Not ‘Sinaholics;’ Sin-Slaves

In an article I posted about a year ago (After the Fall, Is the Human Will Free or Fettered?), I presented a positive argument and explanation for my view of human volition after the fall of Genesis 3. In my research, I found Dr. Leighton Flowers to be a good example of an opposing perspective on the will of man, so I quoted him a few times in peripheral sections of my text. His quotes were used as a brief articulation of a philosophical concept called Libertarian Free Will.

Dr. Flowers has recently discovered my essay and written an extensive rebuttal of it. I will let the reader decide if my argument stands against his critique. I believe that any honest evaluation of Dr. Flowers’ article and my own essay will reveal that Dr. Flowers has failed to interact with the substance of my essay, much less successfully counter it.

Furthermore, Dr. Flowers merely gave disapproval of my view and offered no positive argument from the Scriptures for his own view. It is one thing to cite a verse here and there, and use these as pretexts for a presupposed theological critique. It is quite another to walk through a didactic passage of Scripture to demonstrate biblical harmony with your own theological system.

That said, I wanted to take just a moment to address what I believe to be Dr. Flowers’ fundamental error. I do not presume that I will change Dr. Flowers’ mind on this matter (though one can certainly hope), but I sincerely pray that this may serve as an opportunity for consideration among those who might follow his ministry.

Dr. Flowers repeatedly affirmed his belief that fallen humanity is enslaved to sin. The biblical concept of sin-slavery is well attested in the Scriptures and easily understood from a passage like Romans 6:16-22. There the Apostle Paul explains sin-slavery and gives the reader hope for belonging to a new and better Master.

However, I shall return to the passage I used in my theological essay to address Dr. Flowers’ error. I cited and explained Ephesians 2:1-3. The Apostle Paul is here addressing Christians, but he confronts them about their former (fallen, unregenerate, sin-slave) volitional status. Rather than using the metaphor of slavery, Paul here speaks of spiritual death, but both metaphors refer to the same sin-slave status (simply compare Rom. 6:16-22 and Eph. 2:1-3). He wrote,

“you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:1–3).

In verses 2-3, there are at least two ways in which the Apostle Paul explains the form and substance of spiritual death (v1). Paul describes spiritual death as (1) following a worldly course and a powerful prince; and (2) living in fleshly passions and carrying out fleshly desires. Let us consider each of these aspects of spiritual death and how such things should shape our understanding of the sin-enslaved human will.

Following a worldly course and a powerful prince. A “worldly course” and a “powerful prince” are both examples of language not uncommon to the Bible or the Apostle Paul. In fact, Paul uses similar language in Galatians and Colossians. To the Galatian Christians, Paul wrote of their having been “enslaved to the elementary principles of this world” (Gal. 4:3). To the saints in Colossae, he wrote of their “deliverance from the domain of darkness” (Col. 1:13). The imagery is clear: devilish dominion enslaves all those who are spiritually dead, and these walk according to the dark course or path of their evil prince. This imagery may be unenjoyable to our eyes, but it is not difficult to observe or recognize. The picture is one of fettered bondage.

The imagery is clear: devilish dominion enslaves all those who are spiritually dead, and these walk according to the dark course or path of their evil prince. This imagery may be unenjoyable to our eyes, but it is not difficult to observe or recognize. The picture is one of fettered bondage.

Living in fleshly passions and carrying out desires. These “passions” and “desires” are also frequently found in the biblical text. Paul says that Christians are to renounce “worldly passions” (Titus 2:12), and Peter says Christians are to resist conformity to the “passions” that accompany a “former ignorance” that characterizes unregenerate humanity (1 Peter 1:14). Jesus made a scathing remark against fallen humanity, summarizing all of this, when He said, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44).

In each case, “passions” and “desires” refer to lustful cravings and preferences of the will. When such cravings and preferences are qualified by the term “fleshly,” it always conveys the idea of sinful passions and desires.

Therefore, according to Scripture, fallen man is not in bondage unwillingly, but he gladly wears his chains and even pursues heavier and lengthier ones.

This, in my view, is Dr. Flowers’ error. He simply does not understand or does not allow for the biblical concept of willful slavery to sin.

Dr. Flowers said, “There is nothing about being in slavery that makes one incapable of recognizing their chains and accepting God’s help to be freed when it’s offered.”

But what if the slave does not want to accept God’s help? This would necessarily make the slave incapable of freedom; not because it is not an option, but because he does not want it.

Dr. Flowers said, “Marc [has] simply conflated the concept of bondage to sin (addiction) with a moral incapacity to humble oneself and confess that enslaved condition so as to receive the help that is being offered (responsibility).”

Hasn’t Dr. Flowers omitted the reality that prideful rebellion is an expression of sin? Can the arrogant narcissist humble himself? Not without contradicting the label! An arrogant sinful rebel is by definition incapable of humbling himself, precisely because he is in bondage to the sin of pride, which will not allow him to grab hold of God’s offering of help.

Dr. Flowers said, “Slavery to sin IS NOT EQUAL to the moral inability to confess our enslavement in response to God’s loving provision and powerful Holy Spirit inspired appeals for reconciliation.”

Here again, in my view, Dr. Flowers has not understood or is flatly denying the fact that sin-slavery is a willful bondage. Confession and reconciliation are the results of godly repentance and faith, but such things are utterly repugnant to the unregenerate sin-slave.

This is why the sin-slave is in desperate need of a powerful and effective Savior! I needed God to give me more than an offering of help; I needed Him to give me spiritual life, new affections, and the desire to know and love Him. This is exactly what God does for unworthy sin-slaves, and I am grateful for amazing grace.

 

Dr. Flowers is the Director of Apologetics and Youth Evangelism for Texas Baptists and the purveyor of the website Soteriology 101. His ministry actively opposes a large swath of Southern Baptists, advocating a view of the doctrine of salvation (Traditionalism) that is hardly traditional Southern Baptist soteriology (see Tom Nettles’ explanation HERE or my own article HERE).

I am the pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana Texas. I have no official apologetic ministry, and little time to engage in this kind of exchange. I will gladly refer the interested reader to other ministries and resources for further inquiry.

We Need Sanctifying Churches!

If the doctrine of justification is the article upon which the Church stands or falls, then sanctification may be the doctrine which adorns her with beauty or leaves her standing naked and shameful.

The Church of Jesus Christ (all those who truly love and trust Christ) is His bride, adorned with His own righteousness and set apart for His intimate affection and care.  This truth is the comfort of all who understand themselves to be included in the household of God.  Yet, Christ does not merely call the prostituting adulterous bride to wear new labels (such as justified and sanctified), He also calls her to live accordingly (Eph 4:1; 1 Thess 2:12).

Living in light of her new status, the Church of Jesus Christ is declared to be holy, and Christ is making her holy by the washing of His word “so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor” (Eph 5:25-27).  This loving reconciliation and renewal is challenged by the fact that the visible Church (the multitude of professing Christians) is made up of believers who are still desirous of sin.

Herein lies the difficulty of understanding just how the visible Church may be clothed with righteousness as she stands justified before the watching world:

A visible Church, full of sinful-but-sanctified believers, arrayed in magnificence and clothed in righteousness for all the world to see, is exactly what God has intended the Church do be.

