Churches today use a lot of different means to get people to join. They often start with the interests that people have, their carnal desires, hoping that their lust could be a jumping off point for spiritual interest later. A whole new theology has been built around this, a doctrine to justify talking people into coming to church on their terms. Fundamentalists, evangelicals, emergents, and even the orthodox use marketing techniques and strategies to lure people in. This does give one major explanation for why you will hear people offer many different reasons why they attend church or why they go to the church they do.
In my first submission in this series, I contended that God should be the top priority for why you’re in the church you’re in. God should be what and Who church is about. This one thought should serve as a baseline for elucidating why we’ve joined the church we have. In one sense, the thinking about God relates to the subject of eternity. Since we believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we make decisions based upon the fact that we will face God some day and that He is our ultimate Judge. With this in mind, all the following reasons for why I’m in the church I’m in do relate to the first. All the reasons hence will correlate to the first reason. All the other reasons consider what will please God, since He is why I’m in church.
With pleasing God as the major grid for my church decision, the doctrine and practice of a church stands as the next two criteria for joining a church. I want a church that believes and practices according to Scripture. As long as a church keeps the same, right doctrine and practice, I will stay a part of it. I see those as the emphasis in the Bible. We want the right view of God and then to do what He says. Those both keep God in the highest priority. We know God exalts His Word. Jesus said that those Who love Him will keep what He said. With all other factors considered, belief and practice will determine what church I’m a part of.
If a church continues in the right doctrine and obeys the Bible, I can keep fellowshiping with it. I may have a personality issue with someone else in the church. I want to get that resolved. Of course, that’s what God wants me to do, but it will be worth it to remain in fellowship with a church that believes right and does right. Even if I’m the one that has been offended, I want to do what it takes to stay in the church.
On some other blog someone asked this kind of question. I thought it was a good question and something I wanted to explore with everyone for perhaps more than one post, that is, unless we pick a topic and go after it. I’ll put this on hold then for a little while. The other two jackhammers can write on this too if they want. I think we’ll be back to our old schedule sometime soon.
First, I should get to the most basic part of the question, why am I in a church? Perhaps the first thing you thought of was those people who say that they don’t believe in organized religion. You get that out there when you’re talking to the lost. But I’m not going there first. I’m going to get into something that is even more basic than saying something good about the institution of the church itself. The reason I’m in a church is because of God.
I want to please God. I’m not in a church for myself. I’m in a church for God. That guides all the other thoughts and actions that I have about a church. I don’t attend church for myself. I go to church for God. I don’t determine whether the church is good by what it does for me. I make that decision based on what I believe is best for God. I might have a bad relationship with someone in the church, but that doesn’t stop me from being in church. Why? I’m not there for other people. I’m there for God. I’m there for other people too, but entirely without one single other person, I would still be there.
God never fails. He never changes. He’s always great. He’s always the best. He’s amazingly worth it. What it is that I like about whatever church that I’m going to be a part of starts with who God is. He loves me. I love Him. Every good and perfect gift has come from Him. I could never repay Him, but this life I’m living is going to be about Him. So I’m there for Him. I don’t care if my feelings are hurt. He didn’t hurt them. No one or no thing is going to keep me away, because it is all about God.
If you don’t have that as the reason, I feel sorry for you. If you don’t have it as the reason, I think you’ve got it wrong right off the bat. You’ll likely have problems because you don’t have that settled. I also think that not having that as the reason is at the root of most problems with churches and with people toward churches. Have church first be about God. It will be the best thing you’ve every done for church is to have it not be about you or about your family, but about God. It will be the best thing for you and for your family and for everyone else in the world if church would be about God to you.
I recently listened to this audio (below on an embedded youtube clip) in which Phil Johnson throws John MacArthur the ultimate softball in order to clear up the false assumptions made about his doctrinal stance on the blood of Christ. I have often defended MacArthur in the past on this issue. I read the original criticism of him by Bob Jones University in their former Faith for the Family. I knew what he said in his Hebrews commentary. I always hoped for the best. Love does hope all things.
The attack on MacArthur, that he says is untrue on this audio, is that he denies the blood of Christ. Is that true? Does MacArthur deny the blood? Well, it depends on what you mean by “deny the blood.” He doesn’t deny that Jesus bled when He died. He doesn’t reject that Jesus bled a whole lot. In other words, MacArthur doesn’t take the R. B. Thieme position that Jesus barely shed any blood on the cross.
However, when I listened to this audio clip, I had a sick feeling in my stomach. Here was the perfect opportunity for John MacArthur to clear up his blood position and I think that is exactly what he did. As much as any time I’ve heard him, he communicates his position. You can tell it bothers him that he has been attacked on this. I want you to listen before you read what I write below the clip. You make your own evaluation. Then read what I wrote. You will be welcome to comment and even defend MacArthur if you think that what he says is defensible.
John MacArthur is a very careful expositor. There’s a lot you can learn if you read his commentaries. He’s a great example for diligence in the study of scripture. And then he takes this type of position, among several others, that belie the scriptural evidence. And what does his position on this really mean to the nature of the gospel? Does it change it?
Johnson poses the situation that people have said that MacArthur denies that it was necessary for Jesus to shed His blood. Then he asks the question, “Could you tell us one more time your view on the necessity of Christ’s blood?” MacArthur starts by saying that he has been completely misrepresented. Well, he isn’t going to be misrepresented here. He’s on tape and he has been set up perfectly to clear up all twisting of what he believes. His first doctrinal statement is tell-tale. Listen to what he says and doesn’t say. It’s clear even by how he enunciates the words. Remember that we are talking about the necessity of Christ’s blood. And John MacArthur’s answer:
Of course I believe Christ had to die.
