A Letter Defending the Christian Worldview

For those of you who are still checking out my blog I appreciate your patience.  I’ve been very busy teaching classes, pastoring the church, leading the worship, and trying to be a god honoring husband and father.  I also have not had much time to write, nor have I had much about which to right.  I guess I’ve experienced a kind of brain drain.  What I have today grew out of past  online conversations, many that I can recall from years gone by , and others that I’ve only read.  I hope you find this useful.4.3.ArticulateChristianWorldview_316358693

My Dearest Friend,

It is encouraging to me that you have chosen to engage me in this conversation concerning my beliefs as a Christian.  The reason being is that I believe it simply reaffirms what God has revealed in Scripture; that it is He who has placed a desire to understand life and seek out our purpose (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and also He who moves in a person to cause him to seek Him (John 6:44).  I realize that you are not to the point where you can accept this point of view, yet.  But I am hopeful.

I have thought much about our last discussion, and would like to address a theme or two with you based on it.  First, I’d like to return to your view of what constitutes what is right, and what is wrong.  If, as you say, there is no God, what, then, is your basis for even attempting to differentiate between right and wrong?  If there is no one higher than man himself, then wouldn’t that mean that man is the final arbiter of right and wrong?  If that is the case, then which man is the final final arbiter of right and wrong?  It seems to me that the buck must stop somewhere, and if it were left up to a single individual wouldn’t that mean that somewhere there is a worldwide dictator?  By the way, God has warned that a final world dictator will come on the scene eventually, and it is not going to be pretty (see the book of Revelation for an explanation of that). We actually have a historical illustration of the harm that comes when a nation allows one man to be the final arbiter of right and wrong.  Germany bought into Hitler’s ideals, which not only led to World War II and the deaths of many millions of soldiers from multiple nations, but also to the deaths of six million Jews, and many millions of civilians from various countries. The reason for this is that a man is not a reliable source of absolute authority.  As in the case of Hitler, he was a man whose ideals were based not on facts, but on his own biases, misunderstandings, and hate.  Reality demonstrates time and time again that, when allowed, men will manipulate circumstances in such a way as to suit their own personal likes and dislikes.  And what happens when those personal preferences change?  Once again Hitler’s treatment of his own right hand man, Ernst Roehm, the founder and original leader of Hitler’s Storm Troopers, gives a great illustration of the, shall we say evil, things that can result.  My point is that if you believe that man in general makes the decisions concerning right and wrong, then the definition is left to a finite being incapable of infinite knowledge and thus incapable of establishing a universal ethical code.  You would also be subject to the changing ethical “tastes” of a finite being whose own requirements, or standards for determining right and wrong may change. The resultant consequences would be devastating.  God has warned us that the human heart (the innermost part of man) is sick, and desperately wicked; it cannot be trusted (Jeremiah 17:9).  In truth, in His grace, God has built-in some protection against this sort of situation in that He has created each of us with an innate knowledge of right and wrong.  But I’ll come back to that.

If, then, there is no one man who is the final authority, does that mean that there is a group, or conglomeration of men and woman who make that decision?  That would ultimately end in a totalitarian government of sorts, would it not?  Once again history has provide for us multiple accounts of what happens when such a situation occurs.  The communist regimes of Russia, and China have killed, and imprisoned untold millions of their own people based upon the government’s idea of what constitutes right and wrong; right being whatever they said at the moment, and wrong being whatever they decide on the basis of what is best for the collective.  Any dissenting view is met with harsh retribution.  Is that the solution for determining ethical standards?  Can an authoritarian government establish universal ethical standards?  The answer is no.

Another alternative, if there is no God, is to allow each individual to establish his or her own standards of ethical behavior.  However, this is not realistic.  If I determine my own ethical standards, and the next guy establishes his own ethical standards, and we each have differing views of what constitutes theft, then how can I keep him from taking my stuff if he believes its okay to do so?  At that point we must turn to the courts, which have established their own standards that go against both of ours and determine that everything that was taken from me is actually theirs.  You can see the predicament that such a situation would put the world in; there would be mass chaos.

Behind all of this discussion is another question.  Perhaps it is where we should have begun our discussion.  That question is, why should anyone be concerned about right and wrong to begin with?  I mean, if there is no God, and we are simply the product of random chance and time, evolution, then what difference does it make what one bag of protoplasm does to another anyway?  If I answer only to myself, why should I be concerned about anyone but myself, and maybe my immediate family?  Why would anyone care about anyone else at all?

Yet that is not what we see around us is it?  No.  We see that people and societies in one part of the world have ethical standards that are identical to people, and societies in every other part of the world.  We know that people in Thailand, or China, or England do not want anyone stealing their possessions, committing adultery with their spouses, killing them or their families, etc. in the same way that we don’t want any of those things to happen in our own lives here in the United States.  My point is very simply that there are universal standards of right and wrong behavior that transcend the boundaries of countries, ethnic groups, communities, and even religious sects.  How does a worldview (remember a worldview is, in the simplest of terms, the entire system, no matter how loosely organized, that every individual uses to understand, and interpret the world around them) that believes that the God of the Bible does not exist account for such universal ethical standards?  If you will allow me to answer, such a worldview cannot account for such ethical standards, nor can it justify their existence at all.  I will restate the question I asked earlier in the form of a statement: It doesn’t matter what one bag of evolved/evolving protoplasm does to another, whether good or bad, assuming there really is such things as good and bad.  In a world that is the product of random chance evolution there is no room for right or wrong.  There just IS.  Survival of the fittest is the rule of the day.

Now, within the Christian worldview we have answers for the questions that surround the concept of ethics.  We believe in the One God of Christian Scriptures who has revealed Himself in His creation, His Son, who has explained the unseen God to us (John 1:18), and through the Christian Scriptures, which He superintended in such a way that all that was written is correct, without error, and exactly what He wanted us to know.  He revealed that in the beginning He created all that exists out of nothing (Genesis 1 & 2).  He explained that He created man in His image, thus insuring that mankind both knows Him, and right and wrong (Genesis 1:26-31).  His creation was without flaw, but Adam rebelled against God by refusing to abstain from eating from the only tree that God forbade him from eating (Genesis 3), and at that point, sin entered the world that God had created.  For our purposes we can say that at that point in history the contrast between right and wrong was presented to the created order.

Adam’s sin, or rebellion, brought devastation upon the created universe to the extent that all of creation was placed under the curse of God’s impending judgment.  However, God was not content to leave things in such a state, but put in motion His plan to repair the breach culminating in the entrance of His own Son into the world.  He took on humanity, lived a sinless, perfect life among His creation, died to pay the penalty of man’s rebellion, rose again on the third day to be seated at His Father’s right hand where He now awaits His return to judge the world.  I tell you all of this to demonstrate first that the God of the Bible created all things.  Therefore, as the Creator He has the absolute authority, right, and responsibility to establish the universal ethical standards, which He has done.  These standards reflect His character and reflect who He is.  He has revealed His standards in the Scriptures, and He has put those same standards within the operating system of every man.  The apostle Paul explained this in his letter to the Romans: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them…and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:18-19, 32).  Mankind, on the basis of being created in the image of their Creator, knows right from wrong because they know Him.  They cannot escape the testimony within themselves, nor can they escape the testimony found in the rest of creation.

