God’s Sovereignty Over Life and Death…

Anthony W. Brooks

Job 15: 1- “Man who is born of a woman
is few of days and full of trouble.
2 He comes out like a flower and withers;
he flees like a shadow and continues not.
3 And do you open your eyes on such a one
and bring me into judgment with you?
4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?
There is not one.
5 Since his days are determined,
and the number of his months is with you,
and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass,
6 look away from him and leave him alone,
that he may enjoy, like a hired hand, his day.”
(ESV)

///////

A while ago I made the claim that God is the only giver and taker of life. When I said this, all of the synergists jumped out of the woodworks and became defensive. Why? Because to say that God is the taker of life means that he must decree how we are to die as well.

I posted this scripture multiple times, but a majority looked past it in the spirit of John Wesley… “Whatever else this means, it can’t mean what the Calvinist says it means!” So let’s unpack it.

Job is in a prayer and speaking of the fallenness of man and says that man is few of days and full of trouble… He is a withering flower… A fleeing shadow… He won’t continue. He calls man unclean. Then he makes application to God’s sovereignty, “Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass…” Specific language is used here such as “determined” and “appointed” and even stated that these are limits that we cannot pass. This should be simply understand, but it isn’t on the synergistic side.

To say that God decreed a life to be taken by murder is seen as God fathering evil because they don’t understand the claim of God having righteous purposes for all of his decrees… But what do we know?

Soli Deo Gloria!

How Peter D. Williams Denied Solus Christus and Sola Gratia in his Debate with James R. White on Indulgences

By Pierre Bruneau (1689 London Baptist Confession)

I just finished watching the debate between Dr. James White (the Protestant debater) and Peter D. Williams (the Roman Catholic debater) on the topic of indulgences. Throughout the debate both sides claimed to believe in the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice and the sufficiency of grace. I am not surprised by this because Rome has historically claimed to teach these things. What does this mean, that both sides have reached a kind of consensus or agreement? Absolutely not! The debate between James White and Peter D. Williams clearly demonstrated that while Roman Catholics and Protestants often use the same words and phrases they mean entirely different things by them. The difference between the two debaters can be summarized as follows: Peter D. Williams was saying that grace is sufficient to make our salvation possible but that we then have to do certain things to make it a reality, and although Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient we must do certain things for it to become effective or remain effective. Dr. White, on the other hand, was saying that grace not only makes our salvation possible, but an accomplished reality that requires no work on our part, and that it is on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice alone, which has actually removed the debt of all punishment and given us peace and access to God on that basis alone. You see, for Rome grace is only sufficient to make salvation possible, while the Reformation has always taught that it is sufficient to make it an accomplished reality. There is a vast difference between the two!
A good way to illustrate this is to use an illustration used by Peter D. Williams during the debate. I will summarize it here but you can watch the debate to listen to his full argument. He likened God to someone who provides all the necessary funds and materials to build a building, but the builders still have to build the building. But the analogy breaks down when you bring it to the light of Scripture, because if the builders have to build the building, it means that they have to work, but Scripture clearly tells us that “if it is by grace it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Romans 11:6). Not only that, but if the builders are working, then they deserve a wage, and if the funds provided are analogous to God’s grace or Christ’s merits, then the builders would be earning God’s grace and Christ’s merits! Is this the conclusion Peter D. Williams intended us to come to? Did he not realize how such horrible blasphemy can be communicated through his seemingly innocent illustration? But the reality is that the Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly asserts that we can use grace to earn further grace, and the Council of Trent and many other official Roman Catholic Church documents have consistently claimed the necessity of works for salvation (for example see the CCC section 2010 and the 6th session of the Council of Trent). But to make any kind of work necessary for salvation is to make God out to be our debtor, as Scripture says, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor but as what is due. But to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…” (Romans 4:4-5).
Towards the end of the debate Mr. Williams also plainly denied the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. While he affirms substitutionary atonement he denies its penal nature. Again, I am not surprised by this because I have heard and read many Roman Catholic apologists say the same thing. Although Dr. White responded adequately to this and other arguments made by Mr. Williams during the debate, I would also like to point out the passage of the suffering servant where it says that “he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon him, and by his scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but YHWH has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him” (Isaiah 53:5-6), and it goes on to say that this was “for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due” (53:8), and it says very clearly that “YHWH was pleased to crush him, putting him to grief…” (53:10). Anyone who fails to see that God is punishing Christ for the sins of his people in this text is clearly wearing a blindfold of false presuppositions!
I will not summarize the whole debate between Dr. White and Mr. Williams here, but I recommend that people watch it because it clearly shows the difference between Roman Catholicism and the biblical gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Surprised by God’s Word: What Cessationism Actually Implies

