Who is my brother?

It’s certainly not a recent phenomenon that there are Christians who question the validity of one actually being a Christian. However, these days it seems that with the wide range of beliefs being broader than in previous generations, it seems more difficult to draw a line of distinction between a true Christian and a Christian in name only. In this day terms like Fundamentalist or even Evangelical have become negative descriptors, likened to terms such as bigot or racist. Are we, as Christians, permitted to hold firm stances about our beliefs and ask the question ‘Who is my brother?’.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus draws a line of distinction when He says “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50). So we have a relatively clear idea of who Christ would consider a brother, those who do what God expects from those who are in Him. I say relatively clear because it is not always black and white, some cases its more evident than others and as most Christians understand, no one is able to do the will of the Father perfectly. So we cannot always rely on ones actions (or works) to make an accurate determination of one who may or may not be in Christ. If we must make a judgment to determine who is a brother, should it be based on works or on the beliefs that the individual holds or both?

In regards of beliefs, Fundamentalism has its roots in the early 1900’s, and it is generally associated with conservative or reformed Christianity. It’s purpose was to reaffirm some key theological tenets that were held by some of the countries earliest settlers, namely the Puritans. Out of those early gatherings they developed some fundamental distinctions in beliefs that one could use to identify as a true Christian. Those include such things as the infallibility of Scripture (Divine Inspiration), Virgin birth of Jesus, Christ’s death being the atonement for sin, His resurrection, and the miracles performed by Him during His earthly ministry. Anyone who disagreed with one of these would be determined to be something other than a Christian.

Yet, those who have been labeled modern Fundamentalist are generally those who go beyond these core beliefs and say about someone “if you don’t look like me, talk like me, think like me, then you’re against me” and therefore not considered a Christian. So it’s no wonder that this term as become a watch word among people who say most Christians are intolerant. So to determine who are brothers and sisters based on beliefs is no easy task. Especially with the vast amount of denominations, though it should focus on core beliefs that are definitional to Christianity, it may vary drastically from one person to another. Yet the fact remains, if one believes in Christ they should be able to answer the question “who is Christ?”.

So if we’ve determined that an individual, who claims to be a Christian, believes in the same core beliefs and they on occasion demonstrate their ability to do the will of the Father; Can we then say, with absolute certainty, that the individual is a Christian? This is still a difficult question. There is only One who can say, without a shadow of a doubt, who is in Christ and that is God alone. This is because only He is able to see within the heart of a man, and men cannot. We can only make a best guess based on the two factors we’ve determined here. Even if we made a decision would it be wise to make that judgment? What are the consequences of making such a determination?

If we judge by works: We cannot always determine if  ones actions is in line with Gods will (unless definitively against Scripture), nor do we know where an individual is at in their walk with Christ (we often stumble). If we judge by beliefs: If we’re too loose or too firm in our own beliefs we may make an incorrect assessment of an individual. If we determine one is a Christian, and they are not: We might fellowship with an unbeliever, or mislead them to believe they’re counted among the saved. If we determine one is not a Christian, who actually is: We lose out on having fellowship with a brother, and may cause division among the Body.

So where does this leave us? Firstly, Christ said in John chapter 7 “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24). So do not be like the modern Fundamentalist and expect everyone to look, talk, and think like you. Secondly, be mindful of the words and actions of one who calls themselves a Christian, because “Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21). Lastly, do all things for the glory of God and do so in showing love for your enemies as well as your brothers. Do not withhold correction (Proverbs 27:17) or teaching (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but instead show love in giving the hard truths of Scripture. May your words be kind so that one might know His Truth and not be harsh that their heart would be further hardened.

Who is my brother (or sister)? I pray that you are!

Unconditional Election

The second point of the TULIP acronym is the idea of God’s sovereign choosing of those who shall be made heirs. Unconditional Election is another despised doctrine by the opposition to Calvinism because, like Total Depravity, it demonstrates man’s inability and therefore lack of control over his fate. Again, there are many books and articles that will give you a better and clearer take on this particular point, but because I have a blog in which to write about various things I have chosen to do so on the five points.