My friend, the Christian worldview is the only worldview that can explain both the existence of the universal ethical standards, and their origin.  Only the Christian worldview, with its belief in and dependence upon the God of Christian Scriptures, offers the truthful explanation of the universal ethical standards that actually exist in reality.  Only the Christian worldview can explain the existence of evil, and why certain things are right, and why certain things are wrong.  Only the Christian worldview has a remedy for the evil that exists in the world.  In the end God will reconcile with evil, and all who have not turned to Him for forgiveness will endure His judgment.

The good news is that He has provided a way for our bad to be erased.  His own Son, Jesus Christ, became a man and lived among His creation.  His death on a cross paid the penalty of our sin, and made it possible for us to be forgiven for our wrong.  God will judge the wrong, or evil of the world, but those who have accepted the forgiveness purchased by the death of Christ will escape that judgment.  It is my prayer for you that you will come to know the God that you know by faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

I pray that you will find His saving grace.

Forever your friend,

 

Steve

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A Dispensational View of the Christian Life, Part 6

He That Is Spiritual

As we continue to look at the Dispensational view of the Christian life, we are pleased to be able to begin to look at the more positive side of the issue.  That is not to say that the content of the teaching doesn’t have negative aspects, but the outcome of those is quite positive.  Having examined the Christian’s obstacles to living the Christian life, it is necessary now to look at what are the positive steps toward actually overcoming said obstacles.  We will endeavor to do that here, and in the following post(s).

The Believer’s Progress in the Christian Life

Lewis Sperry Chafer made a bold statement when he said, “The Christian will always be filled (by the Spirit) while he is making the work of the Spirit possible in his life.”[i] Bold statement or not it is biblical and can be substantiated by careful exegesis. We will now consider this truth very briefly.

Scripture gives the believer much in the way of directives and principles by which he is able to progress in the Christian life. We will examine four main imperatives, one dealing with the first intelligent step toward growth, and three dealing with the believer’s relationship to the indwelling Spirit: 1.) Present yourself to God (Rom. 12:1), 2.) Do not grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30), 3.) Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19), 4.) Walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16).

Present Yourself to God

After spending the first eight chapters of Romans developing deep doctrinal truths including the foundation of the believer’s position in Christ Paul begins chapter twelve with a command that serves to shape the remainder of the letter: “Therefore I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God (from the first eight chapters) to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1). Paul spent a great amount of the first three chapters developing the truth of man’s lost estate capping off the section with the pronouncement that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” followed immediately by the glorious news that those who are saved are so by “being justified as a gift by His grace through, the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (3:23-24). Again, the focus is on what God has accomplished on behalf of the believer and this truth is the basis upon which Paul pleads with believers to present their bodies to God.

The idea that Paul is attempting to convey is that, based on the glorious mercy of God in our salvation, we should dedicate ourselves completely to Him. The language used here is reminiscent of the animal sacrifices familiar to both Jewish worshippers and pagan ritualists. The Greek word paristemi is translated “present” in this passage. As to the technical usage of the word in this context, Marvin Vincent states, “It is the technical term for presenting the Levitical victims and offerings. . . . In the Levitical sacrifices the offerer placed his offering so as to face the Most Holy Place, thus bringing it before the Lord.”[ii] What we see then is that Paul is presenting, no pun intended, the fact that the believer has an obligation to offer himself as a real sacrifice to God, which is a total dedication in the same fashion that the Old Testament animals were set apart and dedicated for the purpose of giving their lives for the sins of Israel. The obvious differences serve to further expound the magnitude of the decision, which differences are first that unlike the sacrifices of old it is a voluntary decision, and second, it involves continued living in a state of dedication instead of immediate death of the sacrifice.

I labeled this as the first intelligent step toward growth. The reason is simple; it is a step of obedience to the Word of God. This does not necessarily mean that the believer is acting in response to Paul’s words, but it does mean that he is acting in response to God’s work in his life possibly through a series of events that God has used to bring him to the end of his own strength. In conjunction with this positive step it is without question that he will soon thereafter discover that what he has done was in obedience to God’s word.

Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit

“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). Chafer correctly expresses the truth of the matter when he described the ChristianL.S.Chafer life as one of supernatural requirements and in constant need of the empowerment of the indwelling Spirit and God’s enabling grace.[iii] With such needs and requirements it is imperative that the believer maintain a fellowship with the Spirit. It is therefore incumbent upon the believer to obey Paul’s message.

To grieve the Spirit is to tolerate known sin in our lives, to live with unconfessed sin. “Grieve” is the translation of the Greek word lupeo in its present active form which likely indicates that Paul was saying “do not go on grieving the Holy Spirit.” Sin is to miss the mark of God’s perfect righteousness or to deviate from His perfect standard. As Chafer states, “where sin is tolerated in the believer’s daily life, the Spirit, who indwells him, must then turn from His blessed ministry through him, to a pleading ministry to him.”[iv] Allowing sin in our hearts to go unchecked places us in an immediate state of carnality regardless of the length of time that we stay in that condition (Ps. 66:18). Yet, God has provided for the remedy for the sins of the believer, which provision also allows an immediate restoration of fellowship between the believer and Himself.

John addresses this subject in First John where he admits that any believer can “walk in darkness” (1:6), and thus he is not practicing the truth but that which is contrary to God’s very nature (1:5). Though still a believer, he is nonetheless living in the flesh (carnal). That walk in darkness proves that the one doing so is not in fellowship with God but out of fellowship. John continues by broadening the subject stating, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1:8). “Sin” here is in reference to the sin nature and not individual sins.[v] If we say that we do not continue to have the very source of sin, the old man, remaining in us we are deceiving ourselves. This is a sure way to live a defeated life and not progress in growth toward maturity. However, John continues: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). Therefore, understanding that we continue to have a sin nature we also understand that we continue to sin and are able to deal correctly with it. In doing so, we can maintain a consistent fellowship with the indwelling, empowering Spirit.

We can conclude that at some point in our lives as Christians we will grieve the Holy Spirit by sinning and not immediately confessing it. We may even remain in that state for some length of time. That state of broken fellowship isolates us from the Spirit’s ministries in us, particularly His work of empowering us to live the Christian life. However, God has offered the means for reestablishing fellowship by simply confessing our sins.

Do Not Quench the Spirit

Another negative command is, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). “Quench” is from the Greek meaning to put out (a fire), suppress, or stifle. In the present context Paul was telling the Thessalonians not to resist the out working of the Spirit and of the gifts He gives within the life of the Church (see vv. 12-18 and 20-22). Such resistance would stifle His work in their midst and would be tantamount to refusing to abide by and submit to the Spirit and the spiritual gifts at work. However, the quenching of the Spirit is not limited to the output of the spiritual gifts (vv. 12-18).

When the believer says no to the Spirit’s work, regardless of the form that work takes, he quenches or suppresses the Spirit and therefore limits or inhibits His work in the believer’s life. The Spirit does not abandon the believer, as seen earlier in the distinctions between Israel and the Church, but the believer’s resistance makes the Spirit’s filling impossible until the believer changes his mind (repentance) and confesses his sin. Therefore, the believer, according to Paul, must “stop quenching the Spirit” (present active imperative) by refusing to allow Him to work.

