Spanish Rice Theology

I’m at work and lunch has come. I’m reheating my Spanish rice in the microwave and can practically taste it already. It smelled like it had been prepared from scratch. Little did anybody know, I made it from a package that required nothing more than a little water and a heated pot. This thought had me reflecting on how it must’ve been before food came prepackaged. Nowadays, it seems everything comes in a box, can, or bag. The frozen foods section is stacked with everything you could imagine. How did people live before this innovation? What happened to the days when cooking was an art? What happened to the days when your every day household cook knew exactly what oregano or paprika tasted like and how much should be added? Sadly, they are gone forever. In our day and age, we have truly lost the art of cooking. We’ve lost the art of compiling all of the individual ingredients, slaving over the stove, and producing a delicious meal as the fruits of your labor.

Isn’t theology much like this? I’ve never seen more self-proclaimed theologians than I do today. Facebook and the rest of the internet are filled with them. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. In fact, I find it exciting that more and more people are gaining a hunger for biblical truth. However, just as we’ve lost the art of cooking, it seems as if we have also lost the art of theology. Just as grocery stores have made products readily available, the internet is a repository of a nearly infinite number of theological resources. After 5 minutes of searching, you can have a library filled with more sermons that you could listen to in a lifetime. There are entire websites dedicated to commentaries, frequently asked questions, sermons, e-books, and more. In fact, there are even sites dedicated to providing ready-made sermons for pastors who haven’t had time to prepare their own. It’s almost scary how readily available theological content has become. It’s all prepackaged nowadays. Gone are the days of pouring through the Scriptures and matching up the cross references. Gone are the hours, days, and weeks of meditating upon the Word of God and allowing the Spirit to move and change you as an individual throughout the course of your studies. The days of the Christian allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, piecing together the entire truth of Scripture, slaving over the pages of Scripture, and topping it off with the wisdom of those who have gone before all with the purpose of producing a convicting and exciting sermon are seemingly vanishing rapidly. Gone is the art of theology.

Just as prepackaged food isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I do not believe prepackaged theology is inherently evil. In fact, it can often be quite convenient and efficient. That being said, both can lead to weakness if not kept under control. Just as continuous use of prepackaged food will eventually lead to an individual lacking cooking skills, continuous use of prepackaged theological resources will lead to a weak theologian. Theology is more than having the right URL. It’s more than having the right answer. Theology is having a proper reverence for God while being changed in the course of your studies. If you find yourself rushing straight to your favorite commentary upon being asked a question you don’t immediately have an answer for, I urge you to take a step back, breathe, and crack open your bible first. Let the Spirit speak to you as you meditate on the Word. After you’ve gathered all your ingredients, by all means, top it off with a dash of commentary and serve the Gospel to all who will hear.

Bon appetit!

~ Travis W. Rogers

COVID-19 and Anxiety

COVID-19. This virus has taken over the news outlets as of late. You can’t scroll through Facebook without seeing coronavirus posts of some kind. There are ones that report news. There are also others that report opinions on what appropriate safety actions to take to prevent spreading the disease. The virus pandemic has led to much fear, leading people to react sharply such as buying excessive amounts of toilet paper. The government has told people to stay home. We are to practice what has been called “social distancing”. There seems to be a move toward the country shutting down. These are most certainly troubling times and will lead to worry. In light of these circumstances, how are we as Christians to respond to this outbreak? The Scriptures provide us answers for this. Our Lord in the sermon on the mount was teaching the disciples what it means to live in God’s kingdom. He was giving them a clear picture of what a life that has been changed by God looks like. How those in God’s kingdom deal with worry and anxiety is dealt with head on by Christ further showing that every aspect of life, even where our food, clothing, and daily provisions come from, is important to God. Jesus’s instructions begins with an imperative:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on…For the Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:25,32-33 ESV


Jesus had just finished discussing the folly of pursuing financial gain, forbidding the storing up of treasures on this Earth. Then he shifts to the “why”. Because God will provide for us. Because treasures are not to be stored and prized above God and because we cannot both love God and money, we are not to be anxious about where our provisions will come from. Those who are consumed with material things only show that they are being sinfully anxious about this life. Jesus contrasts that lifestyle by commanding Christians to rely on their heavenly Father and not their treasures. They are to have their eyes so fixed on Him that they don’t worry about those earthly treasures. We are to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Doing so is resting in His provision for His people.