“The LORD has made everything for its purpose,
even the wicked for the day of trouble.” Proverbs 16:4

With the Scripture verses that support the concepts of Total Depravity we are able to summarize what we would call a doctrine of man in regards to the affects and seriousness of sin. With Unconditional Election we are not only able to add to this doctrine of man, but also begin to summarize a doctrine of God in regards to His Sovereignty. The focus to understanding this second point will be therefore be on determining God’s will regarding salvation of men.

We understand that only God can regenerate the heart of the spiritually dead. From this standpoint, the Reformed notion of election unto salvation is that it is in no way influenced or made possible by what man does or will do, and in fact been predetermined by God before creation. The Westminster Confession puts it like this – “…according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto;” 

In order to begin to grasp this idea of election we must trust that God’s sovereignty extends to all events and that His will is greater than the will of man. Also, we must consider that election includes both the means and the ends unto salvation. B.B. Warfield said – “nothing, however small, however strange, occurs without His ordering, or without its peculiar fitness for its place in the working out of His purposes” He believed that what God had determined in eternity, all that has and will come to pass do so by means in which God has also provided, including the salvation of men. We can conclude that the ordering and providential interaction of events and the means to facilitate bringing one to Christ had been determined entirely by God. As the psalmist understands – “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:16)

The idea of Adoption, as I recently posted, is given to us in Scripture to clearly represent how God chooses His children and bring them into His family by way of His son Jesus. If one understands that we are born children of wrath, as Paul explains in Ephesians 2, we know that we do not seek Him but it is He that seeks us. It is God that chooses whom to adopt, much like human parents choose whom they would adopt, it is not the child that chooses its parents. It is a specific effective calling by God for a definite and permanent adoption. John Calvin said it like this – “He adopts not all promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what he refuses to others.” (Institutes Book 3, Ch 21, Section 1)

We must permit God to be God and give that He must and does rule over that which He has created. It would be dishonoring to God and to His power to suppose that He is struggling along with the human race to do His best to accomplish His purposes when man’s will thwarts Him at every turn. The pride and presumption of mankind in his ignorance of ability and depravity to exclude God in the determination of salvation in order to exalt himself is a true demonstration of how far we’ve fallen. It is only by His mercy through His grace alone that any of us is able to escape what we justly deserve.

God must be the determining factor in regards to those who will be heirs. When we consider man’s condition without God’s election not one individual would be saved. “no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned away…” (Romans 3:11-12) This elective decree is made effective by the efficient work of the Holy Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases. The righteous Judge will do what is right by His standards in extending His saving grace to the undeserving multitude. God says “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:15)

Total Depravity

The ‘T’ in TULIP, sometimes called Total Inability or Radical Corruption, is probably the 2nd least favorite of the five points of Calvinism not far behind Limited Atonement. Now there have been tons of books, and articles done that are going to provide you a better understanding, but I needed a reason to post today so I appreciate you taking the time to read my version.

“But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest therof thou shalt surely die.” – Genesis 2:17

The idea of Total Depravity, as understood by most of Reformed Christianity, is this; Mankind has been made, through the disobedience of Adam, wholly and totally spiritually corrupted so much so that from birth they are led by a sinful and ungodly nature and are unable to do anything spiritual or acceptable to God. This condition is sometimes referred to as natural man, or Original Sin.

What does this mean exactly? The Scriptures declare that mankind is a willing slave to sin, and entirely unable to free himself from slavery. In the first epistle to the Corinthians chapter 2, Paul says that “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them , because they are spiritually judged.” (1 Cor 2:14) In Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 3, he says “no one understands; no one seeks after God”. (Rom 3:11) In John 3, Jesus says that unless a man has been reborn in Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3/5)

So the Bible tells us that mankind, in their fallen condition, is unable to do anything that is pleasing to God or to move toward Him. Yet, this does not mean that mankind is as evil or as corrupt as they possible could be. God restrains sin so that mankind is not entirely destitute of any virtue. In other words, though the natural man is actuated or moved by wrong principles, and therefore incapable of doing anything that would merit righteousness before God, he can still do ‘good’ or ‘noble’ deeds for fellow man.

