Victoria Osteen and “Christian Hedonism”

Victoria Osteen’s dark moment of honesty before a watching world has generated much buzz and discussion lately. However, one must wonder why there is so much surprise in this – she has simply admitted to the very core of her theology. Her version of “Christianity” is an idolatrous cauldron of hedonistic pleasure. In her world, self reigns supreme – and the name of Christ is simply a nametag that she attaches in an attempt to provide cover for her heresy. Those who didn’t already know of the Osteen’s theology either haven’t been paying attention, or perhaps they have never heard of the bizarre spectacle of their “ministry.”

Simply put, what Victoria Osteen proudly proffered before a watching world should have provoked little surprise. However, what should capture the attention of the church is the response given by John Piper’s desiring God ministry:

Wait, was Victoria Osteen really that off base? In one sense, no.

— Desiring God (@desiringGod) September 4, 2014

Whoever generated this tweet (whether it was John Piper himself or one of his assistants) has managed to give half credit to that which is pure idolatry, and this is no small problem. While I am glad that people are offended by Victoria Osteen’s proud declaration, I fear that those same masses will overlook and ignore the above, disturbing tweet. Nothing that Victoria said made any biblical sense seeing that her worldview is rooted in hedonism – and God is pleased with none of it. But it is this notion of hedonism in Osteen’s comments that led me to predict that there might be some form of private or public affirmation from those who advocate the contrived doctrine of “Christian Hedonism.” When the above affirmation was placed in the public forum, I was sad, but not surprised. Because of this, I want to share a few thoughts and warnings about this disturbing admission from those at Desiring God:

Firstly, I have no desire to disparage any sound teaching others have garnered from men like John Piper. The profound truth is that God, in His infinite wisdom, uses frail and fallible men to communicate His infallible word. This is true for myself and for any other messenger of God’s word. When Piper focuses on the Gospel, he is quite solid; however, his repeated attempts to infuse the contrivance of “Christian Hedonism” into his teachings is deeply problematic. In his book, Desiring God, Piper tries to justify using the salacious term, hedonism, as an expression of Christian worship.[1] In his earlier years in the ministry, he credited C.S. Lewis for this idea more directly, but over the years he has attempted to justify it through various other means. In his book, Desiring God, Appendix 4 – Why Call It Christian Hedonism?, Piper issues a strenuous attempt to justify his use of this expression in six different ways:

1. Through a definition supplied by Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

2. Through another definition as supplied in The Encyclopedia of Philosphy.

3. Through C.S. Lewis’ statement (among others): “You notice that I am drawing no distinction between sensuous and aesthetic pleasures. But why should I? The line is almost impossible to draw and what use would it be if one succeeded in drawing it? If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline.”

4. By reason that the term “Hedonism” has an “arresting and jolting effect.”

5. He cites Jesus’ mention of coming as a “thief” in the night (Matt. 24:43-44), among other texts, as justification of using scandalous terms in a godly context.

6. He argues that he is able to sanctify, for godly purposes, the term Hedonism by affixing it with the name Christian.

These are all interesting arguments, but the reader should notice that they are rooted in C.S. Lewis, philosophy, and human reasoning more than anything else. As for his attempt to supply scriptural justification for “Christian Hedonism,” perhaps another man could just as well begin advocating “Christian Lust,” “Christian Fornication,” or “Christian (fill in the blank with any corruption here_____)” based upon the same reasoning. Frankly speaking, this is all reckless thinking and continues to be propagated through many today who insist on speaking of Christian faith in sensual, salacious terms. Within this same appendix (Appendix 4), Piper strangely admits that his actions run contrary to the counsel of wise men like J.C. Ryle – who strongly advises against the use of “uncouth and new-fangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification,” but then proceeds to justify his use of the term hedonism which, scripturally speaking, depicts grotesque self-satisfaction (lust, autonomous delight, similar to eros) as a means of conveying Christian affections.

The problem that Piper has, for himself and for those whom he has influenced over the years, is that his construct of thought has no scriptural basis whatsoever – no matter how hard he tries to justify it. His use of salacious language has produced various forms of spiritual offspring such as Mark Driscoll (Time magazine has called him the cursing pastor) and Ann Vosscamp (who speaks of intimacy with God in very sensual language – see Gary Gilley’s review of One Thousand Gifts here). Whatever his motives, he is begetting a generation of individuals who now believe that the sine qua non of Christian affections is desire, rather than agape love. I could agree with this if it were biblical, but it is not. The Bible never uses “hedonism” as an expression of godly affections because selfish, autonomous delight is at the heart of such a term, whereas epithumea (desire) can be used of godly desire, but is never emphasized on equal footing with agape love. However, agape love is repeatedly given supremacy over every affection mentioned in Scripture. I always like to illustrate the point by encouraging men to drop the word “love” when speaking to their wives. Instead of saying – “I love you” – try saying “I desire you.” This may last for a little while, however, over time your spouse will wonder what has happened to you – and what has happened to the nature of your relationship. Of course a man desires his wife – but he does so out of his relational bond of love with her. The problem of using “hedonism” is that the notion of a relationship is utterly obliterated, as evidenced by the Bible’s use of the term. Mr. Piper may be able to find alternate meanings to the term hedonism in more contemporary works, but the problem remains: he is using this biblical word in an unbiblical way. Additionally, the problem with using the term desire as a near substitute for love is that this procedure denigrates the relational understanding which is intrinsic in the concept of genuine agape love. If everything is about desire and joy, to the diminishment of love, then we end up with a heap of confusion about Christian motives. Thus, out of such confusion, the managers of the Desiring God Twitter account are able to give half credit for Victoria Osteen’s bizarre and idolatrous drivel about going to church for your own, autonomous joy. However, if we were better rooted in the biblical motive of love, then such confusion would be blown away.

If we refuse to be anchored by the language of Scripture, then we will drift into the dangerous waters of human reasoning – perhaps even giving half-credit to heretics. But when it comes to love versus hedonism, the Scriptures are quite clear. God has many attributes (Holiness, wrath, righteousness etc…) – but of all of His attributes, there are very few that have been elevated to the status of this predicate adjective construct: God is love. One thing He is not is hedonism (selfish, autonomous delight) – such a contrivance as this is unscriptural and borders on blasphemy.

Let us be guilty of emphasizing what Scripture emphasizes. I have no desire to diminish the concept of our desire for God or out joy in Him – what I do hope to qualify is that these affections can only be understood properly within the context of our love for Him, seeing that He first loved us – 1 John 4:19.

This is what God hath said – and it is good.

For more on the subject of “Christian Hedonism” and C.S. Lewis, as well as the biblical terms – agape, eros, and hedonism:

Rob Bell, Love Wins, and the book: Altar to an Unknown Love from The Armoury Ministries on Vimeo.

A brief Follow-up:

Some have queried about my interaction (or lack thereof) with the linked article by Chad Ashby, and I wanted to clarify matters relevant to this. For those in doubt, it should be self-evident that I read the linked article since I refer to the specific notion of giving “half” credit to VO, a metric supplied by the article rather than the tweet. However, my article has more to do with my longstanding experiences with the followers of John Piper and those who gladly claim the title “Christian Hedonist.” The core point being made in the article is this: what Victoria Osteen said isn’t mostly wrong, it was completely wrong and disgraceful. Like any other cult, her every word is infected with the corruption of false teaching. Her “God” is a false god; her “joy” is a false joy; her concept of “worship” is false, etc. The linked article was too confused to address directly[2] – my focus was on the legacy of “Christian Hedonism” and the related, yet bizarre notion of trying to harvest edible chunks from the theological sputum coming from Victoria Osteen (Yes, that’s strong language, but please see Proverbs 26:11). As well, the thought of directing others to such a quest is disturbing at best. Concerning anyone’s objections to my description of the word Hedonism, please note that the philosophical and theological ether that surrounded this term in the 1st century is a subject that exceeds the full focus of my article (it is a lengthy subject that I only partially deal with in my book), but it is impossible to appreciate this term’s history without first understanding the philosophical realm from which it evolved. To learn this, a general knowledge of Greek mythology is needed, replete with an understanding of Hesiod’s teaching on the primordial forces of CHAOS, Gaius, Eros, and Tartarus, along with the various descendants including Hedone. The mythological history of this word (Hedone – hedonism) continued into the 1st century, bearing the idea of lust, autonomous desire, and sensuality/salaciousness (as I stated in my article). The lexical scope of this term is still a broader discussion, but my reference to it comports with the scriptural connotation (Romans 1:24, 1 Peter 4:2, 2 Timothy 4:3, James 1:14, 4:2-3, 2 Peter 3:3, Jude 16, 18, Mark 4:19, Luke 8:14). A serious lexical analysis of this important term should remind any student of the Bible that when Christ, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude employed this term, they were not doing so in deference to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or The Encyclopedia of Philosophy; instead, they were employing a term that was well known to the audience of the day – and they knew quite well that such a term was rooted in the notion of sinful, wicked desire. I would encourage the reader to search this matter out and to remember that our allegiance must be to God and to every jot and tittle of His word above anything else.

