Saturday, November 18, 2017

Atheistic Naturalism is Paganism

An irreligious society cannot endure the truth of the human condition.
It prefers a lie, no matter how idiotic it may be.”

Nicolás Gómez Dávila

Most Atheistic Naturalists offer as scientific fact the idea that the universe emerged from “nothingness”. In this worldview, energy-without any origin- erupted or exploded, causing a “big bang” (according to one theory), which then allowed this same residual energy to come into contact with the resultant organic matter of the prebiotic earth, resulting in the proverbial “primordial soup” from which life emerged. Under this hypothesis, that energy catalyzed chemical reactions that, in the span of hundreds of millions of years, produced self replicating molecules. But does this scientific theory presented as fact meet the criteria of the Scientific Method?

Nothing New
The materialistic theory of the origin of the universe and of life is nothing new.

Ancient Greek philosophers were perhaps the first to clearly formulate a materialistic evolutionary concept of origins. It must be emphasized that these Greek philosophers were neither scientists nor experimentalists; rather they speculated on the origin of the universe in a way consistent with their religious and philosophical beliefs. Although many of the earliest Greek philosophers considered their gods to be creators, this began to change with the influence of Thales of Miletus. Thales (who lived at the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC) founded the Milesian school of natural philosophy. One of the primary assumptions of this school of thought was that the origin of everything in nature could be explained in terms of its own material composition. Thus, they sought to explain the origin of everything by a process of self-assembly from some underlying material element. Thales believed that water was that basic element from which all things evolved.”1

In fact, the Church Fathers encountered this very same ideology as it developed in the paganism of the ancient Roman and Greek influenced cultures they lived in.

For example, we find the following in their writings.

I cannot understand how so many distinguished men have been of the opinion that matter...was uncreated. That is, it was not formed by God Himself, who is the Creator of all things. Rather, they say its nature and power were the result of chance...thinking that so great a work as the universe could exist without an architect or overseer.” - Origen

Who can bear it to be said that this mighty habitation, which is composed of heaven and earth and is called the cosmos, was established in all its order and beauty by those atoms that hold their course-devoid of order and beauty? Or that this same state of disorder has grown into this true cosmos of order?" - Dionysius of Alexandria

I cannot omit here that some erring philosophers say that men and other animals arose from the earth without any Maker.”- Lactantius

Still others (philosophers) would construct the entire fabric of the universe by chance accidents and by random collision of atoms.”- Arnobius

There are many more quotes of this nature which tell us that, not only is Atheistic Naturalism not new, but that its roots are founded in pagan philosophy, not science.

Defining the Argument
It is essential that we define our argument as believers in a created universe as opposed to Atheistic Naturalism. We are not in any sense denying the reality of micro-evolution. We freely admit to the fact of micro-evolution in the universe. Science can and has demonstrated it as a fact. What we are, however, refuting is the fallacious notion that macro-evolution meets the criteria of the Scientific Method. That is, macro-evolution is neither observable nor repeatable. It must be taken as a matter of faith, as there is no scientific evidence for the notion whatsoever.

...macroevolution is not observable, repeatable, or refutable and thus does not qualify as either a scientific fact or theory. Evolution must be accepted with faith by its believers, many of whom deny the existence, or at least the power, of the Creator. Similarly, the Biblical account of creation is not observable, repeatable or refutable by man. Special creation is accepted with faith by those who believe that the Bible is the revelation of an omnipotent and omniscient Creator whose Word is more reliable than the speculations of men."2

There is, in fact, no known relationship between so-called microevolution and macroevolution. Most evolutionists are quite aware of this (although you would never guess it from the explanations of evolution in the media, textbooks, and in the classroom).”3

Even dating methods used by Atheistic Naturalists are based on presuppositions or assumptions taken from this very same pagan faith.

Scientists use observational science to measure the amount of a daughter element within a rock sample and to determine the present observable decay rate of the parent element. Dating methods must also rely on another kind of science called historical science. Historical science cannot be observed. Determining the conditions present when a rock first formed can only be studied through historical science. Determining how the environment might have affected a rock also falls under historical science. Neither condition is directly observable. Since radioisotope dating uses both types of science, we can’t directly measure the age of something. We can use scientific techniques in the present, combined with assumptions about historical events, to estimate the age. Therefore, there are several assumptions that must be made in radioisotope dating. Three critical assumptions can affect the results during radioisotope dating:
  1. The initial conditions of the rock sample are accurately known.
  2. The amount of parent or daughter elements in a sample has not been altered by processes other than radioactive decay.
  3. The decay rate (or half-life) of the parent isotope has remained constant since the rock was formed.”4
Thus, if one starts out with an assumption regarding these things, the resultant data will be skewed toward that assumption.

