In a twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan’s head spin, Leighton Flowers recently released an hour-plus long video on … Calvinism! In his latest installment of Quantity over Quality, Leighton joins his friend, Eric Kemp, in trying to smoke out the Hyper-Calvinist of John Piper’s doctrine by setting a stadium’s worth of strawmen on fire. They review a video where Piper warns against the dangers of Hyper-Calvinism, and they allege that no one’s sure who these Hyper-Calvinists are anyways, but, at the same time, Hyper-Calvinism is a great, looming danger, and Piper’s views would lead to Hyper-Calvinism if consistently applied!
If you were looking for compelling reasons why Hyper-Calvinism is the inevitable conclusion of biblical orthodoxy (also known as Calvinism), you’ll be disappointed. The same miserable, sunken-eyed arguments are again mustered to the front lines as the Chobham-armored Holy Bible steadily rolls through. Such arguments have been answered time and time again, including quite excellently by Sean and Dan, hosts of the Particular Baptist Podcast. Essentially, all Leighton’s points boil down to his inability to grasp compatibilism, and that the certainty of ends doesn’t diminish the significance (or culpability) of the means which accomplish those ends.
There’s no need for me to replicate the work of my brothers. Rather, the concern of this article will be the selfish, man-centeredness of Leighton Flowers’s position, borne out especially by several statements made by him and Eric in this video. Cast under the light of Scripture, the many miles of distance between their human philosophy and the inspired, God-honoring teachings of the Holy Spirit will be made patently clear. And, as a bonus, I will conclude by addressing that supposedly “unanswerable” objection that Leighton brings up towards the end of the video.
No doubt stemming from a bad conscience, Eric complains that Calvinists, like Piper, are “so polemical and pejorative” (1:10:00) whenever they rebuke their autonomous free-will, mini-gods theory. He asks, “Can popular Calvinist pastors and pundits make arguments without calling [people like me] a self-idolater?” Well, it’s hard to blame Piper when synergists like Eric tell us (in the same video) that one of his problems with Calvinism is that it results in God doing something that doesn’t depend on him or his skill as a preacher (32:15, 36:04). Oh, what a ghastly thought! The horror of thinking that the power of salvation might not rest on me and my abilities as a preacher, but on the message preached (1 Corinthians 1:17-21)! To think, as the Bible says, that the Gospel “is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), and not me and my ability to “meet people where they are … to come off as genuine,” as Eric affirms (36:10).
In contrast to Eric and Leighton, the only skill the Bible demands a preacher to have – when it comes to salvation – is the skill to get out of the way. This was the boast of the Apostle Paul:
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.“
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
While a pastor’s erudition, ability to convey information, compassion, and other gifts may serve him well in other areas of the ministry, the Gospel itself can only be hindered when one trusts in his own abilities to save souls. Accordingly, the Apostle Paul, and the greatest preachers since his time, such as Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon, took great pains to take themselves out of the preaching of the Gospel, trusting that the Holy Spirit works best when the means of salvation is laid bare in its pure form without admixture. Spurgeon says of his ministry:
“I have long worked out before your very eyes the experiment of the unaided attractiveness of the gospel of Jesus. Our service is severely plain. No man ever comes hither to gratify his eye with art, or his ear with music. I have set before you, these many years, nothing but Christ crucified, and the simplicity of the gospel; yet where will you find such a crowd as this gathered together this morning? Where will you find such a multitude as this meeting Sabbath after Sabbath, for five-and-thirty years? I have shown you nothing but the cross, the cross without flowers of oratory, the cross without diamonds of ecclesiastical rank, the cross without the buttress of boastful science. It is abundantly sufficient to attract men first to itself, and afterwards to eternal life!”
Charles Spurgeon. Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1888, vol. 34, p. 563
The Holy Spirit has thus testified, both in Scripture and in His planting of His Church since then, that the Gospel – not the eloquence of man – is what saves. And so the ministry of selfishness which cries, “Me! My! Myself!” will never save a tenth of the souls saved by the ministries of a Paul, an Edwards, and a Spurgeon, who proclaimed, “God! God! God!“
Comparing the difference of attitude, we see that Piper’s charge of self-idolatry was not unwarranted. These are men who hear Paul ask, “Orwho hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? (Romans 11:35), and don’t think that the question is rhetorical.
The general man-centeredness of Eric and Leighton was exposed further when they criticized Piper for daring to ground our motivation for evangelism in the Bible. Piper rightly says in his video, “The Bible tells us: preach the Gospel to everyone! And the sheep will hear the Shepherd’s voice in the preaching and follow Him” (5:26). What’s the problem with this? Dr. Flowers explains: “The reason we preach [in Piper’s view], is not because we love everyone and desire everyone’s salvation, because God loves … and wants everyone’s salvation … that’s not the reason you preach, the reason you preach is because we’re told to. In other words, law, not love” (33:12).
No punches can be pulled here. This is one of the most perverted, man-centered, and unbiblical contrasts I’ve ever seen drawn up by a confessing conservative Christian. Leighton sets the commandments given by God, who is Love (1 John 4:8), as OPPOSED to love. How can he justify this odious distortion? True, the condemnation the Law of the Old Testament brings is contrasted to the salvation of the Gospel, but this is not a contrast between law and love. Rather, the Law is an indictment against our love, because we did not love God and neighbor enough to fulfill it. But to have fulfilled it would have been the perfection of love, as Jesus Christ did. To say that obeying the commands of God – even those given in the New Testament – is at odds with love is utterly indefensible. No squirming will get Leighton around the plain teaching of Scripture, which says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS” (1 John 5:2). Far from being at odds with love, keeping God’s commandments is the highest way of showing our love for Him, and it’s impossible to love Him or even genuinely love others if we don’t strive to keep them. But in Leighton’s twisted worldview, whatever chemical fizz, effervescing sentiments, or passing indigestion we associate with feelings of love is a higher motivation than the command of Love Himself – the Perfect, Holy, and inexhaustibly Good God! I cast the “feelings of love” in such terms not because I’m a stoic, but because that’s all such feelings amount to if they’re divorced from true love, which is always manifested by obedience to the One who is Love. By making his own passing feelings towards others a higher motivation than “Thus saith the LORD,” Leighton erects his own feelings up as a god to be preferred over the true One.This is idolatry, pure and simple. And until he repents of pitting “love” against obedience, it’s appropriate to say as much of him.
The Unanswerable Challenge!
I would’ve wanted to end here, as I believe this is already more than enough material for one blog post. However, towards the end of the video, Leighton issued a challenge that I can’t resist. He issues a great, unanswerable challenge, concerning which he says, “I have not yet heard [Calvinists] actually engage on that point” (55:00). What is this challenge?
“But in a sense they’ve created a good and evil within God by saying there’s … two wills within God, the prescriptive one and the secret one .. within a view of One God you have competing desires” (53:40).
Yeah, that’s right. Never been answered. It’s so unanswerable, in fact, that the first Google suggestion that comes up when you search “God two wills” is an article by the very man they’re critiquing, who provides answers to this question. That article was written 25 years ago, and quotes other men who answered it hundreds of years before that. For a man who’s dedicated his online ministry to attacking Calvinism, you’d think by now he’d have done enough research on the view he consumes himself with that he’d have noticed that some of the most prominent Calvinists in history have addressed his “insurmountable problem,” especially when they can be found via a simple Google search.
So, what’s the answer? Different men have different ways of articulating it, but the “problem” basically stems from a category error on the part of the question. The synergistic challenger imagines that the prescriptive will and the secret will are two of the same kinds of things, and thus make for some kind of contradictory dual nature in God, when, in fact, they bear little resemblance to one another. The secret will is the unified, eternal decree of God which He accomplishes, but the prescriptive will is that which is given to His creatures to accomplish. Unlike His secret will, He does not decree to accomplish His prescriptive will except insofar as it overlaps with His secret will. Instead, the prescriptive will consists of the demands that His creatures must fulfill to live in His presence. God demands perfection – a perfection that was only satisfied in His Son, Jesus Christ – and He cannot allow sinners to abide unpunished who don’t attain it. Sin is loathsome in His sight, hence the Lord says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). There’s nothing inconsistent in God’s secret will not including our fulfillment of His prescriptive will, because there’s nothing inconsistent in God not willing a sinful creature to live in His presence. What’s more miraculous is that He has willed some sinful creatures to live in His presence by decreeing that they fulfill His prescriptive will to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him, justice is satisfied, and His fulfillment of the entirety of God’s prescriptive will is imputed to us without charge. And not ending there, His Holy Spirit gives us new hearts to desire what He desires, so that His will may be our highest delight – our greatest motivation – rather than our own subjective feelings. Truly, He enables us to make Him our God, that we may abandon the idols of selfishness for good, glorying in the One who has done all of the work, deserving all of our praise.
Have you ever had one of those days where life gave you lemons and you decided to make lemonade? I recall a time in particular where that was exactly the case. I’d like to share it with you in hope you find value in it. It was indeed a rough time but the day was good. It’s true that I didn’t get much sleep the night before. It’s also true that, in my sleep deprived state, I still had to function at work somehow. Now, add into the mix college, family, and an ever-growing “To Do” list, it’s easy to understand why you might be wondering how I can say my day was good. Truth is, I fibbed a bit. It wasn’t just good. It was amazing!
That day, I was blessed with the wonderful opportunity to meet with some Mormons. They had come to my house the previous week and talked for an hour. Some of that time was spent breaking the ice and getting to know one another while also trying to touch on the inevitable topic at hand. By the end of that meeting, we parted ways with an understanding that we simply didn’t see eye to eye. I was a bit surprised when they said they wanted to meet again but I gladly obliged. However, this time, I had a homework assignment that I needed to present. At their last visit, they left a pamphlet with me titled “The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and my task was the read it and pray about it. The result of that was an 8 page document typed up in 12-point Times New Roman font. That document is the very basis and inspiration for this blog post. While it’s true that I felt it was necessary to discuss with my guests the points within, I feel there are many more people who simply don’t understand what Mormonism teaches. I’m also convinced there are a great many who are aware of certain error but don’t know how to adequately verbalize it. You, the reader, may be one of these. Sadly, this only leads to missed opportunities to share the good news of Christ when they land on your very own doorstep.
Below are a few of the points that I drafted up in the aforementioned document. I encourage you to open the original LDS document at the link above, and take some time to read the following in it in its entirety. If it gives even one person the confidence to speak when opportunity arrives at your doorstep, it’ll be well worth the time I spent writing it.
The format is fairly simple. The page numbers listed correspond to the pages within their booklet. Aside from the hyperlink above, you can find the text link for this below as well. The bold lettering is where I quote the text from that page. I then pose a question which I intended on asking them in order to hear their explanation. Lastly, I close it out with my own thoughts and points of refutation.
PAGE 3 Prophets…interpret the word of God.
What do you mean by “interpret the word of God”?
2 Peter 1:20-21 – But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
While the prophets of old did speak forth new revelation from God, they weren’t authorized to interpret it. This is why it was a “Thus saith the Lord” type of thing. It was never interpreted by them. It was only declared and spoken forth. For a prophet to enter into the realm of interpretation would be grievous error. However, we see history showing that Mormon prophets, while never revoking a prophecy, do sometimes reinterpret them. Again, this is dangerous territory.
PAGE 4 Prophets receive the priesthood.
How do you reconcile this with the biblical account that the prophets weren’t priests and that priest/prophet were two very separate duties?