The cure to the quenching of the Spirit is to “present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:13). This correlates directly with one’s decision to dedicate himself to God (Rom. 12:1). Christ Himself is the perfect example of this attitude (Phil. 2:5). In Hebrews 10:7 the testimony of our Lord is found: “Then I said, Behold, I have come . . .to do your will, O God.” It is perfect submission and obedience to God’s will.

To sum up, to quench the Spirit is to refuse to obey God’s revealed will. The cure is to have a change of mind (repentance) concerning said refusal and the decision to live in obedience to His will. It is to have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16) and to adopt both the knowledge and the attitude associated with it (Phil. 2:5).

Walk by the Spirit

Finally, we find a positive command from Paul. He says, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). This is the believer’s exercising positive volition in deciding live in dependence upon the indwelling Spirit’s power and guidance.

To walk by the Spirit refers to living by means of the indwelling Spirit. In other words it is a moment-by-moment dependence on the Holy Spirit’s guidance in taking every step of life by faith in God based upon the knowledge of His revealed will in Scripture. Ryrie agrees, “Actually walking is, by its very nature, a succession of dependent acts. . . .Walking can only be done successfully by successive acts of faith in the power of one’s feet. Likewise the Christian walk can be done successfully only by a constant dependence on the Holy Spirit’s control over one’s life.”[vi] Remember, the Christian life is one of supernatural requirements such as understanding God’s will and choosing to live in obedience to it. This is made possible only through reliance upon the indwelling Spirit, the one “who is at work in [us], both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). When a believer grieves the Spirit by allowing sin to remain unchecked in his life he allows sin to interrupt the Spirit’s continued guidance. When a believer quenches the Spirit by refusing to live in obedience to what he knows the will of God to be he suppresses the Spirit’s work in his life. However, when the believer responds in obedience to God’s revealed will and chooses to depend upon the Spirit to do so he is walking by means of the Spirit.

Walking in the Spirit is living moment-by-moment under the influence and power of the Holy Spirit. It is to walk step-by-step under His guidance by not allowing personal sins to be left unconfessed and thereby not grieving the Spirit, and by choosing obedience to God’s revealed will thereby not quenching the Spirit. The positive decision to depend on the Spirit results in walking by means of the Spirit, or the Spirit’s filling. We will address the Spirit’s filling in the final section to follow.

It is therefore to the Christian’s benefit to strive to walk by means of the Spirit. Only in doing so will the believer find victory in the Christian life. However, we must not confuse this striving with the self-generated attempt to gain holiness by mere self-effort. Instead it is accomplished in the one who is being motivated by the Holy Spirit through knowledge of God’s revealed will and who is empowered to do so by the indwelling Spirit to choose to obey God.

Each of the previous subsections of the believer’s progress in the Christian life are related to the maturation progress involved in growth as a follower of Jesus Christ. In addition to these truths there must be added at least two others that have direct bearing upon a Christian’s ability to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).

The Christian life is reflective of natural life. Within the believing one is born a new man. That new man is meant to progress forward from the initial stage of birth to the final stage of full maturation. There is a definite process to this growth. The ultimate goal is to progress to the point that Christ is formed in us (Gal. 4:19). The Christian life, when healthy and normal, follows the same process as natural life. That is, just as a newborn baby must go through the stages of growth on his way to maturity, so the newborn Christian is a baby that must progress toward maturity. One of the failures of the Church is that there seems to be a mindset that believes every Christian is automatically on the course toward maturity simply because they believe in Christ for salvation. Merryman offers a clear and helpful explanation, “…[A] new Christian cannot be mature because maturity involves time plus knowledge of truth and application of truth (m = t + kot + aot). The same is true in physical life: at age 1 a person can be an absolutely healthy organism just as at age 20; but at age 1, it is impossible to be as mature as at age 20.”[vii] Sadly, there are many believers who are twenty years old in Christ but are babies in their maturity level.

[i]Chafer, Spiritual, 67.

[ii]Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), Logos Bible Software.

[iii]Chafer, Spiritual, 43.

[iv]Ibid., 70.

[v]Both Chafer and Merryman address this issue. Chafer states, “Sin is what we are by birth, while sins are the evil we do in life” (Chafer, Spiritual, 114). Merryman addresses the issue in the following: “John is not referring in this verse to “sins” (as he does in verse 9), rather to their source, the animating sin that continually resides in us. . . . It is the animating sin nature that he is focusing on.” See Ron Merryman, The Passion War: Spiritual Conflict in Every Believer (Casa Grande, AZ: Merryman Ministries, 2002), 5.

[vi]Ryrie, Christian Life, 114-15.

[vii] Ron Merryman, Spirituality…Maturation…Retrogression… (Casa Grande, AZ: Merryman Ministries, 2004), 6 (emphases in original).

A Dispensational View of the Spiritual Life, or, Homage to He That Is Spiritual, Part 4

He That Is SpiritualIn this He That Is Spiritual article we will continue our discussion of the spiritual life from a Dispensational, therefore Scriptural viewpoint. I don’t say that simply to poke the nose of Reformed Covenantalists who believe Dispensationalism is wrong. I say that based on points made earlier in the previous three articles. Before anyone decides to berate me for saying it, please read the three other articles in this series.

The Believer’s Problem in the Christian Life

At some juncture in the believer’s life, whether it is immediate or sometime later, he will desire to live a life pleasing to God.[i] At least three major issues immediately come into play for the new believer and they will remain a mystery to him until he is made aware that these issues exist.

Motivation

The first issue is intimately tied to our position in Christ. What is it that motivates us to live the Christian life? Are we motivated by a sense of duty or fear of being cast off by God? Is it a sense of trying to do something to make ourselves acceptable to Him? Or are we motivated by the fact that we know and understand who we are in Christ and the riches to which we are privileged? Chafer describes this necessary knowledge as resulting in “intelligent motives.”[ii] “The Christian who is perfected forever, being in Christ, has, nevertheless, a life of imperfection to live so long as he is in this world.”[iii] It is the lack of this knowledge that causes some believers to live in a perpetual state of defeat and impotence in their daily lives. Because of ignorance of these truths believers become disillusioned and frustrated when they realize that they are not progressing towards maturity and continually struggle with sin. They attempt to obtain and live in holiness are based on faulty knowledge. Thus they struggle to make themselves holy and acceptable to God not knowing that based on their position in Christ they are already holy and acceptable. An excellent description of this is found in Paul’s own life:

For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate….For I know that nothing good dwells in me that is, in my flesh;…For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want….Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:15,18a,19,24,25a)

Chafer offers an excellent analysis of the predicament in which the uninformed believer finds himself:

The new problem which he confronts, …is not one of how he should live that he might be accepted and perfected before God, but rather of how he, an accepted and perfected person, should live after these stupendous realities are accomplished by the grace and power of God. Until this vital distinction is comprehended and received, there will be no progress made in the extensive field of truth which directs the Christian’s life and service. Until positional truth is recognized and received to the extent that the saved one acknowledges that he is saved and perfected in the sight of God on no other ground than that, on his part, he has believed on Christ to the saving of his soul, and on God’s part, he is justified, being both forgiven and constituted righteous through the immeasurable twofold substitution of Christ…there can be only confusion and misunderstanding about the true motivating principle in the Christian’s daily life.[iv]

Therefore, the believer’s motives for living a Christian life become a central issue. Without properly grasping these truths an immature believer will go about attempting to please God in order to become acceptable instead of living to please God because he is already acceptable in Christ. He will attempt to become holy through physical means when in truth he is already holy because of divine intervention through his union with Jesus Christ, and so on. Once again Paul describes the issue when he asks the church in Galatia, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). Thus we must assert that it is imperative that the believer know and understand his newfound position in Christ.

