The Bible comes first, then comes theology. When we look at the Bible, do we see Calvinism? We started with Romans 9 and we continue, picking up in v. 14.
God’s love can be trusted. The national election of Israel did not assure personal salvation. Physical descent from Abraham did not guarantee the blessings of the covenant for Ishmael or Esau. Individual Jews should not assume salvation just because of national election, any more than than a physical descendant of Abraham was guaranteed the benefits of the covenant. God is righteous to elect on His own terms. He is righteous not to elect Ishmael or Esau for the Romans 9:1-5 blessings. No one can sit in judgment upon Him.
In support of the truth of v. 14, Paul quotes Exodus 33:19 in v. 15. The Exodus text refers to God’s merciful and compassionate choice of the nation Israel over the other nations of the earth. God could have destroyed the nation after she built the golden calf, but instead He lead them and protected them into the promised land, the nation, not the individuals, because the individuals weren’t saved eternally (cf. Heb 3-4). Often the word “mercy” in the Old Testament does not refer to the individual mercy of personal salvation, but to the covenant mercy to the nation as a whole.
God’s choice of Israel was based upon nothing other than mercy (v. 16). The example of God giving Israel mercy indicates that “it,” that is, mercy, comes out of the will of God, because it certainly wasn’t merited by Israel. This does apply to personal salvation, but in the context it relates to the whole nation. God’s acts of mercy to them as a nation do not then guarantee personal salvation for any of them. Paul deals with the argument that God has been unrighteous to the entire nation just because He has not saved every individual. He rebuts this from the Old Testament.
Romans 9:17 furthers the proposition of v. 16, using the example of Pharoah. God raised up Pharoah to his position. It isn’t that God “created” Pharoah for this position, but that God worked to the end that Pharoah would arrive at this exalted position over Egypt. The point of “raised up” is not that Pharoah was foreordained or predestined to Hell, but that God brought him, an already evil man, to his reign over Egypt as the leader of that nation, so that his personal wickedness could reveal itself more plainly in order then to display the glory of God (cf. Exodus 4:21).
By hardening Pharoah’s heart, God provided the blessing for His elect nation that He might be glorified (cf. Exodus 7:3). The hardening of his heart related to his not letting the people go (Exodus 7:14), not so that he would be eternally damned. As much as God hardened his heart, Exodus also reveals that Pharoah hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:7, 34). Both Pharoah and God were hardening Pharoah’s heart. As much as hardness of heart can lead to the eternal damnation of the soul, in the context of Pharoah’s heart-hardening, God was delivering His elect nation by means of the hardening, illustrating the truth of Proverbs 21:1, “the king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD.” The deliverance was not spiritual salvation, but a physical deliverance that proved God was both powerful and covenant keeping. God was not glorified in some predestined rebellion of Pharoah, but in the victory of His elect, servant nation over a humanly powerful Egypt. God brought Pharoah to power for those purposes.
Another argument is introduced in v. 19, which is essentially, why does God find fault in anyone if He has mercy on those whom He will have mercy and hardens whoever He wills to harden? The question this poses is “Is God fair?” And it is related to the next point, that is, who would be able to resist God anyhow? The problem isn’t the answer to the question, but the question itself. Paul makes that known in v. 20.
Because of their inferiority, men don’t have the perspective to challenge God with such questions. Paul pictures man’s predicament with the potter-clay imagery, which comes from Jeremiah 18-19. In the Old Testament passage, God is the Potter and the entire nation Israel is the clay (18:6). Jeremiah 18:4 is a key interpretational verse.
And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
A contrast exists between “he made” and “was marred.” The former is active and the latter passive. ”Was marred” is a niphal verb, which speaks of the vessel, the men, marring or corrupting itself. You would see the same construction in Genesis 6:11-12, where the earth corrupted itself, not God. Since Israel had marred herself, God as the Potter could see fit not to use her. God had condemned and had the authority to condemn a marred pot. That was the message that the Jews with whom Paul argued needed to hear.
God would get glory through obedient Israel or disobedient Israel. Israel marred herself, so God would get glory through her captivity. God could and would also be glorified by the destruction of Israelites. God’s purpose for Israel changed based on the condition of her behavior. What Paul teaches in Romans 9 would have been nothing new for a Jew who knew Jeremiah 18-19. As clay, Israel should not have been demanding anything of her Potter, God. Jeremiah 18:10 especially enlightens us regarding Romans 9:
If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
God, the Potter, will treat the clay, Israel, different, conditional upon Israel’s actions. Israel sounds like the Calvinists in Jeremiah 18, accusing God of not giving them suitable opportunity, when God had done so, and judged them based upon their faithful obedience.
In the light of Jeremiah 18-19, we understand the questions of v. 20. A fully made clay, now pot, questions the Potter, not some uncreated, formless clay. The answer is that Israel had marred herself. The formation of the clay changed conditioned upon its behavior. The sovereignty of God expressed in v. 21 is not some predetermined sovereignty, but one that chooses in accord with the condition of the clay. That’s how all of Jeremiah 18-19 reads and every other clay-potter text in the Old Testament.