Before diving too deeply into the doctrine of sanctification, it may prove beneficial to establish the foundation for the believer’s justification.  Horatius Bonar, speaking of Christ’s righteousness with eloquence, wrote,

“In another’s righteousness we [Christians] stand; and by another’s righteousness are we justified.”  This truth, he went on to say, makes plain that “all accusations against us, founded upon our right unrighteousness, [may be] answered by pointing to the perfection of the righteousness which covers us from head to foot… as well as shields us from wrath.”[1]

Justification happens in an instant.  It is the doing of God Himself when the sinner is made alive in Christ Jesus and counted good, holy, and righteous in God’s sight (Eph 2:4-9; Titus 3:7; Rom 5:9).  Furthermore, sanctification is also an instantaneous declaration and positional reality for all who are in the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:11).

Sinclair Ferguson, writing on those doctrines that undergird the Christian life, says,

“it would be a distortion to present the New Testament teaching on sanctification only as a long, hard struggle for victory over sin as though few Christians ever lived the life of faith with any degree of success.”[2]

He goes on to point out that some New Testament passages can be understood only if sanctification is perceived to be a past experience (Acts 20:32; 1 Cor 6:11; 1 Pet 1:2).  In addition, the Christian union with Christ includes a significant change in relation to sin, particularly that the Christian is now ‘dead to’ or released from the power of sin (Col 2:20-3:14; Gal 2:20; Rom 6:1-14).

In the confessional statement known as the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, sanctification is one of many doctrinal subjects addressed.  The confession clearly conveys an understanding of sanctification as both a past and present work.

“They who are united to Christ, effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, are also farther sanctified, really and personally (Acts 20:32; Rom. 6:5,6), through the same virtue, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them (John 17:17; Eph. 3:16-19; 1 Thess. 5:21-23); the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed (Rom. 6:14), and the several lusts of it are more and more weakened and mortified (Gal. 5:24), and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces (Col. 1:11), to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (2 Cor. 7:1; Heb. 12:14).”[3]

There is a real sense in which the mortal, un-glorified Christian – as sinful as he may remain – is now sanctified and positionally holy before God.  The Christian is aroused to love for God by virtue of having been born again, and he does now love righteousness and hate sin (1 Tim 6:11).  Bonar says,

“The free, boundless love of God, pouring itself into us, expands and elevates our whole being; and we serve Him, not in order to win His favour, but because we have already won it in simply believing His record concerning His Son. If the root is holy, so are the branches. We have become connected with the holy root, and by the necessity of this connection are made holy too.”[4]

While it is true that the earthly Christian is holy, declared to be so and empowered to live as such by God Himself, the mortal Christian remains practically sinful and inclined towards sin.  He may find himself in despair when he considers how sinful he still is in spite of what he reads about his position before God as articulated in Scripture.

If I am still as sinful as I am,” he may think to himself, “how can it be true that I am holy and just in the sight of God?”

Bonar goes on to explain how vital it is that one understands the difference between working (doing good works and living righteously) and believing (trusting in the finished work of Christ for justification).  He says one must not confound or confuse the two because doing so would “destroy them both.”[5]

Therefore, justification and sanctification are fixed realities for all those in Christ Jesus by virtue of Christ’s justifying and sanctifying person and work.  However, there is also a sense in which the believer is being sanctified by God and also contributing to such a work through the diligent use of the means of grace, which God has made available to the converted soul (2 Tim 2:22).

The London Confession of 1689, in paragraph two and three of the section on Sanctification, describes the reality that sanctification has taken place, and yet there is remaining much imperfection in the believer while in this mortal life.  Furthermore, the believer most certainly finds himself in a constant struggle – the “flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (Gal 5:17; 1 Pet 2:11).

In this war, the believer is assured that he will overcome (Rom. 6:14), but he may experience periods when the remaining corruption may seem to prevail (Rom. 7:23).[6]  Martin Luther noted, early in his magisterial work on the depravity of fallen humanity,

“The world and it’s god (2 Cor 4:4) cannot and will not hear the word of the true God: and the true God cannot and will not keep silence. While, therefore, these two Gods are at war with each other, what can there be else in the whole world, but tumult?”[7]

If this is what we universally find (namely tumult and war) when the true God clashes with “the god of this world,” then we should expect to find the same hostile conflict in the microcosm of the human heart when these two opponents meet.  However, the Christian may take great comfort to know that God has not left the task of sanctification in the mortal’s hands alone.  God has called the Christian to diligently pursue righteousness and good works (Matt 6:33), and God has promised that He is working within to bring about both the willing and the doing of those same things (Eph 2:10).

The London Confession is again helpful to explain:

“Their ability to do good works is not all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ (John 15:4,5); and that they may be enabled thereunto, besides the graces they have already received, there is necessary an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them and to will and to do of his good pleasure (2 Cor. 3:5; Phil. 2:13); yet they are not bound to perform any duty, unless upon a special motion of the Spirit, but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them (Phil. 2:12; Heb. 6:11,12; Isa. 64:7).”[8]

The doing of good works by every believer is commanded and enabled by God (Titus 2:7; Heb 10:24; Matt 5:16; 1 Pet 2:12; Eph 2:10).  Not only thus, but Scripture informs us that good works will provide some evidence of genuine faith and discipleship (James 2:14-26; Jn 8:31).  Good works, or righteous living, do not produce justification or sanctification, but it is clear that good works necessarily and always follow such things.

Kevin DeYoung describes the relationship, borrowing from biblical imagery, in botanic terms.

“It’s not that good works are in the root of the tree; they’re not the thing that makes the tree what it is. They’re not the ground or the basis of our standing with God. But if we truly are redeemed through the blood of Christ, if the Holy Spirit truly dwells in us, then we will be people who bear fruit in good works. Our lives will be marked by what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22-23).  And if those fruits are not present in us, Jesus says, we have reason to question whether the tree was ever really healthy at all.”[9]

With more elegant style and language, Bonar explains the enabling power of God in the life of the believer by saying, “The life of the justified is a decided one.”  It is fixed and focused.  “The justifying cross has come between him and all evil things.”  The Christian has a new light in his eye.  “Even if at any time he feels as if he could return to that country from which he set out, the cross stands in front and arrests his backward step.”

The Gospel itself compels the Christian onward toward the celestial city with holiness as his aim.  “There is henceforth to be no mistake about him. His heart is no longer divided, and his eye no longer roams. He has taken up his cross, and he is following the Lamb.”[10]  With such a view of the Christian life and focus, one might imagine that there should be no sinful expressions from the thoughts, words, or deeds of any Christian.  But alas, we do find much in the way of sinful expressions in the life of every Christian we meet – including the one we meet daily in the mirror.

The explanation for such an experience in the Christian life is not exactly clear.  The Scriptures tell us that God extends varying levels of grace to individual believers (Eph 4:7; 1 Cor 12:11; Phil 2:13), but we would want to be careful not to blame God for the sinful expression of any sinner.  The Holy Spirit works in varying degrees within individual believers (Heb 2:4; 1 Cor 12:6), but again we would want to avoid accusing God the Spirit of any negligence on His part in the sanctifying work. Individual believers play an important role in how far and how fast they progress in sanctification throughout their mortal lives (Heb 10:24; 3:13; Titus 3:8), but here too we are wise to refrain from ascribing any credit to the believer for his or her progress because it is only by God’s enabling Spirit that they are sanctified.

All three of these are true, so then there must be some combination of these factors that explain the varying degrees of speed and efficiency that mark the sanctification process in different Christians.  It is clear that there will be progress in the work of sanctification in the life of every believer, and God has promised to complete the process which He has begun (Phil 1:6).

