A Systematic Defense for the Textus Receptus

Disclaimer: The Particular Baptist is evenly split on the issue of the Textus Receptus, with the hosts of the podcast having a debate on the subject here. As such, the following post does not represent the views of the blog as a whole. You can also read Dan and Sean’s articles here and here, respectively.

In the debate between the confessional text underlying historical Protestant translations of the Bible and the modern critical text underlying the majority of contemporary translations, it’s my opinion that the real substance of the debate can be lost in the sea of variants, manuscripts, and church father citations. By saying this, I don’t mean to diminish the importance of those facts. Rather, I say this because I contend the real reason for the disagreement is not the facts themselves, but how we interpret and weigh those facts. In other words, it’s the presuppositions we bring to the table that form the heart of this debate. My aim in this post is nothing less than to demonstrate that the presuppositions that lead to the Textus Receptus position are biblical, and that they are alone consistent with the tenets of Reformed Christianity, despite the good Reformed men who indeed disagree with us on the issue.

I will not be arguing in favor of the TR here per se, but rather in favor of the principles that would lead Christians such as myself to adopt it. Thus, there will be no discussion of the “Which TR?” question here. Even though I believe that a rigorous application of these principles would lead you to embrace a specific edition of the TR that you can hold in your hands as the very words of God, I will present the principles in a safer, more modest form, which – even if it didn’t lead you to adopt a single edition of the TR – would inevitably result in something that looks much more like it than the modern critical text offered as an alternative.

My argument can be summarized as follows: God’s promise to preserve His Word is more sure than our ability to reconstruct it. The reconstructionist presuppositions behind the modern critical text are incompatible with God’s promise of preservation. Therefore, the modern critical text must be rejected in favor of the text that the Church has organically received.

The rest of this two-part article will be a defense and an elaboration of the above.

Part 1 – Different Ways of Knowing and the Authority of Preservation

In order to properly evaluate the evidence on this issue or any other, we must know how much weight to give to the different types of arguments. For our purposes, we can divide the types of arguments Christians encounter into three broad categories.

  1. Appeals to the authority of Scripture. This is the highest and only absolute authority that can be appealed to. Scripture alone is given by inspiration of God, and is able to make the man of God perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is breathed out by God, contains no errors, and – as the infallible self-revelation of the infallible God – grounds every assertion faithfully derived from it with an absolute certainty trumping the authority of all other claims. We can be more sure of the claims of Scripture than the color of the sky, because its self-authenticating authority generates a greater assurance than even our fallible senses can provide. When our eyes tell us that the tree looks good for food, the Word of God says with greater authority, “thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). If any position is truly grounded in the authority of Scripture, it can NEVER be overthrown by an appeal to any lesser authority, because no lesser authority carries absolute authority with it, and it is impossible to overthrow a claim that you are 100% sure of using evidence that is less than 100% sure. By its very nature as the only absolute authority, it is the only authority that can ever have 100% certainty associated with it.
  2. Appeals to Church tradition. Already, we have moved to considerably weaker ground. Those who would attempt to bind a man’s conscience by the authority of tradition alone are rebuked by the Savior Himself, decrying those “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7). However, it must be said that when Scripture is silent, it is at least more authoritative than the third category, even if it already cannot be used to teach any sort of binding doctrine. The Scriptures themselves say, “in the multitude of counsellers there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14), and what is church history but a multitude of Spirit-led counselors? (Assuming the men we’re consulting are genuine Christians). [1] Again, Church tradition cannot bind the conscience or rival the authority of the Bible, but it can at least be helpful. I am here speaking only of Church tradition considered apart from the Bible itself, and not about the consistent exegesis of Scripture by faithful men of the past, which – when it can be demonstrated that they did it properly – carries the authority of the first category.
  3. Appeals to reasoning divorced from Scriptural truths and Church tradition. The weakest authority of all is reasoning that does not rest on the solid ground of Scripture or even the shaky ground of Church tradition, but rather on the quicksand of arguments unconnected to either of them. Over and over again the Bible throws water on merely human authority, admonishing us to “lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5), calling the wisdom of the world foolishness (1 Corinthians 3:19), and warning us not to be taken captive by human tradition and philosophy that isn’t based in Christ (Colossians 2:8). In the context of rebuking those who had a conceited pride about their own knowledge/wisdom independent from divine revelation, the Bible says, “if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2). As feeble, fallen creatures who either abide in darkness or else are just beginning to become truly acquainted with the light, all of our thinking is corrupted, dim, inconsistent, and woefully incomplete, so that we cannot truly know anything unless it stems from the revelation of Him who alone knows perfectly. Arguments from this third category are suspect by their very nature.

It’s important to keep these categories in mind when examining the merits of any position, and that includes the textual issue. Arguments that can plausibly be grounded in the first category must always be weighed as having greater authority – indeed, infallible authority if conclusively proved – than any arguments based on the second or third category. Likewise, arguments from the second category should be favored over the third, but are unable to challenge the first. Frankly, the only place for the third category is when both the first and second are silent/when appeals to them are utterly baseless, leaving the third as the only option. Accordingly, the burden of proof always rests on those arguing from the third category to show that it is really and truly the last resort, and even then they cannot present their position as certain due to the nature of the authority they appeal to – independent, worldly reasoning. They cannot simply pit their arguments against an argument derived from Scripture as if they are of equal weight. In order to have a hearing, they must show conclusively that the position they are opposing doesn’t have the Scriptural basis that’s asserted of it.

The rest of this post will be dedicated to showing that the presuppositions behind the TR rest in the authority of the first and second categories, as opposed to the arguments for the critical text, which appeal only to the third and contradict the first and second. I will also show that the appeals to the third category – like all other appeals to it – are ultimately shallow, unstable, and are completely unable to generate the certainty that the proponents of the critical text often claim it can provide. To argue for the critical text is to become inconsistent with the biblical epistemology that the faithful Christians who support it would otherwise embrace. If we embrace this way of thinking in the fields of cosmology, biology, geology, archaeology, and ancient history whenever the current consensus (derived from the “preponderance of evidence”) of any of them contradicts biblical claims, what biblical reason do we have for abandoning that way of thinking in the field that just happens to be closer to the hearts of many modern, famous conservative Christians – textual criticism?

The Biblical Basis for the Promise of Preservation

A number of passages can be appealed to in defense of the preservation of the Scriptures; the doctrine is ubiquitously taught in the Book whose availability is a testament to its truth. The Westminster Confession cites Matthew 5:18 as a prooftext for the doctrine in chapter one paragraph eight, which paragraph is identical to our 2nd London Baptist Confession. The verse reads, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Many complain that this verse is taken out of context, and that the chief point is that the prophecies and teachings of the Law will be completely fulfilled. But while that might be the ultimate aim of the verse, such complaints are nevertheless unwarranted because 1) Jesus’ argument appears to be a classic example of an argument a fortiori, and 2) the prophecies and teachings of the Law depend on the jot and tittle, which Jesus explicitly says will not pass away. An a fortiori argument is an argument from the certainty of a stronger claim in favor of a claim that would be true by extension. In effect, Jesus would be saying, “of course God’s law will be fulfilled, because God’s Word is so precious in His sight, and so sure to continue, that not even the smallest letter of it will be lost.” Again, arguments of this sort depend on the stronger premise being true, so there can be no doubt that Jesus really meant that not even a jot or tittle would be lost, which is what He says. The cultural context strengthens this interpretation, because that was indeed the common view of the Jews Jesus was speaking to and is how they would have understood it. In John Gill’s (1697-1771) commentary on this verse, he refers to several different Jewish sources that clearly indicate as much. For example, Rabbi Meir (2nd Century AD) says:

“In the time of the prophets there were such who very diligently searched every letter in the law, and explained every letter by itself; and do not wonder at this that they should expound every letter by itself, for they commented … upon everyone of the tops of each letter.”

Clearly, every letter was considered sacred in the eyes of the Jews. They believed each letter was that which God chose to infallibly speak and commit into writing for His perfect purposes. Since they were treating their copies of the Scripture in this way, they also clearly believed the original letters God gave them were preserved for them in those copies. More explicit is Akiba ben Joseph (40-135 AD), who Gill references as saying:

“If, (say they,) all the nations of the world were gathered together, ‘to root one word out of the law’, they could not do it; which you may learn from Solomon, who sought to root ‘one letter out of the law’, the letter ‘jod’, in ( Deuteronomy 17:16 Deuteronomy 17:17 ) but the holy blessed God said, Solomon shall cease, and an hundred such as he (in the Talmud it is a thousand such as he) … ‘but, jod shall not cease from thee (the law) for ever'”

The similarity between the language used by Jesus and a Jewish rabbi from the same century cannot be missed. Akiba even tells us of an apocryphal story where Solomon attempted to alter one “jod” (or jot) of Scripture, but God didn’t allow it, because He decreed that not one letter should cease from His Word. There can be no doubt, then, that when Jesus said, “one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law,” His audience would have understood Him to really mean that not a single jot or tittle would be lost. Frankly, there is no reason to believe that He just meant “no general concept would be lost” unless you’ve already made up your mind that He couldn’t have meant that, perhaps because your understanding of preservation wouldn’t allow it.

But a passage that I believe is even more relevant for supporting the view of preservation advocated by TR proponents is the classic text on the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

There are two reasons this passage is relevant. First, despite the frequent use of this passage to say that the original autographs (the original manuscripts written by the human authors of Scripture) were God-breathed and sufficient, the passage never directly references the autographs at all. That Paul is here speaking about the autographs is an assumption brought in by those who already believe that only the originals are the true Scriptures referenced by Paul in this passage. But if we believe that words should be interpreted in their own context, we will see that Paul just told us what Scriptures he was referring to in the previous verse:

“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15)

In other words, the God-breathed Scriptures Paul is referring to in verses 16 and 17 are the Scriptures Timothy has known from childhood referenced in verse . We must then ask, “did Timothy had the original autographs?” Since the answer is obviously no, we have two options:

  1. The copies Timothy had were given by inspiration again, or:
  2. Through the copies he had, Timothy possessed the original autographs which God had preserved through their faithful transmission all the way to Timothy’s generation.

The first option is obviously incorrect, because it contradicts Scripture’s presentation of inspiration as an event that happened in the past. Peter, for example, says, “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” in reference to the prophecies of Scripture (2 Peter 1:21). Therefore, that leaves us with option two: the copies of Scripture had been faithfully transmitted from generation to generation, and could be referred to as the authentic God-breathed Scriptures given by God. We have no biblical reason that this would cease after Timothy’s day, especially in light of the already discussed Matthew 5:18, which says that not one jot or tittle would pass.

The second reason this passage is relevant is its insistence that Scripture is able to make the man of God perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. As has long been recognized by Bible commentators, the phrase “man of God” does not simply refer to any male Christian, but rather refers to a minister of the Church in its New Testament usage (cf. 1 Timothy 6:11 and its Old Testament usage as a title for prophets – those who proclaim God’s Word). This does not diminish the sufficiency of Scripture for the Christian in the pew; rather, it confirms it, because a Christian minister has to be equipped for all the duties of an ordinary Christian as well as those only necessary for a pastor/elder/deacon.

