Saturday, June 24, 2006

Jesus: Our Perfect Mediator

Preface: I wrote this a long time ago and truly regret the fact that I failed to footnote my sources. I now have no idea where each idea and statement came. Just know up front that I do not claim credit for all of this.
The very first chapter in Hebrews demonstrates Jesus’ superiority over the old shadows of the Jewish system. Every chapter that follows expands on this theme. Chapter seven introduces Jesus as a superior priest. The NT closely connects the work of Christ as our High Priest with His death on the cross. In this passage, we are told that Jesus, since He lives forever, has an unchangeable or permanent priesthood. Because of this (and in opposition to the earthly priests who pass away), He is able to save completely. He is not the Great Assistor who makes it possible for men to save themselves.
Hebrews 7:24-26
But because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
Because Christ holds His priesthood permanently, He, as opposed to the Jewish priests, is able to save COMPLETELY, FOREVER, TO THE UTTERMOST. WHY is Jesus able to save forever? Because He intercedes for them. So if Jesus intercedes for those who are lost, the passage makes no sense. The biblical truth is that if Jesus intercedes for you, you will be saved.

Also, we see that He is able to save completely a PARTICULAR PEOPLE, i.e., “those who come to God through Him.” Of this group, Jesus, “lives to intercede for them.” At first glance, this seems to refute the position. However, as we [know], man can not naturally draw near to God. Only those whom God draws approach the cross (John 6:44, 65). Furthermore, would Christ (Does Christ?) intercede for those who are NOT approaching God? Christ’s intercession is only on behalf of the people of God. Christ’s intercession is for all of those for whom He dies.

Upon what ground does Christ intercede with the Father? Does He appear before God and ask the Father to forget His holiness and justice and simply pass over the sins of men? Of course not! The Son intercedes before the Father on the BASIS of HIS DEATH. Christ’s intercession is based on the fact that He has died as a substitute and has borne believers’ sins on His body and has placated the Father’s wrath through His act of propitiation. Just as the High Priest of old could not intercede for anyone without a sacrifice, so too does our Great High Priest not make intercession without atonement.

Someone might say that just because Christ intercedes for someone does not mean they will be saved. However, in the context of the passage, the writer is arguing the superiority of Christ as priest. The old priests could indeed intercede for an individual to no effect. If Christ does likewise, how is He superior?
Hebrews 9:11-12
11 When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.
Did Christ enter the Holy Place having made salvation a “possibility”? When Jesus entered the Holy of Holies, He did so “once for all.” This refers to time (once for all time) not scope (once for all individuals). He did so by “His own blood.” When He did this, we are told that He had ALREADY “obtained eternal redemption.” This is not theoretical or hypothetical but a statement of fact. Christ did not enter the sanctuary to attempt to gain redemption; He entered HAVING ALREADY OBTAINED IT. So then, what is He doing here? Christ is presenting before the Father His perfect and complete sacrifice. He is our High Priest and the sacrifice He offers is Himself. We see the following truths:

  1. The Son will intercede for everyone for whom He died. If Christ died as their Substitute, how could He not present His sacrifice in their stead before the Father? Can we believe that Christ would die or mediate for someone He did not intend to save? Can we further believe that God would accept that sacrifice - as a substitute - and then reject it later based on man's rejection?
  2. Anyone for whom Christ dies will receive Christ’s intercession. If Christ did NOT die in behalf of a certain individual, then Christ will not intercede for that individual because He will not have the grounds on which to seek the Father’s mercy.
  3. No one for whom Christ dies will be lost. Can we imagine Christ interceding for someone and pleading His perfect atonement and then the Father rejecting the intercession? The Bible tells us the Father ALWAYS hears the Son (John 11:42). Would the Father not hear the Son’s pleas in behalf of a man the Son wants to save? If so, then there is incredible disagreement and disunity in the Trinity.
Hebrews 9:24-26
24 For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Again, we see the finality of Christ’s work. It further says He appeared in order to “DO AWAY” with sin (other versions say “PUT AWAY”). If His self-sacrifice does indeed “put away” sin, how can man FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED be held accountable for those same sins?
Hebrews 10:8-14
8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
What does the ONE offering of the body of Christ ACCOMPLISH? Answer: the setting apart, or sanctification of believers. Read carefully and consider the following:

What is the effect of the one time sacrifice of the body of Christ? Verse 10 above tells us that we have been made holy or sanctified! The Greek language is perfect tense, indicating a past and completed action. The death of Christ ACTUALLY makes us holy. Do we believe this? Did the death of Christ actually set apart those for whom the death was made? Or did it simply make possible the future sanctification?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Does ALL always mean ALL?

Warning: VERY long post ahead!

You’ve probably heard the preacher say it. It goes something like this when finding a particular three-letter word in the Bible:

There’s this little word that I want you to notice. A – L – L. We know what it means in English. It means “all.” Well, I did a little study in the Greek language and discovered what it means in Greek. It means “all.” Not “some.” Not “many.” Not “most.” All means “all” and that’s all all means.

Determining whether or not this summation is accurate is very important, especially because it is often voiced after reading the following two statements:

  • I Timothy 2:3-4 - This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
  • 2 Peter 3:9 - The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Before we look at those two verses to see how the biblical authors used the term “all” (which is “pas” in the Greek), we need to examine a few other passages to show some potential problems with this simplistic understanding and lay a little foundation for how we interpret (if we want to be consistent) the two main passages above.

First, look at the first chapter of Philippians. In the first verse, Paul states that he is writing “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.” We have just established the audience. Then, as he continues to write, Paul addresses this specific audience repeatedly using very specific pronouns.