Not to be lost in all this discussion is that the election of Romans 9 is national election. It contradicts a belief in personal, unconditional election unto eternal life or eternal damnation. Calvinism in its interpretation of Romans 9 fails in a proper consideration of the Old Testament texts to which Paul refers in the chapter.
More to Come.
It will help you if you pull out a Bible and turn to and look at Romans 9 as you read this.
I tell people I’d like to be a Calvinist but Scripture keeps getting in the way. Romans 9 is one place that gets in the way of my being a Calvinist. If I’m supposed to be a Calvinist, the Bible will just make me one. I won’t have to force it. But Romans 9 runs away from Calvinism, contradicts it. If we can’t be a Calvinist as a direct consequence of Bible teaching, then we shouldn’t be one.
At the end of Romans 8 (vv. 35-39), Paul promises that nothing will separate saved, justified people from the love of God. He anticipated some argument with that point, in light of Jewish reaction to his preaching, regarding God’s faithfulness to Israel. If God could not be trusted in His faithfulness to Israel, then how could someone count on Him for individual salvation. The argument also goes that if God elected Israel and Israel was not saved, how could anyone be assured of God’s election. Romans 9-11 defends God’s actions with Israel to buttress the truth that nothing can separate believers from the love of God.
God elected Israel (Jacob), “being not yet born” (9:11). So Israel was unconditionally elect—she couldn’t very well merit her choosing before she was born. So you see, I believe in unconditional election. Part of being elect meant that Israel had tremendous advantages (9:4-5) that one would think would lend themselves toward Israel’s salvation. God bestowed on Israel unique evidence that her God truly was the very God so that they would believe on Him, including the gift of Jesus Christ Himself, “who is over all, God blessed forever” (9:5). Jesus added to those benefits by preaching His kingdom all over Israel during His ministry there. But in Romans 9:1-4a, we see that Paul “could wish that [he] were accursed” for the salvation of Israel.
And right there at the very beginning of Romans 9 is where we begin seeing the contradiction to Calvinism. Why would Paul be willing to be “accursed from Christ” (9:3) for those God chose before the foundations of the world to damn forever? Paul surely wasn’t more loving and more righteous than God. Would he not be out of bounds in expressing such sympathy for those for whom Christ Himself did not die, if limited atonement were true? Only if God Himself were unwilling for these Israelites to perish and if Christ Himself had died for them does 9:1-5 make any sense. And that is just the start here in Romans 9.
If you are a Calvinist and you are reading this, before you start writing your missive, please read this to the end, because 9:1-5 really are hint of things to come. They fit with the rest of the chapter, but they are not all there is.
Calvinists point to 9:11 as evidence of unconditional election, and it is true. Israel was chosen unconditionally by God. And God will save Israel (11:26), so Israel nationally is chosen unconditionally unto salvation. But who are the Israelites whom God will save? They are those whom He elects on the condition of personal faith in Him. Paul distinguishes between personal election and national election in Romans 9, and he makes this crystal clear.
God continued faithful and loving to the nation. God’s Word, especially as found in the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants, did not fail. Paul begins 9:6 by saying that God’s Word was still in effect for Israel, the Israel that God would save, which was not all of Israel (9:6b). True Israel, spiritual Israel, would receive the promises God made to the nation (9:7-8).
Paul illustrates the point of verses 6 and 7 in verses 8 through 13. He appeals to Genesis 21:12-13. Ishmael came from Abraham physically, but Isaac alone would receive the blessings of God’s covenant with Abraham. A Jew is unconditionally a Jew, and as a Jew, based on no merit of his own, he has been given incredible advantages. Isaac received blessings not given to Ishmael.
Genesis 21 makes national promises, but physical descent alone does not guarantee an individual will receive the blessings of those promises. The nation will unconditionally, but the persons will not. God will save those Israelites who do not reject the advantages (9:4-5) God gave. Jews who thought they would receive the blessings of the covenants just because they were Jews were sorely deceived (cf. Mt 3:9-12; Rev 20:11-15).
Isaac and Ishmael were both sons of Abraham, but they did not both receive the advantages of the covenant. Only Isaac received them, and he is a picture of the true child of God. This illustrated to Israel that it wasn’t physical descent that made one a child of promise. God didn’t have to save every descendant of Abraham. Romans 9:9 quotes Genesis 18:10,14 for this illustration. The point is that like Sarah and Isaac were chosen over Hagar and Ishmael, spiritual Israel is chosen over physical Israel. Hebrews 11:11 elucidates further on what occurred: ”Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.” The believer receives the spiritual blessings of God’s covenant with Abraham. God does make His choices and makes them based on His own terms—He’s done it in the past and He does it again.