But that wasn’t the question. The question was about His blood, not His death. But John MacArthur far understates the necessity of Christ’s blood with His answer. He misses what scripture teaches on the blood of Christ.
After a little more personal material, MacArthur says:
Jesus died on the cross because that was what God predetermined He would do.
OK, we all agree with that, but he still hasn’t said anything about the blood. God predetermined that Jesus would died. Yes. But what about the blood?
After alluding to the text of John 3 with the lifting up of Jesus as the serpent and then referring to John 6 about Jesus drawing men to Himself, he comments:
I think the image of a bloody death is all over the Old Testament.
So there we get his first mention of blood and he uses it as an adjective for death. Bloody death. If you try to find that language in the Bible, “bloody death,” you won’t find it. But he is setting up his view and he will be very plain with it. He goes on, “Every animal that was sacrificed was a blood bath.” So he’s still not really talking about the blood of Christ, but the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. He continues, “Priests were butchers who stood ankle deep in blood. . . . The temple was a slaughterhouse.” And then concluding that point, he says, “The image of that was to depict a violent death.”
John MacArthur teaches that the emphasis of the blood of the Old Testament sacrifice was to show how violent the death was. Where do we get that instruction anywhere in the Bible? I don’t know of any place. The word (or forms of it) “violent” is found in the Old Testament many times, but it is never applied to the blood of the animals or of the Savior.
Finally, he makes the connection between the Old Testament imagery and Jesus, when he explains:
On the cross of Christ you have the Passover Lamb dying a bloody, violent death. It’s necessitated. It’s all the imagery of the Old Testament that directs itself toward that.
So if you can follow him, he’s saying that the necessity of the blood of Christ was to fulfill the imagery in the Old Testament sacrificial system of a bloody, violent death. He never, ever says “the blood of Christ.” It’s a bloody death. The Bible never says “bloody death,” but it does say “blood of Christ” (4 times), “blood of Jesus” (3 times), and “blood of the Lord” (1 time). Then he makes this astounding statement:
Having said that, you must stop short of saying that we are saved by the blood of Jesus.
Why? Why would anyone stop short of that? Isn’t that what these verses say?
Romans 3:24-26, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
Romans 5:9, “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”
Ephesians 1:7, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;”
Ephesians 2:13, “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
Hebrews 10:19, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,”
1 Peter 1:18-19, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:”
Revelation 12:11, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
You want to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t get why MacArthur would say that we “must stop short of saying that we are saved by the blood of Jesus,” when the Bible says that we are saved by the blood of Jesus. Well, he explains why it is that he says this:
In the sense that there is some efficacy in the fluid that poured out of His body.
He goes on:
I have tried to make that distinction—that when the New Testament refers to salvation by His blood that it is not talking about salvation by His fluid. It uses blood as a metaphor or a synonym for death because it conveys the violence of it. . . . We don’t want to get caught into this bizarre notion that somehow in the actual fluid that came out of the body of Jesus that there is saving power or saving efficacy.
After explaining that, MacArthur goes on to give an example of something people have said about Jesus’ blood that is beyond and different than what he said in this above paragraph, in order to somehow color what someone would believe if he said that there was saving power in the actual blood of Jesus. MacArthur then makes another important statement:
When the New Testament is talking about the blood of Christ it is talking about the death of Christ, but it uses blood because that is a metaphor that speaks of the violence of his death.
Where does MacArthur get this? I don’t know. It isn’t in the Bible. When we see the blood of Jesus in the New Testament, we are not looking at a metaphor or synonym or metonym or euphemism for Jesus’ death, all words that MacArthur uses to describe what the blood of Christ is all about. For one, the New Testament separates the death and the blood as two aspects of His sacrifice that were distinct and both individually necessary in Colossians 1:20-22:
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
In those verses you see “the blood of his cross” doing something and “the body of his flesh through death” doing something. Both were needed. Second, you get the two separate elements in the Lord’s Table—the bread and the cup. The bread symbolizes the death in His body and the cup portrays the sacrifice in His shed blood. So MacArthur is wrong in taking away this New Testament emphasis.
MacArthur uses the tone of his voice to mock the other position that is not his own. He talks in a condescending way about the blood being “fluid,” that salvation isn’t in the “fluid.” This is a strawman. Jesus’ blood isn’t just “fluid.” There is something more to Jesus’ blood than just the human. There is a Divine quality to the blood of Jesus that cleanses, something that MacArthur just ignores. And is not willing to believe that there is anything to Acts 20:28:
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
At the end of the verse, it says, “with his own blood.” What is the antecedent of “his?” Yes, it is “God.” So Acts 20:28 says “God’s own blood.” One of the great mysteries of scripture is the hypostatic union. Jesus is fully human and fully Divine. There was something Divine to the blood of Christ, which is why the blood can cleanse. Yes, the blood itself. And you say, “How?” I don’t know, but it does cleanse. This is where MacArthur goes wrong. He’s sort of like the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the Trinity on this. They don’t get how Jesus could be man and God, so they reject His Deity. MacArthur doesn’t see how the blood of Christ could cleanse everyone, so he just denies that it does anything of itself. It is only by Jesus’ death, according to MacArthur, that people are saved. But what about these verses?
1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
Revelation 1:5, “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,”
Hebrews 9:14, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
We never hear about the cleansing of His death, do we? Why? Because the blood of Christ is what does the cleansing.
MacArthur goes to more strawmen, “It wouldn’t have done any good if He had just bled and then lived.” He says this with a kind of tone of disdain as if there were all sorts of people saying this, when I haven’t heard anyone in my life or have read anyone who has claimed that Jesus bled and lived. Really?!?! Who are we arguing about here?!?!
