James White is Teaching Heresy

James White used to be my favorite theologian. I remember stumbling upon him before I was even saved, during that time when God had first planted a desire to voraciously consume His Word and seek out those who claimed to believe it. It was one of his debates with a Roman Catholic (on Sola Scriptura, ironically enough), and that debate helped to reinforce my already nascent suspicion that the Catholic Church is a sham and led me deeper into Protestant thought. After God translated me from the power of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son, my appreciation of James White’s work continued to grow to the point where I would not miss an episode of the Dividing Line, and it was largely by his influence that I began to seek out a Reformed Baptist church — which church is now my happy home.

I do not have a desire to say that a man who has had such a positive impact on me is teaching heresy. After the initial concerns I had when I heard him refer to the Trinity as three centers of consciousness, I was delighted to see that the Reformed Forum episode that he aligned himself with in his follow-up article carefully qualified itself by saying all such language is analogical and by stressing that the doctrine of perichoresis guards them from confessing anything other than one will in God and the total unity (not just harmony) of each “center” with the whole divine essence. And so, in our response episode we only said that such language was confusing and unhelpful rather than saying that there was anything heretical or even heterodoxical underlying it, which I didn’t think there was. However, my concerns reemerged when he openly began to attack the doctrine of inseperable operations — the doctrine that God, as an undivided being with one divine power upholding all things, acts as a single divine agent in creation through the Three Persons of the Trinity so that all Three Persons are always at work in every act of God. This denial alone, we will see, creates tension with the biblical affirmations of divine simplicity, the full-deity of each Person, and even monotheism, but James White has gone further and made statements that are at odds with Chalcedonian Christology and come too-close-for-comfort to the teachings of the kenotic heresy.

To be clear, I am not accusing him of being a heretic. When it comes to a doctrine as delicate as the being and subsistence of God, let him who has had made no ill-advised remark cast the first stone. One can say something heretical without fully thinking out its implications and its inconsistency with those orthodox doctrines that they indeed hold dear to their hearts. There is a certain amount of obstinacy that marks a heretic, where they will not only refuse to repent when their heretical assertions are pointed out but will make it known that they are not of the truth by casting aside the orthodox doctrines in favor of their error when push comes to shove. I do not say that James White is there. Nevertheless, heresy is heresy — a poison that must be publicly labeled and abhorred lest any of Christ’s sheep should drink and make shipwreck of their faith. We must warn that such teaching leads the soul to ruin and detracts from the glory of the Triune God and His work in creation and redemption, whose glory is the end of all things. And so, whatever debt or affection we may have to the man in question, I believe it behooves us to warn God’s people that these are not secondary issues and that it is not safe to follow a man in these matters as long he errs so seriously.

Kenosis?

In this Dividing Line, James White has vigorously denied teaching the kenotic heresy and has charged all his accusers with dishonesty (1:13:15). Whether or not there is a crucial distinction between his teachings and the teachings of the most prominent teachings of kenosis is not for me to say. I do not claim to have studied kenotic writings in any depth and so I will neither be accusing nor vindicating him of that specific charge. But what I will say is that, like the advocates of kenosis, James White is involving the attributes of the divine nature in the humiliation of the Son and so is likewise departing from Chalcedonian Christology. That is the heresy I am concerned with, and it’s a concern that can be firmly established from what he has been teaching lately. The following excerpt from that Dividing Line is illustrative and will be referenced throughout this post:

… you then have the very difficult challenging text where Jesus says that only the Father — not the Son, nor the angels in heaven — no man knows the day or the hour, only the Father in heaven… you could understand that as some people have understood that, as being only in reference to the human nature, I suppose. But I think it follows very much along the lines of what we just discussed; there are certain aspects of the glory of the Son that are veiled during the incarnation, and so at that point in time, in the incarnate state (it’s not that the Son did not know before the incarnation and would not know at His exaltation or anything like that)… there was some reason why at that point in time it was profitable for the Messiah the Son to not know. Those are His words, you’ve got to deal with them… if you have to look at the words written by Matthew and come up with an interpretation that could not have possibly been what Matthew intended or anyone Matthew wrote to intended and could not have been known for centuries, millennia after the point of writing… we’re no longer dealing with with the Scripture being any kind of meaningful foundation of our beliefs.

57:08-58:45

In no uncertain terms, James White understands the ignorance concerning the day or the hour depicted in Matthew 24 as an ignorance that not only exists in the Son’s humanity, but also in His Deity. As God, the Son knew the day and the hour before the incarnation and then chose to re-gift Himself that knowledge at His exaltation, but He did not have it during His humiliation. This construal conflicts with biblical orthodoxy in a wide number of ways. First, it paints God as a creature of time! He isn’t pictured here as the God who is superior to all and bound by none, but as a God who, like us, is traveling through a medium external to Him that the state and exercise of His attributes depends on, including His omniscience. This is in contrast to the declaration of the Son made during His humiliation (earthly ministry), saying that, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Note, He did not say, “Before Abraham was, I was,” but rather, “I am.” The past for us is ever-present to the eternal, timeless God. Therefore, it is absurd to imagine Him at one time knowing something and at another time not knowing something, when He is outside all moments of time and always experiencing everything that He is and has done. We may need time to do one thing and then another, shift from one thought to the next, but He can do all at once and time would be completely superfluous. His timeless independence is essential to His very nature as God, and is one of the attributes implied by the divine name the Lord assumes for Himself here.

Second, James White’s interpretation contradicts Chalcedonian Christology. The creed states, “The distinction of natures [was] by no means taken away by the union [i.e., the incarnation], but rather the property of each nature [is] preserved” [1]. But omniscience is undoubtedly a property of the God who knows all things (1 John 3:20), and so it would not be the case that the property of each nature was preserved in the incarnation if the Son, as God, ceased to know something for a time (and, as already indicated, the very notion of God losing something “for a time” confuses the natures of Creator and creature). Now, James White denies teaching the kenosis heresy because he asserts that God the Son only veils His attributes without losing them during His humiliation. If this was all his theology amounted to, I would never accuse him of teaching a departure from Chalcedon. There is no question that those attributes are in a sense “veiled” by the human nature insofar as the divine nature can never infuse itself into the human nature. The human nature could not be omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent without ceasing to be a real human nature. As Tertullian says:

If the Word became flesh by a transfiguration and change of substance, it follows at once that Jesus must be a substance compounded of two substances — of flesh and spirit — a kind of mixture, like electrum, composed of gold and silver; and it begins to be neither gold (that is to say, spirit) nor silver (that is to say, flesh) — the one being changed by the other, and a third substance produced. Jesus, therefore, cannot at this rate be God for He has ceased to be the Word, which was made flesh; nor can He be Man incarnate for He is not properly flesh, and it was flesh which the Word became. Being compounded, therefore, of both, He actually is neither; He is rather some third substance, very different from either. But the truth is, we find that He is expressly set forth as both God and Man; the very psalm which we have quoted intimating (of the flesh), that God became Man in the midst of it, He therefore established it by the will of the Father,— certainly in all respects as the Son of God and the Son of Man, being God and Man, differing no doubt according to each substance in its own special property, inasmuch as the Word is nothing else but God, and the flesh nothing else but Man.

Tertullian, Against Praxeas, Chapter 27. https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0317.htm

Given that this is the case, whenever we look upon Him in His humanity alone — which we always do when we look only at His visible nature, since it belongs to the divine nature to be invisible (1 Timothy 1:17, 6:16) — then His divine attributes are veiled. This very truth is why the orthodox should have little difficulty with a verse like Matthew 24:36; if Jesus has two natures, assertions about Him will either be true of only one nature (e.g., “I thirst” [John 19:28]) or both because they are assertions that are predicated of the entirety of His Person, involving the exercise of both natures (e.g., “I am the way, the truth, and the life” [John 14:6]). And if it’s obvious that Jesus’ hunger and thirst are descriptive only of His human nature, should it not be equally obvious that any depiction of ignorance cannot be ascribed to the nature whose very essence is to know all things? So, it is quite accurate to say that just as Jesus’ eternal felicity is veiled by His human nature’s hunger, His omniscience is likewise veiled by His human nature’s ignorance, which could not know all things in itself without surpassing the finite capacity of a human mind altogether, making Him not truly man.

But all this is precisely what James White does not mean when he speaks of the “veiling” of the divine attributes. He does not speak of the divine attributes being obscured to us because we only see His humble humanity, but rather of the divine attributes being obscured to Himself in His Deity. In no unclear terms, James White tells us that Matthew 24:36 should be understood as teaching that the Son knew something before and after His earthly ministry but not during, and that this is not to be understood as only applying to His humanity. But what difference can be made between this kind of “veiling” and losing the attribute of omniscience? A mere veiling does not change the thing veiled but only prevents others from seeing it. James, in some places, speaks of the Son as not exercising His divine prerogatives during His humiliation, but even if we pass by the issue that this conception clearly makes God a temporal being who sometimes exercises a prerogative and sometimes does not (and also pass by the issue that God would need additional acts besides the act of His aseity to accomplish all that He does), it’s certainly the case that knowing about an event is not a prerogative to exercise or not exercise — you either have knowledge of something or you don’t. At best, you can be said to exercise your knowledge by applying, disseminating, or bringing it to the forefront of your mind, but in order to so exercise it you must first have it. If you once knew about an event (like the day or the hour) but no longer do, then, if words have any meaning, you have not simply “veiled” that knowledge but lost it, even if only for the time being. And so, this conception would require us to say that, in Christ’s earthly ministry, He lost the property of omniscience in His divine nature — which is really to say that He ceased to possess a true divine nature altogether, since omniscience is an essential property of the divine nature. He is now a metaphysical electrum, as Tertullian might say.

But as any confessor of divine simplicity knows, you cannot unravel one divine property without unraveling them all, because in God they are one. When defending the truths of the doctrines of grace, James White has rightly said to synergists that God does not foreknow things by passively looking down the corridors of time, but rather knows all things because He has decreed all things. God’s omniscience is a necessary consequence of His omnipotence. All things that exist have been created and are actively sustained by His sovereign hand — “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This is a foundation for the doctrine of inseperable operations. If it is of the essence of God to create and sustain all things that exist and transpire in creation, then we cannot say there is any outward exhibition of His power that all Three Persons are not actively engaged in, since all Three are the total and complete power of God. Even though some actions — or better yet, roles in the same action — terminate in specific Persons of the Trinity (hence the different prepositions given to their acts of creation and redemption in places such as Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1, as James rightly points out), nevertheless there are not three powers or, as the Athanasian creed says, “Three Almighties,” but one power subsisting in Three Persons, and so all Three are always engaged in all their ad extra works. If it were otherwise, a given Person would be less than the full power of God that creates and sustains all things that come to pass. And so, given that the Son’s omniscience is a consequence of His creating and sustaining all things, it is easy to see that the logical result of denying the Son’s omniscience during His humiliation would be to deny His omnipotence as well. Otherwise, one would be forced to maintain the absurdity that the Son continued to govern and uphold all things without knowing He was doing it in either of His natures! I do not, of course, claim that James White has personally made this application or denies the omnipotence of the Son in the incarnation, but it would be a necessary consequence if we believe all that the Scriptures say. Whether realized or not, this assertion of the Son’s lack of knowledge would have deeper, even more troubling implications then what first meets the eye.