“And not only this” at the beginning of 9:10 tells us that Paul has more explanation about the same point, except he uses a different example, that of two sons, Jacob and Esau, of the same mother and father. Again, not all the physical descendants inherit the promises, even as Esau, who was a physical descendant, did not. The election is unconditional and national. How do we know it is national? Verse 12 quotes Genesis 25:23. Consider Genesis 25:22-23:
And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
We can see from the Old Testament passage itself that the election is national. First, it says “two nations,” but, second, if it is personal, then every person in the one “nation” and “people” was saved, which was not the case. The very point Paul is making is that the every person in the nation was not saved and so was not true Israel. When we take Genesis 25 and Paul’s quotation of it literally, we are dealing with “two nations” and “two manner of people.” The election here relates to Israel’s rule over Edom, not about the spiritual salvation of Jacob or Esau. The rest of the Old Testament will show that this election was fulfilled, but not until after the lifetime of Jacob. In addition, verse 12 doesn’t say that Jacob would be saved and not Esau, but the “elder shall serve the younger.”
Verse 13 quotes Malachi 1:2-3, which was written a long time after the end of Jacob and Esau’s lives. And that Malachi passage also plainly refers to the nations of Israel and Edom, not individuals. Everything in that text says Malachi is referring to the nations. When he says, “I have loved you,” “you” is in the plural. God’s indignation is against “the people” (v. 4). “Loved” and “hated” in v. 13 are aorist, the one time love and hatred of national election. It isn’t an ongoing, continuous love and hatred. The love and hate related to the favor God chose in advance to give to Jacob and the loss of privilege that God determined for Esau. So the point is that the blessings of God’s covenant do not come based upon physical lineage.
Important to the understanding of a New Testament text is looking at the context of the Old Testament quotations. Those Old Testament passages will shed light on the New Testament usage. This is a major part of deriving the correct interpretation.
Scripture does teach unconditional election—unconditional national election. Personal election is conditional. That is a primary point of Romans 9. God’s national election of Israel did not guarantee personal salvation. No individual Israelite or Jew should think that his eternity is set just because his nation was elect of God. He himself needed to believe.
To Be Continued
I believe we have good biblical grounds for regulating worship by Scripture. True worship recognizes Who God is and gives Him what He wants. We find out Who He is and what He wants in the Bible. God’s Word is sufficient. In so being, Scripture limits what worship is. It is only what God says He wants, which is only in His Word. We know from the Bible that God forbids additions and deletions to the elements He prescribes for worship—since worship is only what He wants. God is God, He wants what He wants, and that’s alone what He will receive. He rejects those elements He does not prescribe.
Worship in and by the church is regulated alone by the Bible. The New Testament reveals elements of worship that God wants from the church: reading the Word, preaching the Word, singing, prayer, baptism and Lord’s Supper, and collection of offerings. You’ll notice that among those six that the altar call or invitation is missing. You won’t find the altar call in the New Testament—it isn’t an element of worship.
Preaching of God’s Word is an element of worship. Regarding preaching, we read the following in James 1:19-21:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
Is the listening to preaching an element of worship? I believe that it is part of the element of preaching. The preacher and the listeners, the congregation, are worshiping simultaneously. They are all saying “yes” or “amen” to the message of God from His Word. This is an offering to God, an offering of one’s mind, heart, and body to whatever God says, as preached and heard in the preaching. Only a certain hearing of the preaching is to God acceptable, which is, as seen in v. 19, “swift to hear.” In line with that in v. 21 is “receive with meekness the engrafted word.” “Swift to wrath” and “slow to hear” are both unacceptable to God as an offering. God rejects those two. God doesn’t accept any kind of hearing to His preaching than “swift to hear” and “receive with meekness.”
And then we can see in the above text in v. 21 that besides the preaching and the hearing, there is also a response to the preaching. This too is prescribed worship. What is it? It is to “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.” A part of the element of preaching is the response to preaching, which is doing what this first part of v. 21 says. This is an actual sacrifice on the part of the hearer. He is sacrificing something: filthiness and naughtiness. Not fulfilling this response is taking away from the Word of God and is not acceptable to God within the perimeters of the element of preaching.
How does someone lay aside filthiness and naughtiness either during preaching or after preaching? How he does this is a circumstance for worship. A church could choose to have him do this sitting there in his seat. A church could suggest to him as an application to get some further instruction and application from someone in another room. A church might apply this Divine instruction by inviting those with the filthiness and naughtiness to come forward and kneel at the front of the auditorium. None of these are the actual element of the worship, but merely the circumstances of the element.
Concerning the circumstances of worship, Brian Schwertley writes:
The circumstances of worship refer not to worship content and ceremony but to those things “common to human actions and societies.” The only way someone can learn a worship ordinance is to study the Bible and see what God commands. But the circumstances of worship are not dependent on the explicit instructions of the Bible; they depend only upon general revelation and common sense (“Christian prudence”).
The Bible does not command for offering plates, hymnbooks, pews, or microphones. Those are all circumstances of the elements of either the collection, singing, or preaching. The “altar call” or invitation could fall within the perimeters of the circumstances of preaching.
Richard Baxter wrote:
What a loathsome and pitiful thing is it, to hear a man bitterly reproach those who differ from him in some circumstances of worship.