But one of the most essential good works the Scripture equips a minister for is the pulpit ministry. As proponents of modern textual criticism are often not shy to admit, their view requires the minister to familiarize himself with the basic principles of textual criticism in order to handle the Word of God properly from the pulpit. It is essential, they say, for the minister to be able to distinguish the authentic from spurious textual variants using their principles as he encounters them in his preaching. The obvious problem is that, under this view, we have something necessary for the pulpit ministry that Scripture does not furnish us for. If it can’t be denied that the pulpit ministry is a good work – one of the most essential works for the man of God – and that an essential part of this ministry is identifying which variants can be preached as God’s inspired Word, then Scripture MUST equip us for it. Therefore, we must reject any method of determining the authentic readings of Scripture that cannot be grounded in Scripture itself. Otherwise, we risk denying the sufficiency of Scripture in an area it promises to thoroughly equip us for.

The difference between proponents of the Textus Receptus and the modern critical text is clear at this point. The methodology of the Textus Receptus follows the biblical example of organically receiving the Word of God. Like Timothy, who was able to know the Word of God from childhood, it proposes that all we have to do determine the true Scriptures is to look at what was received by God’s people. The only caveats is that the received text must be in the original language since inspiration was an event that occurred at the writing of the Scriptures, and so they cannot be reinspired in another form. The approach of modern textual criticism, however, is at odds with the biblical method of organically receiving God’s Word, and introduces unbiblical methods for determining the readings of Scripture using manuscripts that had been lost to the Church for over fifteen hundred years in some cases. This makes their approach at odds with the Bible’s teaching on preservation.

The Church’s Confirmation of the Doctrine

To prevent this post from being excessively lengthy (more than it already is), I will keep this section brief. An example of an argument from the Church’s traditional understanding would be an appeal to her confessions of faith. The 1689, for example, states that the words of God have been kept pure in all ages, and that the Greek New Testament they had and the Hebrew Old Testament they had “are authentic.” A modern critical text proponent will say that they don’t refer to any specific textual family here, and that is true. However, the whole of the Greek manuscript tradition they had was essentially that which is found in the Textus Receptus, and so unless one is prepared to say that the New Testament they referred to as being kept pure in all ages and presently authentic consisted of manuscript traditions they didn’t have access to in their age, it is clear that the NA28 is incompatible with their view of the text. This is especially certain in the context of who they were responding to, as one of the Roman Catholic arguments against Sola Scriptura was that the manuscript tradition had become too corrupted for the Reformers to use as their final authority. But if they were still unable to determine the authentic Greek text in their day, then this would have been a useless defense on their part. (see the section on the historical background of 1.8 of the Confession in Sean’s post for more on this).

The practice of modern textual critics is also certainly not in line with the Church tradition. They will often accuse Erasmus, Stephanus, and Beza of doing work similar to theirs, but their practice differs in several vital areas. Most importantly, the manuscripts used for the TR had been in active use by the church in the East, and had not been altogether lost to the people of God. The manuscripts came to the West after Greek-speaking Christians were pushed out of their native territory, just in time for the development of the printing press, which would give the new Reformation Church a stable Greek text to be propagated and translated into the native languages of Protestants throughout the world. (The convergence of all those factors at one time and place seems almost providential, doesn’t it?). As such, the reformers were able to receive their Bible from a living tradition, rather than from an archeological site. For those interested in exploring the differences between the methodologies of the Reformers and modern textual critics more, I commend this article by Taylor DeSoto to you.

How the Modern Critical Text Position is Based Only on the Third and Weakest Form of Authority

That modern textual criticism is based neither in Scriptural truths nor Church tradition hardly needs to be proved. Proponents are quite open to the fact that it’s based in considerations such as the perceived development of text types, the plausibility that a scribe would make one sort of error over another, and an evaluation of the earliest extant copies. An easy proof of this is that some of the greatest textual critics even in the eyes of Christians in the field are unbelievers like Bart Ehrman, and that their scholars do not see the sharing of different theological commitments as any hindrance to their work.

But how could it possibly not be a hindrance? In a world where God has – with His singular care and providence – been working to keep His text pure in all ages, would we not expect a denial of that truth to have an impact on the work of the textual critic, and lead him to erroneous conclusions at least some of the time? Wouldn’t someone who believes God was working to give His Church His pure Word have a different standard of what’s necessary to overthrow the present text than someone who believes that the present text is just as likely to be inauthentic as not? We’d expect that someone who didn’t believe in preservation would overthrow the Church’s readings whenever the “preponderance of evidence” (according to the standards they’ve come up with) favored another reading by any more than 50%, but we hope the believer in God’s preservation would need something significantly more compelling than that. How then, could the believer and unbeliever come up with the same text, unless the believer was doing textual critical work with unbelieving presuppositions, or else the unbeliever was behaving like a believer? Considering the statements of some believing textual critics, such as Tommy Wasserman who once said, “I would like to work as a text-critic as if God didn’t exist, so to speak,” it’s not hard to say which of those two scenarios has happened.

In the last section, I will show how that – like every other argument grounded in the third category – the methods adopted by modern textual critics are far from able to provide the certainty they pretend to, and so do not come close to challenging a position built on God’s sure promises.

Part 2 – No Ability to Reconstruct the Text of the Early Centuries

One of the easiest ways to tell if someone has understood our position is if they accuse us of being inconsistent on the grounds that we have no consistent textual critical methodology to reconstruct the text. This would be much like saying to a young earth creationist (such as myself), “You have no consistent scientific methodology to determine the age of the earth! You use one standard of explaining fossils that exist in this strata, and another standard for fossils in a different one, etc.” Someone who would say this to a creationist clearly has not understood their position; the creationist position is that we should not use scientific inquiry to determine the age of the earth! The evidence is too fragmentary, the assumptions behind historical science are unfounded and untestable, and none of their efforts have the infallibility of God’s Word, which plainly teaches a young earth. Likewise, we proponents of the Textus Receptus say that the manuscript evidence is too fragmentary, that the assumptions behind textual criticism are unfounded and untestable, and that none of their efforts have the infallibility of God’s Word, which plainly teaches God preserved His Word.

The parallels between creationism and the arguments in favor of the TR are many, and the proponent of the modern critical text would do well to stop and ask himself before making a given argument: “Does this argument look a lot like the ones old earth creationists use against young earth creationists?” They complain that we shouldn’t discuss evidence if our position is theologically based. Well, is Ken Ham wrong to look at fossil evidence when his position is theologically based? It would be inconsistent of us to do so if we were saying our position was based on manuscript evidence, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful in bringing up the errors of our opponents’ viewpoint, and showing that the evidence is not as conclusive as they’d like it to be. Their view, in fact, has many problems.

1- Their evidence is fragmentary. Despite the often repeated trope that “we have earlier and better copies of the New Testament than any other work of antiquity,” the honest truth is we have nowhere near the number of copies necessary to establish the readings of the early Church with the level of certainty maintained by some modern critical text advocates. While its true that we have a greater number of New Testament manuscripts than other works of antiquity, and we have certain fragments that are nearer to the time of the autographs than can be found in other ancient works, none of these facts imply that we can have the kind of certainty we’d like to have in the reading of the Word of God. Most of the large number of New Testament manuscripts are late, and agree much more with the Textus Receptus than they do with the modern critical text. But there are some parts of Revelation, for example, that have only one extant Greek manuscript attesting to them for nearly the first thousand years of the Church, and it’s a sleight of hand to use the large number of later manuscripts to say that the early copies of the Church are well-attested to. Further, the Greek copies that we do have from the earlier periods are not geographically wide-spread, but simply come from a region whose climate was more conducive to their survival: Egypt. There is no good evidence that those manuscripts were representative of the text in Christendom as a whole and not simply the region they came from. This is especially probable because those texts (formally called “Alexandrian,” but that’s no longer recognized as a legitimate category) have been observed to contain more readings in common with the Textus Receptus the older they are. In the early 3rd Century Cheaster Beatty Papyri, for example, there are dozens of readings that are distinctly Byzantine (the family of manuscripts the TR belongs to), which surprised the textual critics of the time, who before only had Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus as the earliest Greek manuscript evidence [2]. In any case, the “Alexandrian” manuscript family that the modern critical texts mostly align with has little more than a handful of early manuscripts (mostly fragmented) from a narrow region of Christendom to support it. Considering the immensely larger population of manuscripts that no doubt existed at the time, the vast swaths of Christendom whose climate wasn’t favorable for the survival of manuscripts, and the apparent lack of influence these manuscripts had on many that came after them, can anyone say that this is sufficient to determine with certainty what the text of the Church looked like at this time? Especially when that “text” is so unstable, and its manuscripts so dissimilar from one another, that modern textual critics are abandoning the notion that its representatives could even be classified into a unified manuscript family?

For throwing doubt on the notion that the manuscript evidence is solid enough to reconstruct the text of Scripture with a high degree of certainty, TR proponents are often accused of a “hyper-skepticism” that would obliterate are ability to know anything about ancient history at all. The argument seems to be that since the standards for establishing the readings of other ancient works is even weaker than those for the New Testament, that therefore the small, disparate, regional manuscripts must be good and solid. This is a non sequitur. Poor evidence for one discipline doesn’t make evidence for another good. Further, TR advocates do not generally say that the scant evidence means you wouldn’t be able to know anything about the New Testament by the standards of secular history, or that you can’t know anything about Plato or Aristotle; rather, what we are saying is that it’s utterly insufficient to be able to establish individual readings with anywhere near the level of certainty that the opposing position pretends. Especially since – as the early, heretical corrupters like Marcion have shown – the authority that the New Testament demands over its hearers provides greater motivation for evil men to alter it than the works of Plato or Aristotle, and so if we are to appeal to the world’s standards of textual certainty, we would have greater reason to be suspicious of the copies of the New Testament than other works of antiquity. Therefore, our standard of evidence would need to be all the more stronger, and we cannot pretend that as long as it would be sufficient for another work that it would be sufficient for the NT. Most importantly, we can all rest easy if the standards for the Greek poets is only good enough to reliably establish their general content and not their exact words, but we can NOT rest easy if that’s all we can do with the Bible. God’s words are much more precious to the Church than the words of ancient pagans, and God has promised to preserve His words perfectly, not theirs. Every word of God is pure (Proverbs 30:5).

2- Their methods are unscientific. Despite often being referred to as the “science” of textual criticism, textual criticism is about as scientific as the social sciences. It’s essentially just guess work, and the principles for favoring one variant over another rests on little else than the opinions of a few men who pioneered the field. Sure, on the microscopic scale they may be able to reliably determine the spelling of a word, but whenever they encounter a translatable variant of significance, their “scientific” methodology is basically, “If I was the scribe in that circumstance, I think I’d probably be more likely to make this mistake instead of that mistake.” Examining their works, the language that appears is “probably,” “most likely,” “with little doubt,” etc. Unlike a real scientific discipline, they are unable to quantify those probabilities in any meaningful way. This is because they can’t conduct any sort of rigorous experiment to examine the success-rate of the “rules” they developed. Without knowing what the correct readings of a text should be, there is no way to determine if their methods have produced the correct readings, which is why they are unable to provide any hard numbers about the likelihood of their product. They are ultimately limited to their ability to imagine the different motivations for spurious readings, as well as their ability to reconstruct the circumstances of the unknown scribe, without any thorough way to determine if they’ve done a good job. Indeed, there must be many places where they haven’t done a very good job before, because as we speak CBGM (a computerized way of trying to uncover relationships between manuscripts) is overthrowing a large number of the readings that they claimed were established using reliable principles that could give us near certainty. So far, in fact, CBGM has been favoring Byzantine readings.

