Ministerial Meanderings

God centered theology in a man centered world.

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Location: Springfield, Missouri, United States

I was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Laurel, Maryland. I served in the United States Air Force for 20 years then retired. Then God led me to become a pastor. I was converted to Christ in the summer of 1966. I enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren. I live with my three cats Hobbs, Taz, and Chloe.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Calvinism and John 3:16

Some years ago, a friend of mine gave me a pencil drawing of the bust of Jacob Arminius. Under the picture is the caption "I don't care what you say, I still believe in John 3:16." Ah! The magic bullet! John 3:16. The instant slayer of everything Calvinistic. Whenever a Calvinist mentions the doctrine of election, the opponent simply pulls out John 3:16 and says "See? It says 'whosoever'" and sends the defeated Calvinist to lick his wounds in some deserted dark corner.

But does John 3:16 really support an anti-calvinistic position? Certainly some inside the SBC seem to think so. When the big names in the SBC leadership gathered together to attack Calvinism in the Convention, they called their conference the "John 3:16 Conference" or the "J3:16C" for short.

But I don't think that John 3:16 supports an anti-calvinistic position. Of course, that is not a surprise to my readers. You know I am a Calvinist, so of course I am going to say that. But if John 3:16 does not deny God's election of certain individuals to salvation, then what does it say? Let us look closely at the passage and see ...

The verse opens with the word "For." This word connects the content of John 3:16 with the preceding passage. John 3 opens with Jesus speaking to Nicodemus of the new birth and it's necessity for salvation. Jesus mentions the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit as he moves through the world touching people (verse 8). Then Jesus chides Nicodemus for being a master of Israel and not knowing of the things of which Jesus spoke. Jesus then tells Nicodemus that people speak of what they know and that no one knows the Father except the one who comes down from heaven. In verse 14, Jesus comes to the crux of the matter. He says that even as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness by Moses, so also the Son of Man (a favorite name Jesus used for himself) must also be lifted up "that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (verse 15). In this context, verse 16 gives the reason why verses 14 and 15 are true.

"For God so loved the world ..." "For" means "because." Verse 16 is going to show why everything before it is true. Because God "so loved the world ..." Most people read this as "God loved the world so much ..." but this would be wrong. A better reading would be "For God loved the world in this way." Well, in what way did God love the world? The answer is that "he gave his only begotten Son." God's sacrifice of His One and Only Begotten Son is his demonstration of love for the world.

But that begs the question ... what do we mean by "world"? Is it every single human being as our Arminian opponents believe? No, it is not. Why? Because Jesus did not die for the sins of those people who were already in hell at the time of his death(for example). Just excluding that one group demonstrates that Jesus' death was not for every single human. So, you ask, who was it for? "World" in this verse is best seen as "Jews and Gentiles." Let me paraphrase John 3:16 in a way that will show you what I am saying. "For God loved not only the Jews but also the Gentiles in this way, that He gave His only Begotten Son ..." This paraphrase accurately captures the meaning of the verse without doing violence at all to the context.

What happens because God gave his only begotten Son? "So that whosoever believeth ..." Most opponents to Calvinism believe that one word, "whosoever" defeats the entire system of Calvinistic theology. But does it? Strong's Concordance defines "whosoever" as meaning 1. individually as "each, every, all, any, the whole, everyone," 2. collectively as "some of all types." Now that begs the question, each and every who? The answer ... each and every one who believes. The promise of everlasting life is to the believers and not to each and every human on earth. No ... only to believers.

So then John 3:16 can be paraphrased and read like this ...

"Because God loved not only the Jews but also the Gentiles in this way, that He gave His only begotten Son so that all the ones who believe (or each and every one who believes), whether Jew or Gentile, will not perish but have everlasting life."

And this agrees perfectly with verse 15, and also lines up perfectly with all other scriptural verses dealing with who God saves. The passage has nothing at all to do with the doctrine of election, whether for or against. It is simply a promise of God that all those who believe in Jesus as savior, no matter what "tongue, tribe, nation or people" will find eternal life.

