Friday, December 12, 2014

Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday? A Response to Eight Common Arguments

Every year Christmas (and Easter) are assailed by a small, but very vocal group of very sincere and pious Christians that allege that many of us are participants in paganism. Some of those persons are my close friends. 
What follows is a response I once wrote to a dear friend that holds this position. Here, I reply to the eight most common objections to celebrating these occasions on the "Christian Calendar." 

1. The etymology of both the words “Christmas” and “Easter” is problematic; Christmas contains the root “mass,” a false and abominable sacrifice of the Roman Catholic Church, and Easter is derived from the name of a pagan god, worshipped in ancient times.
RESPONSE: While the etymology of many words is important, it is not ultimately determinative for the meaning of any given word. Moreover, words can and do change meanings over time, and the meaning that was once imputed to a word does not necessarily govern its current meaning. Much more so with words many centuries old. For instance, the word “gay” once meant happy. Rarely does it have that meaning anymore. Although both the words Christmas and Easter have suspicious roots, it can hardly be argued that the common evangelical usage of the word “Easter,” for instance, is in reference to the pagan god. So too with Christmas; most evangelicals do not regard the word as having reference to the sacrifice of the mass as practiced by the Roman Catholic Church either before or after the Reformation. 

Obviously, the sacrifice of the mass is not a part of Protestant worship at all. Neither does the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus, held on the day commonly called Easter, retain any aspects of pagan worship whatsoever. To hold otherwise is disingenuous. If the common evangelical is asked today about the meaning of either word, he is far more likely—almost certain in fact—to respond with regard to the birth and resurrection of Christ. We ought to allow the simple fact that these two words have dramatically changed meanings today from ancient times for evangelicals, and no longer bear any resemblance of their ancient etymological roots. If this objection above be granted, we must also immediately abandon the names of certain days of the week (i.e. Saturday) and some of the months of the year (i.e. August) which have historical roots with the god Saturn and Augustus Caesar respectively.

2. Neither the practice of Christmas nor Easter are commanded in Scripture and therefore are not warranted by the Regulative Principle of Worship (See the Westminster Confession of Faith 21.1). 


RESPONSE: I regard this charge to be largely misdirected. Both the birth of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus inspire our worship and are encouraged to be pondered deeply in Scripture. The magi, angels, and shepherds worshipped the new born Christ. So too Simeon and Anna. Certainly the gospel writers hold these examples up as commendable, and not as counterexamples. Too, the disciples and the early church worshipped the resurrected Christ. Thomas is a notable example (John 20) as are the whole group of apostles in Matthew 28. These two doctrines (the incarnation and resurrection) are both worthy of much preaching and instruction and should be brought to the attention of the church regularly, even seasonally. Both are intricately tied to the very Gospel itself. The fact that they are celebrated at certain times of the year is arbitrary. It should be kept in mind that the Reformed tradition makes a distinction between “elements” (the practices of gathered worship such as preaching, prayer, benedictions, blessings, sacraments etc.) and “circumstances” (where to meet, what time, how long sermons should last, what passages to select for preaching or study, how much of a passage is to be read etc.). If this objection above be taken to its logical conclusion, it would be impossible to call a meeting at all today as Scripture nowhere commands us what specific location or times the church is to meet regularly.

3. Both Christmas and Easter contain pagan symbolism; the former retains the use of the so-called “Christmas Tree” and Easter retains usage of the “egg” and other fertility-cult symbolism. 
RESPONSE: If this objection be taken to its logical conclusion, neither could the Christian church utilize the rainbow since it is used by homosexual groups as their symbol, nor the cross since it too is often perverted and misused by the wicked.

I find this objection ironic as both the tree and the egg are created by God and pronounced to be “good” in the Genesis account along with all other creatures. They cannot be regarded as intrinsically evil, as to make this claim would be to deny the goodness of creation. If we hold a general principle that any article that was once used in paganism can never therefore be redeemed for Christian worship on that account, not much is left for use in worship at all. The name of God would be off limits as it has been grossly blasphemed. If it be argued that trees are immoral because pagans have used both the tree and the egg in their false worship, then we can hardly use anything created at all in worship; not even our bodies (as they too are worshipped by pagans), could be used in worship.