I don’t think we should assume that someone who gives an invitation at the end of preaching is disregarding the regulative principle of worship. I don’t believe we should regard someone who practices an invitation as an innovation beyond that which God prescribed. He could be obeying James 1:21 as a circumstance of worship.
Jerry Bridges published Trusting God in 1991, Transforming Grace in 1993, and The Pursuit of Holiness in 1996. I read all three over ten years ago. They were about as strong as you’ll read from evangelicals. As is typical of those who disobey the biblical doctrine of separation, Bridges falls short in application. If you trust God, you will separate; if God’s grace has transformed you, you will separate; and if you are pursuing holiness, then you will separate. The constituency of Jerry Bridges and Navigators, the parachurch organization he served for many years, would enjoy the squishy softness of his books. People not pursuing holiness would enjoy The Pursuit of Holiness. They could read the book and still not be sure what unholiness might be.
Bridges exposes himself in a recent book, published in 2007, entitled, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate. Bridges always has much solid material in his writing. However, what some might call grace and love really is weakness. I can’t tolerate Bridges’ mushiness anymore. It’s not always what he says, but what he doesn’t. A respectable sin we shouldn’t tolerate is mistaking love for syrupy sentimentality. That will stop a pursuit of holiness in its tracks.
I’m especially referring to chapter 17 in Bridges’ book on what he calls the sin of “judgmentalism.” Many evangelicals love the chapter. However, try to find judgmentalism in the Bible—that’s a bridge to nowhere, pun intended. Since judgmentalism isn’t in the Bible, is Bridges guilty of making his own opinion into the commandment of God?
Bridges judges judgmentalism, but how can he do that and not be judgmental?In order to understand sins that we shouldn’t tolerate, well, we’ve got to judge sin. There’s an assumption that we can judge and we should. Not judging would be a sin that we shouldn’t tolerate.
Bridges essentially says that judgmentalism is when we don’t show toleration for disputed practices. What I’ve noticed, however, is that almost everything is disputed now. At one time we were much more sure about what the truth was and its application. And so if it is disputed, which is now about everything, then you’ve got to just agree to disagree and learn to get along, and then not doing that, with the view of Bridges, is judgmentalism. You’ll have to do a lot of getting along. Getting along has become the most important doctrine.
Bridges says that “the sin of judgmentalism is one of the most subtle of our ‘respectable’ sins because it is often practiced under the guise of being zealous for what is right.” Hearing that sentence, you just know that evangelicals are going to love it. Then he gives examples of disputed practices where the sin of judgmentalism is practiced, and comments on each: dress, music, and alcohol. If his book can stop evangelicals and now fundamentalists from being judged in those areas, he might have a bestseller on his hands.
Now as you are reading this post at home, and are judging my tone, I ask “What verse tells you that my tone is wrong?” Aren’t you adding to Scripture if you can’t give me actual text from the Bible that says my take on Bridges’ chapter violates God’s will? Or is it just a feeling that you have? How do you know that feeling isn’t the Holy Spirit convicting you? Are you being judgmental? I think you know, my reader, that you are busy judging all the time. And those to the left of me are judging my tone right now. Tone isn’t even one of Bridges’ “respectable sins.” I’m judging that non-separatist evangelicals liked the chapter on judgmentalism (my spell check says it’s not a word), not for themselves, but for “fundamentalists” who are judgmental. For them at best it explains why they should be free in the areas of dress, music, and alcohol.
Bridges writes a shallow, ultra-superficial section on dress, that if it were almost any other subject, would be dismissed out of hand, but evangelicals so crave this sort of freedom, they suck it up like a strawberry shake. He says (pp. 141-142):
I grew up in the mid-twentieth century, when people dressed up to go to church. Men wore jackets and ties (usually suits and ties) and women wore dresses. Sometime in the 1970s, men began to show up at church wearing casual pants and open-collar shirts. Many women began to wear pants. For several years, I was judgmental toward them. Didn’t they have any reverence for God? Would they dress so casually if they were going to an audience with the president? That sounded pretty convincing to me.
In the next paragraph he observes, “There is nothing in the Bible that tells us what we ought to wear to church. . . . Reverence for God, I finally concluded, is not a matter of dress; it’s a matter of the heart.” What is lacking in this level of analysis is good judgment. Why did men start showing up in casual pants and open-collar shirts? Why did women begin to wear pants? And who were these people? Why did the culture start to change? What was this new emphasis on creature comfort and convenience? Do these changes have no meaning? How much, if at all, should the church be conforming to the spirit of the age?
Bridges’ dealing with all of the subjects in his chapter miss an important aspect of obedience to God’s Word, that is, the application of the principles of Scripture. The Apostle Paul taught the financial support of the pastor in 1 Timothy 5:18 from Deuteronomy 25:4, a verse which teaches the fair treatment of a domestic animal (“Thou shalt not muzzle the ox which treadeth out the corn.”).
Most of Scripture requires application and to make the right application certain truths must exist in the real world. To abstain from corrupt communication, you’ve got to judge what bad words are with no help in the Bible. Regarding dress, Paul ordered the believing women of Corinth to wear their head coverings (1 Cor 11:3-16) without any previous verse of Scripture to authorize that specific practice. If women didn’t wear the head coverings, couldn’t they just warn fellow church members not to participate in the respectable sin of judgmentalism?