It appears that God has not only promised to work within Christians to bring about the mutually desired end of complete sanctification, but he has also instituted local communities through which Christians are to engage in diligent efforts towards sanctification together.

Here, we shall turn our attention from the personalized sanctification of the individual to the communal sanctifying properties of the local church.

The London Confession says,

“[T]he Lord Jesus Christ calls out of the world unto himself, through the ministry of his word, by his Spirit, those that are given unto him by his Father (John 10:16; John 12:32), that they may walk before him in all the ways of obedience, which he prescribes to them in his word (Matt. 28:20). Those thus called, he commands to walk together in particular societies, or churches, for their mutual edification, and the due performance of that public worship, which he requires of them in the world (Matt. 18:15-20).”[11]

Therefore, these societies or communities of faith are designed for mutual improvement, building up, or sanctification (Eph 2:19-20).  Paragraph 12 of that same confession, in the section on The Church, goes on to explain that there are privileges, censures, and authoritative instruments that the Christian may enjoy in the life of a Gospel-centered community.

Rather than these communities being an end in themselves or even a rule unto themselves, they are local and communal expressions of mutual submission to the Christ who reigns over all.  Andrew Purvis expounds this view by saying,

“The ministry of the church is, by the Holy Spirit, a sharing in God’s ministry to and for us in, through, and as Jesus Christ.  The task at hand, then, is to focus on the profound interrelationship that must obtain between… those truths and realities about God that the church brings to expression through Christian doctrine… and pastoral care.”[12]

Pastoral care, the shepherding of God’s sheep and caring for Christ’s bride, is the task of “sharing in God’s ministry to and for” Christians.  The church is meant to be a local expression of “truths and realities about God,” which we find clearly revealed in the Scriptures and understand as Christian doctrine.

In less lofty terms, but just as potent, Mark Dever says that a local church is “a community of believers who have become part of the New Covenant in Christ’s blood and, as a result, have covenanted together to help each other run the Christian race with integrity, godliness, and grace.”[13]  The London Confession also has this view of a local church and its membership.

“The members of these churches are saints by calling, visibly manifesting and evidencing (in and by their profession and walking) their obedience unto that call of Christ (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2); and do willingly consent to walk together, according to the appointment of Christ; giving up themselves to the Lord, and one to another, by the will of God, in professed subjection to the ordinances of the Gospel (Acts 2:41,42, 5:13,14; 2 Cor. 9:13).”[14]

Church membership, then, is a collective affirmation that Christians in local proximity to one another are attempting to live out in practical ways the reality of their positional possession – holiness. 

They are saints by calling, and they are seeking to live in obedience to Christ by “giving themselves” to one another in mutual submission and love.

While any reasonable understanding of what a church is and what a church does (as described here) would assume that this must be done in community with other believers, it is helpful to allow a dissenting voice to speak in order to demonstrate greater clarity.  In her book, How to be a Christian Without Going to Church, Kelly Bean takes aim at average local church experiences over the last generation or so.  She rightly points out that many local churches are active but not very effective. Whether she measures effectiveness in biblical terms or not is questionable at best, but her assessment may still be true when measured in biblical terms.

Her solution is to opt out of church attendance or involvement altogether, something she calls non-going.  She sees some problems that arise with such a lone ranger mentality, and she suggests, “A collective narrative is important for all.”[15]  The collective narrative she is looking for is exactly what is provided by the Gospel message and the mutually stimulated sanctification that occurs in Gospel-centered communities, through the proclamation of biblical truth and by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  Yet, this is not something she seems to believe may be found in any communal expression of local Christians.

Bean seems to be unaware that she is describing the creation of a church, albeit an ‘alternative’ one, when she admits, “In many ways, the art of non-going and facilitating alternative Christian communities that offer the support we might need, is still in the works.”[16]  Reinventing Christian communities to offer ‘non-goers’ support so that they may maintain their non-going status sounds about like offering a fish an aquarium so that he may refer to himself as “a fish out of water.”

It is simply inconceivable that a Christian would find sanctification to be something that he or she should pursue outside of a community of believers.  Dever says,

“While our individual walks are crucial, we are impoverished in our personal pursuit of God if we do not avail ourselves of the help that is available through mutually edifying relationships in our covenant Church family” (Heb 10:24-25).[17]

Christians are, therefore, beneficiaries of the communal and covenantal relationship that is only available in a local church.  The local church is, then, both exclusive and active in this participatory endeavor of mutual sanctification and humble submission to Christ.

The exclusivity of a local church comes in the form of membership admission.  It may go without saying (but it never should) that local church membership is for Christians only (Eph 2:19-20).  There is no sense in which an unregenerate man or woman should seek communion among regenerate men and women.

Since regenerate people are diligently pursuing practical righteousness in themselves and in one another, the unregenerate person can have no genuine unity with them.  The very thought of hating his own sin and loving a Lord greater than himself is repugnant to the unregenerate man (Rom 8:5-8).

With this in mind, many local churches have put into place a kind of membership interview for potential church members.  These interviews, in one form or another, involve relationship building and include probing questions in order to discover Gospel clarity and some evidence of the new birth (Jn 3:3; 1 Pet 1:23).  Jonathan Leeman notes what standards he might put into practice in a membership interview when he says,

“Look for the ones who are poor in spirit; who mourn their sin; who aren’t entitled, always insisting on their way, but are meek; who are sick to death of sin and all it’s nonsense and so hunger and thirst for righteousness like it is water.  When you find people like that, make sure they know who Jesus is. Make sure Jesus is the one who fills their impoverished spirit, who has forgiven their sins, who receives their life and worship, and whose righteousness they depend upon and pursuit. When you find such people, tell them to join!”[18]

The exclusive membership of a local church is vital to the active mutual sanctification of its members because only those who have been sanctified by Christ will have any desire to pursue sanctification any further.  The church is to be the nourishing and chastising community that all Christians need in order to grow in sanctification. Mark Dever writes,

“Each local church has a responsibility to judge the life and teaching of its leaders and members, particularly when either compromises the churches witness to the Gospel (Acts 17; 1 Cor 5; 1 Tim 3; 2 Pet 3).”[19]

While judgment and discipline seem to be allergens in contemporary local churches, to avoid such things is to prevent the implementation of the clear and explicit design for the very institution itself.

Liberty, personal and individual freedom, seems to be the untouchable possession of the day.  However, rebellious sinfulness has often been masquerading as Christian liberty.  The London Confession explains:

“They who upon pretense of Christian liberty do practice any sin, or cherish any sinful lust, as they do thereby pervert the main design of the grace of the gospel to their own destruction (Rom. 6:1,2), so they wholly destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of all our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our lives (Gal. 5:13; 2 Pet. 2:18, 21).”[20]

Christian liberty is the deliverance from Christian enemies (namely sin and death) so that we might serve the Lord without fear, and so that we might walk in holiness and righteousness before Christ our Sovereign.

Therefore, local church communities are charged with holding one another accountable to the truth of the Gospel and rebuking one another when these clear truths are neglected, denied, or rejected.  In his book on healthy church membership, Thabiti Anyabwile explains,

“Formative discipline refers to how Scripture shapes and molds the Christian as he or she imbibes its teaching and is trained to live for God.”  He goes on to explain another form of discipline, which he calls “corrective.”  He writes, “No one lives in entire life without the need of discipline, whether positive or corrective. So the healthy church member embraces discipline as one means of grace in the Christian life.”[21]

Rather than lamenting accountability, the genuine believer embraces it with gladness because he knows the sinful inclinations of his heart and desires to live in opposition to them.