What does this mean in light of the COVID-19 pandemic? It’s a simple proposition laid out by Christ. We are to not fall into sinful worry. Christians are not to fear death nor are we to panic. Followers of Christ serve the omnipotent God who’s providence guides all events and is even in control of this virus. We should have no fear. There should be no fear mongering from Christians. We should instead be looking for ways to encourage other believers to further trust the God in light of this pandemic. Unnecessary anxiety is sin. Jesus said that those who worry about their lives are those who act like Gentiles. These are things that unbelievers chase after! The lost world doesn’t hope in God. The lost world relies ultimately on themselves and what they can see and/or control. We are to be better! Our lives as Christians are to be marked with obedience to God which includes trusting His provision to take care of our needs. Doing anything less is simply sin. This means stop buying massive amounts of toilet paper. How we as Christians react to this pandemic will show where our trust lies. If we panic, we only prove we are acting like sinners. We are living as if there is no God.

However, the call to not worry about your life doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have healthy concern. Nor does it mean we shouldn’t plan.

The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes to poverty.

Proverbs 21:5 ESV


We should plan and purchase items appropriately in response to this virus. It might also mean placing our worship services on pause for a time as a way to be prudent. But these activities should not be a response that doesn’t have hope. We know that God will provide and take care of His people, and if he calls us home we have the promise of being in His presence where all death and disease will cease. We would do well to remember the words of the Psalmist,

For he will deliver you from the snare and from the pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and a buckler.

Psalms 91:3-4 ESV

Leighton Flowers and ReCalvinizing 1 Corinthians 2:14

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The professional anti-Calvinist, Leighton Flowers, has made it his life’s work to prop up the autonomy of man against the absolute sovereignty of the God “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11). But this is no easy task; the complete inability of man in the face of an all-powerful God is a theme that permeates the Scriptures, its truth erupting like a geyser wherever its magma gets too close to the surface. The resulting torrent of verses in clear defiance of the god-like freedom synergists ascribe to man has kept Leighton busy, driving him to address them one-by-one in the hopes that his whacking at the leaves will cause the tree to disappear. And so nearly every week now we’re met with another verse “DeCalvinized” – an admission we applaud him for, since he would not have to de-Calvinize them if they weren’t already Calvinist when left alone. This week, he grapples with 1 Corinthians 2:14:

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Corinthians 2:14

Let’s examine how he attempts to avoid this plain teaching, and then we’ll restore the integrity of this verse back to its organic, Calvinistic meaning.

Leighton’s Argument

The quality of Leighton’s counter-exegesis becomes apparent before he even presents it, because he won’t dare proffer it without first poisoning the well. He starts by implying that the average listener can’t even weigh the perspectives, insisting that “it is next to impossible to fully understand Paul’s intention in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16 without first having some understanding of the concept of ‘wisdom’ in the Greek culture.” But when we actually get into his arguments, nothing unique to “the Greek culture” is ever relevant to his case; his case merely relies on a distinction between divine wisdom and human wisdom. This distinction is understandable to anyone of any background – a fact that his own video testifies to, because he never feels it necessary to allude to cultural context again. So, why bring it up? It adds nothing to his presentation except allowing him to hide behind his credentials, so that – if you’re not convinced by his exegesis – you can be dismissed off-hand because you haven’t been to the universities that would have imparted you with the ability to evaluate what he’s saying anyways. This is what’s known as scholarly gnosticism, and unfortunately Leighton is far from the only one who engages in it.

Getting into the substance, he tells us it’s an assumption to say the verse is contrasting the natural man with the spiritual man, and that it’s really supposed to contrast those who prefer human wisdom with those who prefer divine wisdom. In other words, it’s an assumption to say the verse is contrasting the categories it says it’s contrasting ( just read the verse!), and we should pretend the Apostle is still using the categories he discussed earlier in the book, even though he isn’t here. By the time we reach verse 14, the Apostle had ended his polemic against man’s wisdom six verses ago (v. 8). Of course, those earlier sections are relevant to 1 Cor. 2:14, but they do not enable us to blindly import their categories into verse 14 as if he were just repeating himself in different terms, when there’s clearly been a shift in the argument. We will now do something that Leighton never did in his video: we’ll present a large portion of the second chapter, and instead of viewing each sentence as a lost fragment that can be pieced back together in any way we like (as those with autonomous free will are wont to do), we will actually examine the flow of the argument:

Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.16 For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:6-16

Mind those disjunctive conjunctions, especially in verses 9 and 10. In verse 9, the Apostle gives us the reason why men – even the wisest, most able, most powerful of men – were not able comprehend the glory of God in Christ; it’s because “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” The princes of verse 8 wouldn’t have crucified the Lord of Glory if they understood His majesty and the reward stored up for those who love and serve Him, but they couldn’t understand it. Why? Because – as Leighton would say – they could see both human and divine wisdom, but preferred human? No, Paul is clear that they couldn’t see or understand the divine wisdom at all. And not just them, as if only those esteemed to have great human wisdom were blind to the Truth; rather, Paul’s point is that even the wisest did not understand because no one could understand. The passage he quotes from Isaiah 64:4 is not confined to the worldly elite, but declares the universal ignorance of man regarding God’s purposes. His polemic against the wise is an argument a fortiori; his point is not that the wisdom of God is understandable to the dumb but not to the intelligent, but rather that even the most intelligent natural man can’t grasp it, and thus God has confounded human wisdom altogether.