Then Bridges moves on to music:
I also grew up in the era of the grand old hymns sung to the accompaniment of piano and organ. It was majestic. To me, it was reverent worship of God. Today, in many churches, the grand old hymns have been replaced by contemporary music, and the piano and organ with guitars and drums. Again, I was judgmental. How could people worship God with those instruments? But the New Testament churches had neither pianos nor organs, yet they managed to worship God in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (see Colossians 3:16). I still have a preference for church music sung as we did when I was younger, but it’s just that—a preference—not a Bible-based conviction. It’s true that a lot of contemporary music is shallow and human-centered. But there is much that is as God-honoring and worshipful as our traditional hymns. So let’s avoid being judgmental.
How did Bridges know if the old hymns were grand or majestic? Why are churches replacing them with contemporary music? What’s the difference between the music with piano organ and that with guitars and drums? How does he know that the New Testament churches didn’t have instruments? What verse says that they didn’t use instruments? On what basis does he judge the contemporary music to be God-honoring and worshipful? He is judging that, so what is the basis? He says, “let’s avoid being judgmental,” and yet he’s obviously making his own judgment and criticizing. He’s judging that people have no basis for judgment, so that if they do judge, they are sinning. He’s calling people’s judgment about the contemporary music “sin.” I don’t know if I like his tone. My pursuit of holiness says that I need to judge worship, whether it is acceptable to God, since it is being offered to Him.
Is Jerry Bridges saying that only the words have any meaning in worship, and the music is meaningless? Is music meaningless? Can we use grunge music? What about rap? Is heavy metal fine? Is there any line that Jerry Bridges draws? If so, he’s judging too. I guess some people would think that such pablum as what Bridges writes is significant enough to conclude everyone who judges some worship music to be wrong to be sinning in doing so. We’ve got the thing that we should be the most picky about in the world, our worship of God, and Bridges wants to tamp down that pickyness so that people won’t feel so criticized. God gets disrespected and blasphemed so that men can have fun and feel good—party time at church at God’s expense.
Bridges completes his triumvirate with alcohol, the last of three pets close to most evangelical hearts. He writes:
We have convictions that we elevate to biblical truth on a number of issues. I wrote somewhere that I had finally come to the conclusion that in most instances, the Bible teaches temperance not abstinence. I had to work through that issue also because again I found myself being judgmental when I would see Christians having a glass of wine at a restaurant.
Bridges’ second sentence in that quote I judge to be ridiculous. I wish he had an editor who was a little more judgmental, but I guess that’s what happens when you throw this kind of judgment under the beer truck. The Bible can’t teach both temperance and abstinence. He says that in most instances it teaches temperance. If it teaches abstinence in a lesser number of instances, those instances would be contradicting temperance. His judgmentalism, he testifies, caused him to “work through that issue.” Some people have a hard time working through even simple problems when they are under the influence of one drink of alcohol. If the Bible teaches abstinence even a few times, shouldn’t we judge drinking a glass of wine as disobedience to Scripture? Shouldn’t we applaud that judgment? Now what he’s going to do about it is another thing, but it’s a fine thing to make a judgment.
I understand that there are professing Christians that think that drinking alcohol is acceptable to God. There are many others that believe that alcohol is prohibited by God in the Bible. The ones who understand it correctly, that is, that God forbids alcoholic beverages, really should continue to judge people who are drinking it, despite what Jerry Bridges seems to be trying to do with heavy applause from a large evangelical audience, that with this chapter and the present condition of evangelicalism, will be growing even larger.
Here’s what has happened. Rationalism in the 19th century placed truth under human reasoning. In the 20th century, every person’s opinion stands as his own authority. The only permissible dogma is tolerance. That philosophy now is accepted by many if not most churches. Bridges’ chapter against judgmentalism represents the influence of that philosophy. If you follow what Jerry Bridges writes here, you shouldn’t judge if your church were to have a rock concert, serve alcohol at it, and everybody came in their shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops. They can call it “worship” ta boot. Evangelicalism already does this and some of the younger fundamentalists are totally kewl with it.
To be effective, Scripture must be applied. To apply God’s Word, Christians must judge. They make decisions based on biblical principles. The most prominent present attack on the Bible in evangelicalism and fundamentalism is against its application. The attack says, “Don’t judge.” It means, “You can’t know how the Bible applies.” God’s Word then loses its authority in many practices of churches and their members.
My recommendation to you is don’t listen to Bridges. Keep applying the Bible and biblical principles to dress, music, and alcohol. Keep judging in those areas.
We don’t want to see the gospel spoiled. We desire to preserve the truth. If we hope for either, we must understand the way God designed to keep both intact. I’m not going to carry nuclear materials in a brown paper sack and not expect bad things to happen. We can say we care about the gospel and the truth, but we don’t and can’t respect either when we leave them unprotected.
