Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Scriptural Refutation Of Calvinism

  • Introduction:
          -Calvinism is a movement within traditional Protestantism that was developed by John Calvin (1509-1564), a French theologian. He was heavily influenced by the writings of the theologian and philosopher Augustine of Hippo. There are five major points to this complex theological system which are known by the acronym: "T.U.L.I.P."
  • Total Depravity:
          -A consequence of the fall of Adam and Eve is that man has been corrupted by sin. This has affected us negatively in every aspect of our being, physically, mentally, and spiritually. We therefore have a natural inclination to resist God. Man is totally unable to redeem himself. We cannot in any way change our sinful condition, but the grace of God can. Original sin does not mean that man is born with evil manifesting itself at its worst point or that he cannot do any kind of good works whatsoever. Rather, man has a natural bent toward choosing evil over good (Ephesians 2:1-3). Even our experience bears this point out. The Law of God says what it says despite our inability to live up to that standard. Thus, it condemns us. However, this is where grace comes into the picture of things. The atonement of Christ is the means by which God can forgive us.
  • Unconditional Election:
          -“All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion: Book 3, Chapter 21, Section 5)
          -"The decree, I admit, is, dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknew what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree." (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, section 7)
          -The Bible teaches a different form of predestination than what is found in Calvinism. The scriptural view is that God determined beforehand, not which individuals will receive salvation and which ones will receive damnation, but how we would serve Him and the means by which we are redeemed. This view is known as corporate election. It pertains to the work that believers do in the church for the glory of God. He has predestined believers to be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:3-6). He has prepared in advance that we do good works (Ephesians 2:10). We become a part of God's elect by hearing and believing on the gospel as it is being proclaimed (John 6:51; Ephesians 1:13-14). 
          -God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11-12; 1 Peter 1:17). He does not will that any perish, but all be saved (Titus 2:11; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9). God does not lead any into temptation (James 1:13-15). Sin is not from God (Jeremiah 7:24).
          -If we have already been predestined to heaven or hell, then what is the purpose of being cautious of the devil's plans of causing deception (1 Peter 5:8)? Why pray that His will be done (Matthew 6:10)?
          -If God has already meticulously predetermined everything since the foundation of the world, then it makes perfect sense for one to say that we have no free will. Why preach repent or perish?
          -Why would God sentence sinners to eternity in hell when He created them to be that way? Why would He punish people who had no control over their sinful actions in the first place?
          -If God has already meticulously predetermined everything since the foundation of the world, then there is no point in debating these issues since He created members of His elect to oppose Calvinism.
          -If God has foreordained since the beginning of time that the unbelieving and unrepentant are to perish eternally, then why did our Lord Jesus Christ claim that He was sent to seek and save that which is lost (Luke 19:9-10)? Why did God grieve over making man (Genesis 6:6)?
  • Limited Atonement:
          -"It maintains that God's design and intent in sending Christ to die on the cross was to pay for the sins and secure the redemption of those whom God has predetermined to save, namely the elect." (Theopedia, "Definite Atonement")
          -According to Scripture, Jesus Christ died not only for our sins, but also the whole world (1 John 2:1-2). He tasted death for all men (Hebrews 2:9). See also 1 Timothy 2:4-6 and Revelation 22:17. God wants every nation to repent and seek Him (Acts 17:26-31).
          -According to Scripture, Christ died even for false teachers (2 Peter 2:1). He has died for both the just and the unjust (1 Peter 3:18). Jesus Christ identified those who continually reject and oppose His message as being among those that He came to save (John 12:47-48).
          -If Jesus Christ was able to save the Apostle Paul who referred to himself as being the chief of sinners for persecuting the church of God in his younger days (1 Timothy 1:15-16), then would that not also imply that salvation is available to all who believe on the gospel (contrary to limited atonement)?
          -Notice how Paul included in his inspired definition of the gospel that Jesus Christ died "for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). This sounds like a personal invitation to salvation. That is literally equivalent to me saying that Christ died for you and me, which refutes limited atonement.
          -Regardless of whether one is Calvinistic in soteriology or not, there is a sense in which the atonement is limited. It is either limited in scope (i.e. whoever is specifically chosen by God from before the foundation of the world) or by application (i.e. whoever believes the gospel receives the benefits of Christ's atonement).
  • Does Unlimited Atonement Necessitate Universalism?:
          -Christ's death for all men denotes divine judgement to the same extant because we have all been commanded to repent and believe on the gospel (Mark 1:15; Acts 17:26-31).
          -Just as the Jewish people had to look at the bronze serpent in order to be physically healed, so we must turn to Christ in order to have our spiritual infirmities removed (Numbers 21:9; John 3:14-16). Thus, no decision to receive salvation means no application of soteriological benefits.