The tree, to which much strenuous objection has been given, however is positively a symbol of life, eternity, and justice in Scripture (see both the Genesis and Revelation accounts of the Garden of Eden and the New Heavens and New Earth). Surprising to some, trees were even one of the few symbols used in decorating the temple of God (1 Kings 6). If it be argued that evergreen or pine trees in particular have become essentially pagan by their usage in historical paganism, one wonders where that line of argumentation could possibly stop. What genus has become "off limits"? What species? Would it be true of all trees in general? Even all plant life? Can we allow evergreen trees on our church grounds at all? On our personal properties? Should all evergreen trees be destroyed? Are we obliged to cut them all down wherever they be found as the OT saints cut down Asherah poles? Here the objection verges on the ridiculous.

If it be alleged that Christians actually worship Christmas trees, as it is slanderously reported that we do, I would deny this in the most emphatic terms. We do not pray to them, impute power to them, come to them for healing, attempt to obtain merit from them, make sacrifices to them or from them, or any other form of inward or outward worship. We use them as decorations. Nothing more. To assert more than this on the part of our detractors is simply unfair and goes beyond the bounds of Christian charity.

4. Both Christmas and Easter are often attended by ridiculous and childish customs i.e. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, which detract from the worship of the Trinitarian God. Many churches that purport to be "evangelical" have even brought such nonsense into the very sanctuary and perverted the holy worship of God! 
RESPONSE: I grant that this is entierly inappropriate and sacreligious. Yet this objection as an argument against Christmas and Easter may commit the logical fallacy of the straw man. In this fallacy, the worst and most easily defeated example is held up and given as representative of the whole. However, we ought not to judge any one practice or belief based solely by the worst and most blatant practitioners of the same.

For example, it is true that some Presbyterians ordain homosexuals (the PCUSA). But this does not mean that we should no longer practice ordination because it is or has been misused by some. This objection assumes that if a certain belief or practice (such as Christmas) has been misused or perverted by some group, it is impossible to be redeemed by others who could practice it more responsibly. Clearly this is unsustainable logic. In the case of Faith Church, it would be impossible to maintain any objection against us that we have used such ridiculous and stupid characters such as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny in our worship services. To hold us accountable for the stupidity of others is unfair in the highest degree.

5. Both Christmas and Easter are practiced by the Roman Catholic Church which has so far distorted the Gospel as to be no Gospel at all and therefore their historical practices ought not to be carried forward by Protestants. 
RESPONSE: This objection commits the fallacy of the “fruit of the polluted tree.” Briefly, this fallacy holds that if Mr. X has a particular belief (or practice), and Mr. X is a very bad man, then the given belief (or practice) is also bad too by extension. This fallacy is easily exposed, though, when we consider that the Roman Catholic Church also holds some very orthodox doctrines, such as that of the Trinity and the incarnation of Christ, and that it professes the Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, and Chalcedonian Creed, as we do. If we are to reject everything the Roman Catholic Church has ever done, on the sole condition that they have done it, surely we would be throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. On the contrary, the individual beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, heretical though that branch has become as a whole, should be considered on their own weight and rejected if and when they are shown to be unbiblical.

6. Both Christmas and Easter encourage consumerism and materialism and ought to be rejected upon the grounds of being a distraction from the Gospel
RESPONSE: This objection is granted. But this writer does not believe that the complete abandonment of the practices of Christmas and Easter is the best response to this problem. I believe, on the contrary, that better preaching and catechetical instruction, along with exhortation and admonishment, is a better course to correct the misapplication of these Gospel events (viz. the birth and resurrection of Jesus). If we reject any practice that has been utilized in some misguided way, we ought to reject the preaching of sermons too, since many contemporary sermons are unhelpful, unbiblical, and even heretical. My contention is that the best response to misapplication is better application! Paul does not reject the practice of the Lord’s Supper en toto on the basis that the Corinthians have grossly distorted it. On the contrary, he corrects and reproves their behavior, while affirming the practice.

