Archive for November, 2009

Unity vs. Disunity – Round 2

November 25, 2009

Dr. White has responded (link to Dr. White’s response) to some comments found at a Roman Catholic blog (link to source of comments).

Dr. White points out that Reformed Baptists worldwide are far more unified than Roman Catholics. He’s right, of course. But he could have taken the matter further.

He’s being far too fair to the Roman Catholics.

After all, the Roman Catholic approach is to contrast the unity within their sect to the unity among either “all other groups” or “all other groups of some particular category.” They are not willing to compare themselves to Reformed Baptists (where they would lose the unity battle) but instead they try to compare themselves to a bundle of many different groups.

The Roman Catholic argument works for every group. Eastern Orthodoxy is far more unified than the collection of all groups that are not Eastern Orthodox. Anglicans are far more unified than the collection of all groups that are non-Anglican – or even all Protestants that are non-Anglican. And so on, and so forth. Reformed Baptists are more unified than all non-Reformed Baptists.


Thanksgiving Verses – Part 24

November 24, 2009

In this segment we see the thanks given by Paul in his epistles. There are a few subcategories here.

Introduction Passages

The first subcategory is the largest group: the group of thanksgiving statements provided by Paul at the start of his epistles. Most of Paul’s epistles have this form of introduction. Hebrews does not, which is one reason we might conclude that Hebrews is not one of Paul’s epistles.

The introductory passages of thanksgiving themselves have an interesting theme. Paul is thanking God for the people to whom Paul is writing. Thus, for example, in the introduction to Romans, Paul thanks God for the Romans and for their faith. Paul thanking God for this is Paul giving God the credit for the faith of the Romans.

The same thing transpires in the introduction to 1 Corinthians. Paul thanks God for the Corinthians and for the things that they have received, especially the gifts of utterance and knowledge, by the grace of God.

Similarly, in the introduction to Ephesians, Paul says that he thanks God because he heard of the faith and love of the Ephesians. Likewise, Paul thanks God for the fellowship in the gospel that the Philippians had, in the introduction to that epistle. The introduction to Colossians is, on this point, almost identical to that to the Ephesians. Philemon’s introduction similarly mentions, as the ground for giving God thanks, the believer’s faith and love. Paul’s introduction to 2 Timothy mentions the thanks Paul gives for Timothy’s faith. In the first epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul expands the faith and love couplet seen in many of the other introductions to include hope as well. The introduction to the second epistle to the Thessalonians mentions faith and love again. Furthermore, in the fist Thessalonian epistle’s introduction, Paul makes explicit mention of their election.

It is frequent in connection with these mentions of thanksgiving for the faith and love of the believers to mention the grace of God, the calling of God, and – as we’ve just seen, the election of God. The result is a completely monergistic view of salvation. Whatever good thing in the people, Paul thanks God for it. He effectively gives God the full credit for the faith, hope, and love of the believers, ascribing it to the work of God in them, as opposed to being the product of their good use of grace.

Another theme in the introductory passages is prayer. Generally, Paul connects giving thanks to God for the people with mentioning them in prayer. We too ought to do the same. When we hear of fellow believers, and of the work God has done in their lives, we ought to give thanks to God for this work of His. It God who brings men to faith and love, and we should thank and glorify God (not man) for this.

Notice as well the emphasis on Christ in these introductory passages. It is easy to miss this emphasis, because we tend to take it for granted that Paul is a Christian. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the thanks that Paul gives is connected with Christ: “in the gospel of his Son” (Romans); “the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians); “the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ” (Ephesians); “he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians); “we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus” (Colossians); “thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus” (Philemon); “patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians); “the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians). It is a pervasive theme – it is always about Christ. The only exceptional passage is the introduction to 2 Timothy, but you would only have to look a verse or two before or a verse or two after to find Christ in the context.