          -God made atonement even for those whom He foreknew would not repent because of His love and graciousness. He blessed Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden even though He knew beforehand that they would fall. He sent prophets to admonish the Jews even though He knew beforehand that they would reject them.
          -God is, in the present tense, bringing about all things to His glory (Romans 8:28-30). If He specifically determined that the benefits of the cross be applied to all who repent and believe, then the gospel and His power are not undermined by belief in unlimited atonement.
  • Irresistible Grace:
          -"Those who obtain the new birth do so, not because they wanted to obtain it, but because of the sovereign discriminating grace of God." (Theopedia, "Irresistible Grace")
          -If irresistible grace is a biblical doctrine, then why is it that God would "spread out His hands all day long" to His rebellious nation Israel (Isaiah 65:2)? Why would God put Himself through so much trouble when He could have instantaneously resolved that problem? Why did Jesus mourn over Israel's unwillingness to accept the prophets God had sent (Matthew 23:37)?
  • Perseverance Of The Saints (Also Known As Eternal Security Or Once Saved, Always Saved):
          -"...those who are truly saved will persevere to the end and cannot lose their salvation. It doesn't mean that a person who is truly saved will never lose faith or backslide at any time..."Eternal security" is often seen as synonymous with "Perseverance of the saints." (Theopedia, "Perseverance of the Saints")
          -Warning texts for Christians against apostasy do not sit well with the idea that it is impossible for one to lose his salvation (Hebrews 3:12; 2 Peter 3:17; 9:24-27; Colossians 1:23; 2:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:1-4; 6:20-21; Galatians 5:4-5; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 20-22; James 5:19-20). We even have a few examples of genuine Christians falling away from the faith recorded in New Testament (1 Timothy 1:18-21; 5:11-15; 2 Timothy 4:10). In other words, it is possible for Christians to "walk away" their salvation.
          -God disciplines those who He loves, just as a father does a son who is guilty of some wrongdoing (Deuteronomy 8:3-5; Proverbs 3:12). A God who is willing to lay down His life for sinners is not going to instantaneously give up on somebody. A person does not reach sinless perfection upon conversion. We still struggle with a sin nature, but the grace of God, which we do not deserve, does transform our hearts. How God dealt with Israel in the Old Testament is a testimony to His patience. 
          -The loss of salvation is not caused by a single bad work, but is a slow, gradual process that takes place over time. We do not do bad works to "get unsaved." Bad works are the evidence, not the cause, of a declining faith or hardening heart. Our works are symptomatic of our spiritual state. God examines our hearts. We are justified by faith, apart from the merit of any good works (Romans 4:2-8). We are saved by faith in Christ. We obtain mercy from God through genuine repentance.
          -It is technically difficult for a Christian to "lose" his salvation. God is slow to anger (Psalm 145:8). He is rich in mercy (Ephesians 1:7-8). He does not will that any man perish (2 Peter 3:9). God is faithful even during our times of unfaithfulness. The Holy Spirit continually convicts the conscience of sin. But He can still cast off bad branches. Christians do not lose their free will upon conversion. He certainly has the power to keep us, but will not force people into heaven. That would not be love. We were not created to be robots or puppets, but His children.
          -We are kept in by the Holy Spirit the same way that we entered the Kingdom of God: faith (Galatians 3:1-6; Colossians 2:6-7). In other words, we are both justified and sanctified by faith. Salvation is not analogous to some wage that we can deplete by sin. We are not saved by acting better or remaining faithful, but by trusting in the atonement of Christ. We are either fully a part of God's kingdom or not a member at all.
  • Does A Rejection Of Calvinism Mean That Man Takes Credit For His Own Salvation And That God Is Not Sovereign?:
          -It is true that man in his fallen condition can never please God. We could never merit our salvation. His grace is an absolute necessity. 
          -We absolutely need Christ's imputed righteousness. It is by faith in Him that we are saved. However, we must accept the terms of forgiveness as prescribed in the gospel. 
          -This is analogous to a physician informing a patient of the need for a procedure such as a liver transplant. The latter performs the work on the former. In the same vein, it is God who diagnoses our problem of sin and totally removes it from our being. 
          -We have the ability to recognize that we have a spiritual problem in light of divine revelation. The choice to accept the gift of justification is not a work, anymore than is grabbing a lifesaver while drowning or accepting a birthday gift from a loved one. To say that we take credit for accepting a free, and even undeserved, gift would be irrational in the highest degree.
          -There is no denying that salvation is of God. He is its author and finisher. It is God who gets all the credit for saving us. Our decision to approach Him in humble repentance does not merit us anything. God is not under any obligation whatsoever to save us. 
          -God is compassionate and merciful. Our decision to repent is distinguished from His decision to save us. These two ideas cannot be equated. Faith is the antithesis of works (Romans 4:4-5; 11:6; Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith carries with it no merit of its own.
