Archive for November, 2011

Images of Jesus – A Response to Hank Hanegraaff’s Site

November 30, 2011

A friend recently directed me to a discussion of images of Jesus found at, which I understand to be the website of Hank Hanegraaff (the article itself is anonymous).

The article begins:

In the fourth-century AD Emperor Leo III ordered the abolition of icons (revered images or sculptures) of Jesus, Mary, angels, and saints. This sparked the great Iconoclastic controversy, so called because those who supported the eradication of icons, often on the grounds that they violated the second commandment’s prohibition of “graven images,” were known as iconoclasts or “image breakers.” The controversy sparked in the fourth century persists to this very day. Do images of Jesus really violate the second commandment?

Actually, Leo III (also known as Leo the Isaurian) was born in the 7th century and reigned exclusively in the 8th century.  Leo III did attempt to abolish (legislatively) the use of images, which had crept into use over time.  This met with some theological opposition, chiefly by John of Damascus (c. 645 or 676 – 4 December 749), who is sometimes referred to as the last of the church fathers.

More could be said, and perhaps ought to be said, but the long and short of it is that the use of icons, statues, and other images are corruptions of the apostolic faith, which ultimately lead to the iconoclastic controversy, as a minority attempted to maintain the purity of God’s worship in the 8th century, at the very end of the patristic era.

Hanegraaff’s page continued:

First, if the second commandment condemns images of Jesus, then it condemns making images of anything at all. Therefore, God would have been guilty of contradicting himself because he commanded the Israelites to adorn the ark of the covenant with the images of cherubim (Exodus 25:18–20).

This is a surprisingly common argument.  In fact, though, it merely forbids images of God.  Images of Jesus, the Father, or the Spirit – all are forbidden.  This false dichotomy/straw man is simply mistaken.  Indeed, the images of the cherubim demonstrate that the command is not broadly against all making of images, but only of those that purport to represent God or gods.

Furthermore, in context, the commandment is not an injunction against making “graven images,” but an injunction against worshiping them. As such, God warns, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4–5, emphasis added).

There are actually two commands there.  The second is about worshiping the idols.  The first is about making them.  It is amazing how someone can claim that the commandment is not an injunction against making graven images and then quote something that explicitly says just that.

The commandment is not an injunction against making “graven images,” but an injunction against using these carved images as objects of worship.

That is a false dichotomy.  Both are forbidden.

Finally, if viewing an image necessarily leads to idolatry, then the incarnation of Christ was the greatest temptation of all. Yet, Jesus thought it appropriate for people to look on him and worship him as God (Matthew 28:9; Luke 24:52). That worship, however, was to be directed to his person, not his appearance. Indeed, idolatry lies not in the making of images, but in the worship of manmade images in place of the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

a) Jesus wasn’t a graven image.  He was both God and man in two distinct natures and one person.

b) Jesus was the image of the invisible God, but not by virtue of his appearance.  That “image of the invisible God” line is actually a powerful testimony to Jesus’ divinity as my friend, Dr. White, recently pointed out in a debate against Patrick Navas.


Republication of the Covenant of Works

November 29, 2011

There is a sense in which the Mosaic law (or a portion thereof) is a republication of the covenant of works.  More could be said about that point, but it has recently come to my attention that there is an overture to create an OPC study committee (for a single presbytery, if I understand the overture) to study the issue of republication (link to page).  While I think it is a profitable study, and one that may help (when properly understood and explained) resolve the differences between Presbyterians and covenantal Reformed Baptists, I’m not sure whether the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest has sufficient manpower for the job.  I hope that others will rise to the occasion to assist in this task of studying this important issue.  Please pray that this study, if approved, will benefit both the particular presbytery but also the body of Christ at large.


Steve Ray Thinks Spurgeon was "Dillusional"

November 29, 2011

Yes, Steve Ray spelled it “Dillusional,” though I suspect he meant “Delusional.”  But what is the basis for Ray’s complaint?  Ray quotes Spurgeon as saying:

It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.

