Archive for October, 2014

What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Out of Heart

(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not unusual to meet concerned Christian people who worry about whether they have committed the unpardonable sin. These verses from Jesus bother some folks:

‘Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’ (Mark 3:28-29 ESV).

So they should bother them if they have committed this unpardonable sin. However, what is the nature of such a sin that God will never forgive?

What is blasphemy?

Barnard Franklin summarised the New Testament material:

The word “blasphemy” in its various forms (as verb, noun, adjective, etc.) appears some fifty-nine times in the New Testament. It has a variety of renderings, such as, “blasphemy,” “reviled,” “railed,” “evil spoken of,” “to speak evil of,” etc. Examples of these various renderings are: “They that passed by reviled him” (Matthew 27:39). “He that shall blaspheme” (Mark 3:29). “They that passed by railed on him” (Mark 15:29). “The way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (2 Peter 2:2). “These speak evil of those things” (Jude 10). It is evident from these that blasphemy is a sin of the mouth, a “tongue-sin.” All New Testament writers except the author of Hebrews use the word (Franklin 1936:224-225, in Butt 2003).

I met one such person on the Internet whose issue was,

Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost was put this way from a Christian write up I just found.
The man said,

“The unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an act of resistance which belittles the Holy Spirit so grievously that he withdraws for ever with his convicting power so that we are never able to repent and be forgiven.”
So for me to put it in my head that I was never forgiven was wrong.
To catch up really quick with my story is 10 years ago I thought I made the unforgivable sin and gave up since why would i continue if in my head I was never going to be forgiven. Here I am 10 years later with a burning desire to really follow Christ but once again having to come to some conclusion did I wait too long and grieve the Holy Spirit? Or is the fact that I still have a desire to follow good enough to prove I have hope?
I do know some Christians follow maybe as a child or a teen and then have a falling away only to be brought back at a later time in life.
I surely hope that is me.[1]

My reply to this person was as follows:[2] It seems to me that, based on the sins you have done, you are battling whether or not you have committed a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit for which there is no forgiveness. Why is this happening for you? The Scriptures state that such a person is guilty of an eternal sin.

Blasphemy and damnation

What is the nature of this sin that has no forgiveness? If this sin cannot be pardoned, it means the person is damned forever. At the final judgment (Matt 25:31-46), Jesus describes what will happen to the unrighteous who are cursed by God: ‘These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life’ (Matt 25:46).

The nature of this blasphemy

Many theologians and exegetes have battled over the nature of this sin.

Henry Thiessen wrote:

The degree to which the soul has hardened itself and become unreceptive to multiplied offers of the grace of God here determines the degree of guilt. Final obduracy is the sin against the Holy Spirit and is unpardonable, because the soul through it has ceased to be receptive to the divine influence (Matt. 12:31, 32; Mark 3:29; 1 John 5:16, 17; Heb. 10:26) (Thiessen 1949:270).

I consider that William Hendriksen’s commentary on these 2 verses explains this blasphemous sin with no forgiveness as well as any I have read. He expounds:

The question is, “How is it to be understood that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unpardonable?” As to other sins, no matter how grievous or gruesome, there is pardon for them. There is forgiveness for David’s sin of adultery, dishonesty, and murder (II Sam. 12:13; Psalm 51; cf. Psalm 32); for the “many” sins of the woman of Luke 7; for the prodigal son’s “riotous living” (Luke 15:13, 21-24); for Simon Peter’s triple denial accompanied by profanity (Matt. 26:74, 75; Luke 22:31, 32; John 18:15-18, 25-27; 21:15-17); and for Paul’s preconversion merciless persecution of Christians (Acts 9:1; 22:4; 26:9-11; I Cor. 15:9; Eph. 3:8; Phil. 3:6). But for the man who “speaks against the Holy Spirit” there is no pardon.

Why not? Here, as always when the text itself is not immediately clear, the historical context must be our guide. See Luke 11:15, 18; Mark 3:22; cf. John 7:20; 8:48, 52; 10:20. From it we learn that the bitter opponents of Jesus have been ascribing to Satan what the Holy Spirit, through Christ, was achieving. Moreover, they were doing this willfully, deliberately. In spite of all the evidences to the contrary they were still affirming that Jesus was expelling demons by the power of Beelzebul. Now to be forgiven implies that the sinner be truly penitent. Among the opponents such genuine sorrow for sin was totally lacking. For penitence they substituted hardening; for confession, plotting. Thus, by means of their own criminal and completely inexcusable callousness, they were dooming themselves. Their sin was unpardonable because they were unwilling to tread the path that leads to pardon. For a thief, an adulterer, and a murderer there is hope. The message of the gospel may cause him to cry out, “O God be merciful to me, the sinner.” But when a man has become hardened, so that he has made up his mind not to pay any attention to the promptings of the Spirit, not even to listen to his pleading and warning voice, he has placed himself on the road that leads to perdition. He has sinned the sin “unto death” (I John 5:16; see also Heb. 6:4-8).

For anyone who is truly penitent, no matter how shameful his transgressions may have been, there is no reason to despair (Psalm 103:12; Isa. 1:18; 44:22; 55:6, 7; Mic. 7:18-20; I John 1:9) (Hendriksen 1975:138-139).

Wayne Grudem takes a similar line:

WHAT IS THE UNPARDONABLE SIN?

There are several passages of scripture that speak about a sin that will not be forgiven.  It is described as blasphemy against the Spirit. (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:29-30; Luke 12:10; Hebrews 6:4-6)

Possible interpretations:

(1) Some have thought that it was a sin that could only be committed while Christ was on earth, but Jesus statement in Matthew 12:31 is too general to mean this and Hebrews 6:4-6 is speaking of apostasy that occurred after Jesus.