Once again, Chad Ashby and Desiring God Ministries are entirely free to give half (or partial) credit to the heresy of Victoria Osteen; but this is where we part company – I can offer no credit to a heretic whatsoever. In over twenty years of pastoral ministry, “Christian Hedonism” has been a discussion that has come to my doorstep time and again, but I can assure you that it is not something that I have chosen so seek out for personal entertainment or amusement. Christians need to take these questions and discussions seriously without engaging in crass mockery. The prevalence of “Christian Hedonism” in the modern day, which is a Lewisian construct to the core, will continue to make it so that pastors will have to take a stand on this issue – one way or the other.

[1] See – Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man, page 64, footnote #91.

[2] Chad Ashby – “I think we hate what Mrs. Osteen had to say more because it hit a little too close to home.” (Q. Really? This hits close to home? For whom does this “hit home?”). Chad Ashby – “You know, Victoria Osteen was about half right. She was trying (and failing) to articulate half the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: ‘What its [sic] the chief end of man?’” (Q. Does Chad Ashby really know what VO was “trying” to do such that he can assign half-credit to her?) From: “Was Victoria Osteen Really that Off Base?”

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The Bitter-Sweet Lessons of Divine Providence

mjbatwhbcnowredeemerbiblechurchLast month I stumbled upon some sad and difficult news, the likes of which I will not describe in detail, but will only say that it involves a church in the northern Midwest. I heard about this news via a Christian podcast which aired shortly after the crisis in question. When I heard this news, I couldn’t help but to recall to mind several memories concerning one of the most difficult experiences that I have gone through in the ministry. The memories and experiences that I will share will be nameless recollections from the past. To be frank they are difficult memories and past anxieties that I have entrusted to God, lest my own heart be corrupted with a root of bitterness. Yet, these distant memories also bear forth a bounty of important life lessons. Whenever I do think of them, I am immediately drawn to the reflection of God’s kind and faithful tutelage of my soul. Thus, these memories supply helpful goads and warnings as I continue to grow as a Christian, a husband, a father and a pastor. This is the way of God’s beautiful providence: the most bitter experiences in life supply an abundance of teaching concerning our great need for Christ; for His wisdom; for His grace; for his love and tender mercies. Therefore, what I share with the reader is given with the design to pass along important life lessons that the Lord continues to teach me as a bankrupt sinner, devoid of wisdom apart from His Word. There may be those who will read what follows and be familiar with the details which lie behind my generic recollections. If this is the experience of the reader, then please know that my only design is to pass along the life lessons that God has ordained for his people – for me; for you; for every member of His church.

When I was in the earliest years of ministry I was serving in a church whose spiritual beginnings came from the hyper-grace teacher: R.B. Thieme. At the time, I was too inexperienced to comprehend what this meant, but I eventually discovered that the seeds planted by this man, and others like him,[1] established problematic roots in the church – and those roots ran very deep. To varying degrees, men like Thieme champion a notion of grace which maligns the precious truths of the Lord’s sovereignty, mankind’s total depravity, God’s irresistible grace, His unconditional election, particular redemption, and most notably – the doctrine of the perseverance of the Saints. Along with these problematic influences in the church, there was a strong thread of “Evangelical Feminism” – a pernicious doctrine that continues to grow with unmitigated acceleration within the professing world of Evangelicalism.[2] Now I should note at this point that, after being a pastor for over 20 years, I would never enter into such an environment like this again. However, as a young pastor, energetic, optimistic, and naïve, it was my desire to teach the word with the hope that many could be persuaded by the clarity of God’s word on these important matters. Yet, in this first pastorate of mine, I began to discover some of the stark realities of pastoral ministry. What I soon discovered is that individuals who disagree with a church’s leadership will soon reveal their true character, for better or for worse. The number of conflicts that I had to face during this season of ministry are too numerous to articulate here, but in just one example I recall having to travel to California with my wife and young children in order to perform my first funeral service in my life – for my father. My wife had just had a miscarriage and so our family was having to face the reality of death in many different ways. The most difficult aspect of the funeral services that I had to perform for my father centered on the fact that he never made a profession of faith in Christ. Not only did I oversee his funeral, but I had to attend to the affairs of his dwindled estate. All of this proved to be exhausting for all of us as a family, both physically and emotionally.

Upon our return home, I was welcomed with a petition demanding my resignation, signed by several devotees of hyper-grace teaching.

Experiences like these can be crushing, especially to a young pastor; however, in God’s good providence these difficult years began to teach me, in a strange and inverted way, the importance of my role as a shepherd in my home first, for an essential reason: every trial that a pastor faces should bring him back to an inspection of his soul, his dealings with his family, and his dealings with the church – in that order. I began to realize that how I responded to these trials before God and men had the potential of blessing or burdening my wife and children. In fact, I should say that any trial has a way of reminding any man why it is that he needs to be a strong leader in his home as a means of protection from all external conflicts from the world and even the church. For this, I am thankful for God’s sweet providences, though they seemed quite bitter at the time. For five and a half years the Lord delivered a steady stream of such experiences as we navigated our way through various conflicts involving theology proper, harmartiology, soteriology, ecclesiology, the institution of marriage, the family, and the roles of men and women. Every conflict that I had to face brought me to my knees before God, forcing me to reflect on my attitude, conduct, and demeanor before the flock of my household – before any other consideration of my broader ministry to the church. In short, the Lord was teaching me the simple but often overlooked lesson of 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

1 Timothy 3:4–5: 4 He [the overseer – v. 1] must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)…

They say that sometimes big things come in small packages, and with this very thought I would suggest that one of the biggest lessons of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is packaged within Paul’s parenthetical comment: (“…but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?”). I believe that Paul’s lesson on the overseer’s home supplies an important nucleus for all that surrounds it. You see, a man’s singular devotion to his wife, his temperance, prudence, respectability, hospitality, ability to teach, sobriety, self-control, gentleness, peacefulness, and monetary self-restraint are best tested and seen within the crucible of the home before they are tested and seen anywhere else. God does not call shepherds to role-playing or stage-acting; He calls them to the substance of godly leadership in the home as the unimpeachable evidence of his qualifications to lead in Christ’s church. Because of this, the family should be seen as the veritable canary in the coalmine, signifying either the spiritual health or illness of the man who fills the office of overseer. What I began to discover amidst these early trials of my ministry is that the Lord was refining me in ways that I could never have before imagined.

This is the stuff of refinement that no Seminary degree can impart.

It is for this reason that I fully believe that genuine overseers are not created by manmade programs, rather, it is God who sovereignly calls overseers to such an office such that their conduct and character will become evident within a watching church – in God’s time. Such a process as this reminds God’s people that it is God who builds His church, not men, and that the overseer who is truly called by God will be in public what he is in the private. The following 6 principles began to crystalize for me:

1. The Principal Focus of a Pastor’s Leadership: Paul tells us that a genuine overseer must be one who manages his own household [ἰδίου οἴκου] well. This statement points to the principal focus of the overseer – his own [ἰδίου] household. Thus, before an overseer can shepherd other households within the church, his own household must be his first ministry above all. Should he fail here, he fails everywhere. As already stated, his family is the veritable canary in the coalmine signifying either the spiritual health or illness of the pastor.

2. The Nature of His Leadership: Paul reminds us that the overseer/pastor is one who manages his household well. The word manage [προϊστάμενον] literally means “standing before others,” denoting a clear and decisive leadership/management. This concept is important and harmonizes well with Ephesians 5:23, where all husbands are commanded to lead their households because the husband is the “head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church.” Taken together, these verses obliterate the contemporary mythology of co-leadership between husbands and wives in the home. Many churches actually believe and teach such co-leadership in the present day, however, biblically speaking, the wife is the helper to her husband according to the creation ordinance (Genesis 2:18), but not a co-leader (Ephesians 5:22-6:4, 1 Timothy 2:9-15). Decades of feminism in the world have influenced the modern church in such a way that these principles are nearly lost – to the demise of many. However, a man who loves his wife is the one who, in the imitation of Christ, will supply a decisive leadership which provides a haven of protection for her and the children. As an example of this principle of loving leadership, God’s covenant of grace with Abraham reveals an important kernel of truth: “For I have chosen him, so that he may command [H. yatzawe] his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” Genesis 18:19. This verb, command – yatzawe/tzawa comes from the root word mitzwa (commandment) and is correctly translated as “command” in the NASB. Whatever else the reader might think or assume about the nature of Abraham’s calling of leadership, it was rooted in a clear and decisive management based upon the “way of the Lord.” Abraham was not called to delegate this responsibility to others; nor was he allowed to neglect it or even share it with his wife Sarah; instead, it was Abraham’s responsibility before God alone. In the end, if a man does not lead his household in this manner, he is not qualified to shepherd the flock of God.