An example of the unreliability of their historical methods may be helpful. There’s a discrepancy in the opening of Mark’s Gospel between the TR and the modern critical text. The TR reads,

As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Mark 1:2-3)

However, in the modern critical text, instead of reading “As it is written in the prophets,” it reads “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet.” The problem with this reading is that the quotation that Mark immediately references is from Malachi, not Isaiah. But largely because one of the principles of textual criticism is to prefer the harder reading – i.e., the reading that’s harder for them to imagine emerging by accident – they ignore the vast majority of manuscripts which read “the prophets” in favor of “Isaiah the prophet.” They generally excuse the problem on the grounds that there was a custom to refer to the scroll of a major prophet that a minor prophet was attached to, but those who have looked into this have been hard-pressed to find a citation for that claim. But in any case, it’s far from inexplicable why “Isaiah the prophet” might have been tacked on later. I say that with confidence, because I once made a similar mistake myself. Earlier in my Christian walk, I had a conversation with two Jehovah’s Witnesses, and while witnessing to them I remembered hearing something about the citation in Mark 1:2 confirming that Jesus is Jehovah God. And so, I went to my King James Bible, which read “the prophets” in Mark 1:2, and recognizing the language of the quotation that followed, I went to the place I was sure it came from… Isaiah 40. Unfortunately, I found Isaiah 40 wasn’t nearly as clear in confirming Christ’s Deity as I was expecting it to be. The reason, of course, is because the passage Mark cites in verse 2 which proves Jesus is Jehovah God is in Malachi 3, not Isaiah 40, even though Mark references Isaiah 40:3 in verse 3. Because Isaiah is a more familiar book to most Christians than Malachi, and because I didn’t have the whole of chapter 40 memorized (believe it or not), I simply assumed that’s where the whole passage was from. Would it be shocking, then, if an early scribe who likewise didn’t have the whole Bible memorized but recognized the familiar language of Isaiah, wrote “Isaiah” in the margins, which was later confused as part of the text? This is especially probable considering that the scribe very likely wouldn’t have even had an Old Testament on hand to check the citation, and he couldn’t exactly Google the reference either.

Many more examples of their suspect conclusions could be given. I bring up that example not to say for sure how the error arose (I can’t mind-read the scribe any better than they can), but rather to show that it’s unwise to base our texts on the limited imagination of man. There is no guarantee we could come close to imagining all the possible ways one reading may have emerged over another, so it’s dangerous to place confidence in a reading simply because we think it’s less likely to be accidental. We are dealing with the Word of God, and we need a much surer ground for our confidence than what men can provide.

3- Their methods are inconsistent. The methods which they defend as the best way to reliably ground the preservation of Scripture can’t be applied to the whole Bible. Namely, they cannot be applied to Old Testament. A staple of their argumentation is that we can have confidence that we have the Word of God in the modern critical editions because it’s based on earlier and better evidence than other works of antiquity. However, the same people will usually insist that we can be confident about the readings of the Bible as a whole, but the OT would fail by those standards. The earliest material we have for the OT are the ~3rd Century BC Dead Sea Scrolls, which do include virtually the entirety of Isaiah, but otherwise little more than scraps of the rest of the OT. For the rest of the Hebrew Bible, we have the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, which are from the 10th and 11th centuries AD. Considering that the Pentateuch was written c. 1500 BC, we’re talking about a gap of ~2500 years from the autographs to our earliest copies. To dodge this obvious problem, evidence-based apologists will appeal to how similar the material is in the Dead Sea Scrolls is to the later copies we have, and indeed this is a remarkable testament to God’s providence in preserving His Word. However, they have already rejected appealing to God’s providence to ground the text of Scripture, and so to fill in the massive gaps between the earliest copies and the originals they appeal to the rigorous copying techniques of the Jewish Masoretes, and say this is sufficient reason from a purely naturalistic perspective to trust that the OT we have is authentic. But this argument cannot withstand any serious scrutiny, because it relies on extrapolating the techniques of the later Masoretes (6th-10th centuries AD) all the way back to the time of Moses. The history given to us in our Bible makes this impossible. Are we to believe that the techniques of the Masoretes were employed during the Babylonian Captivity? If we insist on not appealing to the promises of God when establishing our text, what historical evidence would anyone bring to say those practices existed during that time? Further, we know there wasn’t any extensive copying during the early reign of Josiah, because the copy found in the Temple was the only one they had (2 Kings 22:8-10). You can say that it was faithfully transmitted before and after that event, which I do, but you must admit that our grounds for saying that with confidence can only be God’s promise to preserve His Word. And if you say that we can be confident about the readings of a text that’s removed 2500 years from its originals, how can you turn around and say we’re wrong for trusting a text 1500 years removed from its originals is authentic? Are we wrong to do that because you believe the evidence we’ve found since that time undermines the TR (despite the fact this evidence isn’t good enough to prove that a single reading of our TR is inauthentic)? If that’s the case, why can you be confident that the Hebrew Bible we have is authentic, and that we won’t find earlier evidence for it that undermines it, in the same way you believe the TR has since been undermined? You surely can’t claim that our copies of the OT are too near to their originals to make that impossible. You are left where we are, and where we will always remain by the grace of God: trusting in God’s providence for your Bible.

Conclusion

When there’s a conflict between the plain reading of Scripture and the “plain reading” of other forms of evidence, we must always let Scripture interpret the evidence, and not let evidence interpret the Scriptures. This, I contend, is the foundation of creationism as well as the TR. Scripture was given to us to read and understand by the infallible God, but extra-biblical evidence has no such promise attached to it, and we have no reason to believe the “plain reading” of the current consensus of any human field was meant to lead us into truth. When the choice is between arguments built on the infallible ground of Scripture and arguments built on the quicksand of man’s reasoning, latest archaeological findings, and favorite scholars, we hope the right decision is clear.

Footnotes:

[1] Proverbs 11:14, of course, is speaking of godly counselors – followers of the old paths whose wisdom is rooted in God’s Word, such as the old men who counseled Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:7. The verse is not speaking of counselors that may appear in the third category – those like the young men who counseled Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12:10-11 out of their own fleshly wisdom. The latter type of counselors multiply only folly.

[2] Hills, Edwards. The King James Version Defended. Des Moines: The Christian Research Press, 1997. Pg. 225.

How Shall We Live? Reminders for Life!

In last week’s article, we went over Jude 1-13. While we learned that Jude was the brother of Jesus, we also learned this was not a point that Jude felt he should brag about. In fact, he doesn’t even mention it in his letter. Jude felt his calling was to be a bondservant of Christ. He felt it necessary to teach of a certain group of men within the Church. These men were apostates and false teachers who, though appearing to belong in the Church, actually acted as nothing more than weeds dragging everybody else down.

For this article, I’d like to continue with Jude and dive into the remainder of his message. He wasn’t content telling us what to beware of. His message wasn’t wouldn’t be complete until he also told us how we are to live for Christ. He tells us what to watch out for and then goes on to tell us what to become. Just as with last week, I’ll refrain from posting all of Jude 14-25, for the sake of brevity. Again, I invite you to open your bible and follow along as we venture down this trail.

Jude 17
But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Note how Jude refers to us. He calls us beloved. This wasn’t merely an impersonal message to church members. It wasn’t a memo to be passed around. It was a deeply personal message written to his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no stronger bond than that of Christ. In calling us “beloved” we can feel the sense of love and concern that he was putting forth. He stresses the importance of remembering the words spoken by the apostles. In Jude’s day, this was done through verbal traditions. These words would have been passed on by word of mouth and held on to dearly. If anything, we are in a much better position because we have the Word of God. Jude didn’t have a New Testament to turn to whenever he felt the need to recall something. He was helping create the New Testament through inspired and authoritative writing.

Many people say Scripture memorization is only for intellectuals with great memories. This is completely untrue. If this were the case, it wouldn’t be commanded by God in His Word. This isn’t to say we need to know all of Scripture verbatim. It just means we are to be able to recall the teachings of Scripture as a whole. The only way to do this is to habitually be in the Word. the more we’re in the Word, the more comfortable we’ll become in our quest to know what it says. It’s by treasuring the Word in our hearts that we can remain pure and blameless (Psalm 119:9,11).

Jude tells us to remember the words spoken before us by the apostles. Psalm 119 tells us by keeping the Word of God in our hearts, we can avoid sinning against God. This is because it is by His Word that we are to live. Many years ago, I heard the quip that BIBLE stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, but it’s so much more. It’s our only true and unchanging guideline and standard by which everything else must be judged.

Jude 18-19
that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts. These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

As we covered last week, these men are in the Church but they are not true believers. They are not followers of Christ. They follow after whatever doctrine fancies them at the time. They blow about with the wind. They crash like wild waves. They are dead both inside and out. However, we also have to remember that they were appointed by God for this condemnation long beforehand as Jude 4 tells us. Last week, we learned how to spot them. This week, we are learning how to not become like them.

Jude 20a
But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith,

We are called to build ourselves up. Simply residing on a foundation is not enough. Imagine buying a piece of property. You seek out the absolute best contractors to get a perfect foundation laid. You ride them day and night to the point where they are exhausted. You refuse to give them water when they are thirsty and you beat them when they show signs of weakness. In the end, the contractors achieve what they set out to do: create the perfect foundation. There isn’t a crack or imperfection to be found. It has been finished. Would you be content with this foundation by itself? Would you set up a tent and then call it a day knowing that you had the perfect foundation and needed nothing else? The purpose of a foundation is to prepare for a building. The better the foundation, the stronger the building will be able to hold up to the ground beneath it.

Jesus is our perfect foundation (Ephesians 2:20). We beat Him to the point of exhaustion and, when we appeared to be on top, nailed Him to the cross. We may not have been there in person but we still shout, “Crucify Him!” on a daily basis in our actions. We murder our Savior day in and day out when we are called to build upon him as our perfect foundation. While false teachers and apostates have no root, we are to be firmly rooted in Christ, being built up and established in our faith (Colossians 2:7).

Not only are we called to build up ourselves but also to build up one another (Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). We are to encourage one another and care for one another. This is the exact opposite of what the apostates were doing. They cared only for themselves. This is because they lacked the one thing needed to truly care for someone other than oneself. They lacked love.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29, NASB)

Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. (1 Corinthians 8:1b, NASB)

In the above verse, the Greek word used for “edifies” is oikodomē. It literally means to build up. We are to constantly be in a state of building. We are to build ourselves but we are also to build our neighbor. It is through love that edification can occur and it is only in Christ that we can truly love as it is meant to be.

