story of Civilization. Vol 7. p459.). This statement does not contain a shred of truth – see below but the truth does not prevent many from bearing false witness that Arminius was a Universalist.

Arminius and his followers teach that “man was not totally depraved and could therefore co-operate with God in the spiritual regeneration.” (Lars Qualben. A History of the Christian Church. p351). This is clearly contradicted by Arminius – see the quote under “original sin” (below).

“According to the Pelagian conception regeneration is solely an act of the human will, and is practically identical with self-reformation. With some slight differences this is the view of modern liberal theology. A modification of this view is that of the Semi-Pelagian and Arminian…” (Louis Berkhof. Systematic Theology p 473) “Berkhof frequently combines Arminianism with Semi-Pelagianism or Socinianism in his caricature of Arminius and Arminians. Since Pelagius and Socinian were heretics, this amounts to guilt by association.” (http://www.imarc.cc/esecurity/arminius.html#N_28_). None of these statements of Berkhof contain any truth whatsoever.

“Pragmatism’s ally is Arminianism, the theology that denies God’s sovereign election and affirms that man must decide on his own to trust or reject Christ. That places on the evangelist the burden of using technique that is clever enough, imaginative enough, or convincing enough to sway a person’s decision… to teach or imply that human technique can bring someone to Christ is contrary to Scripture” (John MacArthur. Our Sufficiency in Christ.” (p152). This is a spiteful and gross misrepresentation of Arminian teaching.

“Thus, Arminianism made man’s salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man’s own work and, because his own, not God’s in him.” (JI Packer. A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. p128). Once again, this is just not the truth but a straw man argument by someone who needs to stoop to this level because his own argument is too weak to stand on its own.

“I agree with Packer and Johnston that Arminianism contains un-Christian elements in it and that their view of the relationship between faith and regeneration is fundamentally un-Christian. Is this error so egregious that it is fatal to salvation? People often ask if I believe Arminians are Christians? I usually answer, “Yes, barely.” They are Christians by what we call a felicitous inconsistency”. (RC Sproul. Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will. p25). Judging just by the spirit and attitude of Calvinists and Arminians, I would dare say, the opposite is true. Should an Arminian dare to say about Calvinists what Sproul said about Arminians, he would be hung, drawn and quartered. Yet, Calvinists make these statements every day.

One could fill a book with similar egregious statements propagated by Calvinists, and unfortunately, often believed by non-Calvinists. Dr Reasoner compiled an excellent list of similar statements and clear proof against them: http://www.imarc.cc/esecurity/arminius.html#N_28_

3.     Arminius was Thoroughly Reformed.

One of the aspects of Arminius that is often misunderstood is that he was thoroughly Reformed and was not an Evangelical or fundamentalist by modern standards. Even though his views on Predestination differed from the Calvinism of his day (and of today), he saw himself as a true disciple of Calvin. He was not Evangelical, nor was he Anabaptist and he certainly was not Lutheran. He rose within the Reformed church, studied at Reformed schools and topped off his education by studying in Geneva under Beza, Calvin’s disciple and successor. Beza highly commended Arminius for his piety and intellect in a testimonial to the church in Amsterdam (p111). At the conclusion of his studies he served as one (and the most popular) of the pastors of the leading Dutch Reformed Church in Amsterdam for 16 years before spending his final six years as professor of theology at the Reformed University of Leiden, his Alma Mater.

When he later differed from Beza on supralapsarianism (pp194, 273)(Supralapsarianism says that the decrees of election and damnation came prior to the decree to create man – thus denying God’s omniscience by saying he reasons and knows things sequentially, like man) , Arminius appealed to Calvin and Augustine for support. He did not see his views on predestination as being contrary to Calvinism, as we do today, but saw his views as the correct interpretation of Reformed doctrine. Not only did he appeal to Calvin and Augustine (p192) for support, but also to other Church Fathers such as Origen on the subjects of Subordinationism and eternal Generation (p282) as well as the creeds. He goes as far as to say about Calvin: “…I concede to him a certain spirit of prophecy in which he stands distinguished above others, above most, indeed, above all” (p287).

He strongly defended Reformed doctrine against Catholicism, Lutheranism and the Anabaptists.

My assessment is that except for the doctrines around TULIP, Arminius was much closer to being a true Calvinist than either side of the argument gives him credit today.

4.     His Life and Testimony

Many spoke of Arminius’ piety and dedication to the things of God. His life was marked by holiness, righteousness and humility. Unlike Calvin and his disciples, Arminius always strove to exhibit a Christ-like spirit to friend and foe alike. While he was willing to pay the highest cost in order to stand by his convictions, he was not a rabble-rouser or trouble-maker. All his debates and writings are marked by real humility, a lack of argumentativeness and a willingness to be corrected and to resign his position if it could be shown from Scripture that he was mistaken (p298).

He certainly stands as a major contrast to his opponents’ lust for a fight and blood and their frequent use of lies, political power and manipulation to achieve their ends that had very little to do with doctrinal correctness. Often lay people sided with Arminius, even if they disagreed with his doctrine, because of the spirituality of his response and the brutality of the attacks of his enemies (p299). The vindictiveness, dishonesty and brutishness of Arminius’ opponents (more correctly enemies), seems to be a hallmark of Calvin and his followers  at Arminius’ time and subsequently.

While Arminius was steeped in the teachings of Calvin, the Creeds, and the Church Fathers, he also stood by the call to Sola Scriptura. Unlike his opponents, Arminius did not only pay lip service to the Scriptures, but he genuinely saw the Scriptures as the final authority in all matters and did not hesitate to call into question any personality and any tradition that could not be upheld by a clear exposition of the Scriptures. Thus it was the Bible, rather than his Reformed tradition, that shaped his views on predestination (but not in all doctrine).

5.     His Doctrine

It must be borne in mind that Arminius was not the “originator” of what would become known as “Arminianism”. He was one of several who had through a careful examination of Scripture come to the conclusion that Predestination is not taught in Scripture. It is not clear at what stage he had formed his views but it seems that from the beginning he had never fully accepted Beza’s view and that Arminius’ view was formed over a long time and then finally solidified as he taught through Romans (particularly chapters 7 and 9) during his occupation of the pulpit in Amsterdam (pp139-150).

Arminius died in 1609 before he could fully publish his theology on predestination. Some of his work was published after his death and was further refined by the Remonstrants (protesters) and finally published in the form of the Five Articles of Remonstrance, a year after his death. These five articles gave rise to the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619 where the Remonstrants were put on trial. The Calvinistic churches condemned Arminius’ teachings as heresy and pronounced anathemas against those who teach them. It is interesting to note that the five points of Calvinism (also known by the acronym of “TULIP”), were developed as a counter to the Five Articles of Remonstrance and not the other way around as some mistakenly claim. As a result of Dort, the Remonstrants were evicted from their pulpits, imprisoned and some were executed. Those who were not imprisoned or executed had to flee for their lives. It seems likely that had he not died (probably of TB), when he did, he would have been executed after the synod of Dort.

