Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Free Will Song

What can I say but, "Oh my word!?!" I thought this was a joke at first, but alas, no. You've got to see it to believe it.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Divination, Inclination, Indigestion?

I know that most Christians pray for God's leading, or wisdom, or even signs and visions. I certainly pray often for wisdom and the providential opening and closing of opportunities. The thing I am struggling with right now is how do you authenticate the answer? Is that knot in your stomach "God stealing your peace" as you consider this major life-decision or is it stress causing indigestion?

I used to blame every alien, pietistic thought on God, thinking "it's not like me to think such things, it must be the move of God". I have spent far too long giving God the "credit" for my lame-brained ideas. It seems far safer to stick to the responsibilities of personal obedience, to law and love, and leave the planning to providence, as it were. But then you have cases like Acts 13:2, where the leading of the Spirit is so clear that the instruction is in quotes!* Does God still speak with such clarity today? I don't mean about the things already revealed in Scripture. I mean, can our pastor search team expect a fresh word from the Lord, "Set aside unto me Anthony for the work to which I have called him."

Is it individual inklings that add up to authenticate the message? Couldn't several godly men have the same inclination toward a man, and agreeing on their warm-fuzzy thoughts attribute this to a word from God? And suppose they did get a clarion message, why in the world would we not add a chapter to Acts and record it for the rest of Christendom? I hope I don't sound flip. This is something with which I am struggling; please help me to know better how to pray for guidance, and how to know that the answer I receive is from the Lord, not from my own inklings or indigestion!


*Yes, I know the quotation marks are not in the Greek, but the structure indicates that this is a quote, thus the marks.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Five, not 4-1/2: Redux

A few weeks ago as our Thirsty Theologians met, Anthony challenged my thinking regarding the scope of the atonement. I usually express it this way: the value of Christ's sacrifice is infinite, sufficient to pay for an infinite sin debt (enough for every sin in the history of this world and another thousand just like it), but that the payment is rendered only on behalf of the elect. This view was dubbed 4-½ point Calvinism. As I understand it, Anthony was asserting that 5-pointers hold that the atonement of Christ is sufficient and efficient only for the elect. While, apparently, a 4-½ pointer holds that the atonement of Christ is sufficient for all, yet efficient only for the elect. I took no small exception to the idea that I hold to an inferior view of the sovereignty of God (he says wryly as he pokes Anthony in the ribs), so I thought to write a fuller explanation here. In fact, I believe that the view I expressed is exactly what the Synod of Dort had in mind as they formalized the 5-points.

Let's break this down, first I hold these presuppositions and present them here as matter of fact, but will defend them if need be:

  • The effect of the Atonement must be limited, since scripture is clear that many will receive due punishment in Hell. So the question for the Bible-believing inquirer is "in what way is the atonement limited?"
  • The value of Christ's death is infinite, so there was no defect in the sacrifice that prevents all from being saved
  • The Atonement actually affected propitiation and expiation, it was not just potential atonement

The value of Christ's death is infinite. This is not a 4-1/2 point understanding (whatever that is) but a statement from the Canons of Dort (Second Main Point of Doctrine, Article 3), and therefore intrinsically a 5-point doctrine. I think the main misunderstanding is at the point of how the atonement is accomplished. If it is the death of Christ by itself that effects atonement then there is a need to say that His sacrifice is of limited value, else adopt a Unitarian heresy. But, the atonement is made by Christ being made sin and then receiving death as the due penalty for that sin—a substitute in our stead (2 Cor 5:21). That God laid on Christ only the sins of His elect is how this infinite payment is limited. And, if the atonement is truly effective, if it actually accomplished redemption (versus only potentially), then this must be how only some men are saved while others are not.