3. His Pedagogy in the Home: According to Scripture, a godly husband must seek the sanctification of his wife (Ephesians 5:25-33) and his children (Ephesians 6:4) by means of the ministry of the word. This principle establishes the importance of regular worship in the home (i.e., family devotions/worship). However, spiritual indifference leads men to the neglect of such duties, but love for Christ drives a man to such privileges with great joy. In homes where such a pedagogy of love takes place, one will find the fruit of peace and joy. However, wherever such a pedagogy is weak or absent, uncertainty, sorrow, fear, depression, anxiety, discontentment, provocation, and anger will fester and grow. The overseer must manifest this important duty of family worship for the sake of his own household as well as for the sake of other men who watch his example. As Thomas Manton has said: “A family is the seminary of church and state; and if children be not well principled there, all miscarrieth: a fault in the first concoction is not mended in the second; if youth be bred ill in the family, they prove ill in church and commonwealth. By family discipline, officers are trained up for the Church, (1 Timothy 3:4). Upon all these considerations how careful should ministers and parents be to train up young ones whilst they are yet pliable, and, like wax, capable of any form and impression in the knowledge and fear of God.” Simply put, a man is not “apt to teach” if he is not leading and teaching his wife and children in the home first and foremost.

4. The Importance of Hospitality: Paul’s mention of hospitality in 1 Timothy 3:2 isn’t a quaint notion of social etiquette, but has to do with the quality of loving those who are outside of his household. Such a ministry reveals his care for, and generosity with, others in his broader community. However, hospitality is also important because it supplies a means by which the shepherd can interact with, and be visible before, others within the church. Paul’s instruction about hospitality should bring to mind Peter’s important command in 1 Peter 5:2-3: “[shepherd the flock of God among you…] nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” The words, proving to be examples [τύποι γινόμενοι], speak of the overseer’s perpetual transformation[3] as seen and witnessed by the people. Thus, a pastor is not a fixed, motionless statue, but is a living, breathing human being who is being transformed by the power of God’s grace such that his life is one that is becoming a greater example to the people who watch him. Despite his flaws as a human being, he, his wife, and children are all growing in wisdom and grace – and the open act of hospitality avails such progress to a church that is called to emulate such an example. Again, hospitality is more than social etiquette – it is the ministry through which sheep can see their shepherd and his family in a very real way.

5. The Centrality of Love: Interestingly, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is devoid of any explicit mention of love; however, the notion of love is implicitly revealed in every qualification. First, I say this because, as the foremost commandment is indeed foremost in every dimension of life (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Mark 12:28-31), so it is with every qualification disclosed for the overseer seeing that love must govern everything in the pastor’s relationship with God and men. Second, a careful perusal of 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 reveals that most of the character qualities of the overseer are repeated in this quintessential section on love. Moreover, the overseer’s leadership in his home must reflect that of Christ’s loving leadership of the church: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25). An overseer’s loving devotion and fidelity towards his wife formulates the basis for his capacity to lead his household well, and all of this establishes the requisite foundation of his leadership of Christ’s church, for “if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” Though an explicit mention of love is nowhere to be found in the text of 1 Timothy 3:1-7, it is everywhere by means of the whole counsel of God’s word and is central to everything.

6. The Extent of these Qualifications: As a final point of observation, Paul’s list of qualifications for overseers in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is to be applied to all overseers – without exception. Though this may seem to be too simplistic an observation for our discussion, it is not. From the beginning of my ministry to the present, I have often encountered a kind of culture of relativity within the church, especially as it relates to elder qualifications. Within such a culture, “staff” pastors are expected to conform to the standards for overseers (at best), while “non-staff” pastors can shirk such standards at will. Such thinking is both unsupportable and disturbing. Though it is recognized that those elders who are primarily focused on public preaching and teaching are to be mindful of James’ warnings concerning teachers (James 3:1), such a notion in no way mitigates the biblical qualifications for “non-staff” elders. Elders who frequent the pulpit as well as those who do not should all be invested in pursuing the elder qualifications stipulated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4 – because none of these texts establish any distinction among those who teach frequently versus those who teach with less frequency. The standards for overseers are not just for those with a seminary degree, or for those who readily fill the pulpit, but they apply to all who bear the title and office of overseer; and a conscientious pastor should seek the application of these standards among all overseers within the church so that he might be surrounded with the kind of accountability that he truly needs for the sake of his life, doctrine, and ministry overall. The removal or avoidance of these standards is spiritually dangerous to the pastor and the entire church.

This is just a small summary of lessons that deeply impacted my life and ministry during these times of testing. Though the pressures around me seemed to be overwhelming at times, the reality was that God was crushing me in order to formulate a valuable faith and conviction that cannot be acquired in the academy. What I did not realize at the time is that these seemingly obvious principles would prove to be deeply controversial. The more I became convinced of the central importance of the overseer’s need to exemplify a godly household in his ministry, the more controversy I faced. Though these principles should not be controversial within Christ’s body, I do maintain that the encroachment of feminism within the visible church supplies a veiled yet virulent opponent to such standards.

So what exactly happened during these trying years of ministry? How does this story end? Well, I won’t divulge all of the details (for there are too many), but the ebb and flow of this season of ministry came to a head when I was eventually accused of having standards for marriage and family that were “too high.” Please note, this was not an accusation of being unbiblical or of failing morally; instead, I was given the cryptic charge of having standards that were too high. At the outset, I was both disturbed and concerned over such charges. The reality is that, should I ever exceed what is written, I would clearly be in the wrong. In such a case as this I would gladly be shown my fault by Scripture, however, this never took place. Instead, I fear that behind these cryptic accusations was the veiled confession:

“We want lower standards.”

I must say to the reader that this is a fearful confession for any church. All of us must recognize that our standards fall short of God’s – daily, but this is to be expected. Isaiah 55:9 reminds us that our ways are exceedingly low, and God’s standards are always higher than ours: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” The solution to this is not found in the pursuit of standards that are lower than what God prescribes; instead, we must seek out His high standards in our continual pursuit of growth, knowing that we will never achieve perfection in this life – until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). In the day of His return, we will be like Him and will be brought into conformity with His image. Until then, we are to reach out for God’s high and holy standard until our last breath, knowing that our sanctification in this life is progressive until the end. This is what I must seek as a Christian; as a husband; a father; and an undershepherd, and it is what I should call others to seek for Christ’s sake and ultimate glory. However, I fear that modern Christendom has divested itself of the high standards of God’s word in exchange for a lesser standard. It seems that many today are looking for a pastor who can become the next power broker in the market of “bigger is better”- Christianity. Simple, quiet, faithful devotion to the ministry of the word is out; market-driven big-religion is the new fad. Though Paul commands us to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands,” the world scoffs at this as primitive, puritanical, culturally irrelevant and that which will never “trend” on Twitter.

So be it.

As believers we should cherish the priceless robe of “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3), rather than craving the world’s festal garments. Though such worldly clothing is ornate and eye-catching, it never endures. In all of this, I close by thanking the Lord for His precious lessons to me. Within the crucible of these trials, the Lord refined me and led me to understand my need to grow further as a Christian; to grow as a husband; a father; a pastor; and a heavenly citizen within this fallen world. Without the protective safeguards of God’s high standards, I fear that I would fail in the ministry by shrinking back to a lesser standard rooted in my own wisdom and strength rather than His. In God’s good providence it was through these years that I began to preach and write on the subject of marriage and family, which eventually supplied the foundation for my book, The First Institution.[4] As a result of my work on this book, I came to discover that, if anything, my standards needed to be raised further by the truths of God’s word. In all of this, I am deeply thankful to the Lord for His faithful tutelage in my life such that I can look back on such trials and see the tender providence of my faithful Shepherd.

To Him be the glory forever…

[1] Specifically, the most prominent influences within the church came from R.B. Thieme, Zane Hodges, and George Meizinger.

[2] The reader should note that, throughout my ministry I have maintained that feminism is the indirect product of effeminism – that is, men who are unwilling to “act like men” 1 Corinthians 16:13. Wherever men create a vacuum of leadership (in the home or in the church) they create an indirect incentive for women to take their place. Thus, my concern over the prevalence of feminism in the modern era is not about women, primarily, but is centered on the preponderance of men who are failing to lead in the manner that God has called them.

[3] [G. γινόμενοι] – This present middle participle speaks of perpetual transformation of an individual’s nature and character. Perhaps a better translation would be “becoming examples” which clearly denotes the continued, progressive nature of the pastor’s mature as witnessed and imitated by others in the church.