Ray does not provide the context.  Here is the statement in its original context:

In order to be able to expound the Scriptures, and as an aid to your pulpit studies, you will need to be familiar with the commentators: a glorious army, let me tell you, whose acquaintance will be your delight and profit. Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have labored before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. My chat this afternoon is not for these great originals, but for you who are content to learn of holy men, taught of God, and mighty in the Scriptures. It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries. If there were any fear that the expositions of Matthew Henry, Gill, Scott, and others, would be exalted into Christian Targums, we would join the chorus of objectors, but the existence or approach of such a danger we do not suspect. The temptations of our times lie rather in empty pretensions to novelty of sentiment, than in a slavish following of accepted guides. A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences. Usually, we have found the despisers of commentaries to be men who have no sort of acquaintance with them; in their case, it is the opposite of familiarity which has bred contempt.

(Commenting and Commentaries, Lecture I)

Ray tries to justify his claim with the following argument:

But isn’t it ironic that Spurgeon is guilty of what he accuses others of neglecting? The Holy Spirit spoke through the Apostles and early bishops and their writings and practices are easily accessible.

Even if that were true, it wouldn’t justify calling the great evangelist “delusional.”  In point of fact, though, Spurgeon is accusing others of neglecting the use of commentaries.  He himself did not neglect their use.  So, no – Spurgeon is not guilty of what he accuses others of neglecting.

Moreover, the way in which the Holy Spirit spoke through the Apostles and other prophets (not “early bishops” in anything like the modern Roman sense of “bishops”) is not what Spurgeon is talking about.  Spurgeon is not, for example, suggesting that modern day Charismatics have an insufficient respect for Scripture.  Instead, Spurgeon is talking about people who engage in “Solo Scriptura,” and literally ignore what other exegetes have found in Scripture.

Ray has completely missed the mark with his usage of Spurgeon’s quotation.

Ray then stated:

They practiced the primacy of Rome, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, new birth through water baptism, a church structure with bishops, priests and deacons.

They didn’t “practice” papal infallibility, transubstantiation, or the papacy.  The apostles themselves didn’t provide a church structure of bishops, priests, and deacons.  Steve Ray is being awfully selective in his description of what things some of the fathers taught or practiced.

Moreover, it is one thing to “ignore” what the early fathers taught, and another to disagree with them.  What is interesting is that we can justify our departure from their teachings (where we depart from them), whereas Mr. Ray cannnot.  Why?  Because oral tradition is not one of our sources of authority.  We don’t assume that important things – things necessary for salvation – were omitted from Scripture.

If, however, what the early fathers taught they taught because of oral tradition, why doesn’t Mr. Ray agree with them on everything? The answer, of course, is that in reality and in practice the “magisterium” trumps both Scripture and tradition for a member of the Roman communion.  It doesn’t matter that not one church father taught, held, believed, or practiced (for example) papal infallibility, transubstantiation, or the bodily assumption of Mary.  It doesn’t matter that Scripture doesn’t teach those things.  Rome says it, they believe it, and that settles it.  Sola Ecclesia.

Ray continues:

The 2nd century “church service” was a perfect blueprint of the Mass today and does not even remotely resemble the “Baptist church” of today.

Quite the opposite.  While there would certainly be differences from what one might think of at a “Baptist church” (which one does Ray even have in mind), there would have been a complete absence of Roman missals from a second century church – and an absence of idols, as well.

Ray concludes:

Why does Spurgeon think so much of what he supposes the Holy Spirit showed him (a tradition unknown before the 16th century) while he ignores what the Holy Spirit universally revealed to the early Church and which has been taught and practiced in an unbroken line in the Catholic Church for 2,000 years?

In point of fact, of course, Spurgeon didn’t ignore what Rome claims to teach.  Moreover, Rome’s historical claims to teach what was revealed 2000 years ago are lies.  Ray knows very well that the early church didn’t hold to papal infallibility, transubstantiation, prayers to Mary, the bodily assumption of Mary, and so forth.  That’s why he words his claims in squirrely ways, as we saw above.

