The truth can be told in many forms. Though the theology of this is not perfect, it does make the essential point well – Christ Alone. (It is an old clip, so the resolution is poor)
Irenic or Polemic?
How theological issues are discussed is often thought of as a matter of cool academic consideration among peers, but frequently the tone of the discussion is a matter of temperament.
Irenic – a discussion conducted without attacking the other person or their beliefs in a personal sense. Call it cool, rational discussion. Also, each conflicting point of view is given a fair airing.
Polemic – Arguing a point by attacking the other person or their point of view personal. No attempt to made to put their case equally for them, nor to be cool and rational.
Of course both of these are extremes, with most discussions falling in the middle ground.
Michael Patton of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries suggests that these are the two approaches that one sees in theological discussions, with the polemic being sadly (in his view) the most common. His preference leans very strongly to the irenic, and he feels that this must be cultivated if fruitful discussion is to occur.
When it comes to significant theology discussions, I tend to be something of a ‘take no prisoners’ guy, particularly if I am passionate about a topic (and I am always passionate about Reformed issues). That would make me somewhat polemic.
Discussions in the world, particularly those involving closely held beliefs or attitudes, tend to often be polemic to the degree that people become personally and emotionally involved. Though people will often rationally see the value of a more disciplined irenic approach, once emotionally engaged in the discussion an irenic attitude is very difficult to maintain. The more personal the point being made or the challenged becomes, the more polemic the likely path of the discussion.
But why is that?
We have a tendency to take opposing views about personally significant topics (faith being about the most significant that there is) as a challenge not only to the position but to our right to hold that point of view, irrespective of whether that is the intent. Or conversely, we present our views in a way that not only challenges the other viewpoint but but also assaults the holder’s audacity for holding that view.
The appropriate question then is: why we react that way and perceive a threat in an opposing point of view – even if we consider the view to be in error? Why are we reacting as if the opposing view must be changed and our view justified in the opposing person’s eyes, before we are secure in our view?
The root of quandary centers on who we are actually answerable to for our views?
In 2 Corinthians 2:10-11 Paul addresses this fairly directly. “But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.“ Paul forgives offenses, offering grace, in the same spirit of grace by which he has been forgiven, that it might reflect well on Christ and not be used by Satan. Surely the application of this forgiveness applies just as much to an offense given in a discussion, irrespective of whether the offense is real or perceived.
Frustrating though we may find a disagreement or a differing view, who in the end do we answer to for the theology that we hold? And who holds the other person accountable for their view? And behond that, who is the architect of any change in viewpoint on either side? The answer in all case is the Lord and only the Lord. Judgment is not ours. Vengeance is not ours. The responsibility to force a change in position or justify it to the satisfaction of another (or for that matter to that of society) is not ours. Ours is only to speak the Truth in faith.
This being so, agreeing to disagree or having irreconcilable differences does not reflect upon us if we are rooted in the Truth. If our honest appraisal is that we are correct Scripturally, then we can disagree without the need to defend emotionally, since nothing real is threatened.
In the only court of opinion that counts (that of our Lord), judgment is of the Lord, by His standards, and the views of the opposing individual are completely moot. Only our reflection of Christ’s attributes and precepts carries weight.
Our only concern, then, is the validity of our view before the Lord and that is determined by means of the Scriptural revelation that he provided – the Bible – and it alone (Sola Scriptura). This also, of course, presumes the presence and assistance of the Spirit (always the case for believers).
With assurance based in the Word, the opinions of the world are not relevant. In fact, as our Lord states, since he was persecuted for the truth, we should not expect less.
The opinion of our brethren in the family of God does matter, of course, but even there theological discussion is to seek truth alone, before God. In that search, there is no threat from differing opinions among men. The opinions that count are of the Lord.
Notice that I did not say easy in this regard. But a correct mind set concerning the sovereignty of God and relevancy of Scripture in these situations can hopefully help a lot in bringing clarity to our reactions and diminish them somewhat Even if we react imperfectly, it should help.
An appropriate Polemic or Irenic reaction is at least partially based upon our acceptance and actualization of our place as men and women before our Lord. Both approaches are appropriate in some situations IMO, but only one mind set is appropriate. And once again, as long as we remain alive on earth, I never said easy…
Apples, Oranges or Bananas?
Let’s follow a previous post discussion of fruits of the Spirit in the context of assurance a bit farther…
Before someone accuses me of discounting the fruits of the Spirit, let me state that they are indeed important markers. After all, in Galatians 5:22-23 we have “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…”.
So these are significant results of salvation. Fruits grow as the final result in the plant and they appear differently for not only different plant species but occasionally even the same type of plant. Scripture does not indicate that they are the root or even a determining factor for salvation, initial or eternal. To push the plant analogy further, an apple tree that does not produce fruit at any particular point is still an apple tree. The fruit is not the determinate of the species.