Finally, I would be remiss to move on from this excerpt without pointing out the unbiblical hermeneutic that prevents James White from accepting the simple, orthodox understanding of Matthew 24. He criticizes the orthodox understanding — namely, an understanding based on the principle that some statements of Christ apply only to His human nature and not His divine nature — because this interpretation “could not have possibly been what Matthew intended… and could not have been known for centuries, millennia after the point of writing” (58:18). For starters, James White’s critique ignores that Matthew is recording Jesus’ words in this passage. If we believe Matthew is faithfully recording our Lord’s words rather than intentionally crafting and obscuring them for his own interests, why would we make the meaning of them entirely dependent on Matthew’s understanding of them? Surely, if no one else, Jesus knows that He possesses fully intact human and divine natures in one person and can predicate things of Himself that are only strictly true for one of them (just as we do for things that are only strictly true for our bodies or souls). Further, there is an unbiblical presupposition that is brought in which treats the human author as the primary author and restricts the meaning to what the imagined, reconstructed original audience would have understood. This stems from a post-enlightenment hermeneutic (more than a millennium after the original composition, mind you) which is demonstrably not what Scripture engages in when interpreting itself, as I discuss in depth here. Again, whatever Matthew’s understanding would have been, if we understand that his words were given by inspiration of God, and that Matthew’s agenda was God’s agenda, and that Matthew’s audience was God’s audience — i.e., the Church throughout every age, which was to understand it through the sufficient material He has provided elsewhere in Scripture — then we again ask, surely God understands the hypostatic union and means to express that truth to His Church through His Word, right? Lastly, I reject the idea that Matthew — an Apostle who walked every day with the visible image of the invisible God — did not know a truth so basic as Christ being fully God and fully man, and that God the Son remained fully divine with all His essential properties during the incarnation. As we already saw, Tertullian confessed it with great clarity circa 200 AD and so did Hippolytus from roughly the same time period, which is virtually to say as early as we have extant writings on the topic. Were members of the early Church able to obtain such clarity about this scriptural truth so soon if the human authors themselves didn’t grasp it? No one denies that the Church’s precision in articulating doctrine is refined over centuries of combating heresy, but the basic truths of the faith were once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3), and it behooves us to guard this truth from the external pressure we face to inject the Hegelian tendencies of modern historiography into our conceptions of “doctrinal development.”

The Danger

It is heretical to deny the truths of Chalcedonian Christology, but this is not because that council has independent authority to bind the soul. The Church has recognized that departing from the truths of Chalcedon can be classified as heresy for a reason — a biblical one, the same biblical reason that motivated Athanasius to argue so passionately for the full, uncompromised Deity of the Son. The biblical reason is that without Christ being fully, truly, and properly God and man, there can be no salvation, “for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). In order to represent us, be our substitute, and unite us to Himself, He must be fully man; in order to convey God, unite us to the transcendent I AM, and swallow the infinite cup of His wrath in a finite space of time, He must be none other than fully God Himself. As some theologians have said, Christ’s humanity was slain on the altar of His Deity at the Cross, which is to say that His Deity — while itself impassible and incapable of suffering — sanctifies and provides the infinite worth to the slaying of Christ’s humanity necessary to pay the infinite debt of our transgressions to God. The worth and glory of Christ’s divine nature was absolutely necessary for Calvary to be effectual for His people. And so, we can see that there is grave danger in saying, as James White argues in the second half of this episode, that John 17:5 involves more than Jesus merely praying to have glory in His humanity. This would imply that Jesus’ glory was obscured in His Deity the very moment when it was necessary to sanctify Christ’s sacrifice at the Cross! The very essence of God is glorious, and this glory does not depend on anything outside of Him — “who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?” (Romans 11:35), so how could Christ’s divine nature lose this glory without Him ceasing to be very God? It is natural, I believe, and certainly much better to understand John 17:5 as showing Christ — who, in His humiliation, was not then being acknowledged and glorified as God by those who looked upon His humanity — praying that He might, in His humanity, receive such honor, glory, and exaltation as is fitting for the God-man. In this way, He would therefore be asking to in some sense share in that glory He always had in His Deity even before the world was, which would occur by virtue of being openly identified with that glory. The context of His prayer is the climax of His humiliation, and so the obvious fulfillment of His request is the end of this humiliation, i.e., the resurrection of His human nature from the dead and its enthronement at the right hand of the Father (unless we’re going to begin asserting that the divine nature died, rose again, and is spatially moved). This passage is meant to emphasis that, and not any loss of such glory in the divine nature, which is an impossibility if we compare Scripture with Scripture and allow the many places that clearly teach the timeless immutability of God and the unreserved identification of the Son with this God to guide our interpretation here. We must do this if we are committed to tota scriptura. If we are committed to this, we will not undermine the clear teachings of Scripture simply because we do not presently understand how to interpret a less clear passage in light of them. Even if there are readers who are not yet persuaded of either mine or other orthodox interpretations of John 17:5, they can rest assured that the full glory of God the Son that sanctifies Calvary’s sacrifice stands sure, and that their hope is by no means impaired while they patiently wait for more light on this passage. Jesus was fully God and fully man when He offered Himself up to the Father for them.

Conclusion

James White is teaching heresy — not just erroneous doctrine — when he involves the divine nature in the humiliation of the Son and it should be recognized for the danger that it is. Nevertheless, I am in no way accusing him of doubting in his heart that Jesus really is and has always been fully God and fully man since the beginning of His incarnation, and so I reiterate that I’m not accusing him of being a heretic. But his teachings de facto jeopardize this truth, and the logical result of such teaching would strip away the hope of the saints and undoubtedly ascribes to God a creaturely nature. It is a teaching that I would entreat James White to turn from for the good of his audience and himself. I pray that I will one day be able to change the title of this post to James White is No Longer Teaching Heresy.

James, if you do read this, know that I wish to represent you as accurately as possible. If you or anyone else can demonstrate that I have not done so at any point, I will happily revise this post accordingly and list any retractions I have made up front after I have been made aware.

~Andrew Warrick

[1] https://carm.org/creeds-and-confessions/chalcedonian-creed-a-d-451/

REASONS FOR INFANT BAPTISM? Do they exist?

PAEDOBAPTISM. Is there a valid reason for doing it? More importantly, is there a valid biblical reason for doing it? See THIS ARTICLE for my thoughts on paedobaptism and the covenant of grace. Over the last few months, a dear brother in the Lord has been sharing what he deems to be “Reasons for Infant Baptism.” Of course, he comes from a Presbyterian perspective, so it only makes sense that he would promote such a position. What I can appreciate is that all of his “reasons” have Scripture attached to them. In fact, many of them are nothing more than a verse or passage left to speak for itself. But just because one can post a verse or passage from the Bible does not mean it is automatically a biblical justification. It is this which I have sought to demonstrate in my responses to him. Those responses make up the underlying structure and content of this article. I will break it down into sections, with each one representing a different reason. As you read, I encourage you to think about how you might have responded to each of these propositions.

REASON #1
“And Peter Said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’” (Acts 2:38-39)

I have heard this verse used by paedobaptists more times than I can possibly count. As with many things in life, this is just another instance where popularity doesn’t necessarily equate to accuracy. Bottom line: These verses have nothing to do with infant baptism. This is a case for the Elect coming from all groups of people. The promise is for everyone who is called by God. If it was for the children of believers, it means all the children would also have to be called. If all the children are called, it stands to reason that all the children would also be predestined, justified, and glorified. Since we know not all children of believers fall into this category, we can also know the passage is not saying all children of believers are called (any more than all who are far off are called). Therefore, to use this verse to justify infant baptism, it must also be used to justify the baptism everybody who is far off. Or we can accept it for what it’s actually saying: God calls His own, and they may come from Israelite parents, their children, or anyone else. Context matters!

REASON #2
“And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:7)

Would anyone be shocked that I disagree with this being a reason for infant baptism? Abraham had physical descendants, with Christ being the Seed. Whereas Abraham’s physical descendants partook of the blessings of the covenant, only spiritual descendants are part of the covenant of grace. This is accomplished by being united in Christ through faith. Ephesians 2:12-13 makes it clear that Gentiles were once far off but have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Anybody who believes in limited atonement would have to admit the blood of Christ was only shed for the Elect. Therefore, only the Elect are brought near. Since Christ is the only way into the covenant (i.e. once being far off and now being brought near), only the Elect can possibly be in the covenant of grace. Since baptism is a sign of membership in the covenant of grace, it should only be applied to those who are in it and precaution should be taken against applying it to anyone who does not have faith in the Son. Therefore, this passage, when taken in the full context of the New Testament, would actually have nothing to do with infant baptism.

Oftentimes, a paedobaptist will follow up with an attempt to back the credobaptist in a corner by asking if they have only ever baptized genuine believers, as if mistakenly baptizing a false convert will completely vindicate their system. There are certainly many who go through the motions of baptism when they never should have. This number includes both unbelievers who perhaps exhibited some sign of fruit only to later fall away, as well as infants. But just because there are non-Elect who go through the motion of baptism doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our due diligence to prevent it from happening as often as we can. Also, I would say the non-Elect are never truly baptized because they lacked an essential part of a valid baptism: faith.

Earlier, I alluded to the covenant of grace. While there are many flavors of paedobaptists (i.e. Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc), when it comes to Presbyterians, our differences really do boil down to our system of covenant theology. Regarding baptism, the Presbyterian argument (in a highly summarized nutshell) is that circumcision was a sign of the old covenant and baptism is a sign of the new covenant. In this, it would be safe to say that, in such a view, baptism has taken the place of circumcision. Where I feel this is impossible is in the fact that, while circumcision was the sign of the old covenant, circumcision is still very much the sign of the new covenant. The difference is in who it is applied to as well as the one doing the applying. In both the old and new covenants, circumcision was given to all who were in it. The old covenant was physical in nature. Thus, a physical sign was given from men to men. In the new covenant, it is spiritual in nature. Thus, a spiritual sign is given from God. No longer are we circumcised in the flesh but are circumcised in the heart. This circumcision of heart (a sign of being in the covenant of grace) is only given to believers through faith in Jesus Christ. Circumcision of the flesh was typological of the circumcision of heart. Since circumcision is very much still the sign being applied, to replace it with baptism becomes a dangerous precedent because it replaces that which God has not done away with. Baptism is what believers do out of obedience to God as they profess their faith to other men, but baptism is not the new circumcision nor has it replaced it. Additionally, the verse in Genesis 17 is about the spiritual future of the New Covenant. While it did have a practical application for the people of Israel, hence circumcision being a physical sign, it was another facet of the typological nature of the Abrahamic Covenant and not a matter of substance in the New Covenant.

REASON #3
“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism…” (Colossians 2:11). The sign given to Abraham when God made a covenant with him was circumcision, given to infants. Baptism is the new sign of the covenant, the new circumcision.