  • In 1:3-4, Paul writes that he thanks God for “you” and that he prays with joy in his prayers for “you.”
  • In 1:6, Paul is confident that God will complete the good work that He began in “you.”
  • In 1:7, he says “you” are all partakers of grace with him.
  • In 1:29, Paul says it is for “you” that is has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer.
  • In 2:15, he then tells the readers to do all things without grumbling so that “you” may prove “yourselves” to be blameless and innocent, children of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom “you” appears as lights in the world.

In 2:20, the subject matter of Paul's thoughts change. Paul starts talking about “them.” He says “'they' all seek after 'their' own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.” It seems quite evident that Paul is talking about two separate groups of people here: “you” and “them.” There is no way you will confuse the two groups in this chapter. I've not proved anything here - just laying some foundation that I hope you will remember.

Now, look at Romans 11:7-13. Paul speaks of some Israelites, saying that God gave “them” a spirit of stupor. He quotes David in saying “Let ‘their’ table become a snare . . . and a retribution to ‘them.’” He continues, saying, “Let ‘their’ eyes be darkened . . . bend ‘their’ backs.” Paul says that “they” did not stumble so as to fall. Instead, Paul asserts that it is by “their” transgression that salvation has come to the Gentiles.

Then, Paul says in 11:13 “But I am speaking to ‘you’ who are Gentiles.” Do you see how the conversation has turned? Different pronouns to speak of different groups. It is again very evident and undeniable. Do you agree? Nothing more to say here - only laying more foundational layers.

Let’s look at just one more important example - 1 Peter. It is important because it comes from the pen of the man who wrote one of the main verses mentioned much earlier. Peter, in his first letter, wrote to “those who reside as aliens, scatter throughout . . . who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (That is a discussion for a later time but it will come). What does Peter say about these chosen scattered aliens?

  • In 1:3, Peter writes that God is to be blessed because He has caused “us” to be born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . to obtain an inheritance that is imperishable. Peter is lumping himself with this group.
  • In 1:6, Peter tells this same group that because of what God has done, “you” can rejoice greatly even though “you” have been distressed by various trials.
  • In 1:8, Peter says that even though “you” have not seen Him, “you” love Him.
  • In 1:14, Peter calls his readers “obedient children” who should not be conformed to the former lusts which were “yours” in “your” ignorance. Instead, “you” shall be holy because “you” were not redeemed with perishable things but with precious blood. Peter keeps this up throughout the rest of chapter one and into chapter two.

Then, in 2:12, Peter writes this: “Keep ‘your’ behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the things in which ‘they’ slander ‘you’ as evildoers, ‘they’ may on account of ‘your’ good deeds, as ‘they’ observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

Again, it is an elementary observation that Peter is writing now of two completely distinct groups: “you” and “them.” It is undeniable and hardly needs mentioning except for the foundational application that comes next.

The above needed mentioning because of the two verses mentioned at the beginning of this long post, namely 1 Timothy 2:3-4 and 2 Peter 3:9.

First, since we just finished reading from Peter’s pen, let’s continue on to his second letter. In the first verse, Peter says he is writing to “those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The audience is set – Peter is writing to fellow Christians. Again, he includes himself in this group. He will do so often.

  • In 1:3, Peter says that God has granted to “us” His previous and magnificent promises so that “you” may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption of the world.
  • In 1:5-7, Peter writes of “your” faith and “your” moral excellence and “your” knowledge and “your” self-control and “your” perseverance and “your” godliness and brotherly kindness. This sounds like decidedly Christian characteristics.
  • In 1:10, Peter calls his readers “brethren” and encourages them to be certain about God’s calling and choosing “you.”

From all this, we can discern that Peter is addressing a particular group. Then, in 2:1, Peter starts talking about another group – false prophets. He says the following of this new group:

  • In 2:2, he writes that many will follow “their” sensuality and because of “them” the way of the truth will be maligned.
  • In 2:3, “they” will exploit “you” with false words because of greed and “their” judgment and destruction are certain.
  • In 2:10, he says that because these in this different group are “daring [and] self-willed, ‘they’ do not tremble when ‘they’ revile angelic majesties.”
  • In 2:13, “they” count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. “They” are stains and blemishes, reveling in “their” deceptions, as “they” carouse with “you.”
  • In 2:15, Peter writes more about this group: "forsaking the right way, 'they' have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam."
  • In 2:17, Peter writes “these” are springs without water. “They” entice by fleshly desires.

No one would think Peter is still speaking of "those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours."

Finally, in chapter three, Peter returns his attention to the original audience but does not forget about “them.”

  • In 3:2, Peter says “you” should remember the words spoken by the prophets.
  • In 3:3, Peter says that in the last days, mockers will come following after “their” own lusts. As this group mocks the return of Christ, Peter says that it escapes “their” notice that creation speaks of God.
  • In 3:8, Peter cautions the readers to not let a fact escape “your” notice – that a day is like a thousand years to the Lord.

With all this in mind, we are now ready to read and understand Peter’s words in 2 Peter 3:9. He writes “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

Now, you see why I went to the trouble of working through those other passages. They have nothing to do with this particular text except to force you to be consistent in how you interpret the Scriptures. We see here that the Lord is patient towards whom? God is patient toward “you.” With all the passages given earlier in mind, who is “you?”

You must be careful here. How you answer this question will determine how you interpret the often misunderstood second half of this verse.

Obviously, “you” refers to the readers of this document – the saints of God. Can anyone deny this contextually? To deny this is to ignore all the evidence to the contrary and arbitrarily assign random meanings to various antecedents. You didn’t do it in the examples given earlier from Romans and Philippians and 1 Peter. Don’t do it now.

