f The Wittenberg Door: June 2014

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Who’s Sovereign in Salvation? – Part 4 – Arminianism: Free Will with Partial Depravity

As we learned in Part 3, Arminianism was developed to contrast the strong view of God’s sovereignty expressed in the Belgic Confession. In this post we’ll begin to take a closer look at the Five Articles of the Remonstrance.

Free Will with Partial Depravity

Partial Depravity teaches that although fallen, man is not totally helpless when it comes to salvation. He, by his own will, can either accept God’s gift of salvation, or he can resist the grace that is being extended him. Below are two popular Arminian illustrations. The first is from Billy Graham and the second from The Bible Answer Man, Hank Hanegraaff:

  • Illustration One: Take and Drink
    A man lies terribly ill in a hospital room. Next to him on a table is a medicine that will cure him. All he must do is take the vile, put it to his lips, and drink and he’ll be made well.

  • Illustration Two: The Beggar and the King
    A beggar sits at the side of the road as the king's procession approaches. When the king draws near, he, the king, extends his hand to the beggar and reveals a precious gift. All the beggar must do to avail himself of the treasure is to reach-out and take hold.

Argument for Partial Depravity

In 2001, the Christian Research Journal hosted a debate on it’s pages between James White and George Bryson (volume 24, number 1) on the topic of Arminianism vs. Calvinism. In it, Mr. Bryson argued for the concept of free will with partial depravity. Here’s an excerpt (bold added):

. . . like Mr. White and all Calvinists, I believe all men, except our Lord Jesus Christ, are born spiritually dead. Like Mr. White and all Calvinists, I do not believe they are born partially dead; rather they are entirely dead. Like Mr. White and all Calvinists, I believe Scripture teaches that the only remedy for spiritual deadness is a spiritual resurrection. Along with Mr. White and all Calvinists, I believe regeneration or spiritual birth is a spiritual resurrection. Unless and until a spiritually dead person is born of the Spirit, he or she remains spiritually dead . . .

The Calvinist seems to fear that if he allows faith to be first (i.e., before regeneration), then he is making faith foremost. Just because a man must believe in Christ to be born again, however, does not suggest that there is regenerating power in a man’s faith, not even in a man’s faith in Christ. Only God can and does regenerate the spiritually dead, but He does so only (and always) for those who first put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. . . .

In the two earlier examples, man was not dead, but simply ill and spiritually impoverished. Mr. Bryson, however, takes it a step further and says that man is dead. The following is a summary of his argument:

Man is dead.
Man can only be made alive by the Spirit.
The Spirit will only make man alive if he, man, by an act of his own will, extends the arm of faith.
If man is so willing and extends the arm of faith, God will regenerate and resurrect him (i.e., make him alive).

Scriptures for Partial Depravity

Mr. Bryson supports his argument with the following Scriptures:

Acts 16:31
They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

John 3:16-17
16)"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

17"For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

John 20:31
but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

John 1:12-13
12)But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,

13)who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved," "whoever believes in Him," and "that believing you may have life." These verses clearly state that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. No controversy here: Calvinist and Arminians are in hearty agreement. However, these verses shed no light upon the debate at hand, and certainly do not support Mr. Bryson's claim that dead men drum-up saving faith within themselves.

John 1:12–13 is a different matter. It does speak to the issue at hand. Where does vs. 12 say the "right to become children of God" came from? Christ. Furthermore, it clearly states that the new birth does not come by "the will of the flesh nor of the will of man," which is opposite of Mr. Bryson's claim that saving faith is an act of man's will. So if the new birth is not the result of man's will, then whose will is it? " . . . but of God."

Updated Analogies

To help us understand Mr. Bryson’s argument, I’ve updated the previous analogies to include the deadness of man:

  • Illustration One: Take and Drink
    After succumbing to his illness, the man dies and his body is taken to the morgue. While there, on a table adjacent to the corps’s slab, appears a medicine that will cause him to come alive. All the corps must do is take-up the vile and drink, and the lifeless body will be regenerated and the man will come back to life.

  • Illustration Two: The Beggar and the King
    While sitting by the road waiting for the king’s procession to pass, a beggar is hit by a bus and killed. As the king draws near the lifeless body, he, the king, extends his hand to the dead beggar and reveals a precious gift. All the corps must do to possess the treasure is to reach-out his lifeless hand and take hold.

In the next post in this series we’ll see what Scripture has to say about the extent and the result of the Fall.