If the fruits of the Spirit were in any way a determining factor, then we would have a salvation of works which would vest some of God’s sovereignty into our actions on our own behalf. For those not remembering, that reverts right back to Pelagian heresy of the 4th century. We won’t go there since this discussion assumes a correct Reformed theology.
We should also again stress that discernment of belief is in ones own heart before God, and the message of the Gospel must be believed at that level (the lack of which no doubt creates the tares among the wheat). We can not see into the heart of another and therefore can not determine their status before the Lord, nor would we be correct in doing so. As Scripture points out, only the Lord judges the heart. Our task is only to discern our own heart with the simple, straightforward message of the Gospel. That places us with the saved, or not.
So, the fruits of the Spirit are significant marks of salvation, which may be observed in the regenerate at differing times and in differing ways. They may also be observed in the reprobate. The only true assurance is from the belief in the heart of the Gospel message.
This has hug implications in the life of the believer. Those struggling with the flesh while truly believing on Jesus Christ in their hearts are not showing signs of being a reprobate. Their struggle is not the mark of the unsaved. Quite the opposite. The reprobate does not suffer angst over their sin. The angst suffered over our failures is a sign of election and cause to rejoice in the Lord (for clarification see the Canons of Dort). It is the sign that the law has fulfilled its sole function.
In conclusion, preaching the fruits of the Spirit as the marker of necessity for salvation, and assurance of such, is error, plain and simple. It does not reflect the message of Scripture and does harm to God’s people as they work through their salvation.
Assurance is drawn from ones true belief in the message of the Gospel, and that alone. And that message is about Christ, not fruit…
An Ecclesiastical Paradox
My church experiences over the years leads me to recall an interesting ecclesiastical puzzle that a friend brought up some time ago and that I have observed several times across congregations.
Case 1: The Pastor of a protestant church (I have no Catholic experience to offer) announces that he has been ‘called’ to a new church and will leave shortly.
Although people may be sad and regret the situation (or not in some cases), they do not question for a moment that the ‘call’ is devine. He is wished well and sent off into the sunset as an obedient servant.
Case 2: Same scenario except that this time a congregant member of a protestant church announces that he doesn’t fit at the church for one reason or another, and is moving to or looking for a new church.
In this case, the congregant is more often than not told that he or she has been placed in that congregation by the Lord for a reason and shouldn’t ‘run away’ from problems. His or her reason is assumed to be a man-centered one and certainly not devine in origination. If they do leave, the well wishes are often grudging as best, possibly judgemental and assumes that the congregant has the problem.
So, what is wrong with these pictures?
In many (I won’t go so far as to say most) instances, the pastor in Case 1 was less than happy with the current church or he wouldn’t have bothered with the new offer. The legitimacy of that unhappiness is not relevant to our discussion here. The new ‘call’ may legitimately be a better devine utilization of pastoral gifts. It may also be just a more comfortable fit for the person. In either case, no fault is attributed.
The situation in Case 2, however, present a problem. Why can a Pastor feel a calling to a new situation (even one that suits better) and it is okay, even a blessing for all, while the same move by a congregant is treated as man-centered and a problem in the congregant?
It just doesn’t wash, folks.
Is the Pastor intrinsically closer to the Lord? I don’t buy it as universal. Is the congregant intrinsically farther from the Lord? Again, makes no sense.
If the congregant should be working through whatever the issues are, then the pastor should be doing no less. If the pastor can hear a new and exciting call, then the congregant can do likewise and should have equal blessing. The congregant and Pastor should be regarded with unanimity.
Now, that doesn’t mean that there is not a clear time to go, or to stay. That is always between the believer and the Lord. The problem illuminated here is the use of man-centered values and reasons to treat two situation differently.
Just something to ponder…
In a previous post, A TULIP by any other name , I posed the question “So, how and to what degree should we seek theological clarity? Does it even matter?”.
A small church pastor of my acquaintance, some years ago, proposed that not only does it not matter but that giving it any importance is wrong and divisive. In the words of the Apostle Paul “May it never be!”.
We are in effect asking what purpose and value there is in theological inquiry, and if it is mandated biblically for the congregation at large. I would propose that not only is it mandated, but to do otherwise would be to ultimately revert to a pre-Reformation state, with an all powerful Magisterium. Further, this would reduce any real Bible reading to word repetition with only magical significance, again falling back to the Magisterium understanding. Surely this not where we are lead to go!
As to the mandate to study the Scriptures, we have only to cite the Bereans, who are praise as correct for searching the Scriptures day and night to attain understanding (Acts 17:11).
Now to the purpose and value there is in theological inquiry.