(2) Some hold that it is describing unbelief that continues until the time of death.  While it is true that unbelief until death will not be forgiven, these verses are not speaking about unbelief in general, but a specific sin of speaking against the Holy Spirit.

(3) Some hold that this sin is serious apostasy by genuine believers.  While there is a case based upon Hebrews 6:4-6, the argument loses strength when considering the context of the gospel passages where Jesus is responding to the Pharisees denial of the work of the Holy Spirit through him.

(4) The most likely interpretation of the unpardonable sin in these verses is that it is an unusually malicious, willful rejection and slander against the Holy Spirit’s work attesting to Christ, and attributing that work to Satan.  In the context of these verses, Jesus is responding to the Pharisees accusation that he was casting out demons by the power of Satan.  This despite of the fact that they were aware of Jesus’ miraculous works and authoritative teaching that was consistent with scripture.  This made their lies especially malicious in nature.  This sin is speaking of one that includes (a) a clear knowledge of who Christ is and the power of the Holy Spirit working through him, (b) a willful rejection of the facts about Christ they knew to be true, and (c) slanderously attributing the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ to Satan.  This explanation fits with the passage in Hebrews 6:4-6 as well because it describes someone who has knowledge and conviction of the truth, but willingly turns away from Christ and holds him in contempt.

These verses speak more to the condition of the human heart than the willingness or ability of God to forgive them.  These people have hardened their heart so much toward God that normal means of bringing them to salvation would not work.  Believers who fear they have committed such a sin should not really worry because the fact that there is still sorrow for sin and a desire to return to God is evidence in itself that they do not fall into this category.[3]

What about purgatory?

https://i1.wp.com/www.clker.com/cliparts/4/d/7/3/1335964111846931012purgatory-md.png

clker.com

Mark 3:29 stated that the person who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit ‘is guilty of an eternal sin’. However, in Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus stated the Mark 3:28-29 theme but with a slight variation:

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (Matt 12:31-32 ESV).

This different emphasis here is not in Mark 3:29. The person who commits this blasphemy ‘will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come’ (Matt 12:32). Some have used this nuance to promote the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. What is purgatory? The Roman Catholic Church teaches that

Purgatory (Lat., “purgare”, to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions (Hanna 1911).

Edward Hanna, in articulating the Roman Catholic position, cited the Council of Trent’s position:

“Whereas the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has from the Sacred Scriptures and the ancient tradition of the Fathers taught in Councils and very recently in this Ecumenical synod (Sess. VI, cap. XXX; Sess. XXII cap.ii, iii) that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar; the Holy Synod enjoins on the Bishops that they diligently endeavor to have the sound doctrine of the Fathers in Councils regarding purgatory everywhere taught and preached, held and believed by the faithful” (Denzinger, “Enchiridon”, 983) (in Hanna 1911).

When confronted with the Scriptures, interpreted in a contextual way, purgatory fails the test. For a refutation of the doctrine of purgatory, see ‘What does the Bible say about Purgatory?’ (Got Questions Ministries 2014) This article provides some reasons why purgatory is a non-biblical teaching:

Purgatory, like many other Catholic dogmas, is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of Christ’s sacrifice. Catholics view the Mass / Eucharist as a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice because they fail to understand that Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice was absolutely and perfectly sufficient (Hebrews 7:27). Catholics view meritorious works as contributing to salvation due to a failure to recognize that Jesus’ sacrificial payment has no need of additional “contribution” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Similarly, Purgatory is understood by Catholics as a place of cleansing in preparation for heaven because they do not recognize that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we are already cleansed, declared righteous, forgiven, redeemed, reconciled, and sanctified.

The very idea of Purgatory and the doctrines that are often attached to it (prayer for the dead, indulgences, meritorious works on behalf of the dead, etc.) all fail to recognize that Jesus’ death was sufficient to pay the penalty for ALL of our sins. Jesus, who was God incarnate (John 1:1,14), paid an infinite price for our sin. Jesus died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3). Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 2:2). To limit Jesus’ sacrifice to atoning for original sin, or sins committed before salvation, is an attack on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. If we must in any sense pay for, atone for, or suffer because of our sins – that indicates Jesus’ death was not a perfect, complete, and sufficient sacrifice.

For believers, after death is to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:23). Notice that this does not say “away from the body, in Purgatory with the cleansing fire.” No, because of the perfection, completion, and sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice, we are immediately in the Lord’s presence after death, fully cleansed, free from sin, glorified, perfected, and ultimately sanctified.

In his exposition of Matthew 12:31-32, William Hendriksen demonstrates why the phrase, ‘will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come’, does not refer to purgatory:

These words by no stretch of the imagination imply that for certain sins there will be forgiveness in the life hereafter. They do not in any sense whatever support the doctrine of purgatory. The expression simply means that the indicated sin will never be forgiven. As to the doctrine of purgatory, supposedly the place where the souls of those who are not eternally lost pay off the remainder of their debt by suffering punishment for the sins which they committed while still on earth, it is clearly contradicted by Scripture, which teaches that ‘Jesus paid it all’ (Heb. 5:9; 9:12, 26; 10:14; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5; 7:14) (Hendriksen 1973:528).

Personal application

For you personally, are you presently and continuously ascribing to Satan what the Holy Spirit, through Christ, is doing in you or others’ lives? In addition, are you continuing to do this wilfully and deliberately?

Or, have you been so convicted of what you have been doing that you have come to Jesus in repentance to seek forgiveness for your sins? Do you have utter contrition for what you have been doing?