Jude 20b
praying in the Holy Spirit,

The idea of praying in the Spirit has taken on many interpretations. Some feel it’s a supernatural prayer language. Others feel it’s the gift of tongues. However, neither of these are accurate, and they completely miss the point of what Jude was trying to say. Praying in the Spirit is simply having the Spirit pray through us. The Spirit is not some foreign deity that we have to seek out. He literally dwells within us (1 Corinthians 6:19) and guides us in our sanctification. God is a Holy God. There are many times when we may feel like we fall short and don’t deserve to go before such a Holy God. The great news is that though Romans 3:23 confirms this truth, God wants us to come before Him regardless. When we have absolutely no idea what to pray for, we are to pray that the Spirit will show us what to pray about (Romans 8:26). He will intercede on our behalf as the Helper (John 14:16). Even if there are no words to be expressed, God knows our hearts. The Spirit will move us to be holy, set apart for God. Again, to pray in the Spirit is simply to have the Spirit pray in us.

Jude 21a
keep yourselves in the love of God

Note the change in instruction here. Building ourselves up in faith and praying in the Spirit are things we are to do, but this is not the end point that Jude is making. Everything he urges us to do points to the end goal of keeping the faith. He doesn’t simply say, “Keep the faith,” while leaving us in the dark. How do we keep the faith? We keep the faith by building ourselves up and praying in the Spirit. We keep the faith by keeping our focus on God at all times and growing in Him.

While keeping in the love of God, know that it isn’t a system of legalism that does it. We can’t work our way into God’s favor. It’s by the grace of God alone that we can enjoy being in His love. While we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), that doesn’t imply works will earn us salvation. It means we are to live for God each and every day under His grace (Acts 13:43).

While we are to keep ourselves in the faith, it’s God who keeps His children. He has promised to never let any of His children go (John 6:37, 10:28). He has promised eternal life. Not only is it a promise to His children but it is a promise that has already been fulfilled. Those who are His have eternal life. However, there are many who supposedly fall away from the faith, not just for a short time, but for real. The fact of the matter is that these men never had real faith, were never children of God, and were only deceiving themselves. This is why we are called to not only build ourselves up but to also build up one another. Edify one another.

Jude 21b
waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.

While living each day for God, we have a greater hope of the future in the return of Christ (Titus 2:13). We are made in the image of God and there will be a day when we will be glorified as Christ was also glorified following his resurrection. John says the one who anxiously looks forward to the Second Coming purifies himself to the same degree in which Christ is pure (1 John 3:2-3). Keeping our sight on God with anxious expectation is a sure fire way to sanctify oneself, edify the Church, and keep ourselves for God.

Jude 22-23
And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

Jude tells us we are to have mercy on some. The “some” that he refers to appear to be broken down into three different groups of severity. While we’re to show mercy to those in each group, each requires it for a different reason. Additionally, each group necessitates we take different precautions when interacting with them.

Jude 22
And have mercy on some, who are doubting;

These people appear to be your typical lost person. They have their doubts and aren’t quite ready to take the leap of faith just yet. Just as God was merciful on us, we are to be merciful on them. As Christians, we are called to be fishers of men. By showing mercy and compassion, we are showing them the love of Christ. These men would fall under your basic evangelism and witnessing.

Jude 23a
save others, snatching them out of the fire;

These men are also doubters but to a much severer degree. They are on the fast track for Hell as we all once were. These men need emergency intervention. They need a bit more focus and dedication to be swayed to truth. At one point in time, we were all bound for Hell. All mankind has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The wages of this sin is death (Romans 6:23). However, God saved us from the flames to spend eternity worshiping Him in His court. Shouldn’t we turn around and do the same for others by spreading the Gospel and preaching Christ crucified at every opportunity?

Jude 23b
and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

This third group would be the false teachers and apostates that we spoke of last week as well as the beginning of this article. These men are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Instead of building others up, they tear them down. We’re still to have mercy on them in that we preach the Gospel to them but we are to do so with a certain sense of fear. When handling these types, be careful not to be dragged down in the process. How many relationships have you heard of where the girlfriend dated an unbeliever hoping to convert him only to be dragged away from the faith as a result of being unequally yoked? Take an instance such as that and multiply the dangers. We should hate everything that these doubly dead men stand for but we should not let that get in the way of our mission of being fishers of men. Personally, I do not recommend a new believer speak with these people. Should a new believer come across one of these types, I would urge him or her to be loving but get away and refer him to a more mature believer in the faith.

Jude 24-25
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

After everything that Jude had to say to us, he finishes it out with praise to God. All of these are reasons for us to worship the Living God.

God has promised to keep us for Himself. In fact, even verse 1 tells us we are kept for Christ. We may face temptation but this does not mean we have to stumble. When God is our foundation, we can stand firm in Him. When we stand firm in Him, we will follow His ways and His commands which will result in standing blameless before Him. Think of the joy of Christ telling us, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.” It is only through Christ that we are reconciled to the Father. To God, through Christ, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority. In Christ, it is finished and eternity awaits us.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Doubly Dead: Danger Ahead!

DANGER. It’s a term not to be used lightly. While we, as Christians, look forward to eternal peace with the Father, in the Son, our present environment comes with no shortage of danger. In particular, I’d like to focus on the spiritual danger imposed by false teachers and apostates. To set the stage, we’ll primarily be in Jude. Jude is a small epistle consisting of only a single chapter. However, in that one chapter is a very important lesson that we all need to learn. As hinted at, it is the subject of apostates and false teachers within the Church. For the purposes of this article, our focus will be on Jude 1-13. We’ll simply address each verse individually as we paint the scene.

Jude 1
Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ:

First of all, we see that it was Jude who wrote this epistle. As it is written in verse 1, we can see that Jude is the brother of James. However, James was not his only brother. He was also the brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55). Some doubt Jude’s family ties by saying he would have mentioned Jesus instead of James in this verse, but it is commonly held that James was simply practicing humility. He could have clearly bragged about his relations with Christ. Instead, he lowered himself to nothing more than a bond servant. If we look at James 1:1, we can see James describes himself in the exact same way.

Knowing who it was written by is equally as important as knowing who it was written to. Verse 1 tells us it was written to believers. This was not a message for anybody who had ears. It had an intended audience. Jude had a word for believers, and by God’s grace it has been preserved for us. Notice how it describes believers. It doesn’t simply give an Arminian tag such as “one who chose Christ,” or “one who sticks around.” It goes much deeper than that. Anybody who has ever had the chance to speak with me knows that I am a Five-Point Calvinist through and through. This is because I firmly believe this to be the conclusive truth of Scripture. In fact, even Jude 1 appears to stand in favor. It says he is writing to those who are called and those who are kept for Jesus Christ. What exactly is meant by these words?

Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, (1 Corinthians 1:1a, NASB)

To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (John 10:3, NASB)

“These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” (Revelation 17:14, NASB)

and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:30, NASB)

We can see those who are called are much more than just publicly invited to something. As per Revelation, they are also chosen. As per Romans, they are predestined. Jesus is the Shepherd. He knows His sheep by name. He chose us before the foundation of the world to be His. We have been called by God.

Not only are all believers called by God before they come to Him, once called, they are also kept by God in Christ (John 17:11). No one can snatch us out of God’s hand (John 10:28). It’s His will that, if we are given to Christ by the Father, we will also be raised up on the last day (John 6:37,39; 1 Peter 1:5). Our salvation begins and ends with God. In the opening statement, Jude professes more truth than we’ll hear in an entire Leighton Flowers lecture.

Jude 2
May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.

This is a very common opening that we see in many of the other epistles. However, it’s not merely an introduction. Mercy, grace, peace, and love are all promises of God. It’s only by His mercy and grace that we, as wretched sinners who were bound for Hell, are saved at all. Scripture calls God our peace (Ephesians 2:13-14a). We’re called to be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4:6). If we have any concerns at all, we’re to cast them on God (1 Peter 5:7). He loves us so much that He died for us (Romans 5:8), and He desires to take every bit of anxiety away from us so that He can be our complete peace.

Jude 3
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.

Here, we can see Jude is urging his fellow believers to contend earnestly for their faith. Paul used similar wording in his epistles when he tells us to fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12), and to run the race in such a way that we win (1 Corinthians 9:24). Though we’re contending for our faith, it’s not something that we’re striving to obtain. The following verses demonstrate the nature of this.

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10, NASB)

and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:30, NASB)

Notice that it speaks of sanctification, justification, and glorification in the past tense. Saving faith is something that has already been completed in us through Christ, once and for all. The faith for which we are contending is simply our walk with God. Paul urges us in 1 Corinthians to not continue in sin for the sake of abounding in grace. We are to increase in our love for God, walk with God, and knowledge of God. This is only accomplished by continually staying in the Word as well as being in fellowship with other mature believers. We’re to continually fight the good fight. It’s in fighting this good fight that we will find ourselves equipped to recognize false teaching and steer clear of lurking danger that attempts to sweep people away (Mark 13:22).

Jude 4
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

False teachers were all over the place. In fact, they’re still all over the place. We see numerous places in Scripture where they are spoken of as having infiltrated the Church in a silent manner (Galatians 2:4; 2 Peter 2:1). Their goal was to learn about our ways so that they could pretend to be like us while pulling others astray. They introduce destructive heresies and teach things that take glory away from God and place it elsewhere (CLICK HERE FOR MORE). These people were getting to know their enemy, so to speak, even if they may not have thought about it in that way. Certainly, some false teachers are obvious to even the casual believer. Some of these include heretics such as Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, etc. However, there are others who are in error while drawing in masses of ignorant (and I use the term in the most loving way possible) believers. Some of these teachers include Steven Furtick and Beth Moore. Even with what seems to be an unending mine field of false teaching, and we need sound teachers and pastors to assist us in navigating through it, we shouldn’t be deceived into thinking they are there by accident.

A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. (1 Peter 2:8, NASB)

What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22, NASB)

While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. (John 17:12, NASB)

No, these men are not here by accident. Similarly, those Jude had in mind weren’t there by accident either. They were appointed by God’s sovereign will to be the foul apostates that they were. Even Judas Iscariot is described as the son of perdition. His whole purpose was to be destroyed. The Greek for “of perdition” is apōleia. It literally means annihilation. He was created to betray Jesus and then be completely and thoroughly destroyed. It goes so far as to say he was a child of utter annihilation. He was born to it. In all of this, God’s glory is made known through his power and wrath.

Jude 5
Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe.

Jude speaks of the future of unbelievers. This ties into the beautiful companionship of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Though all things are set in motion and held in place by God, the unbeliever destroys himself in his rejection of God and constant state of sin. We don’t hear about Hell very often in the Church today. Jonathan Edwards gave a sermon in 1741 called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Over the years, while being acknowledged as one of the most powerful sermons of all times, it has been the subject of backlash among bitter Christians who desire a feel-good Gospel. Even if we think we are familiar with sound doctrine, it needs repeating (2 Peter 1:12). A pattern you might notice in my articles is that I quote many verses over and over again over a period of time. I also touch on many core doctrines repeatedly. There is nothing wrong with this. Both Peter and Jude were under the impression that, despite already knowing certain teachings, it’s important to repeat them and remind fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how we remain sharp as we fight the good fight before us.