Then MacArthur gets angry at the idea that Jesus could die in a way in which He would not bleed. And then he again explains that this would be preposterous because then Jesus wouldn’t fulfill the depictions in the Old Testament. And that’s the extent of MacArthur’s answer here.
Johnson tries to help, it seems, by asking MacArthur about those times that the New Testament talks about the cleansing of Jesus’ blood, but MacArthur gets it wrong again and even more so. He says that those are the times that the New Testament is talking about Jesus’ death. This is classic circular reasoning. If you go look at the passages to see if they mention Jesus’ death, you won’t find it in 1 John 1:7 and Revelation 1:5. So why are they talking about His death? Well, because blood means death. This is also begging the question.
To cap it all off, MacArthur makes this point, like this is a major point. “Jesus didn’t bleed to death.” That seems to contradict what he said earlier when he said that the shedding of the blood showed that Jesus’ life was leaving His body. So when He bled enough, wouldn’t that mean that He had died? But no, MacArthur says that Jesus died by asphyxiation. How do we know that? Because that’s how the thieves died and how history shows other crucified ones died. But is that how the Bible says Jesus died? No! It says that He gave up His own spirit. And when he gets to the very end he admonishes, “You just want to be biblical about it!” Right! I agree! Let’s be biblical about it. Or in this case, let’s not follow what John MacArthur says about the blood of Christ. He’s wrong.
I’m asking you the reader. What does this message do to the nature of the gospel? Does it change it? How far does changing scriptural truth about the blood alter the gospel itself? Is Jesus’ blood important enough for us to take a stand in separation over this understatement or even misstatement by MacArthur?
Especially in this age of tolerance, the world is repulsed by the idea of church discipline. Churches know the world doesn’t like it, so they have a choice. Will they go ahead and practice it the way Jesus laid it out in Matthew 18:15-17 or will they try something that they think the world might like more?
Scripture is sufficient. God knows more than we do. And yet we still innovate in areas already settled by God’s Word. In the first part of this series, we looked at what the Lord Jesus Christ taught with which the rest of the New Testament corroborates. And then we considered a first and shameful alternative that churches have opted to handle church discipline instead. Now for more.
When pastors preach to the church, they must make application to the people in the room, not the ones outside of it. We’re not preaching the Word to the rest of the world. The ones inside the auditorium might enjoy never getting preached at, but it isn’t God’s will for the preacher. The pastor must think of individual members of the church when he considers the application of the scripture he exposes. I believe it is proper to preach to a particular shortfall in biblical obedience, even as we think of it in one person in the church. If it is the proper application, a church member should welcome it into his life. He should be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19).
Despite the need to apply the Bible to his people, a pastor should not use the pulpit instead of one of the scriptural steps of church discipline, and especially the first one. I understand the temptation to do this, but it isn’t right. The first a church member hears about the specific sin he committed, and I’m referring to obvious details of the offense, should not be in a sermon. Making a sin public occurs on the third step, not the first or second. Our goal, again, should be to make this sin as private as possible. Love covers a multitude of sins. With a goal of repentance, we talk to the individual first.
A pastor may take cover in the fact that he hasn’t mentioned the person’s name. Right. But many people know who he’s talking about, and that’s part of the reason for doing it, to shame an individual before he has even been given the opportunity to get it right. Leaving the name out gives a form of deniability that is really a kind of dishonesty. A pastor can say that he wasn’t talking about that individual—he was only giving an illustration of a scriptural point. Again, right. Actually wrong.
I could give numerous illustrations for this, but I had a family member who talked privately to his pastor about a concern he had about the music of the church. His point was about the use of the microphone. He talked to the pastor privately. If the pastor thought it deserved a rebuttal, he could have told him right there in private. He acted with ambivalence to the criticism from my family member when in his presence. The very next sermon, the pastor blasted my relative with the specifics of this particular confrontation. He mocked his criticism, attempting to make it seem as silly as possible.
This kind of pulpit bombardment begins to verge on paranoia on the part of the leadership. He is afraid that perhaps this church member is talking. He is afraid perhaps only that he might talk in the future. He imagines some kind of conspiracy and wants to stop it before it gets out of hand. It isn’t happening at all, but what if it does happen? So he fires some preemptive warfare from the pulpit.
I understand imagined monsters. I think every pastor is prey to these. He doesn’t do better to disobey God’s Word in order to solve his problem, even if he thinks it’s more practical to do so. You might look out at your congregation and you think that someone doesn’t like your preaching. He’s just listening very closely and gets a scrunched up face when he does, that makes him look angry. He really does love the preaching, but shows it in a different way than the bobble-head doll that never stops nodding and smiling.
All of this might be what Jeremiah was considering when he said that he wasn’t afraid of their faces. Fear is at the root of this problem. And God, of course, as Paul told Timothy, hasn’t given us the spirit of fear. So the fear is coming from us and it is out of the human fallenness that still resides in our flesh. We need some weapons verses to defeat this sin of fear.
Ironically, a pastor may feel courageous when he practices pulpit bombardment, viewing what he is doing as some kind of public boldness. Maybe he thinks he is filling some kind of prophetic role, like an Elijah or a John the Baptist. It isn’t bold; it’s cowardice. We pastors need to get that in our heads and hearts. Courage would confront the sin privately to attempt reconciliation. Courage would trust God with the care of the church. Courage would only judge what it sees, not what it imagines is happening. Courage accomplishes discipline face to face first. Courage wouldn’t use the ministry of preaching as a cover for disobeying what scripture tells it to do.
Many churches have become conditioned into thinking that this kind of pastoral behavior is right. Whatever they’ve heard, they may even assume is correct. It might not be. It could be a situation where the pastor has an inaccurate assessment of what has happened. He may be firing in some shade of grey. He doesn’t know all the details. But flood the tubes and send the torpedoes.