Fallen humanity is so utterly sinful that unregenerate man is enslaved to sin (Jn 8:34).  This is no longer true of the believer, for the Christian has been set free from bondage to sin and walks in this new freedom (Rom 6:6-7).  Yet, the sinful desires that remain can be detrimental to a believer’s sanctification if left unchecked.

In dealing with what he calls “deadly serious symptoms” of a “lust” or strong sinful desire, John Owen calls for “extraordinary remedies” to combat them.  He explains that the sinner or those around him may notice these symptoms, such as habitual sin or the sinning heart pleading “to be thought in a good state.”  Owen says, “When a lust has remained a long time in the heart, corrupting, festering, and poisoning, it brings the soul into a woeful condition.”[22]

He further writes, “A person who seeks peace on any account and is content to live away from the love of God in this life, so long as it does not mean a final separation, shows that his love for sin exceeds his love for God.”

Owen laments this disposition in the heart of a believing sinner, and he asks, “What is to be expected from such a heart?”[23]  Because this may be an acceptable posture from the perspective of some Christians for a time, it is imperative that others in their community of faith wake them from their sinful slumber and stir their hearts towards right desires as well as godly truth.

Not only should rebellious sinfulness be admonished in the life of the church member for his own sake, it should also be censured for the sake of the entire body.  Martin Bucer writes,

“One mangy sheep soon infects the whole flock. That is why the Lord also commanded so earnestly that evil and wicked people should be removed and driven out from the people of God” (Duet 13, 17).[24]

Bucer notices that the ‘mangy sheep’ may not be a sheep at all; in fact, it may be that the rebellious sinner is a ‘goat’ (Matt 25:32-33), or the problem may be so bad that he rightly be called a ‘wolf’ (Matt 7:15; Acts 20:29).  No matter the condition of the mangy sheep, the flock is at risk, and this is reason enough to act.

The particular action may vary, depending upon the response of the sinning member as he is engaged by other members and/or by his pastor, according to the prescription found in Matthew 18; but should the mangy sheep remain content with his mange, Bucer explains the necessity of his exclusion from the flock.  Bucer writes,

“[I]t is also necessary in order to guard the healthy sheep and feed them in the right way for the carers of souls to exercise the greatest earnestness for the good of the congregation to exclude and keep away from it all those who refuse to listen to the church when they are warned in its name to repent, amend their ways and seek what is good, but instead wish to persist in there disorderly lives, and do not want to do good according to their calling and conduct themselves in obedience to the holy gospel and lead a Christian life, but fall into serious sins and lusts and refuse to repent, or become rebellious and start up gangs and sects.”[25]

Now Bucer goes on to say that the Christian community should prayerfully plead with the excluded sinner, that he would repent from his sin and turn once again to embrace Christ as Lord and Master.  If the sinner should find repentance and confess his error, then he may be restored; “otherwise,” Bucer says, “we are to have nothing to do with them, and they are to be shown with Christian severity how greatly we condemn and abhor their ungodliness.”[26]

While this abhorrence for ungodliness may be too much for some to stomach, no amount of temporal discomfort can compare with the eternal torment that one may suffer under the wrathful hand of God if one has presumed upon the grace of God (Rom 2:24; Heb 2:3-4).

No doubt, this kind of seriousness about sin and about sanctification would be a shock to the system of many local churches.  Pastors and members alike may have a strong distaste for such intentional pursuit of holiness and righteousness.

The pastor who insists on elevating the sanctity of the flock for which he has been named the under-shepherd may realize that his genuine care for sheep has earned him their bitterness and hatred.  The church member who challenges his or her leadership to this kind of care and oversight may discover that there is no genuine care for souls in the heart of his or her leaders.

Dever, noting the difficulty of living in Gospel-centered and sanctifying community this way, reminds his reader, “Don’t give up! Don’t give in to doubt or disillusionment or fear of man! Take a longer view. God’s purposes for all of human history revolve around the local church as the visible, corporate manifestation of His Son, Jesus Christ![27]  This is a lofty task indeed, and God is at work among us.

The message is clear.  All those whom God has justified He has also sanctified, and He continually sanctifies them by the power of His Spirit.  Additionally, God has instituted the Church as the Spirit-empowered community of faith in which sinning Christians may walk in progressively greater degrees of freedom from their sin.

Christian community, then, is the sum and substance of the mortal Christian life.  The believer who tends towards self-righteousness may be humbled; the Christian who tends towards despair may be encouraged; the convert who struggles to break free from remaining inclinations towards sin may be restrained by accountability; the unregenerate pretender may be lovingly exposed and evangelized appropriately; the malevolent wolf may be discovered and expelled; and all of this may and should take place in the average daily life of the local church.

Bucer wrote, “Now, it is not possible for the word and doctrine of God to teach and command anything which is not possible, helpful, good and beneficial.”[28]  Did we ever believe otherwise?  May God grant us grace to love Him and grace to serve Him well!

 

 

Bibliography

Anyabwile, Thabiti M. What Is a Healthy Church Member? Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008.

Bean, Kelly. How to Be a Christian without Going to Church: The Unofficial Guide to Alternative Forms of Christian Community. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014.

Bonar, Horatius. The Everlasting Righteousness, Or, How Shall Man Be Just with God? 1st ed. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1993.

Bucer, Martin, and David F. Wright. Concerning the True Care of Souls. Translated by Peter Beale. Edinburgh: Carlisle, PA, 2009.

Dever, Mark, and Paul Alexander. The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005.

Dever, Mark. What Is a Healthy Church? Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007.

DeYoung, Kevin, and Greg Gilbert. What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011.

ESV: Study Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007.

Ferguson, Sinclair B. The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989.

Leeman, Jonathan. Church Membership How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.

Luther, Martin. The Bondage of the Will. Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2001.

Owen, John. The Mortification of Sin. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2004.

Purves, Andrew. Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

“The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689.” The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689. Accessed October 10, 2014. http://www.1689.com/confession.html.

[1] Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness, 179

[2] Ferguson, The Christian Life, 124

[3] The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, Sanctification, paragraph 1

[4] Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness, 182-183

[5] Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness, 175

[6] The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, Sanctification, paragraph 2 and 3

[7] Luther, Bondage of the Will, 25

[8] The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, Good works, paragraph 3

[9] DeYoung, The Mission of the Church, 227

[10] Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness, 202

[11] The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, The Church, paragraph 5

[12] Purvis, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology, 4

[13] Dever, The Deliberate Church, 110

[14] The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, The Church, paragraph 6

[15] Bean, How to Be a Christian without Going to Church, 70

[16] Bean, How to Be a Christian without Going to Church, 70

[17] Dever, The Deliberate Church, 111

[18] Leeman, Church Membership, 88

[19] Dever, What is a Healthy Church, 106

[20] The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, Christian liberty and conscience, paragraph 3

[21] Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member, 76

[22] Owen, The Mortification of Sin, 54-55

[23] Owen, The Mortification of Sin, 57

[24] Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, 183

[25] Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, 184

[26] Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, 185

[27] Dever, The Deliberate Church, 72

[28] Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, 184

Of course, I Believe in Election!

Every Bible-believing Christian must believe in Election.