While there is certainly talk of circumcision in the verse above, baptism doesn’t actually circumcise anyone. The circumcision that occurs is circumcision of the heart by the Spirit. It’s the removal of our heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Baptism is the outward proclamation that the inward reality (circumcision of heart) exists. The external sign should never be worn by one who does not possess the inward reality.

REASON #4
“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea…” (1 Corinthians 10:1-3). Israel, including children, were baptized in the Old Testament.

Considering paedobaptists attempt to correlate circumcision to baptism, and not the Red Sea to baptism, I truly failed to pick up on this. I just had no idea how it was even being related. The “baptism” into Moses wasn’t a sacrament or a sign of a covenant. It was describing what they went through as they passed through the waters. Through discussion, it was explained to me that just because circumcision is connected to baptism does not mean that there are no other texts of scripture that teach us about it, and that Paul connects what happened to the Israelites in the Exodus account to the life of believers today. Essentially, he was not using the above passage as straight exegesis but rather as inference. But is it proper inference? I dare say not.

Despite the explanation that was offered up, I still failed to see the connection of Paul using the word “baptizo” with the ordinance of baptism in the life of the Church. Again, he was being descriptive of what they went through, with the primary purpose being in running the race and being obedient. It wasn’t a message on baptism, infant or otherwise. Not only is the passage not an explicit text on baptism, it’s not even an implicit text with good and necessary consequence or inference. I can 100% agree with good and necessary consequences. I just don’t agree that this is one of them. I think this is a very far stretch to shoehorn unbiblical tradition into the life of the church (and I mean no offense by that, just stating it as I believe it to be). In this case, my brother felt like Paul using the word baptizo should be enough to mean they were baptized, and that we should take it as a written example for us to follow.

Personally, I don’t take it to mean what he was asserting. If one didn’t believe in infant baptism, I think most would read that verse very differently. It’s neither descriptive nor prescriptive when it comes to the ordinance of baptism as found in the Church. I think this is an instance of grasping at straws and possibly an instance of an equivocation fallacy. There’s literally nothing in it that would lead the reader to think Paul was referring to the ordinance of baptism and relating it to entire families. That’s just a really big stretch. All it says is that they all passed through the sea and were immersed into Moses. The example is not baptism for all but rather to not be disobedient as the followers of Moses were. We are to be immersed in Christ and be obedient in faith. It’s a thought that immediately follows chapter 9 where it speaks of such things. Again, this simply is not an argument for infant baptism and, if anything, is an argument against it since infants cannot run the race and be obedient in faith. They can’t be immersed in Christ. Therefore, they would only end up receiving a hollow version of a sacrament.

REASON #5
“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3-5a)

At the risk of being overly blunt, this is even more of a stretch than Reason #4. Children are a blessing, but that doesn’t mean all blessings are baptized. Otherwise, I’d have to baptize my house in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While having absolutely nothing to do with infant baptism, this text fits perfectly with a Baptist worldview. Children are a blessing and, more importantly, it is obedience to the command given in Genesis 1:28. But our children are still under the dominion of Satan unless regenerated by the Spirit. This is why we raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord while stressing the need for them to trust in Christ as their Savior, lest they be lost to the pits of Hell without Him.

REASON #6
“Did he (the Lord) not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring…” (Malachi 2:15)

As with all the other reasons given before now, this is also a stretch. This verse has nothing to do with infant baptism nor does it contain an underlying reason to baptize infants. Note the last part of verse 15 (that was conveniently cut off when it was posted):

“So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “

This verse is speaking about how the priests were unrighteous and sinning against their wives. Notice that verse 3 says their children would be rebuked as a result. We see a similar warning in Leviticus 26:16. The passage isn’t referencing infant baptism. It’s not even about godly parenting. It’s about a covenant between a man and his wife and the consequence that comes with breaking it. I, too, seek godly offspring. This is why I raise them to know they are sinners in need of Jesus instead of telling them they’re part of an unbreakable covenant even if they don’t have faith (which would make them children of Satan).

I was then met with the claim that he was not trying to interpret it as a command to baptize infants but that he was using it as justification for determining what view of baptism allowed for the category of “godly seed”. He said God desires faith and faithfulness in a marriage because of what it produces, and that such logic carries over to the New Testament. While I promote there are only two categories of children in Scripture, children of God or children of Satan, his position is that there are additional categories that must be recognized in order to properly understand how the children of believers are to be dealt with. I can appreciate the desire to do something with these children, but I just do not see the biblical warrant to baptize them.

As for the category of what best describes godly seed, I would say that is going to entirely depend on whether or not God calls the child to Himself, not whether or not a child has been baptized. Certainly, any Reformed person would agree that we are all children of the devil prior to regeneration (John 8:44). So long as one remains in this state, he/she is not godly. The Presbyterian must create a third category, but those are the only two spiritual states laid out in Scripture. There simply is no third option. Anything else would be a purely fabricated category that would have nothing to do with their spiritual status. We are either in Adam or in Christ. That’s it. If we are in Adam, we need Christ and any blessings that might come our way are only because of either God’s common grace or as a byproduct of blessings given to His believing children that have a residual effect. I’m not even sure how one can say there is another category apart from Adam or Christ, Satan or God, unregenerate or regenerate. To say children of believers, so long as they remain in an unregenerate state, are anything other than children of the devil (in a spiritual sense) is to be at odds with Scripture. All humanity, regardless of whether or not their parents are saved, are in dire need of a Savior and are not adopted into the covenant until they enter through faith. The fact that Presbyterians believe in preaching the gospel to their kids only serves as an inconsistency in their view of the covenant of grace. To place them in a third category that merits bearing the sign of the covenant treats kids like they’re in, even though they lack faith and still belong to Satan.

Credobaptism is the clear demonstration from Scripture. I assert infant baptism is purely tradition, be it Presbyterian, Catholic, Lutheran, or other. This is further amplified by the fact that the Presbyterian version of paedobaptism isn’t even the original reason it was performed. Remember, other paedobaptist systems came before them and each had their own separate reasons. Thus, the Presbyterian edition is a revised version that clung to an action of tradition while merely changing its reasoning.

REASON #7
“For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” (1 Corinthians 7:14). The children of at least one believer are considered holy and not unclean like the world.

This is perhaps one of the easiest arguments to defeat. The basis of the argument is that the children of at least one believing parent is considered clean (i.e. holy) and should therefore be baptized. However, the unbelieving husband is also explicitly called holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is explicitly called holy because of her husband. Therefore, if the argument is that since the unbelieving child should be baptized due to being made holy by one believing parent, you would also have to argue that an unbelieving spouse should be baptized due to being made holy by the one believing spouse. If Presbyterians will not advocate for an unbelieving spouse to be baptized, it shows they don’t even really believe their own argument, at least not with any level of consistency. In fact, if one states the unbelieving spouse should abstain from baptism and the Supper, it would only serve to demonstrate why the unbelieving infant should also abstain.

But this goes back to the previous “reason” where the idea was floated that there are other categories apart from elect and reprobate within the Church. I admit there are various other categories (i.e. elder, deacon, sheep, husband, wife, child, etc), but when it comes to spiritual states, I outright deny this. There are only two. If one desires to be consistent, to use 1 Corinthians 7:14 for infant baptism would also be to use it as justification for the baptism of unbelieving spouses so long as one spouse was a believer. Yet, this isn’t pushed for. For any argument that the children are to be treated differently, the same argument must exist that the unbelieving spouse must be treated differently. Since all males who were part of Abraham’s house were to receive the sign of circumcision, it would stand that all (at a minimum, males) who are in the house of a believer would also have to bear the sign. Faith simply would not play a role. If faith does play a role, it must play the same role for all. This would only be further backed by the fact that the verse puts both unbelieving children and the unbelieving parent in the exact same category. Of course, the Presbyterian view begins not with Scripture but with a category of “covenant children” as rooted in tradition. Again, it requires a foundation of tradition before the subject can ever be broached. Since baptism does not regenerate, the paedobaptist must advocate for children of the devil bearing the sign of the covenant of Christ, void of faith and filled with sin.

But if the children of believers are not considered clean or holy, how can it be declared, with any level of confidence, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15)?” Can a house truly serve the Lord if the children within are not clean, holy, and baptized as children of the covenant who have been marked out as members of the visible Church? Is it a valid category? The problem with using a term like “covenant child” is that it isn’t even hinted at in Scripture. Yes, it could have been used of Old Covenant children but not of the New Covenant. People became members of the Old Covenant by nothing more than simply being born. It included believers, unbelievers, children, and servants. It was meant for a nation and all who were part of it. The New Covenant is far more selective in that only those who are in Christ are in the covenant. This limits the members to being only those who possess faith.

I also noticed a repeated theme in these “reasons” being cited. In many of them, it was said the reasoning does not depend on just that one reason but on all of it combined. However, every last one of the reasons has been easily refuted to show why it does not say what is being claimed. This means the reasoning is now built upon at least eight (counting the next one) refuted passages that are taken out of context. Having a plethora of verses taken out of context doesn’t mean a solid foundation exists. If anything, it demonstrates the opposite. A solid foundation would be built upon multiple verses that all say the same thing and can stand on their own merit individually but gain more strength when taken collectively. This is not the case here.

As for the comment about what marks the visible church, I agree this is baptism (though I would also add to that a public and credible profession of faith). However, the visible church should, in as many ways as possible, reflect the invisible church. This is why, when we discover someone who is living in sin, we might cast them out of fellowship and membership. Similarly, it is why we would not baptize an unbeliever who just so happens to come to church every Sunday (for whatever his reasons may be). To apply the sign to some merely because they sit in a pew or have a parent who believes is to misapply the sign. Yes, unbelieving wives and unbelieving children may be in the pew but that does not make them worthy of receiving the sign.

The holiness being spoken of is in the sense of being sanctified as a household. The believing spouse didn’t have to worry about leaving the unbelieving spouse. This is clearly the context of what’s being said in the passage. The same context is to be applied to the children. They didn’t need to be treated like outsider pagans to be rejected. Just as it isn’t saying they are saved, it also isn’t saying they are the recipients of the sign that is to be given to members of the covenant. This sign only belongs to believers who possess faith in Christ and are admitted membership through said faith.

As for Joshua 24:15, if it requires all members to actively serve the Lord in covenant before one can make the statement, it means a household who has one believing parent and one unbelieving parent would not be able to claim it. The children have no bearing on it. If being able to make the claim first requires baptism and entrance into the covenant, you now have to advocate for the unbelieving parent being admitted into the covenant, baptized, treated as a holy covenant member, and admitted to the Table. While some Presbyterians actually do claim this, I know my brother was not about to go that far. In that respect, I am thankful for his inconsistency.

REASON #8
Infants can die apart from conscious sin due to Adam’s federal headship and his imputed sin. Likewise, they can be saved through Christ’s federal headship and His imputed righteousness. Baptism does not force God’s grace, but it does signify it. See Romans 5:12-21.

Anybody whom God has called can (and will be) saved by His grace alone. If we’re not going to baptize all unbelieving adults in order to signify the potential grace that might be shown to them, we shouldn’t do it for infants either. While they may be saved and shown grace, they may not. Notice that both the WCF and 1689 (in 10.3) leave room by saying “Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit; who worketh when, and where, and how he pleases; so also are all elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.”