Paul Thanking God for Grace to Believers

After the introductory passages, as the second sub-category, we have a group of passages in which Paul thanks God for grace to believers. In the passage from Romans 6, for example, Paul thanks God for taking the Romans who were servants of sin and making them servants of God by His grace. In the passage from 2 Corinthians 8, Paul thanks God for putting care in the heart of Titus.

The passages in 2 Corinthians 9 is a two-for-one. Not only does Paul give thanks for God’s grace, but specifically the grace that gives good works and leads to bounty, which causes thanksgiving to God. Thus, not only is this an example of Paul giving thanks, but also a reminder that we ought to give thanks God for the good things we have received.

The 2 Thessalonians 2 passage is similar to the introductory passages. Paul gives thanks not simply that the Thessalonians believed, but that they were chosen to salvation through the gospel. If I may speak frankly, I am baffled how someone could read this passage and conclude that Paul is giving thanks either (1) that God chose them based on foreseen faith or (other?) merit; or (2) that God chose a way of salvation. It seems abundantly clear from the context that Paul is thanking God that the Thessalonians are differentiable from others, he ascribes that to the grace and election of God.

Finally, the 1 Thessalonians 2 passage shows Paul giving thanks to God for the way in which the Thessalonians received the gospel: namely as the word of God, not of man. If the distinction between believing and not were in the hands of man, it would seem to be odd for Paul to thank God for this. However, when we recognize that it is God who, by His Spirit, opens the eyes of the mind to see the divine nature of the message, Paul’s thanksgiving makes sense.

Paul Thanking God for Blessings on Himself and Others

A third subcategory is Paul giving thanks to God for blessings on himself and others. In some sense this category is broad enough to encompass the first two sub-categories as well, but we will treat here those examples of such thanksgiving that do not fit neatly within the first two sub-categories.

The Romans 7 passage in this subcategory shows Paul giving thanks to God for deliverance from the body of death. I think that those Arminians and others who would seek some way around the plain sense of the thanksgiving in the previous two categories would have no problem (at first) reading this passage in its plain sense. They are willing to give God thanks for deliverance. But actually, one should note that this a freedom from bondage of the will. Paul is thanking God for delivering his will from bondage, something that then forces the Arminian to try to find some explanation (such as universal prevenient grace) to get around the fact that man is naturally unable to come to God. It is hard to get around, however, the plain statement that “in me … there is no good thing.”

In the 2 Corinthians 15 passage, Paul gives thanks to God for giving us the victory over death. This passage, acceptable to Arminians, defeats the Pelagian position in which men merit victory over death.

The 2 Corinthians 2 passage, however, returns us to a specifically monergistic view. Paul thanks God for causing us to triumph and for making our testimony a savour (or smell) of life to some and of death to others. It is God, not man, in Paul’s view, that sets one man apart from another even though the same message is preached to all.

Finally, in 1 Timothy 1, Paul thanks God for giving him the ministry. While this example is less explicitly monergistic than some of the others, notice how Paul writes: “the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” As we’ve seen in the other examples, what Paul is doing is saying that his faith and love come from God who shows favor to him and gives him these good things.

Miscellaneous Thanksgiving

There are a few additional miscellaneous passages where Paul gives thanks. The first such passage is in Romans 6. There Paul gives thanks for Priscilla and Aquila. It may be ambiguous (in the Greek) as to whether Paul is giving thanks to them or to God. Assuming that (as it states in the English) Paul is giving thanks to them, it would seem to be about the only place where Paul gives thanks to men rather than to God.

The remaining three examples of Paul giving thanks come from 1 Corinthians. In the first chapter, Paul gives thanks to God that he did not baptize many of the Corinthians. This is an implicit reference to God’s Providence. After all, it is by God’s Providence that Paul only baptized a small number of the Corinthians. Notice as well, that Paul here mentions household baptism (I’ll resist the urge to turn this into a paedobaptism argument). It is interesting to note, however, that Paul makes a distinction between being called to preach the gospel and being called to baptize. Many folks, focusing on the so-called “Great Commission” seem to view evangelism and baptizing as inextricably interconnected. Those of us evangelizing by the Internet are thankful that they are separable.