So, going back to my cartoon drawing of Jacob Arminius, the caption read "I don't care what you say, I still believe in John 3:16." And you know what? I do too.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Christianity Most People Believe

Michael Horton, in his very excellent book Christless Christianity describes the Christian religion that is held by the vast majority of American Evangelicals. He calls it moralistic, therapeutic deism and says it can be summed up thusly:

"1. God created the world.

2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions.

3. The central goal in life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when needed to resolve a problem.

5. Good people go to heaven when they die."

(Christless Christianity, pg. 41.)

When I reflect on this, I think this is the belief of a lot of people I know. It is worth thinking about and comparing with Biblical Christianity.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What Kind of Calvinist is a Baptist?

Generally, the term Calvinist is used for anyone who believes in the 5 points of Calvinism. many people believe that the 5 points originated with John Calvin but this is not so. In fact, they were not even formulated until after Calvin's death.

Jacob Arminius, who was 4 years old when Calvin died, wrote against the Calvinistic doctrine of irresistible grace. This led him to a number of conclusions that conflicted with Calvin's writings. After Arminius died, his followers, called the Remonstrants formulated a document called the Remonstrance which petitioned the National Church in Holland to replace 5 points of stated doctrine with 5 doctrines championed by the Remonstrants. These 5 doctrines were:

1. Partial depravity - Although Arminius taught that man was totally depraved, but that depravity was overcome universally by prevenient grace, the Remonstrants taught that depravity was not total and that man retained enough freedom from the effects of sin to be able to respond to God's grace on his own.

2. Conditional election - that God chose to save those whom He foresaw would make a free will choice to believe in Jesus as savior.

3. Universal atonement - this is explained two ways. First, that Jesus' death did pay for the sins of every human throughout history. All that is needed is man's choice to believe to appropriate the benefits of Christ's death. Second, that Christ's death actually paid for no one's sins but acted to remove the barriers between men and God so that God can accept the sinner's faith and save him.

4. Resistible grace - the Holy Spirit employs every means at His disposal to entice the sinner to accept Christ. However, the Holy Spirit cannot act in any way which violates man's free autonomy. So, the Holy Spirit knocks, pleads, begs, cajoles, and in every way implores the sinner to accept Christ but whether or not the sinner actually accepts Christ ... is up to the sinner alone.

5. Conditional perseverance - the saint remains a saint so long as he continues in the faith. If the saint fails to continue in the faith, he may fall away to the point of losing or renouncing the salvation he has gained. It ought to be noted that Arminius himself was ambivalent on this point. Some of his writings seemed to indicate a believer could lose his salvation and other writings seemed to be against that idea.

The Church of Holland took the Remonstrance under advisement and debated it at the Synod of Dordt (short for Dordtrecht). Since the Remonstrance was a 5 point petition, the Synod answered in 5 points. They rejected the Remonstrance petition and declared that the doctrine formulated by Calvin was correct. As such they said that:

1. Man was totally depraved. And therefore, unable to contribute anything to his own salvation. Therefore, salvation was monergistic. All the work of salvation was done by God to which He calls men to respond.

2. Since man is totally depraved and there is nothing good in him to commend him to God, then election (God's choice of who He will save) has to be unconditional. God chooses who He will save simply because of the pleasure of his good and loving will. We are saved by grace, that is, God's undeserved favor.

3. Limited atonement or particular redemption - Jesus died on the cross as an actual substitute for those that the Father had given him - His people, his sheep, his Church, and so on. In so doing, Jesus actually paid for the sins of those he died for actually accomplishing their redemption.

4. Irresistible grace - this was the point of departure for Arminius. This doctrine says that the Holy Spirit will, by his power, find and draw those whom Christ died for, overcoming their resistance and ultimately ensuring that all of them come to Christ and find forgiveness and salvation.

5. Perseverance of the saints in God - that those whom Christ died for and the Holy Spirit brought to faith will be kept by God from ultimately falling away and dying lost.

When they were published they were called the Canons of Dordt. Later they came to be known as the 5 points of Calvinism.

With this background in mind, I can answer the question of what kind of Calvinist a Baptist can be. As I said in my opening paragraph, generally, everyone who believes in the 5 points are called Calvinists. But let's move past generalities and get to specifics.

