Contending For The Faith

September 21, 2009

The Dilemma of the Partial-Preterist: Inconsistency

Filed under: doctrine,Preterism — Lynda O @ 11:06 am

Here I refer to “partial-preterists,” those Christians who reject the futurist view of scripture yet recognize that Christ has not yet returned.

Such an individual rejects the futurist view, citing the common preterist objection:  the Revelation text says that these things must soon take place (Revelation 1:1).  Therefore, since 2,000 years have since happened, these words could not possibly have been referring to still future events. So, since the text says these events must soon take place, the events described must have happened in the first century.

Yet the partial-preterist recognizes that Christ has (obviously) not yet returned–so that part, the return of Christ, is still future even though the events have already happened.  Only problem is, the same book of Revelation also tells us that  Christ Himself is soon returning:

  • Revelation 22:12 — “Behold, I am coming soon!”
  • Revelation 22:20 –He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

So which is it?  Past or future?  The partial-preterist on the one hand says that the “these things” to come soon must have already occurred, but on the other hand says that Christ’s promised “Yes I am coming soon” really wasn’t all that “soon” since 2,000 years have passed.  The position ends up confused by this obvious inconsistency.  If both the events (“what must soon take place”) and the return of Christ are said to occur soon, then either 1) BOTH the events and Christ’s return did occur in the first century, or 2) the human definition and understanding of “soon” is incorrect and neither the events nor Christ’s return has yet happened.  These are the only two logical conclusions.  Consider the two texts together, the prologue to Revelation (Revelation 1) and the epilogue (Revelation 22), and the clear meaning is that the “what must soon take place” is connected to Christ’s return, that all of the events go together.

The full-preterist (hyper-preterist) deals with the full implications of the dilemma logically, and opts for choice number 1.  At least such people are consistent in recognizing that “coming soon” in the text must refer to both the events and Christ’s return.  The futurist is likewise consistent, and opts for choice number 2:  the human definition and understanding of “soon” is incorrect and therefore neither of the “soon” predicted things have yet happened.

In this textual consideration, the futurist recognizes the doctrine of imminence, that Christ could return at any time — and its corollary, that from God’s perspective a day is as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day (2 Peter 3:8).

A side note here:  to those scoffers who then would apply that verse to an interpretation of Genesis 1’s “day,” I would point out that the context of 2 Peter 3 is quite clear.  Peter’s words about “a thousand years are like a day” are specifically in the context of the surrounding verses, which answer the scoffers who say “where is His promised coming?” — the very reasoning of preterists who conclude that “soon” could not mean 2,000+ years.

The inconsistencies of the partial preterist position continue to astound me.  Simple logic should explain that the “coming soon” must refer both to the events and Christ’s return. So either both the “coming soon” events have already happened, or they haven’t.  How can one say that the one promise of “coming soon” must have happened in the first century, but that the other “coming soon” event has an entirely different meaning?

August 11, 2009

The Salvation of Babies Who Die

Filed under: C.H. Spurgeon,doctrine,John MacArthur — Lynda O @ 7:08 am
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I’ve been following the recent blog discussion, started at Challies.com, regarding the salvation of infants who die.  The faithbyhearing blog article includes a link to John MacArthur’s two-part message regarding this topic. I have now finished listening to these two messages, which were very helpful and very solid in reference to what the Bible has to say on the matter, which is more than I had realized.

For me this topic is more academic: I’ve not personally experienced the loss of an infant or young child. I’ve known a few cases, such as a friend who 15 years ago gave birth to a stillborn daughter, and that Christian woman still regrets the loss though accepts that this child is with the Lord. I recall a pastor years ago who was uncertain, but held hope based on God’s character, that our God is merciful. My more recent reference point is a pastor with many other errors (Hugh Ross creation, amillennialism, preterism, heavy emphasis on spiritualizing and allegorizing texts and skimming the details), who on this issue has not openly stated it, but tends toward the Tim Challies viewpoint of damnation for infants who die. In a conversation regarding the matter, his main point was the guilt of the young children, to compare them to snakes and even baby snakes. The baby human is sinful and will manifest its sinfulness if given time to grow up, just as surely as the young snake will manifest its deadliness. As I now reflect further on the matter, and considering this pastor’s other errors, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. It’s the same heartless attitude that allows him to compare human sinners to disgusting roaches– and true, human sinfulness is a very vile thing, but I’ve never heard MacArthur or other biblically grounded teachers describe sin in such terms (such a description instead, I suspect, relates more to his old-earth attitude of animal death and suffering for billions of years) — and to declare that people’s young children really “are just brats.”