For example, he claims that they “practiced the primacy of Rome.”  How exactly does he think they did that?  They didn’t take that to mean that the bishop of Rome was infallible.  They were comfortable conducting large councils that were not called by – or even attended by – the bishop of Rome (councils like Nicaea).  They settled theological disputes by appealing to Scripture, not to some papal ruling.

Rome didn’t even have a singular bishop in the beginning of the church at Rome.  Once Rome came to the point where it had only a single bishop, he may have received a lot of respect.  But that’s hardly all Rome requires people to believe – nor does Rome deserve the respect it once did.  It no longer has the kind of track record it did when some of the early fathers praised it.

– TurretinFan

Annihilationism / "Conditionalism" Debate

November 26, 2011

I recently debated the topic of Annihilationism in the specific form of “Conditionalism.”  The debate can found in two sections (link to first part)(link to second part). Thanks very much to Chris Date (the moderator) as well as to Ronnie (my opponent) for this debate.

Trent’s Anathemas Removed?

November 26, 2011

The White Horse Inn posted a program in which Michael Horton interviewed Christian Smith regarding, among other things, his conversion to the Roman communion.  Mr. Smith alleged that the Roman church moved toward the Lutheran position on justification and removed the anathemas that had been placed on the Lutherans in the Joint Declaration on Justification.

Mr. Smith is wrong, of course.  Nevertheless, it is interesting to see him make those kinds of claims.  It seems to show that despite alleging that his reasons for joining the Roman communion are “doctrinal,” Mr. Smith himself doesn’t really understand Rome’s doctrines.

Rome itself has, in a fairly official way, explained that the Lutheran view still appears to be within Trent’s anathemas:

The major difficulties preventing an affirmation of total consensus between the parties on the theme of justification arise in paragraph 4.4 The Justified as Sinner (nn. 28-30). Even taking into account the differences, legitimate in themselves, that come from different theological approaches to the content of faith, from a Catholic point of view the title is already a cause of perplexity. According, indeed, to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, in baptism everything that is really sin is taken away, and so, in those who are born anew there is nothing that is hateful to God.3 It follows that the concupiscence that remains in the baptized is not, properly speaking, sin. For Catholics, therefore, the formula “at the same time righteous and sinner”, as it is explained at the beginning of n. 29 (“Believers are totally righteous, in that God forgives their sins through Word and Sacrament…. Looking at themselves … however, they recognize that they remain also totally sinners. Sin still lives in them “) is not acceptable. This statement does not, in fact, seem compatible with the renewal and sanctification of the interior man of which the Council of Trent speaks.4 The expression “opposition to God” (Gottwidrigkeit) that is used in nn. 28-30 is understood differently by Lutherans and by Catholics, and so becomes, in fact, equivocal. In this same sense, there can be ambiguity for a Catholic in the sentence of n. 22, …”God no longer imputes to them their sin and through the Holy Spirit effects in them an active love”, because man’s interior transformation is not clearly seen. So, for all these reasons, it remains difficult to see how, in the current state of the presentation given in the Joint Declaration, we can say that this doctrine on “simul iustus et peccator” is not touched by the anathemas of the Tridentine decree on original sin and justification.

(Responses of the Catholic Church to the Joint Declaration, Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity – bold and underline emphasis added)

Horton provides some probing questions that gently expose some of the problems with Mr. Smith’s claims.  It’s not necessarily the style I would use (nor do I think it is the best style), but I think Horton does a good job within his own paradigm of interviewing.


Pray for Turkey

November 25, 2011

The timing of this post was probably more than a little ambiguous (coming so close to American Thanksgiving), but there is a video posted at Heavenly Wordliness requesting prayer for the nation of Turkey.


Comparing My Brother to Abraham and Elisha

November 24, 2011

One of my brethren recently has been criticized by a number of people because he did not accept one or more gifts.  There is a lot more that could be said about people whose pride is offended when their gifts are refused, but my brother’s own attitude was the thing that caught my eye.  It reminded me of this:

Genesis 14:22-24

And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich: save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.