With that settled, the meat of the discussion occurs. After this phrase, Peter says that God is not wishing for “any” to perish but for “all” to come to repentance. It is at this point that "all" is said to speak of "every single person who has ever lived or will ever live," including "them."

However, it appears to be that the “any” and “all” are limited by the inclusion of “you.” God does not wish that “any of you” perish but that “all of you” come to repentance. Does that make sense? I think you would, at the very least, agree that this interpretation is plausible. You can not simply dismiss it as Calvinistic proof-texting or philosophical bias - especially since Peter returns immediately back to “you” in 3:11, asking “What sort of people ought ‘you’ to be?”

So, it has taken us a long time to get here but it appears that ALL does not ALWAYS mean "every single person." Sometimes it means "all kinds" or "all types" or "all of this group." It's just like someone sticking his head into a room and saying, "I want everyone to come with me. I'm buying lunch." Just how big a tab will this person have if by "everyone" he means "every single person" in the building, town, county, state, etc., etc., etc. No, we know what he means - "everyone OF YOU."

Now, let’s look at the other passage: 1 Timothy 2. Paul begins the chapter by asked for prayers to be made on behalf of “all men.” Did Paul mean to pray for every single individual alive at that moment? Was he suggesting that Timothy open the phone book and pray through it from alpha to omega?

Of course not. Paul gives us his meaning of “all” in the next verse, saying “for all men, for kings and all who are in authority.” It seems that in Paul's mind, he is equating the two groups. It is important because we need to pray for our leaders. We often forget that. It is easy to pray for President Bush. How many of us truly prayed in an intercessory fashion for the well-being of President Clinton?

Paul is using “all” to refer to “all KINDS of men.” We think this because Paul gives his reason for asking for prayer for “all men” – so that “we may lead a tranquil and quiet life.” What exactly will lead to this kind of life: praying generally for “every single person” or praying specifically for our leaders? The answer is obvious.

This is an important realization because Paul repeats the phrase in verse 4. He says that praying for all kinds of men, including leaders, is good and acceptable in the sight of God, who “desires all men to be saved.” Is God forever disappointed because His desires are forever frustrated since not all men are saved? Not necessarily, if you take “all men” to once again mean “all kinds of men.”

Is this an accurate interpretation? It is - if you take seriously the verses that follow.

In verse five, Paul starts the verse with the word “for” which indicates he is going to explain his previous statement. He writes that there is one God and one mediator between this God and man – Christ. In verse 6, Paul writes that Jesus gave Himself as a “ransom for all.” Did Jesus give His life as a ransom for every single individual who has ever lived or will ever live? Or did He give His life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28)?

Before you anwer that, there are a few more things I want you to ponder:

  • How does Jesus “mediate” between God and man? Hebrews 9:15 argues that the blood of Christ allows Him to be the “mediator of a new covenant.” In 9:24, the author says that Christ did not enter a man-made holy place but heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us. He does not offer Himself “often” but only once and then He sat down at the right hand of the Father (Heb 7:26 - "Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself." See also 10:12). The job was complete. In 10:14, we learn that “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” Has Christ done this for every single person who has ever lived?

    To answer "yes" is to say that that Christ appeared in heaven before the Father, offered His precious blood as a very real substitute for the sins of every single person who ever lived and then sat down because God accepted that substitutionary sacrifice even though God would later punish those same people for whom Christ allegedly died and made atonement and propitiation?
  • What does it mean for Jesus to give Himself as a “ransom for all?” Jesus offered His blood as a substitute and God accepted that substitution. His wrath was propitiated – which means His holy anger burned no more on those for whom Christ substituted. Yet, that anger must flame once more at the final judgment. Can this be?

So, all does not necessarily always mean all. Agree? Disagree?

Monday, June 19, 2006

15 Thoughts While Watching The NHL Finals

Favorite LinksTonight, the Carolina Hurricanes won the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup. For the uninitated, that is like winning the World Series for a professional baseball team or the Super Bowl for a professional football team.

And the sound that went up from most of North Carolina - a deafening collective yawn. Oh, the crowd was loud in Raleigh. The TV crew kept referencing their refusal to sit for any part of the game. However, for the most part, North Carolinians are in that strange season between basketball and football. Hockey? Never heard of it!

But, it IS nice to be a champion! And because I live here, I am a champion. I hereby claim the Carolina Hurricanes as my favorite professional hockey team.

