Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #4 – Church Polity)

scripture-alone

This piece can honestly be viewed separately from the larger series on the sufficiency of the Scriptures as the sole, infallible authority for Christian faith and life. Here, I’ll briefly expound on the historical Baptist distinctive of the New Testament as the sole, infallible authority for church polity.

What in the world is “church polity!”, you ask? It basically means  “how you do church.” The way you conduct services, make rules, choose Pastors, discipline current members, accept new members and determine what Christian ordinances are (among other things) is called “polity.”  Baptists have historically believed the New Testament is the “manual” for church polity.

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The New Testament is the progressive fulfillment of the Old. It introduced an entirely new arrangement for God’s rule over the earth, and corresponding new responsibilities for man.[1] If God has introduced a new arrangement and revelation for mankind, as He has done in the past (Heb 1:1), then it is clear man’s authority for proper worship during this period is that new revelation.

Man’s responsibility in any dispensation is to worship God in the way He commands by (1) an authentic, heartfelt response which takes (2) the appropriate form. The genuine response of the believer has always been an unchanging requirement. Rolland McCune observed; “faith in God’s revelation was required not only for redemption from sin but also for fulfilling one’s dispensational obligations,” (Gen 15:6).[2] The form of that response, however, has changed throughout human history as God periodically alters the method of His rule and gives new revelation. That form of response changed with the ministry of Christ; therefore the Baptist position is that the New Testament is the sole, infallible authority governing church matters.

From this basic principle, every other Baptist distinctive flows.[3] It is precisely because the New Testament alone is the sole authority for church matters that Baptists have traditionally held to the following doctrines:

Regenerated and immersed church membership. The Old Testament knows nothing of regenerated membership, for Israelites were born into the covenant family, but “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,” (Rom 9:6b). Likewise, the concept of believer’s baptism after confession of sin in the manner of John (Mt 3:6) was foreign to OT.[4]

Autonomy of the local church. The church itself was a mystery to the OT, a new entity revealed by Christ (Gal 1:12; Eph 3:1-13). The very concept of an autonomous local assembly (“church”) worshipping Jesus Christ as Messiah is blasphemous in an OT context of corporate worship; hence the persecutions the early Christians suffered at the hands of the Jews as a “sect.”

Priesthood of the believer. Christ is our High Priest, who intercedes for us (Heb 9:24). We have direct access to God the Father through Christ our mediator (1 Tim 2:5) and advocate (1 Jn 2:1). Christ’s role is only foreshadowed in the OT; the office of the Levite priestly function was “symbolic for the present age,” (Heb 9:9).

Soul liberty. As a member of a local, autonomous church body, man is responsible and accountable to God alone for his faith and practice (Rom 14:5, 12). “When a Baptist shall rob one man of soul-liberty, by statute, penalty and sword, he will cease to be a Baptist for that reason.[5]

Immersion and the Lord’s Supper. These two ordinances of the New Testament local church are utterly unknown to the Hebrew Scriptures.

Separation. The concept of being set-apart and separate for the Lord in accordance with divine revelation is not a new one (Lev 18:24-19:2). The New Testament, however, has new revelation and doctrine for this present age which was unknown to the prophets of old. Biblical separation, in this or any dispensation, is grounded on the foundation of the holiness of God (1 Pet 1:15-16).

Baptists have always held the Scriptures to be the sole authority for Christian faith and life. They have implicitly held the New Testament alone to be the source for church polity, although historically this has apparently not been a distinction worth making.

John Smythe, who founded what is generally considered to be the first General Baptist church in history in 1609,[6] wrote merely that,

the Scriptures of the old Testament are commanded to the Church, as also the Scriptures of the new Testament . . . the Holy Scriptures are the fountayne of all truth . . . they are the ground and foundation of our faith . . . by them all doctrynes & every Spiritt is to be judged.[7]

The 1689 London Baptist Confession observes, “the Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving Knowledge, Faith and Obedience.”[8] The 1833 New Hampshire Baptist Confession speaks of only the “Holy Scriptures” as a whole.[9] The 1834 Confession of Free-Will Baptists speaks of both the Old and New Testaments, and asserts, “they are a sufficient and infallible guide in religious faith and practice.[10]

A number of 19th century Baptists made the explicit claim that the New Testament alone is the source for church government:

The fact that Baptist churches alone consistently adhere to the New Testament as an absolute and complete guide, in matters of practice as well as in matters of doctrine, is freely and heartily admitted by many of the ablest defenders of other systems.[11]

Baptists differ fundamentally from Pedobaptists in practically adhering to the New Testament as the sufficient, the exclusive, and the absolute rule of faith and practice. The soul of Baptist churches is submission and conformity to the New Testament.[12]

The reasons behind this explicit stand are unclear, but a covenantal hermeneutic appeared drive at least one 19th century Baptist to this position. Francis Weyland wrote that he “believes the New Testament to be the standard by which the precepts and teachings of the former revelation are to be judged, and that, thus, it is our only rule of faith and practice.[13]

More recently, Richard Weeks elevated the explicit use of the New Testament alone for church polity to a Baptist distinctive in his own writings.[14] Several fundamental Baptist contemporaries from the latter half of the 20th century did not make this hard and fast distinction and continued to speak generically of “the Scriptures” to govern church polity.[15]

Weeks’ formulation of the New Testament as the explicit, sole rule of faith and practice in church polity was correct and unusually precise, much more so than the numerous creeds and confessions which had come before. It accords perfectly well with Thomas Armitage’s statement:

This fact is perfectly clear, namely: That the New Testament contains all that entered into the faith and practice of the Apostolic Churches. Whether it contains little or much, it covers all that they had, and all that we have, which has any claim on the Churches of Christ. It is the only revealed record of Christian truth. [16]


[1] Renald Showers’ definition of a “dispensation” is particularly appropriate here: “A dispensation is a particular way God administers His rule over the world as He progressively works out His purpose for world history.” Renald Showers, There Really is a Difference! (Bellmayr, NJ: Friends of Israel, 1990), 30.

[2] Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, 3 vols. (Detroit: MI, DBTS, 2009), 1:125.

[3] William B. Johnson, “The Gospel Developed,” in Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life, ed. Mark Dever (Washington, D.C.: Center for Church Reform, 2011), 168.  Johnson, writing in 1846, clearly laid out the Baptist distinctive in his article:

“The denomination to which I have the honor to belong, holds the true fundamental principles of the gospel of Christ. These are, the sovereignty of God in the provision and application of the plan of salvation, the supreme authority of the scriptures, the right of each individual to judge for himself in his views of truth as taught in the scriptures, the independent, democratical, Christocratic form of church government, the profession of religion by conscious subjects only, and the other principles of scripture truth growing out of these or intimately connected with them.”