The fact that you are here on this forum discussing your sins and concern about the unpardonable sin indicates that you have not turned off the Holy Spirit’s promptings. Please remember what Mark stated: ‘All sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter’ (Mk 3:28) EXCEPT one. That one thing for which there is no forgiveness is if you currently are wilfully accusing Jesus of expelling demons and linking that to the work of Satan (Beelzebul).

Conclusion

When the Pharisees were faced with Jesus’ miracles and the working of the Holy Spirit through him, they credited that power to Beelzebul (the devil). Franklin rightly stated that the Pharisees claimed that Jesus was ‘Satan incarnate instead of God incarnate. It is this, and nothing else, that our Lord calls the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost’ (Franklin 1936:227, emphasis added). By attributing Jesus’ miraculous powers to Satan, the Pharisees were committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Thus, this was a particular sin addressed to the Pharisees in the time of Jesus for which there was no forgiveness .

However, a person can commit another sin for which there is no further repentance. That is described in Hebrews 6:4-6 as apostasy (‘fall away’ from the faith and renounce it). For my exposition of this passage, see the article, ‘Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again?

Works consulted

Butt, K 2003. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – the ‘unpardonable sin’. Apologetics Press. Available at: http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=1218 (Accessed 25 October 2014).

Franklin, B 1936. The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost: An Inquiry into the scriptural teaching regarding the unpardonable sin. Bibliotheca Sacra, 93:220-233, April-June.

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.

Hanna, E. 1911. Purgatory. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. New Advent, available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12575a.htm (Accessed 25 October 2014).

Hendriksen, W 1973. New Testament commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Hendriksen, W 1975. New Testament commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to Mark. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Notes


[1] Jayblue1#1. Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Hi there, I have some questions’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7847469/ (Accessed 25 October 2014). Because Jayblue1 made and error and deleted his original post, the content of what is said is gained from its being quoted by ibid., 98cwitr#7. Jayblue1#5 said the Bible passage was from Matt 3:28-29, but it is Mark 3:28-29.

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#37.

[3] Grudem, W 1994 (Systematic theology), ch 24, available at: http://www.thegravelperspective.com/blog/2013/10/23/grudems-systematic-theology-chapter-24-sin (Accessed 25 October 2014).

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

Does God send cyclones?

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

Satellite image of Cyclone Yasi (off north Queensland intensifying on 1 February 2011 (image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

On the evening of 3 February 2011, I sat and watched the extended TV news coverage of the devastation caused by cyclone Yasi as it crossed the North Queensland (Australia) coast in the very early morning of 3rd Feb, and devastated that region.

Tears came to my eyes as as I saw on film how house roofs were ripped off like rubble. Large trees were torn up by their roots and thrust across houses, cars, streets and whatever else was in its path by the force of the 300km per hour winds at the core of the cyclone. The main streets of Mission Beach (where the cyclone first reached land), Tully, Tully Heads, Cardwell and Innisfail looked like a napalm bomb had hit them. It was like a war zone. Only one person was reported as dying from generator fumes and not directly from the cyclonic destruction. Three babies were born to mothers who were affected by Yasi.

Why, oh why, Lord do you send or allow such horrendous winds, torrential rain to cause such destruction were among the thoughts that came to my mind? A better question would be: Do you, Lord God, send cyclones like this? It is you who sends the rain on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45). Therefore, is it You, God, who creates and delivers cyclones?

A Christian friend said that my statement is a non sequitur (it does not logically follow) to state that God sends the rain, therefore God sends the cyclone. I agree with his judgment. However, is there other evidence that it is the Lord Almighty who creates disasters like cyclones?

What happened in North Queensland looked like a very angry God unleashing his wrath on that region. I ask of you, Lord: Please help me to understand it. I know of the link between the fall into sin and the devastation unleashed on human beings (sin) and the curse on nature that followed (see Genesis 3; Romans 5, 8).

But I’m finding it hard to comprehend the horrific nature of what has happened in north Qld. How does the goodness of God integrate with what looks like such evil? I’m not being blasphemous, Lord, but this horror is beyond my feeble mind to understand.

1.  This was the projected path of cyclone Yasi, as indicated by the US Navy.

2. Here is some film of the destruction: (a) Tully residents reveal horror of cyclone’s wrath; (b) Cyclone Yasi; (c ) Record disaster strikes Queensland; (d)  Devastated by cyclone Yasi.

Christian friends, how do you understand and justify the horrors of cyclones, hurricanes and tornadoes? About ninety percent of Australia’s banana crop was annihilated by this cataclysm near Tully.

An Expensive pile of debris at Hinchinbrook Marina in Cardwell, Qld (caused by cyclone Yasi 2011, photo in public domain)

When we think of the horrific tsunami in the Indian Ocean at the end of 2004, Australia’s Yasi cyclone caused a pittance of damage. This tsunami was precipitated by a gigantic earthquake under the Indian Ocean on 26 December 2004.  The United States Geological Survey stated that

“in total, 227,898 people were killed or were missing and presumed dead and about 1.7 million people were displaced by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 14 countries in South Asia and East Africa”.

Cyclone Yasi’s devastation is only a glitch when compared with this catastrophic destruction of the tsunami.

There were devastating floods in Pakistan in 2010. One report stated that there were 1700 people dead. This same report indicated that the damage was estimated as US$43 billion. Australian ABC radio reported that the number who died in the floods was about 1500. The floods affected 20 million people and damaged 1.7 million houses. This item stated that 6 months after the floods there were still 170,000 people living in makeshift camps. Here are some pictures of these Pakistani floods.