In my recent general readings, I’ve noted Spurgeon’s clear view that all babies who die are with the Lord; and now MacArthur’s view, and really it does make a lot of sense and with good biblical reference. (My only exception to what MacArthur said was his reference to C.S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle.” That story has nothing to do with the salvation of babies; those who die in the train crash are those who were school-age children in the earlier books, and in “The Last Battle” are grown, in their late teens.) As Todd at FaithByHearing noted, the real issue isn’t the young child’s sin and guilt before God; we all are in that condition, and we all are saved completely by God’s grace, and even our salvation does not involve us in any way. The real issue is God’s grace and mercy, that which He extends to those who die while in a condition of being unable to comprehend, unable to rebel against God.  As MacArthur points out in reference to Romans 1, the lost are “without excuse.” Dead infants are “with excuse.” Likewise, at the Great White Throne judgment of the damned, the lost are judged by their works, their deeds. Infants (though guilty sinners with the curse of original sin) do not have any deeds to be damned for. If an infant were in hell, it may realize that it is suffering and in torment, but it would not understand why it is suffering. All the lost, at the final judgement, do understand why they are suffering.

I now offer the following theory, for what it’s worth. Admittedly it is based on an extremely small sample, and so I’m not being completely serious here, perhaps a little facetious, yet I still see some truth in the following. Those who reject the idea of salvation for infants who die, tend to also be those who like to spiritualize and allegorize much of the Bible, those who tend to skim over the scriptural details, and end up as amillenialists and preterists. The same group (again I speak generally) that would deny a future salvation for Israel, that would deny God’s promises and electing grace to Israel, who say that the Jews lost their salvation on the basis of works and thus inherit the curses while the Church receives salvation on the basis of election and now inherits the blessings — are the same people who would deny God’s grace and salvation to infants, to those incapable of consciously accepting or rejecting God.

  • C. H. Spurgeon: future for Israel, and salvation for all infants
  • John MacArthur, and like-minded bloggers: future for Israel, and salvation for all infants
  • Tim Challies, and like-minded bloggers: amillenialist, no future for Israel — damnation for infants
  • The nameless local pastor: amillenialist, no future for Israel — uncertainty and likely damnation for infants
  • John Calvin: amillenialist;  partial infant salvation: elect infants and non-elect infants
  • Martin Luther: amillenialist;  partial salvation: only for those infants who are baptized before death

July 27, 2009

Thoughts Concerning “Mark Dever’s BIG Statement”

Filed under: doctrine,eschatology — Lynda O @ 11:43 am
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I’ve been following the discussion at “Expository Thoughts” blog, concerning “Mark Dever’s BIG Statement” and a response to it.  The overall issues here are two: a local church’s doctrinal statement, and the subjective idea of doctrinal “triage” in which various biblical doctrines are ranked as being of first, second, or third-tier importance.

In the matter where my experience is more limited (I’ve only been a regular member at two churches in my life), I learned of the differences between local churches — some have very detailed doctrinal statements. Some churches that have detailed statements require membership adherence to that doctrinal statement; others do not exclude for membership based on these matters, but simply give the statement as “this is what we teach and believe.” My local church has neither a detailed doctrinal statement, nor membership qualification based on that; nor do they ever fully disclose and teach “New Members classes” though the church has had a great influx of new members and regular attenders in the last six years. The pastor happens to be amillennial and partial preterist in his view, and this is the only view presented.  He frequently makes passing remarks showing his confused and highly-allegorized ideas of scripture, so he is clearly not neutral, in contrast to the many pastors that are amillennial but relegate the matter to a lesser level of importance.

The other issue, of doctrinal hierarchy, is one I’ve given some thought to, and I firmly believe that much of this concept is based on man’s ideas rather than God’s. Many of the preachers and bloggers (and many of the blog posters are also pastors) apparently rank eschatology as of little importance (3rd tier), others at 2nd tier, though all concurring that we shouldn’t divide and restrict fellowship based on either 2nd or 3rd tier doctrines.  When these individuals rank eschatology on the same level of importance as drinking alcohol, or KJV-only versus non-KJV only, though, I believe that they do a great disservice to scripture and miss a huge difference between these items. Drinking alcohol, for instance, is explicitly designated in scripture, through Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians, as one of the lesser matters (along with eating meat sacrificed to idols, and general attitudes toward physical eating and drinking) up to each person’s own conscience. The KJV-only controversy is, of its very nature, not a biblical issue but a more recent development in which people have elevated the matter of translations to the level of doctrine itself.

Eschatology fits neither of the above cases, and in fact the Bible throughout addresses the subject very frequently and is quite clear on its meaning — clear, that is, unless one chooses to eisegete, instead of exegete, scripture. The matter really should not be that difficult. As one poster at Expository Thoughts noted, “the same hermeneutic that leads to an affirmation of believer’s baptism also leads to a premillennial view.” When Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, speaking of the coming man of sin, says that this person will set “himself up in God’s temple proclaiming himself to be God,” it is not difficult to understand that Paul is speaking of an actual temple building — especially when we also consider the many other texts that speak to the matter.  To quote S. Lewis Johnson regarding the 2 Thessalonians text, “This cannot be a temple made of men who believe in the Lord Jesus, and the Lord Jesus, while right in the midst of that temple, would be sitting in the abomination of desolation. How ridiculous can you be in the interpretation of Scripture? So Paul understands that in the last days, that temple in Jerusalem is going to be rebuilt.”