[4] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1992), 56. “The Jews employed baptism in admitting Gentiles as proselytes, but the sting in John’s practice was that he applied it to Jews!”

[5] Thomas Armitage, Baptist Faith and Practice (Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1890), 37.

[6] Leon MacBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1990), 13.

[7] Ibid, 17.

[8] CCEL.org. The 1677/89 London Baptist Confession of Faith. http://www.ccel.org/creeds/bcf/bcf.htm.

[9] Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes, Volume III: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 742.

[10] Ibid, 749.

[11] Albert H. Newman, “Baptist Churches Apostolical,” Baptist Doctrines, ed. C.A. Jenkens (Watertown, WI: Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1890), 236–237.

[12] Thomas Pritchard, “The Difference Between a Baptist Church and All Other Churches,” Baptist Doctrines, ed. C.A. Jenkens (Watertown, WI: Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1890), 309.

[13] Francis Wayland, Notes on the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches (Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1857), 92.

[14] David Saxon, “Maranatha is Baptist,” Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal MBTJ 01:1 (Spring 2011), 20-21.

[15] For example, see Monroe Parker, “Baptists and Evangelism,” Central Bible Quarterly CENQ 04:3 (Fall 1961), 43: “in all matters true Baptists point to the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice.” See also Warren Vanhetloo, “Convicted Conservative Baptist Beliefs,” Central Bible Quarterly CENQ 04:1 (Spring 1961), 25: He lists the Baptist distinctives and states Baptists believe “in the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice.”

[16] Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists (Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1886), 117.

Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #3b)

10reasons

This is Part #3b on my series about the absolute sufficiency of the Scriptures as the sole, infallible authority for Christian faith and life. Part #1 set the stage. Parts #2a and #2b examined what several books in the New Testament had to say on the subject. Part #3a, along with this post, examine several critical passages which teach the doctrine of sola scriptura.

2 Peter 1:16-21

In this passage, Peter shows great concern that Christians “confirm their calling and election,” (2 Pet 1:10). He listed several traits (2 Pet 1:5-7) which should be the practical outworking of a fruitful life in Christ (2 Pet 1:8). Peter endeavored to constantly remind Christians of these points (2 Pet 1:12-15), and then set out to demonstrate the validity of the truth he preached.

Peter made it very clear that he and the other apostles “did not follow cleverly devised myths” when they preached of the second coming of Christ, and reminded his readers he was an eyewitness of His majesty! (2 Pet 1:16). Once again, deviation from a concrete, propositional truth is a negative thing to the NT evangelists. Peter is stressing the legitimacy of the doctrine he preached, and he did so by affirming that it was truthful and in accordance with actual events. Peter recounted what he saw on the Mount of Transfiguration, when he saw the glorified Christ and heard the voice of God the Father issuing His seal of approval on His Son’s ministry. His Second Coming will happen. Peter assures his audience he knows this to be true because he witnessed God’s approval on His Son (2 Pet 1:18).

Implicitly, then, the whole of the Gospel message is also true and correct. Peter makes this very connection when he remarks, “and we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed,” (2 Pet 1:19a). Peter’s eyewitness testimony confirms the validity, accuracy and above all the sufficiency of the OT Scriptures – the transfiguration confirms the eventual fulfillment of the prophesies.[1] Peter uses the authority of the OT Scriptures alone to confirm the new mystery of the church age and the Gospel of Christ. This is progressive revelation once again; the new revelation in perfect accord with the old.

Meanwhile, as Christians wait for that blessed day (Titus 2:13), Peter calls his readers back to the sacred Scriptures, encompassing both the Hebrew Scriptures and the new revelation of the apostles. He tells them to “pay attention” to them, “as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts,” (2 Pet 1:19b). “As a light, God’s word has validity and authority.”[2]

It is significant that Peter directs his readers only to God’s unshakable word for comfort and guidance in Christian life. Calvin remarked,

His object only was to teach us that the whole course of our life ought to be guided by God’s word; for otherwise we must be involved on every side in the darkness of ignorance; and the Lord does not shine on us, except when we take his word as our light.[3]

Peter continued onward and emphasized the source of Scripture; “no prophesy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation,” (2 Pet 1:20). Again, it is not a cunningly devised fable. It is divinely inspired. It is propositional truth. No true prophesy “was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Pet 1:21). “To bear” or “to guide” translates the Greek word phero.[4] As Scripture authors penned their works, they were impelled, borne along and guided by the Spirit. “The metaphor here is of Prophets raising their sails, the Holy Spirit filling them and carrying their craft along in the direction He wished.”[5] This, along with 2 Tim 3:16-17, is clear testimony to the divine nature, authority and absolute sufficiency of the Scriptures.

The next post will establish that the New Testament is the sole, infallible authority for church polity. It comes from a distinctly Baptist perspective because, well . . . I’m a Baptist! 


[1] Edwin A. Blum, 2 Peter, vol. 12, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 274.

[2] Roger M. Raymer, 2 Peter, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. J.F. Walvoord and R. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 868.

[3] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 388.

[4] The Lexham Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Logos Bible Software, 2011.

[5] King, Holy Scripture, 95.

Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #3a)

bible alone

This is part 3a of my series on the sufficiency of the Scriptures as the sole infallible authority for Christian faith and life. Part #1 set the stage. Part #2a and #2b examined what several New Testament books had to say on the matter. This post and the next will take a look at several critical passages in the New Testament on the subject.

Mark 7:1-13

Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem have come down to see Jesus once more (Mk 7:1; see also Mk 3:22-30). It is doubtful they were merely curious about Christ; they likely came specifically to investigate and condemn Him. “The scribes and Pharisees, who had come from Jerusalem, were doubtless sent as spies, to watch and to report in no friendly spirit the proceedings of the great Prophet of Nazareth.”[1]

They soon find something to take issue with; “they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed,” (Mk 7:2). The Pharisees had developed the custom of ritualistic washing before meals, along with many other inventions (Mk 7:3-4). Mark takes pains to mark these customs as the “tradition of the elders.” In their zeal to preserve their Jewishness in a distinctly un-Jewish world, [2] the Pharisees had elevated ritualistic tradition to the same level as the OT law. [3] Edwards remarks that “by Jesus’ day, adherence to the unwritten oral tradition was as important for the Pharisees as was adherence to the Torah itself.”[4]

Here Christ issues His decree on the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Would He approve of the elevation of human tradition? The accusation from the Pharisees is not long in coming; “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (Mk 7:5). Christ does not mince words; he calls them hypocrites and draws from a prophesy of Isaiah to accuse them of false worship!

Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men,’ (Mk 7:6b-7).

Our Savior follows up this frank condemnation with a summary statement; “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men,” (Mk 7:8). What follows is a sad and despicable example of how the custom of Corban had been twisted and turned into a prohibition from honoring one’s parents (Mk 7:9-13). Jesus’ concluding remark on the matter is particularly damning; “thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do,” (Mk 7:13).

The word is God is made void by man-made traditions. Scripture is indeed sufficient, and Christ upheld them as the sole authority for faith and life. As David King observed, “if, in their day [Christ and the apostles], there existed alongside Scripture, a legitimate God-given, objective standard of authority such as extra-biblical revelation, it has failed to surface.”[5]

2 Timothy 3:10-17

Paul wrote to his young disciple, Timothy, encouraging him to persevere in the midst of trials and hardships. Paul related that, though false teachers will come and persecute the brethren, “they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all,” (2 Tim 3:9). Paul reminds Timothy that he is very aware of how Paul has suffered for Christ’s sake during the course of his ministry (2 Tim 3:10-11).

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived,” (2 Tim 3:12-13).

Now, Paul turns to practical application for his apprentice. In the midst of this admittedly dark letter, after reminding Timothy of own trials and tribulations, Paul observes that anybody (including young Timothy) who seeks to live for God will face troubles. What practical advice will Paul give Timothy?

He tells Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it,” (2 Tim 3:14). Timothy was schooled in the Scriptures from his grandmother and mother (2 Tim 1:5). He was also instructed at length by Paul (2 Tim 1:13-14) in the Christian faith, which augmented his Jewish upbringing. Paul likewise also instructed Titus in the same manner (Tit 1:9). Therefore, when Paul reminds Timothy to “continue in what you have learned,” he was speaking of his childhood and young adult instruction in the faith.[6] This is a progressive revelation; a devout Jewish upbringing rounded out by instruction from Paul concerning new revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:12; Eph 3:1-13).

Paul continues, and reminds Timothy that he has been acquainted with the “sacred writings” since childhood, which make one wise for salvation through faith in Christ (2 Tim 3:15). These “sacred writings” are the Hebrew Scriptures,[7] but the remark about these Scriptures leading to explicit faith in Christ demonstrate that Paul also had the gospel message in view here as a complete revelation.[8] Thus the complete, divine revelation of the Hebrew Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ are “sacred.” This accords very well with Paul’s command for those who preach another Gospel to be “accursed” (Gal 1:8-9). Scripture contains absolute, propositional truth which is sacred. Paul commends these Scriptures to Timothy as an anchor in turbulent times.

The Holy Spirit guided Paul to choose his words very deliberately. “All Scripture is breathed out by God,” (2 Tim 3:16). The original Greek of theopneustos means “divinely inspired.”[9] This simple passage describes not only the nature of the inspiration of Scripture, but its source.[10]

The context of Paul’s statement (2 Tim 3:14-15) clearly include more than simply the OT Scriptures.[11] “Since the early church viewed the words of Jesus as fully authoritative, it would not have been a large step for Christians to accept the writings of His apostles as equally authoritative with the OT.”[12] Precisely because the Scriptures are divinely inspired, it is profitable to make the man of God complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). What more authority can Scripture ever claim, but that it was literally inspired by God Himself?

The next post will continue our look at some important New Testament passages on the sufficiency of the Scriptures.


[1] H. D. M. Spence-Jones, gen ed., The Pulpit Commentary, 23 vols. (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909). St. Mark Vol. I, 291. See also John D. Grassmick, “Mark,”  vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 132. Grassmick is more charitable and merely stated they came to “investigate” Jesus.

[2] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2002), 205. “Rituals concerning cleanness and uncleanness reflect rabbinic developments more than actual Torah prescriptions . . . As Judaism’s encounter with Gentile culture increased in the post-exilic period, however, the question of ritual cleanliness took on new significance as a way of maintaining Jewish purity over against Gentile culture.”

[3] Grassmick, “Mark,” 132-133. “These interpretations, designed to regulate every aspect of Jewish life, were considered as binding as the written Law and were passed on to each generation by faithful Law teachers (scribes).”

[4] Edwards, Mark, 208. See also Emil Shurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ, 5 vols. (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 2012), 1:2.

“The predominance of Pharisaism is that which most distinctly characterized this period. The legalistic tendency inaugurated by Ezra had now assumed dimensions far beyond anything contemplated by its originator. No longer did it suffice to insist on obedience to the commandments of the Scripture Thora. These divine precepts were broken down into an innumerable series of minute and vexatious particulars, the observance of which was enforced as a sacred duty, and even made a condition of salvation. And this exaggeration even made a condition of salvation. And this exaggerated legalism had obtained such an absolute ascendency over the minds of the people, that all other tendencies were put entirely in the background.”

[5] King, Holy Scripture, 42.

[6] William Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, vol. 46, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Bruce Metzger (Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson, 2000), 562-563.

[7] Thomas D. Lea, 1, 2 Timothy, vol. 34, The New American Commentary, ed. David Dockery (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1992), 234.

[8] Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 563-564. “It seems doubtful that Paul would say that the OT by itself could instruct Timothy in a salvation that was by faith in Christ Jesus; this would be anachronistic. . . It may be concluded that the expression ‘sacred writings’ is drawn solely from the vocabulary describing the Hebrew Scripture, but since Paul is thinking about the culmination of the scriptural hope realized through faith in Christ Jesus, he chooses the anarthrous plural construction to develop his argument in the direction of joining the Hebrew Scripture and the gospel.” Emphasis mine.

[9] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). (Oak Harbor: WA, Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[10] Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 566.

[11] Ibid, 567-568.

[12] Ibid, 568.

Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #2b)

sola_scriptura

Part 2b on my series on the sufficiency of the Scripture as the sole, infallible authority for Christian faith and life. Part #1 was an introduction to set the stage. Part #2a was the first part of what different books of the New Testament have to say on the matter.

Romans

Paul grounded the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the authority of the OT Scriptures. He tied the Gospel to that which God “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,” (Rom 1:2). The Book of Romans is literally saturated with references to OT Scriptures to make theological points,[1] far more so than a brief biblical theology here can hope to demonstrate. Once again, Paul does not base his arguments on philosophy or tradition – he bases them on Scripture.