For any church member to whom this looks familiar, before you launch your own form of explosive, consider the possibility that we have a pastor that has tried to confront church members in the past with very little success. Maybe they say something like this, “How dare he confront me for that sin?” And soon after the confrontation, a gossip campaign was started to harm the credibility of the pastor, especially to affect his believability as it relates to the sin he has addressed privately. He feels like having been burned in the past, he needs to take other action in order to head off damage to the whole church. A pastor shouldn’t be blowing away individual members from the pulpit, but if he is, we aren’t doing better by not talking to him with a few others in private before we have started a campaign to stop him.
The first shameful alternative was members turning people into the pastor or pastoral staff without themselves first confronting the sin privately. Sometimes this act is followed by the pulpit bombardment. They often go together. When the informant hears the public condemnation of an individual without initial attempts at private reconciliation, he might feel proud of himself that he was involved in such a noble deed. He should be ashamed of himself. He is a partaker in an evil deed.
The cure to all this, of course, is to get back to what Jesus told us to do. If we don’t, on a very root level we are disobedient to God. And as practical as we might think our unscriptural methods, they aren’t. The whole idea of practical is the practice of what the Bible says to do. When we do what we want, instead of what He said, we’re as impractical as we possibly can be.
(to be continued)
Roman Catholicism has a long history of suppressing what it has seen as heresy in the church. The Roman Catholic Church enforced its beliefs and required practices by means of imprisonment and the threat of excommunication. Finally the Catholic Church resorted to torture and executions to opposition. In the thirteenth century, the Pope himself assigned inquisitors the duty of locating and then prosecuting heretics, which included burning at the stake.
In the colonial American Massachusetts Bay Colony, those who would dissent from Puritan doctrine and practice were often subjected to physical beatings as a form of church discipline. Obadiah Holmes, the pastor of the second Baptist church in the American colonies, was tied to a public whipping post and beaten—his charge: “disturbing the congregation in the afternoon, for drawing aside others after their erroneous judgments and practices, and for suspicion of rebaptizing one or more amongst us.”
Much church leadership desires a certain type of behavior from its people. They want the members to live in a way that lines up with scripture. Churches and their leadership will use various means to acquire the desired behavior.
What Churches Should Do
Church discipline is required practice in scripture. Jesus first laid it out in Matthew 18:15-17 and many other passages give similar instruction as what He did (cf. Titus 3:10-11). The Lord instructed His disciples that they should first confront a sinning brother in private. This limits the injury caused by the sin and avoids a public spectacle. The point of the discipline we know to be restoration. Later in Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes (6:1):
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
If the brother repents, the church has gained the brother, and the discipline goes no further. However, if the private confrontation does not lead to repentance, restoration, and reconciliation, the next step is to take witnesses. Jesus referred to Deuteronomic law which required at least two or three. These multiple witnesses would provide corroboration and also add a more serious dimension to the discipline.
If a brother won’t listen, only then does it go before the church as a matter of discipline. Now the church judges the matter before the Lord and render a binding judgment upon the sinner based upon biblical principles, even then with a goal of potential restoration, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:5, “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
Once the discipline has occurred, Jesus called for treating the unrepentant one as a heathen and a tax collector. Other passages explain this as exclusion from the church membership (1 Cor 5:12b) and a degree of withdrawal or loss of company (2 Thess 3:6, 14). The congregation is not to consider the former brother as a part of the church.
Jesus made this pattern clear. The apostles reinforced it in the other New Testament books. So is this what we see in churches today? In most cases, we don’t. What do we see? I would like to mention and discuss some of the common abuses that I have seen in churches that consider themselves New Testament.
The Call on the Carpet
Many church leaders haven’t taught church discipline to their people. In the absence of this biblical method, they have a kind of discipline once seen in the former Soviet Union. The citizens watch for violations and turn the violators in to the authority. Instead of the personal confrontation, the church member “gets in trouble” with a member of church staff or the pastor. Another member sees the sin or at least a broken rule, and the member gets “turned in” by him to the church leader.
The next step in this kind of discipline might be a meeting in a staff member’s or pastor’s office. It could be a phone call with a kind of warning. It might be a change in treatment or a loss of position. It might be some of the other forms of discipline found below.
When the person turns someone else in, of course he’s doing this as an act of “care” for the one he’s turning in. He also might think he’s currying favor with the staff member. The staff might put in a good word for him when it comes time to talk about new positions. He might just like seeing other people get into trouble. He could feel self-righteous because he is catching so many other people doing wrong.
The act of “turning someone else in” doesn’t require faith from the one doing the “turning in.” He won’t develop the strength that comes from confronting sin personally. He might not even want to do that—it’s too tough—so like the anonymous caller to the child protective services, he just turns someone into the office.
This form of discipline engenders pride in the church leaders. They feel and even act like they are the only ones who can practice discipline, like they have a secret knowledge with which they have been endowed due to their positions. They become very much like the leadership in Roman Catholic Churches, a special cadre that are beyond questioning. When they say something in one of these office visits, it could take on the quality of ex cathedra.
Often what happens with this kind of discipline is that there is no due process. Someone sees someone else “sin.” He turns the sinner in to the office. The office calls in the “perpetrator.” The staff member confronts him about his sin. He might ask, “Who told you?” It doesn’t matter. It could be that he knows who has turned him in. He tells the staff member that he really didn’t do it. He can’t be believed. The person who has “turned him in” is always right. He questioned. Questioning is just another form of rebellion.
To start, of course, this method is disobedient to scripture. It might seem like it will work or that it is even more practical than the biblical way, but it is disobedience to God. Many of the people in churches that practice this way might think that this actually is the way that God wants us to do it. They’ve been encouraged to think this way by their leaders. Generations of people go on with the same false practice without ever understanding one of the most prominent teachings in the New Testament.