Priests were from the tribe of Levi only. One doesn’t have to look far to see this. In fact, Elisha was from the tribe of Issachar. Isaiah, Amos, Habakkuk, Joel, Obadiah, Zechariah, and Zephaniah were all from the tribe of Judah. Clearly, in accordance with Numbers 3:10-12, these men wouldn’t qualify to be a part of the priesthood.
Revealed truths are lost as people reject the prophets.
What do you use to test the words of your prophets?
Deuteronomy 13:1-5 – “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you.
Deuteronomy 18:20-22 – But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
Joseph Smith made multiple false prophecies (such as always occupying the house in Nauvoo (Illinois) that is now destroyed, the Civil War being a war of all nations, etc). Instead of admitting these were false prophecies from a false prophet that isn’t to be feared (and thus crumbling the entire religion), these prophecies are merely reinterpreted by the new prophets. We spoke on the danger of this practice earlier. If the prophecy is truly of God, the wording will never change and the interpretation will remain.
PAGE 8 The Apostles were killed, and priesthood authority – including the keys to direct and receive revelation for the Church – was taken from the earth.
Why do you say the priesthood was taken from the earth upon the death of the apostles?
1 Corinthians 6:19 – Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
1 Peter 2:9-10 – But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Hebrews 8:1-3 – Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer.
Scripture declares that we, as believers are now the priesthood. This isn’t because we have the qualifications of priest but because we are now in the body of Christ, our great High Priest. Our own bodies are the temple of God and God Himself dwells within us. The priesthood, as it stood, was abolished at this point. The veil was torn from top to bottom and the separation between God and man with an intermediary of priest no longer existed. We, as the priesthood of believers, now have direct access to God and have the illumination (not revelation) of the Spirit to guide us in all truth and righteousness (Ephesians 6:14) which is to be found in the Bible. Acts 17:11 praises the Bereans for searching the Scriptures to see if what was being proclaimed was true. The Bible simply doesn’t support the claims of Mormonism. Therefore, it is to be rejected as being contrary to the Word of God.
PAGE 12 conferred on him the Aaronic Priesthood……later appeared to Joseph Smith and conferred on him the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Can you please go into more detail on this?
If Smith was anointed as a prophet in 1820 (at the age of 15) by both the Father and Son, was he idle for the next 3 years until Moroni appeared to him by his bedside in 1823 (at the age of 18)? Furthermore, why did it take until 1827 before being shown the golden plates? Lastly, why did it take until 1829 to be given the priesthoods?
Why did John the Baptist (who was indeed of the Aaronic line) give Smith the Aaronic priesthood at all if it was just going to be superseded by the greater Melchizedek priesthood shortly thereafter? More so, this would mean that Smith was of the bloodlines of both lines and would mean he was more in line for the priesthood than even Christ was as Christ wasn’t of the tribe of Levi which is why Hebrews 8:4 says even He didn’t qualify to be a priest. It’s only because He’s of the line of Melchizedek that He alone is our High Priest. If Joseph Smith were qualified to hold both priesthoods, he outweighs even the qualifications of Christ. Conversely, if he wasn’t of either line (which is in fact the case), it means he held neither priesthood because he was precluded from doing so. As we covered earlier, merely being a prophet doesn’t mean one is a priest and even the title of prophet doesn’t apply because Scripture says so.
If Christ appointed Smith as a prophet in 1820 and all prophets carry the priesthood, why did he not receive the priesthood until 1829, 9 years later? This means he either wasn’t a genuine prophet until 1829, he was a faulty prophet until 1829, or he was never a prophet at all and didn’t truly understand what it meant to be either one. Hence, the oversight and inconsistency between his dates and the biblical teaching of the offices of prophets and priests.
PAGE 15 The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
Who is Jesus?
The Mormon Jesus is:
A created being
Son of God but not God
Not to be worshiped as God but merely revered as the Son
Spiritual brother of Satan (though at opposite ends of the spectrum)
The Christian Jesus is:
An eternal being never created
Son of God yet also God Himself
To be worshiped as God Himself
The creator of all things including Satan the angel
Thus, the teachings of Mormonism don’t align with the Bible when it comes to the very foundation of who Jesus is. This means the Book of Mormon isn’t another testament of Jesus Christ but is rather (along with the other works of Smith) a testament of another Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1:8 – But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!
…a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas…”
Who were these ancient inhabitants?
Mormon doctrine calls them the Nephites. If they were of Nephi, this means they would be Jewish in bloodline as well as Jewish in characteristics. Even if, for the sake of argument, we want to say Native Americans (Lamanites) were cursed by God and given dark skin (thereby changing the physical characteristics), Native Americans don’t have matching DNA with the Jewish bloodline. Since the Lamanites and the Nephites were both of the same bloodline, this would mean Lamanite blood would be of Jewish ancestry as well. Beyond this, the curse was supposedly only that of dark skin. Native Americans have more differences than just this. They have Mongloid characteristics instead of that of Mediterranean Caucasoids. This is more reason to believe Joseph Smith didn’t understand biology well enough and that his claims are false. The Lamanites simply never existed and the existence of the Nephites would be equally as doubtful since the idea was hatched from the same thought bubble.
I pray, if there were any confusion before, you’ll now clearly see how dangerous Mormon teaching really is. While they claim to uphold the Bible, their own teaching is highly inconsistent with such a claim. Hey, if they can give me homework, it’s only fair I be able to do the same.
If you’d like to follow along with their booklet as well, it can be found at the below link:
A friend asked a simple question as part of a research paper. He asked if God of the New Testament was the same as God of the Old Testament. Below was my attempt to answer his question.
Many have made the claim that the God of the Old Testament is angry and judicial whereas the God of the New Testament is kind, loving, and tolerant. This can be heard in everything from biblical debates to comedy bits. There’s zero doubt that the claim is made. So far as this is concerned, it’s a non-issue. What we have to determine is whether there is any validity to the claim. It’s my position that there is not.
Malachi 3:6 For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
The Bible is clear that God is not one who changes. Even if one wanted to argue that the God of the Old Testament was a different God, the argument would fail since Revelation tells us that the God of the New Testament is the very one who existed at the beginning. Yet, when we compare the Old Testament to the New Testament, there appears to be a clear distinction. Of course, due to the law of noncontradiction, they can’t be different gods and the same God at the same time. It must be one or the other. When faced with a crossroads such as this, it’s always a safe bet to assume our finite human understanding is flawed whereas the Word of God is not. The plain teaching of Scripture should always force us to change our views on something we can’t seem to reconcile.
To begin, I believe many hold to an erroneous view of God when it comes to the Old Testament. Is He really an angry and mean God or are we simply failing to see His love, mercy, and grace? In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). After each day, He saw that it was good. He was satisfied. On the sixth day, after creating man, we see something special. Not only was it good, it was very good (Genesis 1:31). Man was the pinnacle of God’s creation. He made man perfectly upright to rule over creation. Sadly, this was not to last. By Genesis 3, we see mankind being tempted and falling into the first instance of sin. We see a curse being placed upon humanity. We see the fulfillment of what God promised would occur in Genesis 2:17. God promised that Adam would die if he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam knew this and he failed to shield his wife, the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7), from the enemy. What Adam didn’t know is that he would represent all of humanity thenceforth (1 Corinthians 15:22). However, this wasn’t referring to just a physical death but to a spiritual death (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13). All of humanity is dead in sin and only Christ can make us alive again. We all fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and deserve nothing but death, both physical and spiritual, as a result (Romans 6:23). Therefore, God would have been perfectly just to destroy the earth and all it contained upon the moment of sin entering into His perfect world. Man tarnished God’s creation and, as of that very moment, deserved nothing more than eternal torment as punishment for his actions.
Yet, over and over again, we see of God’s mercy. Many view the Old Testament Law as being harsh but, truth be told, even that was an act of mercy. God could have left humanity alone to perish but He chose to reveal to them His righteous standard. He chose to raise godly men to lead them. He chose to bless those who rejected Him and to bless them abundantly. He gave His people land and a promise of a Savior to come. Yes, He generally held them accountable for their actions but this was because the Law had not yet been fulfilled (Matthew 5:17) though it had been broken in full.
What we see in the New Testament isn’t a new God but a God who had decreed that the fullness of time had come (Galatians 4:4). Those who were born under the Law would now be redeemed from that very same Law. Whereas before they fell under the law of sin and death, now they fell under the law of the Spirit of life. The former Law was weak and could never save. It could only instruct man of a standard they were incapable of keeping in their current fallen form. That Law was in need of God, the same loving God of the Old Testament, to fulfill His Law by sending His own Son to die (Romans 8:2-3) as an atoning and substitutionary sacrifice (Isaiah 53:5).
Only when we have a proper understanding of fallen man’s condition can we truly understand the love and restraint God displayed throughout all of the Old Testament. In many ways, aside from knowing Christ is the epitome of God’s compassion, the compassion of God in the Old Testament may appear to exceed that which we see in the New Testament. Of course, we know this is only our human understanding because, as stated in the beginning, “there is no variation or shadow due to change” when it comes to God.
WORSHIP. What a beautiful term! It’s literally proclaiming the worthiness of God alone. This is done in a variety of ways such as prayer, meditating on the Word, and in the Lord’s Supper. Yet, one of the most common forms of worship is undeniably through the singing of praises. Growing up in a Baptist church, it was common to see the morning’s
songs pre-selected with the matching hymn number being displayed on the wall for all to follow along. When I was in Japan, instead of hymnals, we had an overhead projector and sang more contemporary worship songs. I never questioned it, nor did I feel the need to. It wasn’t until much later in life that I was confronted with the concept of psalter-only worship (i.e. psalm-only worship). It was being presented as the only biblical form of singing in worship. I was told it was the only way to be in line with the Regulative Principle of Worship, meaning worship in accordance with revealed methods found in Scripture, and all other methods are unacceptable. Was there anything to this position? Had I been worshiping incorrectly my whole life? Was psalm-only worship the only acceptable means of singing before God in a state of worship?
After much study, I have to admit I’m not convinced at all. In fact, I’m actually convinced of the contrary: that it’s highly biblical to sing other songs so long as they’re sound in doctrine. For those who may be either skeptical, or simply intrigued, please follow along with my reasoning:
speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; (Ephesians 5:19, NASB)
The words used are psalmos (G5568), hymnos (G5215), and ode pneumatikos (G5603/G4652), in the phrase psalmos kai hymnos kai ode pneumatikos.
Psalmos, while being a composed musical piece, is used exclusively in the New Testament to refer to the Old Testament psalms.
Hymnos is a song of praise to gods, heroes, and conquerors. Though, we can rest assured Scripture is speaking of songs about God. He alone is the true conqueror and hero over death and life. The only other use of this word is in Colossians 3:16, where they use the exact same phrasing as Ephesians 5:19.
Ode pneumatikos simply refers to a song of praise in general. Not only do we hear of these being sung by believers in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, we also see John speaking of a new song being sung in Revelation 5:9 (w/ lyrics included).