[4] The First Institution: A Theological and Practical Guide for the Reformation of God’s Institution of Marriage and Family [Hardback: ISBN-13: 978-1935358008].

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Does Paul “Invite” or “Anticipate” Human Reason?

One of the most interesting aspects of the Apostle Paul’s pedagogical methodology is his frequent use of staged questions which come from the vantage point of human reasoning. The book of Romans is filled with such a trail of staged questions, and this trail is established early on in the epistle:

Romans 3:1–8: 1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.” 5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6 May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? 8 And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.

The Apostle purposefully jousts with a nameless opponent in order to demonstrate the dangerous dead end of human reasoning (i.e., speaking according to men – κατὰ ἄνθρωπον λέγω). His descent into such calumnious rhetoric is designed to stage his repeated retort: may it never be! (μὴ γένοιτο). The thought of accusing God of unrighteousness (v.5), conjoined with the licentious consideration of doing evil that good may come, all stem from the madness of human reasoning, as John Calvin rightly says.

Though this is a digression from the main subject, it was yet necessary for the Apostle to introduce it, lest he should seem to give to the ill-disposed an occasion to speak evil, which he knew would be readily laid hold on by them. For since they were watching for every opportunity to defame the gospel, they had, in the testimony of David, what they might have taken for the purpose of founding a calumny, — “If God seeks nothing else, but to be glorified by men, why does he punish them, when they offend, since by offending they glorify him? Without cause then surely is he offended, if he derives the reason of his displeasure from that by which he is glorified.” There is, indeed, no doubt, but that this was an ordinary, and everywhere a common calumny, as it will presently appear. Hence Paul could not have covertly passed it by; but that no one should think that he expressed the sentiments of his own mind, he premises that he assumes the person of the ungodly; and at the same time, he sharply, touches, by a single expression, on human reason; whose work, as he intimates, is ever to bark against the wisdom of God; for he says not, “according to the ungodly,” but “according to man,” or as man. And thus indeed it is, for all the mysteries of God are paradoxes to the flesh: and at the same time it possesses so much audacity, that it fears not to oppose them and insolently to assail what it cannot comprehend. We are hence reminded, that if we desire to become capable of understanding them, we must especially labor to become freed from our own reason, (proprio sensu) and to give up ourselves, and unreservedly to submit to his word.[1]

Calvin is right in his understanding of Paul’s teaching method and message. Paul is neither inviting nor encouraging calumnious responses to truth. Instead, he anticipates what he knows will flow from the human heart as a result of corrupted and limited reasoning. Paul repeats this pedagogic procedure again in Romans 6:

Romans 6:1–2: 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be [μὴ γένοιτο]! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

Once again, Paul anticipates the natural man’s response to God’s sovereignty over sin and corruption in order to refute such fleshly thinking.[2] This same methodology is again repeated in Paul’s profound treatment of God’s sovereignty in Romans 9:

Romans 9:14–21: 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

In many respects, Paul increases the intensity of his warnings to those who would raise calumnious back-talk to the Potter. Paul already refuted the speculation that injustice can be found in God back in Romans 3, and it is repeated here in the ninth chapter for reinforcement to what follows:

Romans 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”

It is important to note that Paul anticipates (in the indicative mood) the above query, that is to say, he asserts with certitude that men will respond thus (“You will say [Ἐρεῖς] to me…”). Paul’s follow-up to such an anticipated question is extremely important. His reference to God as the molder and potter brings to mind God’s severe displeasure with those who question His authority and sovereignty:

Isaiah 45:9: 9 “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker— An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’?

Isaiah 29:16: 16 You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”; Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

Consistent with all of his other rhetorical questions, Paul’s staged queries in Romans 9 have the design of unveiling the heart of man behind the question. Therefore, Paul’s point of presenting such questions is designed to reveal: 1) the corruption of human reasoning; and 2) the purposes of God in all of His providential dealings with man. Once again, I believe that Calvin is right when he refers to the staged queries of Romans 9 as monstrous madness:

“Monstrous surely is the madness of the human mind, that it is more disposed to charge God with unrighteousness than to blame itself for blindness. Paul indeed had no wish to go out of his way to find out things by which he might confound his readers; but he took up as it were from what was common the wicked suggestion, which immediately enters the minds of many, when they hear that God determines respecting every individual according to his own will. It is indeed, as the flesh imagines, a kind of injustice, that God should pass by one and show regard to another.”[3]

Calvin reminds us that the normal questions raised by the natural man are typically bad questions which flow from the corruptions of the human heart. But such bad questions have a pedagogical purpose within Paul’s instruction. I would submit to the reader that Paul’s method here is designed to remind us all that, apart from grace, we are all madmen who are incapable of comprehending spiritual truth. The universal madness of men is well summarized by Solomon as follows:

Ecclesiastes 9:3: This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.

Overall, it is important to understand Paul’s rhetorical methodology. For the sake of his readers, Paul anticipated questions that were formulated from the poverty of human reason. He did not do this in order to invite us to think in such terms, but to expose the danger and untrustworthiness of human reasoning. When applying this teaching methodology, we must remember never to shame people when they raise such questions about God; but neither should we invite them to persist in such rebellious thoughts. I believe that the balance is to remind them, as does Paul, that some questions are inherently bad. The problem with such queries isn’t just that they are misleading, but that they convey something quite insidious: blindness, foolishness, and rebellion against God – for all have sinned and fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23).

In the end we should be thankful that Paul raised these questions at all, for when we consider them carefully, we find that such thinking is a certain reality for all of the descendants of Adam. By exposing these faults within us, Paul reveals the supremacy of God’s revelation to us concerning His transcendent nature and purposes. Moreover, though it can be said that the believer can, by grace, embrace such transcendent truths – it must be acknowledged that our knowledge in this life is still limited and veiled due to our own sin and human frailty, and therefore we ought to confess with the Apostle:

Romans 11:33–36: 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Paul’s summary in Romans 11 brings us all to the place that we all belong: on our knees before the Pottertrusting Him in faith while trembling before His awesome power and authority – Isaiah 66:2: 2 “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”

[1] Calvin, J. (1998). Romans (electronic ed.). Calvin’s Commentaries (Romans 3:5). Albany, OR: Ages Software.

[2] “We indeed know that nothing is more natural than that the flesh should indulge itself under any excuse, and also that Satan should invent all kinds of slander, in order to discredit the doctrine of grace; which to him is by no means difficult. For since everything that is announced concerning Christ seems very paradoxical to human judgment, it ought not to be deemed a new thing, that the flesh, hearing of justification by faith, should so often strike, as it were, against so many stumbling-stones.” Calvin, J. (1998). Romans, (Romans 6:1).

[3] Calvin, J. (1998). Romans (9:14).

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Book Review: Covenant Theology–A Baptist Distinctive

Covenant Theology – A Baptist Distinctive: Edited by Earl M. Blackburn with contributions by Walter J. Chantry, Ken Fryer, Fred A. Malone, Kenneth Puls, and Justin Taylor (Solid Ground Christian Books, Birmingham, Alabama 2012) 164 pages.

Simply put, Covenant Theology – A Baptist Distinctive, is a rich, thoughtful, well disciplined, and Christ-centered work that is worthy of commendation. Earl Blackburn and all of the contributors of this title have supplied Christ’s body with a valuable tool for comprehending the scriptural distinctions between brethren of the Reformed Baptist, Reformed Paedobaptist, and Dispensational communities. Though the book primarily focuses on a scriptural defense of Reformed Baptist theology, it also manages to issue correctives of other viewpoints, but with a deeply irenic tone. As to this latter point, Covenant Theology – A Baptist Distinctive supplies an excellent example of what is sorely needed in the present day, especially in view of those who seek to vilify and marginalize any form of Covenant Theology without exception. Additionally, I am glad to say that this book manages to keep the Lord as the central focus in everything, as is evident from the very beginning:

“It [Covenant Theology] is the exciting truth of the Eternal Father giving to His Beloved Son a fallen people for His own to redeem by His incarnate blood and righteous life; it is the humbling truth that One so divine would gladly agree to His own suffering for such sinners; and it is the miraculous truth that the Holy Spirit would invade the rebels hearts’ to free them from their enemy’s grip and to resurrect their dead souls to embrace by faith alone the covenant Mediator of their covenant Father. Truly, the Covenant Theology of the Bible is a wonder of God’s infinite grace which brings Him eternal glory from the lips of those covenant sons and daughters who eternally give thanks to His glorious name.” (CT, p. 10).

The heart of this work consists of five chapters, followed by three appendices:

Chapter 1 – Covenant Theology Simplified (Blackburn) – Supplies an excellent introduction for the subject at hand, giving the reader a simplified foundation for all that follows.