(to be continued)
Some of you may have missed that July 10 was Calvin’s 500th birthday. Celebrations were held all over the world in honor of Calvin and especially in Geneva, Switzerland, where many Calvinists gathered for the Calvin500 Conference. I’ve taught World History for almost 20 years, so in the historic realm, I see Calvin as an important figure in the history of the world. I believe that God providentially used the reformers at that point in time to counteract the harmful effects of Roman Catholicism on Europe. Although not itself a grand purveyor of freedom, the Protestant Reformation loosened the tyranny of a Catholic stranglehold. The translation, printing, and distribution of the Bible brought the real freedom as men and women could decide for themselves what God had said.
At the same time, the state churchism of Calvin, Zwingli, and Luther are not my ecclesiastical heritage. Mine is found in the independent New Testament church movement represented in the Schleitheim Confession of 1527. In response to this document, in 1544 Calvin disseminated his Brief Instruction for Arming All the Good Faithful against the Errors of the Common Sect of the Anabaptists, at the beginning of which, Calvin said it was was written by “ignorant persons ” and with “nothing beneficial for persons of learning and understanding, seeing that, in addition to being inept and haphazardly written, it sufficiently discredits itself.” Calvin went on to passionately denounce believer’s baptism and defend infant sprinkling, despite the fact that Calvin himself conceded that baby baptism itself was found nowhere in the Bible. His chief argument was that since scripture says nothing about women recieving the Lord’s Table, and yet women partake of that ordinance and it is good for them, then baptism, also being good for its recipients, should be applied to the never mentioned infants, seeing that the Lord regards these babies as the “servants of His church.” In addition to passing down the heritage of a state church, which we can all be thankful was rejected by the Baptists in colonial America, Calvin also bequeathed this dangerous and unscriptural doctrine of infant sprinkling, of which John Gill later wrote in 1765:
The Paedobaptists are ever restless and uneasy, endeavoring to maintain and support, if possible, their unscriptural practice of infant-baptism; though it is no other than a pillar of popery; that by which Antichrist has spread his baneful influence over many nations; is the basis of national churches and worldly establishments; that which unites the church and world, and keeps them together; nor can there be a full separation of the one from the other, nor a thorough reformation in religion; until it is wholly removed: and though it has so long and largely obtained, and still does obtain; I believe with a firm and unshaken faith, that the time is hastening on, when infant-baptism will be no more practiced in the world; when churches will be formed on the same plan they were in the times of the apostles; when gospel-doctrine and discipline will be restored to their primitive luster and purity; when the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper will be administered as they were first delivered, clear of all present corruption and superstition.
Calvin and Baptismal Regeneration
When I read Calvin’s massive Institutes of the Christian Religion and other writings, I read a false gospel. The Calvinists often rush to explain that we just don’t understand Calvin or that we’re wrongly interpreting him. I didn’t get the Calvin code book, I guess, because he seems very clear to me, clearly wrong, but communicating it in plain fashion. He wrote (Institutes, 4:17:1, 4:15:3, 4):
God, regenerating us in baptism, ingrafts us into the fellowship of his Church, and makes us his by adoption . . . whatever time we are baptized, we are washed and purified . . . forgiveness, which at our first regeneration we receive by baptism alone . . . forgiveness has reference to baptism.
Calvin also published (1547 Antidote to the Council of Trent, Reply to the 1st Decree of the 5th Session):
We assert that the whole guilt of sin is taken away in baptism, so that the remains of sin still existing are not imputed. That this may be more clear, let my readers call to mind that there is a twofold grace in baptism, for therein both remission of sins and regeneration are offered to us. We teach that full remission is made . . . by baptism . . . the guilt is effaced [and] it is null in regard to imputation. Nothing is plainer than this doctrine.
He continued in the same publication (Canon #5):
We, too [as do the Catholics], acknowledge that the use of baptism is necessary—that no one may omit it from either neglect or contempt. In this way we by no means make it free (optional). And not only do we strictly bind the faithful to the observance of it, but we also maintain that it is the ordinary instrument of God in washing and renewing us; in short, in communicating to us salvation. The only exception we make is, that the hand of God must not be tied down to the instrument. He may of himself accomplish salvation. For when an opportunity for baptism is wanting, the promise of God alone is amply sufficient.
John Calvin also wrote in his Commentary on Matthew (19:14):
We . . . maintain that since baptism is the pledge and figure of the forgiveness of sins and likewise of adoption by God, it ought not to be denied to infants whom God adopts and washes with the blood of His Son.
In answer to these quotes of Calvin, an advocate of sole fide might quote the Westminster Confession of Faith (Article V of Chapter XXVIII):
Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.
I admit that this part of the WCF sounds great. But it’s only great in that it clears up one problem, that is, baptism isn’t necessary for salvation if an adult without baptism later places faith in Christ alone for salvation. However, it’s easy to see upon reading Calvin that he believed that baptism is not the only way of regeneration or salvation. This WCF statement does not repudiate baptismal regeneration.
Are we going to be loyal to the God and the Bible in our belief and teaching on the gospel and baptism? I’m not going to agree to disagree. I’m just going to disagree.
Calvin and the Lord’s Supper
In part one of his commentary on Jeremiah (fourth paragraph), Calvin wrote:
That we really feed in the Holy Supper on the flesh and blood of Christ, no otherwise than as bread and wine are the aliments of our bodies, we freely confess. If a clearer explanation is asked, we say, that the substance of Christ’s flesh and blood is our spiritual life, and that it is communicated to us under the symbols of bread and wine; for Christ, in instituting the mystery of The Supper, promised nothing falsely, nor mocked us with a vain shew, but represented by external signs what he has really given us.