While that statement may surprise some, such a statement can only be surprising to those who have not thought much about what the Bible actually says. The word Election (or some variation) is frequent in the Bible; and it is especially recurrent in the New Testament letters written by Paul, Peter, and John. Furthermore, the concept is a common theme for the people of God throughout both Testaments.

Noah was elected from the mass of humanity alive before the great flood (Gen. 6:5-8).

Abraham was elected from among the pagan people of Ur (Gen. 12:1).

Isaac was elected over his older brother, Ishmael (Gen. 17:15-19).

Jacob was elected, and not his older brother Esau; and the New Testament uses this electing act of God as a prominent example of God’s electing freedom and sovereignty (Gen. 27:26-29; cf. Rom. 9:10-16).

No Bible-believing Christian I know of has any problem acknowledging and affirming God’s election in these examples above. More could be cited, but the point has been made… Once you really think about what election is and how the Bible repeatedly speaks of God’s electing acts, it becomes clear that one must believe in election.

The questions we might ask now are, “How does God elect?” or “Why does God elect?” But only someone naive to the Scriptures would ask, “Does God elect?”

Of course, God elects certain people for blessing rather than cursing!

While many people today may disagree about how to define and describe the doctrine of Election, it cannot be avoided. Indeed, this biblical doctrine should not be avoided; for God has included it in sacred writ for His glory and for our joy.

Defining Our Terms

The doctrine of Election is the biblical teaching that God has chosen some individuals from among the mass of humanity to be recipients of His saving grace. This doctrine necessarily includes an examination of the cause for God’s choice and some attention to the concept of reprobation, which refers to the posture God has towards those whom He does not save by His grace.

I believe the Bible clearly teaches God’s unconditional election of believers and His sovereign reprobation of those who remain under His condemnation. I entreat the reader to consider the case I will present below.

Three Steps to the Final Destination

First, I will attempt to explain my view of the doctrine of election from the Scriptures themselves. After all, the text of Scripture should not only correct our theology when it is in error; it should be the very source and substance of our doctrine.

Second, I will offer a few words from past and present theologians on the doctrine. Once the Scriptures compel our hearts to sing in humble adoration, I shall then raise the voices of a couple of theologians to join our doxological choir.

Third and last, I will present some pastoral application of the doctrine. I will make an appeal for the ordinary use of this worship-inducing and assurance-conveying truth.

From the Scriptures

The noun “elect” (Greek: eklektos), meaning that which has been chosen, occurs twenty-three times in the New Testament.[1] This word comes from the verb “choose” (Greek: eklegomai), which is a derivative of two root words: ek (out) and legō (call), literally meaning to selectively call out.[2] It should go without saying, that a chosen thing must proceed from a purposeful choice, but I cannot take this for granted here. There are many Christians (including some pastors and teachers) who do argue that the chosen people of God are not in fact chosen by God at all.[3] However, in spite of what some people might say, the Scriptures seem quite clear on the subject.

One of the most comprehensive and beautiful passages to instruct us on the doctrine of election is found in the Apostle Paul’s opening sentences in his letter to the saints of Ephesus. Paul says,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 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 as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:3-6).

Blessed be the triune God of our salvation indeed! Such a prologue of praise and blessing is motivated by something, and Paul articulates his rationale for it in the passage. According to Paul, “[God] chose us” (Eph. 1:4). We may marvel at the plainness and candor of such a statement, and we are wise to ask at least a couple of questions of it.

  1. Who is “us?”
  2. What does it mean that God “chose” the ones to whom the “us” refers?

1) So, who is the “us” in this passage? We may begin to answer this question by looking at Paul’s opening greeting. Paul wrote this letter to “the saints who are in Ephesus” (Eph. 1:1). Therefore, we may identify the “us” as including (at the very least) Paul and the Christians in Ephesus. And yet, does the passage indicate that there may be more to the “us” than just Paul and the Ephesian Christians? It seems obvious that Paul is making a particular application of an expansive reality in this profound passage of doctrinal praise.

Consider the context of what Paul is talking about here. He is walking through the Gospel – the historical outworking of God’s plan to graciously redeem guilty sinners. In this passage, Paul speaks about “us” having been “adopted” (v5), the “forgiveness of our trespasses” (v7), and God’s grace being “lavished upon us” (v8). Are only some Christians “adopted” into the family of God (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5)? Do only the Ephesian Christians receive “forgiveness” of their “trespasses” (Col. 2:13; 1 Jn. 2:12)? Has God’s grace only been “lavished upon” these first-century believers (2 Cor. 8:9; Titus 2:11)? Of course not!

Therefore, we may conclude that Paul’s use of the word “us” is directly referring to himself and the Ephesian Christians, but this is merely an application of the reality that all Christians are beneficiaries of the gracious, adopting, and forgiving work of the blessed and triune God. The “us,” then, refers (at least indirectly) to all Christians of all time. Furthermore, God’s discrimination of an “us” necessitates another category: a “not us” group. So, we may conclude that whatever God’s choosing means for all Christians of all time, it by definition means the exclusion of all non-Christians of all time.

Now that we have made some efforts to answer the first question, let us turn to the second.

2) What does “God chose us” mean? Well, simply put, it means that God discriminately selected all Christians of all time for salvation from among the totality of humanity. As has already been pointed out, the “selection” was for salvation, and we can know this because the context is the Gospel message itself. God lavished grace upon those He has adopted into His family by way of His gracious redeeming work in Christ Jesus.

But, the questions we are really asking here are these: (1) “When did God do the choosing?” and (2) “Why did God choose the people He did, and not choose others?”

I shall attempt to answer these in short order.

First, “When did God do the choosing?” Fortunately, the Apostle Paul directly answers this question for us. Paul says, “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world…” (Eph. 1:4). So, God’s act of choosing, according to the Scriptures, took place “before the foundation of the world” (pro katabolēs kosmou; lit. “before the world was cast” or “put” in place). This means that God chose (discriminately selected) all Christians of all time for salvation before even He created the earth upon which those Christians would live. Before there was an earth, and before there was a human, God predestined the final end of each human who would come to be.

Second, “Why did God choose the people He did, and not choose others?” Once again, the Apostle Paul provides a direct answer for us. Paul says, “having predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:5). From this verse, we learn that God’s purpose is the reason He elected those He decided to save. In fact, it is the purpose of “His will.” The term “will” refers to desire, and “purpose” refers to intentionality. Therefore, we may rightly understand the reason God has elected some for salvation and not others is that He intentionally determined to do so.

In this brief essay, it is not possible to do justice to each of these points, but allow me to summarize what I have attempted to demonstrate from the Scriptures. First, God has elected to give saving grace to some people, and this necessarily means that He has refrained from giving that same saving grace to others. Second, God has made His elective decision before any human ever existed, and His decision was based on His own purposes; not on anything in the recipients.

From Faithful Theologians

Every successive Christian generation owes a deep debt of gratitude to all those who have come and gone before it. In my own generation, it has rightly been said that we stand on the shoulders of giants, and I am grateful to those who have thought deeply and spoken articulately on the doctrine of Election.

I appreciate the concise definition of this doctrine provided by Wayne Grudem. He says,

“Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.”[4]

Grudem points out both the lack of any precondition on the part of the recipient and the predestinating aspect of God’s election. In other words, God chooses to save based on His own rational, not because of something or anything in the ones He saves.