The gospel and truth are popular topics today. I’m happy about that. I love the gospel and the truth. We have seen new alliances form today with the gospel supposedly at their center. They have set aside other doctrine—ecclesiological, eschatological, pneumatological—in order for what they say is a stronger emphasis on the gospel. I believe, however, that the greatest threat to the gospel and the truth relates to container in which they are held. The truth, and therefore the gospel, is to be protected and propagated by the church (1 Tim 3:15) and if so, it must be the church alone responsible for that task. However, it must be the church, the actual church, the scriptural church, that does the protecting. We should assume that something different than what Scripture presents as the church could protect the truth. And there are very distinct views of the church. One is that the church is universal and visible. Another is that it is universal and invisible. And a third is that it is local and visible. Each of those three is different than the other.
To see all of this, I want to provide a snapshot of what occurred in the history of doctrine. First, the Bible stands as the sole and final authority for faith and practice. The writing of the New Testament brings us back to the beginning of Christian belief and practice. Genuine doctrine springs from the Bible. Scripture provides the means for judging how men and institutions departed from the truth. The New Testament is a historical record. We can be sure of the history there, because it is inspired by God. We can’t be entirely certain of all the other history, because it truly was written only by men. From the period beginning shortly after the New Testament was completed in the first century, we can read what we call the “church fathers” or the “patristics.” Today when we read those writings, we are getting really only an edition of what they wrote, one that is less certain in its veracity than Scripture, because the patristics don’t come with the promise of preservation. It is possible, even probable, that later these writings were edited to look closer to Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholic theologians read their version of the church fathers. Later, the reformers read a probably amended edition of the church fathers and then the interpretations of the theologians who read them. The Protestant reformers corrected the soteriology of the church fathers and the Catholic theologians. They went to the Bible to do that. However, they didn’t amend the ecclesiology or the eschatology or even much of the hermeneutics of the church fathers and the theologians of Roman Catholicism.
What is clear from reading the writings preserved by Roman Catholicism, called the church fathers or the patristics, is that many of them mixed Greek philosophy with Scripture in their doctrine. By the time we get to Augustine in the 5th century, we have someone who combined the ideas of Plato with Christianity. Augustine originated the invisible church concept in the Donatist controversy. He was influenced by the Platonist belief that true reality was in the invisible, and if the visible represents the invisible, it always does so partially and imperfectly. The allegorical hermeneutic of Origen, borrowed by Roman Catholicism, also influenced the reformers in their ecclesiology, eschatology, and system of interpretation.
The purpose of this post is not to expose the passages necessary to understand what God’s Word says the church is. It is to show that the wrong view of the church will affect the preservation of the gospel and the truth. Someone may say that he shows his great love for the gospel by only dividing over the gospel or what some call “gospel-related truths.” However, I contend that if he does not hold the right view of the church, he contributes to the destruction of the gospel. The gospel can’t be preserved in a leaky container or its contents will be spoiled.
The same people most responsible for spoiling the gospel in history, Roman Catholics, are also most responsible for corrupting scriptural ecclesiology. The Catholics invented the universal church and then the invisible church. The Protestant Reformers did not amend that false teaching. Only churches who remained separate from Catholicism kept a scriptural ecclesiology, the belief in an only local and visible church. Through history they have been known by different names, but today they are called Baptist.
Scripture teaches an only local and visible church. Only that church, the only scriptural one, can keep the truth. The Lord Jesus Christ and His inspired New Testament give only a local and visible church, the only true church, the necessary means to keep the truth and therefore the gospel. Churches keep the truth through discipline, through the offices of the pastor and deacons, through the practice of separation, and through the purity of the ordinance of the Lord’s Table. A universal and invisible church is a leak container that will not preserve the truth. It treats the truth like an open pick-up truck treats an pile of tomatoes. If a few of the tomatoes fly or drop out, it won’t really matter as long as many or most get to their intended destination. Something beyond or in addition to a true church does not have the means necessary to keep the truth. For sure non-church institutions, like colleges or mission boards or publishers, can preserve the truth. The very existence of these parachurch organizations threaten the truth and the gospel. Cobbling together a coalition big enough to support the extra-scriptural institution requires laxity of doctrine.
No kind of viable, practical unity around common doctrine is possible and is not even available to all professing believers from all the various evangelical denominations. To attain some faux unity, doctrines and truths will be devalued and dropped by the wayside. Without the means possessed by true churches to keep the truth, doctrines will leak and leak until very little Scripture is believed and practiced. I believe the wrong view of the church has done more damage to the truth and the gospel than any other doctrine. Great damage will continue to be done to the truth and the gospel until there is a return to a biblical ecclesiology in Christianity.
“I think the Lord is leading me to….” “I feel the Lord is leading me to….” “I really prayed about it and I felt that….” You’ve probably heard these types of statements before. And if it is God leading, who is anyone to question? In many instances, it really is like questioning scripture at this point. Except for one big thing—it isn’t scripture. It is “I think,” “I feel,” and “I felt.” And if not that, then sometimes it is, “The Lord told me.” And that isn’t scripture either, even though, again, it is treated like it’s Bible.