One of the difficulties in coming to a clear understanding of Arminius’ views is the degree to which tradition has foisted on him developments in “Arminian theology”, that continued to evolve under the Remonstrants, Wesley and others.

Original Sin (Total Depravity)

Arminius very seldom used the term “original sin” and saw man’s state as being more one of “privation” than “depravation”. The difference between his view and that of his opponents on this issue was very small and largely semantic (in my humble opinion). He believed that Adam, through his sin, became subject to a “double death” and was deprived of the holiness and righteousness, which was a great part of the image of God in man. As a result of Adam’s sin, all men became guilty and “are by nature the children of wrath” (Ephesians 11:3). Each man is born with the sinful nature of Adam and as a result sins by nature. (pp336-340)

He said: “In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but is also imprisoned, destroyed and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatsoever except such as are excited by divine grace. For Christ has said, ‘Without me ye can do nothing.’” (p341).

Free Will and Grace

While Arminius says that man has a free will in other areas, his will is not free to accomplish spiritual good or to do anything that is meritorious. “All response of man to the divine vocation is the work of grace. The entire process of believing… is of grace. But one result of gracious renewal is the cooperating which man does in believing. When light was kindled… man… being made capable in Christ, cooperating (cooperans) now with God… This cooperation is not the means of renewal; it is the result of renewal. It is not a meritorious work.” (pp341-342 Emphasis mine). He thus plainly disavows synergism whereby salvation is a joint work between God and man. He is explicit that salvation and the process of salvation is all of God (p342).

Resistible Grace

The whole process of salvation is a work of God and man is so fallen that he cannot even choose salvation when it is offered to him. And while man does not have the will to choose salvation and the good, he does have the will to choose evil and to reject the call of God. “Grace is not a force; it is a Person, the Holy Spirit, and in personal relationships there cannot b the sheer overpowering of one person by another” (p343). Thus Grace can be resisted.

Justification

Man is not justified by believing (as many accuse Arminius of teaching), but man is justified because God imputes to man His righteousness. (p344).

Assurance

“Arminius felt that supralapsarianism led to either unwarranted security or unwarranted despair.” He tried to steer clear of these two errors and taught that “It is possible for him who believes in Jesus Christ to be certain and persuaded, and, if his heart condemn him not, he is now in reality assured, that he is a son of God and stands in the grace of Jesus Christ” (p348).

Perseverance

Arminius’ view on whether a believer can fall from grace progressed from his earlier to his later writings. But he is, at best, vague. He was certain that grace is sufficient and abundant to preserve the faithful through all trials and temptations for life everlasting. The clearest statement of the view at the time comes from the fifth Article of Remonstrance: “…but whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginning of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of neglecting grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, before we ourselves can teach it with the full confidence of our mind.” (http://www.crivoice.org/creedremonstrants.html). Later developments of this teaching resulted in the view that “Salvation is conditioned on faith, therefore perseverance is also conditioned. Apostasy (turning from Christ) is only committed through a deliberate, willful rejection of Jesus and renunciation of saving faith. Such apostasy is irremediable.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arminianism). It must be stressed however that this is a later development and neither Arminius nor the Remonstrants had fully come to this conclusion. BUT looking at indirect statements of Arminius, it is my considered opinion that had he had the time to pursue this question to its conclusion, he would have come to the conclusion that Wesley and others came to that the believer could come to a point of apostatizing. For example on 1John 3:9 Arminius said: “…I shall take the word ‘remains’ as signifying indwelling, but not continued indwelling. As long as the seed remains in him, he does not sin unto death, but by degrees the seed may be taken out of his heart” (p218). He makes similar points regarding the parable of the sower and the vine and the branches in John15:3 (p218). In his declaration of Sentiments (1608 – a year before his death) he wrote: “I have never taught that a true believer can either totally or finally fall away from the faith and perish, yet I will not conceal that there are passages of Scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect.” (p313).

Predestination

In his Declaration of Sentiments (1608), Arminius defines his view on predestination, but he first outlines the parameters he had set for the establishing of the doctrine: “Predestination must be understood Christologically; it must be evangelical; it must not make God the author of sin; it must not make man the author of salvation; it must be scriptural, not speculative; and it must not depart from the historical teaching of the church.” (p350). I think that these criteria are as important in understanding his thinking as the conclusions he comes to. He manages to balance these criteria in his “four divine decrees” which he lists in a very specific order of importance:

  1. The election of Jesus Christ. The point of this decree is to make Christ the object of the Gospel and not man. He wrote: “The first precise and absolute decree of God for affecting salvation of sinful man is that he has determined to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, as Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest, and King, to nullify sin by his death, to obtain the lost salvation through his obedience, and to communicate it by his power.” (p350).
  2. The election of the church. “The second precise and absolute decree of God is that he has determined graciously to receive in favor those who repent and believe, and, the same preserving, to effect (sic) their salvation in Christ, for Christs’ sake, and through Christ…” (p351). In this decree Arminius speaks of believers as a “class” and this is also the way he interprets Romans 9 (and other Scriptures): that God deals with classes (Israel, the church) as well as with individuals. Thus election is conditional on repentance and faith, but neither is a meritorious work.
  3. The appointment of means. “The third decree of God is that by which he has predetermined to administer the necessary, sufficient, and powerful means of repentance and faith…” (p352). “The means are ‘sufficient and powerful’. The preaching of the cross is a serious call… [Thus] the reprobate cannot be damned for disobedience to a call not made to them.” (p352). (He thus denies “irresistible grace”.)
  4. The election of individuals. “From this follows the fourth decree to save certain particular persons and to damn others, which decree rests upon the foreknowledge of God, by which he has known from eternity which persons should believe… through his preceding grace and which would persevere through subsequent grace, and also who should not believe and persevere.” (p352). The nature of God’s foreknowledge was one of the central issues in the dispute between Arminius and his enemies. Beza, and his followers, insisted that God’s foreknowledge was “causal” – it was based on God causing that he foreknew to come to pass. Arminius said that God’s foreknowledge was “contingent”, based on His knowledge how individuals and classes would respond, without causing that response. (pp 219; 253; 352-355).