Theologians have often examined the doctrine of Election in concert with the doctrine of Predestination because both are very closely related. R.C. Sproul explains the distinction in that predestination is a term with a broader focus. He says,

“What predestination means, in its most elementary form, is that our final destination, heaven or hell, is decided by God not only before we get there, but before we are even born. It teaches that our ultimate destiny is in the hands of God.”[5]

This may or may not seem like a big distinction to the reader, but predestination includes all things and election specifically includes those things related to salvation.

Wayne Grudem and R.C. Sproul each come from different theological traditions, Baptist and Presbyterian respectively. And yet, both of these wholeheartedly affirm the doctrine of Election as it has been described and defended in this essay.

Local Application

It would be an understatement to say that the doctrine of Election has caused some discomfort in local churches. This doctrine is often accompanied by a high emotional charge, but I believe that avoiding it would be a tragedy. Charles Spurgeon said,

“Take any doctrine, and preach upon it exclusively, and you distort it. The fairest face in the world, with the most comely features, would soon become unseemly if one feature were permitted to expand while the rest were kept in their usual form.”[6]

So too, does the Gospel of electing grace become unseemly if we concentrate only on election and neglect the rest, but this doctrine adds much to the exceedingly great beauty of the Gospel itself when it is in its proper place and proportion.

Therefore, I believe that a wise pastor will present this doctrine as an important part of the beautiful Gospel of Christ. What joy there is to know that God has loved me and chosen me out of His great love! This steadies my fears and calms my anxieties, for I know my heart is prone to wander. But God has decided to have me, and so He shall – for all time!

Furthermore, I believe that the wise Christian will be humble in his or her reception of truth and instruction from God’s Word. It is unwise to maintain an opposing position to Scripture, and it is also foolish to create and maintain a theological position without examining the Scriptures at all.

 

 

[1]Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 361). New York: United Bible Societies.

[2]Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 26). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3]See Dr. Younce’s arguments under the explicit title: Younce, Max D., Th.D. “NOT CHOSEN TO SALVATION.” Jesus Is Savior. Accessed September 06, 2016. http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/BTP/Dr_Max_Younce/Salvation/toc.htm.

[4]Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (p. 1458). EPub ed. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2015.

[5]Sproul, R. C. (1986). Chosen by God (p. 22). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

[6]Spurgeon, C. H. (1905). Election: Its Defences and Evidences. In The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (Vol. 51, p. 50). London: Passmore & Alabaster.

A Simple Introduction to Textual Criticism (John 5:3-4)

The careful reader of Scripture will likely at some point ask, “Why is there no verse 4 in chapter 5 of John’s Gospel?” If not this specific question, then one like it. There are numerous places one might turn for textual variations among English translations (both old and new). This brief article will not address the matter exhaustively, but it will provide an introductory explanation and basic defense of the affirmation of biblical reliability and fidelity.

First, let’s take a look at the particular passage in view, John 5:3-4.

King James Version

“3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.”

New American Standard Bible

“3 In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; 4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.] (Notice: brackets are included by NASB translators)”

English Standard Version

“3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. (Notice: verses 3b and 4 are simply missing from this translation)”

Second, let’s consider why many translators include verses 3b and 4.

The reason why some English translations include the verses is that the text is included in the majority of later manuscripts.[1] Manuscripts are the multitude of copies of the original biblical text, dated at various points throughout human history. While we have no original documents, the vast number of manuscripts gives us a great deal of confidence regarding the content of the originals. Because most manuscripts available to translators during the time of their translation do include verses 3b and 4, several groups of translators have believed it prudent to include the verses in their translation.

One translation that includes the disputed verses is the King James Version (KJV), also known as the Authorized Version (AV), which was originally published in 1611 and revised for spelling and vocabulary in 1769 by Dr. Benjamin Blayney. The KJV is based on many sources, including the Septuagint [LXX], the Latin Vulgate, Textus Receptus (TR), Erasmus’ Greek NT, many available manuscripts, and William Tyndale’s translation work. In fact, Tyndale’s translation accounts for 84% of the New Testament and more than 75% of the Old Testament.[2]

Another translation containing verse 3b and 4 is the American Standard Version (ASV), which is grounded in the KJV and originally published in 1901. It was updated in the form of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), published in 1952 and 1989 respectively. However, both later translations omitted the disputed text.

The most recent translation to keep the curious verses is the New American Standard Bible (NASB), which was grounded in the ASV and KJV, originally published in 1960, and most recently updated in 1995. The clear demarcation of brackets around these verses (as noted above), and other included-but-dubious texts, makes this translation a good combination of historical gratitude and biblical fidelity.

These translations and others, which include verses 3b and 4, are not unfaithful for doing so. These translations are not deceptive, nor are they lacking in integrity. These translations, like all faithful ones, seek to bring the original text of infallible and inerrant Scripture to the contemporary reader through the use of fallible and imperfect translations. Such an effort is commendable and greatly appreciated.

However, the reality is that translations do require perennial critical review and appropriate responses to the findings. The Committee of translators of the NRSV (which excludes verses 3b and 4) explained the situation well in their preface.

“This preface is… to explain, as briefly as possible, the origin and character of our work… To summarize in a single sentence: the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is an authorized revision of the Revised Standard Version, published in 1952, which was a revision of the American Standard Version, published in 1901, which, in turn, embodied earlier revisions of the King James Version, published in 1611… With good reason [the KJV] has been termed ‘the noblest monument of English prose…’ We owe to it an incalculable debt. Yet the KJV has serious defects. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the development of biblical studies and the discovery of many biblical manuscripts more ancient than those on which the KJV was based made it apparent that these defects were so many as to call for revision.”[3]

The message is clear: we continually discover more manuscripts, encounter earlier manuscripts, and advance in our efforts and methods in the field of biblical studies. This necessarily will lead to the criticism of past work in the field of translation, as well as other fields.

The translators of the original King James Version of the Bible believed that this kind of criticism was what they were doing, and they expected that such criticism would continue after them. They wrote in the preface:

Let us… bless God… to have the translations of the Bible maturely considered and examined. For by this means it cometh to pass, that whatsoever is sound already… the same will shine as gold more brightly, being rubbed and polished; also, if anything be [uncertain], or [added], or not-so-agreeable to the original, the same may be corrected, and the truth set in place… [There is] no cause, therefore, why the word translated should be denied, or forbidden, notwithstanding that some imperfections and blemishes may be noted in the setting forth of it. [For nothing is] perfect under the sun… [except that which the] Apostles… men endued with an extraordinary measure of God’s Spirit, and privileged with the privilege of infallibility, [wrote from] their hand…”[4]

From the view presented above, it is inevitable that their own work would eventually become the object of scrutiny and come to need ‘rubbing,’ ‘polish,’ and even ‘correction.’

Third, let’s consider why many translators exclude verses 3b and 4.

Because of discoveries and advances in the field of Bible documentation and translation, translators have come to realize that the earliest manuscripts do not include the disputed text (v3b-4). Since it is more likely that biblical text would be added during transcription than subtracted, many translators concluded that the later manuscripts must be the result of a scribal addition (maybe multiple scribes).

The New International Version (NIV) was originally published 1973 (based on best available Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic manuscripts at the time), and it was updated in 1978 and 1984. The 2011 NIV update is a notable departure from the NIV translation tradition, but these exclude verses 3b and 4 and feature translation notes explaining the omission.[5]

The English Standard Version (ESV) is grounded in the RSV and KJV translation traditions and is based on Masoretic text and the best available Greek texts (the Greek New Testament 5th Ed. and the NA28). It was originally published in 2001, and it too excludes the brief passage (v3b-4).