Being from Non-Being?
The fact of the matter is, science has no evidence for being arising from non-being. The truth is, all evidence points to the contrary, even down to the origin of the universe. The Kalam Cosmological Argument assists us in establishing this very logical and scientific fact.

Anything that begins to exist has a cause.
The universe began to exist.
Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Taken on its own this may not solidly establish that the cause is God, but it does establish that something cannot come from nothing, which itself is a refutation of the Atheistic Naturalist pagan philosophy. We must, however, proceed from there to another argument; the teleological. This argument basically states that the conditions for life are so precise, and need be so accurate, the fact that conditions on earth meet such precise criteria argues for a purposeful cause. Of course, there can be no purposeful cause, nor precision design, without a Person behind it.

If nothing can be done or produced without design, it is plain that there is divine providence, to which that which is called “design” peculiarly belongs.”- Lactantius

It is more believable that matter was made by God (because He is All-Powerful) than to believe that the world was not made by God. For nothing can be made without mind, intelligence, and design.”-Lactantius

Paganism versus God
What we are really witnessing in the debate between Atheistic Naturalism and Christianity is not truly one of science. Science is wholly on the side of the Christian worldview. The debate is essentially a religious one; an ongoing debate between ancient paganism in new dress, and the revelation of the one God of Creation. In writing of Jerry Coyne, a well known Atheistic Naturalist, a USA Today article states:

For atheist Coyne, things are looking good. “Science nibbles [away] at religion” while “America’s fastest-growing brand of belief is non-belief,”5

The irony is that Coyne's “non-belief” turns out to be a pagan belief system, however much he would wish to deny it. He and his fellow atheists have simply found a dogma they prefer to supernatural revelation- the dogma of self.

Modern man does not love, but seeks refuge in love; does not hope, but seeks refuge in hope; does not believe, but seeks refuge in a dogma.”
                                                              -Nicolás Gómez Dávila


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Enoch Reconsidered

I tend to be careful when it comes to using extra-biblical sources in the development of my understanding of biblical doctrine. This has meant that, in the past, I have regarded all extra-biblical sources as suspect and therefore of little use to understanding theology or biblical history. I have even regarded those who embrace, for example, the Book of Enoch as outright heretics. Over the course of the past year I have been challenged on my position by men I know to be staunchly orthodox, and not at all given to the oddities I consider on the fringe of the evangelical community. I have discovered biblical scholars such as Dr. Michael Heiser who, while not accepting the Book of Enoch as scripture, does utilize the Enochian writing in a way that fits orthodox hermeneutics. One of the basic rules of hermneutics is that we do our best to interpret a biblical text according to the plain meaning as it would have been understood by its intended readers. In the case of the New Testament, we are dealing with 1st century Jews and Gentiles. As any student of biblical studies can tell you, the way the intended audience understood any given passage could be markedly different than the modern evangelical reader. The intended audience are in a different culture, a different time, with different life experiences, and very different religious histories than most of us today. Many comments and symbols that appear in the New Testament allude to things entirely lost on the reader of the 21st century. 

Dr. Heiser writes on his website what he finds interpreting the bible in context really means:

"Rather than filter the Bible through creeds dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, or even the period of early Christianity, the Bible's actual context is the one that produced the biblical books-the era stretching from the Second millennium BC to the First century AD. All other contexts are foreign to the Bible, no matter how persuasive they are in denominational traditions. The student of the Bible must make all foreign contexts subservient to the Bible's own context.That means replacing our own worldview with that of the biblical writer living during this ancient time span in the ancient Near East and Eastern Mediterranean. The way to do that is to immerse ourselves in the intellectual output of those cultures in which the biblical Israelite and later Hellenistic Jews lived when God moved them to write scripture."