Maverick Witlouw

Reformed Anglican Perspective

“Yeah, I know it’s crazy, Reformed people tend to be quite serious about the Word of God, yet somehow they are missing out on God’s Spirit.” So goes the misguided rant of the “Calvinistic Charismatic,” and most charismatics for that matter. For some reason, the assumption is that a cessationist theology necessarily precludes the modern day occurrence of miracles. Of course, that is an absurd claim. It is not only rooted in poor exegetical ground, but it demonstrates ignorance of a deeper historical theological question. The problem with a theology like cessationism is that, just as charismatic theology it has various forms even though the key premises tend to be the same. There are some more “hyper,” than others. What I am proposing is an historically Reformed hermeneutic, to essentially set the record straight about what Reformed cessationists are actually saying, and not what they are not saying. Sound fair? Some people are led to believe that Reformed theology is essentially rationalistic, and that denies any form of deep intimacy with God. Of course, the opposite can only be true, when one actually considers the works of various Reformers across Reformed traditions, look at the Confessions, what do you see?

A Position About Scripture Primarily

The premise of cessationism is firstly found in our position about the Scriptures. The Scriptures are the God-breathed word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). The Scriptures are a result of the revelation to the prophets, through whom God spoke (Heb 1:1; 2 Peter 1:21), but the ultimate revelation was Christ (Heb 1:2). Of course, the point of Hebrews is precisely that, after God has spoken to Jews by prophets, the fulfillment was speaking “in” the Son. Jesus Christ is “the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 10:4). Jesus is the “substance” of all that the prophets spoke about, and the apostles and prophets have receive that revelation (). Paul beautifully sums this up, “…how that by revelation the mystery was made known to me, as I wrote before in few words, 4. by which, when you read, you can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; 5. which in other generations was not made known to the children of men, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:3-5). You see the apostles and prophets (apostolic associates) received the revelation of the mystery of the gospel, and they inscripturated it in the New Testament canon. Since this “mystery” is the fulfillment of God’s shadows, and God’s ultimate answer, we do not expect more revelation, because God’s revelation is enough. Charismatic theologian Wayne Grudem concedes this point, albeit inconsistently, “The New Testament writings contain the final, authoritative, and sufficient interpretation of Christ’s work of redemption. The apostles and their close companions report Christ’s words and deeds and interpret them with absolute divine authority. When they have finished their writing, there is no more to be added with the same absolute divine authority. Thus, once the writings of the New Testament apostles and their authorized companions are completed, we have in written form the final record of everything that God wants us to know about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and its meaning for the lives of believers for all time. Since this is God’s greatest revelation for mankind, no more is to be expected once this is complete. In this way, then, Hebrews 1:1–2 shows us why no more writings can be added to the Bible after the time of the New Testament. The canon is now closed.” (1994:44) Furthermore, Paul identifies the offices of the apostle and prophet being foundational, that is, having a specific purpose for a specific time (Ephesians 2:20). We do not go beyond what is written, we should contend for “the faith” (the objective faith), as well as build ourselves up in “the most holy faith” (Jude 3, 20). The central crux of a closed canon is closed revelation, and ultimately the sufficiency of Christ.

The Place of the Spiritual Gifts

The closed canon is closed, because we do not lay a foundation again. The foundation of apostles and prophets has been completed (Ephesians 2:20), the revelation has been codified and given (Ephesians 3:3-5). We do not add more revelation (Rev 22:18-19), because we seek not to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6). What about the spiritual gifts then? Should we not conclude that the spiritual gifts continue normally? Isn’t differentiating between gifts an unbiblical inference? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are various sources, and I wish I could interact with those, but let’s go a simply route. Remember, it is not so much an issue of the spiritual gifts directly, but the position of the Scriptures.

There are certain gifts that are placed above others, the office of the apostle and prophet are such gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:28-29 speaks of the apostle and prophet as being counted among the spiritual gifts, so I do not in the slightest see the need to differentiate these offices from the gifts. Paul identifies the apostle and the prophet as the “foundation,” and links these two offices to the giving of gospel revelation (Ephesians 2:20; 3:5). This is what the spiritual gifts are primarily for, for authentication. I concede that they do not exhaust the function of the spiritual gifts, but authentication is one major reason these things occur. Hebrews 2:2-4 states, “For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense; 3. how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation–which at the first having been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard; 4. God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders, by various works of power, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will?” The context of these passages deals with the danger of covenantal/ecclesiastical apostasy that is, forsaking the faith that one professes in confession and holy baptism. You must not go against and apostatize against what God has authenticated, that’s the rationale here. You see, the “by signs and wonders, by various works of power, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit” serve the function of “testifying,” of authentication. This is the case of Moses, Elijah, and others in biblical history, miracles primarily functioned to show God’s seal of approval. Guess what? A matter is established on the witness of two or three, and the apostles and their message were authenticated in this (Deuteronomy 19:15).