I think that gives more than enough evidence to show that a corporate body of believers sang Old Testament psalms, hymns of a conquering God, and spiritual songs of praise to God. Yet, some may still be unconvinced. The common challenge is that each of those meanings are found in the totality of the 150 psalms of Scripture. This claim is typically accompanied by the assertion that Paul is simply using three different descriptors and uses for the psalms. Aside from the very definitions of the words used, we can’t ignore the fact that there is a new song that has yet to be learned (as per Revelation 5:9). Those lyrics aren’t in the psalms, though the idea of there being a new song is alluded to in Isaiah. I just don’t see how the meanings of the Greek words, combined with the fact that there is still another new song yet to be learned (as per Revelation 5:9), possibly leaves room for the interpretation of it as being psalms, psalms, and psalms, all of the Old Testament variety. For those who feel this “new song” is merely referring to the change of one’s nature, we also see Isaiah 42:10 speaking of singing a new song here on earth. It’s clearly a direction to sing of His praises. Yet, it’s a new song of praise coming from our regenerated nature, and not an existing psalm. As stated earlier, Revelation 5:9 even gives the reader the lyrics. If one were to take those lyrics and create a song, it would be fully in accordance with Scriptures, though it’s found in not one Old Testament psalm.
Expounding upon what has already been stated above, ode pneumitakos is spiritual songs of praise while “ode” (by itself) is just a song in general. Hymnos is also used in pagan Greek music when referring to their gods, heroes, and conquerors. Realistically, much of what we refer to as modern hymns would likely fall under ode pneumatikos more than hymnos. While some (not all) psalms may have characteristics of hymnos and ode pneumatikos, they’re also clearly differentiated as being their own category. It’s not merely a matter of three descriptors of one word, but three different categories of song-based worship.
The only way to go psalm-only is to have an idea ahead of time, spiritualize the meaning of words by ignoring their actual meaning, and throw out the normal reading of the text. Simply put, psalm-only is a man-made idea that can’t even be executed properly (in accordance with the Regulative Principle of Worship) because it’ll always be merged with uninspired music and be outside of the original composition and intention.
To say psalm-only singing is the only thing in accordance with the Regulative Principle of Worship is actually inconsistent with the very nature of it. The psalms are structured and composed pieces of music. They had a specific tune and music written for them. Considering that music is lost, we’re left with only the lyrics. Thus, the only way to sing them is to either apply the lyrics over an existing well-known tune (ironically, usually a hymn) or create our own. Considering this wouldn’t have been the way they would’ve done it when they were written, it’s a manipulation of music and a justification of inspired/uninspired hodgepodge in the name of abiding by the Regulative Principle of Worship. The only way to avoid this inconsistency would be to strictly read them or, perhaps, do it in the manner of a Gregorian chant. But that then violates Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 where we’re told to sing them.
The alternative is that we don’t try to shoehorn uber-spirituality into it and, instead, understand that psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs were three different things, with three different meanings, though some psalms incorporated elements of the other two in its structured musical composition.
Aside from a proper understanding of psalmos kai hymnos kai ode pneumatikos, I feel the argument I’ve presented (which is also a historic argument in line with the Chapter 22.5 of the 2LBCF) is far more sound than the counter-arguments. Ultimately, if you still feel your convictions are telling you to stick with the psalms, I’d urge you to follow your conscience in faith (Romans 14:22-23). For all others, take comfort in the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs as you sing praises to the Lord!
The reading of the Scriptures, preaching, and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord…are all parts of religious worship to God, to be performed in obedience to Him, with understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear; (Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chap. 22, para. 5)
There is perhaps no doctrine more frequently misunderstood or more difficult to comprehend than the doctrine of the Trinity. A large amount of our errors stem from our refusal to acknowledge that we cannot fully grasp it, and that the inner-workings of our almighty, infinite God are far beyond the capacity of even the best and brightest minds of men. It is a doctrine that we must receive to be true and shun any hint of deviation from, regardless of how much an alternative view might appeal to our fallen nature. Fortunately for 21st Century Christians, we have an abundance of riches that we may inherit from those who came before us – precious understandings of Scripture that have been tried, debated, and hammered out for two millennia by our Bible-believing forebears who have proven them to be in accord with the entirety of the Divine Revelation. Unfortunately for 21st Century Christians, of late there has arisen the most acute epistemological snobbery to ever infiltrate the ranks of many of the Church elite. These men treat their heirlooms like worn-out clothes, which may have fit once-upon-a-time but are now well out of fashion. They view their ancestors as barbarians to be pitied for their simplicity, and whose entire enterprise needs to be recreated from the ground up. My aim is to familiarize the reader with the jewels trampled upon by many prominent figures of our day, and to steer them away from the doctrines which contradict orthodoxy. I also aim to show that – while above our understanding – the classical doctrine of the Trinity is coherent, beautiful, and logically sound in the truth it proclaims.
The Litmus Test
Here at the Particular Baptist, we subscribe to the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, and hold it to be an accurate summary of Biblical teachings. Concerning the Trinity, our confession speaks as follows:
“In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him.”
1689 LBCF 2.3
In this articulation of the Trinity, there is nothing peculiar to our confession. It’s merely an expanded form of the corresponding section in the Westminster Confession of Faith, which itself is little more than a summary of the Nicene Creed that has been universally accepted by the Church for almost 1700 years now. Rather than unpack the meaning of these affirmations at the outset, we will take the via negativa, and uncover their truths by examining the falsehoods that depart from them. Only in the context of the errors that prompted the development of our standard Trinitarian language can we fully appreciate the precision and depth found in our historic confessions.
Part I – Errors Concerning the Trinity
Aside from overt denial of the Trinity, there are only two primary ways of departing from the above truths among those who still insist to be “Trinitarian”: modalism and tri-theism. Anyone who explicitly adopted either of those views would immediately be labeled as a heretic by orthodox believers worth their salt, but there are many who hold to either modalistic or tri-theistic understandings of the Trinity who will still claim to be Trinitarian, and so they fly under the radar of many Christians. Indeed, there are likely even many genuine, born-again believers who honestly think they have orthodox views about the Trinity, but have conceptions that are more akin to these heresies simply because they have never been properly instructed. We must be willing to extend grace to those who struggle but are eager to learn, since a mature understanding of the doctrine is difficult to expect for babes in the Faith. Such Christians may believe in the Triune God of Scipture and simply fail to properly articulate Him. However, less gentleness is called for when dealing with seminary-educated men who make themselves out to be leaders. Those we will be rebuking in this essay are those who are fully aware of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and yet still deny it, all the while pretending to believe in the Trinity lest anyone call them what they are. We will first deal with the error of modalism.
1.1 – Modalism
Part of the reason why so many professing Trinitarians end up with modalistic conceptions is because they don’t really understand what modalism is. There’s a misconception that modalism is the belief that the Persons of the Trinity are one God taking on different roles at different times, and that He is never more than one Person at one time. However, this is indeed a misconception, and one that I’ve seen made even by popular teachers who should know better. There is nothing in modalism that precludes God from being different Persons (or, in their view, manifestations) at the same time. A Oneness Pentecostal who knows his stuff won’t flinch to see the Father and Son contemporaneously interacting with each other. What distinguishes modalists is their belief that the distinctions between the Persons of the Trinity are not real, eternal distinctions within the Godhead, but are rather the distinctions between the roles God plays in creation. Accordingly, you can have real interactions between the manifestations of God within creation, because in their view these are simply the distinct roles of the one Person intermingling. The key difference between Trinitarian theology and modalistic theology is NOT the fact that the distinct Persons of the Trinity simultaneously exist in creation, but that they are simultaneously distinct in eternity, within the Godhead Himself. The Bible says that Jesus shared His glory with the Father as a distinct Person “before the world was” (John 17:5), and that, in the beginning, the Word already was God and with God (John 1:1), and therefore the Word was/is distinct from God the Father outside of creation. And so, if you believe that the Trinity is something like the separating of a single beam of light as it travels through the prism of creation, I humbly encourage you to repent, because that is not true Trinitarianism, but modalism. Creation may magnify the distinctions between the Persons, but they already exist within the Godhead. Simply confessing that the Father is not the Son, who is not the Spirit, and yet that all three are One God does not sufficiently distinguish you from modalism – you must confess that the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct in eternity. This is why the LBCF stresses that “the Son is eternally begotten of the Father,” because this affirms that the distinction is not temporal, but eternal. And so, a heretic like T.D. Jakes can throw Trinitarians all the bones he wants by saying he believes in the distinction of the Father, Son, and Spirit, but until he confesses that they are distinct within the Godhead, this concession means little.
1.2 – Tri-theism
The bulk of our concern in this essay will be combating tri-theism. This is because, unlike modalism, latent forms of tri-theism have ample support in the modern academy itself. If modalistic conceptions are common among lay people, at least they usually won’t be encouraged in that error when they turn for instruction. However, when the teachers themselves teach heresy, the danger is much greater. Not many will be surprised to see T.D. Jakes called a heretic, but would you expect that someone like William Lane Craig has embraced a fundamentally heretical view of the ontological nature of God? Unfortunately it’s true, and – as we shall see – he and many other such men have fearlessly abandoned a core tenet of the Christian faith confessed with unanimity for over 1800 years.
This error stems from a Jesuit by the name of Theodore de Régnon, who in 1892 began to write of an alleged fundamental difference between Latin-scholastic and Greek-patristic Trinitarian ontology. This misconception has grown to become an imagined divide between Eastern and Western Trinitarian thought altogether, rather than the specific Greek/Latin subcategories that de Régnon theorized. According to de Régnon, the basic difference between the two camps was that the Latins started with the divine essence and then proceeded to the Trinity, while the Greeks started with the Trinity and then proceeded to the divine essence. This distinction (which stands on specious grounds to begin with ) may seem harmless, but modern heretics have abused it to frame their abominations with historical legitimacy. Straining this perceived Eastern tradition, they feel comfortable to assert that the individual Persons of the Trinity have an ontological priority to the essence of the One God (which even de Régnon does not say the Greeks believed). Or, to translate tradesman-speak into English, what these theologians say is that God is the RESULT of the three Persons coming together, and thereforeNONE of the Persons are themselves the One God; He is simply the combination of the Persons. In this view, God is composed of three distinct Beings, and therefore there is not really one, but three Gods! Make no mistake, friend, this is not monotheism, but tri-theism. Lest anyone think I’m misrepresenting them, let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth:
“Father, Son, and Spirit must be regarded as tightly enough related to each so as to render plausible the judgement that they constitute a particular social unit … In such social monotheism, it will be appropriate to use the designator God to refer to the whole Trinity, where the Trinity is understood to be one thing, even if it is a complex thing consisting of persons, essences, and relations.”