Calvinists, more accurately, are those who hold to the doctrine that Calvin expounded. This is going to be Presbyterians, Dutch Reformed, Christian Reformed Church, and others along those lines. Baptists, according to this definition, cannot be Calvinists. So, a Baptist can only be a Calvinist according to the most general definition that I mentioned above.

Reformed Baptists are Calvinistic Baptists. These Baptists are confessional and covenantal. They are confessional in that they hold to the great Baptist confessions of faith like the 1644 London Confession of Faith, or the 1689 Baptist Confession, or the Philadelphia or New Hampshire Confessions. They are covenantal but not in the Presbyterian sense. They hold that those in the covenant are those who profess faith in Christ proving that God has written his laws into their minds and hearts. These Baptists are Calvinists in the sense that they hold to the 5 points and they agree in large part with the Reformed statements of faith of other Reformed Churches. But they diverge with these other Churches on certain key doctrines and hold fast to the Baptist distinctives.

Sovereign Grace Baptists are Baptists who hold to the 5 points as an explanation of how the gospel works. But they would not necessarily hold to the older confessions not would they necessarily be covenantal. But they do hold to the 5 points. In this sense, they would be Calvinists in the general sense of holding the 5 points, but they, themselves, would not call themselves by that nickname.

So Baptists would end up in one of three groups. They might be Calvinistic, leaning towards Calvinist theology but not really being Calvinist. Some might call this group "Reformed leaning." The second group would be the Reformed Baptists. The final group would be the Sovereign Grace Baptists.

These are the senses in which a Baptist might be called "Calvinist." Ultimately, no matter which of these groups (or whatever other group) a person falls into, as a Baptist, as people of the Book, we all need to seek to be Biblical Christians above all else. If our theology is not Biblical theology, it doesn't matter what you call yourself. You are wrong.

I hope this short explanation is useful.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Quote from Martin Luther

I have always liked this quote. This is provided courtesy of Apprising Ministries.

"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefields besides, is mere fight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."

Martin Luther

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

From All My Family

Every year has it's ups and downs. 2008 has been no exception. But through it all, we know that the Lord our God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. He stands with us no matter what the year throws at us. And we know Him more and grow closer to Him through it all.

Merry Christmas to all my family, friends, and readers. May God bless you richly and draw you closer to His heart in this holiday season. Enjoy the day and remember these two things ...

It is "Christ"mas, never X-mas.

and Christmas is all about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, our King and God, into the world. May that be a truth never forgotten among Christians.

Merry Christmas.

Pastor John and Family

Sunday, December 21, 2008

This is a repost from February of this year.

What Is The Gospel?

That was a question that was asked to me earlier in the week. It is a question every Christian ought to be able to answer. The Bible tells us to be ready to give an answer to every man for the hope that is within us. More importantly, this is the one question we dare not be wrong about. When I was in the Air Force we had a saying "It is good enough for government work." It meant that if it was close enough to what it was supposed to be it would be good enough. In the matter of the gospel, we dare not settle for "close enough." The gospel is the message of salvation. To be wrong about that is to be giving people a false message. One of the greatest evils that can be inflicted on men (generally) is to tell someone they are assured of going to heaven when they are not. If we are wrong about the gospel, we can put someone's immortal soul in danger. We dare not play games with the gospel.

The word gospel is the Hebrew equivilent of the Greek word evangel, from which we get our words Evangelical and evangelism. It literally means good news. But the good news of Jesus Christ contains both bad and good news. Ray Comfort tells it like this ... If I tell you I have a cure for cancer in my pocket, you would say that was good news. But if you are dying of cancer and I tell you I have a cure in my pocket, then the good news is really good news indeed! The power of Jesus Christ to save people from their sins is good news. But it is never really good news until a person is convinced that they (personally) need to be saved from their sins. As I tell it to my listeners at church, no one is saved believing that God so loved the world ... they get saved when they realize that God so loved them (personally) that He gave His only begotten Son. So the good news is both bad and good news together.