I suppose I could have thought instead of another gift refusal:

2 Kings 5:15-16  & 26-27

And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant. But he said, As the LORD liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. And he urged him to take it; but he refused.

And he said unto him, Went not mine heart with thee, when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants? The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.

Is my brother Abraham or Elisha?  Obviously not.  His circumstances differ, as do the circumstances of his refusal.  That said, I think that only a Biblically illiterate person could think that there cannot be good reasons for refusing gifts.


Responding to Ryrie regarding John Edwards and Dispensations

November 22, 2011

Someone wrote in to Jamin Hubner the following question:

In Ryrie’s book he mentions the dispensational scheme that Jonathan Edwards [sic] (not that Edwards was necessarily a dispensationalist) put forth in his work “A Compleat History or Survey of All the Dispensations”. Would this not pre-date Darby? As I have not read this work by Edwards, perhaps I am missing the context, but Edwards’ dispensational scheme has some similarities to the seven dispensations espoused by modern day dispensationalists.

The author of the comment is referring to the discussion of John Edwards (not Jonathan Edwards) in Ryrie’s book, “Dispensationalism.”  To answer the exact question, yes – it predates Darby.  On the other hand, as Ryrie himself points out, Edwards didn’t believe in a literal 1,000 year physical reign of Jesus on Earth.  There may be some similarities. 

There is an important answer to these questions: it is not the designation “dispensation” or the recognition that God has dealt with people differently in different epochs of time that is controversial about dispensationalism.  So, whether or not Edwards’ scheme of dispensations or dealings has some similarities to the schemes advocated by dispensationalists is a moot point.

Ryrie himself seems to recognize the mootness of such historical appeal.

Ryrie writes (shortly prior to his reference to John Edwards):

Dispensationalists recognize that as a system of theology it is recent in origin.  But there are historical references to that which eventually was systematized into dispensationalism.  There is evidence in the writings of men who lived long before Darby that the dispensational concept was part of their viewpoint.

After discussing some patristic and medieval authors, Ryrie explains:

It is not suggested, nor should it be inferred, that these early church fathers were dispensationalists in the later sense of the word. But it is true that some of them enunciated principles that later developed into dispensationalism, and it may be rightly said that they held to primitive or early dispensational-like concepts.

So, Jamin Hubner’s own response to the question seems a little strange:

Dispensationalists typically play the pre-Darby card in an effort to justify their system, but is rarely an adequate appeal. The idea is to make associations and draw similarities between Darby and previous thinkers (e.g. Ireneaus, Edwards, some Reformers, etc.) to say Dispensationalism goes back (for some, they would say to the Apostles, while others would say back to the Reformers, etc.). But in reality, the thinkers are simply not teaching Darbyism. Resemblances, vague parallels and similarities are not enough to dismount Darby as essentially the Father of Dispensationalism (nor dismount Scofield as perhaps the chief popularizer). But that’s not to say we shouldn’t acknowledge that Darby had previous influences and that attempts have been made to try and systematize redemptive history, address the application of biblical law, and solve various hermeneutical issues. Certainly there have been such attempts.

 And again:

One could list countless other references. But, it’s obviously absurd (and anachronistic) to say Calvin, Bavinck, or Spurgeon were Dispensationalists just because they speak of dispensations in redemptive history, and baseless to say from these facts that Darby’s specific thought found its ultimate origins in these particular thinkers (since Christians from virtually every period have been talking about changes in redemptive history and various epochs; perhaps the author of the Hebrews was the first to put it so starkly). Even organizing such Dispensations into a structure does not add up to the profound and distinctive marks of Darby and Scofield’s Dispensationalism (e.g. stark Israel/Church separation, hermeneutic regarding prophecy, premil pretrib eschatology including rapture of believers, etc.) – which is precisely what we mean by “Dispensationalism” today.

While there may be dispensationalists who make such claims, it seems pretty clear that Ryrie himself explicitly disavows such claims.  Instead, Ryrie makes much softer claims about doctrinal development, claims that don’t claim that the “profound and distinctive marks” of dispensationalism were present in the pre-Darby era.