Let’s start by considering an underlying issue at hand. How does a church get its identity? Or more appropriately – how should a church get its identity? Any difference between the does and the should will help with our original question.
When you think of a church with which you are familiar, what do you think of?
Do you think of their great contribution to the community? Do you think of their great childrens programs and activities. What of their assistance to those in need physically or mentally? Do you think of the wonderful people who attend there? Do you think of their support for the family or marriage in trying times?
If those are the attributes that come to mind, then those are the things that form the identify of that church before the world, the things into which their energy and thought are poured.
All of these things are good in themselves, but are they the primary reason for the church to exist? Do they bring to mind the primary place that believers are to draw identity from? It would not appear so.
All of the attributes listed are supporting things of world. They are secular in nature. All are addressed by other good and honourable agencies, possibly even more effectively than by the church. Though these good works are certainly the hallmark of the church, they can not be the primary distinguishing characteristic because they are man-centered.
Man-centered activities are of the flesh by nature, derived from the mind of flesh. As such, they are can not lead to spiritual things. As Galatians 5:17 states “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”
Things of the flesh and programs based upon it can not produce an identity that is based in the Lord. They are an anathema to one another and the identity produced is of the world.
Does this mean that this identity is bad or evil. Not at all. But is does mean that it, like the fallen man from whom it springs, is not of God and can not by definition truly please god. They do not develop an identity based in Christ. They can not. They are of the world and as such unacceptable before God. As Scripture states, they are clothed in “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), no matter how good they appear.
Conversely, do think of the church in terms of their love of Christ, their dedication to His Word, their passion to understand it, their joyful worship, their passion for glorifying Christ and the Father in everything, almost forgetting their programs and such?
These are things of the Spirit. They lead to correct understanding and to correct standing before God. They are the reason that we were created.
Part of this pursuit is the desire to understand the precepts which the Lord has given us in His Word. To follow His precepts we must understand them and His Word is our source. So (as did the Bereans) we study them, their meaning and the resultant biblical doctrine as a first priority. Following this doctrine in common understanding gives us identity with its source.
The identity of the believers and their church should have nothing whatsoever to do with the programs, works and activities of worldly life. It must be grounded solely in the Word and its precepts (doctrine). This is where the true church draws its identity and the only way it can be know as belonging to Christ. This is precisely the opposite to the worldly focus initially described.
That said, this does not denying the value of programs and activities . They are invaluable. They are not, however, the basis of the church nor the primary focus of believers. They are fruit – an after effect of correct identity, when energy is focused upon Christ and the Word.
So, back to our original questions. The sole source of identity of the church, supporting the faith of believers, is the focus on our Lord and His worship, the seeking of theological truth from the Word and the communication of biblically correct doctrine.
These matters of theology are not small differences. Correct doctrine binds believers together in worship of God, creating a solid church. Without that, identity is a fleeting feeling based in programs that succeed or fail in the world. And without foundational agreement, the body is not solid, but frail.
Identity based upon worldly matters may in fact create a church, but it is not the church of Jesus Christ.
A TULIP by any other name…
For God says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I have mercy, and I will show compassion to whomever I show compassion.” So then, it does not depend on the person who wants it nor the one who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very reason I raised you up, in order to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. Romans 9:15-18
As believers, we serve a totally sovereign God, who demonstrates His absolute freedom in saving His elect as suits His own purposes. Being the result of His sovereign will alone, the calling of His elect proclaims that salvation does not depend upon man who wills or man who runs but on God who has mercy.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Giving Offence to God – Part 3
Finally, with all the peripheral groups dealt with, we come to the reason for this set to posts and the real question at hand.
2. The unbeliever actively praying.
Worldly sense would say that this person is actively ingratiating themselves to God by this act of supplication. You could say “Surely this brings blessing to this person?”.
First, their status before a Righteous and Holy God. As with all human beings (past, present and future), this unregenerate person is in open rebellion against God in two ways: 1. by not acknowledging Him as God, creator and sustainer of all that is (see Rom 3:20 below) , and not worshiping Him accordingly: and 2. by not believing in His Son as their sole saviour. Their failure is this regard results is their being wicked, as in our verse from the previous post.
The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, (Prov 15:3a)
Or the even more pointed
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; (Prov 21:27a)
Notice that their are no caveats or exceptions. The wicked are always an abomination to the Lord. That means that their state makes everything they do an abomination to Him. Outside of salvation in Christ, can anyone be righteous in anything before God? No, not one (Rom 3:10b).
So, we have a person who is in active rebellion against what his Creator requires of him, who actively denies that Creator’s sovereignty and Son, approaching God in a way that He (God) has reserved for believers.
Let us think back in the Old Testament to Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron (Lev 10:1-2). What happened to them when they inappropriately performed what the Lord specified. Right! – the Lord put them to death. So, the Lord clearly takes a very dim view of those who approach Him inappropriate and with the wrong attitude of submission and worship.