Cyclone Yasi is small in comparison with the devastation of these other two major events. But it still requires an answer to the question: Does God cause or allow this?

The Christian view of Providence

For an explanation, we need to go to the Christian view of God as creating the universe with all of the powers accompanying the running of that universe. God is preserving his creation with his holy, benevolent (wanting to help others), wise and powerful Person. Over this universe, God exercises sovereign control through what is known as His Providence. The basic etymology of “providence” is foresight and from this understanding we know that God provides for the future.

“Providence means that continuous activity of God whereby He makes all the events of the physical, mental, and moral phenomena work out His purposes;  and that this purpose is nothing short of the original design of God in creation. To be sure, evil has entered the universe: but it is not allowed to thwart God’s original, benevolent, wise, and holy purpose” (Thiessen 1949:177).

When we look at the horrors of the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Pakistani floods, and the Queensland cyclone, Yasi, how are we to understand the providence of the good and benevolent God and the presence of such devastation? Let’s look to the insight provided by God’s revelation in the Scripture.

God did not create the world the way it is today. His original world was perfect (Gen. 1:31; Eccl. 7:29). The repulsive evil in our world came about by the fall of Adam into sin (Gen. 3). We cannot blame God for the ugly sin in our world. That is the outcome of Adam’s disobedience (see Romans, chs. 5 and 8). Other Scriptures provide further insight:

Job 1:12, ’The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD” (NIV).[1]

Job 9:5-7, “He moves mountains without their knowing it and overturns them in his anger. He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble. He speaks to the sun and it does not shine; he seals off the light of the stars”.

Psalm 22:28, “For dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations”.

Psalm 103:19, “The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all”.

“Proverbs 16:1, “To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue”.

Matthew 5:45, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”.

Acts 14:17, “Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy”.

2 Thessalonians 2:7, “For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way”.

Please also note what Jesus said about the Galileans and the people who died when the tower of Siloam fell:

“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:1-5).

These verses indicate that the Lord God is in sovereign control of what is happening in our world, at the human level (e.g. Job), the nations (Ps. 22:8), providence over all people (Acts 14:17), and the end of the world (2 Thess. 2:7).

These disasters, whether they be the tsunami, floods, cyclones, tornadoes and earthquakes, are all designed to get the attention of the people of the world so that they will repent (Luke 13:1-5). They should be asking, “Am I ready to meet God when I die? I need to repent or I will perish”. Is that what will happen as a result of cyclone Yasi? It should.

When we examine these verses, we conclude that the good, benevolent, holy Lord God Almighty has all of the evil acts of creatures under his control and that nothing can occur without His permission and sovereign superintendency. Thus, God overrules the evil acts of human beings to for His ultimate good purpose.

God works all things in the universe, whether they be designated as disasters or good acts, for his ultimate good outcome. Remember these Old Testament events: the wickedness of Joseph’s brothers towards Joseph, the resistance of Pharaoh, the action of the heathen nations in invasion of Israel, and then there was the sinless Christ’s death on the cross. Since then, there has been horrific persecution of the church, wars and rumours of wars.

For the people of God, we know God’s purpose is achieved this way: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God’s ultimate aim is for His glory through whatever he does in our world: “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another” (Isaiah 48:11).

What else can God do to get our attention, if it doesn’t happen through floods, tsunamis, cyclones, earthquakes, etc?

I consider that evangelical systematic theologian, Wayne Grudem, made a sound, concluding assessment:

“Every believer who meditates on God’s providence will sooner or later come to a point where he or she will have to say, ‘I cannot understand this doctrine fully.’ In some ways that must be said about every doctrine, since our understanding is finite, and God is infinite. But particularly is this so with the doctrine of providence: we should believe it because Scripture teaches it, even when we do not understand fully how it fits in with other teachings of Scripture (1994:336).

Does God create evil?

When we examine the damage done by the cyclones, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes and earthquakes, some are tempted to refer to God as an evil being for doing or allowing these things. Is it possible for God to create moral evil?

How do we respond to what God said in Isaiah 45:7? “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (KJV, emphasis added). So, God does create evil according to the KJV translation. How do we explain this when God is said to be good and righteous?

The Hebrew word for “create” is bara, the same word used in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (NIV). The Hebrew ra, translated as “evil” (Isa. 45:7 KJV), can have a breadth of meaning as demonstrated by these various Bible translations:

Evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, writes concerning ra:

“The word can be used to apply to natural disasters such as these words imply. But there is no compelling reason to restrict it to natural disasters, for the word is an extremely common word used of evil generally: It is used of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9), of the evil among mankind that brought the judgment of the flood (Gen. 6:5), and of the evil of the men of Sodom (Gen. 13:13). It is used to say, ‘Depart from evil and do good’ (Ps. 34:14), and to speak of the wrong of those who call evil good and good evil (Isa. 5:20), and of the sin of those whose ‘feet run to evil’ (Isa. 59:7; see also Isa. 47:10, 11; 56:2; 57:1; 59:15; 65:12; 66:4). Dozens of other times throughout the Old Testament it refers to moral evil or sin. The contrast with “peace” (shãlôm) in the same phrase in Isa. 45:7 might argue that only “calamity” is in view, but not necessarily so, for moral evil and wickedness is (sic) certainly also the opposite of the wholeness of God’s “shalom” or peace. (In Amos 3:6, rã’ ãh is a different but related word and has a similar range of meanings.) But Isa. 45:7 does not say that God does evil (Grudem 1994:326 n7, emphasis added).

There are a couple of parallel verses to Isa. 45:7. Amos 3:6 states:

When a trumpet sounds in a city,
do not the people tremble?
When disaster comes to a city,
has not the LORD caused it?