Now note the second disjunctive conjunction at verse 10. Eye may have not seen before, but now we see! Is it because, although everyone had the capacity to see, we were the ones who preferred the divine wisdom? Talk about grounds for boasting (cf. Ephesians 2:9)! No, it’s only because “God hath revealed them to us by his Spirit,” and there was no wisdom in us – no extra “spiritual sensitivity” – that led us to see what others didn’t. God’s free mercy alone distinguishes us from the atheist. Man by himself cannot know the things of the Spirit, because “the things of God knoweth no man” (v. 11). Therefore, without the Spirit leading a man, he has no capacity to see the things of God. Remember, Paul’s intention here is to distinguish the believer who receives the things of God from those mentioned earlier, who didn’t receive and couldn’t even see the things of God. What they cannot see they certainly cannot respond to, so the folly of the synergist who supposes all men are able to respond is expressly denied here. If what distinguishes us is the ability to see at all – which is what Paul implies here – than the theories of “prevenient grace” cannot survive. It is only he that is made spiritual who can respond (v. 15), the natural man never will. Leighton’s own theory that the Word of God is what enables all men to respond or resist after hearing it is likewise cast down by these verses, because Paul tells us that the Spirit of God is that which enables us to receive the things of the Spirit (verses 12 and 14). If that which enables us to receive the things of the Spirit are the things of Spirit – i.e. the Word of God – then the plain distinction Paul makes between the activity of the Spirit that enables us to receive and the things that we receive is destroyed, and those verses become incoherent. Paul establishes that the enabling occurs before the receiving, which would not be true in Leighton’s system, who makes them out to be one thing.

Divine Culpability

A large part – perhaps the greater portion – of Leighton’s video does not so much deal with the text, but with the philosophical implications that result from its proper interpretation. This seems to be decisive for him as he weighs the perspectives. For Leighton, we should not accept the Calvinistic meaning so much because the text doesn’t teach it, but because the text cannot teach it. Otherwise, how could we get God off the hook for bearing the blame of His creatures’ rejection of Him! This shouldn’t be a concern for believers in the first place; God is the standard of justice, and there is no standard above Him that could judge Him for acting rightly or wrongly. All that He does is good by virtue of the fact that He does it, and His rectitude does not depend on the ability of His creatures to understand it. Even so, we will briefly respond to Flowers’ objection because it is honestly a poor one, and easy to answer: God is just in judging His creatures’ rejection of Him because they indeed chose to reject Him. “But they were predestined to do so,” the Arminian protests, “it’s not their fault!” Well, where is the innocent party in the creature? What part of the creature is not at fault? The hidden assumption of the Arminian’s protest is that there is a pre-existing, neutral and innocent part of the creature that didn’t choose to be the way it did, and then had its traits imposed on it. The natural man is so persuaded of his god-like autonomy that he cannot imagine being destined to behave a certain way unless he was forced to against his will, when in actuality he IS that will that rejects God and nothing more! There is no innocent part of you that doesn’t choose when you choose, you are the thing that chooses and God is right to judge you! Most people don’t have any problem when they hear of the judgement of the devil or the demons, because they rightly understand that they’re evil, and whether or not they were created does not change the fact that they themselves are evil and worthy of judgement. But when you stand to be judged, oh how things change! All of a sudden philosophy gets dragged in, with discussions of the will vs. the meta-will and all other sorts of nonsense. Reader, if you reject the free gift of Christ Jesus for the full forgiveness of sins, you will be condemned, and in that day all your philosophical objections – should you dare present them before the Throne – will be destroyed before your eyes. All Glory and Honor be to our great Redeemer, who not only saved us, but alone produced the desire in us to be saved!

SOLI DEO GLORIA?

In this trying time that has come upon the world due to the Coronavirus, I want to give a reminder (both to anyone reading, and to myself) of why we do the things we do in this world. What should guide our actions as we walk through this life? One of the 5 Solas of the Protestant Reformation was Soli Deo Gloria, which is a Latin phrase that literally means Glory to God Alone. The idea is that, ultimately, glory goes to God for everything, and man cannot take some of that glory for himself. I’d like to walk through some relevant verses to demonstrate this point, and make application to our daily lives. All scripture references will be from the New King James version of the Bible® (Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson).