Cornelius Plantinga, JR, “Social Trinity and Tritheism.” 68
Notice the author of that statement: Cornelius Plantinga, former president of Calvin Theological Seminary. This is not a theological liberal, but someone who claims to stand in the stream of historical evangelicalism. In Plantinga’s view, God is not One Being, but rather a “social unit,” much like a cohesive community of like-minded individuals would be. The Father, Son, and Spirit do not each possess the whole, undivided Divine Essence as the LBCF asserts, but rather they are parts of the Divine Essence, and only the Trinity as a whole would rightly be called God. Therefore, Plantinga does not hold to a real, ontological monotheism, but rather a “social monotheism,” as he says. William Lane Craig is even more explicit in this:
“[My view] holds that while the persons of the Trinity are divine, it is the Trinity as a whole which is properly God … the Trinity alone is God and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while divine, are not Gods”
In Craig’s view, then, only the whole Trinity can be called God, and none of the individual Persons can be called God, but only divine beings. If only Dr. Craig was around to let the Apostles know this, who routinely refer to the distinct Persons as each God in their own right (e.g. John 1:1, John 3:16, Ephesians 1:3, 1 Peter 1:2, 1 Timothy 3:16, John 21:28, Acts 5:3-4, Psalm 45:7, etc., etc.)! And while Craig tries to dodge the label of tri-theist by insisting that each Person is not Himself God (which is already profound heresy), it is truly the height of semantic trifling to deny that his position imagines three Gods, especially when he and J.P. Moreland say that the three Persons are “distinct centers of consciousness, each with its proper intellect and will” . Who cares if you call each Person God or not if you say each are distinct divine beings, who each have more of a right to be called God than any of the fictions dreamed up by pagans? In their attempt to fashion God after their own image, they imagine that the Persons of God are like the persons of men, and so each Person is an ontologically distinct being with His own mind and will (contrary to Scripture, which presents no division in the one Will shared by the Persons of the Trinity [e.g. John 5:19, John 16:13]). But in this pertinacity they plummet themselves into polytheism, since if the Persons of God were like persons of men in this respect, God would no more be one Being than three like-minded comrades would be one person, and no matter how tight their “social unit” might be, they would not be One God. And so with that, Craig, Moreland, and Plantinga have abandoned all Protestant confessions, Nicaea, the Apostle’s Creed, and the daily recited Shema, which says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4). They depart from the first thing Jesus says when asked what the greatest commandment is (Mark 12:28-29). To pretend that these men are orthodox, evangelical Protestants when they aren’t even monotheists is to make orthodoxy mean nothing at all.
Part II – Defending Orthodoxy
Piecing together what we’ve said so far, the philosophically-minded reader may think that our rebukes of modalism and tri-theism have put us in a predicament. On the one hand, we’ve dismissed modalism for not recognizing a distinction of Persons within the Godhead, and on the other we’ve attacked tri-theism for arguing that there are multiple distinct Beings in the Godhead. So, what are we saying? Are we saying that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father within the Godhead, and yet the Father, Son, and Spirit are each simply the same One, undivided God? Our answer: Yes, and any departure to the right or to the left of this is heresy. It’s no concern of ours if this doesn’t fit into your realm of philosophical possibilities; what’s impossible for man is possible for God. He is by no means like us or anything else we’re familiar with. However, while the inner-workings of the Trinity are far beyond us, it is possible to demonstrate that these seemingly contradictory affirmations are, in fact, logically coherent. To the best of my ability, the remainder of this essay will be dedicated to proving just that.
2.1 – Divine Simplicity
We cannot properly explore the Trinity without first discussing another crucial aspect of God’s nature: namely, His simplicity. When we say God is simple, we don’t at all mean the same thing as when we might call a man simple. God is simple in the sense that He doesn’t have parts, and that everything in God is God. As Irenaeus put it in the 2nd Century:
“He is a simple, uncompounded Being, without diverse members, and altogether like, and equal to himself, since He is wholly understanding, and wholly spirit, and wholly thought, and wholly intelligence, and wholly reason, and wholly hearing, and wholly seeing, and wholly light, and the whole source of all that is good— even as the religious and pious are wont to speak concerning God. He is, however, above [all] these properties, and therefore indescribable.”
This truth, confessed by Irenaeus at a time when the Church was still relatively pure from the later errors that would seep in, has been recognized by all branches of Christendom, and retained even by those who have apostatized on other doctrines. It was recognized by all of the reformers and all the historic confessions of faith. It became a universal doctrine of the Church because it’s a thoroughly biblical doctrine, grounded on God’s repeated emphasis of His Oneness, His pure self-identification with His Being, and the utter independence He asserts from all that is not Him. I’ve gone into a little more depth explaining this doctrine elsewhere, but here I will simply say that it’s a necessary consequence of God’s self-existence. If God was composed of parts that were not simply God Himself, then He would be dependent upon those parts to be who He is. Therefore, He would not be the utterly independent, self-existing Being we see in Scripture, but rather He would be dependent on that which isn’t in and of itself God, much like a car depends on nuts and bolts that aren’t the car itself.
The universal recognition of this doctrine is one of the reasons why the appeal to the East to lend an air of legitimacy to tri-theism is so unconvincing, because all of the Eastern theologians embraced a doctrine of divine simplicity that is completely incompatible with the musings of Craig, Plantinga, and Moreland, all of whom openly reject divine simplicity. And it’s easy to see why they must do so, for there is no room to have God be the sum of three Beings who are not God in light of His simplicity.
But the doctrine requires us to be even stricter than this, making our job more difficult still; if all that is in God is God, and the three Persons are each God, then it’s not only the case that a shared divine essence is uncompounded, but also that there are no additional attributes in any of the members of the Trinity that may differentiate them. How, then, is the Father not the Son, the Son not the Spirit, and the Spirit not the Father? Boethius answers this dilemma brilliantly.
2.2 – Actual vs. Relative Properties
When we describe something, there are multiple types of predication (i.e., there are multiple ways in which we can ascribe a quality to something). For the purpose of this essay, we’ll distinguish three types of predication: essential, accidental, and relational. Essential predication deals with the essence of something: namely, that which determines what a thing is on a fundamental level. E.g., to describe Bob as a person would be an essential predication, because Bob wouldn’t be Bob if he wasn’t a person. Accidental predication, on the other hand, occurs when we describe something that isn’t fundamental to the thing we’re describing; it’s something that could change without changing the nature of the thing we’re describing. E.g., describing Bob as having white hair is an accidental predication, since Bob would still be Bob even if he had blonde hair. Finally – and most importantly for our purposes – there is relational predication, which doesn’t directly describe the thing itself, but rather its relation to something else. E.g., describing Bob as the father of Joe is a relational predication.
Why is this relevant? Because, unlike essential and accidental predication (which together may be described as actual predication), relational predication doesn’t necessarily say anything about the thing it describes, but only speaks of a relationship that exists between that thing and something else. It may sometimes imply essential and accidental qualities (e.g. Bob being a father implies something about his age, gender, and hopefully character), but – in and of itself – relational predication doesn’t demand to be associated with any essential or even accidental qualities in the thing it describes. An example Boethius uses is a person being on the right or left of someone else. “Right” can be predicated of one person, but this doesn’t distinguish any of the person’s essential or accidental properties from the person on the left. A proof of this is that we can stipulate the person on the left suddenly vanishing from reality, and yet the person on the right remains exactly the same. The only thing that has changed is that he now can no longer be called the person on the right, and has lost that relative property.
So, what if – as we must confess – the Persons of the Trinity are only distinguished by relative properties, but not by any actual (i.e., essential or accidental) properties? I’ll let Boethius answer that himself:
“Wherefore if father and son are predicates of relation, and, as we have said, have no other difference but that of relation, but relation is not predicated with reference to that of which it is predicated as if it were the thing itself and objectively predicated of it, it will not imply an otherness of the things of which it is said, but, in a phrase which aims at interpreting what we could hardly understand, an otherness of persons … since the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but God has no differences distinguishing him from God, he differs from none of the others. But where there are no differences there is no plurality; where there is no plurality there is unity … Thus the Unity of the Three is suitably established.”
Boethius. De Trinitate, V
Notice that this is precisely what was said by the LBCF, the framers of which stood on the shoulders of the giants before them. The Persons of the Trinity are there said to be “distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations,” i.e., not by any actual, objective properties, but solely by the relations existing between the Persons who are identical in essence, and not distinguished by anything else like space or time. And if there is no distinction between things, and they are not separated by either space or time, then they are indeed one and the same, yet this would not invalidate any relationship between them if one existed. Thus, the Father, Son, and Spirit are indeed distinct from one another, insofar as the Father is distinguished as the Begetter, the Son is the Begotten, and the Spirit is He that proceeds from the Father and the Son, yet they are all One and the same God. In Trinity, Unity.
2.3 – How God Can be Related to Himself
Mockers of the Faith view the idea of God’s self-relations as nonsensical. How can One and the same God be related to Himself in different ways, especially a simple God who has no parts that could have relationships between them? It would be permissible to stop here on the grounds that we, who have no idea what the divine nature is like in itself, have no basis for saying that He cannot be self-relating. But I believe it’s possible to go further, and to show that it’s not only possible, but even logical for God to be self-relating.
When I studied modern physics, I vividly remember my professor calling the Bohr model – that famous depiction of an atom’s electrons orbiting neatly around its nucleus – “a lie, but a pedagogical lie.” It’s a lie, because electrons don’t orbit like objects might on a macro-scale (they’re more like “probability clouds”), but it’s still pedagogical, because the lie reveals something true about the nature of atoms which we can learn from (i.e., the existence of electrons at different energy levels, which is analogous to an orbit). Similarly, in order to better understand the Trinity, it’s sometimes useful to resort to what could be called a “pedagogical heresy.” Much like the analogies frequently used by Athanasius, the following picture will be inadequate, and even heretical if taken too seriously, but it may nevertheless be helpful in understanding something true about the relations within the Trinity. Specifically, we will imagine what it would look like if the relationships within the Trinity emerged over time, starting with the Father and then proceeding to the Son and the Spirit. To be clear, they did NOT emerge over time, and all three Persons are eternally co-existent, but – because of the limitations of our time-bound brain – we will have to consider how the relationships would look temporally, and then we may be able to better understand how they exist logically.
Let’s begin by imagining a time when there was only God the Father (again, there was no such time, and if there were He certainly wouldn’t have been a father, but I digress). Imagine then that He decided to beget another God exactly like Himself – what would happen? If it’s a clone of Himself that He begets, there would be no difference between them, and in the absence of anything such as space or time to distinguish them (as would actually be the case), the action of begetting would simply result in Himself. No new Being was generated. However, just because He didn’t generate a new Being doesn’t negate the fact that He performed the action to generate a new Being; it just so happens that the product of that action was Himself. Therefore, we are still left with One Being, yet there was an action that took place that related Him with Himself. For that action, there was an initiator (a Begetter) and a result (the Begotten). Both the Begetter and the Begotten are the same Being, God, but in respect to the action, there is a Begetter and a Begotten that are logically distinct from each other, since there are logically distinct start and end points of the action. Thus, there is One God, and yet two relations or – as we’ve come to call them – Persons.
What if there was another begetting? Well, from the perspective of a time-bound pedagogical heresy, God could keep begetting Himself an infinite number of times, producing an infinite number of Persons. However, without time to distinguish one act of begetting from another, there could necessarily only be the one begetting that took place in eternity. Keep in mind that the Begetter and the Begotten are not separate Beings; if they were, it would be possible for the Begotten to do His own begetting, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. However, when they are One and the same Being, then the Begotten is simply the result of the action of the begetting, and the Begetter is simply He who begets. And so it’s impossible for the Begotten to do any begetting, because for God to beget is simply to be God the Begetter (remember, the different Persons are only the relations, nothing more). In other words, the Father is simply God begetting, and the Son is simply God being begotten, so they cannot interchange their roles. If the Son could be imagined to beget (which the careful reader will see is a contradiction), it would simply make Him the Begetter, and the result would be the Begotten. And with neither actual nor relative properties to distinguish these new two Persons from the first two Persons, we’re still left with only the original two, and there wouldn’t even be any multiplication of relations.