6.     Why I am Not an Arminian.

I have been blessed to find in Arminius’ views on predestination a wonderful confirmation for my own views. I have also been encouraged to read about a man, at that time, who was not just a theologian, but one who lived and practiced his faith. However, I am not an Arminian and eschew the title for the following reasons:

  1. My views were never formed by, or based on, those of Arminius, but rather, on a study of the Scriptures and a study of the Reformed view. Yes, I had indeed studied the Reformed doctrine and became well acquainted with it, decades before studying the Arminian view! I therefore only own the label “Biblical Christian” and am not a disciple of Arminius.
  2. Arminius believed in, and practiced, paedobaptism and not believer’s baptism. He was well acquainted with the Anabaptist position on water baptism and was tasked by the church to write a rebuttal of Anabaptist doctrine. He avoided this assignment, not because he was in agreement with the Anabaptist view on baptism, which he opposed, but because the Anabaptists stood against the doctrine of predestination (pp166-171). I cannot be identified with someone who does not uphold such a fundamental doctrine as believer’s baptism.
  3. Arminius held to Subordinationism (that Jesus always was subordinate to the Father) and the concomitant theory of eternal generation. He freely quotes the heretic Origen on these theories in the absence of Biblical evidence for them. (p282). In my view they diminish the deity and eternality of Christ.
  4. Arminius, like other Calvinists of his day, saw the sacraments, as more than simply earthly elements signifying spiritual truths. He did not accept the Roman heresy of transubstantiation (the bread and wine are changed into the literal blood and body of Christ). Neither did he accept the Lutheran idea of consubstantiation (The “substance” of the body and blood of Christ are present alongside the substance of the bread and wine, which remain present). But, he did see the bread and wine as more than simply earthly tokens demonstrating heavenly truths. He saw them as having a spiritual and mystical power “…seals and pledges, which affect not only the mind, but likewise the heart itself” (p334).
  5. Arminius was very committed to the marriage of church and state. Not only did he see them as inextricably linked, but he saw the church as being subject to the secular leaders. “Arminius and the burgomasters [city councilors] stood together in affirming the right and duty of the magistracy to exercise oversight of the internal affairs of the church…” (p147). Not only did he perpetuate Calvin’s Genevan system, but went further than his opponents in giving power to secular authorities over the affairs of the church (whereas in Geneva it was the other way around). This is obviously not a system that has any Biblical basis and I certainly cannot countenance the usurpation of Christ’s supremacy over the church by secular leaders.
  6. While he stood vehemently on the supreme authority of Scripture and the idea of Sola Scriptura, he was also strongly influenced by some of the erroneous ideas of the Church Fathers, the Synods of the church and particularly by John Calvin. All the problems I highlighted above are a direct result of these influences and it saddens me greatly that he was not able to cast off the yoke of tradition and return fully to the Scriptures alone, as he had on the matter of predestination.

7.     Conclusion

In spite of Arminius falling short of a full revision of the dogmas of Calvinism, he still stands out as a great man for his courage, wisdom and humility. His influence has been a counter-balance to Calvinism’s predestination and he has impacted millions by his return to Scripture on this matter. After him, the Remonstrants, and later, the Wesleys and still later, 20th century Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism took up the baton. Sadly, in the last 40 years, we have seen an increasing abandonment of this Biblical doctrine and a return to the traditions of men. May the Lord give us more men who are committed to truth, no matter how unpopular truth may be, and no matter the cost of standing by the Scriptures alone.

Anton Bosch
Los Angeles
August 2017

Christ our Passover

Christ our Passover

Most Christians probably know that Jesus is our Passover Lamb and that he fulfilled the type of Himself as shown in the Passover lamb. Yet, when I started looking for a list of the aspects that were fulfilled in the crucifixion, I could not find a complete list. Therefore, this is an attempt to compile a fuller list:

Jesus is called  “the Lamb of God”: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! ” (John 1:29)

  • The lamb was to be selected on the 10th of the month Nisan (the first month of the year). It was then to be examined until the 14th to make sure that it was without blemish (Exodus 12:3-5). Deuteronomy 17:1: “You shall not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep which has a blemish or any defect, for that is a detestable thing to the Lord your God”. Jesus entered Jerusalem on the 10th of Nisan, riding on a donkey. He was examined by the same chief priests who were examining the lambs until the 14th when He was crucified.
  • Just as the Passover Lamb was to be perfect and without blemish, Jesus was found to be perfectly sinless (Matthew 26:59-60; John 19:4,6; 1Peter 1:19).
  • In preparation of the Passover, the Jews would go through their houses in search for leaven (leaven represents sin and impurity – Matthew 16:6-12, Luke 12:1, 1Corinthians 5:2-8) and clean all the leaven from their houses. In Matthew 21:1-13, Jesus went into Jerusalem and cleansed the temple. Thus at the same time the Jews were cleaning the leaven from their houses, God was cleaning the leaven (sin) from His house.
  • The lamb was to be a year old, meaning it was to be in its prime (Exodus 12:5). Jesus was 33 years old – generally accepted to be when a man is in his prime.
  • The lamb was to be a male just so Jesus was a male (Exodus 12:5).
  • The Passover Lamb was to be slain on the eve of Passover, on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan. Jesus was hanging on the cross and dying at the very moment that the Passover lambs were being killed in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:45-50).
  • Just as the lamb died in the place of the oldest of the family – Jesus died in our place.
  • The killing of the Passover lamb prepared the way for Israel to be delivered from the bondage of Egypt. The Jews call the Passover, “the festival of redemption”. (The Jewish Festivals by Hayyim Schauss). Jesus’ death also sets us free from the bondage of sin (Galatians 3:13, Titus 2:13-14 etc).
  • The Passover lamb had to be killed in Jerusalem, but outside of the city gates. (Deuteronomy 16:5-6). Christ was killed in Jerusalem, but outside of the city gates. (John 19:16-19, Hebrews 13:10-13)
  • The last words from the high priest as he cut the Passover lamb’s throat was “It is finished” (The Seven Festivals of the Messiah by Eddie Chumney). “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” (John 19:30). That means that at the same time that the high priest was saying, “It is finished” (referring to the Passover sacrifice), The High Priest (Jesus) was saying the exact words (referring to the sacrifice of Himself).
  • Not a single bone of the Passover lamb was to be broken. (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12). In spite of the tremendous trauma He endured, and the custom to break the legs of the crucified, not a single bone of Christ was broken. (John 19:31-36). In both cases it would be expected for bones to be broken, yet contrary to what would be normal, no bones were broken in the Passover lamb and Jesus (Psalm 34:20).
  • The blood of the Passover lamb was to be applied to the wooden doorposts and lintel (Exodus 21:7). The blood of Jesus was shed on a wooden cross.
  • The Passover lamb was to be roasted in fire (Exodus 12:9). Fire is always a symbol of God’s wrath. Jesus endured God’s wrath on the cross (Romans 5:9).
  • Just as the blood applied to the doorposts saved the inhabitants of the house from God’s wrath (Exodus 12:13), so the blood of Christ, applied to the life of the sinner, saves him from God’s judgement (Romans 5:9; 1Peter 1:18-19).
  • The eating of the flesh (body) of the Passover lamb was to be an everlasting memorial of their deliverance (Exodus 12:14). In the same way the eating of Christ’s body, symbolized in the bread, is to be a perpetual memorial of our salvation (Luke 22:19; 1Corinthians 11:24).
  • The Israelites were to remain inside their houses, trusting in the efficacy of the blood to protect them. We cannot work for our salvation. We need to remain “under the blood”, trusting in the blood for our salvation. It did not matter who (even an Egyptian) was behind the blood, he would be safe. It does not matter who we are or how much we have sinned. All God is looking for is the blood in order that his wrath my pass over us. But should an Israelite not apply the blood, he would die, meaning that our spiritual or ethnic heritage does not save us – only the blood of Christ.
  • The Lord decreed that the whole assembly of Israel shall kill the Passover lamb. (Exodus 12:6). In the same way, the whole world, everyone who ever lived, is responsible for the death of Christ through our sin.
  • The lamb had to be consumed entirely on the Passover evening. Nothing was to remain overnight (Exodus 12:10). Jesus was taken off the cross on the same evening of his crucifixion and was not to hang overnight, contrary to custom (John 19:31-36).