The first question of course we’d have to ask ourselves is what makes God worthy of any glory at all, let alone exclusively worthy of glory? Let’s see what David said:

Great is the LORD, and highly to be praised, And His greatness is unsearchable. (Psalm 145:3)

God is so great that His greatness is unsearchable. You will never know the fullness of His greatness, it is impossible for man to know it. Our brains cannot even remember all the things we’ve done or seen in this life. How can they know everything God has done, or even comprehend why and how He has done all these things? But now lets get a little more specific and look at one thing He has done, namely that He has created us:

“You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.” (Revelation 4:11) For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Here we see the true underlying reason why man cannot boast. As the first verse shows, God is due glory because He created everything. Everything good in this we must give thanks to God for, because He made it, and lets us use it. Even if you make something (whether you build a house, or make computer software, or whatever), you are using things made out materials that God made, and therefore owns. This leads into the second verse. Everything we have and are, we owe to God who gave it to us. Even if we think we got it because of our own work or intelligence, so the glory should go to us and not God, we are wrong. Are you prideful, because you think that you are smart? Where did that intelligence come from? It is a gift of God. He gave it to you, and He did not have to. Thus it is foolish for people to think they are more intelligent than God, who is their creator and knows everything about them. Are you strong? Your strength is a gift from God. So whatever great thing one does in their life that they think is worthy of the praise of men, ultimately it comes from their creator who gave them the ability to do such things, when He didn’t have too, and could have created someone else who could have just as easily done it.

Now before ending this article I must make an application of this idea that makes a lot of people (even believing Christians) uncomfortable. I’ve had one friend say that this makes God sound selfish, but it is true. For those that are saved, you were not saved for your own sake alone, but you were indeed saved for God’s glory.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

Why did God save us? Why did he bless us with every spiritual blessing, choose us to be holy and blameless, and predestine us to be adopted as sons? To the praise of the glory of His grace. Praise His wonderful name. This idea does not make God selfish. He was under no obligation to save us, so how can we complain if He saves us for His praise? This also does not negate the idea that God saved us because He set His love upon us. God did save us because He loved us (John 3:16). He saved us both because He loved us, and to the praise of His glory.

Dear reader, if you are saved, you were saved to the praise of God’s good glory. God is worthy of everything. He has saved us from an eternal torment we justly deserve. As you navigate the hard times ahead, remember your Maker and seek to honor Him in all you do. For my readers that have not been reconciled to God and their sins are still held against them, I implore you, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved (Acts 16:31). Repent and trust in Him, and you will find Him to be the perfect Savior, to the praise of His glory.

Grace Abused

GRACE. We hear the word. We sing of its amazingness. We speak of its fullness and its riches. Yes, it is a beautiful word. But how often do you stop to ponder its depth? If you stop to think about it, the word has been at the heart of countless debates and it has undergone attack after attack from those who wish to use it to cater to their own ideas. Why?

First, we need to understand what grace is. We’ve all heard of people trying to get in someone’s good graces. When it comes to God, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Grace is not something we can earn nor is it something we can ever work toward. Scripture makes it clear that God decides to whom He will be gracious and show compassion (Exodus 33:19; Romans 9:15)

Does this mean people should fear for their life? Should we all live in terror at the thought of our destruction looming over us with nothing we can do about it? To this I would say yes and no. Yes, it is true that our very existence is held in God’s hands. He could easily destroy the entire earth as you are reading this. Job understood that it is the Lord who gives and the Lord who takes away (Job 1:21). While it is true that he feared the Lord, it was a reverent fear and not a fear based in terror or dread. Whereas he understood His awesome power and might, he also understood that his God is a gracious God who is full of compassion (Nehemiah 9:31). So again I say to fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28) but always remember that God is with us and He will strengthen us (Isaiah 41:10). He is our help in time of need (Psalm 46:1).

Many have tried to twist grace in various ways throughout history. Some have stated that there is a prevenient grace that God has applied to all without exception. Their reasoning for this ultimately boils down to the idea that God desires the salvation of each individual person. In an effort to maintain the doctrine of the fall of man, they state that God gives a measure of grace to each person so that they now possess the ability to choose God of their own free will. Unfortunately, this goes against the very teaching of man’s depravity and deadness in sin. Not to mention it’s found nowhere in Scripture. Furthermore, if God truly showed grace to each and every person, how is there still room to be gracious to whom He will be gracious? The response is that there are varying degrees of grace. I can’t argue this point. After all, Scripture does show examples of God being extraordinarily gracious to some more so than others. However, when referring to salvation, we simply cannot make a solid case for this claim. God will be gracious to whom He will be gracious and He will show compassion to whom He will show compassion. However, we must always remember that God is good and worthy of our praise.