BUT besides the relationship of begetting, there is an additional potential relationship in the Godhead which we’ll call procession. There are two feasible ways to replicate: one way is to beget from oneself, and the other is to use that which one has received. And so the One who has received, the Begotten, may take what He received from His source to overflow into a third Person, who again is One and the same as the Begetter and the Begotten. This would not be the Begotten functioning as a Begetter because – unlike the Begetter – He did not take from Himself but from a logically distinct source, and so it’s a different relation with its own logically distinct result. This third Person would properly be described as He who is “proceeding from the Father and the Son,” as the LBCF states.
And so we have three Persons: One who can be described as “the from,” One who can be described as “the to and from,” and another who can be described as “the to,” as far as the direction of their relationships goes. Laid out like this, it’s apparent that there can be no other Persons. This is the beauty of the Trinity. What other possibilities are there but “from,” “to/from,” and “to” for the Divine Essence? We cannot multiply any more Persons without making them identical to one of these three categories. Therefore, the Trinity is the fullness of the Divine self-expression, fully complete within itself. And this Trinity does not emerge from the speculations of any philosopher, but was revealed gradually by the Living God Himself through His inspired, Holy Word. Do not cast these precious truths to the wind, reader; cherish them, and become heirs to great tradition of Bible-believing Christians before you.
 Moreland and Craig. Philosophical Foundations, 583.
 Pavel Butakov. Relations in the Trinitarian Reality: Two Approaches. This work provides an excellent exploration of the differences that do exist in some Eastern and Western Trinitarian models which resulted in the great Filioque controversy. He somewhat draws from de Régnon, but makes plain the deficiencies of that paradigm. The reader will notice that the distinctions that do exist do not result in anything like the tri-theism posited by Craig, Moreland, and Plantinga. However, the Western model is undoubtedly superior, as the article shows, and the Filioque can be found to have been supported even by some of the patristics that de Régnon would like to pit against the West. And that’s not to mention the biblical support for it (e.g. John 15:26)
No doubt many of you will think this is a sensationalist title, and that I’m just trying to aggravate and inflame emotions. Well, it is meant to pack a punch, but not without a good reason. The reason I aim to get your attention is to confront you bluntly with the perverseness of this doctrine, which I call Eschatological Feminism. What is Eschatological Feminism? It’s the usurpation of what properly belongs to Christ by His Bride, the Church, in much the same way as a feminist arrogates the privileges of her husband to herself. And if it’s perverse for a wife to steal the prerogatives of her husband in an earthly marriage – which is only meant to serve as a model of the heavenly one (Ephesians 5:22-33) – how much more perverse is it to distort the roles of that heavenly marriage itself?
This is the sin committed by the most popular forms of postmillennialism today. It hears God say to the Lord Jesus, “Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Psalm 110:1) and somehow hears, “Sit thou at His right hand, until we make thine enemies thy footstool.” Instead of occupying till He comes, and waiting to rule with Him until He returns with the Kingdom (cf. Luke 19:15-27), they demand to reign now, to force His Kingdom down before His time, and to mix Christ’s Kingdom with Belial’s. And, as I will show, they have absolutely no Apostolic precedent for this affront.
But before I begin, I’d like to make clear that the title of this post is NOT Against Postmillennialism, but rather against its Eschatological Feminism which so often goes hand-in-hand with that perspective. I understand that there are pietistic forms of postmillennialism that make a clear distinction between Christ’s Kingdom and Caesar’s kingdom and do not propose mixing the two. Such postmillennialists do not advance the Kingdom by a theonomic takeover, but rather by faithfully using the means given to us by Jesus and the Apostles, which they use to gradually draw sinners out of Satan’s kingdoms and into the Lord’s. If that’s your view, brother or sister, you are a dear friend of mine, and we share the same end and means. Whatever differences we may otherwise have about eschatology, know that the harsh rhetoric is not aimed at you.
The Example of Jesus and the Apostles
The postmillennialists we speak of here are those who set their eyes on the present world, aiming to take it over via their own means and make a utopia for themselves. Rather than confess with Paul that “our conversation is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20), they plainly identify as citizens of the earth, focusing a great deal of their energy in political and cultural “engagement” (usually the kind of engagement that ends in marriage). For this, there is no New Testament encouragement. The Lord Jesus instructs us to take our hearts off of an earthly inheritance, and to lay up our treasures in heaven, “where neither moth nor rust corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:20). So unconcerned are we to be with this present world, that we are not even to care about societal reform when its injustice affects us:
“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also“
If an Eschatological Feminist were taken to court unjustly, it’s hard not to imagine them organizing a protest, appealing to lawmakers, and doing all in their power to conform this world’s standards of justice to those of the Kingdom. But there is not the least hint of any of that here. On the contrary, the Christian is instructed to let the unjust prosecution take more than they asked for. Why? Because our heart is not here, and the Christian – when thinking rightly – knows that the rewards stored up for him in heaven far exceeds whatever he may lose in this life. His sojourning on earth is but the tiniest sliver of his existence, and so he’s not concerned with how he fares here. The Christian knows he’ll be home soon enough, with or without his cloak.
This sentiment is echoed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6. Far from engaging with the legal system of his day, Paul doesn’t want Christians to go to the law to resolve their problems with one another at all:
“Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?“
1 Corinthians 6:7
Again, undoubtedly taking cues from Jesus, Paul is utterly perplexed as to why believers would feel the need to go to court against one another. For starters, Christians are much better suited to judge their own affairs than the secular world, whom we will ourselves judge (v. 2). But beyond that, Paul doesn’t understand why believers would care about being wronged. This is an example of the principles laid out in the Sermon on the Mount put into practice, which causes us to ask: What thing of lasting value could they have lost? Are not their treasures laid up in heaven? Accordingly, if there is conflict among believers concerning things of this life, Paul advises us to “set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church” (v. 4). Far from desiring to create a perfect justice system to execute the decrees of heaven on earth, Paul doesn’t care if a judge of earthly matters is qualified at all. And if Paul is apathetic towards the earthly affairs of the saints, he is at least as blunt in the previous chapter about his indifference towards the rest of the world: “For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? … them that are without God judgeth” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). How this is compatible with theonomic Christian Reconstructionism is beyond me.
These are just a few examples of what is simply the New Testament spirit. What may speak louder than these is the otherwise deafening silence about societal issues altogether. In an empire full of corruption and wicked practices, neither Jesus nor the Apostles speak once about reforming the institutions that practice them. Even those under the bondage of slavery are told to “care not for it” (1 Corinthians 7:21). Why? Because such a one is already the “Lord’s freeman” (v. 22). The only time an issue such as civic rights appears is when it would open the door for Paul to preach the Gospel (Acts 22:25). Other than that, there is nothing but indifference and silence on the part of the New Testament authors who looked for another world, not the present one.
A Passover People
We’re indifferent to the institutions of the world because we are a Passover people.
“Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us“
1 Corinthians 5:7
The leaven we’re to purge from ourselves can represent many things (cf. v. 8), but the other evils it symbolizes stem from its root sin: worldliness. God established that this was the symbolic purpose of leaven when He first instituted the Passover feast. When the children of the Israelites would ask about the meaning of the feasts given to them, this is what God told their parents to say about it:
“they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual“
Principally, the avoidance of leaven signifies that the Passover people are a sojourning people, who would not be around long enough to leaven their bread or have any other prepared food. For the Passover people to purge themselves of leaven is to purge themselves of any sense of permanence in this world. For us to be a Passover people is to confess – with the Passover people before us – that we are a sojourning people thrust out of Egypt, and who will be a sojourning people until we reach the Promised Land. It’s to confess that we are heirs of Abraham, Noah, and Abel, who likewise “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth … But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:13, 16) [And make no mistake, the Epistle of the Hebrews says it’s God who is preparing the city for us, not ourselves]. To purge ourselves from leaven is to be risen with Christ, to set our affection on things above, not on things of the earth. It’s to be dead and have our lives hid with Him (Colossians 3:1-3). The dead tend not to be very concerned about societal reform.
Thy Kingdom Come
The Lord instructs us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). It’s a passive prayer; Jesus does not tell us to pray that the Father would give us strength to bring His Kingdom down to earth. We are to pray as beggars – as those who acknowledge their inability to accomplish His will, and who must entreat Him to cause it to come to earth. And come it will, and we shall see “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2), quite apart from any of our own efforts. It would be sin for us to try to construct a tower to reach her, as if God hadn’t already promised to bring her down and wasn’t perfectly capable of doing so Himself.
So, what is our job? It’s not to be lazy, as we anticipate an Eschatological Feminist may accuse us of being (which is exactly the same accusation real feminists lay at the feet of faithful women). Rather, our job is to follow the marching orders of our King: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Our Lord is our breadwinner, and we are not to compete with Him. We are simply to proclaim His Word and live in accord with His commandments, trusting that God will work through the means He’s given us to accomplish His purpose. We are not to be defiled by the world, but to “come out from among them” (2 Corinthians 6:17) in such a way that we remain separate even when living in their midst. We are not to merge our city with theirs, but to be “A city that is set on an hill” (Matthew 5:14), and therefore to be a city set apart from the rest. We are to purify ourselves that we may be without spot, blemish, or wrinkle, and manifest that holiness which is becoming for the Bride of Christ. God forbid that He returns to find His Church committing fornication with the world, trying to prop-up kingdoms and causes dedicated to idols. With the present world, all institutions around us “shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:12). Let’s not waste time polishing a sinking ship; the cities belonging the prince of the power of the air will not fit on the Ark of Christ, but will be washed away by the coming flood of fire. And to those who resist the Gospel preached to them, we will by no means mandate their obedience, but repeat to them the solemn words of the angel: “he which is filthy, let him be filthy still” (Revelation 22:11).
Closing Remarks/Anticipated Objections
If you’re among those this article is targeted at and have made it this far, you may think that I’ve made you out to be a heretic and an enemy of the Cross. So, now is a good time for me to say that I don’t think that’s the case for most of you. Let me be clear: this doctrine of yours is aberrant, and inverts the New Testament’s emphasis on detachment from this present age. However, salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, and if you believe in that Gospel, you are my brother or sister regardless of your other views. It’s actually because I believe most of you are saved that I attack the doctrine as aggressively as I do. Partly, it’s because I hold you to a higher standard, but it’s also because – as members of the Church – when you defile yourselves with the world, you are actually entangling the genuine, born-again Church of God with its filth! This makes the error worthy of strong rebuke. And so, it’s with love that I implore you to cease from your worldly efforts, and focus your time following the example that Christ and the Apostles gave us.
Let me also stress what I’m not saying. I am not saying that it’s a sin to ever vote, or to engage in any behavior that might be classified as “political.” In fact, the confession I subscribe to says it’s even acceptable for a Christian to hold public office if that’s his vocation (LBCF 24.2). My chief concern is what the duty of Christ’s Church is, which on a corporate level is not to infiltrate and reform the institutions of Caesar, and on an individual level is not to have anxiety about the actions of the rulers over us or the quality of our earthly lives. Again, we can remind ourselves of the example of the Apostle Paul in Acts 22, which was briefly alluded to before. He raised his civic rights, but it was not for the sake of the rights or because he aimed to make the Roman government a better model of the heavenly one, but because it was a convenient thing for him to do for the furtherance of the Gospel. Similarly, there may be instances where it’s practical to represent the interests of the Church during a policy debate which could hinder the performance of her duties (such as the classification of her preaching as “hate speech,” or the forbidding of her assembling on account of a quarantine). However, even in these cases, it’s never permissible to view ourselves as anything but outsiders – as sojourners who politely ask to be left alone as we continue our journey home. While we’re here, we’ll be good neighbors – we’ll help wash your dishes, take out your trash, and invite you to join us as we head to a better world; but your affairs, O citizen of this world, are not our affairs. And while we mourn for the wickedness and injustices committed by your governments, we rebuke you as outsiders, not as your fellow-heirs. And when we rebuke, the remedy we offer is not a changed political system, but a changed heart through the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Bridegroom who invites us into His own Estate. Who ever heard of a bride building a home for her husband?