In the tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul mentions giving thanks, this time for food. We’ve seen that Jesus provided an example of giving thanks for food, and we will see this theme again in a later section as well. Here Paul notes that he should not be judged for the food for which he gives thanks to the true God, simply because someone else has used the food in sacrifice to a false god. However, for the sake of the conscience of the other person, if the food is identified as part of the communion of a false god, we should abstain from it.

The same principle applies to partaking in communion at an apostate church. Although we are permitted to eat bread and wine, if we are told that this is part of their worship we ought not to partake, for their conscience’s sake, lest they believe that we willing take part in their idolatry.

In the final passage, Paul gives thanks for tongues. He thanks God that he speaks in tongues more than all the Corinthians. However, Paul also says he would rather speak five words that people can understand than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. The gift of speaking in foreign tongues was one of the most remarkable gifts of the Spirit that was given during the apostolic age: one that enabled the spread of the gospel to many lands. It is good to note that Paul does not attribute this gift in any way to himself or his own ability or faithfulness to God, but rather gives God thanks.

This passage also makes mention of thanksgiving as being a part of prayer. Note how Paul assumes that these languages will be used to give God thanks on the part of the person praying, which assumes that they contain rational content. Notice as well, the same theme that we noted above, namely that thanksgiving and prayer are interconnected.

Introduction Passages

Romans 1:7-10
To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers; making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.

1 Corinthians 1:1-8
Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:15-23
Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

Philippians 1:3-7
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.

Colossians 1:3-8
We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth: as ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ; who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.

Philemon 1:4-6
I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints; that the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 1:3-5
I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day; greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy; when I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-4
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.

2 Thessalonians 1:3-10
We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; so that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.

Paul Thanking God for Grace to Believers

Romans 6:14-23
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.

What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

2 Corinthians 8:16-21
But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you. For indeed he accepted the exhortation; but being more forward, of his own accord he went unto you. And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches; and not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind: avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us: providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.

2 Corinthians 9:8-15
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: (As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever. Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness;) being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.

For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; and by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.

2 Thessalonians 2:11-14
And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 2:10-13
Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: as ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory. For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

Paul Thanking God for Blessings on Himself and Others

Romans 7:14-25
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

1 Corinthians 15:51-58
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

2 Corinthians 2:14-17
Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.

1 Timothy 1:12-14
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.

Miscellaneous Thanksgiving

Romans 16:3-4
Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.

1 Corinthians 1:9-17
God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.

Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

1 Corinthians 10:25-33
Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.

But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof: conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?

For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.

1 Corinthians 14:13-19
Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.


Mark Shea on Me on Hitchens and Fry

November 23, 2009

Mark Shea seems unhappy (link to his post). He states:

Speaking of weird partisanship, here’s yet another Calvinist sitting in the peanut gallery and cheering on the atheists because they happen to be quarreling with Catholics. Better that God be blasphemed than that any slight pettiness of the 16th Century quarrel be abandoned for one second. We must have our priorities!

He’s complaining because I posted a link to a debate in which a Roman Catholic archbishop and a Roman Catholic member of the British parliament got trounced in a debate with Hitchens and Fry (link to my previous post).

He didn’t make the same complaint when I posted a link to a debate between Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza (link to my previous post).

Perhaps that’s because I had positive things to say about Dinesh’s performance and negative things to say about the performance of Archbishop Onaiyekan. That is a bit odd, though, because I didn’t see Shea complain when Patrick Madrid posted this same debate and said negative things about Archbishop Onaiyekan’s performance (link to Madrid’s post).

Shea mentions something about cheering from the peanut gallery, but frankly if you read my post, there isn’t actually any “cheering” going on there. In fact, there was more cheering in the Dinesh post than in the Onaiyekan post.