Thoughts I had while watching the final period:
  1. Hockey is a very fast-paced game with moments of amazing anxiety. Any action around the goal will definitely draw you in, especially action around your own goal while nursing a one goal lead.
  2. I think I can name seven or eight hockey teams off the top of my head, besides the two in play tonight. I'll give it a go: Detroit Redwings, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Colorado Avalanche, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Lightning, Atlanta Thrashers (? - a guess), Winnipeg Jets or something (?) and . . . that's about all. Hmm, better than I thought - twelve names and two guesses. Can you think of any more? How many are there - 30, 32, 100?
  3. I do not know why television went away from the "glowing puck" from a few years ago. That seems like such a common-sense idea. You only capture brief glimpses of the puck as it skits around the ice like a laser. It would be nice to be able to see the thing.
  4. I believe I heard the announcer say something to the tune of "back in April in the first round of the playoffs." Now, that is utterly ridiculous. Three months of playoffs???
  5. Why would anyone want to grow up to be a hockey goalie? That is an insane thing to do. And it is a remarkable thing that anyone can do it well. The puck comes flying in at you, which would be difficult enough to absorb the blows, or it comes flying in near you, forcing you to track it with your eyes and get your body to block it by any means necessary. Sometimes that means using the handy-dandy oversized catcher's mitt or your stick (I can't believe any goalie is able to deflect a puck with that thing) or your body. Often while stretched out in a way that would make Mary Lou Retton wince. My hat is off to you, Cam Ward!
  6. "Pulling the goalie" is a pretty exciting portion of the game. This is the strategy of the team that is losing whereby they remove their goalie from the game in order to get an additional offensive player on the ice in an attempt to get a quick goal. Of course, this leaves absolutely no defense on the other side of the . . . what is it, RED line or BLUE line. That happened tonight at around the 1:30 mark of the final period (I keep wanting to say "quarter") and sure enough, a Hurricane (that sounds silly, doesn't it) broke free and scored an easy goal to make it 3-1.
  7. What is "icing?" It happened repeatedly tonight and I'm still not sure what it is. It seems to be when a player shoots the puck towards his own end of the ice to stop the action.
  8. I am not surprised there is fighting in the NHL. With all the banging around, I can't believe there isn't MORE fighting in the NHL.
  9. There doesn't seem to be much for a coach to do during a game. How can you coach the chaos that seems to be happening out on the ice. It all appears so random. All the Carolina coach did was chew on his fingernails and look silly in a suit. As for the coach's attire, I guess it could be worse - at least he didn't wear a hockey uniform like his players (as they do in baseball).
  10. When will the politically correct pressure come against the Hurricanes and force them to change their name? We don't like mascots named after Native Americans. The Washington Bullets changed their names to Wizards. After Katrina and Andrew and Hugo and all the other disasters, someone is sure to complain about the emotional distress from hearing that name over and over and looking at the ominous Hurricane symbol all game long.
  11. How do hockey players move so quickly and stop so suddenly and spin so gracefully with all that equipment on?
  12. I was astounded by the announcers' ability to name all the players and accurately detail the action. Some entirely indecipherable action would occur, the announcers would let us know what happened. Sure enough, the soon-coming slow-motion replay would prove them right almost every time. Tonight, over on ESPN, I heard a baseball announcer start giving the end-of-inning rundown (0 runs, 2 hits, 2 left on base) when there were only two outs. Baseball is absolutely bucolic and the announcers can't stay on top of the game. Hockey is like describing the landscape looking straight out a car window travelling 100 miles per hour and the announcers can keep up with it - and keep up with all the foreign names (and not easy names like Gomez and Rodriquez but hard names like Farxzydinksiywak . . . or something like that).
  13. The NHL is not exactly the bastion for racial diversity, is it?
  14. The "beard-to-nonbeard" ratio is pretty high. Is that a playoff solidarity bonding thing or is the de rigeur among hockey players?
  15. How come more people don't like this game? Now, soccer - I can understand the apathy towards that game. Put soccer on a field the size of a hockey rink and you got some action. Play soccer out on the North-40 like they do and . . . zzzzzzzz. Huh, where was I? (Sorry, Chuck - I await your rebuttal and will take it like a man.)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Calvinist? Arminian? Baptist?

Logic is a good thing. It helps to have a working knowledge of logic and the use/misuse/abuse of it. One of the most beneficial studies you can make is to understand "logical errors." There are certain things that people say within the argument that makes the argument invalid. Their position is defeated because of the fallacy being made. A fallacy is a "mistake," therefore a logical fallacy is a mistake made in your logic.

One such fallacy is to engage in a "category mistake." What is a category mistake? Let me give a very real and relevant example.

A certain phrase has been appearing a lot lately almost to the point of becoming a slogan. That statement is "I'm not a Calvinist. I'm not an Arminian. I'm a Baptist." I heard and read that statement from Ergun Caner. The statement was uttered quite a few times at the recent Southern Baptist Convention. Perhaps it even resonates with you. It shouldn't. It is a nonsensical statement.

It is a nonsense statement because the one who speaks it or writes it makes a "category mistake." It is the same thing as saying, "I am not a Republican. I am not a Democrat. I am a Steelers fan."

Do you see the connection? In the hypothetical statement above, Republicans and Democrats belong in one category (political parties) and Steelers fan belongs in another (sports team devotion). In fact, one can combine the two - a Republican who likes the Steelers or a Democrat who likes the Steelers. Therefore, the statement is unnecessary and does not move the debate along.

In the same way, the "Calvinist/Arminian/Baptist" triumvirate does the same thing. The terms "Calvinist" and "Arminian" belong to a single category (a certain belief about the doctrine of salvation). "Baptist" belongs to a different category, defining how one views issues like church polity/governance, baptism, deacons/elders, mission work and funding, etc.

Also, in the same way with the political football fan, one can be an Arminian Baptist or a Calvinistic Baptist. "Baptist" is not mutually exclusive of the other two terms.

Next time you hear that statement, think it through. You can be sure the one who utters it has not done so.

Logic is a wonderful thing.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Christian Liberty

There has been much discussion regarding the recent SBC resolution of "total opposition" to the consumption, distribution, purchasing or selling of alcohol. The speakers to this resolution did so with no biblical warrant. Instead, they were left with appeals to moralism.

In affirming this resolution, the convention has made the use of alcohol a sin on the same level as murder, adultery and covetousness. In effect, the Convention has now bound the conscience of its members with extrabiblical legislation - the very definition of LEGALISM.

Now, if you want to talk about a subject that the Bible classifies as sin and that Jesus denounced with a holy hatred, we will have to talk about legalism.

