Sunday, June 30, 2013

In Defense of Calvinism

I recently listened to this podcast from Fighting for the Faith.  At the end of each segment, the host Chris Rosebrough always asks for thoughts and opinions on what he has aired.  I had some thoughts, which I sent to him, but I thought I would share them here too (w/ a few clarifying changes).  Bashing Calvinism is not just happening within the SBC; it's a common occurrence within the evangelical world as a whole.

In this post I use the terms 'Calvinist' and 'reformed' synonymously, but I do realize that there is a difference.  If you are reformed, then you are a Calvinist, but a Calvinist is not necessarily reformed.  In very general terms, a Calvinist believes in the 5 tenets of TULIP, and a reformed Christian not only holds to those 5 tenets, but is also confessional and holds to the regulative principle of worship.  A great summary of what a reformed Baptist believes can be found here.

If I receive a response from Mr. Rosebrough, I will post it.

Mr. Rosebrough,

I was saddened by the June 19, 2013, lite-episode podcast you aired on the Epistle of 1 John - Part 2 by Dr. Jeremy Rhode of Faith Lutheran Church.

I realize that part of problem I have with this study is the fact that Dr. Rhode is teaching from a Lutheran perspective, while I am a reformed Baptist.  He cites 1 John 2:2 which says that Jesus' blood covers the sins of the whole world.  As a reformed Christian, I believe that Jesus' blood was effectual for ALL of the sins of God's elect (who come from ALL nations) and that His blood is not effective for those who reject Him.  If a sinner can reject the power of Christ's blood who died for him (the sinner) on the cross, then that person is more powerful than God.  The view that His blood covers all sins is no different from the Arminians (who also believe that it can be rejected) or the Universalists (who believe that His blood covers all regardless of belief).

Of course, this a common disagreement between our different denominations, but Dr. Rhode mockingly asks the question of how you know that you are elect.  Reformed Christians believe that the call of repentance goes out to all, but only the foreordained or elect are regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  Throughout his talk, Mr. Rhode denigrates the Calvinists, lumps them with Roman Catholics which is neither honest, nor biblical, and confuses them with Arminians.  He said that being "elect" requires a works-based salvation.  Currently, I'm reading through Nicholas Chewney's Hell:  With the Everlasting Torments Asserted (1659).  Mr. Chewney writes that hell was created with heaven in the beginning; it did not grow out of sin after man fell.  Since God created hell, He must have a purpose for it, so to say that God desires all men to be saved contradicts Matthew 25:46--"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment:  but the righteous into eternal life."  The word elect is just a substantive for "the righteous into eternal life".  Many people are sensitive to to word 'elect' used by reformed Christians, but you could also use the words saved, called, etc.  To use your homosexual analogy [you are either male or female; there is no third category], someone is either elect or not elect (saved or not saved, called or not called); there is no other category.  So to be elect is a state of being, not an action; and therefore, not a work required for salvation.

Dr. Rhode then goes on to state that there are only two religions:  (1) a religion that says your sins are forgiven, period, or (2) every other religion that adds a caveat of work.  The Bible only talks about two groups of people (not two religions):  the saved and everyone else.  The one religion (which he implies is Lutheranism) that says everyone is forgiven without the mention of Jesus Christ is heretical and better known as universalism.

He also says that an unbeliever who says that Jesus died for his sins is a believer.  What?!  Any of the seeker-sensitive pastors that you criticize weekly can make this statement.  There must be faith and repentance for the remission of sins.

I suppose that since he is teaching to his Sunday School group, Dr. Rhode assumes a knowledge of the Lutheran confession, but he's not very consistent in what he says (I may have some paraphrasing within the quotes, but I tried to stay true to his words):

  • "When you confess your sins, He is faithful and just to forgive you your sins.  God gives His Spirit, faith, a new heart...God doesn't give on the merit of our decision, specialness, or uniqueness or betterness of other people."  The last part was another attack on Calvinist; we do not think that any sinner is better than another, again, that's just a category for the righteous.  God gives justice to all sinners and mercy to some.
  • He affirms the question from his class that hearing the gospel preached or receiving communion is enough to be saved, but we can reject it.  My question is, on what basis can we reject it?  Isn't rejection a decision that he just derided in the previous statement?  If communion is salvific, then it is works-based (see baptism below).
  • "God creates a new heart through the preaching of His gospel--law and gospel, repentance and remission of sin in Jesus' name."  Again, if this is true, why don't all people respond positively when they hear the gospel?
  • A class member asks about baptism.  Dr. Rhode responds that "you become a child of God when you are born again.  You are born again through water & spirit (John 3) or baptism."  If baptism is salvific, then it is works-based salvation and not biblical.  On a spiritual level, I agree that the circumcision (or baptism) of the heart is a divine work of the Holy Spirit called regeneration.  The outward sacrament of a physical baptism is a sign, but just because someone is baptized does not mean that faith and repentance has taken place inwardly.  We Baptist baptize a lot of people, and I'm sure you would agree with me that not all of them are saved.  This is not just a problem with the Baptists...
So which is it?  Faith & repentance through hearing the word (Rom. 10:17), confession, just hearing the gospel, communion, or baptism?  His lack of perspicuity makes it hard to determine how a person is actually saved.