Lamentations 3:38 reads:

“Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?

The Hebrew for “calamities” in these latter two verse is rã’ ãh and it has similar meanings to ra. The NIV has translated rã’ ãh in these two verses as “disaster” and “calamity”. So, God creates disasters and calamities! Can this be applied to cyclones Yasi, Larry and Tracy in Australia, the Indian Ocean tsunami, hurricane Katrina and other disasters? Isa. 45:7, Amos 3:6 and Lam. 3:38 confirm this.

We know that God performed one massive disaster in sending the flood in Noah’s day that wiped out the entire human race except Noah and his family (Genesis 6) because of the earth was corrupt before God and filled with violence (Gen. 6:11). God did it again by destroying Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19). God has demonstrated that He can bring disaster through judgment.

But is God responsible for creating sin – moral evil? We turn to the Scriptures and hear from James 1:13-14:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.

It is clear from these two verses in James that God never causes evil temptation. Human beings are personal agents who are responsible for yielding to temptation. But how do we apply this to Isa. 45:7? The KJV translation could send a wrong message about the Lord God: “I make peace and create evil”. “Evil” is a legitimate translation but there are other options. We cannot assign what is morally evil to God. H. C. Leupold notes on Isa. 45:7:

“It is not the morally good and the morally evil that are being attributed to Yahweh, but things good and bad are said to lie totally in his power, as far as their physical aspects and consequences are concerned. The RSV version does full justice to the issues involved when it says: ‘I make weal and create woe.’ Note similar statements in Amos 3:6b; and Isa. 14:24-27. ‘I am the Lord who does all these things’ aptly sums it all up” (1971:122).

We cannot conclude that God does evil because that would mitigate against who God is – the good, righteous God. To say that God does evil would be to create another kind of god. Of Yahweh, the only true God, we know:

The goodness of God is revealed in Scripture: “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19); the Psalms proclaim “He [the Lord] is good” (Ps. 100:5; 106:1; 107:1). David exhorts us: “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps. 34:8).

The righteousness or justice of God is made clear in passages such as Deut. 32:4, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he”. Even King Nebuchadnezzar got it correct: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just” (Daniel 4:37).

When we say that God is righteous or just, we mean that God’s actions are always right and His nature is the final standard of what is right and just. Wayne Grudem explains from the life of Job and God’s bringing calamity to Job:

In answer to Job’s questioning about whether God has been righteous in his dealings with him, God answers Job, “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?…Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified?” (Job 40:2, 8). Then God answers not in terms of an explanation that would allow Job to understand why God’s actions were right, but rather in terms of a statement of God’s own majesty and power! God does not need to explain the rightness of his actions to Job, for God is the Creator and Job is the creature. “Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?” (Job 40:9). “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place…?” (Job 38:12). “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, “Here we are’?” (Job 38:34–35). “Do you give the horse his might?” (Job 39:19). “Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads his wings toward the south?” (Job 39:26). Job answers, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth” (Job 40:4).

Nevertheless, it should be a cause for thanksgiving and gratitude when we realize that righteousness and omnipotence are both possessed by God. If he were a God of perfect righteousness without power to carry out that righteousness, he would not be worthy of worship and we would have no guarantee that justice will ultimately prevail in the universe. But if he were a God of unlimited power, yet without righteousness in his character, how unthinkably horrible the universe would be! There would be unrighteousness at the center of all existence and there would be nothing anyone could do to change it. Existence would become meaningless, and we would be driven to the most utter despair. We ought therefore continually to thank and praise God for who he is, “for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deut. 32:4) [Grudem 1994:204-205].

Disasters and God’s judgment

I received an email with the content of this blog (below) under the heading, “Japan denounced Israel exactly 1 year before earthquake and tsunami”. This blog appeared at Armageddononline.com #257:

Ron Reese from 5 Doves has discovered that ON MARCH 11TH, EXACTLY ONE YEAR AGO, JAPAN DENOUNCES ISRAEL!!! http://www.mofa.go.jp/announce/annou…3/0311_01.html

Exactly 1 year ago March 11, 2010…The exact day of the 9.0 earthquake in Japan hit a year later in 2011.
Genesis 12:3 “I will Bless those who Bless (Israel), and Curse Those Who Curse you.”

Remember, America forced Israel to remove 8,000 Israeli’s from their homes in Gaza, then came Katrina where America lost 800,000 houses in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama.

Japan demanded that Israel not build 1,600 housing units in east Jerusalem. After the 9.0 earthquake Japan may have to rebuild 1.6 million homes.

God is not mocked! Pay attention America!

A more detailed comment by Ron Reese is in, ‘Ron Reese (15 March 2011) “On March 11th, exactly one year ago, Japan denounces Israel!!!

What are we to make of those who want to link Japan’s actions (sins?) against Israel with the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on 11th March 2011?

Jesus will not allow us to draw the conclusion that the Japanese, because of their response to Israel, are any more sinful than we are. This is clearly stated in Luke 13:1-5:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them,  “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (ESV).

To paraphrase Jesus for Aussies today, based on Luke 13:1-5: There are people present today who speak about the Japanese who denounced Israel one year before the tsunami. Jesus answers these who see this as judgment against Japan: “Do you think that these Japanese are worse sinners than all Australians because they acted in this way? No, says Jesus. I tell you: but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”.

We do not have the right to pronounce that the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear meltdown are God’s judgment on Japan – based on Luke 13:1-5. Providing judgment is God’s job and he will do it in our time. God has told us (Luke 14) that we all are sinners who need to repent and the Japanese crisis should be a reminder that all sinners need to repent.