As S. Lewis Johnson pointed out, in the New Testament our Lord’s second coming is referred to 318 times, so that is is mentioned proportionately in every chapter of the New Testament; some epistles have not just one but many references to the second coming. By contrast, the doctrine of baptism is mentioned 19 times in 7 epistles, and the Lord’s Supper is mentioned only six times. Yet we have whole denominations based on the teaching of baptism, also on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Yet these same people want to relegate eschatology to something unimportant, on the level of eating/drinking or different English translations?!

A common reasoning on this point is that the Reformers were such great, learned Christian men, great leaders, and thus since they obviously believed amillennialism and yet professed Christ, we must include fellowship with similarly-minded believers today and thus eschatology is not essential. True, the Reformers believed this, but it was among several teachings that they brought in, unchanged, from their Roman Catholic background. They were in error, and by their own admission did not study or give eschatology serious consideration. John Calvin evidently thought that the supposed millennial kingdom was the same as the eternal New Heavens and New Earth, and concluded that eternal life could not be restricted to 1000 years — merely showing his own lack of understanding on the matter. Today’s Protestant believers do not have the same excuse as the Reformers, a background (from most of their lives) where they had only been exposed to the concepts of Catholicism and Church-State government. To say that we should seriously consider the validity of amillennialism because the Reformers believed it is the same as saying we should believe any other teaching of Catholicism. Here I heartily concur with Dan Phillips’ remark concerning “Big-name guys were asked what one thing they’d change about John Calvin” — “my no-name answer would be that he be more conscious of what he brought over uncritically from Roman Catholicism, and take pains to reform it as well.”

June 30, 2009

Various Items of Interest

Filed under: Bible Study,doctrine,eschatology,J. C. Ryle — Lynda O @ 11:49 am

I recently learned of J.C. Ryle at this blog, another 19th century British preacher, contemporary with Spurgeon. His name and writings are less well-known today than Spurgeon, but many of his sermons are available online. My local church library also has several of his books, including his expositions of the gospels.

Here are links to some of his writings online:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Dan Phillips at Pyromaniacs blog has a good post on “What Prayer Is and Isn’t”  (link:  ). See also his recent interview and great statements, including his explanation of “why I am a Christian, a Calvinist, and a Dispensationalist.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

In my Bible reading plan, I’ve been reading through much of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation. Today’s readings included Ezekiel 38 and Revelation 21. My overall understanding of these passages is so much clearer now as a premillennialist, but so many people fail to just read the Bible and what it actually says. Ezekiel 38 is so parallel to the descriptions in Revelation chapters 19 and 20. Consider the parallel between Ezekiel 38:19 and Revelation 18:18-19; or the references to “Gog and Magog” at the beginning of Ezekiel 38, also referenced in Revelation 20 — at the end of the millennial kingdom 1000 years. I’m still not sure which period Ezekiel 38 and 39 refer to, and I’ve read commentators who relate it to the later period, but most relate it also to the events just prior to Christ’s return at the end of the tribulation.

In the spirit of Elijah (mocking the Baal worshippers on Mt. Carmel), I want to laugh (if it were not also sad, that such is preached and misleads people) again at the humanist, non-Biblical eschatological ideas from the local pastor. He declared his belief that the end of the world will probably come in about 50 years. But did he base this idea on any scripture, of seeing how what is foretold in the Bible relates to our world today? No. He cited, as proof, agreement with “the secular scientists” who are convinced that mankind cannot continue much longer, that man has so much power to destroy, especially with the atomic bomb which anyone can make. He predicts that humans will divide more and more apart from each other and destroy civilization, with terrible warfare that will destroy 100 million or more people.

Of course he said nothing about Israel, the fact of that nation’s existence; nor the current “Mediterranean Union” as a real possibility, or the indicators of one world government unification, or that the technology and political factors are coming together to set the stage for the Great Tribulation.  Based on human scientific ideas, he comes up with human ideas contrary to Biblical teaching — people dividing against each other, whereas the Bible says the opposite, unification. Most significantly, he dares to suggest that men are the ones to bring about a massive holocaust, where again the Bible makes it clear that God is the one who’s going to destroy this planet. He further fails to see that the U.S. will not be a major world power at that time — though perhaps this could happen within 50 years. But as Fred Zaspel notes in his article “The Nations of Ezekiel 38-39”  though we today cannot imagine any Middle-East conflict that does not involve the U.S., the text gives no indication of such involvement and thus we cannot impose other meanings (such as Russia for “Rosh”) on Ezekiel 38-39 in order to date it to our time. Nor does the local pastor recognize the biblical doctrine of rapture (at any time), much less the likely pre-trib rapture, which means that the next event for Christians to look for is not signs of the tribulation; the rapture is a sign-less event such that every generation of believers has lived in imminency, that Christ could return at any time.