In a good series discussing the Christian and the liberty we enjoy in Christ, Mark Lauterbach over at "GospelDrivenLife" writes four articles that are worth reading. You can find them here:
  1. The Christian and Liberty - Part 1
  2. The Christian and Liberty - Part 2
  3. The Christian and Liberty - Part 3
  4. The Christian and Liberty - Part 4
Lauterbach is my pastor's good friend and former seminary classmate. He is always thought-provoking and gracious in his posts and shows a keen exegetical and theological mind. In short, he is well worth reading on a regular basis.

PS: I feel that after a few posts like this that I must make something clear - I do not drink alcohol and will teach my children that the best decision is to abstain from alcohol use. To discuss this issue on a biblical basis is to come across to some as "liberal" or "pro-alchohol." I am neither. I simply want my convictions to be based on the biblical text as I fully believe it is the SUFFICIENT guide to life. There is no need for me to add to what it says I must or must not do.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

More Burleson on Wine-Drinking

Over at Wade Burleson's blog (Grace and Truth to You), he writes of the alleged motives of Resolution No. 5. Towards the end, he gives this story about drinking wine and being a Christian. What do you think of it?
The following story is a beautiful narrative of reconciliation, conversion, and ultimate redemption --- all initiated because of a glass of wine.

Years ago a man came into our services and sat through the preaching time weeping. He was a wealthy, high profile business man who had just gone through a heartwrenching divorce because of his own indiscretions.

After the service he introduced himself to me and set up an appointment to see me for some counseling. This began a six month pastoral relationship with this man that eventually led him to an understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the ultimate experience of Divine forgiveness.

All that was now needed was reconciliation with his wife. He asked if I would counsel them. I said I would, but when he requested his wife to come with him to see me, she said, "No. He's a Baptist preacher. All he will do is condemn me."

The businessman was crushed. I asked him why his wife was so hostile about Baptist preachers. He told me she grew up Roman Catholic and the only time she ever attended a Baptist Church the preacher yelled and screamed about the sins of the people in the pews including drinking, going to movies, wearing short skirts and long hair, etc . . . and it turned her off from "the Baptist religion."

I suggested that rather than have her come to my office that the man might want to see if his ex-wife (a divorce had since occurred) would have my wife and I over for dinner, just to get acquainted. To his surprise, she agreed.

To our surprise she was a gourmet chef. We entered the lovely home with the smell of French bread wafting in the air, and sat at the table meticulously crafted for a true dining experience.

Unfortunately, though the introductions were cordial, I could tell the evening might be a long one because of the chill toward this "Baptist preacher."

As we sat down, I noticed the brilliant table settings, the scrumptiously prepared French gourmet meal, and the solemn expression on the woman's face.

I also noticed there was tea and water on the table.

So this Baptist pastor said, "You can't have a meal like this without wine. Where is the wine?"

I wish you could have seen her expression. She smiled and warmly said, "But I thought you were a Baptist preacher."

"I am," was my response, "And this Baptist preacher knows a great chef when he sees one, and no chef worth her salt would prepare a meal like this without wine."

She asked my wife and I to follow her as she took us down to the cellar. She was a wine collector and she proudly showed us her collection, passed down to her by her grandfather. She meticulously chose a bottle of wine for the occasion and we made our way back to the table.

I led us in prayer and we thanked God for the food and the drink and His provision for us. We ate a wonderful meal and I enjoyed a glass of wine. Nobody around the table had more than two glasses.

To make a long story short, the walls that had hindered the relationship came down. We enjoyed the evening with the couple and as a result five things happened:

  1. I was able to lead this woman to faith in Jesus Christ, showing her that Christ alone provided the righteousness she needed, and that she must forsake any trust in her own "self-righteousness." She trusted Him and was baptized shortly thereafter.
  2. It was my privilege to perform the private ceremony where wedding vows were exchanged again and this man and woman were reunited in marriage.
  3. The couple became very active in our church and have led out in our outreach of the lost in our community through Sunday School.
  4. They have personally given tens of thousands of dollars to the Lord's work through our church and Christian school, and have personally been able to lead several of their own family members to faith in Christ.
  5. They still have their wine collection, but have never been drunk since giving their lives to Christ as Lord.
Now, I ask this simple question to my Southern Baptist friends. What, if anything, is wrong with the events just described to you?

I am convinced that we Southern Baptists have for too long avoided teaching our children the principles of God's Word, and instead, substituted a system of religious morality that is often contradictory to the Bible, and therefore, when kids leave Southern Baptists homes they go off the deep end into addictions, rather than live their lives in the enjoyment of the things of God within the parameters established by God.

I have heard the argument before that "Even if one person becomes a drunk then I will abstain from alcohol because of it." The power of the gospel is absolutely lost in that kind of thinking. The drunk is a drunk because of the sin in his soul. His soul is transformed by the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, not by observing cultural prohibitions of a Southern Baptist. Christians around the world drink beer and wine without getting drunk. It doesn't hurt their witness. It seems the only weaker brothers I keep running into are Southern Baptist pastors who "stumble" when they see a Christian drinking wine. We Southern Baptist pastors claim to believe the Bible, but I sometimes wonder what Bible it is we are reading.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Ben Franklin's Religion

Depending on whom you read, our Founding Fathers were either Bible-toting, Scripture-quoting, God-fearing Christian men bent on establishing a government a little short of a theocracy or they were nigh-athiestic deists. Of course, you can't make such broad generalizations about "the founding fathers" since they were individual men from vastly different colonies and families. Of some of these men we know much of the religious opinions. Of others, we know little.

Now, after reading Walter Isaacson's wonderful biography of Benjamin Franklin, I know more of his ideas.