Listening to Dr. Heiser's Naked Bible podcast, which takes just this hermeneutical approach, opened up an entirely different view of not just Scripture itself, but of reality in light of what Sacred Scripture actually intends to convey. This approach to exploration of the Word is one which, I feel, is both consistent with orthodoxy and revolutionary at the same time. Through it I have been able to see things not just in Scripture, but in the Ante-Nicene Fathers' writings which previously had been either difficult to understand, or required some unconvincing theological twists and turns to try to make sense of. Of course, this stems from our fear of just those resources that Dr. Heiser encourages us to explore. It was with this new-but-old approach to Scripture that I took another objective look at the Book of Enoch.

What I found is a book that does indeed connect with the New Testament without a single assault on any doctrine of the Christian faith. In addition, I found that Enoch fleshed out what seem arbitrary and passing statements such as those in Genesis 6:1-4 and Daniel 14:13, 17, and 23, just to name a few examples. It also connects biblical history to the history of the various cultures to emerge since Noah's family survived the Flood. So what am I saying? I am saying that I can no longer hold the position that those who utilize resources such as the Book of Enoch are heretics simply for doing so, nor is such an approach an attack on the canon or Christian doctrine. In fact, it does the opposite. It demonstrates a depth of knowledge underneath these basic doctrines we hold true. There is much we can gain by examining such writings as the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jasher, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, to name a few. I would encourage my readers to listen to Dr. Heiser's podcasts and decide for yourself.

Friday, November 10, 2017

What the Scriptures and Early Church Say on Speaking in Tongues

Most Christians have encountered the Charismatic movement at some point in their spiritual lives. It may have been simply a passing conversation with an adherent who claimed the supernatural ability to speak in a personal “prayer language”, or it may have been direct experience of the practice in a church service. Whatever the case, the issue of “tongues” is often divisive. What does Sacred Scripture have to say on the issue? And what did the early church believe about the gift of tongues? Is the activity we witness in Charismatic circles biblical, or is it a spiritual counterfeit?

I. Scriptural Evidence
The logical starting point for understanding this issue is Acts 2: 1-21. Here we have the first recorded account of the gift of tongues in the church. Previous to this event, Christ had told his disciples that they would be the recipients of supernatural assistance after His resurrection and ascension. (John 14:16-17) This assistance would be the direct indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:4 tells us they were told to wait in Jerusalem for this special moment. The day finally arrived on Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection. The Holy Spirit descended upon them and there was an amazing manifestation of His presence. (Acts 2:2-4) Scripture tells us there was a sound like a mighty wind, and flames divided and rested upon each of the twelve apostles and 120 disciples. “And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4) Contextually we find nothing in the subsequent history recorded in Acts of this event that would at all lend itself to the idea that this was some mystical “prayer language”- the incoherent babbling witnessed in Charismatic churches. Acts 2:5-6 is very clear that the foreigners present all heard these faithful disciples speaking in their own languages. In other words, the contextual evidence is that the apostles and disciples were speaking very real earthly languages, which they had not studied or spoken prior to this event. No incoherent babbling, no falling on the floor and writhing, no shouting or animal noises, just clear earthly languages.

II. Paul's Teaching
The other important scriptural evidence that must be addressed is that of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians. Specifically 1 Corinthians 12: 27-31, and 13:1. In verses 27 and 28 Paul explains briefly the various offices in the church, and mentions that there are “various kinds of tongues”. Keeping in mind what we know from the earlier events of Acts 2, we know that Paul is referring to the various kinds of earthly languages around at that time. He also notes that, much to the chagrin of those Charismatics who suggest we all must speak in tongues or we are not truly saved, “Do all speak with tongues?” It is a rhetorical question that again, contextually, leads to an obvious answer of no, not everyone speaks in tongues. Next, Paul says something that is often twisted by Charismatic apologists. He writes in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.” This passing reference to angels is taken by Charismatics to mean the “prayer language” they engage in. It is, to them, an angelic language. This notion ignores entirely Paul's use of rhetorical language throughout the epistle, such as the previous questions regarding whether all are apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, etc. Paul is not suggesting there is an angelic language which believers can supernaturally speak, but is saying that no matter how many languages one has a gift for, if you lack love it is a worthless endeavor. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 13:21, Paul specifically addresses the futility of speaking a language one's listeners cannot understand! In 1 Corinthians 14:14, Paul writes that the person who does so also “builds himself up.” Rather than being a positive, Paul is actually making a negative comment on the practice. In short, it puffs one up in pride. John MacArthur, writing of the Charismatic misunderstanding of this verse states:

The first verse they assume, speaking in an unknown tongue, builds someone up, when in fact; Paul was saying it in a negative sense. It puffs your ego...”1

Finally, it is important to note that nowhere else in Scripture is the word tongue ever considered anything but a very real earthly language.
III. The Patristic Witness
The uniform witness of the early church is that the gift of tongues is the gift to speak an earthly language one had not previously known.