Consider this syllogism:

all those whose sins are expiated [A] are saved [B], and
all men [C] are those whose sins are expiated [A]
therefore all men [C] are saved [B]

Scripture assures us that this conclusion is false, and so one or both of the premises must be false. I will gladly assert and later defend, if need be, that the first proposition is true (this is the doctrine of perseverance), and therefore the second must be false. Since it is a universal statement, and it is false, the correct statement follows by course by simple negation: not all men are those whose sins are expiated. Let's correct:

all those whose sins are expiated [A] are saved [B], and
not all men [C] are saved [B]
therefore not all men [C] are those whose sins are expiated [A]

I engage in this exercise to simply show that anyone who holds to the biblical teaching of Hell, and to the clear biblical support for the doctrine of preservation (which includes the vast majority of Baptists) then the idea of a limited expiation is a necessary conclusion. Limited expiation is how the atonement is limited, in that the Father only places on the Son the sins of His elect, i.e. all who will be saved. When Christ died for those sins, they were actually expiated; it was effectual remission of sin.

To put it another way, if sins are actually paid for on the cross, and all sins are placed on Christ, what then does God punish in Hell, sins that have been paid for? Heaven forbid! The only other alternative is that the atonement is not really atonement but a purchase of a chance for forgiveness, one made effective by faith. Consider the enormous ramifications of this stance. What is the end-product of creation? Once this current heaven and earth boil away and are replaced, what will be left from this creation enterprise? A bride for Christ. All of creation, this world and the vast stretches of starry heavens, exist to produce a bride for Christ, and all of that, the grand plan and work of God is held in jeopardy by the fickle and deceitful human heart? Again, Heaven forbid!

Perhaps a reformulation of my initial assertion would make the point clearer. Though the sacrifice of Christ is of infinite worth, He provides expiation for only the sins laid on Him by the Father, acting as a scapegoat for the elect. Thus a payment of infinite value was rendered to redeem those chosen by God, according to His good pleasure, out of all of humanity.

Immediately some will protest that scripture talks about Jesus taking away the sins of the world, that He was a ransom for all, or the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all (John 1:29, 1 Tim 2:6, Isaiah 53:6 respectively), but I would ask, gentle reader, if there is any way to see these statements as un-limited without becoming a Unitarian? No, the only question is how you might limit them in your understanding, and whether you give maximum freedom and glory to God or to man.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Infant Salvation

Last week as our Thirsty Theologians met we discussed in some depth the issue of infant salvation, and the similar matter of salvation of the feeble minded. To formalize the ideas I was trying to express, I wrote the following and present it here for scrutiny and comment.

After our discussions last night I felt I need to make clearer a few of the points I was trying to make. First, I want to assure you that I do not hold to an idea of innate innocence, or an age of accountability. I do uphold that every human (born of the seed of man, that is) is corrupted by the sin of Adam and in need of salvation (there are no innocents) but I will try to show that the lack of personal transgression does mitigate the need for repentance and the usefulness of a profession of faith.

I assert that salvation is merited by the good pleasure of our Creator alone, and enacted by His power alone. Salvation is a unilateral action of God, and as such requires no admixture from the subject. Faith, the apprehension of and acquiescence to the offer of rescue by Christ, is a response to the regeneration God has wrought in His elect (John 10:26-27, 1 Jn 5:1). Though Romans 10:10 says, “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” and Joel 2:32 “whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved” I doubt anyone would deny that God can save a mute man simply because he is unable to produce the normal response to his salvation. In like manner I would suggest that the failure of an infant to respond with repentance and a well-formulated confession of the faith are unnecessary, though normative. I would further assert that God can regenerate a man just before his death, and before he has a chance to profess Christ to those around him. Is his regeneration invalidated for his failure to live up to his end of the bargain? I think not! Any insistence on tying the response to the cause is problematic at best, and smacks of the baptismal regeneration argument and the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy (after this, therefore because of this)—the rooster’s crow no more causes the sun to rise than the baptism and profession of faith cause God to save.