Impediments

The world, the flesh, and the Devil are the three enemies common to all believers. Identifying and learning to do battle with these enemies is the second of the three issues. It is appropriate to begin with the world since it is in this sphere in which we conduct our physical existence.

The New Testament uses three different Greek words translated as world. The one used in the vast majority of passages is the word kosmos. Of its many meanings, one prominently featured in the New Testament is the idea of a designed, ordered, and purposeful system that has been put into action by an architect. The ruler of this system is identified variously as “the ruler” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), or the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), which is Satan. The world has its own standards by which it operates (1 Cor. 1:21; 3:19). These are in opposition to God’s standards and wisdom (1 Cor. 1:21,25), and to adopt the world’s standards is to become the enemy of God (James 4:4).

Believers are warned not to love this kosmos system (1 John 2:15-16). In fact, part of the mission of the believer is to destroy the “fortresses” containing this worlds “speculations (man-made philosophies) and every lofty (pretentious) thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and taking every thought (false belief) captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:2-5). This feat is not easily accomplished since the believer must be matured in “the knowledge of God” (v.5) in order to do so. Chafer offers valuable insight into how to experience victory when he states, “The Biblical, as well as practical, cure for “worldliness” among Christians is so to fill the heart and life with the eternal blessings of God that there will be a joyous preoccupation and absent-mindedness relative to unspiritual things.”[v] In other words, to overcome the poisonous “wisdom” of this kosmos system it is absolutely necessary to avail ourselves of the “mind of Christ” that we possess because of our union with Him (1 Cor. 2:16). This may be accomplished only in the believer who knows and understands this truth, and it is made possible only through the power of the indwelling Spirit and the application of the word of God to everyday events of life (1 Cor. 2:10-13; John 17:17 cf. 2 Pet. 1:3-4).

The believer has a precarious balancing act to perform in that he must live in this world (John 17:11,15-16) without becoming tainted by it (James 1:27). Only by knowledge of the Word of God and the power of the indwelling Spirit (2 Pet. 1:3-4) and faith (1 John 5:4) will the believer overcome this world system.

The devil also presents a major impediment for the believer who desires to live the Christian life. Recall how Paul described our pre-salvation existence; “you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world” (Eph. 2:1-2). This system is governed by one who is directing its course, which is “according to the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). This ruler is Satan, the Devil, the accuser of believers (Rev. 12:10). Peter warns believers to “be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Again, Paul warns believers to be prepared with the armor of God in order to “be able to resist in the evil day,” having taken “the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:13,16). He is a formidable foe for whom the believer must be on guard. Without proper knowledge and preparation the believer will be powerless in the spiritual battle that he faces.

Finally, the third of the identified enemies that stand in the way of the believer’s successful execution of the Christian life is his own flesh. This is a somewhat controversial idea, but it should not be since it is clearly biblical. The flesh composes the inner source of our sinfulness. The Greek word sarx is translated as flesh. It can refer to human or animal flesh, the physical body, but also speaks of what is more than physical in man. It often refers to “man’s nature generally.”[vi] Chafer says that “it includes in its meaning the whole of the unregenerate person, – spirit, soul and body.”[vii] Unlike the other obstacles to the Christian life, this particular enemy is internal and its influence cannot easily be overcome. Paul makes the clearest statement concerning the fact that believers are capable of living by their flesh and thus reflecting the actions of the old man, the lost man. In 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:4 Paul identifies three separate types of men; natural, spiritual, and men of flesh. It is the third person that he names is of concern to us. He chastises the Corinthian church for living like “men of flesh,” which is the translation of sarkinos, a word related to sarx. Paul’s admonition is that they stop acting like infants in Christ, like mere natural or lost men, and grow to maturity as a spiritual man (2:15). Knowing the background of the Corinthian church allows us to see that it is indeed possible for a believer to live as if he is a lost man, as a carnal believer who is out of fellowship with God. It is a difficult task to overcome the flesh and not live as “men of flesh.” However, Scripture is clear that we can overcome even our flesh.

Paul declares, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). As we will see in the section dealing with progress in Christian life, walking in the power of the indwelling Spirit of God is key to living out His will in our lives. Notice how Paul describes the means of walking, or living. One instance is by the Spirit, or by means of the Spirit while the other is carrying out the desire (epithumea – craving, longing, lust) of the flesh. The inner war is seen in the competing desires as Paul explains, “For the flesh sets its desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (v.17). What Paul is describing here are two competing forces. The one of concern at this juncture is the flesh. Chafer further describes the moral use of the word flesh correctly when he wrote that it “implies that it [flesh] is still alive and includes that which makes it alive and that which expresses itself through the physical body.”[viii] Scripture attests to this in numerous places either by direct pronouncement or strong implication (2 Pet. 2:18; 1 John 2:16; Rom. 7:18; 13:14; Eph. 2:3).

[i]It seems highly improbable that a new believer will not have the desire to live pleasing to God, but typically that zeal will fade, and later at some point in his life he will face a time of upheaval that will bring the need and desire into focus more clearly.

[ii]Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1973), 6:162-65.

[iii]Ibid., 162-63.

[iv]Ibid., 163.

[v]Ibid., 181.

[vi]H. G. Liddell, A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996) Logos Bible Software.

[vii]Chafer, Spiritual, 111.

[viii]Ibid.

A Dispensational View of the Spiritual Life, or Homage to He That Is Spiritual, part 2

At the outset of this series I made the assertion that there is a Dispensational view of of the spiritual life.  In fact, I determined that the Dispensational view of the spiritHe That Is Spiritualual life is the truly biblical view.  I attempted to lay out my rationale for such a bold statement by detailing two of the sine qua non of Dispensationalism, the consistent usage of a normal hermeneutic, and the resultant distinction between Israel and the Church, in particular with reference to the Spirit’s new work within each individual believer.  I will endeavor to begin to build upon the second particular here.

As we begin our study we must first look at God’s work in the life of the believer. He is the source of life for all creation in general (Gen. 1-2) and the source of eternal, spiritual life for those who are newly born by grace through faith in Christ (John 3:16; Eph. 2:8-10). Since the Christian life begins with Him we should begin by examining His provision for the Christian life.