Both the NIV and the ESV include translation notes, which explain that the missing text is found in some translations. However, the NET Bible, published in 1996 and updated in 2005, provides extensive textual-critical notes throughout. This translation is unique among others for its open and candid attempt to exhaustively furnish the reader with sufficient rationale behind textual and translation decisions. The NET Bible excludes verses 3b and 4, for the reasons cited above.

With these translation committees disagreeing on such an important matter (Is this text canonical or not?), what is a person to do? Any thinking person can see that this has big implications for the rest of Scripture and the general trustworthiness of the Bible.

Fourth, and last, let’s consider four features of a thoughtful response.

First, I think it is wise to take a deep breath… and acknowledge that God never promised anyone an inerrant translation of His word. Christians have overwhelmingly affirmed (and successfully defended) the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Bible, but only in its original manuscript form. Christians have just as regularly been willing to embrace the unique difficulties that transmission and translation over the centuries create for faithful Christians.

Second, faithful Christians need not release their grasp on a strong affirmation of biblical inerrancy.[6] Acknowledging errors or variants in a copy or a translation does in no way undermine the potency and purity of the original. We may simultaneously recognize the need for constant criticism of translations and manuscript evidence and boldly affirm the historic doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

Third, for this particular passage (John 5:3b-4), I believe we can and should acknowledge it as a scribal addition and not canonical Scripture. The earliest manuscripts we possess do not contain verses 3b-4; this portion includes vocabulary and syntax which does not match John’s writing generally; and several of the manuscripts that do include verses 3b-4 place an asterisk or obelisk to mark the portion as a scribal addition. Therefore, I believe it is unauthentic, and rightly excluded. For a much more thorough (and scholarly) address of this subject, see Gordon D. Fee’s essay “On the Inauthenticity of John 5:3b-4[7]

Fourth, we must consider our selection of Bible translation wisely and knowingly. I do not think that any of the translations cited in this article are bad ones. In fact, I believe each one has value beyond that of any other book known to mankind. However, we ought not blindly hold a view of any translation that the translators themselves did not hold. Nor should we place our trust in any notion of an inerrant translation.

Do research on which translation best brings the original text of Scripture to your mind and heart. Ask your pastor which translations he prefers and why. Don’t throw away a translation you like, but be aware of its own unique flaws, so that it will not surprise or offend you when someone else points them out.

There are attacks launched from many vantage points against Christianity today. Even from within American Evangelical churches, you may hear the Scriptures undermined. In such a cultural climate, Christians cannot afford to credulously parrot tired slogans and call it evangelism or fidelity. Christ has called His followers to much more than that, and His word is worthy of more than that.

For our own sake, for the sake of those who do not now love and trust Christ, for the sake of the next generation, for the sake of God’s glory… let us seek to wisely affirm the power and purity of God’s holy word. Let us make bold claims from sure and solid ground. And let us find incredible confidence in the trustworthy promise of God: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33).

 

___________________________________________

[1] “The majority of later MSS [abbreviation for ‘manuscripts’] (C3 Θ Ψ 078 f1, 13 𝔐) add the following to 5:3: ‘waiting for the moving of the water. 5:4 For an angel of the Lord went down and stirred up the water at certain times. Whoever first stepped in after the stirring of the water was healed from whatever disease which he suffered.’ Other MSS include only v. 3b (Ac D 33 lat) or v. 4 (A L it). Few textual scholars today would accept the authenticity of any portion of vv. 3b–4, for they are not found in the earliest and best witnesses (𝔓66, 75 א B C* T pc co), they include un-Johannine vocabulary and syntax, several of the MSS that include the verses mark them as spurious [or unauthentic] (with an asterisk or obelisk), and because there is a great amount of textual diversity among the witnesses that do include the verses. The present translation follows NA27 [Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 27th Edition] in omitting the verse number, a procedure also followed by a number of other modern translations.” Biblical Studies Press. (2005). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press.

[2] Lawson, Steven. The Daring Mission of William Tyndale (A Long Line of Godly Men Profiles) (Kindle Locations 1848-1849). Reformation Trust Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[3] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Translator’s Preface of the King James Version: http://www.dbts.edu/journals/1996_2/KJVPref.pdf

[5] For more on the NIV, see this article: https://marcminter.com/2016/03/15/is-the-niv-bible-good-or-bad/

[6] I recommend the following resources on the subject of biblical inerrancy: “Scripture Alone” by James White; “The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration” by Basil Manly; “The Scripture Cannot Be Broken” edited by John MacArthur; and “Inerrancy” edited by Norman Geisler

[7] Fee “On the Inauthenticity of John 5:3b-4” (PDF): https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/eq/inauthenticity_fee.pdf

Should Protestants Still Protest?

This year marks the 500th anniversary since that fateful day when Martin Luther nailed a document, intended to initiate a collegiate theological discussion, to the chapel door in Wittenburg, Germany. Unintentionally (it seems), Luther struck the match that ignited a powder keg.

Germany, Switzerland, England, Scottland, and several other lands experienced an upheaval of the established religious system of the day (Roman Catholicism); and there were many and various contributors. Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, Thomas Cranmer, John Knox, and many others played their respective and overlapping parts in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.

Today, many are asking if the Protestant Reformation is over, and others seem to think it was a vastly overblown misunderstanding to begin with. Should Protestants still protest? Are Protestants who do still protest revealing themselves as merely irreconcilable curmudgeons?

I think it is quite helpful to answer questions like these by first understanding the disagreement. One can hardly seek to reconcile two parties without knowing what has divided them thus far. So, let’s go back to the place where the disagreement was codified.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, many people believed that some reformation within Christendom was necessary. When the Reformation became undeniable, both Roman Catholics and Protestants still agreed that change was needed, but each side differed considerably on what that reform should look like. The Roman Catholic Church officially responded to their protesting brethren through the forum of a Church Council.

The Council of Trent gathered in Trento and Bologna, Italy, over 18 years (1545-1563). Sometimes infrequent and sometimes intensive, these meetings included discussion and debate on many topics of Roman Catholic theology. Bishops and theologians considered dogma, doctrine, and tradition regarding authority, sacraments, purgatory, indulgences, and much more. Finally, the Council of Trent published its decrees (statements of affirmation) and canons (statements of judgment) in 1564, and these were confirmed by Pope Pius IV.

Specifically addressing some Protestant theological assertions, the Council of Trent clearly presented an opposing position. While there are certainly still many things about which Roman Catholics and Protestants agree (God as Trinity, Jesus as Savior, and grace as necessary), there is a stark contrast on vital matters.

Few questions are as important as, “How is a sinner justified before God?” Rome answered the question by saying (among other things) that the sinner must participate in his/her justification by sacraments and other good works.

The Council of Trent states that baptism is the ‘instrumental cause,’ or the means by which justification is obtained.

“The instrumental cause [of justification] is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which justification never befell any man…”

The Council of Trent states that justification can and should be increased through the efforts of obedience on the part of the sinner.

“Having, therefore, been thus justified… they [those who are justified], through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in the justice received through the grace of Christ, and are still more justified…”

The Council of Trent states that faith alone cannot and will not justify any sinner.

“No one ought to flatter himself upon faith alone, deeming that by faith alone he is made an heir, and will obtain the inheritance [the inheritance of salvation or eternal life in Christ Jesus].”