To go a bit further, his reasoning deferred to federal headship. While we are all in Adam by physical birth, we are only in Christ by spiritual rebirth. This first requires the Holy Spirit regenerating an individual. Of course, once regenerate, there is no becoming unregenerate. This is the very basis of Preservation of the Saints. Thus, once a person is regenerate, he are now in Christ and become the proper recipient of the sign. However, apart from this, no sign should be administered, for it becomes a sign administered in vain and error.

CONCLUSION

While there are a great many verses that our Presbyterian brethren will throw out there in an attempt to plead their case, none of them actually support their cause. In fact, when properly exegeted, they will often betray their cause and speak against it. We all come before Scripture with our presuppositions, but we should also always strive to let the Scriptures speak as we pray and meditate upon them. While some of my commentary above may sound harsh at times, it is my hope that you, the reader, will not only see why my brother’s “reasons” are flawed but also see love and grace in my rebuttals.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Mormonism and The Denial of Classical Theism

I to give credit to those on The Particular Baptist team that helped me with this article with recommendations and edits.

With my deeper dive into theology proper and historical theology it has opened up considerations I have not taken into account before. In this case, with Mormonism’s theism and how this topic was dealt with by Joesph Smith, the founder of the Mormon church. That is not to say I did not have a problem with Mormonism’s theism before, but with a stronger knowledge of God and historical theology has led to “Aha!” moments. The dots connect so to speak. It may surprise you to find that classical (i.e. biblical) theism is specifically dealt with in Mormon teaching. I know it did me. It makes for an intriguing study.

Classical theism, to those who may be new to this discussion, claims in its most basic form that God is simple (not composed of parts) and is therefore not actuated by anything outside of Himself. He just “is,” He is impassible (meaning God does not suffer or is acted upon ergo is not moved to anger, love, etc.), and is immutable (he does not change). There are other implications, but these are core tenets. This is contrasted, for instance, by “open theism” which sees God as mutable, passible, and creaturely. The purpose of this article is not to defend classical theism per se. We have defended classical theism in other places (such as in this podcast episode). But for the purposes of this article, it is important to know that classical theism represents the historical Christian position on the nature of God (hence its namesake, “classical”). As we will see, Joseph Smith’s rejection of this doctrine put him and his followers outside of the “catholic” (meaning, in this case, universal) church. In addition, this article is not an exhaustive treatment of Joseph Smith’s theology proper but looking at different aspects of it that he taught over the years. The quotations of Joseph Smith’s theology in this article are from a book put out by their church historian at the time, Joseph Fielding Smith (not to be confused with the Church’s founder), who was also the Church’s tenth president. The book is titled, “Teachings of The Prophet Joseph Smith.” I also quote from the Church’s website, making all my material quoted from the Mormon point of view (whether from the Church’s founder or from broader Mormonism primary sources). Let us begin.

That without body, parts and passions is nothing. There is no other God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones…We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The devil has no body, and herein is his punishment.

Smith, Joseph Fielding. “Section Four.” Teachings Of The Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book Company, 1976, p. 181.

The title of this section in the quoted work is, “Observation on the Sectarian God”. Smith knew that the God of historical Christianity is without body, parts, or passions. Given he came from a Presbyterian background, this should be hardly surprising. He probably knew the Westminster Confession of Faith quite well. It is also important to note that the time that Smith found himself in was one where people had trouble knowing what church to join, at least in the area of western New York where Smith resided. There were also people who were “unchurched” or segregated from mainline churches. See below from the Church’s website:

As more and more Americans crossed the Catskill and Adirondack mountains to settle in the Finger Lakes area of western New York, they tended to lose contact with established churches in their former homes. These “unchurched” settlers worried religious leaders of the main denominations, principally the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, who established proselyting programs for their disadvantaged brothers in the West…Farmington (later Manchester township) was one of several settlements in its district affected by this religious enthusiasm. In later years Lucy Mack Smith remembered it as “a great revival in religion, which extended to all the denominations of Christians in the surrounding country in which we resided. Many of the world’s people, becoming concerned about the salvation of their souls, came forward and presented themselves as seekers after religion.”6 Most folks wanted to join some church but were undecided on which one to adopt. The Prophet Joseph recalled that about two years after they moved to the farm there was “an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people” (Joseph Smith—History 1:5)

“The First Vision.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Intellectual Reserve, Inc., https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/manual/church-history-in-the-fulness-of-times/chapter-three?lang=eng.

It really should not be any wonder that Smith would fall into heretical doctrine since he probably was not well-versed in historical and biblical Christianity, given the culture he found himself in. This provides us what I think is key context for understanding Smith’s sharp deviation from orthodoxy. Now, to the discussion of God that Smith was against, this is the God that is not creaturely, composed of parts (simple), and passionate. Smith was in direct opposition to historical Christianity at this point, pitting himself against the ecumenical creeds of the Christian church that taught these principles. This is confirmed by the LDS Church’s own source material which discusses Smith’s engagement with classical theism of his day.

The earliest Latter-day Saints came from a society dominated by English-speaking Protestants, most of whom accepted both ex nihilo creation and the Westminster Confession’s definition of God as a being “without body, parts, or passions.”23 They likely knew little or nothing about the diversity of Christian beliefs in the first centuries after Jesus Christ’s ministry or about early Christian writings on deification. But revelations received by Joseph Smith diverged from the prevailing ideas of the time and taught doctrine that, for some, reopened debates on the nature of God, creation, and humankind.

“Becoming Like God.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Intellectual Reserve, Inc , https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/becoming-like-god?lang=eng.

As we can see, Smith’s opposition was directly against the predominant view of God at the time — among English-speaking Protestants at least. The Church even references the Westminster Confession of Faith’s definition of God’s essence (at least in part). It is interesting that the LDS Church claims that there is this diversity in the beliefs of the Protestant Church early on. While there was not some kind of complete monolithic understanding of God, there were core principles that were agreed on by those who were orthodox. The Council of Nicea in the 4th century concreted the Son’s ontological unity to the Father as opposed to Arius et al who taught Jesus was a creature of the Father, albeit higher than the rest of His creation. Athanatius’ later work bringing out Nicean theology greater shows implications of this ecumenical understanding of God, not to mention the work of the Cappadocian fathers on God that came after Nicea. Matthew Barrett of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary notes:

In the decades after Nicea, Athanasius would not be alone in his appeal to simplicity in the Trinity. Three theologians from Cappadocia offered support: Gregory of Nysa, Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory of Nazianzus. For the Cappadocians, affirming simplicity in the Trinity not only meant the persons held the essence in common. It meant more: the persons were consubstantial with one another because they were one in will and power.

Barrett, Matthew. “How Did We Drift Away?” Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit, Baker Books, a Division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, MI, 2021, p. 56.

And Nicea was by no means creating doctrine as they went along, but were following in the footsteps of those who had come before. For instance, James Dolezal points out that we see this even as far back as Irenaeus, who was a 2nd century theologian:

The second-century pastor and apologist Irenaeus of Lyons (c.130-202) in his famous work Against Heresies appeals to divine simplicity in order to prove to certain Greek emanationists that God neither exhibited passions nor underwent a mental alternation in the creation of the world…

Dolezal, James E. “Simple God.” All That Is In God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism, Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2017, p. 50.

We then have the Council of Constantinople in 381, which is where the Nicean Creed was birthed from, with the Council affirming Nicean theology in line with Athanasius (Barrett, 64). This creed was then considered binding across the church, not just in the West but in the East as well. Barrett again:

The fathers are claiming, in other words, that this Trinity they confess is none other than the Trinity of the Scriptures, the same Scriptures penned by the apostles. For that reason, the creed carries authority in the church, and not just the church of the fourth century but the church universal, across all lands and spanning all eras, East and West.

Barrett, Matthew. “How Did We Drift Away?” Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit, Baker Books, a Division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, MI, 2021, p. 65.

So while there was some diversity on the nature of God in the early church, it is important to note that God’s simplicity and aseity (that have to do with Him being without parts or body) were agreed upon among the orthodox at the very least, East and West. This is not to even mention the Council of Chalcedon which would deal with the Incarnation specifically and was directly related to Constantinople and Nicea. The article from the Church also mentions that those 19th century Protestants would probably have had little or no knowledge of “diversity” of thought among the early church as if they were simply ignorant and not making an informed decision, which I think would by and large be untrue given the rich heritage that the Westminster came from in the 17th century and its direct line from the early church itself. Notice what Arnold says:

Ultimately, the response of the pre-Restoration Establishment – an Establishment which included many who later would be rejected – remained clear and concise through this iteration of the trinitarian controversy. Even the Laudian regime issued a canon against Socinianism. These theologians built their response on the traditional view of the Trinity as established in the three creeds followed by the Church of England: the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed…the Independents were in harmony with the Establishment when, in the Savoy Declaration (1658), they declared that ‘Doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our Communion with God, and comfortable Dependance upon him’.

Arnold, Jonathan W. “The Godhead.” The Reformed Theology of Benjamin Keach (1640-1704), Regent’s Park College, Oxford, 2013, p. 78.

Keep in mind that the Westminster came about in the 1640s prior to the Savoy Declaration and the Declaration was based on, at least in part, the Westminster. There is different language on the doctrine of God, but it does not contradict it. So if the Savoy was based off the Westminster and the Savoy was following the vein as found in the early church creeds listed in Arnold’s work on Keach that talk about the nature of God, then I think it is unlikely that those during the time of Smith who held to the Westminster’s understanding of God would not have known history surrounding their confession, given said Confession follows the same tradition as the Savoy. It is too simplistic to say that they were merely ignorant. Now, we move onto some astounding words from Joseph Smith.

God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible, – I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form – like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another. In order to understand the subject of the dead, for consolation of those who mourn for the loss of their friends, it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take way the veil, so that you may see.

Smith, Joseph Fielding. “Section Six.” Teachings Of The Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book Company, 1976, p. 345.