Young children do not doubt truth (they innately fear fire, or falling, and do not test these fears) and the very young do not sin (choose against what they know to be good). Doubt and sin darken the mind and cause a person to discard the truth of God known naturally. In Matthew 18, Jesus called men to be converted, becoming like little children in order to gain heaven. This does not seem to be a call to a simple faith as many propose (the Gospel in two sentences a 6 year old can understand), but a call to have your mind renewed and illumined—to wash away the obscuring doubt and sin of a corrupt life. Verse 3 also makes clear that this is not a work of their own, the action is passive and subjunctive (a desired possibility), indicating that God is the one making them anew as though they were uncorrupted children. Jesus warned that it was egregious for someone to tempt a child into sin, essentially jumpstarting their foray into darkness. I would say that it is this darkening that necessitates a work of repentance and a profession of faith, each of which speak to a change of mind. The profession of faith from a corrupt man, is a sign and wonder to it’s hearers because of the magnitude of the change. Young children and infants have no need to change their mind and regain the truth, for they have never departed from what they know naturally to be true.

The same, of course, cannot be said of the “innocent savage” who has never heard the Gospel. The savage discards the limited truth he has and sets in its place idols—just as his fathers did before him. His corruption is inherited from his ancient ancestors who held the truth, for every nation on Earth proceeds from Noah who had and preached the truth, but they corrupted and discarded it as they fled from Babel. The unevangelized man’s culpability is duly compounded by his own active dismissal of natural revelation (Rom 1:18-27).

If this line of thinking is right, then I glory in the thought that heaven is richly populated with people from every nation, tribe and tongue since none are exempt from infant mortality. If it is wrong, I have difficulty in seeing how God's glory is amplified by infants in hell, but that hardly makes the case as his wisdom so beyond my own. In either case will trust in His goodness and count my judgements as straw.

Scriptures to consider:

  • Matthew 18:4, “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,”
  • Matthew 19:14. “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven
  • and David’s confidence in 2 Samuel 12:23, “But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”

All seem to me to be assurances that children (at the very least children of the covenant peoples) are saved by the grace of God, according to His good pleasure, apart from any work of our own. Amen and Glory to His Name!

Christian Use of Celebratory Beverage

I registered this blog space about 4-5 months ago as I was preparing a sermon from 1 Timothy regarding the qualifications for a pastor. In the sermon I looked at the fact that a pastor (and any other Christain, for that matter) can drink celebratory beverage, given a few provisos. The key one being that he have a ready defence for his conduct so that he might train a weaker brother up, according to scriptures, so that he might enjoy or refrain out of an informed choice. A few dear brothers and I were already meeting a couple of times a month to share in each others lives, ramble on about theology, and enjoy a couple of beers--we have since dubbed the meetings Thirsty Theologians. Given this exposure, I thought it good to have a ready resource to which I might point an objecting brother. I pray this might serve that purpose, as well as serving as a testing grounds on which to better deveolp my biblical understanding (in this and many other regards). I don't pretend to have all the answers, please interact with both corrective and affirmative comments. So that is my intent here, let's begin an exploration of the Christian use of celebratory beverage.

Some are already saying, a ha! He can't even bring himself to say "alcoholic" drink, using the euphemism "celebratory beverage" instead. While it is true, the negative connotations of the terms "alcoholic" or "intoxicating" are part of the reason I choose to use the term celebratory beverage, the better reason is that this describes the proper use for such beverages by the believer, to celebrate the goodness of God and His care for His creatures. I also like this term instead of "wine" because it encompasses a broader range of beverages, consider Deuteronomy 14:26 where a celebratory tithe is called for by God, and this tithe includes wine or strong drink or whatever your heart desires. To me this seems to include a great range of acceptable celebratory beverages. Ken Gentry put it quite well when he said that the world drinks to forget, while the Christian drinks in remembrance, or celebration.