Another class member asks about limited atonement.  Dr. Rhode denies this Calvinist tenet and states that people can reject the gospel based on reason and intellect, but God can trump that.  He goes on to say that God gives atonement of all sins for assurance of faith and people who reject that will clearly be cast into eternal darkness.  Earlier, he vilified the concept of a free-will decision, but isn't the rejection of the gospel a free-will decision (just in the negative)?

Finally, Dr. Rhode belittles the Calvinists even more for going back to the original languages to support their position of election.  I have never heard anyone do this, and no one did this when I became reformed.  However, you, Mr. Rosebrough, do this all the time on your show.  Therefore, according to Dr. Rhode, you don't believe that God can speak clearly.  In his diatribe against unlimited atonement, he clearly states that a person just has to read God's word to understand what it says.  However, he contradicts himself later and says that a pastoral candidate needs to go to seminary to learn the original languages so that he can understand what the Bible is saying.  So, he's saying that the lay-people who don't understand the original languages can't understand the Bible which is why they need a pastor to correctly interpret it for them; this is a Roman Catholic view of the Scriptures.

Unfortunately, this teaching has caused some concern on my part, and I've asked my teenage boys not to listen to your podcast anymore.  I had encouraged them to listen initially so that they would learn what to listen for in a sermon to make sure it was biblical, but with your endorsement of the 1 John study, I cannot in good conscience as a parent allow them to listen uncensored now.  I honestly did not realize the extreme doctrinal differences (or hostility) between confessional Lutherans and reformed Baptists.  This saddens me because I really enjoyed your show.  In a recent church service, we were exhorted to "avoid profane and vain babblings," (1 Tim. 6:20).  I have enough things in my life that need a discerning ear, so I plan to heed this advice and avoid your podcast.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

American Culture and the True Church

I can't say that I was totally surprised with the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.  The culture in America is shifting very quickly and very decidedly away from orthodox Christian truths.  I was more shocked with President Obama's statement: "I won't make churches conduct gay marriages." He obviously has no clue that the head of the Church is Jesus Christ, not the President of the United States.

God is sovereign, and I believe our current cultural stance against biblical Christianity (with the capstone being the SCOTUS ruling on DOMA) is a step in God's purification of the true churches here in America. President Obama may not "make" churches conduct gay marriages, but I'm sure that it will
eventually be a requirement to keep their 501(c)3 status. The current politically correct, but biblically corrupt churches will have no problem keeping their tax-exempt status. The true Church will not, even cannot, be tied to our current governmental system. The wheat will be separated from the tares...(Matt. 13:24-30).

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Issues with Omnibus

After 10 years of homeschooling, I now know what and how I would teach the boys if I could do it all over again. I believe that even with the hiccups and miscues along the way, our boys have still received a very good education; however, there is one program that could have been detrimental to their spiritual growth, and I'm very thankful that the Holy Spirit has opened my eyes before any damage was done (or at least that can be addressed before they leave home). Ironically, it's the same program that moved me to look at reformed Christianity, so in that respect, I'm grateful for that prompting. Even though, the good does not outweigh the bad; and therefore, I can no longer recommend the use of the Omnibus series by Veritas Press for any Christian homeschool. (I have previously recommended this program which is why I'm making this post.) 

My biggest complaint with the Omnibus program occurs in Volume IV: The Ancient World. As I look back I can see small issues with the previous three volumes, but like a frog in warming water, I didn't pay attention to them.  Contributors to this series include Doug Wilson and Peter Leithart.  Both men are considered to be conservative, reformed evangelical pastors; however, both men are part of the Federal Vision movement. 