There’s one objection to what I’ve said which shouldn’t be raised by Bible-believers, but, because I’m sure someone will anyways, I’ll address it before I close. There will be those who will dismiss everything I’ve said because the passages that deter us from societal engagement were written before 70 AD. If you raise this, then I’m more worried about your view of Scripture than your eschatology. The Bible isn’t merely a compilation of authoritative spiritual teachings, but is the Spirit-breathed Book that God decreed should be the guide for the Church throughout her generations, and it’s sufficient for all matters of faith and practice (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So, to say that the example of Christ and the Apostles doesn’t model how Christians should live today is to say that the Holy Spirit gave no example for post-70 AD Christian living. It’s also to say that huge portions of the New Testament have no practical relevance to any Christian who ever had a complete New Testament, which wasn’t assembled until after 70 AD! This is especially true for the Corinthian epistles, which are largely concerned with problems relating to the Church and her interaction with the world around them; is a huge chunk of their content irrelevant? Why did God see it fit to include those portions in a Bible given to the entire Church age? Maybe – just maybe – if your eschatology causes you to have a view of the New Testament more in line with hyper-dispensationalists than the rest of the orthodox Church, you’ve made a wrong turn somewhere.
Fix your eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ, be faithful to His Word, and wait patiently for His return. Leave everything else in God’s hands.
Shout out to Travis Rogers, who made a great post on the related topic of theonomy on this blog. You can read that here.
JUSTIFICATION. What is it? Where does it come from? It’s a doctrine that has divided the Church for roughly 500 years and has been an ongoing issue for even longer. It isn’t a subject that can be brushed to the wayside or compromised on. It is a matter of extreme importance and we all need to know where we stand on it. There are some doctrines that require a firm line to be drawn in the sand, and I argue this is one. Of course, if a line is to be drawn, it needs to be in accordance with Scripture.
R.C. Sproul has defined justification as “a legal action by God by which He declares a person just in His sight.” Dictionary.com defines it as “to declare innocent or guiltless; absolve; acquit.” Yet, I know plenty of people who live decent lives and seek to help others. What could such good people possibly need to be justified of?
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.
For the wages of sin is death,
Scripture makes it quite clear that none of us are innocent. We have all fallen prey to sin and all of us are blemished before the glory of God. In fact, Scripture declares that, because of our sin, we are all worthy of death and Hell. None of us are righteous enough to deserve Heaven. According to God’s Word, we are all wretched sinners. How is it then that we can possibly be declared justified by God? Is it something we work toward? Is it simply by His love that He overlooks our sin? Is it temporal and constantly being renewed with a chance of forfeiture, or is it a permanent and once-for-all action? This is what I hope to make abundantly clear.
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
Why the apparent contradiction? Is it by faith alone or is it by faith plus works? While only having one true answer, the response will vary depending on who you ask. Ask a Protestant and he will tell you one thing. Ask a Catholic and he’ll tell you another. To really understand the doctrine of justification, we also need to understand what it is not.
The Roman Catholic view of justification is seen as taking place in the sacraments. Roman Catholicism has seven sacraments that are delivered through priests alone. They are baptism, confirmation, Holy Communion, confession, marriage, Holy orders, and the anointing of the sick. The one I want to highlight is baptism.
Roman Catholics and Protestants hold a very different view of baptism. While most Protestants hold that it is symbolic (NOTE: there are some heretical groups that believe in baptismal regeneration and some paedobaptists who believe baptism to be more than symbolic) of our dying to self and rising in Christ (an outward sign of inward faith), Catholics believe baptism justifies an individual of all prior sins and makes him, at that very moment, cleansed before God.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sec 1, Ch 3, Art 2
Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy.
Here, we see baptism is spoken of being the thing that inwardly justifies. It is important to note that baptism is also viewed as being an act of faith, so, while being a work, it is also viewed as a work done in faith that was already present in the individual. In other words, according to Catholicism, justification is achieved through both faith and works, with neither one being sufficient in and of itself apart from the other.
Not only does the Catholic Church believe in justification through both faith and works together, they also teach that it can be lost through the practice of mortal sins. The Council of Trent was held during the Reformation in the 1500’s with the primary purpose of stopping the Reformers who were protesting the Catholic Church. In fact, this is where we get our name as Protestants and it’s important to know the history behind it. James Montgomery Boice says, “the evangelical church is either dead or dying as a significant religious force because it has forgotten what it stands for.” Trent made many declarations against the Reformers in an attempt to slow down the crowds who were rapidly converting to Protestantism.
Council of Trent
Against the subtle wits of some also, who “by pleasing speeches and good words seduce the hearts of the innocent” (Rom. 16:18), it must be maintained that the grace of justification once received is lost not only by infidelity, whereby also faith itself is lost, but also by every other mortal sin, though in this case faith is not lost; thus defending the teaching of the divine law which excludes from the kingdom of God not only unbelievers, but also the faithful [who are] “fornicators, adulterers, effeminate, liers with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, railers, extortioners” (1 Cor. 6:9f.; 1 Tim. 1:9f.), and all others who commit deadly sins, from which with the help of divine grace they can refrain, and on account of which they are cut off from the grace of Christ.
In other words, if you commit infidelity, or unbelief, you lose not only your faith but also your justification. If you commit any other mortal sin, you may still have your faith but your justification will be lost and, therefore, must be regained through the deliverance of the sacraments by a priest as well as other acts such as penance.
As I said in the beginning, the doctrine of justification is the key doctrine that divided the Church during the Reformation. Because of this, you can probably imagine the Protestant belief is quite different. While the Catholic belief is a hybrid system of faith plus works, the Protestant belief has always been justification by faith alone, or sola fide.
The French Reformer, John Calvin, believed that all sins are mortal, by the simple fact that Romans 6:23 tells us the wages of sin is death. However, he argued that, while being worthy of death, no sin could cause a believer to lose his justification. The large difference is that Catholics teach man must actually BE inwardly just, while Protestants teach that man must be DECLARED just by God (Romans 3:24; Romans 5:1; Romans 5:9; Galatians 2:16).
Works do not justify. We’re justified apart from the Law. Justification comes only by faith through the redemption in Christ Jesus by His blood! There is no other way! It’s by the grace of God alone that He chose to send His innocent and spotless Son to die on the cross so that we could become heirs of the kingdom of God instead of heirs of Hell.
“On the cross Christ paid the price for our sin. This was both a work of expiation and propitiation. By expiation he “took” away” our sins from us. By propitiation he satisfied the justice of God by undergoing the penalty for our guilt.” — R.C. Sproul
In Christ, we are declared spotless. His blood has washed us clean. However, righteousness is not the same as cleanliness. We’re called to obey God and to be imitators of Him (Ephesians 5:1). Of course, none of this is possible within ourselves. This is yet another act of Christ. Whereas Catholic doctrine teaches an inherent or infused justice which makes the person truly inwardly righteous, Protestantism teaches of imputed righteousness in which the reward of Christ is given to us and our wages of sin are given to Him.
2 Corinthians 8:9
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
Christ was worthy of all of the kingdom of Heaven, yet He gave it up so that we could acquire it. It is not by our works that we earn merit. It’s solely by our faith in Christ that His merit is imputed unto us and that our justification remains.
“…the righteousness of Christ considered as the merit of his mediatorial work must ever continue, even when it is imputed to us, to belong primarily, and, in one important respect, exclusively to him by whom alone that work was accomplished. It is his righteousness in a sense in which it can never be ours: It is his, as having been wrought out by him; and it is ours, only as it is imputed to us.” — James Buchanan
“By faith the justified person receives all the blessings of God due to Jesus for his perfect obedience. In this regard Christ is our righteousness.” — R.C. Sproul
The Roman Catholic doctrine of “faith plus works” simply does not jive with Scripture. To claim we become just by any act other than the imputation of Christ’s merit is to say we are saved by something other than Christ alone. Salvation is not in the hands of priests nor is it in the sacraments. There’s not enough of our own merit in the world to save us and the blood of Christ alone is sufficient. As Sproul has simply put, “We’re justified by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone.”
Knowing the Scriptural stance on the cause of justification is critical to the Gospel message. However, knowing whether it’s temporal or permanent is equally as important. Hebrews 6 is a much debated passage that both sides appeal to for their beliefs. Read closely:
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
Those who believe in losing your justification and salvation appeal to this passage by saying those who have been saved can fall away and never again to be renewed unto God. This is NOT what is being said in this passage! In fact, this interpretation completely destroys everything the Gospel teaches of justification and the completed work of Christ.
The claim from the “you can lose it” camp is based on the phrase “those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit.” They say one cannot partake of the Holy Spirit or be enlightened unless they have first been saved. This is based on verses such as 1 Corinthians 2:14 which says,
1 Corinthians 2:14
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
The problem is that the above verse is being taken out of context to support an erroneous argument. While a non-Christian will never have the Spirit reside in them, this doesn’t mean they are incapable of partaking of the blessings of the Holy Spirit or being affected by Him.
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Here, we can see what is commonly referred to as common grace or common blessing, and that even the evil men receive a certain level of blessing from God. Now, let’s move on to something even more specific in 2 Peter 2:20-21:
2 Peter 2:20-21
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.
It would be easy to think this is referring to a back-slidden Christian. However, the full context shows that this isn’t referring to a believer at all. It’s referring to a false prophet. Despite this, it uses phrases like “escaped defilements of the world” and “knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” It even speaks of them as having known the way of righteousness. Again, all this would lead someone to believe it’s speaking of one who has lost his salvation: his justification. But we can know this isn’t the case in the reference to false prophets. It’s merely referring to someone who has all the head knowledge possible yet doesn’t clinch the eternal bond of the Spirit. While it’s true that only a Christian can truly understand the things of the Spirit, it’s not true at all to say only a Christian can taste the things of the Spirit. A great point was made by Paul in 1 Corinthians on this subject.
1 Corinthians 7:14
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.
The use of the word “sanctified” doesn’t mean that the unbelieving spouse is saved based on the believing spouse’s faith. It simply means they receive the blessing of the Spirit through the faith of the believing spouse. They may not receive salvation or the forgiveness of sins but they do receive a blessing nonetheless. It’s in this sense that a non-believer can still partake of the things of the Spirit without ever having obtained regeneration/salvation from the Spirit.
So what does it mean by “those who have once been enlightened”? The Greek word used for enlightened is phōtizō and is being used in the sense of being intellectually enlightened to Spiritual truths. The people being spoken of in Hebrews 6 had been made aware of Spiritual truths and they saw them for what they were but it does not give any indication to a response to the call of salvation. Furthermore, nowhere in Scripture is this phrase used to speak of salvation. It simply means they had mental knowledge of the things of the Spirit. To some extent, I’m sure they also tasted the things of the Spirit, albeit never tasting salvation or regeneration. It would be impossible to have been so involved in the things of the Church and not have been affected. Even the people following Christ in Matthew 5 were affected by the Light yet they did not believe despite this.