Before I even begin my apologetic, let me say that an excellent book examining the exegetical and theological issues surrounding the use of celebratory beverage is God Gave Wine by Kenneth L. Gentry, published by Oakdown. Though less scholarly, another very insightful book which deals in a sublimely winsome manner with the history of celebratory beverage in the church is Drinking with Calvin and Luther by Jim West, also from Oakdown. I will try to repeat here as little of their evidences as possible (no need to reinvent the wheel) but will instead try to bring some fresh ideas to a discussion already well-developed.

Let me also cast aside a few weights and entanglements. I do not accept the error that drinking celebratory beverage is a sin, you will not find its prohibition in scripture. Though there are clear warnings about the misuse, and outright declarations of drunkenness as sin, there is no word of prohibition to be found for the average believer (I may later discuss the commands to Lemmuel, Nazarites, Rechabites, and the Levites while in the temple).

I do not accept critiques which proceed from an extra-biblical requirement for righteous living. One may protest that this type of critique is strongest one wielded by the most educated opponents, and cannot be dismissed out of hand. I admit that exceptional scholars have found much evidence today's wine is a different beast from that of the first century. They show from ancient Greek writers and from rabbinical tradition (as recorded in the Talmud) that at the time of Christ some groups drank only watered wine. I admit it, but how does that inform our Christian liberty? Did Jesus ever acquiesce to the extra-biblical requirements of the Pharisees (the writers of the Talmud). Since when do the dietary habits of the heathen inform Christian living? If Scripture really is sufficient to inform godliness, and if scripture says nothing of watering wine (despite hundreds of other, seemingly esoteric commands to Israel), then why would a sincere bible student accept these objections? The only reference I have found to watered wine is in Isaiah 1:22 as a result of its scarcity due to God's displeasure with Jerusalem.

There is one other related objection that insists that the methods of production make even the unwatered wine different today from the first century. Let me just say briefly that the primary differences are that in modern production, wild yeasts are killed and cultured yeasts are added to better control uniformity in taste from batch to batch. Other than that the chemical process is identical, and the end product has no greater alcohol content today than that of yesteryear.

At the other extreme, I deny the error that says drinking wine is required, even for the Supper. Just because a man is at liberty to drink, and realizes that it is no sin to do so, he is not required to exercise that liberty (making it another form of bondage). It is a noble thing to build hedges around the law to keep yourself from becoming entangled with sin, it is only legalism when you force others to remain behind your hedge as well! I may feel that it is better to match the sign Christ used at the first Supper by using wine and unleavened bread, even as part of a Passover feast, but there is nothing in the institution of the supper that insists on these elements. It is too far off-topic to chase this rabbit now but I believe Jesus was saying that anytime the church gathers for a meal, seeing the bread and drink (the most basic elements of a meal), they should remember His sacrifice for them and the grace of the new covenant.

My basic positive argument is that scripture frequently uses the provision of wine as a sign of God's blessing, and its absence as a sign of cursing. I will likely do a follow-on to this post listing the many instances where wine is proof of the approval of God.

Jesus drank wine. He came eating and drinking and was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard—it is irrational to accuse a man who doesn't drink of being a drunkard. He told His disciples that He would not drink wine, "the fruit of the vine", again until He drank it afresh in heaven. Wine in heaven? Yes, read Isaiah 25:6 where the wedding feast of the Lamb is described and see that "a feast of wines on the lees" is a prominent feature: that's a superlative talking of a feast of mature and rich wines.

To be continued…

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Laying some groundwork

Hello Friends and Neighbors, and welcome to my blog. Allow me to make a couple of disclaimers:

  • This blog will never replace your cable tv. I will update it on occassion as time and interest allows.
  • Despite the title, this is not primarily an apologetic tool to support the use of wine in the Christian community. I will publish my views and the scriptural evidence that suggest temperate use of celebratory beverage is within the pervue of the individual to choose or refuse. I will try to offer considered responses to questions of sincere inquirers, but I reserve the right to rebuke or delete the posts of Pharisees.
  • Posts will not be of a monolithic nature, but will run the gammut from theological thoughts, to matters relating to my local church, to personal photos, to chatting about tv shows.

That said, let's get started!