Chapter 2 – Biblical Hermeneutics & Covenant Theology (Malone) – Enters into the needful mechanics of scriptural interpretation.

Chapter 3 – The Covenants: Of Works & Grace (Chantry) – Unpacks the relationship between the Law and the Gospel.

Chapter 4 – The Imputation of Righteousness & Covenant Theology (Chantry) – Reveals the importance of the Federal Headship of Adam and Christ in Romans 5.

Chapter 5 – Baptism & Covenant Theology (Chantry) – Issues a needful comparison between credobaptism and paedobaptism.

Appendices I-III: I – Was There a Covenant of Works? (Taylor); II – Covenant Theology in Baptist Life (Fryer); III – A Comparison Between the Old and New Covenants (Puls).

All of these sections come together very well, giving the reader a careful consideration of the various elements of continuity and discontinuity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. From an editorial standpoint, the book’s multiple layers harmonize very well. Especially strong are Malone’s presentation of hermeneutics (Chapter 2) which supplies a very persuasive foundation for the entire book, and Chantry’s emphasis on the centrality of imputation (Chapter 4) is both clear and cogent, stressing the gravity of this important doctrine.
Throughout the book, priority is given to the principle of Sola Scriptura, however, significant elements from church history are interwoven throughout, including important portions of the LBC/1689 in addition to mentions of the strengths and weaknesses of various theologians, both past and present.

All in all, this is a much needed work in a very needy time.

Review on here.

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Why Miykael?

Why does my blog bear the name For one simple reason – my name, Michael, is a Hebrew name and is spelled Miykael in its original, Hebraic form. Throughout my miykaelname_monoyouth, I thought nothing of my name and knew nothing about its origin and meaning. After the Lord saved me in 1982, I began to discover the rich truths of the Bible and came to discover that my name carries with it a very important message. Because of this, I no longer go by “Mike” – but prefer my actual name of Michael. On many occasions, my name has given me opportunities to talk about the rich theological message that it carries. And what is that message? Well, simply put, my name in Hebrew, Miykael, is composed of three parts:

1. Miy: This portion is what is called an interrogative – that is, it sets the stage for a question, and that question is: “who?”

2. ka: This portion of the name is rooted in the Hebrew consonant “kaf” and is rendered as a comparative particle: “like.”

3. el: This portion of the name offers a simplified form of the Hebrew word – ‘elohiym – “el” – “God.”

Please remember that Hebrew is written from right to left. Thus, when you place these components together, you arrive at a very important question: “Who is like God?” What is interesting about this question is that the Old Testament Scriptures repeatedly seek to answer this query:

Jeremiah 10:6: There is none like You, O LORD; You are great, and great is Your name in might.

Deuteronomy 33:26: There is none like the God of Jeshurun, Who rides the heavens to your help, And through the skies in His majesty.

Psalm 86:8: There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord, Nor are there any works like Yours.

miykaelname(noone)abbrevThus, the implied answer to this repeated question is: no one. Yet, we should ask: “why does the Bible repeatedly contemplate the sole supremacy of God: that no one is like Him?” Actually, the answer to this question is extremely important. Because of indwelling sin, all men have a natural tendency to resist this truth of God’s sole supremacy. Because of sin, men entertain corrupted thoughts[1] in their hearts, continually.[2] This impacts all aspects of life, but most centrally, it infects man’s thoughts about himself and God:

Psalm 50:16, 21: 16 To the wicked God says… 21 “You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.”

Psalm 50 reads like a lengthy wrap-sheet concerning the corrupted thoughts and actions of mankind. Verse 21 in this psalm is important because it unveils one of the root sources of such corruption: men tend to think that God is nothing more than a mere man. This is no small problem. By entertaining thoughts of God which bring Him down, the wicked exalts himself to such an extent that he ignores discipline while shunning God’s word (v. 17); he cavorts with thieves and adulterers as if God saw nothing (v. 18); he uses his tongue for evil and deceit (v. 19); and he slanders those who are even the members of his own household (v. 20). This is all bad news – and it is the reality of all men in view of the universal reality of sin, for all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). This is why God repeatedly delivers the crucial lesson of His transcendence to mankind:

Isaiah 55:7–9: 7 Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. 8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Numbers 23:19: 19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”

Not only is God not a man – He is infinitely superior to all of His creation. Unlike man, His promises are sure and He is infinitely trustworthy and faithful. In a world of faithless humanity the theological message of “Miykael” is a crucial one. It is a name which brings us to the nexus of man’s corruption versus God’s holiness and absolute supremacy. It is a name which brings us back to the Gospel truth that men cannot save themselves and thus they need a Redeemer – a Savior – who’s infinite power and righteousness can accomplish the miracle of saving sinners from the wrath of God:

John 3:36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Dear reader – the importance and profundity of my name has absolutely nothing to do with me. It is a name which points beyond the rubble of fallen humanity and directs us to the One who alone can save us – for no one has the power and authority to forgive sin, except God alone.

Where do you Stand?: Atheism & Religionism vs the Gospel from The Armoury Ministries on Vimeo.

[1] Ecclesiastes 9:3: 3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.

[2] Genesis 6:5: 5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

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“Friends” from Facebook (Repost from 2009)

This is a repost from 2009 on The Armoury –
A Grouchy Disclaimer Regarding Facebook:  Some time ago I received an e-request to sign-up for the popular website called Facebook.  This was initiated by someone that I know personally, and the purpose for the request was so that I would be able to see pictures of this individual, along with his family.  Reluctantly, I signed up as one who is not much of a fan of such things.  In fact, let me admit right here and now that I am the official e-curmudgeon of all such personal e-sites – a veritable Grinch, green skin and all.  Yet despite my worst complaints and criticisms, I have found that it has afforded some helpful contact with various people.  As the website grows, more friends from the past will be able to connect and keep in touch in time. 

Yes, I’ll admit it – my heart for Facebook is growing a little.
But I do have some points of minor caution regarding this new e-tool.  One thing that still makes me uncomfortable is this concept of having “friends” of whom I have no personal knowledge.  Like any other biblical concept, friendship is a very important one, and let us remember that it doesn’t take much to diminish the meaning and significance of words – words like friend, or righteous, or even the word awesome.  For example, in our modern culture the terms righteous and awesome have become synonyms for something that is considered to be “cool.” 
Such is the plight of modern society.
Let me suggest to the reader that we who are Christians have a mandate from God to preserve the meaning of language, especially as it relates to God’s Word.  Particularly in this relativistic, post-modern culture of ours, we should be uniquely careful about this matter of upholding the meanings of such key words.  For example, concerning our word in question – friend, we are commanded not to be the friends [philos] of this world (James 4:4).  Jesus said: “you are my friends [philoi] if you do what I command you,” and as well, “greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends [philon]” (John 13:13).  Above any other friendship that we might claim, our friendship (loving affection) with the Lord is the sine qua non of the Christian experience, such that “If anyone does not love (philei) the Lord, he is to be accursed” (1 Cor 16:22). 
In the N.T., the Greek word philos is a word which speaks of the tender affection, love, devotion, and care that is attributable to the relationship between family members or even of close friends.  Unfortunately, most English translations of the Bible will also use the word “friend” for the Greek word hetairos which actually means an associate – which can connote a very close or remote idea, depending on the contextThus, when Judas came to betray Christ, Jesus said to him: “Friend (hetairos) do what you have come for” (Matt 26:49-50); and in the parable of the Marriage Feast (Matt 22:1-14) the man who attempted to enter the King’s presence without the prescribed wedding clothes was called hetaire (NASB – “friend”) before being bound hand and foot and being cast out “into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 
Now that’s some friend.
If I could have my own way on this matter, based upon the language of Scripture alone, my Facebook account would have levels of “friends” to comport with the layers of thought presented within the words – philos and hetairos:

1.  Friends who are believers that I know personally and trust explicitly by observance of their life, words, and actions [philos].
2.  Friends who are believers that I have known personally in the past, who I still trust implicitly [philos]. 
3.  Friends who are e-acquaintances, whose testimonies of faith I trust implicitly [philos].
4.  Acquaintances of the most general kind who, for all I know, could be a James, John, or a Judas [hetairos].

The reality is that it is hard enough to know well the people with whom we have direct contact on a regular basis.  Christian accountability within the local church is difficult enough as it is, and I would submit that developing genuine friendship relationships is becoming increasingly difficult in time.  In reality, e-friendships belie the depth of genuine accountability that we really need, and the folks at Newsweek even understand this.  My only goal here is to avoid shallowness, rather than exalt it.  The world has enough such shallowness and we all need to work against such trends without developing a hard heart.  Thus, I submit this as my official Facebook disclaimer: should I ever fail to “accept” someone as a Facebook friend, this may be that I am just generally slow with such things.  In other cases, I may have reviewed the requestor’s information and found something uncertain or even questionable.  I might add that If you ever find something ambiguous or questionable about what I have listed about myself, then please feel free to query the matter; or if you ever visit my facebook account and find associates there who have questionable lives/testimonies – please let me know.  I want to be generous, not foolish.  I’m not a perfect man myself, nor do I claim to be, but neither do I want to exalt sin so that “grace might abound” – may it never be (Romans 6:1-2).