Once again, we can only marvel at the unity of the Scriptures and how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament types in the minutest detail. The Bible and our Gospel are not the fabrications of human minds but were marvelously planned and executed by an all-knowing and all-powerful God.

 

Doctrine Does Not Divide

Doctrine Does Not Divide

After writing the last article (Who’s the Heretic?[1]), I gave more thought to the question of dividing on the Non-essentials: If we ought not to divide on the non-essentials, why then is there so much division amongst Christians and leaders, often on non-essentials?

The common misnomer is that it is doctrine that divides. This misleads many to avoid doctrine since it appears to be such a divisive issue. (A search of the internet will deliver a plethora of articles that support the notion that doctrine divides and must be avoided.) Both extremes of the argument repeat the mantra that doctrine divides: Those who are weak on doctrine will emphasize love and use the argument to discard all doctrine because it is “divisive”. On the other hand, those who are more rigid will say that it is right that doctrine divides since truth and error cannot be in fellowship. Thus, the same saying is used both to avoid doctrine and to over-emphasize doctrine. Yes, doctrine can be over-emphasized – if it is simply a cold, hard set of facts, void of love, grace, and transforming power. And no, I do not believe that our fellowship should be based on the lowest common denominator and that doctrine should be scrapped for the sake of unity, nor do I believe that true love removes the need for, or mitigates against, sound doctrine. (When I refer to “doctrine” in this article, I am referring to what we define as the Non-essentials – see the previous article for a fuller definition.)

The fact is that doctrine does not divide but doctrine has become the great scapegoat on whose back is laid a multitude of sins that are the real cause of division. I know this sounds like “heresy” but follow my argument: Division is the product of bad attitudes and bad behavior and not of bad doctrine.

If the differing parties both exhibit the spirit of Christ (Philippians 2:1-11) and are humble and respectful in their treatment of the other, then no matter how big the doctrinal differences, those differences can be worked through in order to arrive at the truth. However, if just one of the parties is arrogant, legalistic and judgmental, no matter how small the difference – unity will be fleeting and is guaranteed to be destroyed sooner or later.

“… with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:2,3,13). The unity of the Spirit here refers to the unity we have by virtue of our salvation. Since we share a common salvation, we have the unity of the Spirit. Ephesians 4:4-6 lists seven things that all true believers have in common and that is the basis of our spiritual unity. Note that Paul says we need to keep the unity of the Spirit. You can’t keep what you don’t have, but because all believers have the unity of Spirit simply because Father, Son and Spirit cannot be divided, we are urged to maintain the right attitude and preserve that unity.

Later Ephesians 4:13 speaks of the “unity of the faith”. The term “the faith” refers to our doctrine[2] and in this context speaks of the time when there will be unity in what we believe. While verse 3 says we need to keep the unity of the Spirit, verse 13 says we need to come to (arrive at) the unity of the faith. Note that Paul says to keep the unity of the Spirit “till” we come to the unity of the faith. Thus, we are not to divide even if we do not believe exactly the same and are to maintain the unity of the Spirit until we come to the unity of the faith. Here is my paraphrase these verses: “As Christians we have a common salvation, Lord Jesus, Father and Spirit. We must have the right attitude towards one another in order to preserve our unity of the spirit until we have all matured and believe exactly the same.”

There is therefore no excuse for division on the basis of differences on the non-essentials and any division on these issues is rank disobedience to the plain teaching of Scripture. Note also that we do not arrive at the unity of the faith by consensus, negotiation or intimidation but by submission to the ministry gifts of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).

When we do not have the right attitude (or spirit), division becomes inevitable, not because of doctrine, but because of arrogance, unteachableness, selfish ambition, jealousy or hurt. Then, because we do not want to appear to divide on such carnal things, we begin to nitpick the other’s doctrine until we find something that we can use as the scapegoat for the division! Many times, I have witnessed how brothers begin to pick at various minor issues until they find a doctrinal issue they can blow out of proportion so that they are “justified” to break fellowship or denigrate the other party. In addition, because the doctrinal issue is tenuous, at best, they will exaggerate the differences by using straw man arguments. The idea is make it appear as a violation of an essential doctrine, thereby making you a heretic, which “justifies” them in turning others against you. But, what they are really doing is allowing the Devil to use them to do his dirty work of destroying the work of God. Sadly, they pride themselves in being “defenders of the faith” when in fact they are the exact opposite.

Even if such people are one hundred percent correct doctrinally, they are still one hundred percent wrong:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:13-18).

True wisdom is manifest in meekness. Wisdom that divides and destroys comes from selfish ambition and is ultimately demonic – plain and simple!

Paul says: “…though I… understand all mysteries and all knowledge… but have no love, I am nothing” (1Corinthians 13:3). Thus even if one had perfect knowledge of all doctrine, but had no love the knowledge is useless and invalidated.

In fact, Paul says we should withdraw (break fellowship) with those who are argumentative and whose doctrine does not agree with, and produce godliness (1Timothy 6:3-5). In using the word ‘godliness’ here, Paul does not just have holiness in mind but specifically points to the fruit of the Spirit. Here are some of the things that the context defines as godliness: “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness”. (1Timothy 6:11). Therefore, Paul says, anyone who claims to have the true doctrine but does not exhibit love, patience and gentleness is to be avoided. The reason for this is, as I have said, because no matter how correct their doctrine, if they have the wrong spirit, or attitude, their knowledge is empty and they become a tool of the Devil to sow discord among the brethren.

It seems that as we get closer to the Lord’s return, there is a proliferation of those who pride themselves in their hardline, legalistic, and unchristian attitudes and who boast in those things as though they are desirable attributes when in fact, they are simply evidence of their immaturity and carnality (1Corinthians 3:3).