This is a flat out denial of historical, orthodox theology proper. God is made out to be no more than a “super human.” He upholds the world with his power, but he is a man, like us. This plays into what Smith had noted earlier that a being without body, parts, passions is nothing. In his mind, God MUST be like us if he is to be SOMETHING at all. Ergo the only conclusion that Smith comes to is that God must be creaturely. He must be a human body. There is no real creator/creature distinction here: the distinction that if God is the creator of all things, then it must necessitate that everything outside of God must be ontologically distinct from Him. There is no way that this view could be held consistently within this view of a “creaturely” God that Smith created in his mind. We will come back to the discussion of creation here in a bit as Smith addresses it directly. For now, Smith believed and asserted that God is creaturely for various reasons, such as Adam talked with God like you and I would talk — ergo he must be a human body. If God is a human body (even if a “super human”), then it begs the question of who came before God? Is there a supreme being that IS NOT creaturely in Smith’s mind? What about the clear teaching of Scripture (such as Romans 11:36) that teaches God is first cause of all things thereby leaving no room whatsoever for there be anything creaturely in God, as this would necessitate someone above God causing God to be? Smith, in his rejection of over 1,000 years of church teaching, not to mention the Scriptures themselves, created a conundrum on a metaphysical and epistemological level. How can Smith’s God account for anything at all? How can his God really uphold all that there is given he is creaturely and therefore dependent upon outside forces (i.e. his own bodily functions) to be? Smith expressly denies, in the above reference, any notion of eternality in God and treats it as false teaching. The only conclusion that can be made from this assertion is that his God is bound by time. Smith is going after biblical and historical orthodoxy and planting himself outside of Christianity. God’s eternality as found in Scripture (the Bible) leaves us with a timeless being who must be outside of it given his role as the Creator of all things that exist (which would include time by necessity). This removes all change of God since he is not moving along a timeline from one state of being to another as in the category of creatures. The Scriptures remove God from being creaturely in any way (for instance see Psalm 102:25-27). Change is only ascribed to that which is creaturely in this set of verses while God is distinct and remains unchanging. God MUST be outside of His creation, or He would bound to it, or we compromise God’s very distinguished role as Creator as the first cause. This rejection led Smith to believing God became God at some point in time (“in time” is key here since there is no eternality in his mind as Scripture teaches). Smith, by toying with God’s eternality, created a God that was just like him albeit more powerful. This is really no better than a god found in a Greek pantheon of gods: powerful, yet creature. We then look at another error of Smith’s, this time regarding creation.

You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing; and they will answer, “Doesn’t the Bible say He created the world?” And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos – chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end.

Smith, Joseph Fielding. “Section Six.” Teachings Of The Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book Company, 1976, p. 350-352

Here we see explicit denial, by Smith, of creation ex nihilo or “out of nothing”. The book above also has a very long footnote trying to establish the credibility of Smith’s beliefs by citing some “scholars” (some of whom who are from the post-Enlightenment period at least). It seems clear that those cited are not believers in classical theism or of the historical (and biblical) understanding of the doctrine of creation, which speaks to their conclusions about what “create” means. Smith clearly holds to a view that sees some kind of matter as existing alongside God that was then used by God to create the world. If “create” merely means to “form” something (which would mean to be the efficient cause of something and maybe it could be argued the “material cause”) out of what is already there, then we have solved the age of mystery of Creation. However, when studying Scripture (the Bible) we see a very different picture of Creation. Creation ex nihilo is such because the Scriptures teach that God created ALL things (John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:16, Romans 11:36). Matter, given it is not God itself, must thereby come from God, being brought into existence by Him and cannot be equal in terms of its duration of existence. This would give something that is not God the divine essence as eternality (timelessness) is proper to God alone. Therefore, God is not working with some “eternal” matter that God then “forms” or “creates” the world with. Smith seems to have a misunderstanding of creation ex nihilo as historically understood. To begin, Barcellos notes:

Ex nihilo refers to the bringing into existence of being that had no being without change in the Being who brought what was not in being into being. God is productive of things but did not first produce things from things. Creation ex nihilo has not material cause…Ex nihilo does not mean creation from nothing absolutely, for from nothing can come nothing…God brings things into being though not from things in being (i.e. creatures).

Barcellos, Richard C. “Relevant Issues.” Trinity & Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account, Resource Publications, Eugene, OR, 2020, pp. 37–38.

God brings things into being and existence, not that they did so spontaneously without a cause as if there was no God, but their existence is grounded in God as being “from Him” (Romans 11:36). This establishes creation ex nihilo. It is also important to note that in the Reformed tradition, at least with the 2nd London Baptist Confession of 1677, it has been understood that there is a difference between “create” and “make”. Notice Barcellos again,

Notice the words “create or make” in 2LCF. These are not necessarily synonymous terms. The word “create” can refer to the production of being or matter and the word “make” can refer to the formation of created matter. This reflects Genesis 2:3, where we read, “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (emphasis added)…To “create” implies “from nothing” and to “make” means to form from something.

Barcellos, Richard C. “Relevant Issues.” Trinity & Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account, Resource Publications, Eugene, OR, 2020, p. 39.

This points to the two step approach to creation found among Christians as it relates to creation. Richard Muller notes:

referring to the divine creation of the world not of preexistent and therefore eternal materials but out of nothing. This view is normative for Christian theology and is consonant with the theory of a two-stage creation, i.e., (1) of the material substratum of things and (2) of actual things by the informing or imparting of form to matter.

Muller, Richard A. “Ex Nihilo .” Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally From Protestant Scholastic Theology, 2nd Edition ed., Baker Academic, 2017, p. 112.

God creates existence without any pre-existing material but then (logically, not actually in terms of sequence to remote change in God) forms the matter he brought into existence. Muller again:

The Protestant scholastics allow the maxim Ex nihilo nihil fit as representing the limit of natural reason and as supplemented without contradiction by the truth of the doctrine of the divine creatio (q.v.): no finite creature can create from nothing. The ens perfectissimum (q.v.), God, who is ens (q.v.) in an absolute sense, is without analogy in the finite order and therefore transcends rather than contradicts the results of human reason. As ens perfectissimum, God can give being to the finite order and is therefore the single exception to the rule. In addition, the maxim does not claim Ex nihilo nihil creatur, Nothing is created out of nothing, but only Ex nihilo nihil generatur, Nothing is produced out of nothing. Christian doctrine never claims that nothing or nothingness is a positive source or ground of something but says only that God creates out of nothing or, in other words, creates all of existence, including the material substratum (see materia prima).

Muller, Richard A. “Ex Nihilo .” Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally From Protestant Scholastic Theology, 2nd Edition ed., Baker Academic, 2017, p. 113.

God, as existence itself absolutely, is categorically different than creation and does not fall into the rule that finite beings cannot create from nothing. However, given God is simple, immutable, and pure act, He can and must be able to do this. If God needed material to form the world, He would be dependent upon something outside Himself to actuate states of being within Him (in this case, to make the world). This makes God dependent upon matter and is therefore not supreme but contingent and mutable. This flies in the face of biblical revelation of God’s being and necessitates a God who gains existence from that which is not God. We then have to find the First Cause beyond God and we are back to creation out of nothing. When one is not contingent by nature, infinite power is at their fingertips giving them the ability to actuate existence from nothing. This seems to be along the lines of the Reformer and scholastic Francis Turretin.

One who is existence can give existence to whom they please. All of this leads to the conclusion that Smith has seemed to have conflated these terms (create and make) which had been distinguished in history. Should he have known this? Probably not given the historical reality he found himself in, as we have noted. But this does not diminish the fact he introduced an egregious error. Having a consistent hermeneutic that did not see problems in the Scriptures and that utilizes the “analogy of faith” that Scripture should clarify Scripture would’ve prevented Smith from falling into this trap of seeing the divine, trinitarian act of creation as ex nihilo as anything but problematic. Having proper knowledge of historical Christianity would have helped, too, which it seems he did not have. If he had a theology proper that consistently saw God as being the creator of all things, he would have concluded that matter, in any sense, would need to be brought into existence by God in order to be formed into everything else. This helps us maintain the creator/creature distinction while explaining, as best we can, how everything came to be.

Joseph Smith was a blight. He challenged not only biblical authority (by introducing his own “scriptures”) but challenged settled, Christian orthodoxy as found in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. His religion and erroneous teachings about his god were not found in Scripture, but in the pagan challenges of an American boy (he was 14 at the alleged First Vision) that were fed likely by a lack of sound theology.

– Daniel Vincent

Is Gambling a Sin?

*This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of all of the contributors to the Particular Baptist

Recently, I had the privilege of appearing on the Why Theology podcast to talk about the Church and how it should be governed. While on it I was asked the question about how a church with a congregational form of government would make a decision about whether to support a casino moving into town. I had never really considered the question of how specifically to react to a casino moving in and what to do about it, although I had spent time thinking about the subject of gambling before. I thought it might be edifying if I placed some of those thoughts here and applied them to what Christians should think about casinos.

There is no Bible verse explicitly condemning gambling. And as Christians we do not want to add to God’s law and forbid things He has never forbidden (Deuteronomy 4:2). To do so would be to say we know better than God about what is right and wrong. However, there are some verses about how we should think about money that we should consider when thinking about this subject.

But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

1 Timothy 6:9-10

We are not to love money. That’s not to say that money itself is evil, but that the love of money consumes and turns people into idolaters. Covetousness is sin. If someone is engaged in gambling because of a love of money then they need to examine themselves and repent of their idolatry of seeking money rather than God.

He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him.

Proverbs 28:22

The Bible condemns trying to get rich quick and commends those who through diligence build wealth. So one who is involved in gambling goes against God’s wisdom. And as the verse says poverty is likely to come upon him.

The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

Psalm 24:1

For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.

Psalm 50:10

Everything belongs to God. Even “our money” is not our own. Even if we earned it through work, God is the One who gave us our skills, material, and the opportunities to earn it. In the parable of the talents, we are commanded to be wise with what we are given (Matthew 25:14-30). Gambling large sums of our money is putting our ability to provide for ourselves, our families, and for the work of God’s kingdom into jeopardy.

 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

1 Corinthians 6:11

Gambling can lead to gambling addiction. If you’re the type of person that has an addictive personality type, you should stay away. If you are a gambling addict, you need to come out of it. And the Lord Jesus can deliver you from this sin (Matthew 1:21) if you put your trust in Him (Acts 16:31).

Is gambling inherently sinful? I don’t think so. The Bible doesn’t say this. I’ve had friends over to play a friendly game of cards with poker chips, and I see nothing in the Bible that would condemn this, as I wasn’t being unwise with my money. I’ve also been to a casino once since becoming a Christian (although much earlier in my walk). I went into it with the idea that I knew I would probably lose my money and I was not going to spend very much, but I was going to use it as a source of entertainment, just like I would by spending money to see a baseball game or something of that nature. To be honest, I didn’t end up having that much fun, as constantly pulling the levers on the slot machines and immediately seeing I lost made me feel like I was just throwing money away. But if someone went into it with this attitude, I would not think they were being unwise with their money. That being said casinos do destroy people’s lives, and a believer might want to consider whether it’s wise to spend their money and support an institution that encourages this. A believer might also want to consider how others might perceive them going to a casino. Even if its not inherently sinful, if we know it would cause a brother with a gambling problem to stumble, or if it would cause the unbelieving world to think that Christians are consumed by gambling, I would say you should not go. We should walk in a way as to not cause our brothers to stumble nor the world to think we are just like them.

Athanasius and the Arians: A Commentary

I’m currently working my way through John Behr’s book, “The Nicean Faith”. This is a very helpful work that goes into depth of theological and historical events surrounding and involved in the Council of Nicea. This article is really just from me reading and then writing down thoughts I have from my reading. Hope it is helpful.

The basis of Athanasius’ argument against those whom he calls “Arians” is exegetical: he claims that they have not properly understood the scriptural texts that they cite in support of their contention that the Son is a creature. Several times, during the course of examining the disputed texts, Athanasius turns to the principles of exegesis and the elements of the text that should be taken into account, following what any student would have learnt from his grammatikos.

John Behr, The Nicene Faith, Part 1 & 2, vol. 2, The Formation of Christian Theology (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004), 208.