--The Catechizer

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Who’s Sovereign in Salvation? – Part 3 – Arminianism: An Introduction

Arminianism might best be called a theology in contrast. Developed by the students of Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) from Arminius' teachings, the Arminian system stands against Calvinism’s teaching of God’s sovereignty in salvation.

God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing [going before] grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere … by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere.

Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609)

In 1610, the Arminians put forth the Five Articles of the Remonstrance, which follow in summary:

  • Free Will with Partial Depravity
    Even though fallen, man can, with God’s help, freely choose Christ

  • Conditional Election
    God “elects” men based upon His forseeing their free-will choices

  • Unlimited Atonement
    Christ died to save all men, but the application of His death is to believers only

  • Resistible Grace
    God extends grace to all men, but that grace does not overcome the free will of man

  • Uncertain Perseverance
    Although God’s grace has been extended to, and accepted by, the believer, he may still “fall from grace” and thus lose his salvation

Synod of Dort

The Five Articles of the Remonstrance were a reaction against the doctrines of sovereign grace put forth in the Belgic Confession (1561). The ensuing controversy was taken up by the national assembly of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1618. The participants represented reformed churches from eight countries.

The synod concluded its work in 1619 with the rejection of Arminianism and the creation of the Canons of Dort, which are an exposition of the points in dispute.


Now that we know what Arminianism is, in my next post in this series we’ll see how it comports with God’s sovereignty and the Fall. We’ll then consider the question as to whether or not the doing and dying of Christ merely made salvation possible; if God elects men to salvation based on foreseen faith; and if man is responsible for his perseverance in the faith.

Stay tuned for Part 4!

--The Catechizer

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Who’s Sovereign in Salvation? – Part 2 – Universalism Continued

In Part 1 we learned what Universalism was, and we considered the Scriptures pressed into service on its behalf. Here in Part 2 we’ll consider another argument given by Universalists, one that is particularly popular in our culture: that a loving God would never eternally punish people for their sins.

There are two problems with this view: first, the Scriptures expressly teach that God DOES judge people for their sins (Heb. 9:2 7, Ecc. 11:9, Acts 17:31, Rev. 20:11-15, 2 Pet. 2:9, Mat. 23:33, Prov. 11:2 1; Mark 9:43-46).

Second, Universalists pit God’s love against His justice. The Scriptures teach that God is both loving (1 John 4:8) and just (Rom. 3:26). However, God would not be loving if he allowed injustice to triumph, nor would He be just if He allowed sin to go unpunished or inadequately punished.

Here’s an example: Let’s say that someone kills your family. Later, in the name of love, the court releases the perpetrator. Would you be satisfied? Of course not. You would demand justice—and you should have it. For it would be unjust, and also unloving, for the man not have a penalty commensurate with his crime.

People are prone not to think about this. But God’s judgment exists and will be dreadful, terrible, and eternally destructive of everything that is not good.

John Owen (1616 - 1683)


As we saw in Part 1, the Scriptures put forth do not teach Universalism. We now see that Universalism is inconsistent with both God’s love and his just character. Therefore, all men are not saved, and God never intended on saving all men.

Stay tuned for Part 3 where we’ll take a look at the Five Points of Arminianism.

--The Catechizer

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Who's Sovereign in Salvation? – Part 1 – Universalism

At the time of the American Revolution, most American Christians were Calvinist. But after casting off the bonds of a monarchy, the new-found American individualism eventually cast off the bonds of the creedal church too—and the sovereignty of God in salvation. By the mid nineteenth century, Arminianism had gained a foothold in the American theological landscape.

Today, Arminianism is assumed—it’s the theological air modern Evangelicals breath—and Calvinism is looked upon with great suspicion, and even scorn. But is this justified? Who do the Scriptures say is sovereign in salvation, God or man? Did Christ’s work merely make salvation possible? Or did he actually save sinners? It is to questions like these that we’ll now turn our attention. But first, we’ll consider the question, Does God save all men?


The claim that in the end all men will be saved is known as Universalism (apokatastasis). This doctrine claims that all men, regardless of whether or not true faith is present, will be saved.

Universalism has been with us for a long time, tracing its history back to the Greek church fathers. The two best known proponents of this doctrine were Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) and his student Origen (c. 185 – c. 254). In 553, Universalism in general, and Origen’s theology in particular, were declared heretical at the fifth Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople.