Jude 6
And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day,

Here, Jude refers to another group who rebelled against God and will one day be destroyed for it. It’s the fallen angels who followed after Satan.

Most of us know the story of the fall of the angels. Lucifer was an angel who rebelled against God, and, in fact, wanted to be God. As a result of his disobedience and rebellion, he was cast out of heaven and one-third of the angels were cast out with him because they chose to follow Satan instead of God (Isaiah 14:12-15; Revelation 12:4a). The result was being cast into pits of darkness, reserved for judgment (2 Peter 2:4). This is no minor event as it set the stage for the very fight we’re told to keep up.

Jude 7
just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

Jude continues with his theme of the relationship of rebellion and destruction. Just as God will destroy the fallen angels, He also destroyed Sodom & Gomorrah by fire for their perverted lusts, homosexuality, etc. We will be held accountable for our actions. While sin can be satisfying to the flesh at the time, we will reap nothing but death from it. Danger abounds!

Jude 8
Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties.

The “these men” that Jude speaks of are the same men he spoke of in verse 4. They are the apostates who are in the Church posing as brothers and sisters in Christ. Jude just finished speaking poorly of the fallen angels as well as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Note that he now refers to these men as performing many of the same acts. Yet somehow these men are within the Church! It may seem hard to believe that someone like this could possibly blend in among us but it happens all the time. Refer to the above examples if there is any doubt. This is why we need to know how to spot them. We need to stay grounded in the Word so that we can know how to properly discern truth from error.

Jude 10
But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.

Verse 8 says these men speak harshly of angelic majesties and of God. Verse 10 goes on to say that, despite being in the Church and acting like a Christian, these men do not understand the ways of the Church. If they truly understood, they wouldn’t have been acting the way they were. Though this is to be expected from the natural man in his unregenerate state. It’s simply not possible to understand the things of God unless you first have the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). All these men know is the evil of their unregenerate nature and that is the very thing that destroys them. In the end, they will be held accountable. They sin abundantly so that grace may abound. Paul tells us this is the exact opposite of how a Christian is to live his life.

Jude 12-13
These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

There is a lot to be said in these two verses. On the surface, a lot of it can be confusing due to all the metaphors. Because of this, I want to break it down piece by piece.

Jude 12a
These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves;

These men care only for themselves. They are as the shepherds of Israel who were feeding themselves while forsaking the flock (Ezekiel 34:2). They don’t care about the Christians within the Church, nor do they help them when in a time of need. They blend in with us but only take for themselves. They look out for #1.

Jude 12b
clouds without water,

Just like clouds without rain, these men are empty on the inside and serve no purpose (Proverbs 25:14). They revile the things of God yet often claim to be “holier than thou” in their quest for preeminance and glory.

Jude 12c
carried along by winds;

They are not rooted in the Word but go with many new doctrines and blow every which way. I’m reminded of the tragic downward spiral of Francis Chan as he seems to continually be carried about by every wind of doctrine and by the trickery of men (Ephesians 4:14). Look out at the overgrown grass in a field on a windy day. The grass will sway in one direction for a little while but, before you know it, it begins swaying in a different direction. As the wind changes direction, so the grass changes with it. The same is said of the men Jude is referring to. There is no absolute truth to these men. There is only what tickles their fancy at the time. There is no root. We are not to be like these men. We are to be rooted in the Word. A helpful tool that can greatly assist those who may be struggling as they seek to systematize their doctrinal position is an orthodox confession or creed. I highly recommend the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689).

Jude 12d
autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted;

Now picture the trees toward the end of autumn. The leaves begin to fall off. In fact, most trees can even look as if they are dead. If you didn’t know any better, you would guess it was never going to be green again. However, in time, leaves begin to sprout and flowers begin to blossom. It’s not so with these men. Not only do they appear to be dead on the outside, they are truly dead on the inside. They have no root in Christ at all. This shouldn’t come as any surprise. Jesus said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted” (Matthew 15:13).

If we remember earlier, Scripture plainly told us that these men are not here by accident. They may be responsible for their current status but they were appointed by God long beforehand to bring God glory through His wrath. They may be silently wreaking havoc within the Church for now, but there will come a day when God will uproot every one of them and destroy them. Though they may not yet be physically uprooted, spiritually speaking, they are already dead. In fact, Scripture refers to them as doubly dead; dead on the outside and dead on the inside. There is no fruit on a plant that has no root. These men are the ones Christ refers to when He speaks of the unforgivable sin in Matthew 12. They have no hope. They have seen the grace of God in the Church. They have broken bread with Christians. They have enjoyed the blessings of the Church. Despite all of this, they do not understand the things of the Spirit, do not have faith in Christ, and revile the things of God. There is no hope whatsoever of them ever coming to repentance and there is no other way to deal with them but to cast them out of the Church as one would pull a weed from a garden. The problem is in spotting them.

I’m reminded of the garden my wife was trying to grow. She had planted a few different types of seeds and flowers. Over time, the seeds sprouted and things began to grow. She was particularly proud of one that seemed to grow more than the rest. She didn’t remember planting it, but she thought it was a wild plant that happened to land there somehow. She briefly looked it up in a book and came to the conclusion that it was a certain type of wild flower. This thing grew to be as tall as our children. One day we had a neighbor over. He asked us why on earth we had a weed that was as tall as that one. My wife was shocked and slightly embarrassed. Neither of us knew what it was. In fact, we thought it was something it wasn’t. Yet, somehow, this friend was able spot it for what it really was: a weed. Sometimes, something is able to blend in and seem like the real deal while, in reality, it’s doing nothing more than killing what is around it while thriving on its own.

Jude 13a
wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam;

These men are not at peace. Jude calls them wild waves of the sea. Isaiah uses the same descriptive terms when speaking of the wicked (Isaiah 57:20-21). They have no control or order to them. They crash about randomly on their own with no guidance.

They boast in their own folly (Proverbs 15:21). They profess to be wise as if it will make them look prominent. However, it is this same “wisdom” that brings them shame and destroys them (Romans 1:22). If you look carefully at false teachers, the common thread is that they seek glory, have showmanship, and take their follower’s eyes off of sound doctrine. Their end state will certainly be destruction (Philippians 3:19).

Jude 13b
wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

As we reviewed above:

A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. (1 Peter 2:8, NASB)

“While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. (John 17:12, NASB)

What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22, NASB)

Not only are these false teachers/apostates bound for Hell but, in God’s sovereignty, it is actually reserved for them! Do not be like these men. We’re called to live for God and serve Him with everything we have. If we say we love God, we are to truly act it out in our every day lives. Be careful in the things you teach to another and always check yourself to make sure that you are God-oriented and not self-oriented. Learn to spot those whom Jude was speaking of so that you can accomplish what he so strongly urges.

Jude 3
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.

~ Travis W. Rogers

Glory to God Alone!

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.”

Psalm 115:1, NASB

NOT TO US. We live in a world that screams, “US!” Whether it be our job success, latest toys, or life experiences, the world says to always look out for #1. The sheer number of lawsuits in the headlines proves this. We live in a world of self-entitlement where we expect to be treated the same, if not better, than everybody else. If we do something well, we want our praise. If we mess up, we want to be thanked for at least trying and giving it our best shot. To us be the praises. To us be thanks. To us be the glory!

Yet, Psalm 115 opens up with a distinctly different wording. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory. This is a recurring theme throughout the Psalms.

“Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in holy array.” (Psalm 29:2, NASB)
“Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name;” (Psalm 96:8a, NASB)

God’s glory is not to be shared with anyone. It belongs to Him alone.

“For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:11, NASB)

 From a very early age, we’re taught to share with others. Yet, God is not some child being taught how to interact with other children. God is the Creator of the universe. Colossians 1:16 says all things were created by Him, both in the heavens and on the earth. Psalm 115:15 states the same.

“God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne.” (Psalm 47:8, NASB)

How can we expect our Ruler to share His glory? How can we expect anything from God at all? Are we worthy enough to lay claim to even the smallest inheritance? What does Romans 3:23 say? Does it say that all have sinned but still deserve credit for their efforts? No! It says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God! God owes us nothing. We have zero right to claim what is not ours. By nature, we are fallen beings who deserve nothing more than death and eternal damnation. We deserve outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Our God is in the heavens. He sits on His holy throne and rules over all of creation forever and ever.  If all glory belongs to the Lord, it stands to reason that anything we might boast of is actually us attempting to rob God. Instead of giving honor and praise to the King, it is our attempt to play thief to the very One who gave us life. How arrogant can we be?!?!?! Yet, this is exactly what we see in Psalm 115:2. We see men taunting, “Where, now, is their God?” We can see the same in Psalm 42:10.

“As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10, NASB)

Can such behavior and attitude really be excused by a holy and righteous God? Can a man go so far as to mock God and get away with it?

“Then my enemy will see, And shame will cover her who said to me, “Where is the LORD your God?” My eyes will look on her; At that time she will be trampled down Like mire of the streets.” (Micah 7:10, NASB)

 If we plan to go before God with such great audacity, be prepared to pay the price. Such a man may see death sooner rather than later.

“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker” (Isaiah 45:9a, NASB)

The question that begs to be asked is, “Is this really fair?” Would a loving God really care if we mess up? Won’t He forgive somebody in His love so long as that person tries to be good? After all, if we have already fallen short of the glory of God, shouldn’t such behavior be expected? To this I respond with questions of my own. Is it fair that we take God for granted in times of peace? Is it fair that we neglect to thank the very One who blesses us day after day? Even more so, is it fair that the Father would send His Son to die a brutal death on the cross so that guilty men could be reconciled to Him to spend eternity basking in God’s glory in heaven? No, fairness is hardly the question at all. Psalm 115:3 very plainly states that our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.

The sovereignty of God is as much a part of His glory as any of His other attributes. God doesn’t need to consult man before acting (Ezekiel 36:22; Isaiah 40:13-14).

In His sovereignty, He created the angels, even those who fell. In His sovereignty, He created man and even decreed the Fall. In His sovereignty, He ordained to send His Son in a beautiful plan of redemption. Christ was no mere afterthought. Every last detail of life is because of God’s sovereign rule from the throne. In a sermon on Matthew 20:15, Charles Spurgeon stated:

There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought more earnestly to contend than the doctrine of their Master over all creation — the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands — the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that Throne.

Charles Spurgeon (cited in “The Attributes of God” by A.W. Pink, pg. 34)

Arthur W. Pink said that:

Divine sovereignty means that God is God in fact, as well as in name, that He is on the Throne of the universe, directing all things, working all things “after the counsel of His own will”.

Arthur W. Pink (The Attributes of God, pg. 34)

It is not in spite of all of this truth that we give God glory but BECAUSE of it. Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth. While God is righteous, holy, just, jealous, and wrathful, He is also love. It is because of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and truth that we proclaim His name to the masses and declare of His goodness. Our God is so vastly different than any other god (lowercase g). He is true. He is all knowing. He is sovereign. He is eternal. He is unchanging. He is holy. He is patient. He is good. He is merciful. He is gracious. He is faithful. He is loving. But most of all, He is alive.