 7. Both Christmas and Easter are inconsistent with the practice of the English Puritan heritage from whence the American Presbyterian heritage derives. 
RESPONSE: This objection is granted. But neither is the English Puritan heritage the sole influence of American evangelicalism in general or Presbyterianism in particular; nor is it the authoritative arbiter of the same. Our heritage also has been greatly impacted by the Continental Reformers who along with German Lutheran groups did in fact retain the practice of the Christian calendar year. Moreover, although we greatly regard our English Puritan forefathers, we do not regard them as infallible, and in retrospect find them to sometimes verge on legalism, as for instance, in their practice of the Lord’s Day Sabbath. Even our Puritan heritage, greatly beloved as it is, is not beyond our dissent and even correction.  If English Presbyterianism is to be heeded as authoritative, so too should we disapprove of all decorations in the sanctuary including: stained glass, crosses, and even wedding rings (historically rejected by the Puritans as “Papist”). These great exemplars, our Puritan forbearers, even insisted that all table tops be covered with cloths as exposed wooden table legs might insight a man to sexual lust! No historical expression of the Reformed faith is to be regarded as authoritative or normative unquestioningly.

8. Both Christmas and Easter are practiced during times of the solar year related to the solstice, at which times pagan festivals have been historically linked. 
RESPONSE: This too is related to the “fruit of the poisoned tree” fallacy (see above). If we ought not to worship the Lord Jesus on times, dates, and seasons that have been historically used by pagans, we would have no available dates in which to worship God at all since every conceivable time, month, cycle of the sun and moon, and occasion has at some time in history been used for pagan worship. On the contrary, we ought to redeem these pagan times by diverting attention from false gods and giving our attention to the one and true Lord.

It it be suggested that Christmas is inappropriate because we do not know the day or date on which Christ was truly born, I would ask whether we may only preach events on the very day of the year in which it historically happened. Obviously this is false, for them we would only preach the cross on Good Friday.

We must insist that all days of the year, including whatever day the solstice happens to occur, be devoted to Christ our Supreme King. How appropriate, then, is the preaching of the Gospel on these formerly paganized days, as we claim all things in Heaven and on Earth for the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Concluding Text

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God (Romans 14:4-6).

   -Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. He is the author of several books, including his newly finished eBook trilogy, Unprecious, Unknown, and Undeserved.   

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Revelation 3.5 and "Eternal Security" (Perseverance of the Saints)

“The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (Revelation 3.5 ESV)
I was once asked how to justify my belief that I could not lose my salvation in light of Revelation 3.5.  I admit, I was not prepared for the question and looked at the verse trying to figure it out myself.  I knew it was not being applied correctly in my friend's question, but I did not know why.  The full context of Biblical teaching supports the security of a Christian's salvation.  However, this verse was troublesome for me.  I decided to research it and the result is my post. 

Taken alone, this verse does seem to imply that one can lose salvation. First I wish to deal with this verse and then to fit the security of salvation into Biblical context.

Revelation 3.5 discusses the one who conquers and says of him, “I will never blot his name out of the book of life.”  Some have said there are two different books mentioned in the Bible that are similar: the book of life and the LAMB’s book of life.   I do not find this to be a strong argument and will not pursue it.  Another view in keeping with the impossibility of losing salvation once received by grace through faith (Ephesians 2.8-10) is that this verse alludes to something that is a possibility, namely that a Christian's name can be blotted out if Jesus here says He will not blot a name out.

I believe there is clarity to be found when looking at this verse with cultural context mixed in.  The meaning becomes much clearer.

In verses four and five Jesus is talking about those in Sardis who are faithful to Him.  He is not talking about those who are unfaithful.  This is for a good reason.