Meaning of All

In brief, the main scriptural support offered by Universalists are the “all” passages, such as 1 Tim. 2:4 (“who desires all men to be saved”) and 2 Pet. 3:9 (“not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance”). Their view of these passages is simple: all means all and that’s all all means. But can this approach be legitimately employed in interpreting these and other such passages? Considers these:

  • Mark 1:5 – All went out to him and were baptized
  • Luke 3:15 – All wondered if John the Baptist was the Christ
  • John 3:26 – All were coming to John for Baptism
  • John 8:2 – All came to the temple to hear Christ teach
  • Acts 22:15 – Paul will be a witness to all men
  • 2 Cor. 3:2 – “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men”

Theologian A.W. Pink sheds light on these passages:

In none of the above passages has "all," "all men," "all the people" an unlimited scope. In each of those passages these general terms have only a relative meaning. In Scripture "all" is used in two ways: meaning "all without exception" (occurring infrequently), and "all without distinction" (its general significance), that is, all classes and kinds—old and young, men and women, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, and in many instances Jews and Gentiles, men of all nations . . .

A.W. Pink (1886–1952)

Were the Aztecs baptized by John? Did the Pygmies go to the temple to hear Christ? No. As A.W. Pink points out, these texts refer to “all” without distinction, not "all" without exception. Remember the following three rules of interpretation: context, context, context.


Later in this study we’ll take a closer look at the “all” passages. But suffice it to say, it is insufficient to isolate a few verses and repeat the mantra “all means all and that’s all all means.” But the clearest way to determine if Universalism is true is to see if the bible teaches that God will judge the wicked; for if it does, then clearly not all are saved. So in my next post in this series we'll see what Scripture has to say about God's judgment, and we'll consider the claim of Universalists that a loving God would never eternally punish people for their sins.

Stay tuned for part 2!

--The Catechizer


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Today in History: John Witherspoon, Parson and Patriot

"There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire.” So warned Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon, who on June 22, 1776, was elected to represent New Jersey in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

Witherspoon had emigrated from Scotland to take the post as president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). Arriving in 1768 with his family and three hundred books for the college library, he threw himself into the task of building up the young school. “He laid the foundation of a course of history in the college, and the principles of taste an the rules of good writing were both happily explained by him, and exemplified in his manner,” a colleague said.

As the Revolution approached, Witherspoon’s Presbyterian belief that people should choose their own government put him firmly on the Patriot side. He realized the colonies would have to fight Britain. “If your cause is just, if your principles are pure, and if your conduct is prudent, you need not fear the multitude of opposing hosts,” he preached.

In the Continental Congress, some delegates worried the country was not yet ripe for independence. “The country is not only ripe for the measure, but in danger of rotting for the want if it!” Witherspoon retorted. He became the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence.

He lost a son in the Revolution, which also left the college in dire straits. After the war he tackled the job of rebuilding the school. “Do not live useless and die contemptible,” he exhorted his students, who included 9 future cabinet officers, 21 senators, 39 congressmen, 3 Supreme Court justices, 12 governors, a vice president, and a president--James Madison, who was also one of 5 Witherspoon students at the Constitutional Convention.

American History Parade

1793 - One of the nation’s first important canals, the Middlesex Canal, connecting the Merrimack River and the port of Boston, is chartered.

1944 - President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the G.I. Bill of Rights, offering educational opportunities for World War II vets.

1945 - The Battle of Okinawa ends with an Allied victory.

1970 - President Richard Nixon signs a bill lowering the voting age to 18.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Love vs. Justice

For he chose the way of the cross, where mercy triumphs over justice because of love.

(God the “Father” speaking of Jesus in The Shack, pg. 164)

In our modern, feminized version of Christianity, many find the thought of God exercising judgment upon men distasteful (even immoral). Or some, like best-selling author William Young, pit God’s love against His justice. But is it true that a good god would never punish people, or that God would forgo justice in the name of love?

The Back-story

When God created man, he created him “good, and after His own image, that is, in righteousness and true holiness”; however, after succumbing to the temptation of the devil, our first parents rebelled against our creator. Because of this disobedience, “our nature became so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.” Furthermore, because of our corrupt nature, “we are wholly unapt to any good and prone to all evil.” This means that we are not only born with Adam’s guilt (because he represented us all before God), but we also “daily increase our guilt” through our own sins.