Use your mind in discerning where to live.

To understand the impact of floods and cyclones, God has given us minds to discern which areas of Australia are the most prone to floods and cyclones. If we want to avoid being victims of floods and cyclones, we can choose to avoid living in those areas.

The Australian government’s, Attorney-General’s Department, Emergency Management for Schools, has compiled this graph of the most cyclone prone areas in Australia as Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland.

www.crikey.com.au has located this range of maps to show the flood prone areas of Brisbane and District after the January 2011 floods.

May the Lord help us to be wise in making decisions about where we live in Australia.

Conclusion

  • Does God send cyclones, tsunamis and tornadoes? Yes, he does create disasters and these acts of “mother Nature” must be put down as acts of God.
  • We cannot state that certain acts of God – calamities – are specific judgments against certain sins in contemporary society. God does not reveal that to us so Christians dare not pronounce such judgments when disasters happen.
  • God, by his very nature (good, just, righteous), cannot create moral evil.
  • Human beings cannot make the judgment of associating catastrophe with God’s judgment (see Luke 13:1-5).
  • God’s actions in sending woes should be a wake-up call to the world of sinners to repent or perish. Human life is temporal.

For further consideration, see my articles:

Also see John Piper’s articles: “Don’t waste your cancer”; “Where is God? The supremacy of God in an age of terror“.

Works consulted

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Leupold, H. C. 1971. Exposition of Isaiah (vol 1, chapters 1-39). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

The first edition of this article was on Friday, February 4, 2011.

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 May 2016.

Is God absolutely sovereign?

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

(image courtesy clker.com)

By Spencer D Gear

When we see the wickedness in our world, we could be tempted to say that God, the Almighty One, is not in absolute, sovereign control of our world. I’m thinking of:

How do we deal with God’s sovereignty and these kinds of atrocities? One way to process these abhorrent events is to state that….

A.  God is not absolutely sovereign

I met a fellow on a Christian forum who stated, ‘God is NOT absolutely sovereign’.[1]

His comments were made in a theological context in which his context was that

all of the five points of Calvinism were deduced from the concept that God became absolutely sovereign when Adam sinned in the garden and man lost his free will.

God is NOT absolutely sovereign.

All five points of Calvinism are based on a false premise.

Indeed, in previous … posts I have used the example of Joshua 24:15 to document that man retained his free will after the fall.[2]

Joshua 24:15 states, ‘And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ (ESV).

In my view, there is a better alternative:

B.  God’s sovereignty and free will

I disagree with this fellow’s perspective.[3] I consider that the biblical teaching is that God is absolutely sovereign and that sovereignty includes the free will decisions of human beings. This is a brief overview of God’s sovereign attributes:
clip_image002God is before all things (Ps 90:2; Col 1:17);
clip_image002[1]All things were created by God (Jn 1:3);
clip_image002[2]God sustains all things (Heb 1:3);
clip_image002[3]God is above and over all things ( Eph 4:6);
clip_image002[4]God is all knowing (Ps 139:4-6; Heb 4:13);
clip_image002[5]God is all-powerful (Gen 18:4);
clip_image002[6]God’s sovereignty implies that He does what He wills (Isa 14:24, 27).
This sovereignty means that
clip_image002[7]God is the ruler over all things (1 Chron 29:11-12);
clip_image002[8]God does whatever He pleases (i.e. is in control of everything) (Ps 115:3);
clip_image002[9]Earthly kings are controlled by God (Prov 21:1);
clip_image002[10]God’s control extends to human events (Isa 55:11);
clip_image002[11]Good and evil angels are under God’s control (Col 1:15-16; Eph 1:21; 1 Ki 22:19-22);
clip_image002[12]God controls Satan (Job 1:6; 2:1; Rev 20:10).

C.  The most difficult concept to grasp

This is the one we find most difficult to understand:

clip_image004God sovereignly controls our free choices, including our salvation (Eph 1:4, 11; 1 Pt 2:8). Yes, he is sovereign, but that does not eliminate human free will decisions.

God’s sovereignty does not make free choice and human responsibility to be fakes. God is not a sovereign Puppet Master who pulls the strings of life for all people and nations. One of the great mysteries of God’s sovereignty is that He is absolutely sovereign but human responsibility is genuine in the midst of this mystery.

The apostle Paul affirms the depth of the riches in God’s wisdom and knowledge in Romans 11:33. Long before Paul, Moses stated it profoundly,

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of the law (Deut 29:29 ESV).

Therefore the person who stated that he does not believe in God’s absolute sovereignty sounds like a promoter of open theism. Open theism is defined by one of its promoters, Clark Pinnock, as,

a relational view of God. [pause] Because the thing is that, in the past, with a high doctrine of predestination and timelessness and changeability, it’s hard to see how God was relational….

So our view is not that God knows everything that can be known and is therefore omniscient without qualification, but that some aspects of the future are settled and other aspects are not settled. The world is such that certain things are still being settled by the agents in the world, by us and by God, so God knows things as possible as well as certain.

Traditionally, God knows everything that will ever happen certainly, so it must happen exactly that way. Whereas we’re saying that God appears in the Bible to know some things for certain because he planned them or because they’re going to happen definitely, but aspects of the future may surprise him.

I think that’s a point that’s gotten people scared, the idea that God takes risks and is vulnerable. The same thing with the impassibility of God….

We’re saying that omniscience doesn’t mean that the future is exhaustively foreknown because God’s made a world the future of which would be decided by himself and human agents. So it’s really the reality of the human agents as to whether they make any difference for the future. If they do, then it means that certain things are not yet settled, because they haven’t made their choices, or done their thing (from Clark Pinnock’s interview with Homiletics online, ‘Does Prayer Change Things? Yes, if you’re an Open Theist’).