God’s Provision for the Christian Life

The state of every man prior to the moment of salvation is said to be that of spiritual death. Paul explains that “just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Every man ever born is the seed of “the first man, Adam,” (1 Cor. 15:45) and “in Adam all die” (v.22). Physical death is a product of and therefore follows spiritual death. Yet God was not satisfied to leave man in this state, so He provided for man’s rebirth. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Likewise through Paul we learn that before exercising faith in Christ we were dead, but God made us alive: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked…But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:1-2a, 4-5). In this one passage two different experiences of life are identified. The first is merely natural, human life void of the spiritual whereas the second is an act of God’s mercy displayed in love toward those spiritually dead by making them alive with, or in, Christ. Here we have a description of that which Jesus spoke of in John 3:3 when He explained to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (born from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Christ further clarifies in His follow-up statement, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). Thus, Christ makes the distinction between the natural man of the flesh and the spiritual man who is born of the Holy Spirit.

What is also seen in the aforementioned verses is the fact that all three persons of the Godhead are active in making provision for spiritual life for everyone who believes in Christ. Of the many works of God that take place at the moment one believes, those that we will examine here are: regeneration, justification, sanctification, baptism of the Holy Spirit, as well as the indwelling of the Spirit.

Regeneration

Regeneration means to be born again. Although the word regeneration only appears twice in Scripture (Matt. 19:28; Titus 3:4-5), the doctrine is unquestionably presented throughout the New Testament. We most often think of death as the cessation of life. While this is true, a more proper view is that death is separation. Physical death occurs when the human body is separated from human life. Spiritual death occurred when Adam rebelled against God at which point Adam and his descendants were separated from God, the giver and sustainer of man’s spiritual life. Sin created a barrier that separates man and God. Therefore, natural man is in a perpetual state of separation from the source of spiritual life. However, as stated earlier, God was not satisfied leaving man in a state of spiritual death. When one conducts a thorough study of the whole of Scripture he finds that in eternity past God designed a plan to remove the barrier. When the predetermined time in history came, “the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, [and] He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5). We conclude by returning to Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.”

God’s plan included the payment for sin, which Christ the Son supplied through sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26). Christ is also said to give new life to those dead in sin. The Lord Himself describes this fact when He said, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes” (John 5:21). In fact, Jesus Himself is “the way and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). It may be said that Christ, by His death, removed the barrier of sin and made regeneration possible for those who believe.

The Spirit’s work in the new birth is that of actually applying it to the believing one. Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (born from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Christ further clarifies in His follow-up statement, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). Thus, Christ makes the distinction between two different men. The natural man is that one born of the flesh. The spiritual man is the believer who has been born of or by the Holy Spirit. The new birth is the product of the Spirit’s work in us. The believer does not experience this work of the Spirit. That is it is not something that registers with the emotions or the senses. Yet it is a definite work nonetheless.

Justification

At the moment one believes in Jesus Christ unto salvation he not only partakes in the new birth he is also justified and sanctified. Justification is a one-time act of God whereby He declares the believer to be righteous. It is a legal judgment. Like salvation itself, justification is non-meritorious and unearned. It is a gift (Rom. 3:24). As Robert Lightner describes it:

Because of our position in Christ (Eph. 2:13), whereby Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21), God declares us righteous because we are clothed with his righteousness (Rom. 5:1). . . . Justification is more than simply God viewing the sinner as though he had never sinned. Instead, it is God looking upon the sinner to whom the righteousness of Christ earned at the cross has been added.[i]

Thus we can conclude that justification is God declaring the believing one to be righteous.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans the doctrine of justification is presented in great detail. Romans 3:21-26 outlines the role of the Son in justification. God’s righteousness demands the judgment and punishment of sin as attested to by the Law and the Prophets (v.21). Righteousness is provided to the Christian at the moment he places his faith in Jesus Christ (v.22). The problem is that all men sin and fall short of God’s glory, but based on the redemption provided by the death of Christ God justifies the believer as a gift once again, received through faith (vv.23-25). Because sin was judged and paid for by Christ in His death on the cross God is able to maintain His perfect righteousness and yet proclaim the believing sinner justified (v.26). Because of this work of God in Christ, Paul tells the church in Corinth, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:20).

God pronounces man justified, Christ provided the sacrifice needed for man’s justification, and the Holy Spirit applies the righteousness of Christ to the believer so that he may be proclaim just by God. It is the Holy Spirit who brings new life to the believer by placing Him into Christ and His righteousness. Thus, Paul writes, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:1-2).

Baptism and Sanctification

We’ll begin with sanctification first. The word sanctification comes from the Greek word hagiazo meaning to set aside, consecrate, or dedicate. In our specific setting it refers to being set aside by God and for His purpose. While justification and sanctification are simultaneous works accomplished by the Spirit, they are not synonymous. They are intimately tied together and inseparable. Lightner correctly sums up this connectedness: “To be justified is to be declared righteous before God, and to be sanctified is to be set apart; the one presupposes the other.”[ii]

Sanctification differs from both regeneration and justification in that it is a work accomplished in the believer and is meant to be experienced in the Christian life. Regeneration is a one-time work of God never to be repeated. Looking again to the inseparable relationship between sanctification and justification it should be noted that on the one hand justification is a single act of God declaring man righteous and places him in a right relationship with God. On the other hand sanctification is an “initial”[iii] work of God that sets the believer apart for God’s purpose, but it also has ongoing, or progressive and final, or ultimate aspects. Sanctification sets the believer apart as a holy being for God’s purpose and use, and his holy position is to be reflected in the believer’s daily walk. In its experiential (progressive) sense it is in fact the crux of the Christian life.

Scripture gives ample description of the work that each member of the Godhead accomplishes in producing the believer’s sanctification. For example, Paul desired that God the Father would sanctify the believers in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5:23) and Christ Himself prayed that the Father would sanctify His disciples through His word (John 17:17). Likewise we find that Christ sanctifies those who believe in Him (John 17:19; Heb. 2:11). Christ’s sacrifice sanctifies those who have faith in Him (Heb. 9:13; 10:10). It is said of the Church that Christ loves her “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26). Paul exclaims that Christ is the source of life in him that allows him to live in obedience to God.

However, to be true to the teaching of Scripture the work of the Spirit is featured foremost in the sanctification of the believer. As Ryrie explains, “…to be faithful to the emphasis of Scripture we must observe that the work of the Holy Spirit is given prominence in the process of sanctification….it is the Spirit who changes us “into the same image from glory to glory (II Cor. 3:18).”[iv] He is correct in his appraisal. Elsewhere, Paul identifies the Spirit’s power in the believer enabling the believer to “[put] to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13). In other words, the Spirit that indwells the believer also empowers the believer to choose obedience to God over enslavement to the flesh. The Spirit floods the heart of the believer with assurance and stability (Rom. 5:5). The Scriptural presentation demonstrates that sanctification in its initial phase is the work of God the Father and the Son, in its progressive sense it is a work shared by God the Son and God the Spirit, but in both the progressive and ultimate senses the bulk of the work belongs to the ministry of the indwelling Spirit.