On page eight, we see that Franklin's father, Josiah, was "not zealous about his faith. He was close to his father and older brother John, both of whom remained Anglican." Isaacason quotes another source that says Josiah's spirit of independence and intellectual liveliness led him to become Puritans.

For reason of faith and finances, Josiah moved his family to America in 1683 after the fall of Cromwell's Puritan rule in England and the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The trip took nine weeks and cost the equivalent of six month's salary. Franklin was born in American on January 17, 1706 in Boston.

Franklin was an excellent student and was set to go to Harvard, a training ground for ministers of the gospel at that time. His father decided against it, saying that Franklin was "not suited for the clergy" as he was skeptical, puckish, curious, irreverent (19).

Franklin had an interesting relationship with the famous evangelist George Whitefield and admitted to being stirred by his oratory skills. Franklin also helped print Whitefield's sermons, which made the preacher famous and the printer rich (111). Later, Franklin recalled that Whitefield "used, indeed, sometimes to pray for my conversion, but never had the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard" (113).

Frankin completely abandoned the Calvinistic tenets of his father's religion and leaned closer to the deism that was the "creed of choice during the Enlightenment" (26). While living in London in 1724, Franklin printed Wollaston's The Religion of Nature Delineated. This tract argued that religious truths were to be gleaned through the study of science and nature rather than through divine revelation (45). Frankling decided that Wollaston was right in general but wrong in parts (45). He set out his own ideas in A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain. It was so bad that he later was embarrassed by its existence, burning as many as he could purchase.

As he wrote in his Autobiography, "The arguments of the deists which were quoted to be refuted appeared to me much stronger than the refutation" (46). However, Franklin's overriding concern over spiritual isses was its practicality and he thought that deism, "though it may be true, was not very useful" (46). The most useful was Christianity, though he admitted that the Bible "had no weight with me" (46). Because Christianity was so useful, Franklin "paid his annual subscription to support the town's Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Jedediah Andrews" (84).

Eventually, Isaacson writes that Franklin began to "embrace a morally fortified brand of deism that held God was best served by doing good works and helping other people" (46). To Franklin, the idea that people are saved by grace alone is "unintelligble" and "not beneficial" (46). Isaacson writes that Franklin believed that a faith in God was beneficial but his faith was devoid of "sectarian dogma, burning spirituality, deep soul-searching or a personal relationship to Christ" (85).

Franklin had "little interest in organized religion and even less in attending Sunday services" (84). However, he was a spiritual being. He opened his November 1728 essay Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion with the confession that "I believe there is one Supreme most perfect being" (85). As a deist of some sorts, he also stated that "I imagine it great vanity in me to suppose that the Supremely Perfect does in the least regard such an inconsiderable nothing as man" (85).

This "Supreme Being" was far above wanting our praise and worship. However, since humans want to worship something, Franklin wrote that his Supreme Being caused "there to be lesser and more personal gods for mortal men to worship" (85).

As he grew older and prepared to die, his "amorphous faith in a benevolent God seemd to become more firm" (467). He wrote after the war that "If it had not been for the justice of our cause and the consequent interposition of Providence, in which we had faith, we must have been ruined" (467). He convinced Thomas Paine to not publish an essay that ridiculed public worship (Paine withheld publishing the essay for another seven years.

Franklin's tolerance led him to contribute to the building funds of every single sect in Philadelphia, including the Jewish synagogue. At the July 4 celebration in 1788, at Franklin's direction, "the clergy of different Christian denominations, with the rabbi of the Jews, walked arm in arm" (468).

One month before he died, Franklin wrote a response to Ezra Stiles, the President of Yale University (still a religious school at the time). Franklin restated his creed: "I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render him is doing good to his other children" (468).

Stiles had earlier asked Franklin if he believed in Jesus. Franklin said that was the first time he had ever been asked that question directly. WHAT AN INCREDIBLY TRAGIC STATEMENT!

Franklin responded by saying that "the system of morals that Jesus provided was "the best the world ever saw or is likely to see" (468-9). However, regarding the issue of Jesus' divinity, Frankling answered candidly, saying, "I have some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble" (469).

He was right in this statement. Frankling died at 11:00 PM on April 17, 1790 at the age of 84. Twenty thousand mourners gathered in Philadelphia as his funeral procession travelled the route to Christ Church. In front of the casket marched the clergymen of the city - ALL OF THEM of EVERY FAITH.

Sadly, Franklin now knows the truth.

The Controversy of the Cooperative Program

Let me say from the outset that I support giving through the Cooperative Program. It is a brilliant strategic administration that has produced far-reaching success for the Kingdom of God. It's not perfect but it is very good.

From the Baptist Press, we learn that messengers to the Convention approved a request from the Executive Committee. The Press writes:
One of the recommendations now encourages churches “to give an increasing percentage of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program” but no longer specifies a 10-percent goal for supporting the missions and ministries of state Baptist conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Another now encourages the election of leaders whose churches “systematically and enthusiastically lead by example in giving sacrificially and proportionally through the Cooperative Program,” again without mention of a 10 percent target.
Later in the article, we read:
Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, told messengers he believes this is one of the finest hours in the history of the convention and church members have a responsibility to step forward and reach the world with the Gospel. But, he added, he also believes the convention is “on the brink of defaulting in our responsibility.”