In like manner, we also hear many brethren in the church who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit, speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men.”- Irenaeus2

This is He who places prophets in the church, instructs teachers, directs languages (tongues), gives powers and healing, does wonderful works..”- Novatian3

Even given the fact that this gift was in operation in the early church, the clear witness is that they took Paul seriously and considered other gifts of more importance to the church.

Paul, too, in this list of charismata bestowed by God, placed first the “word of wisdom”. Second, as being inferior to it, there is the “word of knowledge”. Third, and lower down there is faith. And because he regarded the Word as higher than miraculous powers, he for that reason placed workings of miracles and gifts of healing in a lower place than the gifts of the Word.”- Origen4

Therefore, it is no ordinary individual whom you will find to have participated in divine wisdom.”- Origen5

They also took Paul's admonition regarding love quite seriously, as we witness in just a few of the many quotes on the issue.

Jesus commanded us to love even our enemies..”- Justin Martyr6

All of us pray for you, and for all men, as our Christ and Lord taught us to do. For He commanded us to pray even for our enemies, and to love those who hate us...”
- Justin Martyr7

Our religion commands us to love even our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us...For everyone loves those who love them. It is unique to Christians to love those who hate them.”- Tertullian8

IV. Counterfeit?
Is the Charismatic practice a spiritual counterfeit? John MacArthur writes of a man known to him who discovered the dangerous side of this Charismatic practice.

He said it's a very dangerous thing and this is what he wrote in his own words, "The enemy of the soul is ever ready to take advantage of an out of control situation, and thousands of Christians can testify with regret to the end results. Such experiences not only give Satan an opening he is quick to exploit, they can be physiologically damaging to the individual. Charismatic writers are constantly warning tongue speakers that they will suffer a letdown, this is ascribed to the devil and the reader is urged to get refilled as soon as possible. So the seeker for experience goes back through the ritual again and again, but begins to discover something. Ecstatic experience, like drug addiction requires larger and larger doses to satisfy. Sometimes the bizarre is introduced; I've seen people run around a room until they were exhausted. I've seen people climb tent poles, laugh hysterically, go into trances for days, and do other weird things, as the high sought becomes more elusive. Eventually there is a crisis and a decision is made; he will sit on the back seats and be a spectator, fake it, or go on in the hope that everything will eventually be as it was. The most tragic decision is to quit and in the quitting abandon all things spiritual as fraudulent. The spectators are frustrated, the fakers suffer guilt, the hoping are pitiable, and the quitters are a tragedy. No, such movements are not harmless," end quote.”

What must be said is that the practice is not biblical, does not find its roots in the early church, and reflects in all its manifestations the same experience witnessed in animistic religions and shamanic trance states. It is my opinion that speaking-in-tongues, as practiced by Charismatics is of diabolic origin and should be opposed by learned Christian apologists and pastors.

1Speaking in Tongues (sermon), Sept. 29, 1991,
2A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, David Bercot (Ed.), 2014, Scroll Publishing


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

What the Early Church Believed About Election

Election is another of those theological issues over which Christians have divided. It is my hope that, in this article, I will bring some clarity to the issue, not by citing any pet denominational position, but by appealing to the Sacred Scriptures and the Apostolic Tradition as handed down to us by the Church Fathers. These two witnesses, one infallible and the other instructively valuable, bring us closer to the understanding of the doctrine as it was before the petty divisions of the church we experience today.

I. Christ Centered
Election is firstly founded in a relationship with Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:4). Our election is, then, only a derived election, as it comes in and through Jesus himself who is the first elect of God. (Matthew 12:18; 1 Peter 2:4). This is why our election occurs only in our relationship to and with Christ. (Ephesians 6-7, 9-10, 12-13).

Christians have learned that their eternal life consists in knowing the only true God, who is over all, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent.”- Origen

Christ redeems us righteously from the apostasy by His own blood.”- Irenaeus

Our election is founded in not simply Christ's person, but on his blood shed on the cross for sins. (Ephesians 1:7). Before we were created God determined to save and transform humanity through the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross (Ephesians 1:4). Thus election is grounded on Christ’s sacrificial death to save us from our sins (Acts 20:28; Romans 3:24-26).