If man is a slave to sin, unable to free himself or do anything to bring himself to God, how are we to be free followers of Christ? Even Job said “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” (Job 14:4) A clue can be found in Ephesians 2 “But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ by grace” (Eph. 2:4-5) and Titus 3 “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

So if we consider these in light of what Jesus said in John 3, we should have the answer of how the spiritually dead are freed from captivity. Allow me to quote from the Westminster Confession, which says it better than I – “He is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God;”

Now many will argue that man has a will, a free will, in order that he might choose to be a follower of Christ and that once they believe they are then changed. The problem with this is that our free will is limited and not autonomous. We must follow that which rules us, and in the case of the unbeliever it is his sinful nature. In Jeremiah 13, the prophet offers a rhetorical question “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?”, the answer of course being no, and he goes on to say “Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil”. (Jer. 13:23) In other words, the fallen man is unable to do that which is different from his nature.

This is the essence of the Old Testament, the bad news in which the good news of the gospel shines brightest. Mankind cannot do it, he cannot save nor can he keep himself because he will always fail to do what is right. It has to be entirely of God. The spiritually dead are paralyzed, completely incapable of bringing himself right with God. God must administer the cure directly, into the heart. But He does not only change a man but He also secures him, so that whomsoever the Father gives to the Son, they shall not fall away.

Adoption

On November 8th, 2017 an Independent Fundamental Baptist Pastor named Andrew Sluder vented his frustration on YouTube over the ideas of Calvinism, calling it both garbage and hogwash. Because he hates Calvinism so much, he aims to refute the doctrines held by Reformed Christians because he is fed up with it.

He starts with Ephesians 1:4-5 to give his biblical idea of election:

even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will,

Pastor Sluder first makes a comment about John Calvin, “the guy that basically came up with Calvinism”, leaves out ‘in Him’ of his commentaries on Ephesians. That is because in the previous verse, Eph 1:3, it says ” Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ and Calvin uses in Christ instead of in Him.

Anyway, Pastor Sluder goes on to say that Calvinism uses these verses as a proof-text for the predestination to adoption unto salvation, and he wants to show that adoption is actually not related to salvation. He says “Nobody on earth today is adopted. If you are saved, you are not yet adopted.” He then takes us to Romans 8:23 to show that we are yet waiting to be adopted.

“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

So Pastor Sluder wants us to understand that the adoption is the redemption of our bodies, when we are changed to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29 & 1 Corinthians 15:50-52).

Is this an accurate view of adoption? I do not believe so. If we look right before the provided verse in Romans 8 to verses 14-17 we’re told that those who are led by the Spirit instead of the flesh are heirs to salvation in Christ, adopted as children of God.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.”

So we can clearly see that anyone who calls upon God as Father are adopted children of God. We do not have to wait for the redemption of our bodies to be adopted children of God. Though for awhile all of creation has suffered the result’s of Adam’s disobedience until the ‘full realization’ of adoption. Which is clearly revealed again in Galatians 4:5-7:

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

I believe that those who demonstrate to have the Spirit in them and who call upon God as Father are in fact adopted as sons of God and become heirs. An heir to what exactly? Salvation. Where else can we draw this conclusion? Lets look at Ephesians 2 in verses 8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  And 2 Thessalonians 2:13 “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

I certainly could be wrong in my understanding of adoption, but I do not believe that Pastor Sluder presents an accurate account of what it is. I mean honestly, why else would we call each other brothers and sisters in Christ, if not for being adopted children of God? Better Christians than I could handle what Pastor Sluder has presented in other ways, but I hope that this post can at least get some discussion going about adoption so that we can all benefit from it.