Finally, lest you accuse me of being soft on doctrine: I am fully committed to purity of doctrine and the defense of the faith, but that is only part of the true faith. True wisdom and true knowledge is proven by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and not by boastfulness, bluff, bluster and bullying. Jesus said the fruit will separate the true from the false prophets (Matthew 7:15-20). Our doctrine shapes our behavior therefore the true measure of our doctrine is in our actions more than in our words. Remember that even demons and unsaved academics can learn to recite correct theology, but that does not mean they are saved.

Paul calls his lifestyle to witness to the correctness of his doctrine (1Thessalonians 1:5) and John says “He who does not love does not know God…” (1John 4:8). Therefore, those who wish to demonstrate their spiritual superiority need to do it through the right attitude. Knowledge proves nothing. Computers and the Internet contain more knowledge than anyone who ever lived but they are cold, heartless and devoid of any spirituality. Those who boast of their supremacy on the basis of their superior doctrine but who cannot apply that knowledge with love, patience and meekness are simply walking automatons, programmed by Satan to do his work.

Please permit me to challenge you to think about those with whom you have broken fellowship since becoming a believer. Did you reject them because of jealousy, pride, anger, selfish ambition or any other carnal reason; did you show them the same love, patience and gentleness you expect from the Lord for yourself? If not, don’t use your “pure doctrine” as a cover for your carnality but rather repent and make things right.

Oh Lord, preserve us from those who simply want to use Christianity as a means of proving their superiority and to satisfy their lust for endless arguments, and may I not be one of those. Teach me your kindness, love, gentleness and patience and the true wisdom that comes from above and not from below. Amen.

 

 

[1] http://antonbosch.org/who-is-the-heretic

[2] See Colossians 2:7; Titus 1:13; Jude 3.

Who is the Heretic?

Who is the Heretic?

As I was preparing to teach a course on Apologetics (the defense of the faith) recently, I realized that I did not have a good definition of “heresy”. A search of the internet also produced nothing that seemed to be exactly right. The terms heresy and heretic are very much abused and mean many different things to different people. Some people label anything that doesn’t agree with their narrow doctrinal position as heresy, while others are reluctant to apply the label to beliefs clearly outside the Christian faith. What a Catholic would regard as heresy is very different to what an Evangelical would regard as heresy and what one Evangelical regards as heresy is different to what another Evangelical would count as such.

As a result, I set about attempting to define this term we all use, mostly with little understanding of the meaning or implications of the word.

The term is derived from the Greek word hairesis, literally meaning a choice, but referring more specifically to a sect, party or division. Luke uses the term in Acts to refer to the sects of the Sadducees (5:17), the Pharisees (15:5; 26:5), and even the Christians – called Nazarenes or the Way (24:5,14; 28:22). When Paul uses the term in 1Corinthians 11:19 and Galatians 5:20, he refers to the divisions and factions which cause strife in the church, while Peter links the term to false prophets and teachers (2Peter 2:1).

Paul uses the term in Titus when he explains how heresy should be dealt with: “Reject a divisive man (Gr: aihretikos, heretic in the KJV) after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11).

The New Testament sense of the word therefore combines two things: A doctrine outside the norm that becomes the basis of a division. However, our modern understanding is slightly different in that the word tends to lay the emphasis on unorthodox doctrine which requires that the heretic be excommunicated.

So here is an attempt at a definition: “Heresy is a teaching or practice which denies and/or adds to one or more essentials of the Christian faith, divides Christians, and deserves condemnation.” John gives a good example of such a doctrine: denying the true nature of the person and work of Jesus Christ (IJohn 4:1-3; 2John 1:7-11).

Note that in the definition I said that it is a teaching or practice that denies and/or adds to an essential of the Faith. The idea of “essentials” comes from a quote by a 17th Century German Theologian who said: “In Essentials unity, In Non-Essentials liberty, in all things charity”. This says then that there are “essentials” and “non-essentials” and the statement, when applied in practice, is generally stated in reverse: “We must divide when the Essentials are violated and maintain the unity when someone has a different view on the Non-essentials”.

Non-essentials are clearly things like whether the hymn book has a blue or green cover, whether the service starts at 10am or 11am etc. The problem is that most Christians struggle to agree on what are Essentials and what are not. Some will elevate things like which translation to use, or whether men should wear neckties to the services, whether Adam had a navel, and a host of other less-important things, to the level of Essentials and will divide on those. (More on this later).  Because of this confusion, I felt the need to briefly define what the Essentials are, for my own benefit, and for those of my students:

Generally heresy falls into four main areas:

  • A wrong Christology (a wrong view of the person and work of Jesus Christ)
  • A wrong Theology (a wrong view of the nature of God)
  • A wrong Soteriology (a wrong understanding of salvation)
  • A wrong Bibliology (a wrong understanding of the inspiration and authority of Scripture)

While this may seem simple, it is not. As you may appreciate, there are many details and nuances of the above that may, or may not, be defined as heresy. While even agreeing on whether the above four areas are the Essentials is problematic, defining when someone has crossed the line on any of these is even more difficult.

What is clear is that we dare not use straw-man arguments nor extrapolation to “prove” a heresy. It is common to hear that if this or that teaching is taken to its logical conclusion, it is heresy and therefore the teaching (before being extended to its conclusion) is heresy. This is simply not true. For example; because someone believes that God is loving and gracious, if extended to it “conclusion”, could mean that everyone will be saved (Universalism) and therefore those who teach the love and grace of God are all heretics. While an emphasis on grace certainly could lead to heresy, it is not necessarily heresy when it is balanced by a clear understanding of the holiness and righteousness of God. Thus, to take one statement and declare someone a heretic without understanding the balance that person may bring through a counter-balancing doctrine is unrighteous judgment. The fact is that a lot of genuine heresy is simply the overstatement of one truth without bringing the counter-balancing truth into view. Thus overemphasising the three persons of the Trinity is polytheism (worship of many gods) while the over-emphasis of the oneness of God leads to several opposite heresies.

The difference between truth and heresy is often a very fine line and we must be careful before branding someone with such a label without unequivocal evidence, righteously and objectively weighed by those who are skilled to do so.

On the other hand, once heresy has been established, there is no recourse but to excommunicate such a person unless the heretic repents. This procedure is clearly spelt out in Scripture (Titus 3:10) and cannot be done capriciously or at the whim of just anyone.

Finally, there is an opposite form of heresy to the above – those who make non-essentials the basis for division: There are many who will gladly divide on non-essentials even though we may agree on the Essentials. These people are guilty of heresy even though their doctrine on the Essentials may be quite acceptable. Their heresy is that they have turned non-essentials into essentials. Thus those who readily divide on the King James Version Only, whether the bread at the communion is unleavened, or whether baptism is by immersing three times or once, or any of the thousands of other non-essentials on which people divide so easily, are by definition, heretics.