“In 1980 the Southern Baptist Convention gave 10.7 percent per church of undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program,” Jordan said. “Today that number is 6.6 percent. In the greatest hour of opportunity, we’re walking away from our responsibility to fund the greatest missionary force in the evangelical history of Christendom.”
This is especially pertinent in the context of this year's convention. One of the major points of the presidential election was the fact that Ronnie Floyd's church gave 0.27% (that's zero point two seven percent) to the Cooperative Program. Our new president, Frank Page, pastors a church that gave over 12% to the CP.

So, what does giving to the CP actually accomplish? I did some "cipherin'" and after carrying over all of my "aughts," I discovered it does not accomplish as much as most people think. Many believe that if a church gives $100 to the CP, then $100 goes to the mission field. That is not true (of course, it is true with the annual "Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions" and similar offerings).

Regarding the CP, let me explain. First of all, churches have four options for the allocation of their funds:
  1. PLAN A - 67.5% of the money given by an individual church stays in the state of North Carolina and the rest (32.5%) goes to the national convention. There are no designations - the monies are dispensed by the agencies.
  2. PLAN B - The same amount stays in NC but the balance is divided thusly: 10.5% goes to the national offices, 10.9% goes to Baptist colleges in NC, 10.6% goes to special missions and 0.5% goes to the "Adopt-An-Annuitant" program (caring for uninsured retired pastors).
  3. PLAN C - The distribution is the same as Plan B except instead of 10.5% going to the SBC, that amount goes to the CBF (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship).
  4. PLAN D - Only 49.5% of your church's dollars stay in NC. The rest is divided thusly: 5% goes to Fruitland Bible, 12.5% to special missions, 32.5% to the national convention and 0.5% to the "Adopt-An-Annuitant" program.
Now, let's consider PLAN A, probably the most popular plan, by looking at the numbers from a hypothetical church (Note: The percentages are actual numbers from the 2006-2007 budget):
A church gives $100,000 to the CP. Of that amount, a full 67.5% stays in North Carolina for state purposes such as our Baptist colleges ($11,319.75) and Baptist Hospital ($1,302.75) and Baptist Children's Homes ($3,186.00) and the Biblical Recorder ($769.50) and Administrative overhead ($5,967.00) and NC Home Missions ($4,509.00) and Fruitland Bible Institute ($722.250 and adminstrative overhead ($16,773.75) and more.

The remaining 32.5% of the $100,000 goes on to Nashville - $32,500. Of this amount, HALF goes to International Missions ($16,250) and 22.79% goes to Home Missions ($7,406.75).

Our six seminaries get a little over 21% ($6,955.24) and the rest of the $1,888.25 goes to the SBC operating budget, the "Ethnic and Religious Liberties Commission," the Annuity Board, and the Historical Library/Archives.

So, if you are keeping score, out of the original $100,000 given by the church "to missions," only $23,656.75 actually goes to the missionaries. That's less than 25%!
Again, I want to express my appreciation for the CP and all it has done to spread the gospel over much of the past 100 years. There is no doubt that the CP is a great innovation that has helped Baptists through the years do great things for the cause of Christ.

However, the dramatic language used to promote this program could stand to be toned down just a notch or two. The kingdom of God does not stand or fall because of the CP.

Majoring on the Minors!

Morris Chapman encouraged everyone to major on the majors at the Convention and in their churches when they go home. Sadly, that admonition did not truly apply at the Convention.

A very important resolution was offered for consideration from the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention this year. Tom Ascol was the writer of this resolution that called for proper church discipline. Here is an excerpt from the resolution:
Whereas in 2004 the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicated that there are 16,267,494 members in Southern Baptist churches; and

Whereas well over one half of those members never attend or participate meaningfully in the life of any local Southern Baptist church and are thus no different than non-members; and

Whereas the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED that . . . Southern Baptists . . . repent of our failure to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further

RESOLVED that we . . . repent of the widespread failure among us to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of church discipline and be it further

RESOLVED that we plead with pastors and church leaders to lead their churches to study and implement our Lord's teachings on this essential church practice, and be it further

RESOLVED that we commit to pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile.
This resolution is needed and should have been accepted for consideration and debate. However, the reason given for denying this resolution to come to the floor for a vote was:
  1. The committee questioned the validity of membership statistics and the assertion that "well over half" never attend or participate and
  2. The committee stated that churches should not remove these non-attending members from their church rolls because they were "excellent prospects for outreach" and we shouldn't throw away our "prospect list."
WOW! If it is true that these peoplel are our best prospects for evangelism, then WHY are they on our church rolls. With this answer, it appears that the committee agrees that lost individuals can be church members!

As Gene Bridges wrote, it is the height of irony that many call Calvinists "closet Presbyterians" for their soteriological beliefs and these same may be called the same for opening the door for unregenerate church membership (because Presbyterians practice paedobaptism, it is very possible for a member of the church to be unregenerate).

As for majoring on the minors, another resolution did pass: the forbidding of anyone who partakes of alcohol to serve as a trustee for an SBC institution (admittedly just one part of the resolution). Many think this was brought up and ratified as a veiled attempt to remove Wade Burleson from the Board of Trustees of the International Mission Board. Burleson answers that assumption in a very gracious way and even throws in some good exegesis on the whole topic of drinking alcohol.

So, in the mind of this year's convention, it is more of a sin to drink wine during Communion or have a glass of wine at a dinner than it is to have a church with half of its membership heading to hell . . . on the church bus?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Darrell Bock now blogging

Darrell Bock, the professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, is now blogging over at (a most edifying site that I frequent often).

He has written many commentaries and books that grace my shelves in my office. He also wrote the best book on "The Da Vinci Code," in my opinion. His massive two-volume commentary on Luke from the Baker Exegetical Commentary line is superb.

Visit him often. You'll be better for it.