Typically, the Federal Vision movement denies the bi-covenantal structure of the Westminster Standards, rejects the idea that Christ's merits are imputed to us, affirms that baptism effects a saving, covenantal union with Christ, affirms that this saving union occurs with all the baptized, denies that all who are saved will ultimately end up in heaven, and rejects justification by faith alone.  I do realize that some followers of the FV movement do not adhere to all of the tenets above (although affirming to any one would still make them heretical).  Peter Leithart was charged with heresy by the Presbyterian Church in America, but he was exonerated of all charges.  However, the chief prosecutor in the case has since converted to Roman Catholicism, so there may be reason to declare a mistrial.  The Federal Vision movement is considered heretical because it departs from established Christian beliefs, but Roman Catholicism is an apostate religion because of its view of Mary as Co-Redemtrix which rejects Jesus as the only way to God. 

Therefore, I contend that the Omnibus essays and teacher-suggested answers written by Wilson and Leithart reflect their heretical beliefs (in addition to other like-minded authors in the program).  In Volume IV, I specifically take issue with Leithart's essays titled "Proverbs" and "Philippians & Colossians" and with Wilson's essays titled "The Iliad" and "Apocrypha".  Many statements of fact were highly speculative, and their false doctrine was explicit.  In addition, the temporal and spiritual blessings in Christ were purposefully blurred, and at times, sounded like the Word of Faith Prosperity movement on TV. 

In Leithart's essay, "Philippians and Colossians", he implies that Adam thwarted God's original plan in the Garden of Eden (Omnibus IV, p. 377):  "God planned for him to grow up and put on a crown and a royal robe of glory.  But Adam acted just like a baby, grabbing the food he wasn't supposed to have, and so God put him out of the Garden."  This view is similar to Open Theism which states that God is not sovereign, his will can be thwarted, his knowledge is limited, and he is not always in control.  This view is not the Sovereign LORD of the King James Bible who created all things; God knew what was going to happen from the beginning, and His plan for redemption has never changed! 

Another note of concern is that the Omnibus series also includes pictures of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, which is a 2nd Commandment violation (see Exod. 20:4-6, Deut. 4:15-19, and Acts 17:29). 

Finally, the last straw for me was this statement made by Peter Leithart in his "Proverbs" essay (Omnibus IV, p.22):  "Like God, we are created to accomplish things by words."  No, saying the right words to accomplish a specific action is witchcraft, not Christianity. 

If you are a Bible-believing Christian, I do not recommend the use of the Omnibus program by Veritas Press because "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump," (Gal. 5:9).

Monday, June 24, 2013

Thoughts on the SBC

I was asked to give my thoughts on the pyramid found at this blog post.  Before I share what I wrote, I want to give you a little history on the on-going Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) debate between the Arminians and Calvinists which began on May 30, 2012, with the release of this statement (neither side agreed with the wording).  In a nutshell, Arminian Baptists believe that Jesus Christ completed his work on the cross, but man has free will to accept or reject His offer of salvation.  Calvinist Baptists (also known as Reformed Baptists) believe that the work of Christ on the cross was effectual and sufficient for the salvation of God's elect, and it is the Holy Spirit that regenerates the person to salvation.  Recently, the Calvinism Advisory Committee issued a statement trying to unite the members of the SBC without requiring uniformity; I reference this document below.

After studying the pyramid and thinking about the debate, I made the following observation.

Since we are dealing with other Christians in the SBC, then I think the foundational factor should be God's sovereignty in salvation.  The Bible is God's plan for salvation; God sent His Son as the elect's Redeemer.  This is the doctrinal foundation of our faith.  I don't think you can rip out 'Who Jesus Is & What He Has Done' without including God's sovereign plan.

The problem with this approach of agreeing on the essentials is that when it comes to salvation, all of the components are essential.  This is why Christian believers disagree with the theology of Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses.  They share some of our beliefs, but not all; in addition, they share the same Bible or at least the same manuscript.  However, we just happen to disagree with more of their "essentials" than we do with the Arminians, but the effect is still the same:  we do not preach the same gospel.

To use another word picture, Calvinist believe that the bridge over the gulf that separates us from God is built by the Holy Spirit through the work of Jesus.  The Arminians believe that the bridge is built halfway by the Holy Spirit through the work of Jesus, and man has to jump the rest of the chasm.  It's not the same message.

I think a key component that is glossed over in the pyramid is the doctrine of total depravity (which is placed on top and abbreviated with the other tenets of TULIP).  A key phrase that keeps us as Calvinists divided from the Arminians is Adam's guilt.  From the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry website:

"Generally speaking, the Arminians maintain that we inherited a sin nature from Adam and sin due to that nature.  We are not guilty for Adam's sin and cannot be punished unless we actually sin.