This section is very interesting. Behr notes the foundation of Athanasius’s push against the Arians is indeed Scripture. Sure, there was philosophical language adopted by the Nicean council (hypostasis and homoousious being at least two examples of this) that were not expressly found in Scripture, but this great church father wanted to ensure that his arguments were not based on philosophical assumptions as helpful as those assumptions may be. He saw this issue as to who Christ is as one that should be settled by going to the authoritative Scriptures. This, at the very least, bears seeds of sola scriptura that would be a large part of the Reformation hundreds of years later. Behr even goes on to discuss the hermeneutical methodology employed by Athanasius.

As both Athanasius and those whom he called “Arians” agreed that the referent of the text of Scripture is the Word of God, the brunt of Athanasius’ argument against his opponents falls upon his claim that Scripture speaks throughout of Jesus Christ, himself the Word of God, and does so in a twofold fashion. As Athanasius sees it, by failing to differentiate how or under what “aspect” any given text of Scripture speaks of Jesus Christ, the “Arians” have conflated theology and economy and have so ended up with an intermediary being, their Word, who is himself subject to time (or at least subsequent to God), even if begotten before our time. Athanasius, on the other hand, by distinguishing what is spoken of Christ as he is from what belongs to what he has done, the economy, can maintain that the abiding, timeless, subject of theological reflection is Jesus Christ, who has himself acted in time for us.

John Behr, The Nicene Faith, Part 1 & 2, vol. 2, The Formation of Christian Theology (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004), 213–214.

There is an interesting distinction between the “Arians” and Athanasius: while they both held to Scripture as God’s Word, only one party held to a view of Scripture that did not allow for extra biblical language. The Arians did not like homoousious and such language since it was not a term found in Scripture. Francis Turretin notes:

The Arians, Sabellians and other anti-Trinitarians pressed this against the orthodox in their day—that the names ousias, homoousios, hypostaseōs, etc. did not occur in the Scriptures and so ought not to be admitted in the church.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 257–258.

This extra-biblical language assisted in the description of biblical truth and was not seen as contrary to it. However, the Arians did not hold to such things. They gawked at the idea that anything not expressly found in Scripture could be introduced into the church’s vocabulary. This means that they denied, at least when it came to Christ, good and necessary consequence that flows from what is expressly written in the Scriptures. Contrary to this, we see the tradition of Nicea being carried down through the medieval time period into he Reformation. Among the Reformed there was the strong belief that what flowed from the express Scripture was also to be upheld. Both the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1677 London Baptist Confession of Faith in chapter 1, paragraph 6 teach this concept, seemingly following along the same lines of the early church in their hermeneutic.

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture

1677 London Baptist Confession of Faith Chapter 1, Paragraph 6

I think the 1677 LBCF does a better job of communicating the principle of good and necessary consequence. It does not just teach that what necessarily flows from express Scriptures is good or helpful but actually says its “contained” in the Scriptures themselves. This is very important. The Westminster carries the same sentiment, but I do not think communicates this as clearly:

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture

Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 1, Paragraph 6

This is clear evidence of the identification of these Reformed groups with the “catholic” church on core doctrine and biblical interpretation and not redefining such things.

When therefore the theologians [i.e., the evangelists] who speak of him say that he ate and drank and was born, know that the body, as body, was born, and was nourished on suitable food; but that he, God the Word united with the body (αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ συνὼν τῷ σώματι θεὸς λόγος), orders the universe, and through his actions in the body made known that he himself was not a man but God the Word. But these things are said of him (λέγεται δὲ περὶ αὐτοῦ), because the body which ate and was born and suffered was no one else’s but the Lord’s; and since he became man, it was right for these things to be said [of him] as concerning man (ὡς περὶ ἀνθρώπου λέγεσθαι), that he might be shown to have a true, not an unreal, body. And as, from these things, he was known to be bodily present, so by the works he did through the body he made himself known to be the Son of God. (Inc. 18)
Athanasius appears to be claiming that it is the body itself that ate, was born, and suffered, as if the body were a second subject alongside the Word who dwells in it. But, as with his treatment of partitive exgesis, where two subjects also seemed to be implied, closer examination shows that the primary concern for Athanasius is the unity of the one subject, about whom, nevertheless, various things are said in two distinct categories. His point is that, the Word having become man, what happens to the body is properly “said of him”; these things are said of no other, for the body belonged to no one else but the Word.

John Behr, The Nicene Faith, Part 1 & 2, vol. 2, The Formation of Christian Theology (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004), 217–218.

This is very advanced Christology given that creed of Chalcedon would not be ratified until 451, almost 100 years after the death of Athanasius. You can see even the seeds of the unity of the divine and human natures of Christ in the person of the Word. This is not to say that there was monolithic grasping of this Christology as seen clearly from the dissenting Arians, but this would be the principles found in orthodoxy later on. Even Athanasius would have what I would call less than helpful language to describe “suffering” as it relates to the Incarnation (although he did maintain that the Word was impassible while the human nature was not). Nevertheless, the distinction of Christ’s two natures and their unity around the one person of Christ is there. This is also seen in the fact that Athanasius was using partitive exegesis to see how the Scriptures were talking about Christ. Scott Swain notes what this type of exegesis is:

“Partitive exegesis” refers to the practice of ascribing both divine and human natures, actions, and sufferings from scriptural accounts of Jesus’s life to a single personal subject, the second person of the Trinity. Though his divine and human natures account for how Jesus did and suffered what he did and suffered (i.e., as God and man), they do not account for who it is who did and suffered what Jesus did and suffered. Partitive exegesis, as an exegetical practice, is a way of observing that, in all of his doings and sufferings, we are dealing with one personal subject, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity incarnate.

Swain, Scott. “Trinitarian Personalism and Christian Preaching.” Reformed Blogmatics, 30 Sept. 2019, https://www.scottrswain.com/2019/09/27/trinitarian-personalism-and-christian-preaching/.

This exegesis requires a specific hermeneutic to look at how the text of Scripture is be interpreted relating to Incarnation. And given that this exegesis is specific, it indicates the advanced Christology that was in the 4th century and that Athanasius didn’t come to this by accident, but was working with an intentional approach to the text. This should be a lesson to us, that we should read Scripture as the early church did. Seeing these truths as flowing from good and necessary consequence means they utilized conclusions not expressly found in the text. The real division between the human nature of Christ and and the divine is not found in so many words in the text, but flows naturally from what it does say clearly about both natures. There is only one person namely the Son (who just is a certain mode of existence of the divine essence) brought out in the Scriptures, not multiple personalities. And as the Scriptures in John 1:14, the Word became flesh. The Son, as divine, did not change into a human being as this would violate the nature of God (Malachi 3:6). He assumed human flesh, uniting the nature the human through the unique subsistence of the Son thereby uniting the two natures in the person of the Son.

…the only necessary consequent of this assumption of the human nature, or the incarnation of the Son of God, is the personal union of Christ, or the inseparable subsistence of the assumed nature in the person of the Son.

Vidu, Adonis. “The Incarnation of the Son Alone.” The Same God Who Works All Things: Inseparable Operations in Trinitarian Theology, William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2021, p. 165. (quoting John Owen’s work, The Holy Spirit)

Even Owen sees these concepts as “necessary consequent” of the assumption of Christ as found in Scripture. Owen then in turn is following in the “catholic” church’s hermeneutic utilizing partitive exegesis in describing the Incarnation. This shows yet again the clear identification of the Reformed with the orthodox and their desire to retrieve that which came before and not invent new doctrines or methods.

– Daniel Vincent

Confessing Simplicity Isn’t Enough

Can you spot the irony in the quote below?

“He begot an only begotten Son before aeonian times (γεννήσαντα υἱὸν μονογενῆ πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων), through whom he also made the aeons and everything, begetting him not just in appearance but in truth, giving him existence by his own will, unchangeable and unalterable, a perfect creature of God (ὑποστήσαντα ἰδίῳ θελήματι, ἄτρεπτον καὶ ἀναλλοίωτον, κτίσμα τοῦ θεοῦ τέλειον), but not as one of the creatures, an offspring (γέννημα), but not as one of the offsprings; nor is the Father’s offspring an emanation (προβολήν), as Valentinus taught; nor is the offspring a consubstantial part (μέρος ὀμοούσιον) of the Father, as Mani presented him; nor as Sabellius said, dividing the monad, a “son-father” (υἱοπατόρα); nor as did Hieracas, who spoke of a lamp from a lamp or as it were a torch divided in two; nor do we hold that the one who was previously was later begotten or created as Son (οὐδὲ τὸν ὄντα πρότερον, ὕστερον γεννηθέντα ἢ ἐπικτισθέντα εἰς υἱόν), even as you, blessed Pope, used often in the midst of the church and council to reject those who introduced these ideas. Rather, as we said, he was created by the will of God before times and before ages, and received life and being from the Father, and the glories, since he gave him existence alongside himself (συνυποστήσαντος αὐτῷ τοῦ πατρός). For the Father, having given him the inheritance of all things, did not deprive himself of that which he possesses unoriginatedly (ἀγεννήτως) in himself; for he is the source of all things. Thus there are three hypostases. God, the cause of all things, is supremely alone without beginning (ἄναρχος μονώτατος), while the Son, having been begotten timelessly (ἀχρόνως γεννηθεὶς) by the Father, and created and established before the aeons, was not before he was begotten (οὐκ ἦν πρὸ τοῦ γεννηθῆναι), but, begotten timelessly before all else, was alone given existence by the Father (μόνος ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρὸς ὑπέστη). For he is not eternal or coeternal or counbegotten with the Father, nor does he have being together with the Father, as some people speak of things being in relationship, thus introducing two ingenerate principles. Rather, as the monad and principle of all things, God is thus before all things. He is also therefore before the Son, as we learned from you when you were preaching in church. As therefore it is from God that he has being, glories and life, and all things have been handed over to him, in this way God is his cause (ἀρχή). For he, as his God and being before him, rules (ἄρχει) him. And if the words “from him,” [Rom 11:36] and “from the womb” [Ps 109:3 LXX] and “I have come forth from the Father and am here” [Jn 16:28] are taken by some to mean that he is a consubstantial part of him, and as an emanation, then the Father will be composite, divisible, and changeable, and will, according to them, experience having a body and, insofar as they can arrange it, what is consequent to having a body, he who is God incorporeal.”

John Behr, The Nicene Faith, Part 1 & 2, vol. 2, The Formation of Christian Theology (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004), 136–137 (emphasis added).