Although God is merciful He is also just, and will not allow our sins (i.e., not conforming to, or acting against, His law) to go unpunished. How can mortal man escape this just judgment? How can we sinful mortals repay a debt owed stemming from crimes committed against an infinitely holy God? How can we “escape this punishment and be again received into favor?” Answer: Satisfaction must be made “either by ourselves or by another.”

But, because we “daily increase our guilt,” we ourselves cannot make such satisfaction. Furthermore, no “mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin.” It seems hopeless. The only way to bridge the chasm separating us and God is to have a mediator and redeemer “who is a true and sinless man, and yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is at the same time true God.” But who is such a mediator and redeemer? “Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is freely given us for complete redemption and righteousness.”

(All quotes taken from the Heidelberg Catechism, Q and A 6 – 18.)

God as Judge

As seen above, mankind has rebelled, and continues to rebel, against his God and has earned the Creator’s wrath. God, however, has made a way of escape—faith in Jesus Christ. By rejecting that way of escape, men will stand before the Just Judge of the Universe and give an account. Their punishment will fit their crimes; since these men can never repay the dept owed, they will bare God’s wrath for eternity. This is just. It also matches their desire—they wanted nothing to do with God, and they’ll get their wish, forever.

It would be unjust for God to simply say, “Hey, no problem. I’m a loving God. Here’s your Get Out of Jail Free card.” For example, if Mr. Young was robbed and assaulted, and went to the police to swear out a complaint, would he be satisfied if they said, “We caught the guy, but let him go because we’re a loving police station”? Do you think Mr. Young would respond, “Great! I’m so glad that mercy triumphed over justice because of love.” On the contrary, I bet he would rail against such an injustice.

The truth is, if you sacrifice justice for love, you have likewise sacrificed love—for love demands justice. Thankfully, this is a false dilemma—one does not have to be sacrificed for the other. God is both loving and just—and we see both God’s love and His justice in the doing and dying of Christ.

--The Catechizer


Friday, June 20, 2014

Thought of the Day: Objective Morality

Here’s the Christian claim: Morality is based upon God’s holy, just, and perfect character. He is the standard for morality. We know this in two ways. First, we are beings created in His image; because of this, we are moral beings imprinted with His moral code. That’s why everyone engages in moral reasoning. Second, He has revealed His moral law to us in the Bible. Consequently, morality is objective.

--The Catechizer

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Thought of the Day: Those Who Have Not Heard

If you died after not having chemotherapy, you died not because of the absence of chemo, but because of the cancer. Thus men suffer God’s wrath not because they didn’t hear the gospel, but because they’re sinners rebelling against a holy God—the gospel is the solution, not the problem.

--The Catechizer

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Today in History: Father’s Day

Sonora Louise Smart Dood of Spokane, Washington, came up with the idea of a day to honor fathers in 1909. Her own father, William Smart, was a Civil War veteran whose wife had died in childbirth. Dodd thought about the difficulties her father had faced as he struggled to raise his six motherless children on a farm in eastern Washington, and se set her mind to honoring all fathers. She approached local churches, and on Sunday, June 19, 1910, Spokane ministers celebrated the first Father’s Day by reminding their congregations of the appreciation fathers deserve and the duties fathers owe to their families.

In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson took part in a Father’s Day celebration by pressing a button in the White House that unfurled a flag in Spokane. In 1924 Calvin Coolidge recommended the widespread observance of the holiday to honor dads and “impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.”

The idea of a nation Father’s Day was slow to catch on, but communities and states gradually joined the observance. During the Depression, in an effort to boost sales, retailers began encouraging the holiday with “Give Dad Something to Wear” campaigns.

In 1972 President Richard Nixon signed a law officially recognizing the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. Each year, the president issues a proclamation urging Americans to remember all that their fathers have given to family and country.

American History Parade

1754 - The first colonial congress, the Albany Conference, meets in Albany, New York, to discuss better relations with the Iroquois.

1778 - George Washington’s army leaves its encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

1846 - The first recorded baseball game between two organized teams takes place in Hoboken, New Jersey (New York Knickerbockers beat the New York Nine, 23-1).

1862 - Slavery is outlawed in the U.S. territories.

1905 - The world’s first Nickelodeon opens in Pittsburgh.

1910 - Father’s Day is celebrated for the first time in Spokane, Washington.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Today in Church History: J. Gresham Machen and the Formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

On June 11, 1936, at the meeting of the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union in the New Century Club in Philadelphia, the Presbyterian Church of America was formed. (In 1939, its name was changed to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.)