It is not the hearers of the law who are justified, but the doers (Rom 2:12-29). None are righteous (Rom 3:9-18); “there is no fear of God before their eyes,” (Rom 3:18). Knowledge of the OT law brings about conviction and knowledge of sin (Rom 3:19-20; 4:15; 7:7-25). The Law and Prophets bore witness to Christ (Rom 3:21-22). Abraham was justified by faith (Rom 4). We are dead in Adam but alive in Christ (Rom 5:12-21). God’s sovereignty in election is grounded in His corporate election of Israel and the individual, single election of individuals (Rom 9).

Israel refuses to respond to the present provision of salvation through Jesus Christ (Rom 10), and Paul bolstered his argument by citing examples of Israel’s previous rebellion (Rom 10:18-21). Gentiles have been grafted into the promises given to Abraham (Rom 11), “so as to make Israel jealous,” (Rom 11:11). Her rejection is not final and her restoration is assured. Paul’s appeal for Christians to present themselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1) is rooted in the OT concept of a sacrifice to God. Christ came to the Jews in the form of a servant “in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,” (Rom 15:8-9).

Paul presents the new doctrine he received from Christ (Gal 1:12) as explicitly progressive revelation. This gospel and preaching of Jesus Christ, in complete accord with all which has come before it, is a “revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages, but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God,” (Rom 16:25-26).

1 Peter

Peter writes his epistle to Jewish Christians (1 Pet 1:1 – “elect exiles of the Dispersion”), demonstrating a clear connection in his mind between the OT and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He stated that Christ fulfilled the OT prophesies.[2]

The prophets prophesized about the grace of God in salvation in Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:10). These OT prophets sought to discern when the prophesy of Christ’s sufferings and subsequent glories would come to pass (1 Pet 1:11). It was revealed to these great men, presumably through the Spirit, that these prophesies were intended for a future time. Peter identified that time period as “now,” or the dispensation of grace in the church age.[3] The OT prophesies take on clearer, concrete and unmistakable meaning in light of the progressive revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:12).

It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (1 Pet 1:12).

The context of 1 Pet 1 is that his readers could rejoice in their sufferings even though they could not see exactly how or when their present trials would end. Just as the OT prophets had limited understanding of their own prophesies, they trusted God to sovereignty work out all things according to good (Rom 8:28). God’s answer to Habakkuk’s plea for understanding of God’s ways was to live by faith (Hab 2:4). In the midst of suffering (1 Pet 1:6), it is very significant that Peter points his readers to Scriptures as the source of assurance. Several conclusions can be drawn:

  1. God has spoken propositionally to His people in a concrete fashion.
  2. Peter points to the Scriptures as the sole source of God’s revelation to men. He bases his subsequent call to be holy in a decidedly unholy world (1 Pet 1:13 – “therefore”) on the assurance of salvation and glorification in Christ, which was prophesied of in the OT and disclosed more completely by Peter and the other apostles.

Peter quotes the OT to make theological points, underscoring the authority of the OT.[4] He quoted from Isaiah 40:6, 8 (1 Pet 1:24-25) and stated “the word of the Lord remains forever.” He concluded by noting “and this word is the good news that was preached to you,” (1 Pet 1:25b). Peter describes the role of the Christian in terms of Israel’s covenant responsibility similar to Ex 19:5-6 (1 Pet 2:9).

James

James also writes his epistle to Jewish Christians (Jas 1:1). His theology is steeped in the OT Scriptures. Without his unwavering reliance upon them as an infallible revelation from God, James could not have written his epistle. His theology of God’s character is one of holiness (Jas 1:13), and perfectly in tune with the OT description of His character (Lev 11:45, 19:2; Ps 99:9).

Pure religion, or piety,[5] consists of proper conduct and character. James’ example of proper religious conduct is to “visit orphans and widows in their afflictions,” (Jas 1:27), an admonition which is soaked in the context of the OT law regarding social justice (Ex 22:22; Deut 14:29). His exhortation to proper character is to “keep oneself unstained from the world,” (Jas 1:27), which likewise has its roots in the OT command for Israelites to remain separate and uncontaminated by the pagans round about them (Lev 18:24-19:2).

James’ overarching point is to contrast mere ritualistic observances with actual reverence for God; to illustrate what “religion that is pure and undefiled before God” (Jas 1:27) really is. It is merely a stepping stone from here to a contrast between mere outward circumcision and a true circumcision of the heart (Deut 10:12-16).

James quoted repeatedly from Scripture to condemn the sin of partiality (Jas 2:8, 11). James used the example of both Abraham and Rahab to make the point that faith without works is dead (Jas 2:14-26). He quoted Proverbs 3:34 to emphasize the need for humility and separation from worldliness (Jas 4:1-6). He pointed to the example of Job and exhorts his readers to have patience in the midst of suffering and trials (Jas 5:10-11). James cited the fervent prayers of Elijah as he exhorted his readers to pray diligently for one another (Jas 5:16-18).

Jude

Like his brother James, Jude’s theology simply would not exist without the OT Scriptures. Jude wrote of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,” (v. 3). This faith Jude spoke of was the body of truth taught by the apostles.[6] This underscores the progressive nature of God’s revelation, and is perfectly harmonious with Peter’s (1 Pet 1:10-12), Paul’s (Eph 3:1-13) and the writer to the Hebrew’s (Heb 1:1) comments in their own epistles on this point.

Jude noted the presence of false teachers who “long ago were designated for this condemnation” (v. 4). This refers to previously written prophesies regarding the doom of apostates (e.g. Isa 8:19-22; Jer 5:13-14).[7]

Jude notes God’s righteous pattern of punishing those who apostatize from the true faith, such unbelieving Israelites, angels and the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities (v. 5-7). These “serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire,” (v. 7). Jude then moves to his present day and condemns contemporary false teachers of these very sins! (v. 8). He mentions the archangel Michael, compares the false teacher’s way to that of Cain and Balaam, and compares their eventual end to that of Korah (v. 11). Jude also accurately puts Enoch as the “seventh from Adam,” (v. 14).[8]

The next post will be a discussion of several critical passages that focus on the sufficiency and authority of the Scriptures for the Christian life.


[1] Rom (3:4, 10-18); (4:7-8, 17); (8:36); (9:25-29, 33); (10:5, 18-21); (11:8-10); (12:19); (13:8-9); (14:11); (15:3, 9-12); (16:21).

[2] 1 Peter (1:10-12); (2:6-8).

[3] See also 1 Pet 1:20 – “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you.”

[4] 1 Peter (1:16, 24-25); (2:9); (3:5-6, 10-12); (4:18).

[5] William D. Mounce, Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 2006), 1170.  Θρησκεια, or “religion,” may better be termed “piety.”

[6] Edward C. Pentecost, “Jude,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 919.