The Council of Trent not only clarified the Roman Catholic teaching on important matters, it also unequivocally named what is at stake. The strong denials below include the phrase, “let him be anathema,” which is a superlative condemnation of anyone who disagrees with the statement. With intentional language, the Roman Catholic Church condemned all protesters.

The following are some of the Roman Catholic canons on the subject of justification.

Canon 11: If any one shall say, that men are justified by the sole imputation of the righteousness of Christ… or even that the grace, by which we are justified, is only the favor of God; let him be anathema.

Canon 12: If any one shall say, that justifying faith is naught else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or that it is this confidence alone by which we are justified; let him be anathema.

Canon 24: If any one shall say, that the justice received is not preserved, and also increased in the sight of God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of justification received, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.

The message could not be clearer: believing that justification comes by way of Christ’s righteousness and not by any work or effort on the part of the sinner is a justification condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. Anyone who believes in justification by faith alone in Christ alone is thus condemned or “anathematized.”

In two major Protestant catechisms, the question of justification is asked and answered. The Westminster Shorter catechism (following the Westminster Confession of 1647) and the Baptist catechism (following the Second London Confession of 1689) both provide an identicle answer (dependent upon translation).

“What is justification?”

“Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

With the same precision and clarity as the Roman Catholics, Protestants articulated their own understanding of justification, and one cannot miss the antithesis. What Rome said was condemnable, Protestants wholeheartedly affirm. What Rome stated as doctrine, Protestants denied outright.

The only question we are left with now is, Should Protestants still protest?

Well, does Rome still affirm the decrees and canons published from the Council of Trent?

Yes, the current edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, affirms, and cites the Council of Trent throughout (including the section on Justification, pg. 535-537). Furthermore, reversing the official condemnation of “justification by faith alone in Christ alone” would require a new and clear council statement (Vatican I and Vatican II (subsequent councils) reaffirmed the Council of Trent).

Do Evangelical Protestants still affirm the doctrine of justification as articulated in the two catechisms cited above?

Yes, the Westminster Confession is still the authoritative doctrinal body of teaching (under the authority of Scripture) for Presbyterians. Yes, though Baptists are generally a less creedal bunch, this denomination is marked by a fierce affirmation of justification by personal faith alone – apart from any good work – in Christ alone.

So, Should Protestants still protest?

What else can any thinking person expect from a Protestant? The Roman Catholic who seeks to reconcile with Protestants either denies or betrays his/her own ignorance of Rome’s doctrine and dogma. The Protestant who seeks to reconcile with Rome is by definition no longer a Protestant – since he/she has stopped protesting.

Protestants must not only protest, but Protestants must know what and why we are protesting. The very Gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake, and this is no time to capitulate.

 

*If you enjoyed this article, then you will probably also like others in this category, “Reformation Heroes.”

 

Identifying Jesus in Mark’s Gospel

Mark, like the other Gospel writers, is very interested in conveying much about the identity of Jesus Christ. This is clear in his opening statement, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). While Mark is keen on his reader knowing Jesus’ true identity, he is also frank about Jesus’ disciples’ inability to understand accordingly. Only after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead did His disciples understand who Jesus really was and is.

Mark presents Jesus as a unique person from the beginning. Jesus is the “Son of God” (1:1), the “Holy One of God” (1:24), the “Lord of the Sabbath” (2:28), and more. Jesus is seen proclaiming the gospel of God (1:15), rebuking and silencing demonic spirits (1:21-28), commanding the stormy sea (4:35-41), and bringing a dead girl back to life (5:35-42).

All of this is designed to answer the question Mark tell us Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” (8:29). Peter rightly confessed, “You are the Christ,” and this is the same confession Mark desires his reader to make. Just as the Roman centurion proclaimed, after the death of Jesus upon the cross, Mark’s purpose is to demonstrate that Jesus was and is the Son of God (15:39; cf. 1:1).

While Mark is adamant about Jesus’ identity, he is also blatantly honest about Jesus’ disciples’ lack of understanding on this vital point. Mark repeatedly exposes the disciples as confused and ignorant.

When Jesus rebuked the storm, demonstrating His divine power and authority, the disciples feared and said, “Who is this?” (4:41). Just after Jesus miraculously fed more than 5,000 people with divine bread, Jesus walked upon the water and met His disciples in their boat on the sea of Galilee. Again they are described as fearful, and they are also said to lack understanding since “their hearts were hardened” (6:52). These are just two examples, but Mark does not paint Jesus’ disciples in any positive light on the matter of Jesus’ identity.

The fact is, apart from Peter’s famous confession (8:29), the only ones in Mark’s Gospel who perceive Jesus as the Son of God are the demons (1:24, 5:7), one of the Roman soldiers who watched Jesus die (15:39), and possibly the Greek/Syrophoenician woman who begged for ‘crumbs‘ from the Master’s table (7:28).

Nothing is more important than the identity and activity of Jesus Christ. Mark wants his reader to see Jesus for who He is and to believe or trust in Jesus. It seems that the reason Mark presented the disciples in such dramatic ignorance and confusion may have been to draw his reader’s attention to the absurdity of doing as they did.

It may be that Mark is artfully and skillfully saying, “See how bumbling and slow to understand these disciples were! Isn’t it obvious who Jesus is?! Don’t be like those disciples… Look! Understand! Believe! This is the Son of God!”

May God open our eyes to see, and may we trust ourselves to Jesus – the Son of God and Savior of sinners.

21 things about ‘the Word’ in 18 verses

The Gospel of John is thick with theological statements and concepts. John says much about Jesus, about God, about humanity, about belief or trust, and about sin. Some of the most potent and pregnant verses of the entire Bible are known as John’s prologue – the first 18 verses of his Gospel.

‘The Word’ is John’s unique way of referring to God the Son, and John introduces his reader to this focal point of his Gospel with amazing profundity. Here are 21 things John conveys about ‘the Word’ in just 18 verses (and the astute reader will find even more).

  1. The Word was ‘already existing’ in the beginning (v1, 2).
  2. The Word is distinct (in some sense) from ‘God’ (v1, 2).
  3. The Word is (in some other sense) ‘God’ (v1).
  4. The Word is the creator of all things (v3).
  5. The Word is the author of life (v4).
  6. The Word is the one through whom illumination/light/knowledge/wisdom comes (v4).
  7. The Word is unconquerable in illumination/light/knowledge/wisdom (v5).
  8. The Word is attested by God through the witness of others (v6).
  9. God intends for people to believe the Word (v7).
  10. The Word came into the world (v9).
  11. The Word is sovereign over the world, but the Word is also foreign to the world (v10).
  12. The Word was rejected by the very things He had made (v11).
  13. There were some who did receive the Word, and these He made children of God (v12).
  14. The Word is glorious, full of grace and truth (v14).
  15. The Word added humanity to His pre-existent nature and tabernacled among men (v14).
  16. The Word was perceived as glorious by John and others (v14).
  17. The Word is greater than John the Baptist because He existed before him, even though The Word came along after him (v15).
  18. The Word dispensed grace from His fullness (v16).
  19. The Word is Jesus Christ (v17).
  20. The Word brought a new covenant, distinct from the one that came through Moses (v17).
  21. The Word is the apex of God’s revelation of Himself (v18).

May we give ear to John’s witness and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and have life in His name (Jn. 20:31).