Another way in which grace has come under attack is in the form of abuse. There are many out there who readily see grace as inexhaustible yet seem to be making every attempt to tap the bottom of the barrel. They say salvation is the free gift of God that is given by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8). They say nobody can snatch us out of the Father’s hand (John 10:28-29). While these two statements are very profound and very biblical, we must be careful not to cross into the realm of hyper grace. Such people come in varying degrees ranging from those who believe they can live like the devil to those who claim nothing they do really matters. After all, if God is sovereign and His grace is sufficiently given out to all whom He decrees to give it to, can our actions really affect anything? Thankfully, just as God’s Word is clear on the nature of grace, it is equally clear on how we are to live with grace. Paul battled much of the same assaults in his day. There is truly nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Just as there are now, there were then people claiming they could sin with no ill effects so long as they were covered by grace. Unfortunately, they were missing the entire point! Paul states it plainly when he says, “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!” (Romans 6:1-2a).

We are to cherish the biblical teachings of grace, not because we are to abuse it but because it should humble us. Romans 5:6 tells us Christ died for those who were helpless. In verse 8, it goes on to say that God demonstrated His love toward us. He graciously gave his Son as the atoning sacrifice for those whom He chose to show compassion. Let us never forget this. Apart from the perfect work of Christ, his death on the cross, and his defeat of death in the resurrection, there is no newness of life. Apart from God’s grace in orchestrating this act of mercy, there is nothing but death. However, in His grace, He lavishes His love upon us that we could be called sons of God (1 John 3:1). Why would we ever desire to abuse such a gift?

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:5-7)

~ Travis W. Rogers

Is the Bible the word of God?

Recently, I’ve come across professing Christians claiming that scripture is not the word of God.  Whenever the Bible uses the phrase “word of God” it is never referring to scripture, it just refers to Jesus, or maybe the spoken word, they’ve argued.  While obviously I agree that sometimes the word of God refers to Jesus (John 1:1) or the spoken word (1 Thessalonians 2:13), I do think that often the word of God is reference to the written word, otherwise known as the scriptures.  The people I encountered making this claim were either Roman Catholic, or some form of Charismatic.  Both groups would have their own reasons for wanting to downplay the nature of scripture, which is what I suspect leads to this view.  Regardless, I wanted to take the time to go through several passages where scripture is indeed revealed to be the word of God and that it is very much to be held in as God’s word to us.  All scripture references will be taken from the New King James Version® (Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson).

The first example comes from a confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees over their traditions:

He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mk 7:9–13)

So, Jesus’s main point in this passage is the Pharisees upheld a tradition that basically invalidates the commandments of God.  The Corban rule was a tradition that allowed someone to dedicate their wealth to the temple, but later receive it back.  Apparently, people were using this in Jesus’s day to dedicate their wealth to the temple instead of using it to take care of their parents, and then after their parents had died, receiving it back so that they could enjoy it.   He quotes two commandments they were overturning through this (Exodus 20:12 and Exodus 21:17).  He concludes by saying because of this, they are “making the word of God of no effect”.  The question is, what is this word of God that he’s referring to?  In context it must be the two commandments from Exodus that Jesus quoted.  They are the things that had been made of no effect through the Pharisees’’ tradition.  Jesus cannot be referring to himself here as its not that Pharisees were making him of no effect.   Because the commandments are contained in Exodus, we have to conclude that Jesus is teaching these portions of scripture are the word of God.

My second example comes from the Old Testament.  Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and is a love letter from the Psalmist about God’s law.  In it, the following words/concepts are used interchangeably: law, commandments, precepts, statutes, word.  While the whole Psalm is too long to discuss here in its entirety (and I recommend the readers read the whole thing for themselves), I’ll quote from one section to show that the word of God is interchangeable with some the other words listed.

How can a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed according to Your word.
With my whole heart I have sought You;
Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.
Blessed are You, O LORD!
Teach me Your statutes.
With my lips I have declared
All the judgments of Your mouth.
I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
As much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts,
And contemplate Your ways.
I will delight myself in Your statutes;
I will not forget Your word. (Psalm 119:9-16)

Notice especially the last four lines. Precepts, ways, statutes and word are all parallel to each other at the end of their respective line, after a promise to in some way think about the thing being mentioned. Thus, the Psalmist believes these are in some way related. Now the important question is where could the Psalmist find where God’s precepts and statutes? He could find them in the Law, which had been written down since the time of Moses. Thus the Psalmist believes the word (of God) is equivalent to the written scriptures.