The rest of the video includes some misrepresentations of Calvinism that I’m not going to get into right now, but may eventually. Pastor Sluder plans to begin a week long refuting of TULIP starting on 11/13/2017, which I intend to analyze and respond to as they are released. Thanks for reading, and God bless!

The reason for the church

If you conducted a survey where you asked randomly, “What is the reason for a church?”, the answers would be as vastly unique as the individuals queried. The atheist or non-believer might say that the church is a corrupt business cloaked in religion. The nominal or carnal Christian could suggest that church is where you go to feel better, or it’s what you’re supposed to do on Sunday. Another individual might add that church is where you go to learn about God’s love for all mankind. All of these can be counted as valid answers, because whether perceived as true or actually true, this is the way the vast majority of modern mainstream churches have conducted themselves.

If you did a similar survey where you asked pastors of these mainstream churches, “How do you know your church is successful?”, I guarantee that 9 out of every 10 would make reference to growth; whether monetarily, attendance, church size or conversions. It’s no wonder, with pastors and church leaders conducting themselves more like CEOs than shepherds, that the church is perceived as a business. While there is certainly nothing wrong with growth and being capable of providing, it should not be the measure of success nor even a primary reason for the church. The modern mainstream church has become secularized.

People are demanding ‘feel good’ worship services that are both entertaining and non-confrontational. The mainstream church, with its focus on success, gives them what they want and these churches are flourishing. Messages about sin, damnation, apostasy, wrath, and Hell are not popular so they are not being preached on, out of fear of losing potential growth. To take it a step further, some are even preaching in favor of social and cultural agendas that have traditionally been seen as contradictory to Biblical Truth. This routine of catering to sin not only makes powerless the saving truth of Christ, but it breeds ignorant groups of unbiblical ‘Christians’ whose theme is “Judge Not!” the sinner – Matthew 7:7.

If you were to ask me what is the reason for the church, I wouldn’t be able to give a perfect or definite one size fits all answer. I would suggest however, that the church is responsible for at least these two things: The spiritual welfare and spiritual growth of God’s people, and to be a beacon of light or the example for the world. Though some might disagree, the church is made up of broken and sinful people. The reasons the atheist or non-believer calls us hypocrites is because no one is able to live up to the standards preached. The Christian recognizes these truths, the end results of being imperfect before a prefect God, and the unequivocal need for Christ. Christians have a dire need for a biblical church, and so does the world in order that God’s love might be shown through His people.

Nashville Statement

Recently there has been a lot of traffic in social media in response to the Nashville Statement, since it’s release on Tuesday (08/29/2017). It is no surprise to me that the majority of the responses are very negative, coming both from people who identify as Christians as well as non-believers. I can understand the reasoning for the negative responses coming from the non-believers, especially those who are advocates for the LGBTQ community. The thing that concerns me are the individuals who call themselves Christians, most especially the leaders of Christian churches/organizations.

Everything that was put into the articles of the Nashville Statement serves as a ‘line drawn in the sand’ regarding the Biblical interpretation of marriage, gender, and sexuality. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that in the past few years our country has attempted (yet again) to redefine these terms as traditionally understood.  And just like the Danvers Statement of 1987 addressed the issues brought about by feminism, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) again attempts to affirm where the Church (that is, the body of Christ) must stand regarding same sex marriage, transgenderism, and sex outside of Biblical marriage.

The Bible is full of offensive truths, and the reason that it is so offensive is because it often hits close to home. We are ALL sinful creatures, and the laws of God are offensive to the sinner. Even the Pope, who is considered the most holy representative of Christ, is a sinner! Some Christians do understand this concept, believe it to be true and know that only through God are we able to overcome our struggles with sin. For those who do not understand this concept, it is easy to claim that most Christians are unsympathetic, judgmental and/or otherwise hateful towards other sinners.