According to Utley,
“I will not erase his name from the book of life” This is a strong DOUBLE NEGATIVE. When citizens died, their names would be erased from the rolls of their city but God will never erase believers from His rolls. 
This metaphorical phrase “the book of life” is also found in Rev. 20:12–15, where two books are mentioned: (1) the book of life which is made up of the names of God’s people (cf. Exod. 32:32; Ps. 69:28; Isa. 4:3; Dan. 12:1; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27); and (2) the book of deeds or remembrances which records the deeds of both wicked and righteous (cf. Ps. 56:8, 139:16; Isa. 65:6; Mal. 3:16).(1)

Further, according to Wiersbe,
The promise in Revelation 3:5 (“clothed in white raiment”) would have been especially meaningful to people who lived in a city where woolen garments were manufactured. And the statement about the names being blotted out would also be significant to people in the Roman Empire, where citizenship was vitally important (see Acts 22:24–30). 
Is there a warning here that a true believer might lose his salvation? I don’t think so. It would appear that God’s “Book of Life” contains the names of all the living, the wicked as well as the righteous (Ps. 69:28). Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 suggest that the names of the saved are written in the book from the foundation of the world—that is, before they had done anything good or bad. By God’s grace, they have been chosen in Christ before the beginning of time (Eph. 1:4; see also Matt. 25:34). 
Jesus told His disciples to rejoice because their names were “written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). The Greek verb is in the perfect tense, which means it can be translated (as Kenneth Wuest does in his Expanded Translation), “your names have been written in heaven and are on permanent record up there.” It is not likely that Jesus would contradict Himself in this important matter! 
If the names of believers (the elect) are written from the foundation of the world, and if God knows all things, why would He enter the name of somebody who would one day fall and have to be removed from the book? We are enrolled in heaven because we have been born again (Heb. 12:23), and no matter how disobedient a child may be, he or she cannot be “unborn.” 
As unbelievers die, their names are removed from the book; thus, at the final judgment, the book contains only the names of believers (Rev. 20:12–15). It then becomes “the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Rev. 21:27), because only those saved by the Lord Jesus Christ have their names in it. All the others have been blotted out, something God would never do for any true child of God (see Ex. 32:32; Rom. 9:3). It is a book of life, and lost sinners are dead (Eph. 2:1).(2)

The book of life brought out in Revelation is found at the Judgment in chapter 20: And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20.12-15 ESV) (3)

The Lamb's Book of life is referred to in Revelation 21.27: "But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life."

Here the book is solely called the “book of life” and only the names of those who are alive in Christ are found in that book.  It was clear in the context of the day since the names of people who died in a city were blotted out of the rolls for their cities.  A Christian’s name cannot be blotted out because he has eternal, forever-lasting, life.  Since a Christian cannot die, his name remains in the book God put together beforehand.

Reading this in a modern culture loses some of the point being made.  This promises believers that they will not die, so their names will not be blotted out.  When the book of life is read their names will be found because they are spiritually alive. Only those found to be spiritually dead will be as those with their names blotted out of the rolls.

*Notice that Jesus already addressed the unfaithful preceding these verses.  He is now directing His statement toward those who are faithful.  This verse (Revelation 3.5) is an encouragement, not a warning.

For Biblical context to support the understanding that salvation is not so fragile that it can be lost, I will look to grace, the blood and promises of the guarantee of an inheritance.

GRACE

I have heard it said that if grace seems fair it is not grace.  This is true.  In our minds if someone acts badly enough they do not deserve grace.  The genocidal mass-murdering rapist who repents does not deserve it and should not be given the opportunity to gain God’s forgiveness.  Hitler should not have been given the opportunity to be forgiven if he repented (there is no evidence that he ever repented and is surely currently paying the penalty for his horrific sin). 

Likewise, the pastor who was saved, served God, fell from the ministry in disgrace and now wallows in self-criticism, a broken family, a destroyed marriage and deep guilt does not deserve God’s grace.  However, this man is covered by grace if he was saved to begin with.  That is so unfair.  However, before you become smug in your Christianity, your salvation is unfair.  You caused a man to die.  It was your fault that Jesus was tortured, mocked, cursed and crucified.  You were guilty, not Him.  That was unfair.