Jesus Christ bore our sins in His own body on the tree.”- Polycarp

He gained life for us by overcoming death.”- Lactantius
II. Corporate Election
Election in Christ is primarily corporate. What this means is that it is an election of a specific group of people (Ephesians 1:4-5, 7, 9). This group of people are called “the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12), “my church” (Matthew 16:18), “a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9), and the “bride” of Christ (Revelation 19:7). Therefore, election is firstly corporate (the assembly of those who serve Christ), and embraces individual persons only as they identify and associate themselves with Christ and His church (Ephesians 1:22-23).

Day and night, you were anxious for the whole brotherhood, so that the number of God's elect might be saved.”- Clement of Rome

The white part is the age that is to come, in which the elect of God will dwell. For those who are elected by God to eternal life will be spotless and pure.”- Shepherd of Hermas

It will be God's good pleasure to take out a church that will be sanctified by fellowship with His Son.”- Irenaeus

Now it is not the place, but the assemblies of the elect that I call the church.”
-Clement of Alexandria

III. Individual Election

Election, with regard to the church, is a fact and certainty. The election of individual persons is predicated on obedience to Christ and perseverance in the faith. Paul demonstrates this as follows. The church is to be “be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4). The church is led by the Holy Spirit into all truth, into holiness and into sanctification of its members. (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:16-25). And as we know that Christ will “present her to himself as a radiant church…holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27), this would logically exclude those who do not obey Him and thus do not persevere in the Faith. This also logically means that election is conditioned on obedience and perseverance. In fact, Paul writes clearly that Jesus will “present you holy in his sight without blemish…if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel” (Colossians 1:22-23).

No one is a Christian but he who perseveres even to the end.”- Tertullian

Those who do not obey Him, being disinherited by Him, have ceased to be His sons.”
- Irenaeus

Let us then practice righteousness so that we may be saved unto the end.”- II Clement

IV. Election Open to All
Election to salvation in Christ is offered to anyone who is willing to obey and persevere in the faith. (John 3:16-17; 1Titus 2:4-6) It is received when we repent and demonstrate true faith as part of the salvation experience. (Ephesians 2:8; 3:17; Romans 1:16; 4:16). When one is baptized and becomes a part of the church by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), one also becomes a member of the group known as the elect. Election then is the individual cooperating with the grace of God in order to receive that status (Romans 8:29). This is the doctrine most commonly known as synergism, which is the belief that the human will can and must cooperate with the Holy Spirit in order for a person to be saved. It is not, however, implied by the Church Fathers that God's grace is irresistible. In fact they taught quite the opposite. Suffice it to say that our will does play a role in our election.

God ministers eternal salvation to those who cooperate for the attainment of knowledge and good conduct. Since what the commandments direct are in our own power, along with the performance of them, the promise is accomplished.”- Clement of Alexandria

A man by himself working and toiling at freedom from passion achieves nothing. But if he plainly shows himself very desirous and earnest about this, he attains it by the addition of the power of God. For God works with willing souls.”- Clement of Alexandria

    He seeks all and desires to save all. He wishes to make everyone the children of God.”-Hippolytus

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Superiority of Christ and the New Covenant

In his life Christ is an example showing us how to live. In his death, He is a sacrifice satisfying our sins; in His resurrection, a conqueror; in his ascension a king; in his intercession a high priest.”- Martin Luther

The church has fought what came to be known as “Judaizing” throughout its history. In simple terms Judaizing is the teaching that one must keep the entirety of Old Testament Laws in order to be a good disciple of Jesus and inherit heavenly glory. The most current manifestation of this old heresy is that of the Hebrew Roots movement. This movement has misled many former Christians into a spiritual life of bondage, all under the guise of being superior or more mature disciples than Christians who do not keep the minutia of Old Covenant Law. This paper will attempt to address the basics of why the Old Covenant is inferior to the New Covenant, and provide solid Scriptural evidences for this position.

I. The Old Covenant Was An Imperfect Foreshadowing (Hebrews 8:5-7)

A. The Old Covenant acted more on the level of civil law, proscribing certain behaviors and prohibiting others. And like most civil law it was a written law to which on could refer. It had no living expression as such, but was (at least originally) nothing more than a cold code of conduct. In fact, Paul is clear that it was written on cold, lifeless “stones”. (2 Corinthians 3:3) This reference of Paul gives us a glimpse into the imperfection of the Old Covenant which, unlike the New Covenant, was not written on “tablets of human hearts”. The Old Covenant was inferior as it could not enter into a man's heart and transform Him, but only served to reveal his sin to him, and convict him of his need for a savior. The author of Hebrews tells us the Old Covenant was simply a foreshadowing of the perfect New Covenant to come.