Though God’s Word offends, it doesn’t make it any less true. The Bible is clear about the circumstances of how God made man and woman, and how the man is to leave his family and take the woman as his spouse (Genesis 2). The Bible is also very clear about sexual immorality and it’s view as inexcusable sin. (Leviticus, 1 Corinthians, Matthew 5, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, Romans 1, and many more) Sexual immorality encompasses a variety of terms such as homosexuality, adultery, transgenderism, marital rape, etc.  Despite what people’s feelings dictate, these are sin and sin cannot be tolerated by God.

There are Christians who want to use love as their defense for sin. The greatest commandment IS to love God and love people (Matthew 22), however that doesn’t mean you’re permitted to accept and encourage their sinful behavior. In Romans 1, Paul clearly says that those who deserve to die are not only those who practice sin, but those who also give approval of that sin (v. 28-32). Since all struggle with sin, it can be easy to sympathize and at times even show love as commanded, but as Christians we must not condone their sin.

Then there are those who want to quote the most misused verse in the Bible, “Judge not..” (Matthew 7). So if God doesn’t want us to give approval of sin, how are we to determine whether it is sin or not if we do not judge an individual? Jesus said: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7) That is to say to judge by the authority of God’s word to correct a brother who might sin against them. “Better is open rebuke, than hidden love….Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27).

While the Nashville Statement is a fallible man made doctrine, it does well the purpose it was drawn up for. I am sure that most churches already have their own statements regarding sexuality that they subscribe to, this one seems to me a broader reach out across multiple denominations and not just Reformed Christians. The hope is to bring truth to those in mainline churches that might be struggling one way or another with these topics. To God alone be the Glory!

 

TULIP

A breakdown of the Calvinist Doctrine referred to as the Doctrine of Grace or simply TULIP.

Exactly what condition did the fall (Our forefather’s disobedience toward God in eating of the forbidden fruit) bring mankind? The fall brought mankind into an inherent condition of sin and misery. That all of mankind, on that day, in losing communion with God had been made liable to the miseries of this life, subject to God’s wrath, and cursed to death. No man is able to redeem himself, unable to maintain the law with each transgression in thought, word or deed. This is the depravity each of us is born into, totally unable to span the distance between God and man on our own.

Did God leave ALL of mankind to endure alone under the curse brought upon by Adam, to suffer and perish in an inescapable state of misery and sin? No. Out of His mere good pleasure He established a covenant of grace and at the point of creation elected some to everlasting life in order to deliver them out of the current condition and into salvation by way of a Redeemer. These elect, who belong to the Christ, are given to Him by the Father not because of any merit in them or choices made by them but by the sovereign grace and mercy of the Creator only. This is the unconditional election of Christ’s people.

By what means are Christ’s people made partakers of this salvation? By the effectual application of the redemption by the Holy Spirit, the righteousness purchased by Christ’s sacrifice. In this application, we are convinced of our sin and misery and enlightened in our knowledge of Christ. We are persuaded and enabled then to embrace Jesus as it is freely offered to us in the gospel. This event at any given point in time occurs for some, also does not occur for others. This is the limited atonement in that Christ died for ALL of His people.

Can the application of Christ’s redemption and His saving grace be denied? From birth all do resist, and the hard of heart persist until the appointed time where one is transformed by the Holy Spirit. Would the lifelong and stalwart Atheist suddenly change his tune of his own free will and, having all his life’s work discounting the existence of God undone, choose such a path? Why would he not remain hard of heart, like so many others? Only the Spirit of God can affect this realm of men, that is the spiritual one, by making everyday events, including the reading and preaching of the Gospel, effectual to one’s salvation. This personal experience, while unique in respect to the individual’s circumstances surrounding the event, is for each an irresistible and irreversible change.

What benefit does a person gain by this life changing event? We must first remind the reader that the decrees of God are eternal according to His will. All that He has put into motion, the means and the end, will come to pass. Those called partake of justification, adoption and sanctification. Justification being the pardon of all sins and acceptance as righteous by way Christ’s righteousness. Adoption being received into the number and rights of the sons of God. Sanctification being the continual renewal where we are enable more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. This is the preservation of Christ’s people, enabled to endure this life’s challenges with guidance of our Helper, in order that way may glorify God.