Think of Tom Sawyer.  When Tom took a whipping from his teacher to protect Becky Thatcher, he was an illustration of what Christ did for us.  Though we were guilty, He took the punishment.  However, the punishment was far worse than what Tom Sawyer took for Becky.(4)  Jesus died in brutality because of the wrong we did.  He was not just punished or mocked; He was brutally murdered on the cross in the bloodthirsty fashion the Romans are known for.  When Jehovah’s Witnesses say He was nailed to a stake or a pole they are demonstrating their ignorance of history.

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5.20-21 ESV) (5)

Grace is made up of such a special and unfathomable quality that where sin becomes more prevalent, grace becomes more powerful.  Paul puts it into a negative statement in Romans 6.1-2: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (ESV)(6)  It is not that grace cannot abound, it is that grace should not be made to abound. In fact, Paul repeats this sentiment a few verses later: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!(Romans 6.15 ESV)(7)  He asks and answers to make sure we get it.  Grace is powerful because it was purchased with the blood of Christ.  Grace is not a license to sin; it is the inoculation from the price of sin before God.  We may still sin and feel the consequences of that sin (like the hypothetical pastor I mentioned earlier), but the eternal cost has been paid.  We are saved and still sin, but it is already forgiven and paid for by the blood of Christ.  It is totally unfair.  It is grace.

THE BLOOD

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2.13 ESV)(8)  The blood of Christ is what has reconciled the Christian with God.  We, who have chosen to be enemies of God by our own will are brought into a relationship with the God we have offended.  It cost Him His life- His blood- on the cross.  Hebrews 9.22 says, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (ESV) (9)

To bring about forgiveness once and for all, animal sacrifices (which were practiced under the Law) were not sufficient.  It took the sacrifice of a perfect and spotless lamb to cover someone under the Law, but Jesus came as the perfect and spotless Lamb of God to be the final sacrifice God would ever recognize.  His sacrifice was far superior to any other sacrifice ever offered because He was God in the flesh.  It was more than His royal blood that paid the price; it was His Godhood that made this sacrifice all-sufficient. 

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Revelation 12.10-11 ESV)(10)

The blood of the Lamb that gives Christians their testimonies and their ability to sacrifice their lives for the Gospel defeats Satan and his evil horde.  The key here is it is the blood of Christ that defeats Satan.  It is that powerful.

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1.19-20 ESV)(11)

THE GUARANTEE

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1.11-14 ESV)(12)

In this verse we see we have a guarantee of an inheritance.  It is not something fleeting; the guarantee is the sealing with the Holy Spirit.  Having been saved, we were also sealed.  Being sealed we are given a guarantee.  What does a guarantee mean?  It means what was promised will happen.  It has been said that a guarantee is only as good as the one standing behind it.  I would submit that if God makes the guarantee (in writing no less!), it is a guarantee you can count on.

“As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (2 Corinthians 1.18-20 ESV)(13)

His promises are always met with a yes and a fulfillment in Christ Jesus.  He does not fail to deliver. Never.

Again Paul writes, “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 5.5 ESV)(14)  “This very thing” that Paul mentions is the promise of God that we will pass from our current faulty bodies and into a “heavenly dwelling”, a new, uncorrupted body.  That is part of our inheritance through salvation.

“…but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:
       ‘The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
       “You are a priest forever.”’
22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.” (Hebrews 7.21-22 ESV)(15)
Again, Scripture shows that the Triune God has guaranteed our inheritance as part of the better covenant of God’s grace through the blood of Christ.  The maintenance of our salvation is in the hands of God, not in our feeble hands.

In closing, Jude shows that Jesus is our strength in our salvation in the first and last verses of his letter:
“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,
To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ…” (Jude 1 ESV)(16)

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24 ESV)(17)

When we see that it is all about Jesus and not about us we can begin to understand and appreciate how God’s grace is poured out upon us.  We can be secure in our salvation as we are secure in our God.


Pete Garbacki is a minister with Time for Truth Ministries and Mission.Brasil. Follow him on Twitter @pregador27 or FaceBook at http://www.facebook.com/pete.garbacki.