What makes Shea’s botched potshot more amusing is that so far no atheists have complained about “weird partisanship” because of my comments about Dinesh. Although, in fairness, Roman Catholic Dave Armstrong did mock me for my post saying something nice about Dinesh’s performance (link to Dave Armstrong’s mockery).

So, when I post a debate that went poorly for Rome, I get targeted by Shea while he leaves Madrid alone; meanwhile when I post a debate that goes well by a Roman Catholic debater I get targeted by Armstrong.

The moral of the story: you can’t make folks with double standards happy.

Thanksgiving Verses – Part 23

November 23, 2009

This segment addresses thanks in Acts. We’ve already looked at one passage in Acts where Paul thanks God for the food that he’s about to eat. There are two other examples of thanks in Acts as well.

The first example is Tertullus’ thanks of Felix – an attempt to flatter Felix and win him over so that Paul could be attacked. The second example is Paul giving thanks to God for the brethren who joined them on the journey to Rome.

The first example illustrates for us the fact that kings liked to be thanks for doing a good job governing. We are not to try to flatter God, but we ought to glorify and give him praise for his excellent governance of this world. While we may not always fully appreciate it, God governs the world well.

The second example further reminds us to give thanks to God for his providences, even those involving the “free” acts of men. Notice that Paul does not simply thank the brethren for joining him, but thanks God. This kind of thanks to God makes sense if we adopt a Calvinistic viewpoint of the free will of men, but not if we adopt a Libertarian view of freedom. If man is under God’s providence, it makes sense to thank God for the actions of men. If man is autonomous, thanking God for men’s actions makes no more sense than thanking your fellow man for a third man’s actions.

Acts 24:1-9
And after five days Ananias the high priest descended with the elders, and with a certain orator named Tertullus, who informed the governor against Paul. And when he was called forth, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying,

Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence, we accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness. Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee, I pray thee that thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a few words. For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes: who also hath gone about to profane the temple: whom we took, and would have judged according to our law. But the chief captain Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him away out of our hands, commanding his accusers to come unto thee: by examining of whom thyself mayest take knowledge of all these things, whereof we accuse him.

And the Jews also assented, saying that these things were so.

Acts 28:11-16
And after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle, whose sign was Castor and Pollux. And landing at Syracuse, we tarried there three days. And from thence we fetched a compass, and came to Rhegium: and after one day the south wind blew, and we came the next day to Puteoli: where we found brethren, and were desired to tarry with them seven days: and so we went toward Rome.

And from thence, when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii forum, and The three taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage. And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him.


Response to the Manhattan Declaration

November 23, 2009

Frank Turk has an interesting response to the Manhattan Declaration (link)(link to declaration). Unfortunately, for a few reasons, there a few points where I’d take a somewhat different tack. His biggest point is correct:

The declaration should be opposed because it obscures the gospel. The wording of the document is ecumenical. It uses expressions like “We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians …” and “It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery: Papal edicts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries decried the practice of slavery and first excommunicated anyone involved in the slave trade … .”

I should point out that the section on Religious Liberty is remarkably less objectionable than one might expect. The statement, “No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will, nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions,” for example, arguably does not leave room for Muslims, Jews, Oneness Pentecostals, or pagans to be covered.

In fact, however, I suspect that the understanding of the document by the other is broader and more relativistic than a strict reading of the document might suggest. As I’ve pointed out before, I’m not a pluralist.

But that’s a minor objection. Much of the “main point” of the declaration is not objectionable:

1) Abortion, Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia are evils

2) Marriage between Man and Man or Woman and Woman is a perversion

3) Atheist Attempts to Persecute Christians for holding (1) and (2) are improper.