Ryrie instead argues:

There is no question that the Plymouth Brethren, of which John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) was a leader, had much to do with the systematizing and promoting of dispensationalism.  But neither Darby nor the Brethren originated the concepts involved in the system, and even if they had, that would not make them wrong if they can be shown to be biblical.

Indeed, under the title of “Straw Men,” Ryrie explains:

In discussing the matter of the origins of dispensationalism, opponents of the teaching usually set up two straw men and then huff and puff until they are destroyed.  The first straw man is to say that dispensationalists assert that the system was taught in postapostolic times. Informed dispensationalists do not claim that.  They recognize that, as a system, dispensationalism was largely formulated by Darby, but that outlines of a dispensationalist approach to the Scriptures are found much earlier.  They only maintain that certain features of what eventually developed into dispensationalism are found in the teachings of the early church. 

Another typical example of the use of a straw man is this line of argument: pretribulationalism is not apostolic; pretribulationalism is dispensationalism; therefore, dispensationalism is not apostolic.  But dispensationalists do not claim that the system was developed in the first century; nor is it necessary that they be able to do so.

So, in fact, folks like Ryrie (and I assume Fred Butler would fall in this camp) are not claiming that the early or even Reformation-era church held to a pre-mil, pre-trib rapture.

It may be useful in dealing with dispensationals, therefore, to be careful in distinguishing.  On the one hand, we grant that the use of the term and even a difference in dealings (on some level) are concepts that pre-existed Darby.  Indeed, using that same standard, it seems that we might be classified as “primitive dispensationalists” (using Ryrie’s standards) if we hold to covenant theology.  On the other hand, the more objectionable aspects of dispensationalism do not have the same noble lineage.

Ultimately, though, we agree with Ryrie that the test of history is not the ultimate test: the ultimate test is the test of Scripture.  If the teachings of dispensationalism are the teachings of Scripture, then we ought to hold them regardless of whether anyone held them between the time of the apostles and now.


Failure to Understand both Calvinism and One’s Own Doctrine …

November 14, 2011

I saw the following comment from a lay apologist of the Roman communion recently, directed at one of my fellow Calvinists:

If I am going to hell and presdestined to do so, then you don’t have to pray for me or even have any love at all, according to your warped, hideous, grotesque version of Christianity. You can even hate me.

If THIS is what Christianity means, I would rather be an atheist. 

Of course, Thomism (which is supposedly acceptable within Rome’s communion) and even Molinism also teach that certain people are going to hell and predestinated to do so.  That’s not a unique aspect of Calvinism.

Moreover, as in Thomism and Molinism, in Calvinism one is not relieved of one’s obligations to pray for someone or love them simply because of God’s secret decree of reprobation.

The comment quoted above reflects a fundamental failure to understand Calvinism.  It shows that the person does not grasp even the simple concept that, in this life, we do not know who the elect are.  Just because someone is currently a Saul of Tarsus does not mean that they will not one day be a Paul the Apostle (to take an extreme example).

So, the Roman apologist has (a) identified a first set of views that his church deems acceptable, and (b) drawn unfounded conclusions from them.  What should we conclude?  Shall we assume he’s just being silly?  Probably not.  The tone of this comment was harshly serious (the apologist even cursed at my fellow Calvinist in a portion of the comment that I haven’t reproduced).  It could be that he’s just deliberately lying about Calvinism, but what purpose would that serve?  We know what we believe, so we’re not likely to be fooled by his mischaracterization.  All that’s left is that this poor soul doesn’t understand.

We should pray for him, that God would open his eyes.


Into the Church or Into the Visible Church?

November 10, 2011

Rob Rayburn (in his closing argument in the Leithart trial) stated: “Baptism is a means of grace. It brings a person into the church, the family of God as the Confession itself says.”

Actually, the Confession says “Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church … .” There is an important qualifier there: “visible.”  It is a merely external admission.  But is that what Leithart teaches?  Or does Leithart affirm that all those who are baptized have more than a merely external union with him?  The Federal Vision Joint Statement (which Leithart signed) seems to suggest the latter in its section on apostasy.


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