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Footnotes

[1] Utley, R. J. (2001). Hope in Hard Times - The Final Curtain: Revelation (Vol. Volume 12, p. 43). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.
[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 577–578). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Re 20:12–15). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[4] http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/34/the-adventures-of-tom-sawyer/5449/chapter-20/ (see bottom half of the page)
[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 5:20–21). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 6:1–2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 6:15). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Eph 2:13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Heb 9:22). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Re 12:10–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Col 1:19–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Eph 1:11–14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Co 1:18–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Co 5:5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Heb 7:21–22). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jud 1). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[17] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jud 24–25). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Bible Tells Me So

There has to be a reason for the things we believe. We don't just pluck an idea out of the air and then proclaim it -- but if we do this, if we err thus, then we only have force of personality to spread the idea because we are obliged to do so without a sure foundation. The most persuasive among us may succeed. Some may gather a following. And some of the followers may repeat the findings of their progenitor, even though unbeknownst to them, they are standing in the swamp.

The remedy given to us by the Father is clear. A sure foundation is only to be found in the Word of God, the Bible. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" is an airtight absolute dogmatic for the Christian. There are no variations, or shades of meaning, no subtle nuances or culturally defined adjustments that may be permitted to disturb the rock solid nature of the foundation of Scripture.

It seems that reverence for the Word of God -- the Word He has delivered to the Church -- the Word Who was made flesh and dwelt among us -- has diminished because of the weight of antagonistic opinion. The Christian has been accused of obscurantism and as a result, instead of standing his ground and holding fast to the truth as he knows it, he has begun to look for ways in which his beliefs may be compromised, or at least ameliorated. Then he does not appear quite so old-fashioned and he may convince the atheist that he has a brain!

How sad this is. When the Christian community eagerly looks to its gifted teachers to faithfully break the bread of life to us, and feed us with the resources we need for spiritual strength and growth, and when we seek the enrichment of the Word of God to direct us into the world to be light and salt in our communities, as we have been commanded, we find those very teachers embroiled in speculative postulation regarding the Word of God they have been charged to proclaim.

It appears that some of our brothers, called to the ministry of the Word and Sacraments, would rather spend their time playing theological ping-pong with one another than addressing the flock of God committed to their charge. It's a hair-splitting game!  And yes, some of them will teach in seminary, inviting their students to question their foundations as they are doing. So we now face the prospect of a generation of new teacher-preachers being launched upon the Church who do not hold fast to the clear teaching of Scripture, and pepper their "ministry" with doubt and speculation as to what is true.

So, a question. Is it better to ride the uncertain bandwagon of speculation, debating the foundations on which the historic Church has been built, or to hold fast to those foundations which are rooted in the Word of God, trusting that therein lies the truth of God Himself, Who has never spoken in doubt or uncertainty and Whose Word is His bond?

And then I hear the children in the room next to mine: "... this I know, for the Bible tells me so"
and I take heart. For they hold the key to faith and trust, they have discovered the foundation on which to stand. We pray that they will continue to do so without distraction.


-Wilfred A. Bellamy, Ph.D.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Ten Best Books on Jonathan Edwards' Theology of Joy: Recommendations for Beginners and Scholars



I am now just about at the halfway point in my doctoral studies from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, and just a few days away from submitting my proposal to the faculty for my dissertation.

So far, my topic is narrowly focused on Jonathan Edwards' theology of joy. For anyone who has ever attempted to read Edwards, they find his writings just dripping with joy-related language: happiness, rejoicing in Christ, the joys of heaven, the mutual love within the persons of the Trinity.

Joy is everywhere! Rich language of light, the sun, fountains, rivers, and streams all emit Edwards' theology of Christian joy.

I've read deeply and broadly: books by Edwards and books about Edwards. I've read his treatises, sermons, and personal correspondences. I've read biographies about him and at least one biography from his own pen (David Brainerd).

Everything is so good, it's hard to pick. Nevertheless, I am going to attempt to recommend just one shelf full of JE books. Here then, are my top ten recommended works from or about the Northampton Revivalist (in no particular order).

Sermons

1. Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. 2005). If you are looking to find some of Edward's best sermons like "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," "A Divine and Supernatural Light," or "God Glorified in Man's Dependence" this is the place to begin.