It is sad to see that a few prominent “evangelical” names have been attached to this gospel-obscuring document:

Dr. Wayne Grudem Research Professor of Theological and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary (Phoenix, AZ)

Rev. Tim Keller Senior Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church (New York, NY)

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY)

Ravi Zacharias Founder and Chairman of the board, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (Norcross, GA)

Dr. Daniel Akin President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, NC)

Dr. Bryan Chapell President, Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis, MO)

Jim Daly President and CEO, Focus on the Family (Colorado Springs, CO)

Dr. James Dobson Founder, Focus on the Family (Colorado Springs, CO)

Dr. Michael Easley President Emeritus, Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, IL)

Rev. Jonathan Falwell Senior Pastor, Thomas Road Baptist Church (Lynchburg, VA)


Thanksgiving Verses – Part 22

November 22, 2009

The final passage regarding thanksgiving from the gospels is from John’s gospel on the occasion of the raising of Lazarus. Only John’s gospel mentions the raising of Lazarus.

In this passage, Jesus thanks the Father for hearing Him. Jesus clarifies that He already knew that the Father had heard him, but said this for those standing by (and ultimately for those of us reading).

Lazarus was someone who Jesus loved as friend. Therefore, Jesus raised him from the dead. The Father heard the Son’s request to raise Lazarus, because the Father loves the Son. This is an illustration for us of Jesus’ mediatorial role.

Jesus loves his people and will raise them from the dead. He does this by sacrificing himself on their behalf. The Father accepts the Son’s sacrifice, not because He must, but because he loves the Son. Thus, it is appropriate for Jesus to thank the Father for raising Lazarus.

We too, of course, should thank God for our regeneration, which is accomplished by the work of the Spirit on account of the merits of Christ, by the mercy of the Father to whom be the glory, now and forever.

John 11:39-44

Jesus said, Take ye away the stone.

Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?

Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid.

And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.

And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin.

Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

Thanksgiving Verses – Part 21

November 21, 2009

In today’s passage, there are two aspects of thanks. They are both, interestingly enough, about the thanks that it is not given.

The passage is a particularly famous passage, because it speaks about loving our enemies and about being merciful in judgment (“judge not”). Leaving aside the abuses of this text, let’s consider its discussion of thanks.

The first example is if you “do good to them which do good to you.” There is no thanks for this, because you are simply returning the favor that you are given. Similarly, if you “lend to them of whom ye hope to receive” you don’t deserve thanks, because you’re basically doing business, not helping someone out. Loving your enemies is the way to obtain their thanks, since you do not owe them your kindness.

The same is true, and more so, of us. We were the enemies of God and he showed favor (grace) to us. We ought to be thankful, because we did not deserve that favor. This is not (despite what some Arminians seem to think) a situation where God was kind toward those who were kind toward him. God is not returning a favor to us, nor is God hoping to get something back in return for the kindness he shows to us. He’s not our lender, he’s our Redeemer. Thus, we ought to be thankful.

The passage brings this out, because it says “ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.” This is actually the second mention of thanks in the text. God is kind to those who are not thankful and who are evil. We ought to act likewise. Children act like their parents. We may deserve thanks from our enemies to whom we are kind, but we should not expect to receive thanks. When God blesses a wicked man with riches and a long life and he does not thank God, we realize this is commonplace. So, we should not be surprised when our own kindnesses to others are not thanked by our enemies.

I’ve also included a similar passage in Matthew. You will notice that in the Matthew account the more general word “reward” is used in place of “thanks,” but the general teaching is the same. Notice how the kindness of God is illustrated in Matthew in giving rain (to water crops) both to God-fearers and God-haters.

Notice as well (by seeing the comparison of these passages) that this mercy of God is part of being “perfect” as the Father is “perfect.” True love of our neighbor requires that be kind to our enemies – and in this way we imitate our Father, showing ourselves to be His children.