The bad news is that each and every one of us are sinners. God measures us against Himself and we all fall short of perfection. We are sinful in every part of our being so that there is nothing, not a word, an action, a thought, or even a good intent that we can offer God that is not somehow stained with sin. When God looks at us all He sees is sin. All we have to offer God is sin. The Bible says "All our righteousness is as filthy rags." Also, we are told "There is none righteous, no, not one."

And God has judged sin. The Bible says that the "wrath of God abides on them (sinners) already." God has already judged sin and has determined to send sinners to hell. If nothing happens to change this, every human in the world will go to hell.

Worse, there is really nothing we can do about it. Think about what I said above. We don't have anything to offer God except sin. We are already guilty and there is nothing we are capable of doing to make up for it. We are helpless. As the Bible says in one place, we are "without hope."

But God has purposed to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We cannot go to Him. Human beings cannot bridge the separation between heaven and earth. So God came to us. God set aside his glory and took on the form of a human being. God became one of us. Jesus Christ, the baby born in Bethlehem, was the God-man. 100% God and 100% man and He did what no human could do. He lived a perfect, sinless life. And sinful men took him anyway, and killed him with a criminal's death. When Jesus hung on the cross and was crucified, God poured out all His anger and wrath against sin on Jesus. So Jesus paid the price for sin, Infinite God paid an infinite price and now God calls on sinners everywhere to turn to Jesus and believe that He died for them personally.

Let me be more clear. Jesus died for sinful men. And every sinner .... every sinner ... who comes to Jesus, confessing his sinful helplessness and asks for mercy ... finds it. A lot is made in some churches about a "sinner's prayer." There is only one sinner's prayer recorded in the Bible "God have mercy on me, a sinner."

The Bible tells us that such sinners have had their sins imputed to Jesus ... that means counted to his account. And at the time when you believe that Jesus died for YOU you have Jesus' perfect life counted to your account. Jesus was judged as though he were you so that you could be judged as though you were him! And that, my friend, is very good news.

If Jesus Christ is your savior ... you will know. Have you read this post and said to yourself, "I know that Jesus died for me"? The Bible says that "The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the sons of God." If Jesus is your savior than confess him as such. If we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus Christ, then we will be saved.

And if Jesus is your savior then he is also your Lord. He is the God-man. He is savior and God. If you are his then he owns you. The Bible says that "If he died for us then we ought to live for him." Jesus is alive today, at the right hand of the Father. One day, he will return to gather all his people to himself and take them to be with him wherever he is at.

Sinful men have no hope to save themselves. But God comes and saves us. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He did it in the person of the God-man, Jesus Christ. Jesus saves every sinful person who comes to him for mercy and salvation. Even if we die in our physical bodies, God takes us to heaven to be with our Lord, Jesus. One day, Jesus will come again and gather all his people, those on earth and those in heaven, to himself so he can enjoy them forever. That is the good news.

The Bible says that God calls men everywhere to repent. That means to turn from your old ways of thinking and to believe in Jesus Christ. There is nothing you can add to what Jesus did for you. Believe it. Confess it. Live it. Remember the old Christian hymn ... "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind but now I see."

The Elephant in the Room

I have learned that truth in Christianity is usually balanced. Now that does not mean that one cannot be excessively zealous for the truth. But the truth itself is balanced. When you hear something that seems extreme, or fringe, it usually is. John Calvin once said that when the Bible speaks, we speak. But when the Bible is silent, we dare not speak. Those are wise words that are worth remembering.

There is such a thing as Biblical Calvinism. It is a high truth, full of God glorifying doctrine and a biblical worldview that carries through our daily lives. You can read about that Biblical Calvinism here at http://www.seeking4truth.com/5_points.htm . But it has been noted by others that wherever Biblical Calvinism can be found there is a danger of Hypercalvinism appearing. This is of interest to us today because there are many, including some in the SBC leadership, who warn about the dangers of Hypercalvinism and then try to lump Biblical Calvinists into that group, trying to make them all look the same. But they are not the same.