2. Sermons by Jonathan Edwards on the Matthean Parables: True and False Christians (On the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins). (Kenneth P. Minkema, Adriaan C. Neele, and Bryan K. Kimnach, eds. Vol. I. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books. 2012). What's neat about this volume, is that unlike the above, this one is filled with previously unpublished sermons that just came into the public eye in 2012.

3. Charity and Its Fruits. (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth. 2005. Orig. pub. 1852.) Another of his major sermon series, converted into a treatise, this one focuses on the "love chapter" of 1 Corinthians 13 and features the glorious sermon "Heaven is a World of Love."

Treatises

4. The Religious Affections. (Mineola, NY: Dover. 2013. Orig. pub. 1746.). Likely Edwards' most well-known treatise, this book looks at the powerful inclinations of the heart (love, joy, fear etc.) and uses them to help determine which religious experiences are true and which are false. A major work tied to the Great Awakening revivals of the 1740's.

5. God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards. With the Complete Text of The End for Which God Created the World. (Jonathan Edwards and John Piper. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998. Orig. pub. 1765.). In this book, beloved pastor John Piper walks readers through JE's easier-than-you-might-think treatise on God's motivation for creating the universe. Hint: joy!

Biographies

6. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. (George Marsden. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 2003). Here is a 500 plus page work that masterfully takes readers through JE's life and times. I cannot imagine doing serious study on Edwards without this volume. Another honorable mention in this category is Iain Murray's work of a similar structure.

Popular Introductions

7. A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards. (John Piper and Justin Taylor, eds. Wheaton: Crossway. 2004). Many crisply written essays on Edwards and his theology from men like Piper, Sam Storms, Mark Dever, and more.

8. Jonathan Edwards for Armchair Theologians. (James P. Byrd. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 2008). A great little introduction to Jonathan Edwards with cartoons sprinkled throughout to help readers "get it." Really! There are cartoons!

9. God’s Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan Edwards. (Sean Michael Lucas. Wheaton: Crossway. 2011). An excellent little introduction of about 200 pages to Edwards' life and major thought categories.

10. Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God. (Dane Orlund. Stephen J. Nichols and Justin Taylor, eds. Wheaton, IL: Crossway. 2014). A very helpful book that focuses primarily on Edwards' view of beauty but also considers: prayer, temptation, Scripture, gentleness and more.

-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Problems with Full Preterism (or Hyper Preterism): Is the Bible a Book without a Final Chapter or Even a Back Cover?

Definition: Full preterism (or hyper-preterism) views the eschatological teaching of the NT to be completely fulfilled in the events of AD 70, at the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, even including the resurrection of the dead, and the return (Second Coming) of Christ. Full preterism is not to be confused with “partial preterism” which views some prophecies as already fulfilled in AD 70, while still nevertheless expecting a literal, personal return of Jesus Christ.

A. Theological Arguments against Full Preterism. 

1. It is neither historically orthodox, creedal, nor confessional. It is not expressed formally in any catholic creed or Reformed confession. In fact, it directly opposes them at many points (WCF 32, 33; Heid. 52, 57; Belg. 37). Thus, it is outside the pale of the vast unity and harmony of the Apostolic Christian Church (see the Apostles' Creed and Nicene Creed). It stands in contradistinction to the united and unanimous voice of all major Christian traditions and denominations which assert boldly that “He will come again to judge the quick and the dead.”

2.    It is not an historic belief system. Full preterism attempts to cover gaping holes in its suspect lineage by selectively quoting from such men as Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin, or patristic fathers, often in broken strains, in order to appear to have any semblance of historic lineage. Full preterist websites use these quotations liberally and profusely as though readers were not aware that these men’s eschatology is fully known and more clearly attested in many sources. See for example here. It does, however, share the inglorious distinction with the German Liberalism of the 1800's of denying any literal, personal return of Jesus. On the other hand,

3.    It is novel. Like its “cousin,” and theological opposite, dispensationalism, it is a curious novelty, untested by the ancient, historic, and orthodox generations spanning over 2,000 years. Theological novelties should be regarded as bearing an enormous burden of proof, as ancient boundary stones ought not be easily moved (cf. Prov. 22:28).