I’ll let that speak for itself. I don’t find it to be anything different than what I read in Calvin’s Institutes and in his Short Treatise on the Holy Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ, in which he wrote this:
But as the blessings of Jesus Christ do not belong to us at all, unless he be previously ours, it is necessary, first of all, that he be given us in the Supper, in order that the things which we have mentioned may be truly accomplished in us. For this reason I am wont to say, that the substance of the sacraments is the Lord Jesus, and the efficacy of them the graces and blessings which we have by his means. Now the efficacy of the Supper is to confirm to us the reconciliation which we have with God through our Savior’s death and passion; the washing of our souls which we have in the shedding of his blood; the righteousness which we have in his obedience; in short, the hope of salvation which we have in all that he has done for us. It is necessary, then, that the substance should be conjoined with these, otherwise nothing would be firm or certain. Hence we conclude that two things are presented to us in the Supper, viz., Jesus Christ as the source and substance of all good; and, secondly, the fruit and efficacy of his death and passion. This is implied in the words which were used. For after commanding us to eat his body and drink his blood, he adds that his body was delivered for us, and his blood shed for the remission of our sins. Hereby he intimates, first, that we ought not simply to communicate in his body and blood, without any other consideration, but in order to receive the fruit derived to us from his death and passion; secondly that we can attain the enjoyment of such fruit only by participating in his body and blood, from which it is derived.
Calvin taught that the real presence of Christ was found in the elements of the Lord’s Table. If John Calvin was not teaching that we receive salvation through the Lord’s Supper, he was at least making it very confusing as to whether someone could or could not be saved by partaking of the elements.
What did Calvin do for Baptists?
John T. Christian writes this in volume one, chapter fifteen, of his History of Baptists:
The influence of John Calvin had begun to be felt in English affairs. His books had appeared in translations in England. He was responsible in a large measure for the demon of hate and fierce hostility which the Baptists of England had to encounter. He advised that “Anabaptists and reactionists should be alike put to death” (Froude, History of England, V. p. 99). He wrote a letter to Lord Protector Somerset, the translation was probably made by Archbishop Cranmer (Calvin to the Protector, MSS. Domestic Edward VI, V. 1548) to the effect: “These altogether deserve to be well punished by the sword, seeing that they do conspire against God, who had set him in his royal seat.”
For those that think that Baptists are reformed or come out of the Reformation, they really need to study that time period and the relationship of the reformers to the Baptists. They were separate from one another. You also have the early history of the United States, when in the colonial period, the Puritans hated the Baptists. The Baptists were treated criminal in the colonies. They bore the persecutions of whipping, imprisonment, excommunication, banishment, ridicule, and starvation–all for believing and practicing principles which Baptists hold dear. Henry Dunster (1612-1659), first president of Harvard, began to preach against infant baptism and in 1653, after twelve years of impressive service at Harvard, would not submit to sprinkling his fourth child. Despite earnest pleading he was refused the use of his home, cast out into the winter, and died within five weeks.
The Baptists sacrificed to separate from infant sprinklers. Today Baptists cozy up to them and appreciate them. Men died rather than to subject their families to baby baptism. Today Baptists are enthralled with John Calvin and the reformers, forgetting that heritage and that suffering. C. H. Spurgeon wrote (from The New Park Street Pulpit, Volume VII, p. 225):
We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther or Calvin were born; we never come from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the very days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel underground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents. Persecuted alike by Romanists and Protestants of almost every sect, yet there has never existed a Government holding Baptist principles which persecuted others; nor, I believe, any body of Baptists ever held it to be right to put the consciences of others under the control of man. We have ever been ready to suffer, as our martyrologies will prove, but we are not ready to accept any help from the State, to prostitute the purity of the Bride of Christ to any alliance with Government, and we will never make the Church, although the Queen, the despot over the consciences of men.
There are Baptists today who won’t separate over mode and recipient of baptism. They say it’s a non-essential. On this birthday of John Calvin, let us reconsider the authoritative Bible doctrine and love for the Lord that motivated our Baptist forefathers.
False doctrine and practice have been around since the garden, so I shouldn’t be surprised by the constant, growing, and innovative arguments for justifying worldliness. Satan isn’t taking a vacation from his world system. And men love the world. It is tangible, tasty, and at the tip of the fingers.
A recent and common approach sees men, who propose to hate worldliness themselves, vindicate worldly living by redefining worldliness. They make worldliness impossible to judge by anyone but God. And He will. They say it’s only on the inside. These men challenge definitions of worldliness that recognize worldly externals. No doubt everything that is worldly in someone proceeds from his heart. However, what comes out is also worldly.
The World Is on the Outside
It is called the “world” because it relates to this planet we live on. Worldliness won’t ever have anything to do with Neptune or Venus. Men become enamored with what’s on the planet. They mind earthly things. Many of the things in the world or on the world came from people from here. They made it, invented it, played it, or produced it. And most of those things are the problem for men, the competition with God for their hearts. The stuff that man generates has been affected by the curse of sin. Because of that, it isn’t all innocent and it must be judged (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Music, dress, entertainment, recreation, and even the things that we put into our body have all been trouble for mankind since the beginning. And all of it is on the outside.
Being “conformed” to this world (Romans 12:2) is external. Even being “transformed” is external. It might start on the inside, but it will show up on the outside. The word translated “conformed” in Romans 12:2 is translated “fashioning” in 1 Peter 1:14: “not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts.” ‘Lusts” are internal but “fashioning” is external. The primary verses on worldliness in the Bible are dealing with something that is external.