Now I can foresee someone trying to make an objection that just because some of the Scripture is called the word of God, doesn’t mean all of it is. After all, I’ve only shown that the commandments in the Old Testament are called the word of God. Now, while I cannot find a verse that describes all of scripture as the word of God, I would like to point out that ALL scripture is inspired by God, and profitable for the believer (2 Tim 3:16). The Bible doesn’t chop itself up into sections of things that are more or less inspired by God . For those that remain unconvinced, I’ll bring one final scripture to the table. Jesus, in confronting some of the Sadducees who sought to trap him, said the following:

But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Mt 22:31–32)

Notice the language here. Jesus says that what the Sadducees had read was “spoken” to them. The Greek word λέγοντος which underlies “spoken” here, comes from the root word λέγο, which means “I say” or “I speak”. Thus, here we have an example of something that God said to Moses, but Jesus is claiming that he also is saying it to the Sadducees more that 1000 years later after He had uttered the words. How can this be? It is because all scripture is God’s speech to men. Whenever you pick up and read your Bible you are seeing God’s words to you, just like Jesus told the Sadducees. Therefore, take heed of what you read, and do not disregard it lightly lest God find you guilty of having ignored His word to you on the Day of Judgement.

Rome, Constantinople, and Plotinus: How Neo-Platonic Philosophy Corrupted the Ecclesiology of the Church

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (~5th-6th Century AD) was a heavily influential early church father for medieval Christendom. Thomas Aquinas – the scholastic theologian par excellence – quotes him a whopping 1700 times in his writings [1]. What’s more, the Areopagite’s writings were greatly consulted by the primary early adversary of Luther, John Eck, specifically in defense of the ecclesiastical hierarchy and sacramental system of Rome [2]. Pseudo-Dionysius was judged by Eck to ground their traditions with “Apostolic” authority (some thought Dionysius was the man converted by Paul in Acts 17:34, yet this is a view discounted by all today, as well as by virtually all of the Reformers and many early Christians, too). In the East, Pseudo-Dionysius’ writings had an even earlier and greater influence on ecclesiology, with famous commentaries produced on his The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy by such prominent figures as Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662), Germanus of Constantinople (634-733), and Nicholas Cabasilas (1319-1392). Given the influence he had on the development of ecclesiastical doctrine, it’s worthwhile to examine his writings. Will we find deep, compelling exegesis of the Scriptures that supports the ecclesiastical institutions maintained by Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy? On the contrary, even a cursory examination of the Areopagite’s works reveals that his contribution is not only sub-biblical, but anti-biblical, demonstrably drawn from neo-Platonic philosophy over and against biblical truth, and that these works are fundamentally pagan. Thus, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox institutions propped up and reinforced by his writings are themselves not Christian, but pagan. In this article, we will juxtapose the works of Pseudo-Dionysius with the works of his Neo-Platonic predecessors, the later Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox ecclesiastical systems, and the Bible itself, showing to the unbiased reader that those “churches” have sided with pagan philosophy against the Bible in their ecclesiology.

Pseudo-Dionysius’ Hierarchies

We are not the first to expose the great leaven of pagan thought that leavens the whole lump of the Areopagite’s writings. Luther himself called the man “downright dangerous, for he is more of a Platonist than a Christian” [3]. However, we anticipate that a large segment of our audience will be unfamiliar with the Dionysian corpus, so it’s necessary to review his ideas. The two works that most concern us are his The Celestial Hierarchy and, naturally, his The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy. These two works are closely linked, because in them he argues for the operation of the same principle in the two different spheres. That principle is summed up in the opening paragraph of The Celestial Hierarchy:

“Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” [James 1:17] But there is something more. Inspired by the Father, each procession of the Light spreads itself generously toward us, and, in its power to unify, it stirs us by lifting us up. It returns us back to the oneness and deifying simplicity of the Father who gathers us in.

The Celestial Hierarchy 1.1

As he often does, Pseudo-Dionysius begins with a Bible verse to ground his authority, but then proceeds to go entirely beyond what the verse says. His own words betray his practice here; after quoting the verse, his first comment is, “there is something more,” i.e., something that’s not found in the text. In this case, he does nothing more than inject a metric ton of unbiblical, Neo-Platonic philosophy into the hapless verse of James’ Epistle, paying no heed to the context or intent of the author. For those unfamiliar with Neo-Platonic language, the above quote might seem fairly innocuous, albeit a bit strange. But it’s straight from their pagan philosophy, where what’s called “the starting principle,” or “the One,” emanates itself out into creation, and then draws the creation back into itself insofar as each creature is able to receive from it. That’s why Pseudo-Dionysius says it “returns us back to the oneness,” because in the Neo-Platonic worldview we’re essentially lost fragments of the divine. A fuller expression of this idea can be found in the works of the preeminent pagan philosopher, Plotinus (205-270 AD):