4.   Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, an heretical cult, full preterism interprets the NT’s clear testimony that the Lord will return in an undeniable and visible way (cf. 1 Thess 4:15-16) instead as a mysterious event entirely unknown by the majority of the inhabitants of planet Earth at the time it was supposed to have happened. In this way, full preterists (along with the Jehovah's Witnesses) are the modern day alarmists of 2 Thessalonians 2:2, "saying that the day of the Lord has already come" (NIV). 

5.    Its strongest proponents and supporters are largely unknown men – obscurantists and fringe advocates – generally unfamiliar to most and lightly regarded in the circles of serious Reformed and evangelical theologians, pastors, and thinkers. By and large, full preterists are more closely associated with theonomy and other controversial teachings. 

6.    Full preterism is suburban, and therefore pastorally lame. Full preterism is mostly scholastic in its scope and approach; a position that could be more easily held by men resting comfortably in soft chairs in air-conditioned settings than the suffering. It would likely be viewed as absurd, untenable, opaque, and even shockingly bizarre by the millions of suffering and persecuted Christians throughout history, patiently waiting in hope of the Lord’s return to judge their persecutors and vindicate their suffering.

7.    It does not solve any problems associated with dispensationalism's hermeneutical system that amillennialism doesn’t adequately solve with equal – or even stronger – force.  

8.    It is not an eschatology of humility, in that it claims dogmatically to have the correct interpretation of all relevant prophecies.

B. Biblical Arguments against Full Preterism

1.    It dulls the force of the moral and ethical teaching of the NT associated with the parousia, since such ethical exhortations depend on the expectation of the Lord’s Return (1 Tim 6:13-16; Titus 2:12-13; Heb 10:25; James 5:7-9; 2 Peter 3:17).

2.    It must assume Revelation was written prior to 70 AD since the book ends with a plea for Christ’s return (22:20), a dating position held by few scholars. Most hold to a date in the 90's during the reign of Domitian. 

3.    In attempt to read just a few words and phrases literally (i.e. “soon,” “this generation”) full preterism must necessarily spiritualize, read figuratively - or even completely secularize - dozens and dozens of phrases and terms such as epiphania (“appearing,” Titus 2:12-13; 2 Thess 2:8; 1 Tim 6:14; Titus 2:13), “will appear” (Heb. 9:28; 1 John 3:2) “every eye” (Rev. 1:7), “in the same way” (Acts 1:11); parousia (a great arrival with much pomp, i.e. of a king; Matt 24:3, 37, 39; 1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess 2:1-9; 2 Peter 3:4); and apocalypsis (unveiling; 1 Cor 1:7; 2 Thess 1:7; 1 Peter 1:7, 13, 4:13). In doing so, full preterism does great damage to the majority of eschatological texts.

4.    It reduces the force of texts that exhort us to wait patiently, long for the Lord's coming, and desire His return etc. (1 Cor 16:22; 1 Thess 4:18; Phil 3:20) making these texts irrelevant to nearly 2000 years of Bible readers.  

5.    It makes all language of “the resurrection of the dead” either spiritualized – or ironically – entirely secularized.

6.    It must necessarily assume the Great Commission has been fulfilled (Mark 13:10; Matt. 24:14) reducing our passion for missions and evangelism. (Note: It is not surprising, then, that full-preterism has NOT been held by many [if any] notable missionaries or evangelists throughout Church history).

7.    If true, the Bible offers no balm to relieve the suffering of those who look to the Return of Christ as their hope in a world of persecution and danger (2 Thess 1:6-7). The entire book of Revelation is rendered absurd.

8.    It provides no Biblical answer to the question “What is next?” or “How does history wrap up?” (See Gary Demar, End Times Madness, in which the author says nothing to explain what happens "next," but merely spends chapter after chapter refuting dispensationalism). Thus, the entirety of Scripture reads to full preterists as a book without a final chapter or even a back cover for that matter. 

-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.