D.  Conclusion

I can conclude that some people can and do refuse to do God’s will. However, that is to be understood as included in a biblical understanding of the sovereignty of God.

Therefore, I cannot accept this person’s statement that ‘God is NOT absolutely sovereign’. God is absolutely sovereign and in that sovereignty human beings take responsibility for various issues in their lives.

Suggested for further reading

Notes


[1] PrincetonGuy#12, 8 October 2014. Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Question arising from the Calvinism/predestined threads’. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7843483-2/#post66437993 (Accessed 8 October 2014).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#13.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 November 2015.

Jesus’ work not finished, says Roman Catholic

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

(courtesy clker)

By Spencer D Gear

Was Jesus’ work on the cross to accomplish salvation completed then or not? Or does it have do be done over and over in some sort of way?

A person wrote on a Christian forum, ‘I believe that when Jesus said, “It is finished.” He was referring to his work of paying the penalty for our sins. That means, everything has been paid. It’s up to us to accept the free gift of salvation by faith’.[1]

A Roman Catholic responds

This response confirmed that a Roman Catholic has a very different view of the finished work of Christ on the cross than a Protestant. His response to the above was:

And you would be wrong, sir.

What happened at the exact instant that Jesus expired? The veil of the Temple was torn in two, exposing the Holiest of All. That was the place that the Old Covenant was renewed every year by the presentation of the Yom Kippur sacrifice by the high priest (Lev. 16).

When the veil of the Temple was ripped apart, it exposed the Holiest of All, making it unfit to ever use again for Yom Kippur. “It is finished” has to do with the Old Covenant. THAT is what Jesus was talking about, not your personal sins.

Yes, as the Lamb of God, Jesus is the Sacrifice for our sins. But the idea that He paid “once and forever” and it is all done is heresy. Every time you sin, you have to present that Sacrifice to God to renew your covenant relationship with Him. He has not paid for all your sins in advance of you committing them, and certainly they are not paid for if you refuse to repent and find sin so attractive that you stay in it.[2]

Three evangelical exegetes disagree with the Roman Catholic

My response[3] was that three leading evangelical commentators disagree with him.

John 19:30 states, ‘When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit’ ESV).

This is how three evangelical scholars respond to the meaning of ‘It is finished’ in their commentaries:
cubed-redmatteLeon Morris stated:

‘In the Greek this is one word, ?????????? [tetelestai], which is another of John’s ambiguous terms. It could mean that Jesus’ life was finished. This is part of the meaning, but it is highly improbable that it is the whole meaning. More important is the truth that Jesus’ work was finished. He came to do God’s work, and this meant dying on the cross for the world’s salvation. This mighty work of redemption has now reached its consummation. It is finished’ (Morris 1971:815, n. 73).

cubed-redmatte D. A. Carson‘s understanding was:

In the Greek text, the cry itself is one word, tetelestai (cf. notes on v. 28). As an English translation, It is finished captures only part of the meaning, the part that focuses on completion. Jesus’ work was done. But this is no cry of defeat; nor is it merely an announcement of imminent death… The verb teleo from which this form derives denotes the carrying out of a task, and in religious contexts bears the overtone of fulfilling one’s religious obligations. Accordingly, in the light of the impending cross, Jesus could earlier cry, ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing (teleiosas; i.e. by accomplishing) the work you gave me to do’ (17:4). ‘Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them eis telos‘—not only ‘to the end’ but to the full extent mandated by his mission. And so, on the brink of death, Jesus cries out, It is accomplished! (Carson 1991:621, emphasis in original).

cubed-redmatte R. C. H. Lenski wrote:

‘It is finished!’  tetelestai, exactly as in v. 28, the perfect [tense] of a completed state, denotes an action brought to its termination, it is like a line that ends in a point ———————• Jesus speaks this word to his Father. He makes his report to the father who sent him. Uttered with a loud voice, it is also intended for all men to hear. Recorded now in Scripture, it still rings out to  all the world. Since the whole passion and death of Jesus were intended for us, why set up the contention that this conclusion is intended only for him and not also for us? The verb has no subject. What is it that is here brought to an end? Some think that Jesus has in mind his suffering, which, of course, in a way is true and quite obvious. But this cry cannot mean that Jesus is thinking only of himself and is glad that his pain now ceases. Some think of the ancient prophecies and their fulfillment, which, of course, in a way is also true (v. 28). This is better than the previous view, yet it still is indefinite, and other prophecies are still unfulfilled, namely the resurrection and the exaltation. Many are satisfied to say that the work or task of Jesus is concluded, or even that no further duty holds Jesus to life; this is equally indefinite. A word so important cannot be explained by so general an interpretation. The death of Jesus finishes His redemptive work, the work of reconciliation and atonement. This specific work is now brought to a close. The Lamb of God has made His great sacrifice for the world. It is this that is now done. Our great Substitute has paid the great price of ransom, paid it to the uttermost farthing. ‘It is finished’ indeed! Others will yet preach and teach, and Jesus will work through them; as the Kong on David’s throne his regal work will continue forever; but the redemptive shedding of His blood, done once for all, is finished and stands as finished forever. Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 26; Rom. 6:10 (Lenski 1943:1309).

Jesus’ death as ‘once for all’ a heresy

As indicated above, the Roman Catholic stated that ‘the idea that He paid “once and forever” and it is all done is heresy. Every time you sin, you have to present that Sacrifice to God to renew your covenant relationship with Him’.[4]

Let’s check out a couple of Scriptures to see if the RC is on target or is simply perpetrating his own human-made theology. Two verses come to mind:

Hebrews 9:26-28,

24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (ESV).