The final passage shown below, drives home the point that we are unable to deserve the thanks of God. Jesus uses the example of a servant that does what his master tells him to do. Such a servant is not deserving of the master’s thanks, because he has simply done his duty. The same goes for us – even when we are at our most righteous, we are simply doing what God has required, and consequently cannot claim any merit in our actions. God doesn’t need to thank us.

Luke 6:27-38
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.

And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.

And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.

Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.

Matthew 5:43-48
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Luke 17:7-10
But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?

Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

Unity or Disunity?

November 21, 2009

I recently came across the following comment:

Protestant epistemology has lead to the creation of thousands upon thousands of divided Protestant sects that cannot come together and agree on a single point of doctrine. What is the source of that Protestant doctrinal chaos if it is not the doctrine of sola scriptura? Does the Baptist man I mentioned really believe anything different than the tens of millions of Protestants that also claim to believe that the Protestant Bible is the ONLY source of infallible authority for a Christian?


Did you notice something interesting? The claim is that all these “sects” (meaning denominations) cannot agree “on a single point of doctrine.” But then we are essentially given two points of alleged agreement:

1) The Protestant Canon

2) Sola Scriptura

We could probably add other things as well, such as theism and a rejection of the fictions of the papacy and purgatory. In fact, there are a huge number of beliefs that are characteristic of virtually all (if not absolutely all) of this mass of supposedly dis-unified brethren.

The critic wants to have it both ways: he wants to claim that this huge mass of denominations can’t agree on anything, and that they do agree on a couple things that the critic himself rejects. It’s really not a fair criticism, but it is remarkable in how blatantly unfair it is!


Thanksgiving Verses – Part 20

November 20, 2009

The following set of passages are some remaining examples of people giving thanks in the gospels. We’ve already seen Jesus giving thanks, but now we turn to others.

The first passage is the account of Anna the prophetess. She had been a widow for eighty-four years, after having been married for seven years. This extremely elderly lady had been fasting and praying in the temple. When Jesus was brought to her, she gave thanks to the Lord and testified of Jesus to all those in Jerusalem who were seeking redemption. We too should give thanks that Jesus has come, especially since we have been privileged to see this from our earliest years, rather than having to wait until we are over a century old to see the Messiah arrive.

The second passage records Jesus’ healing of ten lepers. They all cried out for mercy from Jesus, and Jesus healed them, not immediately but as they were going to the priest as he had instructed. One of them noticed on the way that he had been healed and returned and thanked Jesus, and he was a Samaritan. We too should be thankful to God for the healing that we receive from our sins. It is important to ask God for mercy, as the lepers did, but it is also important to thank God for the good things He does.

The final passage is a parable that Jesus spoke. This is a parable against those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” Sadly, we see this sort of thing today in Roman Catholicism. The person trusting in himself is the Pharisee in this parable. He is not a Pelagian, for he thanks God that he is not like other men, but he is a semi-pelagian in that he views himself as actually and personally righteous in God’s sight. This sort of thanks is an empty thanks. It is good to thank God, but the thanks of the person who trusts in himself that he is righteous is not praised by Jesus but condemned. Instead, the justified man is the one who says “God be merciful to me a sinner,” recognizing his actual sinfulness before God and begging for mercy. That is what “Kyrie Eleison” (“Lord have mercy”) embedded in so many old liturgies, is designed to remind one of – even in churches that have lost track of its meaning. Humble yourself, recognize your actual sinfulness, and trust in Christ alone for salvation, and God will impute Christ’s righteousness to you.

Luke 2:36-38

And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

Luke 17:11-19

And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.

And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.

And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.

And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

Luke 18:9-14
And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

New American Bible on 1 Corinthians 3:11-15

November 20, 2009

The text of 1 Cor 3:15 has sometimes been used to support the notion of purgatory, though it does not envisage this.

– New American Bible, 1 Corinthians 3, Footnote 8, at 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, Vatican’s On-Line Edition (link)(same note at USCCB site)

The New American Bible is a Roman Catholic translation, published under the authority of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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