The Attack on External Worldliness
A recent primer for this novel approach to worldliness is Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, edited by C. J. Mahaney with a foreword by John Piper. Many of the chapter titles reveal the emphasis: “God, My Heart, and Media,” “God, My Heart, and Music,” “God, My Heart, and Stuff,” and “God, My Heart, and Clothes.” You can tell where the book is heading in the foreword when Piper writes: “The only way most folks know how to draw lines is with rulers. The idea that lines might come into being freely and lovingly (and firmly) as the fruit of the gospel is rare.” We get the heads up that rules are going to be a problem in a stand against worldliness. Then Mahaney adds in the first chapter (p. 29):
Some people try to define worldliness as living outside a specific set of rules or conservative standards. If you listen to music with a certain beat, dress in fashionable clothes, watch movies with a certain rating, or indulge in certain luxuries of modern society, surely you must be worldly. . . . Worldliness does not consist in outward behavior, though our actions can certainly be an evidence of worldliness within.
When this book came out, you’d think that nothing had been written about worldliness before. Actually many books have been written about worldliness through the centuries since the printing press. If you go to google books and use the advanced search mode and look only for full view books, you’ll find many books in the 19th and early 20th century that are now public domain, which talk about worldliness, many of which were sermons (consider this by J. C. Ryle, and this and this and this by Spurgeon). They weren’t afraid to talk about external issues in the days when to us there didn’t seem like much in the world that could be a problem.
We can all be thankful for a volume intending to slay internal or heart worldliness. However, circumventing the externals and painting only a partial picture of worldliness does more damage than good. It offers some leverage to deal with worldliness without depriving the worldly of the worldly things they demand. It vaccinates the adherents with a worldly, softer strain of Christianity that only inoculates them against the real thing. It sends an ambiguous warning signal across the bow while worldliness stays on board. I have to agree with Peter Masters in his recent short review of the Mahaney book, saying that it “hopelessly under-equips young believers for separation from the world.”
Others have obviously been influenced by Mahaney’s book. Blog posts began to appear everywhere that argued that worldliness is a heart matter, so the standards in churches and lines drawn are moralistic and legalistic, argued with fervent dogmatism. Of course, the point of Mahaney’s book was to deal with worldliness, not to encourage it, but the adherents caught one of his major emphases well, that is, people who obsess on externals don’t understand worldliness. “Oh good, I get to keep my music, my entertainment, my worship, etc.” Point taken. The book doesn’t do much to hinder worldliness.
But why would anyone write a book against worldliness but not be against worldliness? Worldliness is often how churches today got where they are. Worldliness is the goose that laid their golden eggs. They’ve produced worldly goslings, but they can’t very well destroy the goose. They use worldly music, encourage worldly dress, offer worldly activities, and allow for worldly amusement. It’s no wonder that they’ve got worldly people who need a book against worldliness. But you can’t slay the goose. So you go after “internal worldliness” with hopes for some kind of restraint.
However, Mahaney provides a perfect cover for the worldly person, excusing his worldly look, taste, and conduct. He says he has a scriptural basis for it and he uses the classic passage, 1 John 2:15-17. In an elaboration on v. 16, he writes:
Notice that in enlarging upon what is “in the world,” John doesn’t say, “this particular mode of dress, this way of speaking, this music, these possessions.”
Mahaney relies on the New International Version to continue with this point:
No, the essence of worldliness is in the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does.
Some of what Mahaney says is correct. The internal is important, even as James wrote in his epistle in chapter 4 concerning carnal desires over which we will fight and war.
Mahaney makes at least two errors that debilitate his presentation. First, 1 John 2:15 is far from the proof text on worldliness. What about Romans 12:2? What about worldliness as it relates to the doctrine of holiness, in setting a difference or distinction between the sacred and the profane? Second, he doesn’t hit target in dealing with 1 John 2:15-17. It reads as someone who comes to the text with a lifestyle to protect.
What about Romans 12:2?
Romans 12:1-2 is “gospel centered.” We’ve got eleven chapters of gospel presentation. What does the gospel effect? It effects acceptable, spiritual worship, the saint offering his body to God according to His will. That offering must not conform in its externals to the spirit of this age. Certainly, for that to be accomplished requires a renewing of the mind. You can’t think the same way about the world as you did when you were lost and not be conformed to it. So this isn’t “moralism,” a regular strawman of the new worldly Christianity.
We don’t have a reason to define worldliness only with 1 John 2:15-17. Those who claim to walk in the light, but love the world, are lying. Those who love the world conform to the world. Loving the world isn’t good and neither is conforming to it. You can’t say, however, that you don’t love it when you conform to it. The new approach to worldliness separates loving it from conforming to it. They’ll say they don’t. That’s part of the deniability found in ambiguous communication. They can profess that they weren’t dismissing externals really, but if you read their writing, they leave them by the wayside.
How do you conform to the kosmos, the spirit of the age, the zeitgeist? You do it with the way you talk, dude. You do it with your comfort first, shabby, disrespectful dress. You do it with your groovy music, your deco art, your fashions, your recreation, your amusement, and your entertainment. These externals smack of a philosophy originating from a system operating in opposition against God.
What about Worldliness as it Relates to the Doctrine of Holiness?
Holiness is described by more than just moral purity, but also the transcendent majesty of God. It relates to distinctions that separate us unto God from the common or the profane.
And I will put a division between my people and thy people: to morrow shall this sign be. Exodus 8:23
[T]hat ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. Exodus 11:7
And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean; Leviticus 10:10
Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. Ezekiel 22:26
God wanted a difference put between the holy and the profane. That explains “be not conformed to this world.” It also helps us understand this verse in Zephaniah 1:8.
And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.