However, unlike the first kind of heretic who must be excommunicated, these people excommunicate themselves by rejecting anyone who does not agree with them and their pet ideas. They are self-destructing in that they typically excommunicate themselves into a corner with one or two others who have an equally critical spirit. Once they have isolated themselves, they begin to turn on each other until they have consumed one another (Galatians 5:15).

Diotrephes is a good example of this kind of behaviour: “… Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.” (3John 1:9-10).

Even though these people finally destroy or isolate themselves, the damage they cause is still serious because they bring unnecessary divisions and hurt to the body of Christ, disrupt the work of the Gospel, and bring dishonour to the name of Christ among the Gentiles.

Truth and heresy, and maintaining fellowship, are serious matters and should never be a cover for pride, a divisive spirit, or selfish ambition. Heresy and sin must be dealt with justly and decisively, with love. The same applies to those who boast in their exclusiveness, elitism and narrow-mindedness. These attitudes are simply a manifestation of carnality: “… For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1Corinthians 3:3).

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled ” (Hebrews 12:14-15).

 

I am Not Sola Scriptura

I am Not Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura is Latin for “Scripture alone” and is one of the five foundational principles that came out of the Reformation, 500 years ago this year. It is supposed to mean that the Christian Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith, doctrine, and practice. Well, in theory. In practice however, it does not mean that at all.

The Church of Rome, Anglicanism and Eastern orthodoxy all openly deny Sola Scriptura and place church traditions, the authority of the church and several other things at an equal or even higher authority than the Scriptures. At least they are honest about that, but the Reformers on the other hand, emphasized their commitment to Sola Scriptura.

So, we must ask whether the Reformers did indeed believe and practice Sola Scriptura and the answer is a resoundingly NO. The Reformers held to Sola Scriptura only as far as it suited their own ideas. However, for the most part their theology was based on a mixture of Scripture, Catholic tradition, the teachings of the so called “Church Fathers[1]”, and rationalism. All the Reformers quoted the “Church Fathers” extensively and held to many doctrines that the “Church Fathers” taught which the Bible does not. They freely confessed that and an examination of their ideas and doctrines against the Bible confirms this.

Since the Reformers leaned so heavily on the “Church Fathers” and the creeds the “Fathers” produced, and since modern Reformationism hold the “Church Fathers” in such high esteem, we must ask if the Church Fathers were Sola Scriptura? Again the answer is simply NO. Even a cursory reading of church history and of the “Fathers” shows that their theology was heavily influenced by Greek mythology and Gnosticism. In fact, several of their cardinal doctrines had absolutely no Scriptural basis whatsoever and were taken directly from Greek mythology. Augustine in his On Christian Teaching speaks frankly about plundering the Egyptians and baptizing the truth that we gain from pagan thought. Many of these doctrines steeped in pagan thinking were carried over to the Reformers and are still held by modern Reformationism.

Luther thought that the Ante-Nicene Period (roughly between AD100 and AD325) was the “golden age” of the church and that the “Church Fathers” who emerged from this period were spiritual giants. But even a cursory examination shows that in spite of the church being persecuted and many being martyred for the faith, it had strayed far from what was believed and practiced by the Apostles. The church and its leaders that produced the Creeds were politically compromised, basically Arian (denying the divinity of Jesus), and far from what we understand to be Bible-believing fundamentalists. Their view of salvation was very different to that of the apostles and that of the New Testament and they can therefore not be called Evangelical. Their church structure had more in common with Catholicism as the State religion than with New Testamental Christianity and the way they interpreted Scripture was capricious, at best.

The bottom line is that the “Church Fathers” were not Sola Scriptura and neither were the Reformers. The same has to be said of those who hold to modern Reformationism or Calvinism. The very fact that they identify themselves with the Reformation or the man, Calvin, acknowledges their devotion to these things rather than to the Lord Jesus or the Scriptures. Once again, if you were to examine many of their cardinal doctrines and ideas, you will find that they have re-interpreted Scripture in the light of the teachings of the “Fathers” and of the Reformers, rather than based on the plain teaching of Scripture. Thus when they use the term Sola Scriptura, it clearly does not mean “only Scripture” but is rather a euphuism for “Scripture plus”.

What they do is in many respects similar to what the Pharisees did. The Pharisees, out of a sincere desire to protect the Law, built a “fence” around it. This fence consisted of the teachings of the Rabbis and of their traditions. Thus what the Pharisees taught was no longer Scripture alone, but was “Scripture plus” and that was exactly why Jesus opposed them saying they were: “…making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:13). And “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:24). Not only had these endless additions to the Word brought them into extreme legalism but it robbed them of the kind of personal, living, relationship that they should have had with the Lord, and it blinded them to the ultimate truth of Jesus as the Messiah. Further, rather than their system bringing about true spirituality, it brought about spiritual pride, elitism and intellectual snobbery. And, rather than strengthen the Word, they stripped it of its glory, power and simplicity.

The Word of God is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and it does not need to be spiced up with the ideas and traditions of men. Clearly what we need is not to return to the Reformers or the “Church Fathers” but to the Bible: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:20).

Our modern thinking makes us believe that complexity is equal to intelligence and wisdom. It is not. Wisdom is revealed in the simplicity (yet unsearchable depths) of the Word. One of the miracles of the Bible is that a child can understand it, even though it reveals the inscrutable things of God. Yet, we set aside the riches of God’s wisdom for the rags of our foolishness. “For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1Corinthians 1:19-21).

This appeal to return to the simplicity and purity of the Word alone permeates the entire New Testament: “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2Corinthians 11:3). “…nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith.” (1Timothy 1:4). “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge– by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.” (1Timothy 6:20-21).

It seems simplistic to say that we only believe the Scriptures and that unless it is plainly written we will not be deceived as Eve was by the question “has God indeed said”. But the moment one removes the boundaries of Scripture alone, there is no limit to how far one will stray: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8).

To conclude: I am not Sola Scriptura, I am Scripture only. “…that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written” (1Corinthians 4:6).

[1] It must always be remembered that the “Church Fathers” were the fathers of the Eastern and Roman churches and not of the true church.

When Fools Become Kings

When Fools Become Kings

There is an evil I have seen under the sun, As an error proceeding from the ruler: Folly is set in great dignity, while the rich sit in a lowly place. I have seen servants on horses, While princes walk on the ground like servants.” (Ecclesiastes 10:5-7).

For three things the earth is perturbed…For a servant when he reigns…” (Proverbs 30:22).

Luxury is not fitting for a fool, Much less for a servant to rule over princes.”  (Proverbs 19:10).

The Lord’s vision was for Israel to be a theocracy with God at the head and the nation a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6). The Lord had raised up a series of men to lead them – men like Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb. But even under Moses they rebelled against their leaders and the Lord. The Lord’s plan for Israel was a careful balance between personal responsibility and a personal relationship with God (a kingdom of priests) and the administration of divinely chosen leaders, both spiritual and civic.