One might hear these above type of statements from men in the office of the pastor. How did he know what the church was to do? How did he know what sermon he was to preach? “The Lord told him” or “he felt the Spirit leading.” One pastor I have known demanded the support of his congregation for every one of His sermons because it was Holy Spirit-preaching. When he preached, that was the Holy Spirit, so it should be unquestioned. Do you see a problem here? This kind of language from a pastor places a type of authority on his decision making that is authoritative on the level of God. Should we expect this kind of authority from the leaders of our churches? In one sense, a pastor represents the voice of God, but it is only insofar he preaches the Word. The people listen to God in those instances by means of the messenger. But every opinion out of the man’s mouth or even just the ones when he is behind the ‘sacred desk’ are not synonymous with scripture.
How do we know what we ought to do in the areas that the Bible is silent upon, like who I’m going to marry, where I’m supposed to work, or whether the reuben on rye or the 10 oz. NY strip steak? It seems that, “the Lord led,” is all we’ve got in those types of decisions? Or is it? How does the Holy Spirit actually work in these situations?
To detect true spirituality, first (part one) we proposed that all believers are spiritual. Every Christian is spiritual. There was a question of whether there were degrees of spirituality. No. Each genuine believer is indwelt by the one and only Holy Spirit, a Person. You can’t get more or less of Him once you have Him. However, He can have more of you. It’s not quantitatively more spirituality. No one is more spiritual in that sense. However, someone can, rather than yield to the Spirit, submit to his flesh. At that time, he is carnal, not spiritual, in a practical, not positional, way. When someone is controlled by the Holy Spirit, then there are manifestations of that yieldedness. We showed six of them. These are how we detect genuine spirituality. And now for the last aspect we will consider in the detection of true spirituality.
How Does the Holy Spirit Lead?
The Holy Spirit leads (Rom 8:14, Gal 5:18). We know this. But how does He lead?
First, He leads in accordance with Scripture. “The sword of the Spirit . . . is the Word of God” (Eph 6:17). Parallel to the filling of the Spirit (Eph 5:18) is the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly (Col 3:16). Being controlled by the Spirit is being controlled by the Word of God. All of this fits within the sufficiency of Scripture (Mt 4:4, 2 Tim 3:16-17). God’s Word equips a person for every good work. If a decision attributed to the Holy Spirit contradicts the Word of God, disobeys scripture, it wasn’t or isn’t the Holy Spirit leading. The Bible is how we test to see if something is of God (1 John 4:1). Sanctification of the Spirit is also the sanctification of the Word of God (John 17:17-19). We are set apart by the truth, not by our feelings or opinions, which might be attributed to the Holy Spirit.
A corollary perhaps to the Spirit’s leading in accordance with Scripture could be “no private interpretation” (2 Pet 1:19-21). The Bible has one meaning and many applications; however, we ought to also look to history to see how the Spirit worked in believer’s lives to apply Scripture. The Holy Spirit isn’t going to suddenly accept a practice that has been forbidden by God’s people in the past.
Second, He leads in accordance with the church. I’ve asked many if they needed the church to know the will of God and most will say that they can know the will of God independently of a church. Often today I’ve noticed people think that they have the right to question a pastor in his preaching, but few think they should be questioned when they say ‘the Lord is leading.’ A church is to be of one mind, one spirit, one mouth, and one speech (1 Cor 1:10, Philip 1:27). People should not operate outside of the unity or unanimity of the church. Believers walk in the Spirit, but they do not walk alone.
In the Old Testament, Israel had the Urim and the Thummim for God to guide her in her decisions (Ex 28:30, Lev 8:8, Num 7:21, Deut 33:8, Ezra 2:63). Do we have anything like that today? I believe we do. The Urim and Thummim today is the church. The Holy Spirit indwells a church as the temple of God (1 Cor 3:16). The church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). God leads through the church, not through single individuals. There is one Holy Spirit who indwells church members, the same Spirit, so the agreement of the church is the leading of the Spirit (Eph 4:1-4, 1 Cor 12). Dividing off of the opinion of the church is heresy (Tit 3:10-11, 1 Cor 1:11-17). Church members judge matters of believers (1 Cor 6:1-8). Matthew 18:18-19 suggests a supernatural leading through the agreement of the church.
In the freelancing spirit of the age, many today do not desire the agreement of a church in matters. They rather operate independent of church authority, appreciating the freedom of “the Lord’s leading.” It’s a free country. We can move about when and where we want. Many treat the will of God as a plaything, affording them freedom, which they label “Christian liberty.” Many pastors also use this freedom to move from church to church, again attributing the activity to the “will of God” in their life, when often it is discontent. Rather than just leave, people should be sent by the church for greater ministry (cf. Acts 13:1-5). Lesser ministry isn’t God’s will. But who determines that is the church, not the individual. Someone may ask, “Well, what if the church is wrong?” If the church is wrong, an attempt should be made to persuade the church from the Word of God. Sometimes men will just use scripture to excuse what they want to do. Jeroboam quoted Aaron to justify building calves at Dan and Bethel. The church should be able to determine whether something is the will of God or not.