Convening shortly after the 148th General Assembly denied J. Gresham Machen's appeal and upheld the verdict of the Presbytery of New Brunswick which suspended him from the ministry, the Covenant Union passed an Act of Association to establish the new church. The first article read:

In order to continue what we believe to be the true spiritual succession of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., which we hold to have been abandoned by the present organization of that body, and to make clear to all the world that we have no connection with the organization bearing that name, we a company of ministers and ruling elders, having been removed from that organization in contravention (as we believe) of its constitution, or having severed our connection with it, or coming as ministers or ruling elders from other ecclesiastical bodies holding the Reformed Faith, do hereby associate ourselves together with all Christian people who do and will adhere to us, in a body to be known and styled as the Presbyterian Church of America.

Machen reported on the inaugural General Assembly in the Presbyterian Guardian: "On Thursday, June 11, 1936, the hopes of many long years were realized. We became members, at last, of a true Presbyterian Church; we recovered, at last, the blessing of true Christian fellowship. What a joyous moment it was! How the long years of struggle seemed to sink into nothingness compared with the peace and joy that filled our hearts!"

- John Muether


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Graceless Calvinism

And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. . . . Self righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.

John Newton

Jared Wilson warns us against graceless Calvinism over at Between Two Worlds. Here’s how he begins:

I have discussed with other Calvinists just where the (well-earned) stereotype of the graceless Calvinist comes from. Shouldn’t belief in total depravity necessitate profound humility? Shouldn’t belief in unconditional election preclude a spirit of superiority? And yet there is a doctrinal arrogance infecting Calvinist Christianity. This culture then produces doctrinaires like Baum’s man of tin: squeaky and heartless.

Cold-hearted rigidity is not limited to those of the Reformed persuasion, of course. You can find it in Christian churches and traditions and cultures of all kinds. In fact, to be fair, I have found that those most enthralled with the idea of gospel-wakefulness, those who seem most prone to champion the centrality of the gospel for life and ministry, happen to be of the Reformed persuasion. So there’s that. But gracelessness is never as big a disappointment, to me anyway, as when it’s found among those who call themselves Calvinists, because it’s such a big waste of Calvinism.

Why is it such a waste? Find out here.

--The Catechizer


Sunday, June 08, 2014

How Do You Use Liturgical Elements in Your Church Worship?

The Gospel Coalition Web site asks three young evangelical ministers about their liturgical practices. I think the readers of this blog will find their answers encouraging. Here’s how the stage is set in the interveiw . . .

If you look at any Roman Catholic cathedral, you will notice that the Mass shapes the architectural design, featuring the altar, bread, and wine. The pulpit is placed to the left, out of direct sight in the peripheral. Since the Reformation, most Protestant churches have placed the pulpit, the place for preaching God’s Word, at the center of the church and usually at the center of the stage.

Besides the preaching of God’s Word, however, there’s been much debate on what else we should do during our services. Some early Protestants argued that preserving some liturgical elements along with preaching looked too similar to Rome and distracted from God’s Word. Others disagreed and continued to use them to enrich devotion or for pedagogical reasons. Today, these debates continue in one form or another. Some use them, some decide not to.

For whatever reasons, the interest in the use of liturgical elements has increased in recent years. So I asked Scotty Smith, Mike Cosper, and Bob Kauflin, “To what extent does your church use liturgical elements such as responsive readings and creeds? Why?

You can read the responses here.

--The Catechizer


Friday, June 06, 2014

Christianity, Inquisitions, and Heretic Burnings

Christianity is often charged with barbarism due to dark deeds done in her name, specifically the Spanish Inquisition and European and American witch trials. New atheist Sam Harris puts the charge this way in his book, Letter to a Christian Nation:

. . . You probably think the Inquisition was a perversion of the “true” Christianity. Perhaps it was. The problem, however, is that the teachings of the Bible are so muddled and self-contradictory that it was possible for Christians to happily burn heretics alive for five long centuries. . . . (page 11)

Because these crimes were done in the name of Christ, Christians need to answer accusers such as Mr. Harris. To do so, one question that is central to the matter must be answered: Were these actions at the behest of Christianity’s founder? Did Christ or His apostle advocate the “wholesale murder of heretics, apostates, Jews, and witches?” (pg. 12, Letter to a Christian Nation)

Who Bears the Sword?