On the threshold of the Promised Land, they rejected God’s order and experimented with democracy. The overwhelming majority voted not to enter the Promised Land and only two out of 600,000 voted to obey the Lord. This resulted in 40 years of hardship in the wilderness and death to all who participated in the referendum (Numbers 14).

During the time of the judges they again swung the pendulum of personal freedom to another extreme as “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). This statement was not a commendation of their actions, as I have heard some say, but rather a criticism of their lawlessness and self-centeredness and the rejection of those leaders that the Lord had instituted. Doing what was right in their own eyes included families appointing their own priests and devising their own form of religion, in opposition to the Tabernacle and Aaronic priesthood which had been instituted by the Lord. Not long after they went to the other extreme when they insisted that Samuel appoint a king and in the process they surrendered all personal rights and responsibilities (1Samuel 8:11-18).

For a while the church of the first century was able to maintain the balance between personal responsibility and submission to God-given men in various positions of leadership. But by the end of the first century a hierarchy had begun to evolve that would soon strip the individual of personal responsibility and place unlimited spiritual authority in the hands of church leaders. Eventually the common man was not even allowed to read the Scriptures for himself and his whole spiritual responsibility had become to simply follow the dictates of the “church”. In the Reformation, the Reformers spoke of rediscovering the priesthood of every believer but this was in theory only. In practice the power and authority of the clergy continued unabated, except for small groups of believers who continually sought to return to Biblical principles.

In the latter part of the 20th century the pendulum again begun to swing, this time back to “everyone doing what is right in his own eyes”. The concept of the priesthood of every believer was driven to the extreme so that many rejected all forms of spiritual leadership and accountability. With the advent of the internet, everyone has now also become their own theologian and is able to pick and mix from the many ideas available online, and create their own cut-and paste religion and theology. We are back to the book of Judges where preachers are for hire and each one does as he pleases (Judges 17).

Even worse; now any Tom Dick or Harry, can download a manual for starting a church, complete with pre-made sermons, marketing plans and ordination certificates. And if that is too much trouble, he can buy a church franchise from some other equally unscrupulous charlatan. Every city is over-crowded with churches started and run by people who are not called by God and ill-equipped to handle the sacred Text. Indeed, not only are servants ruling as princes but fools are reigning as kings over their self-made empires.

So what qualifies someone to be a teacher of the Word of God and a leader in a local church? Two things; – gifting and training. Neither on their own qualify a man to lead a church or teach doctrine – both are absolutely essential.

In many circles education, preferably of a religious kind, is sufficient to qualify for the ministry. But education, no matter how good, cannot make a preacher, teacher or shepherd. Sadly many pulpits are occupied by the ungifted and even more have set themselves up as theologians and authors just because they have a few degrees. Yet, it is God who gives gifts to some for the benefit of the church. (1Corinthians 12:18, 28-30; Ephesians 4:11.) Note that 1Corinthians 12:28 says that God appoints ministries. This does not only mean that the idea of ministers is God’s idea, but the context is clear that specific men are appointed for specific ministries. In plain English this means that not everyone can become a teacher, shepherd or preacher.

There is absolutely no way that one can learn to be a teacher, shepherd, or preacher. Yes, you can learn the techniques and you may even be a good actor, public speaker, or leader but without the divine gifting and equipping from on high,  any ministry will simply be in the flesh and will not carry God’s blessing and any “results” will be purely human activity without any spiritual power to transform and save. Saul reigned over Israel for 38 years after the anointing had been taken from him and given to another. Yes, he went through the motions of being a king and did all the kingly stuff, but God was not with him and God was not backing him up. Even worse, he had plunged Israel into a civil war that lasted 30 years! This kind of ministry in human power is all too popular today as many are deceived into following charismatic actors parading as men of God.  But the consequences are devastating as the people are abused, fed on drivel or led into error.

As much as the church scene is blighted by these “professional” imposters, almost every church is marred by armchair theologians who think they know more about everything than those whom God has called and gifted. These Monday morning quarterbacks feel it is their “ministry” to second-guess every sermon and every decision of God-ordained leaders. Instead of praying for, and supporting their leaders, they feel it is their God-given ministry to criticize. There may be music and art critics and there may be sports commentators but the Bible knows nothing of a ministry called “pastor critic” or “church faultfinder”. If you are not building, you are breaking down, and if you are breaking down you are opposing God – that’s all there is to it. Yes, I know about the Bereans (Acts 17:10-12). But they were not anything like modern “Bereans”. True Bereans receive the Word with readiness while false Bereans don’t. True Bereans check against Scripture while false Bereans check against their own preconceived ideas or the internet. True Bereans recognize God-given ministries and support and submit to them while false Bereans only submit to themselves.

Just as God’s order for the church is leadership by those whom God has called and gifted, it is also the Lord of the church’s design that those who have been gifted be trained for the work. Just as there are too many who have learned to do the job without any gifting, there are also too many who are indeed gifted, but who have had no training for the ministry. Thus they blunder on making a mess of the work, totally unskilled in the Word or in the work of the ministry – workmen who need to be ashamed (2Timothy 2:15). Many times these men rely heavily on the internet for their theology and just like the armchair theologians, cobble their theology together out of scraps they glean from all sorts of questionable sources. They are just as dangerous as the imposters who have not been gifted, yet who have an education.

I am not necessarily referring to an academic, theological training, but training under a proven minster who himself has been called and trained. In fact, academic theological training without the hands-on input of a teacher who teaches application with theology is just as valueless as no training at all. Paul is very specific how this works: He had trained Timothy through many years of apprenticeship or discipleship. He then instructs Timothy to commit the doctrines to other faithful men who will teach others in turn (2Timothy 2:2). Yes, the Lord can teach someone directly with just a Bible and the Holy Spirit, but that would be the very rare exception, the pattern He has ordained is that there is a continuous line of pure doctrine and lifestyle that is handed down from one generation to the next. Let me be clear, God never ordained the internet as the place we are to be taught for one simple reason: “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,” (2Timothy 3:14). People and leaders too readily run to books and the internet to learn, not knowing who they are learning from and in the process are often learning from the devil’s agents!

Just as to Solomon it was a shameful thing to see servants in the place of kings, it is shameful to see ungifted and uncalled men in pulpits and just as Solomon decried that kings should be in the place of servants it is a shame that those who are gifted are so ill-equipped to fulfill their calling that they are walking instead of riding on horses.

God’s plan for the church is that local churches should be led by men whom He has specifically called and gifted and who have been trained and prepared for the work. Without the calling and the training, no man should ascend the pulpit. The second, but equal plan of God, is that every believer take responsibility for his own walk and family while submitting to, and supporting, those whom the Lord has set in the church. Anything else is as much an aberration as fools who become kings and will never carry the Lord’s blessing.