My, how confused people get, even professing Christians and pastors, when they reject any part of the counsel of God, when they trade in God’s word for modern-day secular scientists. Again, at least he is consistent in where he places his real trust regarding both the beginning and the ending of our world.

But on the subject of world news and end times indicators (for the Great Tribulation), I am now considering that one important piece has not yet happened: a rebuilt Babylon which must then be destroyed again to completely fulfill the Old Testament prophecies (and agree with Revelation 17). It indeed looked like a near possibility some years back, while Saddam Hussein lived, but as Jim McClarty said in his series (2006) for the end times events to happen anytime soon, the “leading contender” would be a non-literal Babylon in the form of Roman Catholicism. Certainly Rome and the Roman church may very well have a part to play in that end times scenario, but many others make a strong case (including John MacArthur in his Revelation series) that Babylon must be rebuilt, to fulfill those OT prophecies.

Finally, I’ll close with this thought, from Fred Zaspel’s article (from 1985) mentioned above:

if the Lord were to return today it is difficult to imagine how Russia (or the U.S.A.!) could not be somehow involved in the end-time battles. But this does not mean that Christ’s return is very near, and it does not require that Russia be a part of the prophecy. That a nation is likely to be involved if events were to occur soon is not proof that the nation is specified in the original prophecy. Seventy years ago the possibility of Russia’s being an end-time power was almost unthinkable. Should the Lord tarry another seventy years the same may be true of Russia then; no one can say.

April 10, 2009

Regarding the Preterist Error

Filed under: doctrine,eschatology,Preterism — Lynda O @ 7:25 am
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Concerning the Preterist Error

Note, added 5-15-09:  The AntiPreterist Blog advocates Bullinger’s UltraDispensationalism, and associated heretical ideas.  I do not endorse this blog due to these issues.  The following is my observations from actual anti-Preterist articles that do not espouse UltraDispensationalism.

I just read through the last several months of blogs from the “Anti-Preterist Blog,”  a lot of good information and observations, and it continues to help me sort out an issue I have, with professing Christians that have overall bad and wrong theology on apparently everything except the basic soteriology (the doctrine of justification by faith and the “doctrines of grace” generally). I have a specific individual in mind, a local church pastor, though I’m sure there are many like-minded individuals, even other such pastors — and yet this makes the issue personal. It is one thing to argue and debate the issue in the abstract blogosphere, and an entirely different matter to see the error weekly in your own community.  The personal difficulty comes in finding the proper balance between being nice and civil to the person individually, while rejecting his teaching and affirming that he clearly shows complete incompetence in handling God’s word, that he does not know how to interpret or teach the Bible and ought not presume to teach others. The individual in question is a “partial preterist,” who believes that all Bible prophecy has been fulfilled except the return of Christ with immediate judgement and bodily resurrection. That does separates him from the “hyper-preterist” position often described in the anti-preterist’s blog, and makes a world of difference between Christian and heretic.

Yet I must agree that the same hermeneutical error, of spiritualizing the Bible to mean whatever one wants it to mean, is behind both forms of preterism. When we leave the path of solid biblical interpretation, we might as well just throw out the Bible since it has no objective meaning. Thus this one who has left the path of proper hermeneutics (assuming he ever started on the proper path to begin with, which I don’t know) also came up with the following biblically unsound ideas:

  • Genesis 1-2 is poetry, substitutes progressive creation, twists Hebrews to come up with an unending seventh day
  • no distinction between the “angel of the Lord” and standard created angels; since Hosea said Jacob wrestled with an angel, that must mean an actual created angel
  • Daniel’s 70th week occurred in the first century (the first half being Christ’s ministry, the second half the war against Jerusalem in A.D. 70)
    the tribulation happened then as well
  • denial of the rapture itself as some far-out “Left Behind” heresy
  • Revelation fits into some obtuse amillennial/preterist scheme of past and/or present events such that the woman on the beast in Revelation 17 is apostate Israel
  • Millennial passages throughout Isaiah and elsewhere represent the triumphant Church Age and the gospel going forth

The really troubling part is that the unsound pastor really believes all of this, and yet also apparently believes he is Reformed and honoring God’s word as “sola scriptura” along with all the other “solas.” Now, I realize that the Reformers did not reform all areas of doctrine, but only soteriology, and kept the Catholic ideas concerning eschatology and ecclesiology. Yet even they affirmed the truth of Genesis 1, and believed some form of non-preterist eschatology, at least to the extent that they saw the Pope as anti-Christ, not a preterist-version 1st century Nero. As this recent blog  “Sola Scriptura and The Hyper-Preterist Dilemma” points out, though, when someone rejects the historical, contextual method of interpretation, “they render the Scriptures of none effect–thus disabling the effectiveness of Sola Scriptura. The Bible alone is useless if the student cannot understand what is being taught.”