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Christ, the Centerpiece of Everything

         “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”
         — Romans 3:31

“When the believer is adopted into the Lord’s family, his relationship to old Adam and the law ceases at once; but then he is under a new rule, and a new covenant. Believer, you are God’s child; it is your first duty to obey your heavenly Father. A servile spirit you have nothing to do with: you are not a slave, but a child; and now, inasmuch as you are a beloved child, you are bound to obey your Father’s faintest wish, the least intimation of his will. Does he bid you fulfil a sacred ordinance? It is at your peril that you neglect it, for you will be disobeying your Father. Does he command you to seek the image of Jesus? Is it not your joy to do so? Does Jesus tell you, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”? Then not because the law commands, but because your Saviour enjoins, you will labour to be perfect in holiness. Does he bid his saints love one another? Do it, not because the law says, “Love thy neighbour,” but because Jesus says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments;” and this is the commandment that he has given unto you, “that ye love one another.” Are you told to distribute to the poor? Do it, not because charity is a burden which you dare not shirk, but because Jesus teaches, “Give to him that asketh of thee.” Does the Word say, “Love God with all your heart”? Look at the commandment and reply, “Ah! commandment, Christ hath fulfilled thee already—I have no need, therefore, to fulfil thee for my salvation, but I rejoice to yield obedience to thee because God is my Father now and he has a claim upon me, which I would not dispute.” May the Holy Ghost make your heart obedient to the constraining power of Christ’s love, that your prayer may be, “Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight.” Grace is the mother and nurse of holiness, and not the apologist of sin.” 

Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening: Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

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May God Have Mercy on America


Here in America the expression, God bless America, has become such a common utterance in presidential speeches that it now seems like a cheap tag line with little meaning. I say this because God has blessed this nation, in abundance, yet sadly America has progressively forsaken those blessings, while blaspheming the God of such blessings year after year. Over my lifetime I have witnessed a tremendous change within America’s culture, and the downgrade only seems to accelerate with time. The most recent forensics of this comes to us through the redefinition of marriage posited by Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Writing for the majority opinion, in defense of same-sex marriage, Justice Anthony Kennedy criticized elements of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), indicating that those who oppose homosexuality resultantly “injure” and “demean” the “moral and sexual choices” of same-sex couples. What was so striking about this decision was that the court went well beyond rendering a judgment against DOMA. In essence, it vilified all those who oppose gay marriage. Thus, this is much more than a “victory” for those who support gay marriage, it is a broad and open door to the future persecution of all those who choose to oppose homosexuality. In view of this I must say that, before petitioning God for blessings, America should repent of her multiple sins and cry out for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Like rebellious Israel, our nation is destroyed for a lack of knowledge.[1]

Though not surprising, the SCOTUS decision reveals America’s continued descent into darkness. The revelation of this new ruling proved to be grievous for the disciples of Christ, but for everyone else, it was a day of celebration:

The National Cathedral: Following the ruling of SCOTUS regarding DOMA and Proposition 8, The National Cathedral in Washington DC rang its church bells in celebration for 45 minutes to an hour.

The Governor of Connecticut: In response to the STOTUS decisions regarding DOMA and proposition 8, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy flew a rainbow flag outside the Governor’s official residence – revealing a profound change since Connecticut’s beginning.[2]

President Obama: The President quickly weighed on this judgment, declaring the following: “I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal — and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

What the president suppresses and denies[3] (along with most Americans) is that the love found within the institution which “God has joined together”[4] is in no way equal to the hedonistic lust of pornea (sexual immorality) so commonly found within this fallen world. Moreover, though it is true that the presidents and judges of this nation can decree, by law, such a notion of equality, the Supreme Judge of all laughs at such foolishness and rebellion.[5] Sadly, America continues in a downward spiral, but such truth ought to drive the church to more earnest prayer, asking the God of all mercy and grace for the blessing of repentance and spiritual awakening. This we must continue to do, knowing that no piece of legislation, no judicial ruling, and no executive order can turn the hearts of men and women away from their enmity with God. Only the Gospel, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can turn and awaken those who remain dead in their trespasses and sins.[6] We must also pray for “kings and for all those in authority so that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life, with all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-6). In relation to this latter point, I am concerned that the believer’s Gospel freedoms here in America continue to be weakened, and the recent decision by SCOTUS will further accelerate this trend. As mentioned earlier, SCOTUS did more than make a judgment in favor of homosexuality, it made a judgment of those who oppose such conduct. A plain reading of Kennedy’s majority opinion reveals this. Justice Antonin Scalia offered an ominous summary of the majority’s opinion on this ruling, offering a Latin expression that is strikingly familiar to a familiar one from ancient church history:

Justice Antonin Scalia: “To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to ‘dis- parage,’ ‘injure,’ ‘degrade,’ ‘demean,’ and ‘humiliate’ our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homo-sexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence— indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.”[7]

Having read through Kennedy’s majority opinion on the SCOTUS ruling, I can attest that Scalia’s above summary is spot-on. Though the terms “disparage,” “injure,” “degrade,” “demean,” and “humiliate” are broadly scattered throughout the court’s published opinion, the retributive force of these words is still quite stunning. Scalia’s observations are quite interesting, if not ironic, especially when he invoked the expression, hostes humani generis – enemies of the human race. When I read this, my thoughts were brought back to the writings of Tacitus who described the nature of Nero’s persecution of the Christian community within the 1st century:

Tacitus: “But neither human resources, nor imperial munificence, nor appeasement of the gods, eliminated sinister suspicions that the fire had been instigated. To suppress this rumour, Nero fabricated scapegoats – and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilatus. But in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judaea (where the mischief had started) but even in Rome. All degraded and shameful practices collect and flourish in the capital. First, Nero had self-acknowledged Christians arrested. Then, on their information, large numbers of others were condemned – not so much for incendiarism as for their hatred of humanity (odio humani generis).[8] Their deaths were made farcical. Dressed in wild animals’ skins, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight.”[9]

Tacitus’ description of the Christian community reminds us of the degrading opinions that developed within the Greco-Roman world: Christians were the haters of humanity. The most likely explanation for this label is that the Christian community was unwilling, for conscience’ sake, to participate in the hedonistic and idolatrous culture of the Greco-Roman world, replete with its sacrifices to the gods and licentious living. Such non-participation was seen as an act of hostility against others, especially since the superstitious and pagan world believed that sacrifices to the gods were necessary for the greater good of the broader community. Because of such non-participation, Christians were ridiculed as the haters of humanity among other things. I would suggest that Scalia’s summary of Kennedy’s opinion offers a historically packed preview of what may come in the future. Apart from God’s merciful and gracious intervention in America’s moral and spiritual suicide, further darkness will prevail in this land. My mention of this is not designed to be morose, but to emphasize the continued need to look to the Gospel for genuine light in this dark world. Too often the modern church has sought ways to nurture friendship with the world, but this has only led to compromise and corruption.[10] This could be a means by which the Lord will purify and strengthen His true church here in America. Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers regarding the darkness of their own world (Eph 5:8-11), in order to enjoin them to a more diligent walk (Eph 5:2, 8, 15) as the children of light (Eph 5:8). Contextually and grammatically he continues his appeal by commanding the Ephesians to avoid foolishness while pursuing the will of the Lord (Eph 5:17), refraining from drunkenness while being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18). Paul then describes what such Spirit-filled living looks like in the children of God: speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be[ing] subject to one another in the fear of Christ (Eph 5:19-21). The verse division between verse 21 and 22 may lead the reader to think that Paul has ceased his description of Spirit-filled living – but this is not the case. Paul’s expansion of this important subject only continues as he describes the beauty of a Spirit-filled marriage, which reflects the glory of Christ and His union with His bride, the church (Eph 5:22-33); and we must not forget that this extends further to a description of a godly family, complete with a father, mother, and children (Eph 6:1-4) who seek to honor the Lord in everything. Yes, Ephesus was engulfed in darkness – but this reality afforded Paul the opportunity to remind genuine believers that their solution was not to dim the light of the Gospel, but to make it radiate more brightly in their individual lives, as well as in their marriages, and families.

Dear reader – what was true in that day is equally true today.