B. We must add to this imperfection the fact that no one could be saved through the Old Covenant. (Galatians 2:16) The function of the Old Covenant was not to save or justify man, nor could it.

C. The Old Covenant also indebted man to God due to the sins the Law revealed. This is why we find in Scripture that the Old Covenant was nailed to the cross. It was a canceling of that debt before God at the crucifixion of Christ, who fulfilled all the requirements of the Old Covenant. (Colossians 2:14)
II. The Perfection of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:6; 8:13)
The New Covenant suffers none of these defects. It is not simply a code of conduct (though conduct is changed in it), nor is it useless to enter into a man and transform him. The New Covenant is a transformational relationship directly to and with God in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Second Person of the Holy Trinity. The Old Covenant did not afford Man any such relationship. God always remained distant.

A. The New Covenant is written on “tablets of human hearts”. That is, it is a covenant that reaches far deeper than the behavioral rules of the Old Covenant, and makes a person desire change in his/her life with passion. This also implies that the New Covenant is a living, vibrant force rather than a cold, lifeless set of rules.

B. Through the New Covenant all can be saved. (Romans 10:4). The New Covenant, unlike the Old, offers salvation; and not just for the Jew, but for the Gentile-the nations. This means anyone who approaches Jesus Christ and sincerely desires to be His disciple is welcome without regard to his race or ethnicity.

C. That the New Covenant is superior to the Old is also evidenced in the fact that the Old was indeed replaced at the crucifixion. (Ephesians 2:14–17) If the Old Covenant were superior, it could never have been replaced and it would have offered Man salvation.

III. The New Covenant Sanctuary is Superior (Hebrews 8:1–2)
A. Jesus foretold of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, which happened in 70 A.D. Once the temple was destroyed Judaism faced an existential crisis: how to continue their faith without access to the central act of worship for Jews. Paul informs us in these verses that Christ is in a “tent” that “the Lord set up”. This place of worship is far superior to the one that was temporal and quite easily destroyed, as it is eternal and can never perish.

IV. The High Priest is Superior (Heb. 4:14–16; 7:1–28)
A. The High Priest is firstly the Son of God, Second Person of the Holy Trinity. This means that rather than having a high priest who is subject to sin himself, we have God the Son Himself as our High Priest and advocate. This does not mean that He does not understand our struggles from our perspective, since He was tempted as we are. The major difference is, unlike a high priest given to the defects of Inherited Depravity, our High Priest is completely and totally without sin.

B. The New Covenant High Priest has made it possible for us to draw near to the very throne of grace with confidence; something the Old Covenant could never have done as the focus was on recognition of sin and rules of conduct. In fact, the only people spoken of as approaching the throne in Judaism are the prophets, and even then not with the confidence Paul mentions.

V. It’s Sacrifice is Superior (Hebrews 8:3–4; Heb. 9:11–14)
A. The Levitical priests offered up animals in the earthly sanctuary. (Leviticus 4:20) None of these sacrifices removed sin. The Hebrew word used in this passage from Leviticus, often translated as “forgiven: is actually “kaphar”, which does not at all imply removal, but “cover”.1 The best they could do was “cover” sins temporarily. Paul also tells us that the blood of sacrifices does not and cannot remove sin. (Hebrews 10:4) They merely foreshadowed the only sacrifice that could do so; that of Jesus Christ on the cross, which the author of Hebrews informs us is superior. (Hebrews 9:23)

B. The Lamb of God offers up Himself in the heavenly sanctuary. As noted, no animal sacrifice could remove sin. The once and eternal sacrifice of Christ removes sin and allows Man to once again commune with God in a personal relationship. In the superior sanctuary, referred to in Hebrews 9:11-12 as the “greater and more perfect tent”, entered “once for all into the holy places”, and rather than offering up the blood of animals offers up Himself. And unlike the Jerusalem Temple, which was a mere foreshadowing, the sanctuary Christ enters is “heaven itself” (Hebrews 9:24).