The baptizing work of the Holy Spirit is that ministry in which He unites us with Christ in His death and places us into a position that opens the door to the possibility for the Christian to walk in a new way of life. It occurs once at the moment of saving faith. As Ron Merryman explains, “The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the ministry whereby He takes the believer at the moment of saving faith retroactively through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and places him/her into living union with the Lord Jesus Christ.”[v] Colossians 2:12-13 describes in with vivid language the truth that by faith we are buried with Him through this baptism, raised in new life with him (cf. Rom. 6:4) and made us “alive together with Him” having forgiven us all transgressions. In this union we are co-crucified (Rom. 6:5), co-buried and co-resurrected with Christ (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12).

Paul provides a more full treatment of the baptizing work and its intended results to the Roman believers:

How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Rom. 6:2b-7)

As Paul specifically states it is the Spirit’s work to unite us with Christ by baptizing us into His death. As Kenneth Wuest explains[vi], the word “baptized” is actually a transliteration of the Greek word baptisma meaning “dipping” or “baptism.” In determining its meaning in the current context, Wuest explains, “The usage of the word…resolves itself into the following definition of the word baptizo…‘the introduction or placing of a person or thing into a new environment or into union with something else so as to alter its condition or its relationship to its previous environment or condition.”[vii] It can be concluded from Paul’s word usage that the Spirit unites us with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. He goes on to explain that the purpose is “so that…we too might walk in newness of life” (v. 4). Therefore, we are placed into a new environment or in union with Christ in His death thereby dying to sin (v.7) resulting in the possibility of consistently living in that new, divine life imparted to us. This union with Christ is of utmost importance for the believer. It is this union produced by Spirit’s baptizing ministry that places us into a position to live the Christian life.

At the risk of being redundant allow me to further underscore the truth of the believer’s baptism into Christ for it cannot be overemphasized. Time and time again Paul references the result of the Spirit’s baptizing work upon the believer with the phrase “in Christ” (en Christo) and various parallel phrases in order to emphasize this most important relationship. The Spirit baptizes every believer into Christ, and it is this position of privilege, power and possession from which the believer receives the ability to live the Christian life.

Indwelling

In John 14:20 Jesus taught His disciples that after His departure, “you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me and I in You.” It is the Spirit’s obligation to bring this to pass today as He takes up residence in every believer in Christ. That this is true is expressed by Jesus earlier in the chapter when He said, “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (vv.16-17).

Paul further illustrates this marvelous work of the Spirit when he describes the believers in the church in Rome as “not in the flesh but in the Spirit” because of the Spirit’s indwelling (Rom. 8:9).[viii] In fact, Paul explains that if the Spirit is not indwelling a person that one “does not belong to Christ” (v.9). In accord with this discussion Paul equates this indwelling of the Spirit with “Christ…in you” (v.10). It is on the basis of the Spirit’s indwelling that we have the hope of the resurrection (v.11), and it is the indwelling that enables the us to “[put] to death the deeds of the body” (v.13).

To sum up we find that by regeneration the Spirit births a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). In justification the new believer is made righteous based on his new connection to Christ’s righteousness. The Spirit’s work in the believer in the ministries of sanctification, baptism, and indwelling are central to the believer’s ability to live the Christian life. Sanctification sets the believer apart by God for His purpose. In baptism the believer is placed in vital union with Christ, and through the Spirit’s indwelling the believer has access to the divine enablement provided by Him.

NOTES:

[i]Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1995), 203.

[ii]Ibid., 205.

[iii]Ibid.

[iv]Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 63.

[v]Ron Merryman, Divine Operating Assets for the Believer in Time, vol. II of God’s Grace Provision for Man’s Success: An Analysis of All Phases of Salvation by Grace (Casa Grande, AZ: Merryman Ministries, 2012), 27.

[vi]Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), Logos Bible Software.

[vii]Ibid.

[viii]eiper may be translated as “If as is the case” (see A.T. Robinson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933), Logos Bible Software)

The Sufficiency of Scripture: Is God’s Word Enough, Part 4

To all who have read these recent posts I will remind that the documentation of quotes has been lost.  Therefore, many of the quotes are not properly attributed to those who made them.

I recently began a series of articles dealing with the sufficiency of Scripture.  I began by giving a definition and description of sufficiency.  By way of introduction and reminder, the following is our definition: Sufficiency means that something is enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end.  It refers to something being what is necessary or desirable for a specified need.  Simply put, if something is sufficient it is just what the doctor ordered.

In the last post we examined the move toward a proper hermeneutic that was directly attributable to the great Reformers including Luther and Calvin.  We also briefly discussed the fact that even they did not consistently utilize the proper procedures in their interpretation and exegesis.

As a result of the Renaissance and the Reformation, both Churchmen and philosophers discovered a renewed interest in the world around them and how to interpret man’s existence in light of their surroundings.  That is not to say that such things were not being pondered before these two events, but in the wake of them their was a noticeable expansion of such explorations.  The consequences were not always positive.

From Revelation to Reason –

Shortly after the Reformation, there was a move toward what is termed Rationalism. In other words the authority and sufficiency of the human mind, reason, and the religion of humanism replaced the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.

Although not the first to push the idea of rationalism, Rene’ Descartes (1596-1650) is seen by some to have begun the era of rationalism and many see him as the father of modern philosophy. In his system of philosophy, “human wisdom replaced divine revelation in trying to understand God…his philosophic thinking impressed many others to do the same.”

8-blaise-pascalFollowing Descartes was Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) respected French scientist, and Christian apologist. Despite his belief in fulfilled prophecy, miracles, the witness of Christianity throughout history, and Scripture’s testimony concerning itself, “he opened the door to move away from the Bible by his belief that the evidence in the heart is the strongest proof about God.” Once again, Scripture is place in a subservient position to the interpreter instead of Scripture being in authority over the interpreter. The interpreter’s reason is sufficient to guide him, not Scripture.

From Rationalism to Idealism –

As influential as these two men were Francis Schaeffer believed that there were four other men who were more crucial in directing the mindset of philosophical thinking, which in turn filtered over into the overall view of the sufficiency of Scripture. They were Jean-Jaques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, George Wilhelm Hegel, and SÆ ren Kierkegaard. For the purpose of this study the focus will be upon Kant, Hegel and Kierkegaard, with the edition of Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of liberalism.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). By the time Kant came on the seen in the 18th century the train of philosophical thought was undergoing a shift in attitude. As Schaeffer explains:

Immanuel Kant

“the older philosophic views were optimistic, for they assumed that people would be able through reason alone to establish a unified and true knowledge of what reality is and that when this happened they would have satisfying explanations for everything encountered in the universe and for all that people are and think.”

The shift that was taking place that Kant helped to perpetuate was a move from that former optimistic view to a pessimistic view of life. In their minds, and in truth, the humanistic ideal had failed. Philosophers gave up hope of a unifying answer to all of life’s questions. Therefore life itself was divided into two “stories”. The upper story, which was above and beyond mere human reason, and the lower story, the realm of human thought, understanding, and the physical world. As others before him, Kant could not find the key to unifying these two stories – In truth, a feat only possible in the pages of Scripture for only it is sufficient to answer life’s question and provide that unifying principle – and the philosophers were coming to the horrifying truth; “There was no way beginning from man alone to bring the (two stories) together.”

Yet Kant refused to return to the Christian view of reality. He reacted against both “mystical and pietistic Christianity, thinking it was too superstitious and spiritual…(and) the scholasticism that dominated Lutheranism…(arguing that) such rational proofs of God violated the limits of reason and had little to do with faith.”