The book of Acts tells us exactly which gifts functioned to authenticate the apostles and their associates. They speak of speaking in various languages (Acts 2:6, 11; 10:46); prophecy is mentioned too with speaking in tongues (Acts 19:6). The gift of healing, which is different from mere healing (something I will spell out afterwards), is also mentioned as happening (Acts 5:16; 8:7; 9:34; 10:38; 28:8, 27). Judging from their purpose as authentication, it seems then conclusive to say, that since they have served that purpose, there is no need for their occurrence outside of this. Tongues and prophecy were revelatory sign gifts, since they have served their purpose which includes revealing divine gospel mysteries (1 Cor 14:2), and authentication, their normative functioning would thereby cease. Furthermore, to put it quite briefly, prophecy is never seen as anything but perfect revealing of God’s truth (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Less than accurate prophecy is something I cannot find in the New Testament text. However, I will not deal with this here.

Who’s Afraid of Miracles?

Furthermore, no cessationist denies that God still does miracles. What we are however saying is that there are certain kinds of miracles which are unique to the foundational period of the church. The difference between the gift of healing and God healing is that in the first instance, it is God empowering a specific vessel like an apostle or apostolic associate to heal someone directly. Cessationists are saying, that kind of special empowering of people to heal does not happen, however, we are not saying God does not heal in response to prayer. God still does do all of those amazing things, we just do not expect miraculous gifts which are given for revelatory and authentication purposes to continue. This is the Reformed hermeneutic. Baptist theologian MacArthur points out, “Clearly, there has been no parallel in history to the unique healing miracles that occurred at the time of Christ and the apostles. Today is no exception. The apostolic gift of healing has ceased.” (2013:176)

To be fair, the extraordinary is not something any cessationist denies. It is a lot more nuanced than most care to admit. It will not take you long until you find some startling experiences and statements by cessationists, and perhaps you might seem that it is weird. No, cessationists are all for dynamic encounters with God. It is not at all something we shy away from; we simply believe that it must be viewed from the lens of Scripture.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Works Cited

Grudem W 1994. Systematic Theology: An Introduction To Bible Doctrine. InterVarsity Press: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA.

MacArthur J 2013. Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending The Holy Spirit With Counterfeit Worship. Nelson Books: Nashville, Tennessee.

 

Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda (or so we say)

One of the ideas that really kindles my wick is the idea of a perfect church… This is the idea that the church is perfectly formed with a perfect government, perfect hymnals, perfect Bible translations, perfect length sermons, perfect classes, perfect bulletins, perfect communion outlines… blah blah blah blah. This is called “infallible Tradition”, ya know, that thing that the Reformers were trying to REFORM!

Tradition is never a perfect set of beliefs and practices that can never be replaced. And the problem with many protestants today, is that they hold to their traditions so tightly that when someone challenges them, there is an all out split. I have seen church splits, and have heard great men say terrible things about other great men. I have counted votes to call and discharge pastors to and from the pulpit. Why is this ever necessary? Tradition…

Being a part of a Reformed Church does not guarantee one certainty that when the church needs reform, that it will be open to the idea. One of the safeguards is the presbyterian system of government that keeps these decisions in the hands of qualified elders, but, even then… Reform is never easy. The elder board can even split, the decisions can be overturned in Presbytery or Synod/Assembly and there could be rioting in the proverbial streets… So, why is reform so hard?

Comfort…

We are comfortable with what we know. And with a subject as important as our faith and practice, discomfort can be overtly concerning. Emotions get in the way of change and progress, its just life, bro. But what we need to do sometimes is not allow fallible emotions to get in the way of infallible truth. What the Church is tasked with Reforming are those things that are not in conformity with Infallible Truth. And when we as the believer get in the way of these Reforms, we are blocking Biblical progress, and safeguarding vanity and tradition. Comfy pews and comfy carpet is one thing, but comfy alter-calls and comfy Kari Jobe songs are another… Those things that can be Biblically dismissed as secondary (or tertiary) issues are not subject to reform, but those things that are Biblically outrageous and offensive should be cut down and dis-guarded.

The Church Reformed, Always Reforming is the title of this article. Mostly because those churches (like mine) who are reformed in name and practice need to be the example. We shouldn’t cry Semper Reformanda all the way up to someone actually trying it. We should repent of our sins before we demand others repent of theirs (i.e. Rome, PCUSA, and the Kardashians). Just a thought…

Soli Deo Gloria!