Another interesting observation, which I can also see, is the preterist anti-supernatural attitude. In “The Unbelief of Preterism,” Brian Simmons observes:

As I wrote in my last article, much of Preterist theorizing arises from the a priori notion that there must be a “perfectly logical explanation” for what is commonly viewed as supernatural. That’s just the problem, though. Preterism stands in the the wisdom of men, and not the power of God. In their effort to be “logical,” they overthrow anything that seems out of line with the established laws of the natural world.

and, from “The Infidelity of Preterism“:

What is Preterism, really, but the outworking of a latent skepticism, which seeks to find a “perfectly logical explanation” for everything? Because they do not believe it possible for the Son of Man to literally return in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, literally attended by all His holy angels, they seek a more reasonable explanation: one which leaves revelation stripped of its supernatural elements, and offers an interpretation which satisfies the incredulity of the scholastics.

How well this fits in with the pastor who has such a problem with God’s supernaturally creating the world in six ordinary days, and generally thinks of himself as well-educated in the sciences. Considering that this pastor never actually went to seminary but has only a secular science-type degree and “self-taught” Christianity, it shouldn’t be all that surprising after all. The naturalistic tendencies of man, giving great “power” to so-called science, bring about a real disconnect between the Bible and reality. This preterist mindset treats the Bible as allegorical and “spiritual” and at some “higher level reality” than ordinary people, and limits God to some other realm unrelated to this world’s real origins a few thousand years ago and real history since then, including the Scriptural understanding of “the times of the Gentiles” and the status of the nations and Israel as they really are. He fails to notice the very literally fulfilled scriptures regarding Christ’s first coming, focusing on this present “realized millennium” of a glorious church as seriously making an impact in this world system, when the actual course of history should make the truth plain enough. But our world’s actual history is really bound up in the actual, literal revelation from God to us in the Bible regarding the past, present and future.

Speaking of Israel and the nations, this brings up another major point concerning this preterist attitude — anti-Judaism, as described in Simmons’ “Preterism’s Anti-Semitic Agenda“:

But what would happen if Preterist teachings were proven false? If the timing is off by even a hair, and if Israel awaits a restoration, then she cannot have been divorced in A.D. 70, nor can the Lord have returned at the destruction of the temple. Well, this would discredit Preterism’s teachings. Therefore, Preterists find themselves battling against any Gospel which holds forth a future Jewish hope. The business of Preterism is to keep the Jews down-trodden, that Christianity may continue to exist in its present form.

It all comes down to proper handling of God’s word. Do you believe it as it is, or can you only believe it by twisting the meaning to agree with your own pre-conceived ideas? That reflects on your overall attitude toward God and His word, and those who impose their own meaning on biblical texts do so at their own peril, taking glory from God and calling God a liar.

John MacArthur made a great point in his opening session at the 2009 Shepherd’s Conference: the person who recognizes that Genesis 1 is not poetry — even if they then reject it — is a better interpreter of Scripture than someone who claims that Genesis 1 is just poetry (thus claiming to believe it, while twisting the meaning). This is foundational truth, and since the individual I reference stumbles here, it should not be surprising to find numerous other errors as well. Another great truth, from an early MacArthur sermonIf you don’t understand God’s promises to Israel, one you don’t understand how to interpret the Bible. Two, you won’t understand God.

January 30, 2009

NCT: New Covenant Theology

Filed under: Bible Study,doctrine — Lynda O @ 1:10 pm
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Recently I listened to the set of Master’s Seminary audio lectures series on NCT, or New Covenant Theology, and found these to be very helpful in understanding the difference between NCT, covenant theology, and moderate dispensationalism.

I had heard of NCT, through my local church Sunday School classes over a year ago — though at the time I did not comprehend the greater issues involved — but this series explains the overall material very well. Though I had heard bits and pieces before, my knowledge of Covenant Theology was sketchy at best, and here for the first time I got the basics of what Covenant Theology teaches — and what NCT refutes: the three Covenants of “Covenant Theology”:

  • Covenant of Works — between God and Adam, before the Fall
  • Covenant of Grace — between God and the elect, beginning after the Fall and manifested in the other biblical covenants
  • Covenant of Redemption — between the members of the Trinity, the God-head, in eternity past