This lengthy quote is from Arius, the notorious heretic who denied that Jesus was one in substance with the Father. I wanted to provide the entire passage from John Behr’s, “The Nicean Faith” to show context. Notice the last section, “…some to mean that he is a consubstantial part of him, and as an emanation, then the Father will be composite, divisible, and changeable, and will, according to them, experience having a body and, insofar as they can arrange it, what is consequent to having a body, he who is God incorporeal”. Arius is utilizing language of divine simplicity (and even immutability). He asserts that the Father (as understood by Arius) can’t be divided. It is clear that Arius thought if the Son was God, then this would compromise the doctrine of God’s unity. He didn’t grasp the concept of relational distinction which would have solved this problem, but instead thought the Son was a creature. Behr notes,

“In his positive assertions, particularly striking is the variety of ways in which Arius describes the relationship of the Son to the Father, using images which go back to Wisdom’s description of her origins in Prov 8:22–25: “The Lord created (ἔκτισεν) me at the beginning of his work … I was established (ἐθεμελίωσεν) … before the hills he begets (γεννᾷ) me.” Such descriptions are taken, by Arius, to apply univocally to the Son himself (rather than as divine or as human), though in a manner incomparable with others. Thus, Arius is clear that the Son can be spoken of as a creature, a “perfect creature of God,” yet “not as one of the creatures,” for the Son alone was given existence by God, while all other things were brought into existence through the Son. Similarly the Son can be called an “offspring,” but again, “not as one of the [other] offsprings” mentioned in Scripture…”

John Behr, The Nicene Faith, Part 1 & 2, vol. 2, The Formation of Christian Theology (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004), 138.

Arius’s confession of simplicity goes to show that confessing the doctrine isn’t enough. As heretical as he was, this fundamental truth about God was not compromised by him. Yet, the implications of this crucial doctrine were not worked out. We need to work out the implications of simplicity in order to remain in line with the doctrine as laid out in Scripture. This article is not meant to defend this doctrine. We’ve done that before, and I’d recommend listening to this episode from our podcast with Dr. James Dolezal. Now, when I say we need to work out the implications, I’m not saying we need to work out every implication about this doctrine in this life. That’s impossible as that would mean we would be able to grasp God perfectly. But we should work to know our God and have an orthodox understanding of the doctrine beyond just simply saying, “I believe in divine simplicity”. The more we know of our God, not only will we learn how to worship Him better, but it will help keep us from error about God. If one says they believe that God is not composed of parts, but then turns around and says that God’s attributes are really different in God, then you have to wonder if they really believe the doctrine they claim to hold to. Being consistent with what we claim to believe must be our goal.

– Daniel Vincent

PAEDOBAPTISM MOCKS THE OLD TESTAMENT

BAPTISM. It’s no surprise that I disagree with paedobaptism. It also shouldn’t be a surprise when I say the Baptist and Presbyterian views of baptism will revolve around how we view the covenant of grace. Each side believes in the covenant of grace, but we greatly differ in how we believe it is applied as well as when it was implemented. Without getting too far into the weeds, Presbyterians (and some others) believe the covenant of grace was active in the Old Testament but was merely a different form of administration as compared to the New Testament. Just as circumcision was a sign of the old covenant, so they feel baptism is a sign of the new covenant. Similarly, just as children in the old covenant were given the sign of circumcision, they feel children of believing parents are considered “covenant children” who should receive the sign of baptism. Now, there is far more to be understood on this topic, but this should suffice to give a fair overview of their beliefs. While my first two statements shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, perhaps my third will. I assert paedobaptism makes a mockery of the Old Testament and the old covenant (i.e. Mosaic covenant) by inadvertently declaring the latter to be a sham.

Before the hate mail begins, allow me to justify my assertion and preface it with the acknowledgment that no Presbyterian would ever dare make such a claim of the old covenant. I do believe our Presbyterian brethren are genuine in their desire to be true to the Word of God. My point is less that they openly declare such a position and more that their belief in infant baptism necessitates it. As we begin, we need to turn our attention to the eighth chapter of Hebrews. I will make bold the parts I plan to discuss in more detail.

6But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, to the extent that He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. 7For if that first covenant had been free of fault, no circumstances would have been sought for a second. 8For in finding fault with the people, He says,

“Behold, days are coming, says the Lord,
When I will bring about a new covenant
With the house of Israel and the house of Judah,
9Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers
On the day I took them by the hand
To bring them out of the land of Egypt;
For they did not continue in My covenant,
And I did not care about them, says the Lord.
10For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel
After those days, declares the Lord:
I will put My laws into their minds,
And write them on their hearts.
And I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.
11And they will not teach, each one his fellow citizen,
And each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
For they will all know Me,
From the least to the greatest of them.
12For I will be merciful toward their wrongdoings,
And their sins I will no longer remember.”

13When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is about to disappear. -- (Hebrews 8:6-13)

I will use the remainder of this article to lay out my reasoning. For the sake of space, this will just lightly touch on the subject. However, I do believe my case will still be made clear despite the brevity.

To begin, we must keep in mind the author of Hebrews declares the new covenant is not only new (v.8) but is also a better covenant with better promises (v.6). He makes it abundantly clear that this new covenant is not like the old one made with their fathers (v.9). It seems awfully strange to go to such an extent in differentiating the covenants, only for them to end up actually being the same covenant under a different administration. Not to mention, there is zero mention here of administrations. It is the covenants themselves that are different from one another. In the old, there was fault in that it was held together by man (v.7). The new is faultless because it is God Himself who keeps it. Again, the old covenant and new covenant are not the same, and any similarities in the old serve as a type/shadow of the new that was to come.

Let us shift our focus to Hebrews 8:8-12. These verses are quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34. Take note that Jeremiah is speaking in the future tense. At a minimum, the covenant of grace did not yet exist during his day. He clearly wrote of it as being a covenant yet to be. So when was the covenant of grace established? The answer to this is simple. It was established in the crucifixion of our Savior. The covenant of grace was not validly established until His blood was shed (Hebrews 9:16). Just as the old covenant was inaugurated with blood (Hebrews 9:18-19), so was the new covenant. Nobody tries arguing the old covenant existed prior to its inauguration. We must hold the same standard to the new covenant if we hope to be consistent.

But what happened to the old covenant once the new came? According to Scripture, it was made obsolete and disappeared (v.13). With the new covenant, there was no longer a need for the old. The Presbyterian uses words like “administration” because it fits their tradition, but we see no such wording found here. This is an area where I wish Presbyterians had continued reforming. I like to semi-jokingly assert that Lutherans were part of the Reformation but are not Reformed, Presbyterians are partially Reformed, and Particular Baptists are thoroughly Reformed. Of course that’s not to say we’re perfect and have it all figured out, but I do feel in the case of baptism we are further Reformed than our Presbyterian brethren. I also assert infant baptism is a doctrinal holdover of popish error and tradition. If the new covenant was not the old covenant, the new covenant was not inaugurated until the death of Christ, and the old covenant was rendered obsolete upon the establishment and inauguration of the new covenant, it necessitates that the old covenant and new covenant could not both exist simultaneously. The covenant of grace was not valid until it was ratified by Christ through the shedding of His blood, which means it was not active in the Old Testament. Thus, if paedobaptism requires the belief that the covenant of grace was active in the Old Testament, it must first declare the entire old covenant to be a sham. I dare say this is no small claim, but it is the logical conclusion of paedobaptism so long as it holds to the “two administrations” model of the covenant of grace. If the covenant of grace truly existed in the Old Testament, it means the old covenant was obsolete from the beginning, that it was never a valid covenant, and that it was all a sham. Thus, paedobaptism makes a mockery of the old Mosaic covenant and all who believed they were a part of something valid. During their time, the new covenant existed in promise only, the substance yet to be inaugurated.

But what does that make of Old Testament saints? Were they not actually saved? If they were saved, was it by some other means than how we are saved today? Rest assured, Old Testament saints were saved in the very same manner we are today: by faith in Christ alone. Paul makes very clear that Abraham was justified by the same faith that we possess today (Romans 4). This is because Old Testament saints looked forward in faith to the coming Messiah while New Testament saints look back through faith. This faith remains constant, though there was certainly more revealed in time. So does this mean Old Testament saints were actually in the covenant of grace after all? Does this mean they saw heaven from the moment of death because of their faith? The answer to the second question is no. The answer to the first question, however, is a bit more difficult to answer. While they were saved by the same faith, and we can safely say they are part of the covenant of grace, they were not yet in the covenant because it had not yet been established. There was no covenant of grace to be a part of. However, it was their very real faith that saved them. This is why they went to Abraham’s Bosom (for more, READ THIS). This was not a place of uncertainty but of temporary holding until the Christ would come and inaugurate the new covenant. Upon inauguration, all who possessed faith in Christ were now a part of it though Him. The below graphic might help.

TIMELINE OF THE SAINTS

The good news is that there is now a better covenant with better promises. In the old covenant, you could be a full-fledged member simply by birth, yet be bound for hell in unbelief. The better promise of the new covenant is that all who are part of it will see heaven. This is because only those in Christ by faith are members. All members of this new covenant, from the greatest to the least, will know Christ (v.11). Just as circumcision was the sign of the old covenant, so is circumcision required in the new. All new covenant members will bear the sign of a circumcised heart which leads to faith. This is the inward reality of all members. I, too, believe in covenant children but only in one of two ways: either a child who comes to saving faith in Christ, or by the fact that all believers are children of God. As Pastor Steve Clevenger so succinctly put it, “You are not in the new covenant without the inward realities.”

The new covenant is unbreakable. All who are in it shall remain in it. No covenant member can wear the external signs, void of internal realities, only to fall away or depart later. Such a person only demonstrates they were not covenant members at all. While Baptists may occasionally mistakenly baptize false converts, Presbyterians routinely do so to those who never even proclaim faith, all in the name of a covenantal continuity that does not exist. This is dangerous territory. If you were baptized as an infant only to come to faith later in life, I urge you to be baptized through faith in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the absence of faith, your baptism was just a BATHtism. Seek obedience to your Savior have the ordinance be carried out biblically.

The new covenant is unbreakable! Take peace in this and give thanks to the Lord who has called His own and shall preserve us to the end in such an unbreakable covenant.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Every Good and Perfect Gift

Thanks to The Particular Baptist team for their edits and recommendations for this article.

As Christians, we are truly blessed. Not only have we been given the gift of Christ but we have inherited blessings from God that ensure we have everything that we need.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…

Ephesians 1:3

Paul opens up the book of Ephesians with praise, praise for what God has done for His people. Those who have been united with Christ by faith alone. They have given their lives to follow the King and that leads them to receive these blessings from above. This concept of being “in Christ” is covenantal in purpose. We are united to the federal head of the New Covenant when we believe by faith in Christ, just like Romans 5 teaches that we were in Adam before being saved (covenantally united to him as the federal head of the human race). This means that we receive all the benefits that come from the federal head of that covenant: in this case, Christ. And in Adam’s case, it was death and sin being an adverse “gifting” to his posterity.

What does this have to do with us receiving the spiritual blessings? We are united to Christ, thereby being “in Christ”. This means that we receive all those blessings from God. Not some. All. Every spiritual blessing is ours for the taking. Some of these are listed out in 1 Corinthians 1:30 where it says, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption…”

Being united to Christ means that His righteousness, the righteousness that came from His perfect life lived and His death, is ours. Redemption that comes from His death is ours. We have all that we need being united to Jesus as the mediator of the New Covenant. There are no works to add, no baptisms to perform that regenerate, no rituals to pass through, but all we need is in Christ. Let us rejoice in this promise as we continue to walk in our Christian lives. We will see our King because of His righteousness, part of “every spiritual blessing.”