Live-Blogging at SBC

The guys over at Thoughts and Adventures are blogging and updating every little bit as something noteworthy happens. Here are their thoughts on the Mohler/Patterson discussion.

Not everyone could go to the convention so this guy over at Provocations and Pantings is keeping up with all the blogging going all. You can go to his site as a sort of "clearing-house" for all the good blogging going on.

Report on Patterson/Mohler Discussion

As stated long ago, the discussion on Calvinism within the SBC finally took place at this year's Pastor's Conference between Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson (my president while I was at Southeastern) and Southern Seminary president Al Mohler. Transcripts of this will be available soon but in the meantime, here is a fair and objective assessment of what went on by Tom Ascol (a truly gracious man).

The comments left at the end of the post were not always so fair but everyone's got an opinion. I did find it troublesome if Dr. Morris Chapman said what he said when he took the podium to deliver the report from the Executive Committee. Instead, it APPEARS that he took the opportunity to scold all the Calvinist meanies in the crowd. If true - that's bad form!

(NOTE: Tom Ascol just commented on the comments by Chapman. He wrote:
Morris Chapman addressed it (Calvinism), not in a mean-spirited way, but in an attempt to be humorous. I was not offended but appreciated what I think he was trying to do. BTW--he also made a negative comment about elders, but again, it wasn't mean. When I saw him later I shook his hand, told him I appreciated much of what he said and looked forward to getting home to discuss it with my elders! We both enjoyed a good laugh. His spirit was great.
Another blogger at the convention took extensive notes during the Mohler-Patterson discussion and writes an abridged transcript here. Sounds like the breakout session was handled very professionally and cordially, as should have been expected by these two men.

If you want the real thing, you can order an audio recording of the discussion here.

Frank Page: New SBC President

Here are the voting statistics from the 2006 Presidential election:
  • 11,346 messenger
  • 9,005 casting ballots
  • 44 disallowed ballots .49%
  • Frank Page 4,546 50.48%
  • Ronnie Floyd 2,247 24.9%
  • Jerry Sutton 2,168 24.08%
If Page had not got the extra 0.4% and finished at the halfway point, there would have been a run-off.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

More Caner Critique

Gene Bridges, ever loquacious, enjoins the post-NLJ frenzy and adds a resounding rejoinder (Warning: rather lengthy at 4,500 words) to Caner's article. He goes quote-by-quote through Caner's article and gives answer to each assertion.

I would love for those who read this blog to read both links above and sound off with their reactions and answer to these questions (just curious - that's all) :
  1. Is Caner's use of "hyper-Calvinism" correct?
  2. Is it acceptable to say "I'm not a Hyper-Calvinist (which means "Calvinist" to Caner). I'm not an Arminian. I'm a Baptist"? If yes, why? If no, why not?
  3. What do you think happens to babies when they die? Why do you believe that?
  4. Do you think God loves every single person who has ever lived and will live in the same way and to the same degree?
  5. What is your opinion on "altar calls" (not "invitations" but "altar calls")?
By the way, Bridges, one of the best (and lengthiest) writers in the blogosphere, lives in Winston-Salem - not too far from Statesville.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

William Lane Craig vs. Bart Ehrman

These two heavyweights engaged in a debate on the resurrection of Jesus at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Here is a transcript of the debate (38-page PDF file).

Ergun Caner and "Neo-Calvinism"

In the recent edition of The National Liberty Journal, Ergun Caner writes the cover story: "Predestined Not To Be a Hyper-Calvinist."

As in his sermon by the same title, Caner continues to make the mistake of equating hyper-Calvinism with Calvinism. The title speaks of HYPER-Calvinism. Several paragraphs speak of HYPER-Calvinism. However, the brunt of Caner's article is a response to plain-jane Calvinism. They are not the same thing. The Dean of a theological seminary should know better.

I'll allow Tom Ascol to handle the evaluation of the article for the time being. Ascol is one of the two men (the other being James White) who will join in debate with Ergun Caner and his brother Emir in October at Liberty.

For a good primer on the actual definition of hyper-Calvinism, go here first or maybe here or here.

Monday, June 05, 2006

I wonder what she said?

WSB-TV News in Atlanta (Channel 2) has this story, which raises some questions: Clara Jean Brown was struck by lightning while standing in her kitchen praying for safety in that very same storm.


Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia is a fear found in the Western Christian world, which originates in the belief that the Biblical verse, Revelation 13:18, indicates that the number 666 is linked to Satan or the Anti-Christ. Outside the Christian faith, the phobia has been further popularized as a motif in various horror films.

Now, in June 2006, several are taking the opportunity of Tuesday's date (06-06-06) as a marketing ploy:
  • The Omen will open in theaters on this date. This is one movie you can count me OUT of seeing. No way, no how! Not superstitious or anything - just too easily freaked out with stuff like this.
  • Tim LaHaye's new book on the Rapture to be released on this date.
  • Ann Coulter's new book "Godless" will be released on this date.
I guess everyone thinks that God is stuck with using the Gregorian calendar which is based on an incorrect understanding of the birth of Christ (or, if you really must - the beginning of the Common Era. Ha!).

Sunday, June 04, 2006


That's how much a church in Indianapolis is spending on an advertising campaign. Here is some of the ad copy:
"Do you know someone who is homosexual? Would you give your life for that person? Jesus did!"

Would Jesus discriminate?
A future ad will say this:
A Sunday edition of The Star will show a group of Klansmen around a burning cross with a headline, "Remember a time when a symbol of love was used as a symbol of hate?" The subtext: "The Bible shouldn't be misused to justify discrimination against any group, including gay people."