[7] Edwin Blum, Jude, vol. 12, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 389.

[8] See 1 Chr 1:1-3

Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #2a)

sola scriptura

This is the second of a multi-part series on the sufficiency of the Scriptures as the sole, infallible authority for Christian faith and life. Part #1 laid the groundwork and gave some brief summary statements. This and the next post will present a brief look at several books of the New Testament and what they have to say about the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures. 

Biblical Theology

There is not sufficient space to devote to a Biblical Theology of the entire New Testament. Selected books will be covered which represent a broad spectrum of New Testament documents and authors.[1]

Matthew

The genealogy implicitly recognizes the authority of the OT to prove Christ’s deity (Mt 1:1-17). Matthew is also very careful to point out fulfilled prophesy.[2] The chief priests and the scribes whom Herod consulted also appealed to the Scriptures (Mt 2:4-6). Herod later gave the Scriptures their due authority in his attempt to destroy the Christ child (Mt 2:16). John the Baptist also gave due weight to OT prophesy in his query about Jesus (Mt 11:2-3). John based his condemnation of Herod’s marriage to his half-brother’s wife on OT law (Mt 14:4b).

Christ quoted Scripture alone to refute Satan’s devices during His temptation in the wilderness.[3] He did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them (Mt 5:17). Jesus had implicit respect for the OT, quoted it frequently[4] and affirmed that all the OT will be accomplished (Mt 5:18; 13:17; 26:53-54, 56). Christ instructed a leper He healed to present himself to the priest in accordance with OT law (Mt 8:4). Christ upheld the OT divorce laws (Mt 19:1-12). He also instructed the rich young ruler to keep all the commandments (Mt 19:16-22).

Christ’s ministry was interpreted by contemporary believers within the context of the OT.[5] They knew of no other source of legitimate authority. Peter, for example, related that some people believed Christ was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or another OT prophet (Mt 16:13-14). It is clear the people were searching the OT for the proper interpretative context about Jesus. The demons themselves certainly interpreted Christ in this fashion! (Mk 5:1-13).

During the Sermon on the Mount, Christ applied OT law to everyday life in the areas of anger (Mt 5:21-26), lust (Mt 5:27-30), divorce (Mt 5:31-32), uttering oaths (Mt 5:33-37), retaliation (38-42), love for your enemies (Mt 5:43-48) and social justice (Mt 7:12). Christ appealed to the OT to rebuke the Pharisees’ erroneous views of the Sabbath (Mt 12:3-8) and to Jonah to illustrate the three days between His death and resurrection (Mt 12:40).

Though not in the Gospel of Matthew, the clear testimony of Christ on the road to Emmaus cannot be neglected. Two dejected disciples were traveling home, their hope in Christ lost. Jesus, in a disguised state, asks what troubles them. The disciples, astonished, relate the details of Christ’s ministry. They admit they are perplexed and confused by the empty tomb, and lament they “had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21a). Christ’s response underscores the authority, validity and sufficiency of the Scriptures. Moreover, He chastened His disciples for not searching the Scriptures more diligently. Their answers were there!

And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Lk 24:25-27).

Christ proved Himself from the Scriptures. There is nothing done by Christ which contradicts prophesy which had come beforehand. He emphasizes this point to His disciples shortly thereafter; “these are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled,” (Lk 24:44).

Acts

Luke also appealed to fulfilled prophesy,[6] most significantly the fact of Christ’s crucifixion (Acts 3:18) as part of God’s larger plan for restoration of His creation (Acts 3:21).

It is significant that Christ’s apostles looked to the OT Scripture as the interpretative key for present-day events (Acts 2:30-31; 7:1-51). They continued to rely on the OT as they experienced miraculous visions (Acts 10:9-16), deliverance from prison (Acts 12:6-19) and preached to Jews that Christ was the promised Messiah (Acts 13:13-52).

Peter tied Christ definitively to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, calling Jesus God’s “servant” (Acts 3:13), the “Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14) and the “Author of life” (Acts 3:15). He based his initial objection to eating unclean foods on Jewish dietary laws from the OT (Acts 10:14).

The Jerusalem Council was called due to disagreement over whether Gentile converts had to be circumcised (Acts 15:1-2). This is an explicit statement about the authority the Hebrew Scriptures had to the early Christians.

Paul’s “reasoned” with Jews from the Scriptures in Thessalonica (and in Athens – 17:17), “explaining and proving” Christ from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2-3). Paul did not base his theology only on the new revelation he received from Christ (Gal 1:12); he argued that Christ fulfilled the OT prophesies from the Scriptures. This is very clear in Paul’s sermon on Mar’s Hill, a masterful exposition and synthesis of doctrine (Acts 17:22-34)

Devout Jews in Berea examined “the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so,” (Acts 17:11) as Paul preached Christ in the community. Paul expressed regret for unknowingly speaking harshly to the high priest in Jerusalem (Acts 23:4-5) in violation of OT law. Stephen’s opponents used the benchmark of the OT to condemn Stephen to be stoned for blasphemy – “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God,” (Acts 6:11). They did likewise to Paul (Acts 18:13), “this man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.”[7]

In Caesarea, Tertullus accused of Paul of profaning the temple by His doctrine at a hearing before Felix (Acts 24:5-7). In his own defense, Paul firmly anchored his doctrine on the OT Scriptures (Acts 24:14-15).[8] The Ethiopian eunuch was convicted in his heart by a reading of Isa 53:7 (Acts 8:26-40).

Apollos’ credential to preach the Gospel was that he was “competent in the Scriptures,” (Acts 18:24b). After the way of God had been explained more accurately to him (Acts 18:26), Luke spoke glowingly of how Apollos “powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus,” (Acts 18:28).


[1] For sake of space, Hebrews and the writings of John are not covered. Likewise, space did not allow for an examination of all four Gospels. Matthew therefore stands here as broadly representative of the four.

[2] Mt (1:22-23); (2:14-15, 17, 23); (3:3); (4:14-16); (8:17); (11:10, 13-14); (12:17-21); (13:14-15, 35); (15:7-9); (21:4-5); (27:9-10).

[3] Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13; Lk 4:1-13.

[4] Mt (21:13, 16, 42); (22:32, 37-39, 43-47); (24:15, 37-39).

[5] Mt (16:13-14); (17:4, 10); (21:9-11); (22:34-40); (the reaction of the Sanhedrin – Mt 26:63-66).

[6] Acts (1:16, 20); (2:16-21, 25-28, 34-35); (3:17-26); (4:25-26); (7:42-43, 49-50); (13:33-35, 41, 47); (15:16-17 – this author believes James was merely arguing that Amos’ prophesy agrees with what was happening. He was not arguing Amos’ prophesy was being fulfilled); (28:26-27).