In conclusion, I should also note the profound irony of the homosexual community’s banner which is, of all things, the rainbow.[11] I call this ironic because of God’s stated purpose for the rainbow. Having destroyed the world of wickedness in a deluge, God gave Noah the promise that He would never again “destroy all flesh” by means of a flood. Therefore God revealed to Noah “the bow [haqeshet] that is in the cloud” (i.e., rainbow) as His symbol to all of mankind that He would refrain from giving humanity what it otherwise deserves, thereby supplying a measure of mercy to the sons of men while they live on the earth. The Hebrew word haqeshet (a hunter’s bow) gives us a sense of what is implied by the word mercy: men deserve judgment because of indwelling sin (Gen. 8:21), yet such judgment is withheld as an act of merciful restrain. Those who have ever drawn a hunter’s bow know that it takes a measure of strength to draw and sustain a bow’s tension. Releasing the bow is the easy part, but keeping it drawn and restrained for long periods of time requires significant force. I would suggest to the reader that this is the picture of God’s temporal mercy upon the sons of men in this life, which is similarly unveiled in the New Testament: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). This text in John 3 unpacks some of the inherentrainbow_04 symbolism of God’s “bow (haqeshet) in the clouds” by revealing God’s presently active mercy and pending wrath. Mercy is now active such that men “live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28), enjoying “rains and fruitful seasons” here on the earth (Acts 14:17). Note that the text tells us that God’s wrath “abides” on all those who do not obey the Son. That word “abides” (menei) is the present active indicative form of the verb meno (abide), indicating a present and ongoing reality in God’s relation with this world. In many respects, this is what we see in God’s bow (haqeshet) – the active tension of God’s merciful restraint which will someday give way to the release of His just and eternal wrath upon all those who resist Him. In view of this, the rainbow is both awesomely beautiful, yet haunting in light of its implied message. Overall, let the reader consider this: the image of the rainbow is not just for the homosexual community – it is for all men in light of God’s present Gospel mercy and promised future wrath. It is a reminder that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23); and that the wages of our sin is death (Romans 6:23); therefore, apart from Christ, all men are counted as God’s enemies (Romans 5:8) and must plead for mercy and grace which is fully revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ:

These truths are not just for one sector of our society, but they are for all men: “…he who believes in the Son has life, he who does not obey the son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” John 3:36.

[1] Hosea 4:6.

[2] From The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1638-1639): “For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God by the wise disposition of his divine providence so to order and dispose of things that we the Inhabitants and Residents of Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield are now cohabiting and dwelling in and upon the River of Connectecotte and the lands thereunto adjoining; and well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affairs of the people at all seasons as occasion shall require; do therefore associate and conjoin ourselves to be as one Public State or Commonwealth; and do for ourselves and our successors and such as shall be adjoined to us at any time hereafter, enter into Combination and Confederation together, to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, as also, the discipline of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said Gospel is now practiced amongst us; as also in our civil affairs to be guided and governed according to such Laws, Rules, Orders and Decrees as shall be made, ordered, and decreed…”

[3] Romans 1:18-24.

[4] Matthew 19:4–6 — 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, 5 and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’? 6 “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

[5] Psalm 2:1–6 — 1 Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. 5 Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, 6 “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

[6] Ephesians 2:1–3 — 1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

[7] NationalJournal: Scalia: ‘High-Handed’ Kennedy Has Declared Us ‘Enemies of the Human Race’,

[8] Scalia’s reference to hostes humani generis, though strikingly similar in meaning, is probably rooted in maritime history, rather than being a quote from the ancient Roman historian.

[9] Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome (Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1993), p. 365, italics mine.

[10] James 4:4 — 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

[11] The establishment of the rainbow, as a symbol for the homosexual community, is normally attributed to Gilbert Baker – an artist from San Francisco – who first designed the flag in 1978. There is no apparent evidence that Baker was attempting to imitate the Bible’s description of the rainbow in Genesis 9. Instead, the homosexual community has used several colors (in recent history) in order to depict various aspects and perspectives of the gay community.

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Dear “Self-Respecting Calvinists” –


The world of Christian media is a bit of a two-edged sword. Through it many Bible teachers have helped the cause of the Gospel in the lives of many men and women. It is this side of the sword that cuts well – for the glory of God. Then there is the other side of this sword – the one which tends to spill more blood than supply corrective surgery. In this latter side of the blade we find the unhelpful or sometimes destructive influences of popular preachers/teachers whose misplaced dogmas and verbal mishaps find their way into the local church through various ways and means. The pastor of a local church may wish to ignore the presence of this bad side of the blade – but he hasn’t the luxury to do so, especially if some of his congregants are the devoted disciples of such Bible teachers.

Over the years in the ministry I have had to invest more hours than I can count addressing so-called “controversies” that were whipped up by others simply because I happened to disagree over a point of doctrine with popular teachers, both past and present. While this problem is not new, I believe that the modern church is mass-producing this matter through what I call the industry of retail Christianity; as a disease, it is becoming pandemic. Moreover, I am of the opinion that few popular teachers truly understand the extent of divisiveness that they can easily generate when they act imprudently over issues of doctrine – especially those issues that are not central to the Gospel. No one is perfect. When we fail, it is needful to make restitution for such failures. Should we ever err on a point of instruction, or overemphasize a matter which results in unnecessary conflict, then we need to own up to it for our own sakes, and for the sake of those whom we instruct and influence. Whether a man is a media star or a pastor of a small church, the principle remains the same, however, I would suggest that a man’s personal responsibility increases in proportion to the extent of his influence.

I was reminded of all of this some time ago when a man came to visit our church for Sunday morning services. This man braved 1 ½ hours of driving in order to fellowship with us, hear God’s word, and ask me a question that was burning in his conscience. Sensing his desire to speak at length about what was burdening him, I invited him over to our home for lunch following the services. We had a wonderful time of fellowship together. Early on, we spoke for some time before he asked me his core question, and yet, in some strange way I could almost anticipate his concern before he expressed it. My clues came in pieces through some of the things that he said; through the study Bible that he had in hand; and by means of the comments he made about his church. Thus, when the question came – it offered little surprise. As well, I felt quite prepared to offer a response – simply put, I’ve had to deal with this issue for some time. His question was simple enough: he wanted to know if he should leave his church since his pastor was post-millennial. The basis for his query came from his repeated exposure to an audio tape of John MacArthur issuing a millennial manifesto, where he said,

“Every self-respecting Calvinist is a premillennialist.”

This gentleman repeated this manifesto thrice, saying “it keeps going on in my mind”; and this meditation of his only increased his sense of burden and concern. Before addressing my thoughts about such “self-respecting Calvinism,” I asked this man questions about his present church. For all I knew, there could be other issues that would actually warrant significant concerns. I asked about his church’s core doctrine (very sound); the body dynamic and health of the flock (loving and lively); the leadership – their doctrine and example of life (above reproach); and inquired about their focus on the Gospel and outreach to the lost (excellent). I am only summarizing the exchange here, but by the time he was finished describing his flock – I nearly wept in the man’s presence. Though I am deeply aware of this controversy that has been produced by MacArthur’s manifesto, I still remained incredulous concerning the practical effects that it has in the lives of real people within real churches. Here was a man who was prepared to leave a loving flock over this matter. Wanting to be careful and measured in my response to him, I began discussing the extent of the controversy in its modern form (i.e., historic Pre-millennialism vs. Dispensational Pre-millennialism); the overall debate in view of church history; the relevance and purpose of prophecy in the life of a Christian; and the importance of the primacy of the Gospel in everything. Then I told him –

“Concerning pastor MacArthur’s manifesto: with all due respect, no self-respecting Calvinist would make eschatology such a divisive issue.”

I don’t think that he expected to hear this from an alumnus of The Master’s Seminary, but he listened carefully and attentively anyway. My simple prayer for this man has been that he would pray and think through this matter very carefully – since the thought of leaving a church body is quite serious. Without hesitation I told him that I saw no reason for him to leave – period.

When I first heard MacArthur employ this manifesto, I was struck by his dogma and insistence. He has all the freedom in the world to believe this about his theological opponents, but when one considers what is conveyed in this pontification, its meaning and implications are quite draconian. MacArthur’s Pre-Millennialism, which is Dispensational Pre-Millennialism and not Historic Pre-Millennialism, formulates the centerpiece of what he calls self-respecting Calvinism. The implications of his charge are as follows: anyone who does not hold to such Pre-Millennialism is not a self-respecting Calvinist.


Are we really to believe that brethren throughout the ages and in the present day, who have a differing view on this subject, must now be tossed out of the sorting bin of “self-respecting Calvinism” (whatever that means)? I should, however, credit MacArthur for some measure of consistency in his manifesto. The strength of his charge is only reinforced by the following assertions:

“Let’s leave Amillennialism for the Arminians. It’s perfect. It’s ideal. It’s a no-brainer. God elects nobody and preserves nobody. Perfect. Arminians make great Amillennialists.”