MATTERS OF GOD: Where is Your Zeal?

“Why so serious?” It’s a famous question that nearly every movie buff will recognize. But I’d like to pose a counter question. Why are we not serious enough? Why are we so lackadaisical in our approach to the things of God? I mean, we’ll pray when things go wrong, give thanks when things go right, and attend church on Sunday morning. We may even do a weekly bible study or a morning devotional from time to time. While all of those are good things in and of themselves, they often seem to be lacking one thing: zeal. Where is our zeal? Where is our vigor?

Imagine God speaking directly to you and telling you He has personally placed an object from heaven somewhere in your house and all you had to do was find it. I can only imagine a house being torn apart from top to bottom as this item was searched for. Once found, it would be a prized possession. Think it’s a bit farfetched? I mean, we’ve seen it time and again with bogus images of Mary in the clouds or on a piece of toast. These items are shown off to the world. News outlets pick up the story and run with it. There is great value placed on these truly insignificant items all because the owner truly believes it was from God. One thing they all share is zeal. There is a level of excitement attached to it that can’t be rivaled.

Sadly, these items are not from God and serve only to pull people away from Him by placing their faith in signs and wonders instead of the risen Savior. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have something from God already. Instead of being excited about toast, why are we not equally excited over the written Word of God? We quite literally have printed paper with words that are theopneustos, or God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). God spoke through the apostles and prophets (2 Peter 3:2) and gave us His Word in tangible form. This is nothing short of miraculous! Why then are we distracting ourselves with toast and fluffy clouds? Is your bible your prized possession or is it just another publication that sits on your shelf until Sunday morning? Is your favorite bible app also your most used or is it squirrelled away in a folder alongside other bible study tools, only to be opened when the occasion arises? Friends, I don’t speak with a tone of condemnation, as I am guilty of the exact same thing. I speak with a heartfelt question of why we act in such a way toward something that was brought down from heaven and given to us. How can we take such a gift from God and relegate it to just another thing we own? Where is our zeal? Where is our vigor?

For all parents out there, think back to your first child. Do you remember being told there’s no instruction manual to being a parent? Sure, there are self-help books and plenty of family members who all want to share how they did things, but each child is different and no two children will require the exact same thing. It’s a journey that can’t truly be understood unless you’ve gone through it, made mistakes, and learned along the way. Thankfully, our Christian walk in sanctification isn’t as uncertain. God has left us His instruction manual for what He expects of us, how He will help us, and what it is we ought to do in loving obedience. No, the Bible won’t tell us how to change a diaper or how to give driving lessons to your teenager, but it will tell you how to raise your child in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), how to instill lasting concepts (Proverbs 22:6), and the importance of providing for one’s household (1 Timothy 5:8). With such a treasure trove of wisdom, knowledge, and heavenly insight, why are we not more excited for it? Where is our zeal? Where is our vigor?

As we enter into this new year, I urge each of you, myself included, to be more excited about possessing something from heaven. I don’t mean getting excited about the latest 365-day reading plan or that Spurgeon devotional you got for Christmas. While tools such as those can be helpful in keeping one focused and on track, my challenge is to find great joy in the Scriptures. Let the Scripture be your prized possession. Let the Scripture be the talk of the town. Let your Scripture be what you can’t stop talking about. But at no point should you let the Scripture become an idol. Find that zeal. Find that vigor. But always let it drive you to the cross in loving reverence for the Lord. In addition to the Scripture, He has also given the gift of faith through regeneration. If you are a Christian, take comfort in that and maintain just as much zeal and vigor over the work that He has begun in you, knowing He will be faithful to complete it. Search the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11) and let the Lord be your joy (Acts 13:52). There you will find your zeal!

~ Travis W. Rogers

Abortion, Apathy, & Abolitionism: What is the Church’s Role?

Recently, I was discussing abortion with an acquaintance. While we both agree that abortion needs to be outlawed, there was still plenty of room for disagreement. This is because of a statement that was made:

Woe to you, pastors, seminary professors, hypocrites! For you attend church every Sunday, Bible study twice a week and you teach the weightiest of doctrine, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.

While, on the surface, this might sound like a moral call to righteousness, I just can’t get behind it. I find the statement to be confusing at best and flawed arrogant at worst. I’d like to take a moment to break down why a Christian should steer clear from such a mindset.

To break down the statement, it is a scathing rebuke of pastors and seminary professors being dubbed as hypocrites. While I have no problem calling a hypocrite a hypocrite, if we are going to do so, we better be right. But that’s really only part of the problem. The statement also asserts that said pastors and seminary professors are neglecting God’s justice, mercy, and faithfulness. To accuse pastors and seminary professors of this is no small charge. Again, if they truly are guilty of this, it makes sense to call them out, but what does that look like and is it true?

As a little background, the person I was dialoguing with is a theonomist. If you’ve ready my other articles (HERE and HERE), you’ll know I am no fan of theonomy. Overhauling the political system and conforming governments to the mind of Christ just simply is not a charge of the church as found in Scripture. It’s a worldview that tends to run in tandem with theonomy and postmillennialism, but it certainly isn’t Scriptural. Yes, the church should be speaking against such atrocities, but it’s for the purpose of equipping the saints as they lead them in godliness. If a politician claims to be a Christian but supports pro-choice, I would say he is not a Christian. In these cases, we can disagree with the politician and even call a spade a spade, but I’d hardly fault pastors or seminary professors for that. At that point, it is no longer a matter of personal accountability but becomes a matter of organizational accountability.

But doesn’t it all start with pastors and seminary professors? No! Pastors are not the spiritual leaders of politicians. Sure, a pastor and elders could potentially have spiritual authority over a politician who is a member of a local church but it’s not a default for pastors in general. My pastor has zero spiritual authority over any politicians because none are members of our congregation. Does that make my elders guilty of the aforementioned charge just because they aren’t making it their mission to go after them and hold them accountable? Absolutely not. It’s not a pastor’s job to call out a wicked politician unless that wicked politician is a member of his local church. It’s that simple.

Of course, all of this really ties into the person being an abolitionist. He feels pro-life laws are unjust by showing partiality to the wicked. On that matter, I disagree as well. Feel free to check out THIS ARTICLE I wrote on why I’ve come to that conclusion. I would define partiality as favor for one over another. True pro-lifers (not the shams who use the title for clout) aren’t showing partiality. While it is certainly possible for true justice to be accomplished in the realm of abortion, we rely on a pagan system to pass laws in our society. We recognize our culture and laws aren’t ready to save all of them so we save who we can in the meantime, while openly condemning abortion as a whole. That’s not partiality, that’s called action. We don’t have to be happy with the injustice being perpetuated by the courts, but we can still recognize the current system we live in, all while saving as many as we can. What abolitionists call partiality to the wicked, I call some semblance of hope for real babies who are being slaughtered by the thousands each day. In that vein, failed abolitionist proposals that reject any form of incrementalism are literally just letting them all equally die in the name of justice and righteousness. That is anything but justice and righteousness. You can’t force pagan nations to be Christian and shouldn’t wait to save some just because you can’t save them all in the current moment. If you ask me, I think there are a lot more pastors who need to be rebuking abolitionists in their charge than there are those who should be rebuking politicians.

It was at this point in the discussion that the person began comparing pastors/elders to prophets. He asserted, just as the prophets spoke out against civil magistrates, so too should pastors and elders. But pastors are not prophets. They are two totally separate callings and duties. Nowhere do we see pastors charged with speaking out against magistrates. Nor do we see pastors being called New Testament prophets. It’s just not in Scripture. Apostles and prophets laid the foundation of the Church. They no longer exist. That foundation has been laid. Elders now build upon that foundation as being pillars of truth within the Church but, on a church government level, their authority only extends to the members of their local congregation. The role and responsibility of a pastor and elders is to their local congregation, not to the civil magistrates or pagan nations. This is why I am under no obligation to submit to the elder of a different local body than my own. Similarly, they are under no obligation to shepherd me and have no authority to practice church discipline on me.

To look at the example of prophets speaking out against civil magistrates and then try to conclude that pastors should be doing the same thing is to infer that which cannot reasonably be inferred. Scripture outlines the role and responsibilities of pastors and limits their authority to their local congregation in their charge. You can’t say, “But look at what the apostles/prophets did,” and then say pastors should be doing the same. That’s called eisegesis in order to fit a preconceived notion. It’s a reckless way of interpreting Scripture. We have zero examples of pastors calling out civil magistrates, and we have explicit limitations of their authority and calling to a local congregation. Again, if a politician belongs to a local congregation and is apathetic toward the slaughter of the preborn, there would certainly be room for shepherding. But just because a politician is pro-life and sees value in incrementalism does not automatically qualify said politician for the Mathew 18 treatment. My Christmas wish is for die-hard abolitionists to see that instead of being blinded by self-righteous idealism that only leads to the death of droves of small children.

That brings me back to the point of PLiNO (Pro-Life in Name Only) politicians who claim the title for clout but actually have no desire to eradicate abortion. I already said such a person likely is not a believer in the Lord, regardless what they may claim. If one is not a Christian and is not a member of a local congregation, there is no room for church discipline. We can make general statements of truth to all but that doesn’t mean pastors and seminary professors should be held in judgement for not holding politicians outside their charge accountable. Furthermore, seminary professors have no spiritual authority whatsoever to begin with. To include them in the original statement takes it to a whole other level of irrational thinking.

Again, pastors should absolutely speak out against the evils of our society, but the reason is to equip the saints in their care, not to change a pagan culture. To that end, all Christians should be holding the same truth equally. The role of a pastor is not for the calling out of civil magistrates. The role of a pastor is to feed his sheep. This is why individual Christians can (and should if able) visit abortion mills and preach the gospel, but a local church as an entity isn’t called to have an organized anti-abortion ministry. I know many who disagree with this. They tend to feel a church who doesn’t have an abortion ministry is guilty of apathy at an institutional level. While it may feel nice to say, it’s not in line with the purpose of the church and its leadership. It only confuses things by blending the common kingdom and the redemptive kingdom. Jesus is king over both but elders only lead in one of them. Until my dying breath, I will hold to it that it is not the church’s role to become involved in societal activism. Members are free to do so and to receive the blessing of their elders, but the institution of the Church is not for activism or societal change. We are to be a light unto the world in hope that people will turn to Christ. At that point, any societal change that comes with it can be considered an additional blessing.

To bring things to a close, what exactly does apathy look like? Does it look like one who openly says abortion isn’t an issue? Does it look like one who speaks against it but isn’t sleeping in a tent outside the local abortion mill in order to speak out against anyone who comes near? Maybe it looks like a pastor of a local congregation not going outside his realm of authority by publicly rebuking politicians by name? Or maybe it looks like Christians going to church on Sunday being irritated by AHA members protesting outside instead of joining for worship inside? When you try to transform the church into something it isn’t and try to add roles to elders that aren’t in their wheelhouse, it only opens the door to dangerous eisegesis and reckless charges being projected toward those we should be lifting up as shepherds while we seek their counsel in all things pertaining to godliness. But please stop blaming men of God for the apathy of the ungodly.

~ Travis W. Rogers

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