I don’t believe it’s referring to believers who have fallen away and lost their salvation and justification because of some mortal sin or infidelity. I fully believe it is referring to unbelievers who are on the outside edge of salvation, so to speak. They have all the knowledge they need. They’ve seen the power of the Spirit and have received a partial blessing of what the Spirit has to offer. If there was ever a time to believe, this was it! If one fell back after all this, it would be lost on them. There would be a sense of hopelessness; an impossibility that they would ever see Christ for who He is. With all that knowledge, if one still rejected Christ, all hope would be lost that they would ever see the Light.
Again, in Hebrews 6:6 where it says, “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame,” it doesn’t refer to those who were once saved and had fallen away, but rather those who were on the fence and finally stood their ground among those Jews who crucified Christ. Even if they never would have physically done so, the author of Hebrews does not water it down when he places them in the same category. It shows the seriousness of their rejection. We know Christ was crucified once for all (1 Peter 3:8) as the final act of completion, never again to be repeated. They never chose Christ even after all they had tasted and, in their rejection, had lost all hope of ever choosing Christ and now stood among the rest of the crucifers.
Once we have been justified by Christ alone, there is no turning back. If one turns back, it’s because they never truly had saving faith to begin with. They were as the first three seeds in the parable of the seed and the sower. Eternal life is exactly that — eternal! (John 10:27-29; Romans 5:10; Romans 8:34, 38-39; Philippians 1:6; 1 Peter 1:4-5)
So, going back to the very beginning of this post:
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
By now, we should clearly be able to understand that it’s not the works which help justify us but that it is the works which show evidence of our salvation and justification. If works do not follow salvation, it’s evident that salvation is absent. If salvation is absent, justification is naturally absent as well.
Sola fide (salvation/justification by faith alone) is a key doctrine that cannot be ignored. It is essential in the life of every believer. Without it, there is no salvation, no justification, and no glorification. To stress its importance, I would like to close with one final quote by R.C. Sproul:
“Without sola fide one does not have the gospel; and without the gospel one does not have the Christian faith. When an ecclesiastical communion rejects sola fide, as Rome did at the Council of Trent, it ceases being a true church, no matter how orthodox it may be in other matters, because it has condemned an essential of the faith.” — R.C. Sproul
There are many types of atheists out there, both in terms of beliefs and attitudes. I’ve run into some polite atheists during my time as a Christian. However, in this post I want to focus mainly on what I call the mocking atheist. This is the atheist that Christians encounter that doesn’t seem to actually be interested in discussing the issues, but just wants to mock Christians for beliefs they think are absurd. They get a sense of superiority, it seems, from mocking those they see as stupid. It may be foolish to make this plea, as it is an opportunity for them to attempt more mockery, but I will do it for the glory of God, and in hope of their eternal well being.
You who mock, do you not realize how foolish it is to rebel against the God you know exists? The Bible says in Romans chapter one that all men have perceived the existence of the true God:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heavenagainst all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20)
Therefore, you know God exists; He has left you with no excuse. I could go through the arguments about how it is that you’ve perceived God exists (as I’m sure many of you would want to), but in a sense I don’t need to, because you have perceived it. Now, I imagine this claim will invite mockery, as I’m relying on an ancient book written by a “magical sky fairy” to make my point about what you know. And if it is true that you have never perceived that God exists, then I can safely be ignored as a crazy person. But I have never met a professed atheist who was willing to do so. They’ve always felt the need to fight back as if I were truly a threat to their beliefs. So my next question is: what will the God that you know exists do to you for your mockery and other sins against Him?
Your mockery may entertain you for a while, but it will give way to shame. The Bible says also that every knee shall bow to God one day (Romans 14:10-11), and that includes you. One day you will explicitly have to recognize that Jesus is Lord, and you are not. You will not be able to stand by any mockery, as it will have been shown to be untrue. Even if you have encountered Christians or professed Christians that were your intellectual inferiors or were hypocrites, on that day you will find the One who made you and knows you better than yourself. The Bible also says that on the day of judgement there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:27-28) for those outside of Christ. Many say Hell will be a party, but Jesus says otherwise. Know, dear reader, that despite what you desire, you will have to deal with the truth one day.
So, my final question is: is your mockery worth it? Is it a worthwhile trade to get a few years in this earth of fun laughing, for an eternity of shame for what you’ve done, and the accordingly just punishment? No, only a fool would think so. So, to you I make a plea, even if it may invite more mockery towards me. God, the One whom you know exists, has provided a way of escape for your sins. I assume many of you have heard this before, but I plead with you to listen to it one more time. Jesus Christ, God the Son, became man and lived a perfect life. He then took the penalty for sin, the full wrath of God, when He died on the cross. Thus, God is able to forgive anyone because an atonement has been made for sin. By believing in Him, you have access to this forgiveness of sin and eternal life. And this belief is not a mere acknowledgement that He exists, but is putting your trust in Him, believing what He has said and therefore repenting of your ways. Do this, and you will find Him to be exactly what He is: the perfect Savior.
If this seems like an absurd message from your perspective, good; that’s what the Bible says it will sound like (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). So, it is no shock to me if you continue in your mockery and rebellion. But I do hope and pray that you will turn from your ways and find the true joy that comes from the God that you know exists.
“Sure, the Bible may be infallible, but are you infallible? If you’re not infallible, how do you know your interpretation of the Bible is correct? An infallible Bible isn’t helpful without an infallible interpreter, and therefore we need the infallible interpretation of [insert authority here]!”
In most cases, the preferred “infallible interpreter” is the magisterium of the Catholic Church, but it could also be the Patristics, the Watch Tower Society, the teachings of the LDS prophets, etc. But regardless of the proposed solution, the problem raised against Bible-believers is the same: “how can you have certainty without an infallible interpreter?” Many Catholic apologists view this as their trump card, and boast it as the insurmountable epistemological weakness of Protestantism. How would you answer it?
The key to answering this so-called “dilemma” lies in what’s tacitly conceded even by the challenger: words have meaning. They must concede this, because if words didn’t have objective, discernible meaning, then their remedy (and the conversation altogether) would be as pointless as enforcing a 10-person-or-less quarantine policy at an Episcopalian church. If language was so utterly opaque and uncertain, then having an infallible interpreter would do nothing to solve the problem, because we would be in the same danger of fallibly interpreting the infallible interpreter as we would the infallible Bible. How can little ol’ fallible me have any certainty in correctly interpreting the infallible interpreter? I suppose I’d need an infallible interpreter to interpret the infallible interpreter, and then an interpreter for that interpreter, and so on ad infinitum.
But if that’s absurd, the obvious reason is because words have meaning. When someone says, “water is wet,” my confidence in understanding that doesn’t in the least bit hinge on having access to an infallible magisterium. I don’t have to be infallible to know the meaning of “water is wet” anymore than I have to be infallible to know that grass is green. Both of these I simply receive as facts of the world – facts that are self-evident independent of any subjective interpretation. Understanding the meaning of words doesn’t depend on the infallibility of the one who hears them; they can be grasped with confidence by anyone who has a minimal understanding of the English language.
So, if our interlocutor confesses that words have discernible meaning (as they ultimately must), what is it they’re asserting? Really, they’re not asserting that language in general is always unclear, but that the Bible is. And so, since the Bible is unclear, we need to consult an authority that is clear. Cutting through their epistemological sophistry, we now see the meat of their argument, and what it takes to answer it. The answer to Rome’s challenge is that the Bible is clear, and that – while we appreciate the gesture – we are not in need of their assistance. We have no need for man to add to what God made perfectly clear in the first place.
The technical name for the doctrine expressed above is the Perspicuity of Scripture. Perspicuity is a word that’s ironically not very perspicuous, but it simply means “clarity.” When we say Scripture is perspicuous, we mean that it’s not dark or mysterious, and that it’s easy to understand for anyone who puts in the time and effort to understand it. This doesn’t mean that every doctrine is equally clear, but that all doctrines can become apparent through diligent consultation of the Word, and that the essential doctrines are especially clear to all. Concerning the latter, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith puts it as follows:
“…those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.”
1689 LBCF 1.7
No advanced degree, ordination by a bishop, or time in a monastery is necessary to understand what God says plainly; even “the unlearned” are perfectly able to see that the way of salvation is by Grace Alone through Faith Alone according to the merits of Christ Alone. The Bible says, “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7), and “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Psalm 119:130). If God’s words can give understanding to the simple and make them wise, how can you say they aren’t clear? The Bible also says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). Could something dark and obscure be a light to us? And if that’s not enough, it says, “I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts” (Psalm 119:99-100). How could someone have more understanding than his teachers by studying the Word if he can only understand the Word through his teachers? When could a papist affirm these words of the psalmist, and say that a believer may know more than the ancients and his teachers through studying Scripture? In light of these clear, perspicuous statements in the Word of God, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would deny this doctrine without a motive to put themselves in the place of the Bible.
The “30,000” Argument
“But,” interjects the Romanist, “if the Bible is so clear, why are there 30,000TM Protestant denominations?” For starters, those numbers are wildly inflated, as even the more honest Catholics will concede. Secondly, not being under the ecclesiastical authority of another denomination doesn’t necessarily imply disfellowship or lack of a spirit of unity, and the reverse is also true. A Reformed Baptist and an Orthodox Presbyterian usually get along much better than a CCR participant would with a typical Augustinian monk. I’d wager that the range of beliefs among those who uphold the three pillars of Biblical epistemology (inerrancy, sufficiency, and perspicuity) is much smaller than the range of beliefs under the jurisdiction of the Pope.
But regardless of how much doctrinal unity there is among those with a Biblical worldview, we cannot deny the differences between us altogether. Do we disagree on secondary issues because the Bible is only clear about the essentials? While some doctrines may not be as immediately clear as others, and some things may take more effort to understand than others, we should not rashly say that this means the Bible’s not clear on those subjects, too. God forbid that we imply His Word is somehow at fault for our divisions! As Herr Luther so strongly says:
“…the notion that in Scripture some things are recondite and all is not plain was spread by the godless Sophists … who have never yet cited a single item to prove their crazy view; nor can they. And Satan has used these unsubstantial spectres to scare men off reading the sacred text, and to destroy all sense of it’s value, so as to ensure that his own brand of poisonous philosophy reigns supreme in the church …. the entire content of the Scriptures has now been brought to light, even though some passages which contain unknown words remain obscure. Thus it is unintelligent, and ungodly, too when you know that the contents of Scripture are as clear as can be, to pronounce them obscure on account of those few obscure words. If words are obscure in one place, they are clear in another.”
Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will. II.ii
God has given us the perfect Book to lead us into all truth. So perfect is it that – while it’s a great help to consult others who have spent more time in it than we have – we don’t need any help to understand it if we are willing to immerse ourselves in it.
“But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him”
1 John 2:27
The Holy Spirit is the infallible interpreter for the believer, and the primary means He teaches us is through His Word, which He opens our eyes to receive. Through His Word, He is perfectly able to teach us “all things.” If there’s anything that was at one time dark and uncertain, all is illuminated through Jesus Christ, the light of the world, whom we receive by His Spirit. So, again, why do godly Christians so often disagree? The answer isn’t God’s Word; the blame lies solely with us – 1) on our ignorance, and 2) on our flesh.