The One is perfect and, in our metaphor, has overflowed, and its exuberance has produced the new: this product has turned again to its begetter and been filled and has become its contemplator and so an Intellectual-Principle … attaining resemblance in virtue of this vision, it repeats the act of the One in pouring forth a vast power. This second outflow is an image or representation of the Divine Intellect as the Divine Intellect represented its own prior, The One. This active power sprung from essence (from the Intellectual-Principle considered as Being) is Soul. Soul arises as the idea and act of the motionless Intellectual-Principle … It takes its fullness by looking to its source

The Enneads 5.2.1

Comparing this to Pseudo-Dinoysius, we see the exact same idea of emanation from the One and then fulfillment by turning back to the begetter. According to the standard Neo-Platonic framework, Plotinus’ model postulates three Principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. Each of the created principles are oriented to return to the One, but, crucially, they must do so through the mediation of the principle above them. So, while the Intellect can go straight to the One, the Soul must first reach the Intellect, because the Soul is just the outflow of the Intellect like the Intellect is the outflow of the One. In Neo-Platonic thought, this principle extends out to the material world as well as the world of ideals, where the former imitates the latter. Thus, from the least to the greatest, every creature has a place within an elaborate hierarchy that is ultimately directed towards the One, from which all emanate and seek to return. But again, each creature must ascend via that which is immediately superior to it, and cannot directly reach the One. And this is precisely the direction the Areopagite’s thought will go:

The goal of hierarchy, then, is to enable beings to be as like as possible to God and to be at one with him … It ensures that when its members have received this full and divine splendor they can then pass on this light generously and in accordance with God’s will to beings further down the scale.

The Celestial Hierarchy 3.1

And further:

So, then, the primordial rank of those intelligent beings in God’s company is hierarchically ordered by enlightenments coming from the source of all perfection, and they rise up to it with the help of no intermediary … As they are poured forth, they are radiant with that greater proximity to their source. Then by this rank [of angels] the second one, and by the second the third, and by the third our hierarchy is hierarchically uplifted, in due proportion and divine concord and according to this regulation of the harmonious source of order, toward that source beyond every source and consummation of all harmony

The Celestial Hierarchy 10.1

We see the same concepts and language found in Plotinus pop up once again, just in an ostensibly Christian writer. All members of the hierarchy strive to be reunited with God, the One, and they likewise pour out their own essence for the rank immediately below them to receive. Consequently, the only way for the lower ranks to be uplifted is to go through the ranks immediately above them, since they cannot go to God directly. The perceptive reader will also notice that there are three ranks of angels. This is no accident, for Pseudo-Dionysius says, “in our sacred tradition every hierarchy is divided in three” (EH 5.1.1). That this is in imitation of the Neo-Platonic rule is evident by the way his whole system is clearly modeled after the One/Intellect/Soul principles. For Pseudo-Dionysius, the One is God Himself, and the sphere of the Intellect is occupied by the angels (remember how he referred to them as the “intelligent beings”?), which in turn “extends its most sacred gifts into our domain” (EH 5.1.2), which more or less corresponds to the Soul. Just like in Plotinus’ writings, we can only receive the knowledge and gifts of God from the realm immediately above us, and we cannot receive directly from God.

The Ecclesia

We wish we could conclude that errors of the Areopagite ended with the angels, but they extend deep into the Church itself. Pseudo-Dionysius imitates the Neo-Platonic threefold division for each ecclesiastical order, so that the hierarch (bishop) mediates to the priest who then mediates to the deacon, and there is further division between them and the laymen, catechumens, and penitents. Rather than there being a direct revelation of God to each believer, the believer can only know God through his immediate superiors, utilizing the system of symbols and sacraments to aid him in rising further. It’s not difficult to imagine how this ends up playing out:

The hierarch, who “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) by taking on a likeness to God, proclaims the good news to all that God out of his own natural goodness is merciful to the inhabitant of earth … Someone fired by love of transcendent reality and longing for a sacred share of it comes first to an initiate, asks to be brought to the hierarch, and promises complete obedience to whatever is laid upon him.