When Paul discussed Christian liberty in 1 Cor 8-10, at the end of that section (11:1), he commanded the church at Corinth to imitate him as he imitated Christ. In areas of liberty, people of a church should look to the leaders of their church to know what to do in areas in which scripture is silent (cf. Heb 13:17). Rather than follow self, follow godly leaders in the church.
How did Timothy know he was to be a pastor? 1 Timothy 4:14 is a great verse on this. First, prophecy, that is, the preaching of the Word of God. I’ve had men tell me that they didn’t ask me what would be the right decision because they already knew what I would say. How did they know? The preaching of God’s Word. Preaching worked in the heart and life of Timothy. Second, the laying on of hands of the presbytery. Timothy got the unified guidance of godly men to verify the will of God in this matter. In many cases today, men say they’re “called,” in essence, “God told me,” and that’s their chief indication of God’s working. This isn’t the pattern in scripture.
Do you see how that Scripture and then the church puts objectivity to the will of God? This is how the Holy Spirit guides today. In answer to this type of presentation, often I’ll hear from men examples of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. Do you understand that God doesn’t work with us like that any more? We have Scripture and the church now. God doesn’t speak to us that way. If He is going to guide you like an apostle or prophet, than you should also fulfill the qualifications of the prophet and the apostle. You don’t, so don’t see yourself as led by the Spirit the same way they were.
Some Specifics Concerning the Individual Will of God
Does Scripture teach us that God has only that one person for us to marry? Or does the Bible order us to obey God’s Word but give us liberty within scriptural parameters in those individual matters? For instance, Scripture prohibits a Christian from marrying an unbeliever among other instructions (2 Cor 6:14), but God would give freedom within the bounds of what He said in His Word. Paul says this in 1 Corinthian 7:39: “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” “She is at liberty to be married to whom she will.” Of course, he adds, “only in the Lord.” Within biblical guidelines, someone can marry whoever he or she wants to marry, unless, of course, God sovereignly overrules otherwise.
The above exact teaching you’ll see in Proverbs 16:1 and 9:
The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD. . . . A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.
The idea of “preparations” is “plans.” It is God’s will for man to make plans. A man is to devise his way. The Lord may step in to change something, directing his steps, but he should go about making plans and devising his way. God allows people to make their own decisions within the bounds of the guidelines and principles He has set up in the Bible. The best way to ensure you do right is to obey God’s Word, practice it or apply it in every area of your life. If you do that, those unknown, individual things will work themselves out, very much like we see in Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
In short, if you will trust God and acknowledge everything He said, those individual, personal decisions will work out fine.
We the people must take the offensive against the Bigotry Against the Bible that is being Executed on the citizens of the United States Legally by its government, all three branches, legislative, judicial, and executive. We’ve got the constitution, history, and, of course, God and the Bible on our side. The former don’t matter so much in light of the latter, but we shouldn’t stand by without at least being heard. I believe there is a basis in Scripture to take a public stand on these social or cultural issues, namely that God designates for destruction (Ezekiel 9) those who will not stand against these violations of Him.
Babel represents the world system, the Satanic offensive against God and His way. The homosexuals and their advocates say we’re the bigots for opposing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but who really are the bigots? Are the bigots those who stand against perversion of nature, of creation, and of obedience to the Bible? Or are the genuine bigots those who force their own immoral desires upon the majority of Americans? Our government should not be executing the will of bigots against the biblical beliefs of its own citizens.
I know there are many of the readers of this blog who don’t agree with some or even much of what I write here, but this may be something with which you agree with me. So I am asking everyone that does, join me, unify with me in a campaign against Babel, the spreading bigotry against the Bible, which is being executed legally. We shouldn’t have to tolerate evil. We should not be forced to live and serve side by side in the defense of our country with blatant perverts. This is not fellowship. This is not biblical unity. This is public and democratic. This is We the People.
It’s enough that our country allows the practice of sodomy, let alone the endorsement of it by executing laws that require acceptance of it. Stand with me against BABEL. Join the campaign starting here and today.
What does the Campaign against BABEL require from you? It requires public opposition to BABEL. That’s it. Bloggers, today join with me in the campaign against BABEL. Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not the only evidence of bigotry against the Bible executed legally. However, for me it is a kind of final straw. The camel’s back is broken.
I want to redefine bigotry in our society. Bigotry is not a stand for the Bible. Bigotry is support for unbiblical behavior, practice, laws, or standards. I will not join BABEL through my silence and neither should you. Those endorsing, supporting, and joining the execution of these attacks on biblical belief and practice should receive the bigot label.
Joseph Lieberman, Susan Collins, Olympia Snow, Linda Murkowski, George Voinovich, and Mark Kirk are bigots, bigots against biblical belief and practice. They are bigots against those who believe and practice the Bible. Today they have showed their hatred of Bible belief and practice—hate speech, hate legislation—and forced their hatred of the Bible on all citizens of this nation. They have protected and propagated their bigotry everywhere.
Join me in the Campaign against BABEL.