[7] See also Acts 21:20-22, 27-30.

[8] See also Paul’s defense of himself before Agrippa (Acts 26:4-8, 22-23) and among fellow Jews at Rome (Acts 28:17-24).

Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #1)

open-bible

A critical issue in our increasingly post-modern times is the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Both Roman Catholics with their sacred tradition and Charismatics with their emphasis on continuing revelation via the Holy Spirit give lip-service to the Holy Scriptures. However, to these groups, the Scriptures are not the sole authority for Christian faith and life. This is a significant dividing line, one with profound theological ramifications. Consider the results of a 1980 Gallup poll which sought to determine Christian’s opinions on religious authority. The question was, “If you, yourself, were testing your religious beliefs, which ONE of these four religious authorities would you turn to first?” The results are sobering, even more so when one acknowledges the statistics are 33 years old:[1]

table

The sufficiency of the Scriptures has fallen upon hard times. This series will examine what Scripture itself has to say on the matter. First, some brief statements from both orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics on the sufficiency of Scripture will be provided to set the stage, so to speak. Second, a biblical theology of books by several New Testament writers will be presented and their particular views on the sufficiency of Scripture analyzed in context. Third, an exposition will be presented on several critical passages relating to the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Fourth, the distinctly Baptist (and biblical) position of the New Testament being the sole authority for church polity is presented. Fifth, conclusions will be drawn. It will be demonstrated that the Scriptures alone are the only infallible authority for Christian faith and life.

Brief Statements

The objective principle of Protestantism maintains that the Bible, as the inspired record of revelation, is the only infallible rule of faith and practice.[2]

Scripture alone is the inerrant, infallible record of God’s revelation to mankind. But Scripture is more than the record of God’s revelation; it is itself the only infallible, inspired revelation from God that exists today. This is not to say that Scripture is equivalent to the sum total of all revelation that God has been pleased to disclose (Jn 20:30-31; 21:25). But it is to say that Scripture alone constitutes and conveys all that is necessary for God’s glory, man’s salvation, faith and life.[3]

The Reformers did recognize a Christian tradition, but only a Christian tradition based on, and derived from, Scripture, and not one that equaled or even surpassed it in authority.[4]

Roman Catholic theologians recognize two well-springs of divine authority; Scripture and Tradition.

Sacred tradition and sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal . . . Hence, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal feelings of devotion and reverence.[5]

James Cardinal Gibbons, a 19th century Catholic theologian, wrote:[6]

Now, the Scripture is the great depository of the Word of God. Therefore, the Church is the divinely appointed Custodian and Interpreter of the Bible. For, her office of infallible Guide were superfluous if each individual could interpret the Bible for himself.

The Catholic Church correctly teaches that our Lord and His Apostles included certain important duties of religion which are not recorded by the inspired writers (Jn 21:25) . . . We must conclude that the Scriptures alone cannot be a sufficient guide and rule of faith because they cannot, at any time, be within the reach of every inquirer; because they are not of themselves clear and intelligible even in matters of the highest importance, and because they do not contain all the truths necessary for salvation.

The next post will be a biblical theology of several books of the New Testament on the matter.


[1] Mike Willis, “The Unread Bible,” Truth Magazine, May 1, 1980, 291-292. http://www.truthmagazine.com/the-unread-bible.

[2] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 7 vols. (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 2011), 7:16.

[3] David T. King, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, 3 vols. (Battle Ground, WA: Christian Truth, 2001), 1:43.

[4] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, combined ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 169.

[5] Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Austin Flannery, O.P., general editor (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1980), 754-755. Quoted in King, Holy Scripture, 50.

[6] James C. Gibbons, The Faith of Our Fathers, ch. 2. http://www.cathcorn.org/foof/8.html

Nominal Christianity?

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The phenomena of “cultural Christianity” is not a new one. The label “carnal Christian” has been bandied about regularly in literature and in the blogosphere. Christians of every theological stripe know “carnal” or “cultural” Christians. Pick whichever label you like best, or even invent your own – you know these people. They claim repentance from sin and salvation through Christ alone. They come to church more or less regularly . . . sort of! They sit more or less attentively in the pews and may even tithe faithfully. They go through the motions. And yet . . . there is no discernable joy of Christ in their lives. There is no growth. To borrow a phrase from Paul Tripp (2008), there is a “gospel gap” in their lives. Their FaceBook pages abound with worldliness; perhaps you’ve even secretly hid them from your news feed! Their children walk and talk like everybody else. There is no concept of separation, holiness or imitation of God in their lives. They are indistinguishable from normal, everyday, unsaved “good people.”

These folks are legion. Some are undoubtedly saved, others are undoubtedly not. I’m not interested in debating that issue right now. What is significant is that too many Christians have little conception of who Christ is, what they were saved from and what their calling as Christians is. We’ll look at what Paul had to say on this very matter:

We Were Once Dead (Eph 2:1-3)

Christians sometimes seem to lose sense of both (1) what they were saved from and, (2) the grace of God in performing this marvelous work. We lose focus on the gift of salvation and our attentions turn inward, to temporal matters. Paul, writing to the faithful saints at Ephesus (Eph 2:1), emphasized the grace of God in salvation in very powerful, stark terms.

Christians were once dead in the trespasses and sins they walked in (Eph 2:1-2). This is a spiritual death, a sinful nature we all inherited from Adam (Rom 5:12). In this sinful state, there is absolutely nothing meritorious in us that God can find pleasure in or accept as grounds for salvation.

“Now in this dreadful disordered condition, are all of us brought into the world: for as the root is, such must the branches be. Accordingly we are told, “That Adam beget a son in his own likeness;” or, with the same corrupt nature which he himself had, after he had eaten the forbidden fruit. And experience as well as scripture proves, that we also are altogether born in sin and corruption; and therefore incapable, whilst in such a state, to hole communion with God. For as light cannot have communion with darkness, so God can have no communion with such polluted sons of Belial,” (Whitefield).

Paul went on to describe the nature of this spiritual death, observing that we followed the “course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” (Eph 2:2). We were completely different prior to salvation by Christ. We served a different master, as it were, and that master was Satan. We once lived as “sons of disobedience,” mimicking the ways of our former master.

“. . . carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind,” (Eph 2:3).

We were by nature the children of wrath (see also Jn 3:36). Paul paints a very frank picture of a Christian’s former state. “These verses picture the hopeless unbeliever as a part of the world system, controlled by Satan, indulging the flesh, and destined to experience God’s wrath,” (Constable, 2013, 28). This is what we were saved from and, moreover, it is what we deserve. God was not obligated to save anybody. He chose to.