In Psalm 115:4-7, we see a clear distinction between our God and the idols worshiped by the world. There could’ve been any number of ways in which to describe the idols but we see a very specific description being used. Ears that do not hear. Noses that do not smell. Hands that do not feel. Feet that cannot walk. Throats that remain silent. Imagine how insulting this would’ve been to the one who worshiped such an idol. After all, we don’t take too kindly when we hear people blaspheming our God. Honestly, I can fully understand how one would be insulted. That said, I care more about not insulting God than I do about insulting man. The Scripture is plain. I love the passage in 1 Kings 18 where we see the prophet Elijah challenging the worshipers of Baal. In verses 25-29, it says:

“25 So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.” 26 Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, “O Baal, answer us.” But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made. 27 It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.” 28 So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. 29 When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.(1 Kings 18:25-29, NASB)

The ESV actually translates verse 27 as “Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself…” When we look at this, we see some serious smack talk. While Elijah meant all of it as a taunt, to those worshiping Baal, it wouldn’t have been too far off from a very real possibility. In some ancient texts, Baal was known as one who would travel and fight wars. He was even reported as dying and coming back to life, hence the need to be awakened. Chances are, Elijah’s taunts would’ve gone right over their heads. Nevertheless, he mocked them with a purpose. He mocked them to show that there was no voice and no god to pay attention to them. Yet, they continued to plea for their god to answer them. They leapt around and began cutting themselves in an attempt to get Baal to answer. What happened next is nothing short of amazing!

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” 32 So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed. 33 Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood. 34 And he said, “Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. 35 The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water. 36 At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.” (1 Kings 18:30-39, NASB)

God answered Elijah upon his first request. Not only did God accomplish what Baal could not but He accomplished even more. Whereas the Baal worshipers simply had to get him to consume the meat, Elijah had them completely drench the sacrifice in water before it was his turn. No, our God is far more powerful than a little water.

21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” (Romans 1:21-23, NASB)

Mankind made idols in every fashion you could think of including images of other men. I’m reminded of when I lived in Japan. In Kamakura, there was a giant statue of Buddha. Further down the street, there was a temple with a golden Buddha. As you walked through the gardens, you could see little statues that were dressed in various articles of clothing. These statues represented the lost children of the individual worshipers. They would go and dress these statues in winter to keep them warm. It was sad on many different levels. I remember another temple where people were fighting to get close to the Buddha idol. They wanted to drop their money into the giant box in front of the statue. You had people in the back who were literally throwing money to the front hoping to be able to give to the idol. As I looked upon the Buddha statues, you could see they came in a variety of forms ranging from a peaceful chubby guy to a fiery warrior to a demon. However, they all had one thing in common: they were all depicting a man. They had reduced God to nothing more than an image of a man. Psalm 115:4 tells us that all who make them become like them. What does this mean? The idol is empty. It’s useless. It has no voice. It’s dead. All who worship idols become just like them. Idols may be made in the image of whatever form man concocts but man is ultimately just as dead as the idol they create. They have eyes but cannot see God. They have ears but cannot hear the gospel of Christ. They have noses but cannot smell the fragrant aroma of Christ’s sacrifice. They have hands that will never be cleansed. They have feet but do not run after God. They have throats but do not praise God. Then again, Psalm 115:7 tells us as much.

Many Christians read through these texts and wonder how a man could worship something he made with his own hands. The Scriptures address this same concern.

Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame. 10 Who has fashioned a god or cast an idol to no profit? 11 Behold, all his companions will be put to shame, for the craftsmen themselves are mere men. Let them all assemble themselves, let them stand up, let them tremble, let them together be put to shame. 12 The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary. 13 Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house. 14 Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. 15 Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” 17 But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” (Isaiah 44:9-17, NASB)

It almost sounds silly, doesn’t it? Yet we see this taking place all the time. It may not look like what that passage is depicting but we see idolatry all the time in the form of worshiping celebrities. It may be in the form of wealth. Perhaps it looks like a desire to be in control of all things at all times. Yes, idols exist today and they are just as dead and powerless as they were back then. Why then do we fall before them time and time again? Why do we repeatedly turn to the vices of this fleeting world? Ask yourself if there is anything you place before God. Ask if there is anything you might run to with more excitement than you get at the thought of being able to come before the very presence of God in worship. I’m not saying it’s wrong to enjoy other things. I’m not saying you have to move into one of the rooms at your local church to ensure you never miss a meeting, service, or opportunity. In fact, it’s very possible to be doing everything the “textbook Christian” should be doing and still be wrong. I’ve seen people who appear to be as Godly as they come and that turned out to actually be the case. I’ve also seen people who turned out to be cleverly disguised. Though it appeared both were giving glory to God, one was just a wolf out to seek his own glory, while attempting to lure as many Christians away as he could. True knowledge. Discernment. Increased love. Approving of excellent things. Being sincere and blameless. Having the fruit of righteousness. This declares how the Christian should live. With all this in mind, I would urge such a person to continually check himself or herself, as it’s easy to become haughty and prideful. However, it all has a purpose. It’s meant to bring all glory and praise to God. When those feelings of pride may begin to sneak in, I’ve found Roman 9:22-26 helps snap things back into perspective.

22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’” 26 “And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.” (Romans 9:22-26, NASB)

As I began before, I’m simply asking you to quietly ponder if there is anything that excites you more than the opportunity to worship with other believers in the presence of God. There is only one God and He is alive! He has called us out of darkness and into the Light. He has removed our heart of stone and given us a heart of flesh. He has given us sight to see. He has given us ears to hear. He hears our prayers and answers them in the form of His grace. He preserves our hearts and keeps us in Him when we would so easily drift away otherwise. He planned, orchestrated, and carried out His redemptive story in Christ. He has saved us from eternity past, continues to save us from ourselves as we follow in obedience, and will one day save us from all forms of suffering and sorrow. Our God is alive and is worthy of our praise. Not to us, not to us, but to His name give glory! The Reformers held to a Latin phrase as should we all: “Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God alone!” Let us be as the psalmist as we say:

“I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And will glorify Your name forever.”
(Psalm 86:12, NASB)

~ Travis W. Rogers

I Am the True Vine

Let’s be real: Jesus was no stranger when it came to speaking in parables and confusing language. In fact, we’re even told the purpose of much of it was to prevent some from hearing and believing the truth (Mark 4:10-12). But what was Jesus getting at when He said He was the true vine? Was this just another riddle meant to confuse the self-righteous, or was there a deeper meaning behind it? For this post, I’d like to focus on the seventh “I AM” statement made by Jesus in John 15:1-6 and break down exactly what Jesus was talking about.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.

John 15:1-6, NASB

Verse 1
Using the analogy of the vine and vineyard was nothing new. John’s use of it is actually a play on the Old Testament.

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel.” (Isaiah 5:7a, NASB)
“Israel is a luxuriant vine;
(Hosea 10:1, NASB)

In John’s gospel, we see Jesus going above and beyond by calling Himself the true vine. There is far more to this than a mere analogy. Through careful wording, He is proving that He is the fulfillment of the promises given to Israel.

14 O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech You;

Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine,

15 Even the shoot which Your right hand has planted,

And on the son whom You have strengthened for Yourself.

16 It is burned with fire, it is cut down;

They perish at the rebuke of Your countenance.

17 Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand,

Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself.

18 Then we shall not turn back from You;

Revive us, and we will call upon Your name.

19 O Lord God of hosts, restore us;

Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.

Psalm 80:14-19, NASB

In verse 14, the psalmist describes Israel as the vine. Verse 15 says that it was God Himself who planted the vine. Though Israel was meant for great things, we see verse 16 says they were perishing. In verse 17, he pleads with God to show His mercy and grace. In fact, he pleads that it would be done through the Son of Man. When Jesus says He is the true vine, He is saying He is the fulfillment of the promise made to Israel. Christ’s church is Israel fulfilled. The nation of Israel was a foreshadowing of the vine to come: Jesus! He is the true, authentic vine and it is the Father who is the caretaker.

Verse 2
This is often used by people to make a case for losing salvation. However, when taken in context with the rest of Scripture, it falls short. The phrase “takes away” comes from the Greek word airo (ī’-rō). The word translated into prunes is kathairo (kä-thī’-rō). Kathairo has multiple meanings. While it does mean to prune, it also means to cleanse of impurity. Jesus is not telling us we are to live a works based faith lest we be cut off. He is actually telling us how we will know one another and is giving us a hope that we will grow in Him. Those who are cut off are those who we are warned of throughout Hebrews as well as in Jude. They are those who appear to be Christian within the visible church but have never truly become members of the invisible Church through faith. They are the apostates and wolves in sheep’s clothing. Jesus promises to cut them out completely lest they sap the strength from the rest of the fruit in the vine. For the true believers who will produce fruit, He will also cleanse and prune them so that they will be even more fruitful. The analogy would have hit home back then because the major fruit grown were grapes in the vineyard and this was exactly how it was done, and for the same reasons. We see a similar warning in Matthew 15:13 where it says, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted.” Those planted by God WILL bear fruit.

Verse 3
Here, Christ is telling us how we are to be cleansed. In fact, we see him using the word katharos. This is the root of the word kathairo used in verse 2. He tells us we will be cleansed by the Word (John 17:17, Ephesians 5:26).

“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NASB)
“so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,” (Ephesians 5:26, NASB)

Verses 4-6
By now, you should be seeing the simple fact that we have a complete and utter dependence upon Christ. We may act in obedience, but it’s always in complete reliance upon unity in Christ or else it is of no value. Scripture gives plenty of examples of our unity in Christ and the relationship that follows.

Foundation & Building
“For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11, NASB)
“having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:20-22, NASB)

Head and Body
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 6:15a, NASB)
“And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,” (Ephesians 1:22, NASB)

Husband & Wife
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:7, NASB)

The union between the vine and the branches is one in which no branch can produce fruit apart from the vine. Unless the nutrients are flowing freely, a branch will wither and die. The use of the word “abide” goes to show that salvation has already taken place in the individual. It is not something that he is working toward. Apart from Christ, we cannot produce any good fruit. As a result, we can rest assured the fruit is not our own but is of the Spirit working in us. We have nothing of ourselves to boast about (1 Corinthians 1:31; Ephesians 2:9). If it were so, we would continue to produce good works apart from the vine and Scripture would be a lie. The Spirit alone produces the fruit in the believer and keeps the believer abiding in Christ until the end. For those who were never a part of the true vine but only appeared to be for a time, they will have their day of judgment. Verse 6 is quite clear they are cut off, thrown away as a branch, dry up, and are burned in the fire. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”

May we continually trust in the true vine and the vinedresser. Let us continue to stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24) while remaining steadfast in the faith of a risen Savior (1 Corinthians 16:13), letting the word of Christ richly dwell within us (Colossians 3:16)!

~ Travis W. Rogers

Who Can Stay His Hand?