The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy 2.2.1-2

Here we see the horrible consequences of the Areopagite’s theology in a glaring way; since God cannot be reached directly, the ecclesiastical superiors stand in the place of God for the believers beneath them (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). The believer is demanded to submit totally and completely to his spiritual superior, because he is the only means through which he can know God. A further consequence of this is, of course, a diminishing of the value of Scripture, because the idea that it could speak directly to any believer is at odds with their system of mediation to God by superiors. Indeed, Pseudo-Dionysius refers to Scripture as the “introductory food” given to catechumens (EH 3.3.6), and treats contemplation of liturgical symbols (through the assistance of the superiors, of course) as a higher form of knowledge. This is in keeping with his Neo-Platonic background, which likewise viewed symbolic contemplation as a superior means of ascension than instruction through words. It’s understandable that the religion of Eastern Orthodoxy – which has been influenced by Pseudo-Dionysius for longer and more significantly than anyone else – in practice is completely dominated by its liturgy almost to the exclusion of the written Word. Liturgy elevates both the symbols and the men who alone are able to practice them in the service. It also helps to explain Eastern Orthodoxy’s preoccupation with theosis (or divinization), because they share the Areopagite’s conviction that one begins to have a greater participation in the divine as they improve their abilities of contemplation and ascend the hierarchical ladder. This is a view Pseudo-Dionysius embraces to the point where he only calls those “the temple and the companion of the Spirit of the Deity” who have “arrived at the highest possible measure of divinization” (EH 3.3.7), in direct contrast to the Biblical teachings. Likewise, we can understand how Roman Catholics such as John Eck found Pseudo-Dionysius’ writings so useful in their extreme elevation of the priests, the bishops, and the pope as well as their minimization of the importance of Scripture. The Roman authorities were the mediators of God to men and would not allow the Word of God to compete, ultimately resulting in them forbidding the common people from reading it at all.

What Saith the Scripture?

The influence of pagan philosophers on Pseudo-Dionysius’ thinking is far from an innocent error, but effectively results in a denial of the glorious revelation of God to man in Christ Jesus. Pseudo-Dionysius tells us that we must reach God by a mediation of a plethora of beings closer to God than we are, because he takes it as a universal rule that “beings … first meet with their kin and proceed then to go through these in bringing their activity to bear on other beings” (EH 5.4). If that is indeed the case, then the angels will have to go through us to reach God, “For verily he [Jesus] took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16). Christ – who was God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16) – took on our nature, and has become our kin, for “in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). The believer has no need for any other mediator, because our “bodies are the members of Christ” (1 Corinthians 6:15) and “he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17), so that we are the very “temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 6:19). By being united to Christ via His human nature, we are through Him united to God Himself, and this applies to all believers – clergy or laymen: “they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). This is the wonderful Good News of the Gospel: that God – who we could never reach, regardless of how many mediating men and angels – condescended and took on flesh, so that we could know Him and have full forgiveness for all our sins. Scripture flatly contradicts an endless chain of mediators: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

When reading Pseudo-Dionysius, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Christ has even come. But this is understandable, because his theology is fundamentally of a pre-Christian, pagan brand. But how senseless is it! Beyond the Biblical refutation, how could one possibly climb his way up to God? God is absolutely and utterly different from every one of His creatures, and He has nothing in common with them as far as essence goes (see my essay on Divine Simplicity). Outside of union with Him through Christ, it’s impossible for one creature to be closer to Him than another. The view of the Areopagite and the Neo-Platonists makes their system more akin to henotheism than monothesism; regardless of the places where they state the utter dissimilarity between God and creatures, they effectively nullify any such assertion by saying that one creature is more like Him than others, which makes Him merely the top of a pyramid of beings rather than the One who utterly transcends them all, and who is an infinite distance from all beneath Him equally. But it’s an explicable error because all who are without Christ are “alienated from God” and have “the understanding darkened” (Ephesians 4:18). Without Him, they have no means of reaching God, so they construct a foolish ladder of men and angels in their minds, forgetting their own admissions of His incommunicability. Praise God that the believer is not in this predicament!

Conclusion

To thoroughly explore Pseudo-Dionysius’ ecclesiology, its relation to Neo-Platonic doctrine, and the influence it had on Western and Eastern forms of Christianity would require a book instead of an article. However, even this brief overview reveals that it’s impossible to deny the pagan elements of his thought and that these ideas were transmitted to church bodies at large. The elaborate liturgies and spiritual disciplines developed by the West and especially the East are impossible to justify from the Bible, but they flow perfectly from the Neo-Platonic thought that influenced many of the early church fathers like Pseudo-Dionysius. These practices and hierarchies, then, are not legitimate “alternative” ways of practicing Christianity, but are pagan and anti-biblical. Those true believers trapped within these systems should heed the words of God: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4).

Footnotes:

[1] Farina, John (Ed.), Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works (p. 21). Mahwah: Paulist Press

[2] ibid, p. 42

[3] The Babylonian Captivity of the Church 6:562.8-14

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