We are transferred from the realm of Satan to the realm of God upon repentance of our sins and saving faith in Christ. We did belong to Satan but now belong to God. The chain which once bound us to sin has been broken!

Now We Are Alive! (Eph 2:4-9)

God is rich in mercy because of the “great love” He has for us. Even while we were yet dead in our trespasses and sins, He made us alive together with Christ (Eph 2:4-5). The initiative here is clearly with God, underscoring our complete inability to come to Him on our own or claim merit in any fashion. We are saved by grace, or unmerited favor (Eph 2:5). He has given us heavenly citizenship (Eph 2:6). This was done so that, in the coming ages, He might demonstrate the immeasurable riches of His grace and kindness in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:7). The supreme demonstration of this grace is salvation, which is “not your own doing” (Eph 2:8). Paul wrote that this salvation was “not a result of works, so that no one may boast,” (Eph 2:9). The entire thrust of this passage is the surpassing grace of God in salvation.

What’s the Point? (Eph 2:10)

We were saved for a purpose, not to glory in our own election and while away our lives in idleness. This is the root of the issue with nominal Christians – they claim but Christ but display no urgency to live for Him in any discernable way! There is no power of the Gospel in their lives. It is merely a cultural thing.

I like baseball. I like the Blackhawks. I like CSI: New York. I’m a Christian. God Bless America.

Too many Christians have lost any real sense of what it actually means to be a Christian. They have no Christian identity. How different this is from what Paul wrote:

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” (Eph 2:10).

Christians who have been saved in ages past, are being saved today and will be saved tomorrow are His workmanship. This election to salvation is not a call to privilege but a choosing of service to God (Rom 12:1-2). We were created in Christ Jesus specifically for good works. There is no way to get around this statement from Paul. A fervent desire to serve the Lord should be the practical outworking and fruit of our salvation. If we Christians can wrap our heads around this fact, then Paul’s call to present ourselves as “living sacrifices” takes on a whole new significance. It should change our lives. It should compel us to serve Christ in whichever way we can, in accordance with the various talents, gifts and abilities He has seen fit to bestow upon us. Too many Christians are not fulfilling their calling but are on spiritual autopilot.

We know these people. They are our friends and neighbors. They worship together with us in church. Perhaps they were once living for the Lord, but have fallen on hard times. Maybe they were always nominal and tentative in their faith. Regardless of the circumstance, we have a duty to exhort and encourage our brothers and sisters in the faith, stirring them up to love and good works (Heb 10:24-25). God is not pleased by lukewarm Christians (Rev 3:16).

We all need to grasp what the “grace of God” really means, and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age as we wait for Christ’s return (Titus 2:12-13). There is no place in our lives for a complacent Christianity. Let us resolve to not allow this complacency and nominalism to characterize our own lives, and to encourage and exhort our brethren to not allow it to come to pass in theirs either.

“Hail, happy saints! For your heaven is begun on earth: you have already received the first fruits of the Spirit, and are patiently waiting till that blessed change come, when your harvest shall be complete. I see and admire you, though, alas! at so great a distance from you: your life, I know, is hid with Christ in God. You have comforts, you have meat to eat, which a sinful, carnal, ridiculing world knows nothing of. Christ’s yoke is not become easy to you, and his burden light. You have passed through the pangs of the new birth, and now rejoice that Christ Jesus is spiritually formed in your hearts. You know what it is to dwell in Christ, and Christ in you. Like Jacob’s ladder, although your bodies are on earth, yet your souls and hearts are in heaven: and by your faith and constant recollection, like the blessed angels, you do always behold the face of your Father which is in heaven,” (Whitefield).

Works Cited:

Constable, Thomas. Ephesians. Dallas: Soniclight, 2013.

Whitefield, George. Marks of Having Received the Holy Ghost. Sermon. Retrieved from http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=/documents/Whitefield/WITF_042.html.

Tripp, Paul D. and Timothy Lane. How People Change. Greensboro: New Growth, 2008.

Apologetics Resource – Mormons

I wanted to pass along some apologetics resources on Mormonism. The gentleman in the videos below is apologist James White, an elder in a Reformed Baptist church in Phoenix, AZ and Director of Alpha & Omega Ministries. He has a very wide-ranging apologetics ministry which has focused in recent years on Islam.

In addition to these videos, I would encourage you to grab a copy of his books on Mormonism, Letters to a Mormon Elder and Is the Mormon My Brother? You can view other video and audio products on Mormonism from his ministry here.

 

The Way, the Truth and the Life

It is a common fantasy of sinful men that each person can “find their own path to God.” In this un-Biblical conception of deity, our Heavenly Father is little more than a vague concept to be appropriated by “whosoever will” in whatever fashion tickles one’s particular fancy.  This cannot be farther from the truth. God desires to be worshipped in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24). Observe Calvin’s remarks on theological pluralism;

They deem it enough that they have some kind of zeal for religion, how preposterous soever it may be, not observing that true religion must be conformable to the will of God as its unerring standard; that he can never deny himself, and is no spectra or phantom, to be metamorphosed at each individual’s caprice. It is easy to see how superstition, with its false glosses, mocks God, while it tries to please him. Usually fastening merely on things on which he has declared he sets no value, it either contemptuously overlooks, or even undisguisedly rejects, the things which he expressly enjoins, or in which we are assured that he takes pleasure. Those, therefore, who set up a fictitious worship, merely worship and adore their own delirious fancies; indeed, they would never dare so to trifle with God, had they not previously fashioned him after their own childish conceits. Hence that vague and wandering opinion of Deity is declared by an apostle to be ignorance of God: “Howbeit, then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.” And he elsewhere declares, that the Ephesians were “without God” (Eph 2:12) at the time when they wandered without any correct knowledge of him. It makes little difference, at least in this respect, whether you hold the existence of one God, or a plurality of gods, since, in both cases alike, by departing from the true God, you have nothing left but an execrable idol. It remains, therefore, to conclude with Lactantius (Instit. Div. lib 1:2, 6), “No religion is genuine that is not in accordance with truth.”

Our Savior declared unequivocally; “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (Jn 14:6). This is not a statement of theological pluralism. It is a statement of fact. We are fallen sinners and God is holy. His very nature cannot tolerate sin. Christ is the perfect sacrifice, who died for our sins.

Salvation consists of repentance of our sins and faith in Jesus Christ.