The book of Daniel is a fascinating book. We see Daniel and his friends in the midst of exile serving a pagan king and being seeped in pagan culture. They rose to power as they served the Lord faithfully where they were, by working hard at the tasks they were given. In this, we see the hand of God providentially bringing about His purposes in Daniel and his friends. This is a perfect place to reference with regards to biblical evidence for God’s sovereign power over all things. Even early on in the book, these faithful ones are put to the test and God’s power was shown:

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.  He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.

 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do:  As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

Daniel 3:1-6 (NIV)

They were given the choice to serve God or serve man. God then worked mightily in Daniel’s friends by showing His power to Nebuchadnezzar, who then praised the one, true God. But the king’s heart was still hard and he would not repent. And then chapter 4 comes. Here, we see the story of a king turned madman because he would not give praise to the one, true God, but rather saw himself as all powerful:

Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon,  he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

Daniel 4:29-30 (NIV)

You would think at this point the king would have learned that God was not to be trifled with. He had witnessed on more than one occasion God working through His servants that were placed in Babylon. But Nebuchadnezzar continued in his arrogance and rebellion to God. He continued to give praise to his gods and even went as far as to say, “This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.” (Daniel 4:18 NIV)

He was so arrogant that he said Daniel had the spirit of the pagan gods within him, notwithstanding all of the mighty things Daniel did by God’s clear power and the praise that the king himself gave to The Most High. God then brought the king low, giving him the mind of an animal. To be clear: it was not the king who brought his own sanity back, but through the supernatural power of God Himself. Notice what the response was after he was brought back from his low state:

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

His dominion is an eternal dominion;
    his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
 All the peoples of the earth
    are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
    with the powers of heaven
    and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
    or say to him: “What have you done?”

 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Daniel 4:34-37 (NIV)

The king explicitly confesses the sovereignty of God above His creation. His creation is but a pawn being used to bring about His eternal purposes. There is nothing man can do to legitimately call into question the acts of God. Given that we are His creation, He has the right to do with us as He wills, and whatever that is, it is just, righteous, and pure. How arrogant are we when we say that God can not possibly have brought about this terrible thing or that terrible thing or that God does not have absolute sovereignty over all His creation, which includes our wills! Does God work against what man wants to do? Absolutely. See what the Psalmist says:

The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.

Psalm 33:10 (NIV)

Here we see two wills at play: the will of man, which plans and purposes, and the will of God which, foils and thwarts (or, as the ESV says, “frustrates”). Any notion of libertarian free will as it relates to God’s plan is moot given this passage. Man wants one thing, but God wants another, and His will takes precedent given that He is the Creator. He is the great “I AM”, the self existent one who needs no other to exist. His decree will come to pass infallibly.

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
    I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
 I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.’

Isaiah 46:9-10 (NIV)

These truths should humble us and cause us to submit to God’s providence, however harsh it may seem from our perspective.

Notice, after the king’s restoration there is not one mention of himself in his praise to God. He has been emptied of himself and his pride, and ascribes all glory, honor, and praise to the One who is all powerful. We will close with commentary from Calvin on Daniel 4:35:

For although men make themselves of very great importance, yet Nebuchadnezzar here pronounces himself by the Spirit’s instinct, to be of no value before God; for otherwise they would not attempt to raise themselves, unless they were utterly blind in the midst of their darkness. But when they are dragged into the light they feel their own nothingness and utter vanity. For whatever we are, this depends on God’s grace, which sustains us every moment, and supplies us with new vigor. Hence it is our duty to depend upon God only; because as soon as he withdraws his hand and the virtue of his Spirit, we vanish away. In God we are anything he pleases, in ourselves we are nothing.

It now follows: God does according to his pleasure in the army of the heavens, and among the dwellers upon earth.

Calvin’s Commentaries on Daniel 4:35

In the Face of Judgment

JUDGMENT. It is a word we see thrown around quite a bit. Whether it be from casual sinners telling other Christians to “Judge not,” or the hardened heart declaring, “Only God can judge me,” it has become all too common of a word. My fear, however, is that the commonality of the word may be causing us to lose our fear of it. I have even heard judgment being mocked by atheists as they laugh about the party they’re planning on throwing in Hell.

Of course, all of this is to be expected to some degree. After all, how can one care of judgment if they first care even less of God? We live in a fallen world where, of ourselves, there is not one righteous among us (Romans 3:10). In our natural state, we simply lack the ability to understand the things of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14) and, instead, desire the will of our father, the devil (John 8:44). In such a state, is it any wonder we reject the things of God and choose to mock His authority?

judgment-001

Ultimately, mocking holds no value or authority. Nor does the power and authority of God wane because of it. No, such scoffers will indeed be held accountable. They will be judged with a righteous judgment that should be feared. But what of the Christian? Does this mean our fear should subside and be replaced with apathy? Certainly not! If anything, we should have an even greater fear because our eyes have been opened. By Scripture, we know what judgment entails and the very thought should shake us to our core. It should move us in such a way that we give thanks to God with no less gratitude than that of a man would thank someone for saving his life. In fact, even that level of gratitude would be insufficient as God chose to sacrifice His own Son in order that our lives would be saved. If that doesn’t move you, nothing will.

With the plethora of movies out there that aim to depict the horrors of Hell, they all pale in comparison to the reality of what the lost will one day find. Scripture describes judgment as a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28), a furnace (Matthew 13:42), melting (Psalm 112:10), outer darkness (Matthew 8:12), and unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43). Through fire and brimstone, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their perversion and rejection of righteousness. Yet, when Jesus spoke to the people of Capernaum, he said even the judgment of Sodom would be more tolerable than what awaited them (Matthew 11:24).

What does this mean exactly? It means no amount of earthly disaster could ever compare to the eternal misery and death that awaits those who will be held accountable for their sin. In Luke 16:19-31, the rich man pled that he might warn his five brothers in order to prevent them from joining him in his place of torment, and that wasn’t even Hell (NOTE: perhaps a topic for another time). We have the luxury of still being here to warn others. On top of this, as I stated earlier, we should be so moved with emotion to do so that it flows from us like a broken tap. We don’t need to wait until it’s too late. The time is now!

Hell is not reserved for the worst of the worst. One need not commit genocide in order to receive final judgment. It merely takes a denial of the Son. Scripture is clear that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and all have done so (Romans 3:23). The Reformer, John Calvin, did not mince words in his distinguishing between mortal and venial sins. He took the heretical teaching of Catholicism and turned it on its head in a way we should all hold dear.

Here they take refuge in the absurd distinction that some sins are venial and others mortal; …. Thus they insult and trifle with God. And yet, though they have the terms venial and mortal sin continually in their mouth, they have not yet been able to distinguish the one from the other, except by making impiety and impurity of heart to be venial sin. We, on the contrary, taught by the Scripture standard of righteousness and unrighteousness, declare that “the wages of sin is death;” and that “the soul that sinneth, it shall die,” (Rom. 6:23; Ezek. 18:20). The sins of believers are venial, not because they do not merit death, but because by the mercy of God there is “now no condemnation to those which are in Christ Jesus” their sin being not imputed, but effaced by pardon.

John Calvin, (Institutes, III.4.28)

The only refuge for one moving toward judgment is that which is found in Christ. While it is true that believers and unbelievers alike will be judged, the believer has been justified through faith and is pardoned as he rests in Christ’s active obedience. On the other hand, the unbeliever will face judgment with no advocate to come to his defense. As he rejects the Son, so the Son will reject him and judge him (John 5:22). My plea is that you won’t skip your next opportunity to warn your loved ones of the judgment they will face apart from Christ. When you see a stranger mocking judgment, pray that God will give you a spirit of boldness (Acts 4:31) and gentle correction, that he might turn from his wicked ways and seek Christ. Scripture is clear there is only one way to escape judgment. Don’t let it be your hidden secret!

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.

John 5:24, NASB

~ Travis W. Rogers

Should Each Local Church Have Multiple Bishops?

This is part 2 in a series on ecclesiology. Click here for part 1.

Anyone unfamiliar with the debates about church government probably will be confused by the title of this post. When we think of bishops, what usually comes to mind is a man with long and ornate robes that sits and rules over many individual churches (or parishes to use the correct term). Most people wouldn’t consider them as part of a local congregation, and many protestants wouldn’t want anything to do with them, as their various denominations don’t have any office called bishop. However, the Greek word for bishop, ἐπίσκοπος, (also translated as overseer), actually does appear in the New Testament, so Bible believers should be OK with using the term. The question, of course, is does the New Testament description of the office of bishops actually match what many today claim it should? Let’s take a look.

The first major point is to demonstrate that the term bishop and elder are used as synonyms, because then we can also use the passages that describe elders to know how many bishops an individual church should have. Paul, writing to Titus says the following:

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. 7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money

The New King James Version. (1982). (Tt 1:5–7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Note the fact that Paul here uses the words elder and bishop interchangeably. He starts off with the word elder, but then uses to word bishop to continue talking about the office.

Next up, we have Luke’s description of Paul talking to the Ephesian Church’s leadership in Acts 20. At the opening of the section he writes;

From Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Ac 20:17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

After reminding them of his time among them, Paul tells those he’s sent for:

Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Ac 20:28). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

So here once again Paul is indicating the office of elder is the same thing as the office of bishop/overseer. He tells the Ephesian elders that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers. This was not any sort of promotion, as nothing in the context would suggest that. It’s a declaration of what the elders already are. As a passing note, the verb to shepherd in Greek is where we get the word pastor. So not only are the elders bishops, but they’re also pastors. All three of these titles are synonymous (see also 1 Peter 5:2)

So now that we’ve established that elders and bishops are the same, can we say where in relation to local congregations the bishop is, and how many there should be? At the very least as we’ve seen already the church of the Ephesians had a plurality of elders. Additionally as we saw in Titus 1:5, Paul had told Titus in every city to appoint elders (plural), implying that each church should have at least two of them. This idea of multiple bishops per church is also seen of the Church at Philippi (Philippians 1:1) and interestingly enough, Jerusalem:

And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Ac 15:4). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Even the church at Jerusalem, the mother church of all, had a plurality of elders. If these bishops are at every church in every city, clearly they do not rule over multiple churches. Nowhere in the New Testament do we see elders exercising authority over multiple churches at the same time. Bishops perform functions in the local congregation like visiting the sick (James 5:14), which would be hard to do if they were not around for each church. They both rule and teach (1 Tim 5:17) and teaching must happen in the context of the local church, or else how will the members hear the teaching? Additionally, the only two offices in the New Testament that have qualifications laid out for them are elders and deacons. If elders are meant to rule over many churches, there’s a missing office of local church leadership, as deacons aren’t a teaching/ruling office.

To close, I’d like to go through why God in His almighty wisdom would determine to have the local church governed with a multiplicity of elders. I can think of 3 good reasons:

1. It protects the preacher

Even the best of men are inclined towards puffing themselves up. Having a plurality of elders reminds preachers that they are not the only man the church depends on, and that others can do their job. Additionally, the burdens of the ministry of shepherding souls is hard, and having other men to share that burden is helpful to prevent any one man from burning out, or succumbing to sin.

2. It protects the church from ungodly men, or true believers that have fallen into gross sin

If one of the elders in the church falls into sin (whether because they were a true believer or not), there are men around with the same level of authority who can offer correction. With just one man in authority, its harder to bring a charge against that one man. Also, certain men might have a blind spot (say in dealing with sin in a family member), but with many pastors there are other more unbiased perspectives that can win the day.