Ignorance: Some doctrines are complex and require much study. There’s a difference between complexity and clarity; the Bible is perfectly clear on all its subjects, but the doctrine itself may be inherently complicated, and the Holy Spirit’s explication of it may span multiple books of Scripture. After putting all the pieces together, the doctrine will indeed be clear. But because most of us haven’t memorized the entirety of the Bible, and because most of us aren’t so attentive that we always recognize the relevancy of a passage to a doctrine, disagreement inevitably emerges among ourselves.
The flesh: Oftentimes, even believers will resist a truth of Scripture. The Holy Spirit can lead you to water, and He can make you drink it, too, but in God’s wisdom He’s chosen to make sanctification a process rather than an event. And so, the Holy Spirit will always point the believer the right way, but our unsanctified flesh will resist until He subdues it. There are cases where we might not like the implications of the doctrine, where it might wound our pride to admit we were previously wrong about it, where the doctrine might go against the views of one of our favorite theologians – there are many possible reasons for resisting that none of us are exempt from this side of glory. As such, we must always remain vigilant.
No Christian is immune to either of these weaknesses, and this is why there can be doctrinal disagreement even among believers. But in neither case is the fault attributable to God’s Word or its clarity, and so the doctrine of perspicuity isn’t threatened by them. On the contrary, the doctrine of perspicuity gives hope that resolution is available, and that we can obtain certainty even on secondary issues, regardless of the many good, educated believers who disagree; it just takes work and humility. Because the Word of God does teach all of its doctrines clearly, whoever is willing to be humble, receive instruction by the Holy Spirit, and become devoted to thoroughly studying His Word is guaranteed to find the answers he or she is looking for. Our problem is that we seldom ever do this, and rely on the speculations of others and/or ourselves rather than properly consulting Him with a believing heart. But when our problem is a heart problem, none of the authorities our opponents proffer are of any help. Even if they had an infallible authority, there’s nothing they could add to the one God already gave us. To Him be honor and glory for giving us a perfect authority for all matters of faith and practice!
THEONOMY. Perhaps there is no word more beautifully deceptive than this. Literally meaning God’s Law (theos: God, nomos: law), it sets forth the proposition that our civil magistrates must adhere to God’s standard and that our earthly laws should reflect His moral law. Keeping this in mind, it’s easy to see how the Christian might be inclined to follow it. For instance, Jeff Durbin of Apologia Church is a strong advocate for the system where he has affirmed his position that the only two options are theonomy or tyranny. With such well known Christians proclaiming the belief, does this give credence to it? There seems to be a growing number of people, particularly post-millennials, who are advocating for it and are using the Bible and etymology of the word to justify their position. However, as set forth, I believe to do so is to fall victim to highly deceptive terminology rooted in error. Before we begin, I want to outright state I’m certainly not advocating for antinomianism (i.e. lawlessness) with this post. I’d be foolish to ignore the fact that God has written His moral law on the hearts of believers (Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 3:3; Hebrews 10:16) and that we have an obligation to be obedient to the One who bought us with His blood (Galatians 3:13). However, what does that obedience look like and how far does it extend? If God truly reigns over all the earth (and He does), is theonomy a view that aligns with Scripture? I argue that it does not.
Personally, I think theonomy becomes a dangerous position when taken to its fullest extent because it becomes inconsistent, mandates a theocracy, merges Church and State, and reintroduces what Christ has abrogated. I think it’s a wonderful and necessary thing in the Church, but it has no place in the government as a formal requirement or system. I’ll give a very brief summary and then expound upon each point throughout the remainder of this post. If enacting a theocracy, it necessitates the reinstatement of Civil Mosaic Law or else it’s no longer grounded in biblical principles. After all, if we’re going to mandate civil government follow the biblical structure as found in the Old Testament theocratic systems, we must also resurrect the biblical pattern for judicial consequences. Any other structure results in “cherry picking” and fails the test of consistency. However, our nation follows a system of Separation of Church and State, which means a theocracy can never be as that makes the two a joint union. While I pray for leaders to be Bible-believing Christians (for obvious reasons), I don’t see it as a requirement for office that they be. The only two offices I feel necessitate that are elder and deacon.
Aside from feeling theonomy within government can’t be done properly, we’ve also never seen a single instance of it actually work, even in all of Scripture. Ultimately, sin gets in the way and leads to a perversion of God’s Law, oftentimes leading to legalism, which is just as bad as antinomianism. It’s impossible for us to live in a pure society that is fully governed by God. The only time we’ll ever see a functioning theonomy is in Heaven, and the only way to truly be a consistent theonomist is to conflate the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. As Christians, we adhere to God’s Moral Law as found in the Ten Commandments. Yet, even these are for His people, of which most of the world is not. Those not in Christ are expected to live like the world. Those in Christ are expected to adhere to the Moral Law. The Civil (and Ceremonial) Law has since been abrogated and, I argue, to adhere to theonomy is to minimize the completed work of Christ. Furthermore, a theocratic government, if implementing theonomy to its fullest extent, would have to punish people for not being Christian, having a different sexual preference, etc. God will indeed judge spiritual rebellion and sexual immorality in His time, but our government shouldn’t assume that role.
When speaking with a theonomist, you’ll undoubtedly be given Scriptural examples of God being over governing rulers. However, what does this actually imply? Does it imply we’re to advocate for a theocracy, or does it simply tell us that God is sovereign? I dare say it’s the latter. Because He has sovereignly placed them in positions of power, we’re to submit to this governing power as unto God. Despite this, it in no way advocates for a theocratic form of government. As stated earlier, every such form of implementation has failed, and there is a good reason for it. Let’s break down a number of examples. At Creation, we see Adam and Eve before the Lord. They were in direct communion with Him and He was over them. He gave the command and their responsibility was to obey. That’s a prime example of a theocracy how it was meant to be. However, we both know Adam and Eve failed miserably and paid the price that, ultimately, spread to all men in the form of physical and spiritual death. This wasn’t a failure on part of the theocracy but of humanity. Yet, it still failed.
Throughout Scripture, we see more examples. For instance, the Hebrews followed Moses and submitted to the governing structure that was in place. This was another theocracy, as it was leadership appointed by God to lead His people. All moral, ceremonial, and judicial matters were handled by this body. While it was in effect for a time, Scripture reveals that Christ abrogated the Ceremonial and Civil Law, leaving only the Moral Law that is written on the hearts of His own. Thus, we shouldn’t desire to go back to that construct as it’s no longer functional.
When we see kings come on the scene, it was something that immediately angered God. Yet, they wanted one just like the pagan lands. While we see times of prosperity when those kings feared the Lord and used discernment, we also see how they abused the position. Countless forms of sin crept in due to a sinful nature. This was a horribly perverted form of a theocracy that even God Himself warned against. Surely, this shouldn’t be advocated for if even God is against it (1 Samuel 8:7).
Now, let’s skip ahead to the time of Christ and the early Church. While we see examples telling us to submit to the governing rulers because they were placed there by God, nowhere do we see a requirement that they be Christian in order to be legitimate. In fact, we even see evil rulers being regarded as legitimate. While they were indeed placed there by God, in no way was it a theocracy. Nor do we see Christ trying to implement a theocracy. What we do see is Christ setting the foundation for His Church and other New Testament passages telling us how we’re citizens of Heaven (Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 3:20). If a theocracy was the structure in view here, Christ took zero time to speak of it and actually seemingly spoke contrary to it.
It’s been argued that Jesus was a theonomist, and that He advocated for the system in Matthew 5:17. Does this undo everything I’ve just said and annul anything I’m about to say, or are we just not thinking critically enough yet? First, think about the time period in which Jesus lived. The threefold division of the Law was still in effect. He was still performing His active obedience to the Law. With this in mind, we’d be remiss to ignore the preceding verse where he says he, “did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” Again, we can’t “cherry pick” the parts we want just to validate a belief. Keeping in line with the extent of Christ’s vicarious atonement also comes the extent to which, as our federal head, His active obedience fulfilled the Civil and Ceremonial Law. I’ll elaborate on this in a bit.
Where we once again see a theocracy try to rear its ugly head is in the Catholic Church. Within the first few centuries after Christ’s death, the Church was the State and it handled all matters of governing ordinance. It was a true theocracy in every sense of the word. However, it, too, failed miserably due to human nature. It quickly became corrupt, lost sight of God, and sought absolute power, all while claiming the name of Christ. Perhaps even more frightening than the prospect of religion ruling over the people of the State is the thought of the State ruling over the people of the Church. Think it can’t happen? I highly suggest reviewing the history of Theodosius, c.391 A.D. When one conflates Church and State, man’s sinful nature knows no bounds.
Yet again, it was an example of why a theocracy will never work this side of Heaven. The only example of a pure theocracy was in the Garden with God as the direct ruler and even that failed on the part of man. Every other instance was nothing more than a perversion of the theocracy we will see in eternity. And, as I stated above, to implement one on this earth necessitates a restoration of Mosaic Civil Law in order to properly punish the wicked who violate God’s Moral Law.
The greater question becomes one of whether we are to hold the unbeliever accountable for violating God’s Law. Clearly, we have violations and punishments in place for things such as murder, rape, theft, etc. But is it in place because they violate God’s Law or is it in place because they violate the law of the land? I’d argue it’s the latter, because punishment for violating God’s Law will come from God Himself on the Day of Judgment. We still submit to it because we know the rulers are only there by God’s divine appointment, but just as Pharaoh met his demise at the hand of God, so, too, will our ungodly earthly rulers. Again, no instance of a theocracy is necessary nor is it prescribed. We live in a pagan land with pagan rulers. While I would prefer a Christian be in office in order to possibly implement laws that honor God, I also recognize they aren’t obligated to do this. Similarly, if we had a Christian in office, I wouldn’t want the law of the land to be conflated with the standard of the Church. This would only open the door to punishing people simply for not being Christian or for worshiping a false god. Our civil government is not to be conflated with the moral law written on the hearts of those in the Christ.
Chapter 19, Of the Law of God, in the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 gives a very concise, yet highly biblical, description of what Christ accomplished in His death, burial, and resurrection in regards to the Law. I highly suggest reading it for yourself. In it, paragraph 1 speaks of a law of universal obedience being written on Adam’s heart. Paragraph 2 goes on to say how this same law, “was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments and written on two tables, the first four containing our duty to God and the other six, our duty to man.” Paragraph 3 speaks of the implementation of ceremonial laws and how Christ abrogated these laws (Ephesians 2:15). Paragraph 4 goes on to speak of judiciary (i.e. Civil) laws , “which expired together with the state of the people,” (Acts 6:14) and tells how, though they have a certain practical application in the modern use, we’re under no obligation to follow them. Take note that all of this is written for the Church and not for our civil government. Look no further than 1 Corinthians 5 for an example of how this should play our biblically. Though this man was to be excommunicated, at no point was the recommendation to put him to death (Leviticus 20:10). Such Law that would require it had been fulfilled. In the sense of civil government, it held no role in what would happen to the man. It was a Church matter only.
In conclusion, I hope you can see why, though a beautiful term from the etymological position, theonomy is incredibly dangerous when implemented with an earthly system of government. We have many freedoms in this great nation and I value all of them, even the ones that give people the legal right to worship idols. While sounding liberating, due to its very nature, when taken to its logical and consistent end, it will always result in bondage to man and threatening of liberty. God indeed reigns over the earth and His righteous judgment will one day be executed in the day He withholds His grace and mercy. That day belongs to Him alone and not to any civil magistrates. There will come a day when Christ shall return and we’ll finally see theonomy as God intended. However, unless Christ comes back before sundown, today is not that day.