NCT rightly rejects these three covenants, as they are not actual covenants as scripture uses the term. However, NCT falls short of the mark by not coming all the way to dispensationalism, instead trying to come up with a third way to approach scripture and interpretation. Significantly, NCT limits the New Covenant to only passages in the New Testament, beginning with the book of Acts, ignoring the important New Covenant passages in Jeremiah 31 and 33. NCT stresses the discontinuity to an extent that can be taken too far, as when it concludes that the Old Covenant was made with an unbelieving nation that only served as a model or type for the later, believing church. Their hermeneutic of starting with the New Testament and then reading it back into the Old, is flawed and overlooks important revelation. (Even when it comes to the New Testament, NCT puts too much emphasis on Hebrews while ignoring Romans, since Romans too would give them more of a problem regarding the truth of national Israel.) Related to this is the idea, expressed at least by some in NCT, that Old Covenant Israelites didn’t have enough revelation to be saved or really understand God’s plan; God’s word was hidden too much for them to figure it out. Yet a look at scripture shows that, instead, they did have enough revelation. Jesus’ response to Nicodemus shows that Nicodemus, as a teacher, should have known and understood these things. Job, from very early history, probably the time of the patriarchs, showed great understanding. Paul, as described in Acts, explained that what he believed was nothing more than the hope of their fathers (again, the Old Covenant believers). Overall, the very notion of regarding the New Testament as better because it is newer, and rejecting the Old Testament on its own basis because it is older and more “primitive,” smacks of evolutionary humanistic thought rather than the biblical, historical reality regarding ancient mankind.

Richard Mayhue, in his session (last in the series) about NCT and Futuristic Premillennialism, notes that the NCT group is not being consistent in its study, and challenges them to come all the way out from Covenantalism. As he notes, only one NCT proponent has done so, Fred Zaspel. (See links to Fred’s great articles, on my “Great Reading Material” page.) He also gives seven major reasons to believe in Futuristic Premillennialism. I’ve come across most of these points before, but here they are listed together:

  1. Start with the hermeneutic (literal-grammatical-historical) as a presupposition, rather than starting with a theology as a presupposition.                       
  2. Exegetical integrity, as illustrated by how we handle Revelation 20.  
        Basic hermeneutical rules: 
  1. Numbers should be accepted at face value (conveying mathematical quantity), unless there’s substantial evidence to warrant another conclusion.
  2. Point 1 is especially true when dealing with numbers referring to time.
  3. Never in Bible is “year” used with a numerical adjective when it doesn’t refer to actual period of time that it mathematically represents
  4. The number 1000 is not used elsewhere in Bible with a symbolic sense. (Critics will certainly point to certain passages in Psalms, Jobs, etc. that use the word thousand, but the context here is conveying the idea of long amounts of time, as compared to our lifetime, not a mathematical or time reference)

3.  Identities of Israel and the Church are distinct in New Testament. Scripture gives no hint of supersessionism. 

  1. In the book of Acts, the word Israel or its related term Israelite appears 20 times; Church appears 19 times. In each case, Israel always refers to the nation, ethnic Israel. The terms are never switched or used as synonymous
  2. The Church is never called Israel in the New Testament. Israel is never called the Church in the Old Testament.
  3. In Revelation chapters 1 through 3, ecclesia (church) is used 18 times. This term is never used again in the later chapters of Revelation, and the terms are never confused in the subsequent chapters, in passages dealing with Israel.

4.   The preservation of Israel as a race of people and as a nation is very, very significant in history. 

Again we must consider the two passages in Jeremiah, relating to the New Covenant and its relation to the Jewish nation:
Jeremiah 31: 35-37 (NAS)

Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name: “If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the LORD, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease From being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the LORD, “If the heavens above can be measured And the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done,” declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 33: 19-26 (NAS)

The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, 20″Thus says the LORD, ‘If you can break My covenant for the day and My covenant for the night, so that day and night will not be at their appointed time, 21then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levitical priests, My ministers. 22’As the host of heaven cannot be counted and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.'” 23And the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, 24″Have you not observed what this people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which the LORD chose, He has rejected them’? Thus they despise My people, no longer are they as a nation in their sight. 25″Thus says the LORD, ‘If My covenant [for] day and night [stand] not, [and] the fixed patterns of heaven and earth I have not established, 26then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.'”

5.  The Abrahamic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant are unconditional covenants. They are unilateral, eternal, and unconditional. Only the Mosaic covenant was conditional, and only it was superceded by the New Covenant.

6.  All other eschatology systems propose this order: Christ reigns, then He comes. Yet what is the order in scripture? Answer: Christ comes, then He reigns.

7.  Dozens of Old Testament passages promise a physical, earthly kingdom, a king, land, prominence of Israel. These passages are scattered throughout the major and minor prophets, and they cannot be spiritualized or dismissed, or said to be abrogated and done away with.

Here I note for myself, if ever I can come across a MacArthur Study Bible, to look at page 1287 (in Amos 9), which has a list of these passages.