God will punish those who “are clothed with strange apparel.” “Strange” could be understood as worldly. The clothing itself is “strange” or “worldly,” in fitting with a profane culture. The “strange apparel” meant something—it has a philosophy that accompanied it. We see this same kind of teaching from Paul in 1 Corinthians. Paul says that an “idol is nothing” in 1 Corinthians 8:4, because “there is none other God but one.” And yet, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10: 19-21 that the idol, even though it is nothing, has a meaning to it that is devilish.
The pagan, anti-God philosophy of this world weaves its way into every part of a culture. For this reason, everything must be judged (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and that which associates itself with a humanistic or depraved way of thinking must be eschewed (1 Thessalonians 5:22). This applies to piercings, modern art, tattoos, extreme hair styles, rock, rap, and country. In other words, we are not to “[fashion ourselves] according to the former lusts in [our] ignorance: but as he which hath called [us] is holy, so be [we] holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Peter 1:14-15). Every aspect of our conduct or behavior is to be distinct. In no way should our externals reflect the old unregenerate life.
Hitting or Missing on 1 John 2:15-17
1 John 2:15-17 (KJV)
15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
1 John 2:15-17 (NIV)
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world– the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does– comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
Mahaney leaves out the first part of 1 John 2:15 in his exegesis. His description of v. 16, which isn’t completely accurately portrayed by the NIV, explains the love for the things “in the world.” But v. 15 starts with “love not the world” before it moves to “neither the things that are in the world.” The world itself is external. Mahaney argues that “the world” is only internal because that’s how it is described in v. 16. But v. 16 is explaining the things in the world, not the world itself.
The word “man” isn’t even found in the original language of v. 16 (or in the KJV). What is translated “sinful man” in the NIV is a single Greek word, the word for “flesh” (sarx). The NIV makes this “sinful man.” The Greek words translated “cravings” and “lust” in the NIV are actually the same word in the Greek New Testament (epithumia), as we can see reflected in the KJV. When you read the NIV, you’d think that there were two different words. Mahaney applies two different meanings, when they are actually both the same word. The NIV uses so much dynamic equivalence that you can’t get the true sense of 1 John 2:16 from its translation—and yet that is the translation that Mahaney chooses to use. It suits his purposes for his treatment of worldliness.
The lust and pride are a problem, but so are things in the world. We are not to “love the world.” “The world” that we’re not to love is a system that includes dress, music, entertainment, art, conduct, politics, and fashion. Satan is the prince of this current system, one that will be overthrown by Jesus Christ in the imminent future. Yes, weaving its way in this false system are the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Those are not of the Father. We are to love only that which is of the Father. Whatever smacks of the world’s philosophy, the spirit of this age, we’re not to love. We’re called upon to show discernment and say “no” to some things. Those things are on the outside.
Quietism versus Pietism
From Mahaney and Piper (and many other evangelicals) we’re to assume something gospel driven that so swings away from human effort. I believe it misrepresents the gospel and God’s grace. God’s grace teaches to deny. Grace fuels human effort. We live by faith. We don’t let go and let God. The new nature possessed by the converted will do good (Romans 7:21).
The truth is that the new definers of worldliness emphasize conduct. It’s just that it is, and ironically, the loose conduct appealing to the lust of the flesh. And they’re judging externals. They will judge your standards (which they do have) to be more strict than theirs, so you must be the legalist and the moralist. Even in writing style they work hard to make it as easy as possible to understand. Even in the dress down style of the sovereign grace ministries, something strategic is going on with their urban chic and soul patches. They are working at attracting or making comfortable a certain demographic. Something is driving all that, but it isn’t the gospel.
Perhaps it might dawn on these “gospel driven” that grace works toward using the ruler to draw the lines. It is grace working though. Old Testament Israel tested God’s grace by getting as close to evil as possible ( 1 Corinthians 10). Thinking their liberty would kick in on their behalf, these Jews in the wilderness fell because they didn’t get further away from the evil. They should have set up some safety boundaries. The real bondage was found in their attraction to worldly things. God’s grace and the gospel would have driven to distance themselves from them.
What we have here is the age-old tug of war between quietism and pietism. Quietism is a view of sanctification in which the Christian exerts the least effort possible to ensure a product from God’s working. On the other hand, there is pietism, which asserts that we must work hard and discipline ourselves to effect the favor from God that will empower the Christian life. Neither of these are true. The phantom enemy of Mahaney and his crowd is a pietism that wishes to bind his adherents in shackles of extra-scriptural regulations. Most false beliefs that would dictate their desired point of view benefit from a boogeyman to inspire irrational fear. Pietism is the boogeyman of only internal worldliness.
The grace of God that works in believers “denies ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Titus 2:12). As God is working in both to will and do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), true Christians are working out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). What is this “fear and trembling”? It is the fear of sinning, the distrust of human strength in the face of powerful temptations, and the terror at the thought of dishonoring God. The fear of God and his judgment seat motivated Paul to labor for Christ’s acceptance (2 Corinthians 5:11-12). When Philippians 2:13 says “to will,” the word speaks of the believer’s intent. God instills in His own the desire to please Him. He so respects God that he puts a distance between himself and the world, making no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14).
Noah and his family were “saved by water” (1 Peter 3:21). What did water save them from? The ark saved them from destruction, but the water saved them from the world. God promises to be a Father to those who come out from the world and “be ye separate” (2 Corinthians 6:18). Having that promise, a believer will “cleanse himself of all filthiness of the flesh, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
Worldliness is more than internal. Believers will visibly and tangibly separate themselves from the world like Noah and his family did on the ark, and like God expected of Israel in the wilderness. Out of honor to God, to please Him, and with fear and trembling, they will work out their salvation. If it’s out, then it isn’t in. God put it in. Christians work it out. What God’s children work out is going to look and sound like something way different than this world system.