Kant’s conclusions served to move the Christian Church farther from the sufficiency of Scripture and towards mysticism and liberalism.

George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). Hegel was one of Kant’s followers and went a step further in chipping away at the sufficiency of Scripture. In Hegel is found the foundation for all relativistic thought and the perfect example of Paul’s statement, “Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22), for in Hegel’s system opposing propositions can both be true and must be synthesized into one new truth. This was his dialectical system. The result of Hegel’ s conclusions was a move further away from the traditional understanding that the propositional truth claims of Scripture were sufficient to answer all of life’s fundamental questions and guide mankind in every area of life, and a move further into the realm of mystical, even occult thought. For Hegel man was the consciousness of the universe, and all is ever evolving in this dialectical system.

Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834). As previously mentioned, Schleiermacher is often seen as the father of liberalism. In Schleiermacher it seems that many of the elements of liberalism merge into one; German rationalism, higher criticism, enlightenment thought, etc., all merge at Schleiermacher. He rejected most of the orthodox Christian beliefs and did not trust any form of authority. Yet, he seemed to understand the damage that his beliefs would cause mankind, therefore, “he did not want to reject Christianity, recognizing that mankind needs religion.” To Schleiermacher, Christianity was a necessary evil. He rejected Scripture’s inspiration, therefore also rejecting its inerrancy and authority, which necessarily meant that Scripture is not sufficient to answer life’s question. Yet, he somehow believed that keeping the shell of Christianity in public life would be necessary – this is nonsense since the very root of Christian life resides in the sufficient, authoritative pages of Scripture.

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). In this author’s estimation, Kierkegaard was the bridge between the damaging shift in philosophical thought and soren-kierkegaardthe shift away from the sufficiency of Scripture in the realm of theology. Kierkegaard was both a philosopher and theologian. Kierkegaard’s view of the two stories of reality can be seen in the following:

NONREASON = FAITH/OPTIMISM

REASON = PESSIMISM

Thus in Kierkegaard’s system the Bible is not only insufficient in governing faith and life because it is not trustworthy.  Human reason must be relied upon to answer all questions in the realm of everyday life, and spirituality is brought to the point of a mere leap of faith into something that can never be known.

In this one man we can see both sides of today’s low view of the sufficiency of Scripture. On the one hand the Scripture is insufficient and human reason must be the answer. On the other hand Scripture is insufficient and some existential or ecstatic experience must be the basis for men’s faith.

Around the same time that Kierkegaard was building a bridge between the fields of pessimistic philosophy and theology, Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) began the direct assault on Scripture. Wellhausen rejected the inspiration of Scripture – in itself a repudiation of the sufficiency of Scripture – and began the application of the Hegelian dialectical principles to the study of the Bible. This led to the damaging practice of Biblical “higher criticism”.

karl-barth_with-pipeThe destruction brought by the higher critics resulted in an equally damaging response by those who are now labeled as Neo-Orthodox. The first influential theologian of this school of thought was Karl Barth (1886-1968). This movement is also known as “crisis theology” (due to its focus on God’s judgment), or “Barthianism” (after Barth himself). Barth sought to rescue the Bible from the liberal theologians, yet Kierkegaard’s influence can be seen in Barth’s theological product. Enns explains: “Karl Barth followed Kierkegaard in acknowledging a transcendent God and emphasizing a religion of experience. Barth taught that God could not be known objectively because He is transcendent; He must be known subjectively through experience.” In Barth’s conclusion we once again see the effects of Hegel’s dialectical system, in that Barth “denied the possibility of stating propositional truths.” Since God could not be known objectively through the propositional truth claims of the Bible then the words of Scripture must become the word of God in some subjective way. Once again, the sufficiency of Scripture was rejected and replaced by personal experiences throwing wide open the door to the mystical, occult experiences that have entered the Church today.

Whether meant as attacks or sincere attempts at interpreting and teaching Scripture, the cumulative effect of all of these movements can be seen in the resulting destruction of the view that Scripture alone is sufficient for every aspect of faith and conduct. On one side stands dinosaur-like view of the humanist that man’s reason is all that there ever was, is now, or ever will be needed to answer all of life’s questions and guide man through life, yet ultimately leads to despair. On the other side stands the new kid on the block; those who hold that reason must be set aside and the mystical subjective experience must be embraced, this view also leading to despair.

To be continued…

The Sufficiency of Scripture: Is God’s Word Enough? Part 3

sola scripturaI recently began a series of articles dealing with the sufficiency of Scripture.  I began by giving a definition and description of sufficiency.  By way of introduction and reminder, the following is our definition: Sufficiency means that something is enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end.  It refers to something being what is necessary or desirable for a specified need.  Simply put, if something is sufficient it is just what the doctor ordered.

Our last discussion ended with the historical development of the Roman Catholic standard form of hermeneutic, an allegorical method of interpreting Scripture.  A major concern with this approach is that Scripture becomes putty in the hands of the interpreter who is free to mold its “meaning” into anything that suits his/her fancy.  Added to this method is the practice of the Pope making proclamations ex cathedra regardless of whether the proclamation is in harmony with previous proclamations or not, or whether it harmonizes with the real teachings of Scripture or not.  At least one of the results prior to the Reformation was rampant superstition, which is a glaring display of the abandonment of the sufficiency of Scripture.

Reformation Hermeneutics –

By the time the Reformation came about the damage was so ingrained that even the Reformers never quite returned completely to sound biblical interpretation. Granted the hermeneutical principles established by the two most influential Reformers, Luther (1483-1546) and Calvin (1509-1564), were sound and good; in practice they did not always follow their own rules.

Luther rejected the allegorical method completely. As he said, “When I was a monk, I was an expert in allegories. I allegorized everything. But after lecturing on the Epistles of the Romans I came to have knowledge of Christ. For therein I saw that Christ is no allegory and I learned to know what Christ is.” Because of his turn from allegorical method Luther developed a form of literal, grammatical hermeneutics. Briefly, his principles were as follows:

  1. The psychological principle. Luther believed that the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit was of absolute necessity.
  2. The authority principle. Scripture is the final and supreme authority above all church authority.
  3. The literal principle. Literal (normal) interpretation is key.
  4. The sufficiency principle. Luther held to the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture and therefore believed that any devout Christian is capable of understanding them apart from the church’s authority.
  5. The Christological principle. Luther believed that the function of all of interpretation is to find Christ.
  6. The Law-Gospel principle. Luther believed that there must be a careful distinction held between Law and Gospel.

John Calvin also established sound hermeneutical practices. “Calvin stressed the Christological nature of Scripture, the grammatical, historical method, exegesis rather than eisegesis…the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit, and a balanced approach to typology.” (Quote attribution lost)

The problem that existed with both of these great scholars, and men of God, was that they each continued to hold to allegorical/spiritual interpretation when it concerned the Church, Israel, and end times prophecy propagating the Catholic Church’s teaching of amillennialism and that the Church is the Kingdom of God. Therefore, despite the great success and blessing from God that the Reformation was, its success was incomplete leaving the door open for building good doctrine on top of bad.