  • Repentance is a change of mind (1 Thess 1:9). This involves a turn away from sin (Heb 6:1; Rev 9:21) and towards God (Acts 20:21). It is an honest appraisal of our own unfitness in God’s sight and an open acknowledgement of our inability to meet His holy standard on our own.
  • Saving faith is the knowledge of, assent to and unreserved trust in the accomplished redemption of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. This faith involves intellectual understanding (e.g. “Christ is the Son of God!”), emotional understanding (e.g. “Christ died for my sins!”) and voluntary action (“I will trust Christ as my Lord and Savior!”).

The person recognizes and repents of their sin, and places saving faith in Jesus Christ. I pray that if you are not a Christian, the Holy Spirit of God would do His work in your heart, so you might voluntarily turn from your sins and accept Christ as Savior.

Biblical Illiteracy and Post-Modernism in Action

A while back, I dedicated an apologetics class to a very sad article entitled “Why I Raise My Children Without God.” The article was written by a young mother for CNN’s iReport back in January 2013. There is nothing “new” in her objections; indeed, there are really only two issues for the Christian to deal with in her entire letter;

(1)    She is Biblically illiterate and does not understand the God she is attacking; and

(2)    She has questions about how God could permit suffering

These objections should prove no big hurdle for the average Christian. The fact that they do speaks volumes about the state of Christianity. The article is linked above, and re-produced in total below. The discussion and response to her objections are in MP3 format below.

Before you start – I must re-emphasize something which is very important. Apologetics and theology go hand in hand; and we must approach this woman’s questions with a humble and contrite spirit. This is not about having cue-card responses down; Christians are called to love the Lord with all our heart, mind and strength (Deut 6:4). Apologetics is merely the practical outworking of this earnest desire to please God.

———————————————————

When my son was around 3 years old, he used to ask me a lot of questions about heaven. Where is it? How do people walk without a body? How will I find you? You know the questions that kids ask.

For over a year, I lied to him and made up stories that I didn’t believe about heaven. Like most parents, I love my child so much that I didn’t want him to be scared. I wanted him to feel safe and loved and full of hope. But the trade-off was that I would have to make stuff up, and I would have to brainwash him into believing stories that didn’t make sense, stories that I didn’t believe either.

One day he would know this, and he would not trust my judgment. He would know that I built an elaborate tale—not unlike the one we tell children about Santa—to explain the inconsistent and illogical legend of God.

And so I thought it was only right to be honest with my children. I am a non-believer, and for years I’ve been on the fringe in my community. As a blogger, though, I’ve found that there are many other parents out there like me. We are creating the next generation of kids, and there is a wave of young agnostics, atheists, free thinkers and humanists rising up through the ranks who will, hopefully, lower our nation’s religious fever.

Here are a few of the reasons why I am raising my children without God.

God is a bad parent and role model.

If God is our father, then he is not a good parent. Good parents don’t allow their children to inflict harm on others. Good people don’t stand by and watch horrible acts committed against innocent men, women and children. They don’t condone violence and abuse. “He has given us free will,” you say? Our children have free will, but we still step in and guide them.

God is not logical.

How many times have you heard, “Why did God allow this to happen?” And this: “It’s not for us to understand.” Translate: We don’t understand, so we will not think about it or deal with the issue. Take for example the senseless tragedy in Newtown. Rather than address the problem of guns in America, we defer responsibility to God. He had a reason. He wanted more angels. Only he knows why. We write poems saying that we told God to leave our schools. Now he’s making us pay the price. If there is a good, all-knowing, all-powerful God who loves his children, does it make sense that he would allow murders, child abuse, wars, brutal beatings, torture and millions of heinous acts to be committed throughout the history of mankind? Doesn’t this go against everything Christ taught us in the New Testament?

The question we should be asking is this: “Why did we allow this to happen?” How can we fix this? No imaginary person is going to give us the answers or tell us why. Only we have the ability to be logical and to problem solve, and we should not abdicate these responsibilities to “God” just because a topic is tough or uncomfortable to address.

God is not fair.

If God is fair, then why does he answer the silly prayers of some while allowing other, serious requests, to go unanswered? I have known people who pray that they can find money to buy new furniture. (Answered.) I have known people who pray to God to help them win a soccer match. (Answered.) Why are the prayers of parents with dying children not answered?

If God is fair, then why are some babies born with heart defects, autism, missing limbs or conjoined to another baby? Clearly, all men are not created equally. Why is a good man beaten senseless on the street while an evil man finds great wealth taking advantage of others? This is not fair. A game maker who allows luck to rule mankind’s existence has not created a fair game.

God does not protect the innocent.

He does not keep our children safe. As a society, we stand up and speak for those who cannot. We protect our little ones as much as possible. When a child is kidnapped, we work together to find the child. We do not tolerate abuse and neglect. Why can’t God, with all his powers of omnipotence, protect the innocent?

God is not present.

He is not here. Telling our children to love a person they cannot see, smell, touch or hear does not make sense. It means that we teach children to love an image, an image that lives only in their imaginations. What we teach them, in effect, is to love an idea that we have created, one that is based in our fears and our hopes.

God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good

A child should make moral choices for the right reasons. Telling him that he must behave because God is watching means that his morality will be externally focused rather than internally structured. It’s like telling a child to behave or Santa won’t bring presents. When we take God out of the picture, we place responsibility of doing the right thing onto the shoulders of our children. No, they won’t go to heaven or rule their own planets when they die, but they can sleep better at night. They will make their family proud. They will feel better about who they are. They will be decent people.

God Teaches Narcissism

“God has a plan for you.” Telling kids there is a big guy in the sky who has a special path for them makes children narcissistic; it makes them think the world is at their disposal and that, no matter what happens, it doesn’t really matter because God is in control. That gives kids a sense of false security and creates selfishness. “No matter what I do, God loves me and forgives me. He knows my purpose. I am special.” The irony is that, while we tell this story to our kids, other children are abused and murdered, starved and neglected. All part of God’s plan, right?

When we raise kids without God, we tell them the truth—we are no more special than the next creature. We are just a very, very small part of a big, big machine–whether that machine is nature or society–the influence we have is minuscule. The realization of our insignificance gives us a true sense of humbleness.

I understand why people need God. I understand why people need heaven. It is terrifying to think that we are all alone in this universe, that one day we—along with the children we love so much—will cease to exist. The idea of God and an afterlife gives many of us structure, community and hope.

I do not want religion to go away. I only want religion to be kept at home or in church where it belongs. It’s a personal effect, like a toothbrush or a pair of shoes. It’s not something to be used or worn by strangers. I want my children to be free not to believe and to know that our schools and our government will make decisions based on what is logical, just and fair—not on what they believe an imaginary God wants.