From Hamburger Hill to Calvary

From Hamburger Hill to Calvary

The Battle of Hamburger Hill was a battle of the Vietnam War that was fought by the United States and South Vietnam against North Vietnamese forces from May 10–20, 1969. Although the heavily fortified Hill 937 was of little strategic value, U.S. command ordered its capture by a frontal assault. The hill was finally taken at the cost of 72 Americans killed and 372 wounded. Losses on the North Vietnamese side are estimated at more than 630 dead.

What makes this battle so significant is that the hill was of little strategic value, which was proven by the fact that it was abandoned by the US forces two weeks later. But more significant is the fact that the fall-out from this battle back home forced the Nixon administration to order the end of major tactical ground operations in Vietnam. So in a sense the hill and the battle were won while at the same time losing the war!

In the same way, we as Christians individually and collectively in our local churches, sometimes engage in spiritual battles that are of little strategic (over-all) importance. In the process we expend enormous amounts of time and energy and incur severe losses of all kinds for hollow victories that make no difference in the light of eternity. We may even win a particular battle and yet, lose the war. One example of this could be winning an argument with someone who differs from us yet, losing the person for the Lord. We become so fixated at winning the argument, that we forget that our objective is not to win the argument, but to win the soul. We easily forget that Jesus did not die for arguments, but for souls.

The Pharisees were very good at the minutia of the Law and would win those battles every time, yet they lost sight of the more important things like “justice, mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23).  Indeed they could win every doctrinal and theological battle, but lost their own souls and those of their followers. Allow me some liberty as I apply Matthew 16:26: “What is a man profited if he gain all doctrine and theology and lose his own soul?”

Doctrine and theology are important. There are times when we must stand for truth and defend it vigorously, even at the cost of our very lives. But to try and correct the fool who does not want to know truth is a waste of time (Proverbs 23:9). Paul warns about endless arguments over words (1Timothy 6:4). To tweak the theology or behavior of an unbeliever is pointless, unless he comes to Christ first. And to correct someone who is wise in his own eyes is futile (Proverbs 26:12).

It is vital that we choose our battles, or put in another way, choose which hill we are willing to die on. Dying for something that in the end is not important is a waste of a life. If one is going to give one’s life for something, surely one needs to make sure that it is for the right reasons and the right cause. And if you are going to expend resources, surely you should make sure that they are being spent in the best way possible. Jesus said: “do not… cast your pearls before swine…” (Matthew 7:6).

Daily the enemy of the church wins victories as we are drawn into divisions and strife over non-essentials, while not engaging the serious issues in our own lives and our churches. Jesus called it swallowing camels while straining out gnats (Matthew 23:23-24). We will argue and divide over doctrinal nuances with such venom and hatred. That shows that our focus on doctrinal niceties is simply a cover for the real issue – our carnality (1Corinthians 3:3). It is frankly no good winning every doctrinal argument, even if you are right, but in the process your spirit is more that of the devil than that of Christ. You are fighting the wrong battles – the real battle is within your own soul!

Yet we are amazingly inept at seeing the forest for the trees, and choosing the right battles. As we fight the wrong battles, we not only waste time and resources, and possibly our lives, but we are distracted from the real issues. This is one of the oldest tactics in war. Even in the sword fight the attacker will lunge at a part of the opponent’s body to draw his attention away from where the fatal blow will strike. Leading up to the Normandy landings on D-Day, the Allies staged a number of elaborate diversions to draw Hitler’s forces away from where the actual landing would take place.

Daily we are deceived by the enemy’s diversionary tactics to get us to focus on something other than the main and strategic goals. As in war, we need to ask the question all the time: Does this contribute to the over-all plan of God for my life and ministry, or is it a diversion and distraction? Many times the diversion looks important, but it is not – it is all part of the devil’s strategy. One diversion I frequently fall for is entering a debate with someone who is not really interested in the truth, but simply wants to argue. These debates consume a lot of time and energy and seem to be important as we feel we are “defending the faith”. But we must ask the question whether the other person is really interested in the truth or is simply being used by the enemy to distract us from the real task at hand. (And yes, the devil frequently uses other Christians in this way.) It is not easy to know the difference, but we must get better at not tilting at windmills[1] if we are going to win gloriously in the end. The fact is that every skirmish and every maneuver takes resources from the main front which plays into the hands of the enemy.

I vex my soul daily over Christian leaders who choose the hill of Calvinism, or Arminianism, or some view on the Rapture, or a specific Bible translation, or any of a thousand other issues, as the hill on which they make their stand. For many it becomes their last stand where they, like Custer and his brave men, eventually die in defeat.

It is absolutely vital therefore that we have a clear view of what the objectives are and having those in mind, we gear our lives and our churches towards those objectives and those alone. So what are our objectives? I thought much about this because it is crucial that we get this right otherwise we will be fighting the wrong battles and taking the wrong hills, only to abandon them again for the next unimportant one. Here is my understanding of the objectives of the church:

  1. To seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).
  2. Keep those that have been entrusted to us (John 17:11,12).
  3. To bring believers to maturity into the image of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-16)[2].

It is essential therefore that each of us determine whether every endeavor, every project, every dollar spent, and every hour consumed works towards those objectives lest we find ourselves attacking or defending hills that make no contribution towards ultimate victory, but rather could cost us the war.

Throughout the life of the Lord Jesus, the devil sought to divert and distract Him from His goal – Calvary. The temptations in the wilderness, the adulation of the crowds, the good intentions of His disciples, the opposition of the religious community, and even the great needs around Him, all worked to divert Him from His objective.

In Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30), the mob thrust Him out onto the hill in order to throw Him off and kill Him. But Jesus understood that this was not the hill on which He would shed His blood and that dying here would play into the hands of the enemy whose strategy was to prevent Him from reaching the objective. Jesus recognized that the objective was for Him to die an atoning death on the hill called Calvary and not to die a martyr’s death at the wrong time on the wrong hill. He therefore quietly excused Himself and disappeared. It seems that our perverted sense of chauvinism forces us to never “run away” but always to stand and to fight. Yet Jesus knew when to fight and when to just walk away. Oh, that we might learn such discretion and wisdom!

It is with the ultimate, strategic goal in mind that He set His face as flint towards Jerusalem (Isaiah 50:7; Luke 9:51) knowing that for this cause He was born and for this cause He had come into the world (John 18:37). He was not distracted or diverted for one moment. His entire life, every decision, every action, and every reaction was focused on the one objective – the cross.

At the judgment the question will not be how many battle scars you have or how many hills you defended or won. There will be only one question: Did you do His will? His will is absolutely in line with His objectives of saving, keeping and conforming.

May it be said of us, as of Him:

Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me.  In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come– In the volume of the book it is written of Me– To do Your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:5-7).

[1] Tilting at windmills comes from Cervantes’ Don Quixote in which Don Quixote wanted to attack a group of “giants” until his loyal servant Sancho Panza pointed out that they were not giants but windmills.

[2] These are summed up in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19,20.