VI. Closing
As John MacArthur writes,“The old covenant was glorious, but it was “fading away,” replaced by a covenant much more glorious. Paul was already administering the new covenant. The old was obsolete, and was fading away. Although sacrifices continued to be administered in Jerusalem, they would cease soon after Paul wrote. The old covenant has ended, and we should live by the terms of the new covenant.” 2

Romans 7:1-4-We are to die to the Law as part of the New Covenant. 

John MacArthur again writes, “Paul says that we have died to the law — even the Jews have died to the law through identification with Jesus Christ. Therefore, the law no longer has authority over us, since we belong to Christ, not to the law. Christ is the one we obey, so that we can bear spiritual fruit. The law is contrasted with Christ, and it is the old covenant law that Paul is talking about — the Torah, the Law portion of the Scriptures. We can be under the law, or under Christ. Being under both is not an option.”3

It is abundantly clear from the Scriptural evidences that the New Covenant is superior to the Old. It is superior in its transformational power, its ability to offer salvation to anyone, its promises, its sanctuary, its high priest, and its sacrifice.

1Dudek, Ron, Did Animal Sacrifices Remove Sin?,
2MacArthur, John, The Old Covenant and the Law of Moses,


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Reader's Question on Communion and Vows

I received an interesting question this week, and with the author's permission share it here, along with my answer. The email is as follows:

"When I participate in Communion and the Lord's Table, I prefer to not make any vows or covenants with the people at the table. My conscience seems to prevent me from participating at Ch. of Brethren. To describe the situation:  After the communion at Frederick Church of the Brethren, everyone was reading the following aloud, but I did not and will not because I think that the Bible says not to make vows unnecessarily:

Here is what was read out loud:

FCOB communion covenant. 

“Unison: Having now experienced the grace of God and confessing Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we joyfully and sincerely covenant: 
That mindful of the teachings of our Lord, we will walk together in love, be slow to take offense, be ready for reconciliation, participate in each other's joys and sorrows, and with Christian care and sympathy bear one another's burdens. 
That we will love temperately, be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and do unto others as we would have them do unto 

That in keeping with Christ's great commission; "Go and make disciples of all nations" we will use every opportunity of word and deed to bring kindred and acquaintance to the knowledge of Christ. 
With humble faith and the help of God, we accept this covenant with the earnest prayer that is set before us, and so live that we may be prepared for the life everlasting, which is our hope in Jesus Christ.”

My point is not against vowing but against having it seem to everyone in the room that I have participated with everyone in speaking this vow. I think there is no scriptural reason to require a vow at the time of participating in the Lord's Table. In fact, the disciple Peter's vow at the Last Supper was out of line (saying he would lay down his life for Jesus.)   I think I should explain that the Ch. of the Brethren in general may not perform this exactly as my local church does.

I would perhaps be misstating  the problem if I were to say that this "covenant" they recite is a requirement for participation in the Lord's Table. Rather, what I should say is that the liturgy includes the covenant-statement and it seems implicit that the covenant is part of the Lord's Table participation, although some participants might say that I would be able to partake of the Lord's Table and then simply not speak when the recitation of the vow or covenant comes around. But my conscience, if that is what it is, makes me think that everyone in the crowd will assume that all attendees have said the same liturgy. That is why I felt that, socially speaking, it was an implied requirement.

There are several points which could be made. One point would be: why are people being asked to vow at the Lord's Table? Is it thought that vowing to go all out for the Lord will really motivate you to go all out? Is it implied that one is not receiving the Lord’s body and blood unless one makes these vows?

Is this vow-making true to the intent of the Lord to give a free gift to His church? Did He and does He require these vows for participation in His communion?"

My answer: 

First, thank you for your question. It is well thought out and I can tell you take Communion seriously, as you should. Far too often people receive Communion with little care or attention to the state of their hearts, the importance of the ritual act itself, or even the presence of Christ in our worship. I'm happy to see you're thoughtful in this regard.