3. It provides continuity if there’s an issue with the leadership

If one of the elders (even the primary preaching elder) dies, when there’s a plurality of elders there’s already men that can continue to guide the church. In a church with a single pastor, when that man dies or falls into sin and has to be removed, there is no one immediately to lead the church and provide teaching and preaching. This can lead to churches getting bad shepherds, as in their desperation to find someone to fill the void, they may pick someone who isn’t nearly as qualified or doctrinally sound as they ought. Or they may pick someone from the congregation who is qualified, but doesn’t have the experience of leading. Finally, for some churches that lose their pastor, they may disintegrate as they no longer have a preacher, and the members would be forced to go to other churches, if there are any good ones around.

Next in this series we’ll move onto looking specifically at what authority that the local church has. Stay tuned.

Does Biblical Ecclesiology Matter?

The word ecclesiology means theology as applied to the nature and structure of the Christian Church. There are many institutions calling themselves churches that look very different from each other. Some have a hierarchy of bishops and are headed by a Pope or a King. Others groups believe there is no institution higher than the local church. The question for us is: which, if any of these, are correct? Or does it not matter how Christians are organized together? I’d like to start a series investigating how the Church should be structured while on earth and what powers it has, but to begin we need to address where we can go to find out these things about the Church.

It is my contention that everything needed to be known about how the church should be organized is contained in the Bible, whether by command or example. Many in church history have disagreed with such a supposition. For example, the 19th century theologian John Tulloch writes:

The Christian Scriptures are a revelation of divine truth, and not a revelation of church polity. They not only do not lay down the outline of such a polity, but they do not even give the adequate and conclusive hints of one.

Leaders of the Reformation: Luther, Calvin, Latimer, Knox

Are we to believe that Jesus, who gave His life for the Church, has not left us with any idea of how we are to be ordered while on earth? Or even worse, does He not care particularly how we are ordered, and it is up to learned men to figure out for themselves the best way to do it? The classic passage on the sufficiency of scripture demonstrates that Jesus has left us with guidance:

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The New King James Version. (1982). (2 Ti 3:16–17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

The phrase, “man of God,” refers not merely to an ordinary believer, but someone in an official ministry position among God’s people.1 So, if those in the ministry are to be equipped by the Scriptures, surely it should teach them how the Church is to be organized. After all, is not the organization of the Church a good work, one that the man of God would need to be equipped for? God has left the knowledge of what the visible church should look like and how it should behave by giving us a series of commands and examples in His word, the Bible.2

A further (although more subtle) example of this is the fact that in two separate instances, 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, the qualifications for a local church office called “elder” or “presbyter” are laid out. Are we to say that God felt the need to preserve the qualifications for an office in not one, but two places in His word, but that this doesn’t apply, as we are able to decide how to organize ourselves any which way we want? I think that is an absurd idea, God’s word is always relevant (Romans 15:4, Isaiah 40:8).

Now, I do imagine some would like to posit an alternate place to find out how the Church should be structured: Church Tradition. After all, if the Church has faithfully transmitted the original instructions of the Apostles on how the Church should be organized, we don’t need to worry about what the Scriptures say. I think this is a bad idea for two reasons. First, as we know, the Pharisees developed ungodly traditions while claiming they were true doctrines, and Jesus used the word of God to demonstrate their falsity (Mark 7:1-13). Thus, we also should use the Scriptures to determine what is and isn’t true tradition. Secondly, what is more traditional than what the Apostles practiced? Would we say the way the Church was organized in the 1st century is not traditional? Surely, it would be more traditional then any other type of organization that comes after it.

So why study the ecclesiology of the Bible? If God has told us how He desires His Church to be set up and we ignore it, are we not saying that we are wiser than God? God has the ultimate right to establish how His Church should look. He has given it the authority that it has and we dare not step outside the prescribed limits of that authority. As we go through this series, I hope that you will see just how wise God is in how He has laid out His Church. We all have seen some of the scandals regarding gross sin committed by church leaders in America. A biblically set up church is a guard against error and sin, and effective for the propagation of the Gospel. I’ll close with this thought from Psalm 119:

Direct my steps by Your word,
And let no iniquity have dominion over me.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Ps 119:133). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[1] See A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith 5th edition page 57-58 for a discussion of the phrase man of God in 2 Tim 3:17

[2] For a proof of how the Bible is the word of God here is a previous blog article of mine: https://theparticularbaptist.net/2020/03/16/is-the-bible-the-word-of-god/

A Morning Among Mormons

The following is an essay I once wrote as a part of a college class. The idea behind the assignment was to visit a service of a faith group other than my own. After some consideration, I decided to attend the morning service of a local Mormon church. As you read on, my hope is that you will feel as if you were right there with me.

It was a brisk Sunday morning. As I pulled into the parking lot, I dreaded stepping out into the cold. Yet, at the same time, I looked forward to the experience that was at hand. With the strong winds beating against my face, I gazed up toward the tall steeple and began walking toward the church building. Apart from the unusual cold, this particular Sunday morning was different than most. Instead of attending my own Baptist church, I found myself visiting a local Mormon church. I knew I was in for a surprise but I was prepared for whatever the morning had in store.

As I crossed the threshold through the front door, I immediately felt the warmth surround me. At first, it was in the form of heat on a cold body. Next, it was in the form of tender love and friendliness. Looking like a fish out of water, I was welcomed by some of the congregants. They introduced themselves, retrieved a church bulletin for me, and told me to feel free to sit wherever I liked. Before sitting down, I engaged in some casual discussions with various unfamiliar faces. Though I didn’t know anybody in the sanctuary, I felt as though the awkwardness quickly subsided. Before I knew it, it was time to take a seat and begin the service.

In an effort to blend in, I took a seat in the back corner of the room. I opened my bulletin and glanced at the order of worship they had scheduled for the morning. The first thing that took me by surprise was the fact that they had two speakers listed. I wasn’t exactly sure what this meant but I was intrigued. As an elderly man was making announcements, I flipped my bulletin over to the other side where I found a concise list of what they thought we should know. Of course, none of the references listed were from the Bible. Every last one was from another Mormon document. The teaching that stood out to me most was also the one that bothered me the most. Without any shame, they proudly declared that they do not believe special revelation has ended. They claimed their interpretation of the Bible is unique in that they believe it should be interpreted through continuing revelation. While I knew this to be the case with the Mormon religion, seeing it printed right before my eyes was appalling! My mind instantly went to where the Bible says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 New American Standard Bible). If Scripture is enough to equip man for every good work, where is the need for ongoing special revelation?

As the announcements came to a close, the congregation began singing. I realized I had missed something. That was when I noticed they were all singing out of the hymnal. As oblivious as I felt in that moment, I grabbed a hymnal and flipped to the song number as quickly as I could. Expecting to find heresy upon heresy, I was surprised to find the song they were singing actually contained no error that I could find. They sang of Christ (albeit, a counterfeit version) being a firm foundation as well as of his atoning sacrifice.

Quite fittingly, the service then transitioned into communion or, as they called it, Administration of the Sacrament. Whereas the concept of communion is a very familiar one, their administration of it was quite different from anything I had witnessed before. Instead of it being served by adults who were in good standing within the church, it was being served by teenagers. Never before had I seen children serving communion. Something else that grieved my soul was seeing children of every age partaking in the meal. Scripture states, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). So long as a child has no relationship or unity with Christ, he should not be participating in communion. Yet, if these children had teeth, they were chewing on the bread. As communion came to a close, an older gentleman asked if the young men of the priesthood could be seated with their parents. I could go on about Christ abolishing the priesthood when he became our High Priest but, for the purpose of not dwelling on the subject, I’ll move on.

As the first speaker stepped up to the lectern, he informed us he would be speaking on the subject of faith. I was expecting to hear a passage to turn to but it never came. Instead, he began comparing faith to flying an airplane and trusting in the instruments. He compared it to driving a car and trusting in your skills as a driver. In this sense, it was nothing more than belief. He was also very adamant that one must act on his faith for it to be effective. While this may have sounded normal to the untrained ear, I heard heresy. The Mormon religion teaches that one can lose his salvation if there are no accompanying works. Therefore, for him to teach what he did made perfect sense. However, that doesn’t make it accurate. In reality, faith will make for effective works, not the other way around. Our faith makes our works effective yet our works have no bearing on whether or not our faith is effective. It only has a bearing on whether said faith is real or counterfeit.

After a brief interlude, the second speaker stepped up to the lectern. He didn’t exactly specify what he was going to be speaking on but, just as before, he also didn’t base it on any particular passage or verse. It soon became clear he was speaking on thankfulness and a grateful heart. While this is a wonderful topic to speak on, I felt as though he was taking a completely unbiblical approach to it. For instance, he declared that the Heavenly Father gave His children the gift of happiness. He even went so far as to claim that God will never demand from His children anything that will diminish the happiness He desires from them. I felt as though I were listening to a prosperity teaching televangelist. Yet, this man seemed very sincere in what he was saying. Ultimately, he linked it all to various passages within the Mormon writings. Since I reject Mormon writings as being the unbiblical teaching of another gospel, I naturally couldn’t stand behind his teaching. As he came to a close, he stated that all scriptures are the words of the apostles and prophets, both ancient and modern. Immediately, I was reminded of the blurb on the front of the bulletin that I had read upon first taking a seat in the pew. I found it ironic that the last thing I heard from the pulpit was also the very first thing I read upon arriving to the church. Sadly, neither of the speakers ever went to their Bible nor did they go to any of their other sacred writings. Instead of hearing preaching from the pulpit, it was more of a testimony sharing time.

The service closed in prayer and we all stood up to leave. I was approached by a man who saw me in the beginning. He was curious as to what I thought of the service. Out of kindness and respect, I chose to keep most of my thoughts to myself. After all, I was a guest in his church and they had treated me with nothing but kindness. He then began sharing with me why he felt the Mormon religion was true and how he had converted nine years prior. After he was finished, he appeared to be inquiring as to what my thoughts were. In the most loving way possible, I told him my main concern was that I believed the Jesus of the Book of Mormon to be a completely different person from the Jesus of the Bible. I explained that the Mormon Jesus was a created being who didn’t always exist whereas the Bible’s Jesus is eternal and is actually God Himself as the second person of the Holy Trinity. This, in and of itself, is enough to show how the two religions aren’t merely describing one person in different ways but are actually describing two different people in similar ways while still maintaining their individuality. With this foundational principle being in place, the only thing left to say was, “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!” (Galatians 1:8). I explained that our differences will be offensive in nature but that my intention was not to offend maliciously. By this time, there were several people standing around and they were all in agreement that, while we disagreed, we could maintain kindness and love toward one another. One of the missionaries asked for my phone number in hopes that we can continue our discussion at a later point. I gladly gave my information and truly do hope to receive the call someday in the near future. I always look forward to the opportunity to evangelize to the lost. May God’s glory be lifted above all else. Soli Deo Gloria!

~ Travis W. Rogers

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