Since, as mentioned above, the unregenerate person is inherently and completely tainted by sin, all that they do is similarly tainted and can not please God. Their rebellion is reflected in the essence of who they are and thus in everything that they do. Moreover, their execution of actions that are reserved for believers, who are pleasing to God, is an even greater affront to the Lord.
If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. (Prov 28:9)
In conclusion -> This individual is putting themselves at further enmity with God by performing this act of supposed worship – digging the hole deeper, so to speak. They are incapable of acceptable worship or supplication in their spiritual condition and their attempt to approach God is an affront.
Unpleasant though it sounds, this is the biblical message, and it glorifies God by demonstrating His absolute, unwavering righteousness and justice. He is holy and can not abide unholiness.
Every unbeliever is called by all of creation around them to acknowledge the sole and total sovereignty of God. There are no exceptions.
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom 1:20)
They are further called to repent of their worldly self and turn to His only son Jesus Christ.
Only then are their worship and supplications acceptable to God – becoming a living sacrifice and “a pleasant aroma to the Lord. (Numbers 15:13)
For the Glory of God alone!
Giving Offence to God – Part 2
So, the big question is, what about the unbeliever who is doing the praying. They are, after all, praying for good things.
As mentioned previously, their prayer is being used by God for both the benefit of the elect and the sanctification and definite redemption of His creation. Does this count as redemptive credit to the unbeliever, in some way bringing them closer to salvation?
The short answer, to steal a phrase from Paul, is “May it never be!”. In other words – absolutely not. In fact, quite the opposite, as we shall see.
Actually there are two groups to consider here: unbelievers passively in the audience and the unbeliever praying.
1. The passive unbelieving attendee
To be clear, this is not the ‘yet unsaved’ member of the elect. They were dealt with in the Part 1 post.
This is the remaining, non-elect, passive unbelieving attendees.
“The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but he loves him who pursues righteousness.” Prov 15:9
Since all of the fallen, that is all of mankind throughout all of the ages since the Fall, are at enmity with God by default, in active rebellion against Him, and serving Satan, nothing in this situation affects their status. The wicked are all those who are not redeemed.
However, that is not to say that they do not contribute to God’s program of redemption, but only that this contribution (since God uses all things to the benefit of His program) does not benefit or change their status before Him. The only thing that can change that is salvation.
Further, since this situation, like all of creation, confronts them with the sovereignty of God, they are herein implicitly commanded to acknowledge His sovereignty. Their denial and failure to do so is an ongoing affront (wickedness) to Him.
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, being understood by what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their reasonings, and their senseless hearts were darkened.” Romans 1:20-21
Giving Offence to God – Part 1
In a post a while ago (Five Points and Luke 6:45-49) I stated “Now, in reference to apparent good verbal acts of the unsaved, these are good in the natural sense. They can not, however, appear good to God since their root does not emanate from God.” I would like to follow this train of thought a bit further. Fasten your set belt please, as the going may get a tad rough.
Let me pose a scenario: You are visiting a group of friends or family, and you sitting down to a meal together. Or you are at a large, primarily secular gathering, for the meal. Countless other scenes are possible in your memory I am sure. In line with modern inclusiveness, ecumenical sensitivity, and in deference to you or other ‘religious’ folk in the room, the non-Christian leader says a prayer for the meal and all who are in attendance.
Now let us look thru a Biblical lens at the attitude of God to and the efficacy of this praying.
We know that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). First, this covers the believers in attendance. This is not qualified and is irrespective of the current circumstance. It is also exclusive. That is, God works in the interests of His elect only. As such, they are blessed. I think that I would even extend this to any yet unsaved elect in attendance, since they are headed for the Lord, so to speak.
Next, “all things work together for good” is inclusive of all circumstances, working for the ongoing sanctification and redemption of the elect in God’s purposes. So we have not only individual benefit to the elect but also to the Lord’s “purposes” in creation. This would included the benefit to the earth of eventually being released from the effects of the Fall, under which it continually suffers (Romans 8:19-23). Again, this is irrespective of circumstance or in this case who is the active agent in the scenario.
So God uses all circumstances for the good of His elect and His creation, all in the movement forward of His program.
Since He is absolutely sovereign in all things, there are no surprises or variances to Him. His program can not be thwarted and even the worst scenario will be used in the interest of the elect and towards Heaven.
Next, the sticky part…
Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.'” Jeremiah 23:16-17
What a couple of verses!
This could have been spoken and written today. How many places can you think of that it applies, both inside and outside the church?
Even with just the Solas Christ alone, as documented in the Scripture alone in mind, comparison to the world inside and outside the church sure gives lots of application…