December 23, 2008

A Biblical View of Family

Filed under: doctrine,John MacArthur — Lynda O @ 9:44 am
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I recently came across this quote from John MacArthur, from a Q&A session transcript, in response to a question regarding how Christians are to live and fellowship, as compared to how cult groups function:

(speaking of cultists) “It’s a very circumscribed communal socialistic living where people who…it’s like Buddhist priests and these people, they give up all their freedoms, they give up all their ownership.  They step into that kind of communal environment.  That is not to say Christians aren’t responsible to spend more time with each other.  But I don’t think there’s a biblical mandate about that.  I think the family is the unit in Christianity that is the primary unit.  That is where…and you can go all the way back to Deuteronomy chapter 6 where parents are told to lead their children to talk about God every day when they stand up, walk in the Way, rise up, lie down.  The family is God’s unit by which righteousness is passed from one generation to the next.”

Here MacArthur sounds rather like a Presbyterian, covenantalist, as again he affirms what the Bible teaches and keeps a proper balance, rather than emphasizing one aspect of Christianity out of proportion to other teachings.  Yet MacArthur is considered a “leaky dispensationalist” and properly rejects the covenant theology extreme of infant baptism.  What a breath of fresh air, a balanced and reasonable approach to Christian living, in a world in which too many churches diverge into opposite extremes, fussing too much about certain doctrines while ignoring others.  As MacArthur has said elsewhere, there really is a lot of overlapping between the old and new covenants, they are not so distinct and separate as classic dispensationalism would have it; there is grace in the old covenant, and law in the new.

After many years in Sovereign Grace Baptist churches, I clearly see the problem of overemphasizing certain teachings — oh, that all churches had pastors that teach all the doctrines with equal emphasis.  Sovereign Grace churches  put all emphasis on the doctrines of Grace, and how only God can work to change the heart, how depraved sinners are and how God must do a work of regeneration in the heart.  Sermons deal directly with soteriology, or sometimes with the intricate details of the Mosaic system and all its sacrifices, and how these in some way or other typify Christ’s work on the cross.  Yet the majority of families, including those of the church leaders (deacons), take a very passive attitude toward their parenting responsibility, with many prayer requests to “pray for our children” (either generally or specifically their own children).  Since only God can regenerate the heart, this theology tends toward a passive and lazy attitude regarding the parents’ responsibilities; and so today we have a Sovereign Grace church showing the terrible fruits of this, in church leaders with very messed up young adult children — in prison, addicted to drugs and alcohol, out of wedlock pregnancies followed by marriage and divorce, and generally irresponsible kids dependent on their parents.  Sure, some of it reflects societal changes, and that these Christian families live no differently than unsaved people.  Yet it seems to surprise some, that even under years of solid preaching of God’s word (God’s Sovereign Grace, teaching at a much greater depth than most shallow, evangelical churches) that it has no effect in practice, the daily life.

Caught up in the goings on at this church, this contradiction baffled me for a while too — until after I started listening to and reading John MacArthur’s sermons earlier this year.  What a contrast indeed!  For this same  Sovereign Grace church, while continually teaching the important, though abstract, soteriology, never teaches the real-world issues of faith and practical Christian living.  The only references to family are generally negative, such as passing references to the sinful nature of a child.  The pastor so often loves to point out how every parent sees their “little angel” turn into a little sinner, and by the age of two that child will look bold-faced at the parent and “lie like the devil himself.”  Granted that such is true — but indeed, parents already know this, and so how is endless repetition of this fact of any help in Christian parenting?  Contrast this pattern with great biblical sermons, such as MacArthur’s “A Crash Course in Christian Parenting,”  (and many others) that give very practical yet biblically solid teaching.

Such overemphasis on soteriology, at the neglect of other important doctrines, tends to bring about a separation between theory and practice, a disconnect between the head knowledge of our salvation and the fruits of Christian living.  The Sovereign Grace congregations, like all Americans generally, are just as easily caught up in the American lifestyle of excessive debt and spending — so where are the sermons about a Christian’s attitude toward finances and responsibility?  When some of the people become very caught up in the American political process, such as earlier this year, never did the church address this issue, of a Christian’s proper attitude toward politics and political power.   

Contrast this with a John MacArthur sermon, “The Deadly Dangers of Moralism”  and this introduction: “One of the responsibilities that a preacher has is to bring the Word of God to bear upon the church and the world and to give God a voice to clarify and discern issues. So on the one hand we are called to the exposition of Scripture, explaining the Bible verse by verse, book by book. But the other hand, as well, we are called to address the issues of our time that affect us and to bring the truth of God to bear upon our understanding.”

So now I consider MacArthur’s point, and the biblical position.  Yes, the Old Testament clearly taught the idea of training your children in righteousness, teaching the next generation the great wonders of God and how to live before God.  The New Testament includes many instructions for parents and children, as in references in Ephesians and Colossians, also the pastoral letters of 1 Timothy and Titus.