Hypercalvinism is what one gets if one takes biblical doctrine then goes beyond what the Bible says. Hypercalvinism teaches that God works without means. In other words, if one is elect, then God will save that person even if they never hear the gospel or believe in Jesus as savior. Hypercalvinism teaches that since there is an elect people, we need not evangelize. Since God is completely sovereign over all things then man is not responsible for his sin. Since Christ died for his people then the gospel is not genuinely offered to those who are not elect. God does not love all the human race. And other such teachings. All these are found within the boundaries of Hypercalvinism. But none of them are biblical. All of them are, as the Hypercalvinists would say, the logical conclusions that you would get if you followed Biblical Calvinism to it's ends. But no Biblical Calvinist teaches these things. Hypercalvinism is wrong because it goes beyond what the Bible teaches. All these things I have mentioned are NOT taught in the Bible. Nor can they be derived from the Bible's true teaching.

God uses the means of the gospel and faithful preachers and witnesses to bring his chosen people to faith in Christ. God uses means. God is sovereign over all things and man is responsible for his sin. Christ did dies for God's elect people and we still must be zealous for evangelism and missions. Christ is genuinely offered every time the gospel is faithfully presented. God does have a love for all the human race. He just loves his Bride more. As Calvin said, when the Bible speaks, we must speak .. but where it is silent we dare not speak. Hypercalvinism presumes to speak for God things He has not said. And it leads people to bad conclusions.

Hear me here. Hypercalvinism is not just an error, it is a heresy. Hypercalvinism is not a Christian teaching. It is outside the faith. That is why we must be on guard against it. Remember that wherever true Biblical Calvinism is found, there is always a danger of Hypercalvinism appearing. We must watch for it and repudiate it whenever we find it.

As Christians, it is our goal to be biblical Christians. We err greatly if we speak where God has not spoken. Calvinism in it's totality is a beautiful and God honoring doctrine. But it is an ugly thing in it's perversions. May God fill our present generation with God honoring and Biblical Christians. Anything else is just ... well ... something else.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Practical Christianity

Doctrine is important. You cannot have a Christian faith without doctrine. I have met many people who profess not to have doctrine (they "just believe in Jesus"). But even saying that makes them have a doctrine. The word "doctrine" means teaching. Your doctrines are your beliefs.

It has been said though, that the longest distance in Christianity is the distance between the head and the heart. Lots of people know a lot of doctrine. But not a lot of people are living out the things they say they believe. One author recently said that the greatest need of Christianity in this day is a revival of holiness. That is, Christians who live like Christians.

This is called Practical Christianity. Putting the things we believe into practice. It is actually antithetical to Christianity to have a separation between the mind and the heart. The Holy Spirit uses the word of God in our minds to create in us a new heart, in fact, a new nature. When we become Christians we are different than we were before. But this difference has practical implications. To be a Christian means something.

Let me speak bluntly. The world ought to be a better place because Christians are in it. Your world, the place you live, ought to be better because you are there. Christians are concerned with peace, not fighting or being quarrelsome. Your boss ought to be getting a full day's work out of you. Christians don't cheat their employers out of a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. Our creditors should expect us to pay our debts. We ought to be ready to step out and help those people who need our help, whenever we can. People who come to us for mercy should find it. We know how much mercy was shown to us in Christ. When we do the right thing people should not be surprised. We should always do our best to do what is right. Lies and deceit are of the devil. Christians are slaves of our Lord, who is truth itself. Words like life, justice, freedom, mercy, grace, and yes ... love ... these are words that ought to come easy to a Christian. They are things people should see in us without too much effort.

The apostle Paul talks about the fragrance of our Christian lives. John Piper speaks about the ambiance ... the aroma of our lives. Wherever we go ought to be the aroma of Christ. Where we are, there He is. He is found wherever we are found. At least that is the way it ought to be. It ought to be that way, but too often it is not. And that is a problem. If we are going to be true Biblical Christians then we need to have orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Right doctrine and right living.

We live in a black world. If people are going to see the light of Christ it is going to be in the lives and the testimonies of God's people as they carry Him (Christ) with them wherever they go. These are hard things to do. John Calvin once said it is easy to preach ten sermons and hard to live one. But these are things we have to do. Indeed, as people who have the Holy Spirit inside them and who hear the voice of God ... these are things we are compelled to do. It is nothing more and nothing less than being what we are.