I'm not sure that the Brethren view this part of their liturgy as a vow as much as they do a reaffirmation of their commitment and covenant to and with our Lord. In that sense there is nothing wrong with the affirmation. Sometimes people feel the need to reaffirm their baptismal covenant, and for them this portion of the Brethren liturgy might fulfill that need. I looked over the statement you provided from their liturgy and found nothing that implies you cannot receive Communion unless you affirm those things contained therein, but to be honest, every Christian should affirm those things continually in their lives. And while Communion is for the Church, it is the memorial of Christ's sacrifice of Himself for the sins of the world. Yes, it is offered freely, but a gift is no less a gift simply because it is predicated on obedience. Salvation and eternal life are promised to those who persevere, and those who obey the teachings of Christ. So an affirmation of one's dedication to those principles of the Gospel in no way reduces Communion to a "work", so to speak. Does Christ require a reaffirmation at Communion? I've not found anything that says He does, nor do I find it in the Early Church. What we do find, however, are warnings that we should not partake of the sacrament unworthily. In other words, while we are in a state of willful sin, rebellion, etc. Of course, one who was in such a state and who affirmed the things contained in the Brethren liturgy would simply be a hypocrite. My advice is this: if for some reason that portion of the liturgy causes you to violate your conscience, then don't take part in it. If, however, you're simply worried that it is legalistic or misguided, I hope I've put that to rest. It is no more an error to affirm one's commitment to the gospel than it is to affirm the same at your baptism.

I hope that helps.

God Bless

Saturday, October 7, 2017

What the Early Church Believed About Predestination

It is essential that we first understand the basic Calvinist definition of predestination, so that we can offer a more biblically consistent definition in response. For clarity's sake I have chosen to use the definition given by Matt Slick, a Calvinist.

Predestination is the doctrine that God alone chooses (elects) who is saved. He makes His choice independent of any quality or condition in sinful man. He does not look into a person and recognize something good nor does He look into the future to see who would choose Him. He elects people to salvation purely on the basis of His good pleasure. Those not elected are not saved. He does this because He is sovereign; that is, He has the absolute authority, right, and ability to do with His creation as He pleases. He has the right to elect some to salvation and let all the rest go their natural way: to hell. This is predestination.”1

Calvinists view the following Scriptures (among others) as substantiating their position: do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”- Acts 4:28

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified; and those whom He justified, He also glorified.”- Romans 8:29-30

..he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will..”- Ephesians 1:5

Do these verses really substantiate the Calvinist view? Part of what makes the Calvinist position possible is their position on the atonement, which they view as being limited. Sacred Scripture, however, does not support a limited atonement. For example:

The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, 'Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sons of the world.”- John 1:29

The Greek word translated world here is kosmos, which leaves no room for a limited atonement. John's use of the word also means the atonement is made for the entirety of creation.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”- John 3:16

Again John refers to the world with regard to the availability and intended recipient of the atonement.

They said to the woman, 'We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”-John 4:42

Jesus also refers to Himself as the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), not the light of the elect/predestined. There are a host of other verses that prove the point that the atonement is unlimited, but these suffice to make the case.2 It is also instructive to note that the Church Fathers3 fall on the side of unlimited atonement as well, lending historical and apostolic support to the position.

Christ freely brings...salvation to the whole human race.”- Clement of Alexandria

It was needful that the Lamb of God should be offered for the other lambs whose nature He assumed, even for the whole human race.”- Eusebius

The sacrifice of Christ is an imperishable expiation of the whole world.”
- Gregory of Nazianzen

Christ suffered for all, rose again for all.”- Ambrose

So then, predestination cannot be biblically defined as the Calvinists do. So what then is a biblical definition of predestination? As we know that grace is indeed resistible- that is, that one can exercise their free will to reject the offer of salvation (Acts 6:10; 7:51-55)- election and predestination do not violate that ability of free will, which would be necessary for the Calvinist position to be correct. This means that those who are predestined are those who freely choose to obey Christ. This group of people are not limited, but open to “whosoever” believes. (John 3:16) “Whosoever” will, let him take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:17)

Election is simply the decree of God to justify and accept whosoever will receive Christ. 

"Therefore, all having been called, those who are willing to obey have been named "the elect"."- Clement of Alexandria

In turn, this means that predestination is not some predetermination of those who believe and those who will be punished eternally, but simply the predetermination that “whosoever” believes will inherit sonship, glorification, and eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

"He determines also our fates for us, according to the deserts and the qualities of individuals. Thus, in our case, it is not the star under which we are born that is punished. Rather, the particular nature of our disposition is blamed."                                       - Mark Miucius Felix

If we are found to be faithful in Christ through the exercise of our own free will, we are numbered among the elect and predestined for a glorious future.

2. Others are: 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:14;

3. All Patristic quotes taken from A Dictionary of Early Christian Belief, David Bercot (Ed.), Scroll Publishing, 2014