Regardless of the progress towards sound hermeneutic principles of the Reformers the issue remained; through all the years prior to and following the Reformation the sufficiency of Scripture was (and is) challenged.  This challenge has often been by interpreters seeking to help make Scripture plain, or by the Roman Catholic Church seeking to centralize the power of Christendom.  It may be safe to say that the situation has worsened with the addition of numerous sects and cults, and the failure of conservative churches to teach the sufficiency of Scripture.  The result can be seen in the current drift back to superstition, which includes the current tide of continually seeking new direct revelation from God for everyday guidance instead of simply living in obedience to His revealed word.

To be continued…

The Sufficiency of Scripture: Is God’s Word Enough? Part 2

Hoky BibleYesterday I began a series of articles dealing with the sufficiency of Scripture.  I began by giving a definition and description of sufficiency.  By way of introduction I will briefly review.

Sufficiency means that something is enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end.  It refers to something being what is necessary or desirable for a specified need.  Simply put, if something is sufficient it is just what the doctor ordered.  When it comes to Scripture, God’s Holy Word, it means that the Bible is totally adequate, and competent to meet the needs of every individual Christian in every circumstance of life (see 2 Peter 1:2-3).  Nothing else is needed to guide us in our everyday living.

Most of us would agree that the greater portion of the Church has abandoned this long-held belief in the sufficiency of Scripture.  What some of us may not know is the history of how we have arrived at this place in the life of the Church.  What follows is my attempt to trace the history of biblical interpretation and misinterpretation of Scripture that enabled and emboldened the Church to conclude that God’s word alone is not a sufficient guide for an individual Christian’s life.  I would add to the previous statement that I am by no means alone in my understanding of the history that follows.

Historical Perspective: The Battle for Authority and Sufficiency

Origen and Allegorical Interpretation –

As Philip Schaff has stated, “The question of the source and rule of Christian knowledge lies at the foundation of all theology.” Without a solid foundation all theology must rest on shifting “sand…and great (shall be) its fall” (Matt. 7:26-27). Not withstanding the original attack upon the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in the Garden, the shift from the authority and sufficiency within the Christian Church can be seen with the first formal theory of interpretation, that of Origen (A.D.185-254). His hermeneutic system was fashioned after that of Philo, a Jewish Platonist who adopted the allegorical method in approaching the Hebrew Scriptures. Likewise, Origin applied the allegorical method in his exegesis of Scripture.  Although born out of the best of intentions the problem with Origen’s s hermeneutic method is that it abandoned a normal interpretation for a fanciful, imaginative interpretation that placed the interpreter in the place of authority instead of Scripture itself being the authority. Instead of Scripture having a static meaning (although alive and active as Hebrews 4:12 states) and simply having a basic, intended meaning that anyone could understand, “(he) considered the Bible a living organism (not as Hebrews states), consisting of three elements which answer to the body, soul, and spirit of man, after Platonic psychology.” The outcome was that Origen, like Plato, would allegorize, or spiritualize vast portions of Scripture completely undermining, or destroying the plain, historical sense in which it was intended. In so doing the authority of the word of God was made to be subservient to the interpreter, thereby making it insufficient in itself to direct men into proper living.

Augustine and Dualism –

Following Origen’s lead, Augustine (A.D. 354-430), once again desiring to do good, duplicated the allegorical method, but with a twist. His system is known as dualism, and the modification that he introduced was seen in his practice of limiting allegorical interpretations to prophetic passages, while taking other passages in their normal, literal sense. This dualistic method of allegorical interpretation once again pushed the subtle shift from the sufficiency of Scripture as it tore at the foundation of the authority of Scripture. Paul Tan described the overwhelming acceptance of Augustine’s practice; “Unfortunately for the church, Augustinian dualism was accepted without much debate into the Roman Catholic church, and later also by the Protestant reformers.”  It is that last fact concerning the Protestant reformers that has led to many of the problems in the modern Church.

Arguably, one of the negative outcomes of Augustine’s dualism is the birth of Amillennialism. This view of the millennium was absorbed whole by the Roman Catholic Church and their theology. This had a devastating impact upon the Roman Catholic hermeneutic method, and, therefore, to the authority and, in turn, the sufficiency of Scripture.

Catholic Allegorism –

Directly effected by Augustine’s form of allegorical interpretation is the Catholic system of hermeneutics. The Catholic system is very closely related to Augustine’s dualism, and completely swallowed up the Amillennialist idea of prophetic Scriptures.

Bernard Ramm asserts that “[i]t would be over-simplification to assert that the only method of exegesis during the Middle Ages was the allegorical method. It would not be, however, be an exaggeration to assert that the preponderance of exegetical work was allegorical.” The Romanists divided Scripture into two categories; 1.) Literal and 2.) Spiritual, or mystical. Yet, as damaging as this aspect of their system was, it was merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The real greater damage is found in another of Ramm’s observations;

The Catholic interpreter obediently accepts whatever the Catholic Church has specifically said about matters of Biblical Introduction, and authorship of the books of the Bible…The Catholic interpreter accepts all verse which the Church has officially interpreted in the sense in which they have been interpreted.”

Here we have the logical outcome of the destruction of the authority, and therefore the sufficiency of Scripture by the introduction of the allegorical method of interpretation. When the normal sense of Scripture is not the true or deepest meaning of Scripture, then interpretation must be left up to those who have been granted the divine right of interpretation, i.e., the Church. In turn, that transition of the divine right of interpretation from the individual Christian to the Church placed the individual Christian under the authority of the Church, and since the method of interpretation placed the interpreting body in control of what Scripture means the Church became the authority, Scripture lost both its authority and sufficiency, and direction for all areas of life fell under the authority of the church; the Roman Catholic Church held the sufficiency. The Bible was taken out of the hands of the average man on the street and given only to the church to dictate to the individual what was held within its pages.

The Catholic Church’s denial of sola Scriptura was solidified at the Council of Trent in 1545. Although affirming the Bible as inspired revelation from God, as has already been established, the Church became the only competent interpreter of Scripture.

Two major errors occurred. Upon the church’s establishment of itself as the only sound interpreter of Scripture, membership in the Catholic Church became necessary for salvation. Therefore, the church and not Scripture, is sufficient for salvation.

Secondly, they established that the guidance of the Roman Catholic Church is absolutely necessary for correct understanding of the Bible. Popes and bishops are the only competent interpreters of the Scriptures; therefore, the individual cannot grow, serve or obey without the guidance of the Catholic Church. Scripture alone is not sufficient for salvation or daily living.

With the Bible taken from those who were not in authority in the church the natural progression was to drift into deep superstition and mysticism. Although mysticism came along with the allegorical interpretation, its filtering into public life in the form of superstitions and pagan practices was caused by the individual’s inability to read, let alone understand the words of Scripture, as well as by example of their “spiritual” leaders.  The results were horrific in the life of the Church in general, and devastating to individuals overall.  None had assurance of salvation.  Many lived in fear of evil spirits, or even in fear of their own religious leaders.  The Roman Church became oppressive and overbearing, and millions suffered greatly.

Praise God that the history of the Church and biblical interpretation did not end there.

To be continued.