In Scripture the “sword” is given to the state not the church (Rom. 13; Belgic Confession, article XXXVI). Instead of using the sword, the church is called to preach the law and the gospel to those on the outside, such as "Jews and witches" (Ps. 96:2–3; Acts 10:42–43; 2 Cor. 5:11; Westminster Larger Catechism, Q and A 59 – 61). For those who claim Christ, such as "heretics and apostates," they are to have the Lord’s Table withheld from them. Here’s how the Heidelberg Catechism (Q and A 82) puts it . . .

Are they then also to be admitted to this Supper, who show themselves to be, by their confession and life, unbelieving and ungodly?

No: for by this the covenant of God is profaned, and His wrath provoked against the whole congregation; wherefore the Christian Church is bound, according to the order of Christ and His Apostles, by the office of the keys to exclude such persons, until they amend their life.

(1 Cor. 11:17-32; Ps. 50:14-16; Isa. 1:11-17)

If they still refuse to repent of their errors they are removed from the church through excommunication. Again from the Heidelberg Catechism (Q and A 85) . . .

How is the kingdom of heaven shut and opened by Church Discipline?

In this way: that according to the command of Christ, if any under the Christian name show themselves unsound either in doctrine or life, and after repeated brotherly admonition refuse to turn from their errors of evil ways, they are complained of to the church or to its proper officers, and, if they neglect to hear them also, are by them excluded from the Holy Sacraments and the Christian communion, and by God Himself from the kingdom of Christ; and if they promise and show real amendment, they are again received as members of Christ and His Church.

(Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:3-5, 11-13; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; Luke 15:20-24; 2 Cor. 2:6-11)


An honest inquirer would do well to take some time to see what Christ and his apostles actually teach in the pages of Scripture, and what the church actually teaches through the creeds, confessions, and catechisms. That way he could compare those teachings to the actions of those he finds morally detestable and determine if Christianity is really to blame. Regarding this claim, Christianity is clean, while some who counted themselves among her ranks have blood on their hands.

--The Catechizer


Monday, June 02, 2014

Topical Bibles and Red-Letter Editions

For the first time ever, all of the statements Jesus made in the New Testament have been brought together and organized under more than 200 topics. When you want to know his will in a specific area of life, or you're seeking the answer to a perplexing question, or you are desperate for his encouragement, comfort, or wisdom-you can easily find the help you need.

The Greatest Words Ever Spoken: Everything Jesus Said About You, Your Life, and Everything Else

One of the church’s problems is biblical illiteracy. I think part of it is due to topical sermons. Before I became Reformed, I was treated to a steady diet of, “How Jesus Calms the Storms of Your Life, “How to Slay Your Personal Goliath,” “10 Spiritual Benefits to Regular Car Maintenance,” etc. In topical sermons, the topic drives the message, while the passages are brought in for support. This is in contradistinction to expository preaching, where you have the text driving the sermon. Reason being, in expository preaching you preach verse-by-verse through a book of the bible. By this method the people learn what the verses mean in context. In other words, the preacher reads the passage and then explains it in context.

Like topical preaching, reading verses in isolation can cause the reader to misunderstand the passages; it can also contribute to the bad habit of proof-texting: using decontextualised verses to support a position. These are a few of my concerns with topical bibles. Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason has a great rule of thumb: Never read a bible verse. What he means is, to properly understand a text you must read it in context.

When I'm on the radio, I use this simple rule to help me answer the majority of Bible questions I'm asked, even when I'm totally unfamiliar with the verse. It's an amazingly effective technique you can use, too.

I read the paragraph, not just the verse. I take stock of the relevant material above and below. Since the context frames the verse and gives it specific meaning, I let it tell me what's going on.

The Words of Jesus

Another concern I have with The Greatest Words Ever Spoken is the same concern I have with red-letter editions of the bible. People sometimes think that the red words are more important than the black words. That is certainly what I take away from the book title: If Jesus’ words are the greatest ever spoken, then they’re greater than Paul’s, Peter’s, John’s, etc. But this isn’t true.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;

so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

All Scripture is God’s word. There is no “greatest” or “not as great,” which is what the book title implies. It’s the same implication drawn by some when they use red-letter bibles.


Topical bibles can be a good resource when studying, but they should never be used in isolation. When we study, or when we preach, we must take great care to protect the integrity of God’s word. And that means we must read passages in context, and that we don’t impose a hierarchy of value based on who uttered or wrote them.

--The Catechizer