This is extremely clear:

  • Christ appeared in the presence of God himself;
  • Jesus did not offer himself repeatedly as the high priest did when he entered the high places every year with blood other than his own;
  • Jesus did not suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world;
  • Jesus’ sacrifice at the end of the ages was to put away sin by His own sacrifice;
  • Christ has been offered ONCE to bear the sins of many;
  • When Jesus appears a second time, it will not be to deal with sin.

But there is more in 1 Peter 3:18, ‘For Christ also suffered[5] once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit’ (ESV).

Conclusion

So the idea that Jesus paid for sin, ‘once and forever’, is not heresy, but it is orthodox, biblical Christianity. Scripture affirms it.

Bible New Testament Christ Carrying the Cross El Greco

(courtesy public domain)

Works consulted

Carson, D A 1991. The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Lenski, R C H 1943. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (assigned by Augsburg Fortress).

Morris, L 1971. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Notes


[1] biblestudyresources#51, 23 July 2014, Christian Forums, Salvation (Soteriology), ‘What Christians must do to keep their salvation’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7828815-6/ (Accessed 23 July 2014).

[2] Ibid., Light of the East#54, emphasis added.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#56.

[4] Ibid., Light of the East#54, emphasis added.

[5] Some manuscripts have ‘died’.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 November 2015.

The church as individuals or group speak

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Congreso Nacional Juvenil3.jpg

(courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

I interact a little with an Eastern Orthodox person on a Christian forum online. He once wrote to me:

Christ’s Bride isn’t you, or me, or Billy Graham…his bride is the Church.

We are all members of the Body, which is the Church.

The spotless bride that will be presented to the Father, is the Church.

I can’t produce quotes offhand, but my readings of the Fathers (Athanasius, Basil, others) certainly gave me the impression that they understood it basically this way:

1. Salvation is primarily the overcoming of death and as such is expressed primarily in the resurrection – Christ’s resurrection is the justification, or vindication, of the Church. All the righteous will be justified in him.

2. The Church–not as an institution, but as an organic divine/human entity–is really the mystical Body of Christ. The Church is that very same body that is resurrected and seated at the right hand of God the Father.

So basically, we could say it is the Church that is saved, and we individuals participate in that salvation in and through the Church.

The evangelical notion, basically, that the Church is the voluntary association of individually saved believers, is something I simply cannot find, either in Scripture or in the writings of any fathers I’ve read. For that matter I really couldn’t find that notion in the writings of Calvin.

All that said, Christ died once and for all, to destroy death and expiate the sins of Israel–the Church. All who are joined to his Body participate in that. Each time a person sins, he or she must make confession for those sins to God, with the confidence that he will be forgiven because Christ is the mediator who has secured salvation for his people.[1]

How should I respond? This is only a brief reply to some of his points.[2]

Are you saying that individual salvation of people is contrary to an understanding of the bride of Christ? I’m thinking on Scriptures such as:

arrow simple purple right clip art ‘But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name’ (John 1:12 NASB). At the time I became a Christian, there was no group that became the body of Christ. I was the only one around when someone shared the Gospel with me and I responded in faith and received salvation.

arrow simple purple right clip art What did Jesus tell Nicodemus? ‘Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”‘ (John 3:3 NASB). He didn’t tell Nicodemus, ‘Unless you join the group, called the bride of Christ, you cannot see the kingdom of God’. Thus, individual salvation leads instantaneously to becoming a member of the bride of Christ. Individuals are ‘born again’ to make up the group, the bride/body of Christ.

arrow simple purple right clip art As for salvation, I don’t accept your concept that ‘Salvation is primarily the overcoming of death and as such is expressed primarily in the resurrection—Christ’s resurrection is the justification, or vindication, of the Church. All the righteous will be justified in him‘.

My understanding is that salvation involves being born again (John 3:3) and happens by God’s grace through a person’s faith in Christ alone (Rom 3:23-24; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9). At that moment I am justified. When God justifies a person through faith, that faith is an instrument to receive justification and it is not by works. It leads to a changed human being.

As for the nature of the church, the Scriptures use a range of metaphors: family (Mt 12:49-50), bride (2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:32), branches on a vine (Jn 15:5), a harvest (Mt 13:1-30), a building (1 Cor 3:9), a new temple of living stones (1 Pt 2:5), holy priesthood (1 Pt 2:5), body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-27; Eph 1:22-23), etc.

You stated:

The evangelical notion, basically, that the Church is the voluntary association of individually saved believers, is something I simply cannot find, either in Scripture or in the writings of any fathers I’ve read. For that matter I really couldn’t find that notion in the writings of Calvin.

Does your church not involve people choosing to come together to worship? Or is it a forced requirement? Therefore, what’s your objection to ‘voluntary association’ if people make a choice to come together to praise and worship as saved believers?

This I find:

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up (I Cor 14:26 NIV).

But this is an experience that is far removed from the churches with which I’ve been associated. Does it happen regularly (every Sunday?) at your church gatherings?

I have no problems acknowledging individual people making up a group, whether that is the church as the body of Christ, individuals joining a group for political purposes (like a political party), or individual IT geeks being part of an IT club.
I find it harmonious that I can identify as a born-again, justified Christian believer and am also a member of the church universal, the body/bride of Christ.

 

Notes


[1] Ignatius21#83, Christian Forums, General Theology, Salvation (Soteriology), ‘What Christians must do to keep their salvation’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7828815-9/ (Accessed 26 July 2014).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#89.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 November 2015.