Generally speaking, the Calvinists maintain that the sin of Adam was imputed (made to count for) to the whole human race.  This is maintained largely in regard to the concept of Federal Headship."

It is the wrong focus to try and convince the Arminians that God is sovereign; they know that, and at a certain level they believe it .  But what they don't believe is how sinful man is.  Man cannot jump the chasm to God; if he could, Christ would not be needed in salvation.  The Bible is not a story of God who will do His part in salvation and the rest is left up to man, but it is an incredible picture of the love, mercy, and sacrifice of God to redeem His people through the Jesus Christ on the cross...alone.

The Arminian view of salvation was started by Charles Finney at the turn of the 20th century.  It has grown over the decades and has now completely infiltrated the evangelical world (not just the SBC).  It's really not that much different from Roman Catholicism; they both require man's work in salvation (one is just a one-time work and the other is a work for life).  The bottom line is that you can stack the information any way you want to, but a works-based salvation is heterodox, if not outright heretical depending on the view of Jesus.

Unfortunately, in the SBC money talks, so I will be surprised if the Arminian view is denounced without a battle.  The Goliath of the seeker-driven mega churches is formidable.  Therefore, the small arm of Calvinism in the SBC needs to decide if it will stand today like Luther, or put that responsibility on the back of the next generation who may not be as strong...

Unlike Mr. Brister, I was not encouraged with the outcome of the Calvinism Advisory Committee commissioned by Dr. Frank Page; I thought the response was capitulating at best because "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump," (Gal. 5:9).  His pyramid scheme is just another distraction to show that we are somehow united without really addressing the elephant in the room:  Arminians preach a heterodox gospel.

Why I Do What I Do

Since 2009, I have taken a very active role in knowing what I believe as a Christian and now consider myself a reformed Christian.  I became a Christian in 1994, but I sat in very seeker-sensitive churches for years without really knowing why I was there.  Well, I mean, I knew Christians needed to go to church each Sunday, and I knew that my boys needed to learn about Jesus so that they would one day "accept" Him too.  However, I sat there Sunday after Sunday as a spectator being entertained by the musical performances and waiting for someone to "respond" to the sermon as we sang 'Come as You Are' over and over (until someone did respond).  The sermon was not really for me because I had responded years ago.  I was there to learn more about Jesus to help make me a better Christian, mom, wife, etc.

But is that the role of the church?  No, it's not.  Could I adequately explain what I believed and why?  No, I could not.  I took evangelism courses and participated in Bible studies, but the end was the same; no real change took place in my spiritual growth.  By God's grace, a significant change did take place in me as I read the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith for the first time in 2011.  This confession is a systematic overview of the truths found in the Bible (with scriptural support).  Through studying this confession along with the Westminster Shorter Catechism (as a family devotional), Keach's Catechism (at church), and more recently, the Heidelberg Catechism (our new family devotional), I can clearly express the truths found in the Bible.  My Bible study is now more God-centered as I desire to know Him more and see Jesus at work from Genesis to Revelation.

Through this process, I found many blogs, books, podcasts, and lectures to help guide me as a paradigm shift took place in my thinking.  I read about the Regulative Principal of Worship and why we should worship God only as outlined in the Bible.  I realized that many of the "Christian" books I had on our bookshelves were not orthodox.  I had this insatiable desire to read, learn, and apply sound biblical principles to my life.  The sanctification process took off as the Holy Spirit led me to the Truths of Scripture.  I still feel that desire today.  My goal is to make sure that the books and blogs we read are written by sound Christian theologians or writers (which is why we've turned to the Puritan writers, who cannot change their minds).  As a family, we've selected the Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs to read and study.  In addition, I try to stay current on the more popular "Christian" speakers and/or writers that do not preach a true Christ-centered gospel.

But why?  Why do I do this?  Part of the reason is that I feel cheated in the earlier years of my spiritual life, so I'm trying to make up for lost time.  Also, my husband and I are raising three boys who will one day be the spiritual leaders of their wives and children, and I want to make sure that they have a strong foundation as they start their own families (and not flounder as I did).  If they move away, I want them to be able to find a strong, Bible-based church that preaches the true gospel and follows a confession (a confession is not the Bible, nor can it replace the Bible, but it makes sure that everyone in the church reads the Bible through the same lens).  But the main reason is found in the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith (which is very similar to the 1689 LBCF):

Question 1:  What is the chief end of man?
Answer:  Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

That's also why I go to church every Sunday  to glorify God.