“We can leave Amillennialism to the process theologians or the openness people who think God is becoming what He will be; and He’s getting better because as every day goes by, He gets more information; and as He gets more information, He’s figuring out whether or not, in fact, He can keep some of the promises He made without having to adjust all of them based upon a lack of information when He originally made them. Let’s leave Amillennialism to the Charismatics and the semi-Pelagians and other sorts who go in and out of salvation willy-nilly; it makes sense for their theology.”[1]

[Postmillennialism isn’t given any better treatment when he says]: “…Postmillennialism… is ‘optimistic Amillennialism’…the two positions are basically the same.”[2]

If anyone wishes to search out the oddities and heresies associated with any system of eschatology, they are certainly welcome to do so – but is this helpful? For example, comparing MacArthur to Harold Camping (a Dispensational Premillennialist) would be a fool’s errand and would take us no-where, thus, is it at all fair to associate the whole of Amillennialism with the likes of Arminians, process theologians, or even openness theologians? Arguments of guilt-by-association can be very startling, and may seem to justify the label of “non-self-respecting Calvinist” for some – but such arguments don’t advance any reasonable or meaningful debate. It is not terribly surprising that those who hear such statements are quickly led to the fearful belief that Amillennialism directly corresponds to various forms of rank heresy. Thus, it is perfectly understandable that this man came to me, with such a manifesto resonating in his mind, wondering if he should leave his church immediately.

It is understandable, but it is all quite sad and disturbing.

I can say that I greatly appreciate John MacArthur’s historic defense of the Gospel. He is not a perfect man, and he has, at times, said things that I could not defend; however, his overall defense of the Gospel has been forthright and sound. It is for this reason that his recent heralding of eschatology seems rather strange and even ironic, and here’s why: the Fundamentalist movement of the early 20th century included Dispensational Premillennialism within its definition of biblical orthodoxy. C.I. Scofield advanced this line of thought extensively, heralding Dispensationalism and Eschatology to a fault. As a result, a church culture was born out of such an influence which focused on the structure of Dispensational thought and Eschatology at the expense of the substance of Theology proper, Hamartiology, Anthropology, Soteriology, and Christology. Resultantly, many churches in America became aliens to the historic doctrines of grace, though they retained a strict stance in Dispensational and Premillennial thought. This segment of church history should remind us that when a particular view of eschatology is heralded at the level of the Gospel itself, or higher, the seed of such error will grow and thrive in time. Ironically, it was this very theological culture that MacArthur confronted with the historic doctrines of grace during the 90’s. His book, The Gospel According to Jesus, created a firestorm of controversy among many Dispensationalists. For a man who had to face the errors of a culture which exalted Dispensationalism and Premillennialism above its theological place, one must wonder why he would seek to pick such a fight over this matter in the present day.

This is pungent irony.

Let me end this with a comment, a recommendation, and an appeal. My comment is this: I have a deep love for brethren who love Christ, the rich doctrines of grace, and who share in the same commitment and evangelical zeal for the Gospel Jesus Christ. With this in mind, I often think of the Puritans of old whose eschatology did not take them into the depths of heresy. Though I may hold to differing views on eschatology, this does not change my high esteem for them as self-respecting Calvinists, if you prefer to employ that label at all. My recommendation is that if you are a Dispensational Premillennialist, then broaden your reading a bit by getting books like The Puritan Hope (Iain Murray, 1971), or MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto (Samuel E. Waldron, 2008). I recently read Waldron’s work and must say that it is a must-read for anyone who wishes to search this matter out with better information and understanding. The subtitle to Waldron’s work is: “A Friendly Response.” I must say that his response is indeed friendly, the tone is mature and irenic and is therefore highly commendable. Which brings me to my simple appeal. I am quite sure that John MacArthur holds a busy schedule; but since it is he who has opened the war room of this discussion – there ought to be a discussion of some sort. I don’t know of anyone who has written a full book addressing MacArthur’s manifesto (other than Waldron) – if there is someone else who has invested such time and energy, then I am completely unaware of the matter. But Waldron has written a book on the matter and it is now four years old. His work is not a diatribe; it is not guilty of ad-hominem attacks; or guilt-by-association argumentation. It is a friendly response indeed, and it absolutely deserves a response.

Unfortunately, to my knowledge (and as of the writing of this article), Pastor Waldron has received no response from MacArthur for what he has written. Thus, my appeal is simply this: Dr. MacArthur, as the one who started this conversation, please take the time to read and respond to Dr. Waldron. As an example to a watching world, do it for the sake of God’s glory and Christ’s church.

If this matter is as important as you insist, then a non-response is simply indefensible.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] John MacArthur, Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Premillennialist, Shepherds’ Conference 2007, First Message.

[2] Ibid.

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Above all, a Christian

john-calvinFor years now I have been accused of being many things in view of my basic defense of God’s sovereign work of salvation: I have been accused of being a Calvinist, a Hyper-Calvinist, a “Calvinist-heretic,” and even a “Calvinist-cultist.” What I find absolutely fascinating about all this tongue wagging is this:

It has never been my practice to use the label – “Calvinist” at all. 

Now, to my sovereign grace friends, please know that I do not vilify those who use such a label – let every man do what he is persuaded to do in his own conscience. Additionally, it should also be said that I have been committed to the realities of man’s total depravity, God’s unconditional election, an atonement that is particular and extensive[1], God’s grace which is irresistible, and the reality of the saint’s perseverance. Yet despite all of this, I do not go about with the label: “Calvinist.” For many Arminians, this practice of mine will probably be judged as utter hypocrisy; for some “Calvinists,” this is high treason. For myself, it is my highest preference for ministering the word as a follower of Christ, and, secondarily, it is the best way that I know how to honor the memory of one of my favorite Christians in all of church history: John Calvin.

Why do I say this?

Over the years, I have become deeply impressed with Calvin’s humility as a mere man and child of God, especially in view of his zeal for evangelism; his heralding of God’s authority in the Scriptures alone; his vehement opposition against Papalism and the adoration of mere men; and his insistence on using church fathers as mere guides to exegesis, not as final authorities of it. In fact, it is this latter priority of his that has so deeply affected my own life and ministry. During Calvin’s lifetime, the Roman Catholic church was showing all of the signs of man-centeredness that one could possibly imagine. Scripture had become an incidental decoration to Rome’s masterpiece of man-made tradition. Priests recited, not the authority of God as their ultimate source of truth, but only those church fathers whose views favored their own. When one studies such severe adoration of mere men during this period, it is difficult to avoid comparisons with that of the Pharisees in the 1st century. Pick up a copy of the Mishnah, the written collection of rabbinic traditions, and you will find, line after line, authoritative instructions all prefaced with the formulaic expression: Rabbi ____ says. Line after line, their formulaic instructions all began with the premise, not of Scripture, but of the teachings of popular Rabbi’s throughout history. Such oral traditions, which the Pharisees vehemently defended, were rebuked as that which “nullified the commandments” of God, as the Savior declared. For the Pharisees, as well as the leaders of the Romish church, truth was decided by a contest between popular Rabbis and church fathers, not God’s Word. However, in the imitation of Christ Himself, Calvin refuted this slavery to tradition and hero worship, and directed others to the principle of Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Soli Deo Gloria. Without Sola Scriptura, all of the other Solas will be lost in the morass of human “wisdom” and reasoning.

I would urge the reader to pick up a biography of John Calvin, and you will discover that he sacrificed much in his life in order to deter others from the man-worship that was so prevalent in his day. As I learned more about this soldier of Christ, it seemed difficult to believe that he would approve of people going about identifying themselves by his name. At least, for myself, it is something that I cannot fathom doing for a few reasons. If I could imagine a way to honor the memory of John Calvin, it would be by heralding the only name which he sought to herald – the name of Christ alone.

But this is not my principal reason for avoiding such a label.

With or without John Calvin, bearing the name of Christ is a privilege that transcends imagination – and it comes at a great expense: the shed blood of the unblemished Lamb of God – Jesus Christ. It brings to mind Christ’s mercy and love in the salvation of this depraved sinner; it reminds me that the Father elected me, in His Son, despite my own wretchedness; it underscores the truth that the Good Shepherd laid down His life for me, as one of His frail sheep; it compels me to remember that my salvation has been brought about by His sovereign grace alone; it gives me hope in His continuing grace to persevere me to the end; and it reminds me that I have been bought with a price, therefore I am to glorify God with the whole of my body, life, and being.

Dear reader: above all, I am a Christian.

[1] For years now I have employed the expression “extensive atonement” in view of the Apostle John’s numerical analysis of Christ’s atoning work: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands;” Revelation 7:9 (NASB) – italics mine. My book, All Nations Under God, details the reality of Christ’s atonement which is clearly particular, yet wonderfully extensive.

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