This does not justify the error of covenantalism, that the Church replaces Israel and so we must put the children in a covenant relationship as they had in the Old, even baptizing infants into this covenant — but neither does it allow for the opposite extreme as seen in Sovereign Grace churches.  Indeed, MacArthur’s position — and solid teaching to back it up — shows that (as I tried to explain to a Presbyterian friend) you don’t have to have covenant theology at a church in order to give proper emphasis to the family; or stated another way, covenant theology churches don’t have a corner on the market, as the only ones that can teach a biblical view of family.  Unfortunately, many non-covenantal churches, such as the Sovereign Grace group, have erred in this neglect, but it need not be so, and I hope that other churches follow John MacArthur’s example, the proper balance of “dispensational” and “covenantal” teachings, to teach all of what the Bible has to say.

November 25, 2008

Concerning the Notion of “Secondary Doctrines”

Filed under: doctrine — Lynda O @ 8:31 am
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In my continual study of the Bible, and also following the latest “news” from Reformed Evangelical leaders, one issue that keeps popping up is how many such leaders want to narrow the scope of “essential Christianity.”  As a recent blog pointed out, for instance, Phil Johnson wants to qualify which doctrines are essential and which are secondary, apparently based on his own standards and categories.  In Johnson’s case, though he affirms the truth of premillennial eschatology, he backs off from a firm stand and says it is not an essential doctrine.   A few weeks back, I learned from a friend that R.C. Sproul said that biblical creation was not an essential doctrine.  In both cases, these men do affirm the correct biblical understanding, but then want to back off from any claims to absolute interpretation.

The trend certainly began with those who, using the same reasoning as theological liberals, purposely reject the plain teaching of certain scriptures, such as creation.  It’s easy for such pastors to “justify” their differing view, on the grounds that it’s okay to believe differently on anything and everything outside of “the essentials of salvation” (essentials which must necessarily be defined by each person).  After all, the heart of the gospel is that you accept Jesus as your savior, trust in His atoning work, the substitutionary death on the cross, and, as the Bible says, if you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth, you will be saved.  Yet even there distinctions emerge, especially the core of Arminianism versus Calvinist / Reformed / Sovereign Grace understanding of God’s sovereignty in election.

The overall direction of American evangelicalism has gone from general Arminian man-centered free will, to “gospel lite” entertainment, to embracing post-modernism and the emerging church; and thus God’s word is watered down more and more.  Reformed preachers have stood out as the exception, going against the trend by upholding the great doctrinal truths, preaching and teaching the word of God in far greater depth than what passes for such at the average American church.  Even here, though, it seems that the pressure of society to get along and compromise has started to wear down even the best preachers, many of whom will simply not even preach on subjects outside of a limited sphere, sticking to subjects they understand and that are considered non-controversial: the Doctrines of Grace, the soteriology and “sola scriptura” cry of the Reformation.  (I’ve heard other bloggers comment on this too, the restricted preaching range of the Sovereign Grace organization.  Then again, when it comes down to it I’d rather that they don’t preach on a particular subject, than to preach it incorrectly.  If they really don’t understand what the scripture is saying, since they haven’t taken the time to really study the matter, they won’t be able to preach what they don’t know.)

My own experience and growth as a Christian has shown clearly, though, that for true believers, God will bring more light and understanding, so that the Christian will come to love and embrace all of God’s word, desiring to study and know the truth more and more.  If a person thinks differently on some point, over time God will make that issue clear and bring the person into conformity with God’s word.  When a person comes up against a clear teaching of scripture and then purposely rejects it, one has to wonder, why?  To quote Jim McClarty (from an MP3 of a mid-week study class), “God’s people are not offended by God’s word.  God’s people will happily accept anything that’s in this Bible. God’s people love God’s word.”  As I’ve heard many times, the saved person doesn’t ask, how much do I have to do to get by? how much effort is enough to be a Christian?  No, the Christian desires perfection and freedom from sin, to love God truly with all one’s heart, mind, soul and strength.

Jesus told us that the gate is narrow that leads to life, whereas the broad path leads to destruction.  When I hear Reformed preachers, even the ones that get the truths right, back off by saying “this doctrine isn’t essential,”  lessening the scope to just the soteriology of a right relationship to Jesus, it sounds an awful lot like the unregenerate person asking “how much do I have to do to get by?”  In the name of Christian unity, they compromise the importance of God’s word and attempt to widen that narrow gate.

In such a dark world, such weaknesses of godly men lead me to even greater thankfulness for the men who uphold the truth and importance of God’s revealed word, those who hold to the higher view of scripture, men such as John MacArthur; and previous generations of pastors such as Charles Spurgeon and John Bunyan, examples for us to follow.  The even greater reminder, of course, is not to put our trust in men, but in God alone, who sustains and upholds all things.  For even these great men would surely fall, too, but for God’s wonderful grace.

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