          -Atonement is applied freely to all who come to Christ by faith. It is God who regenerates us. The gospel itself has sufficient power to draw any sinner to God (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Hebrews 4:12). His grace is an absolute necessity in our conversion. The gospel is God's gracious offer of salvation to undeserving sinners.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Answering Practical Objections To Sola Scriptura

  • Is Sola Scriptura Based On Circular Reasoning?:
          -This objection would hold water if, and only if, adherents were to argue for belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture solely on the basis of what Scripture says about itself. That would be a fallacious claim by reason of being a viciously circular argument.
          -Arguments giving credence to the inspiration of Scripture:
            *Excellent moral teaching/life transforming power of Scripture
            *Incredible manuscript evidence for the authenticity of New Testament Scriptures
            *Consistency with world history/archaeological discoveries. If the four gospels for instance can be shown to be as reliable (or even more so than) as extra-biblical authors such as Plutarch, Josephus, and Tacitus, then we must accept Jesus Christ as being the Son of God. Radical skepticism toward the text would not be appropriate in that instance.
            *Scripture's fulfillment of prophecy points to its supernatural origin
          -If the Bible is truly the Word of God, then it follows from that premise everything set forth by that standard must also be true. That would not be circular, but sequential thinking.
          -Sola Scriptura is not a denial of the usefulness of extra-biblical sources. It does not mean we cannot consult material outside of Bible.
          -Some degree of circularity will always exist in the operational processes of any system that functions on the basis of an ultimate source of authority. It does not matter whether whether it be Catholic, Protestant, or secular. 
  • High Illiteracy Rates In The Early Church: 
          -Being illiterate does not mean that a person is dumb or has less of an ability to understand concepts. Sola Scriptura was still possible for the early Christians because:
            *Scripture can be taught orally by those who are literate.
            *Scripture can still be memorized or recited from memory.
            *Scripture can still be studied, though it may take more time to grasp the meaning behind certain passages of Scripture.
            *The Scriptures were read in the Synagogues and churches. In fact, the heretics of the early church would use Scripture to engage Christians.
          -The fact that persecution of Christians in the early church was problematic for the spread of the gospel did not reduce the importance of the unconverted hearing that message. In similar fashion, illiteracy rates would indeed be a problem for the study of Scripture. But at the same time, that point does nothing to lessen the authority of Scripture.
          -If the Jesus Christ passed on infallible, extra-biblical oral traditions that were meant to be heard by us, then what about the people who are deaf? If illiteracy rates disqualify Scripture from functioning as the only infallible rule of faith, then is the Roman Catholic "three-legged stool" disqualified because deaf people cannot hear oral teaching?
  • Malnutrition In The Early Church:
          -Even if this is true, everybody in the church at this point in time had essentially the same diet. It takes no more nourishment to understand teachings found in a catechism than it does to understand passages of Scripture.
          -In order to refute Sola Scriptura, one has to demonstrate that the principle somehow conflicts with Scripture. The authority of Scripture is not determined by our intelligence. The authority of Scripture is not determined by our health. The authority of Scripture is not determined by its availability. Scripture is inherently authoritative because it is God-breathed.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Examining The Roman Catholic Dogma Of Purgatory

  • Introduction: 
          -The Roman Catholic Church defines purgatory as "purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” and for those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030). It is further maintained that, “this final purification of the elect...is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC 1031).
  • Purgatory Denies The Sufficiency Of Christ's Sacrifice:
          -The idea that we are able to atone for our sins undermines the message of the gospel. Christ made a sacrifice to save those who are utterly unable to make amends for sin themselves. We cannot offer any atonement sacrifice for sins by suffering in purgatory or by offering indulgences because that debt has already been fully settled by Christ Himself on the cross. To suggest that we must pay the penalty for any sin even after it has been pardoned by God diminishes the efficacy of His atonement. That is a terribly inadequate and inconsistent view of forgiveness. It would be an insult against God to the highest degree to try to pay for even the smallest part of a debt that He has already paid in full. It is another way of saying that His work is not good enough for us. If we are forgiven for a sin and there is still some sort of punishment that we must endure in the afterlife, then we are not really forgiven.
  • Does 2 Maccabees 12:39-46 Offer Biblical Support For Purgatory?:
          -These dead soldiers were struck down by God because of their idolatry (v. 40). According to the Catholic Church, idolatry is a mortal sin (CCC 1857; 1858). Mortal sins send a person to hell. Purgatory is for "venial" sins. Thus, we have no evidence for Purgatory in 2 Maccabees. This text is rejected as canonical by both Jews and Protestants. The Roman Catholic New American Bible Revised Edition has this footnote, "The author, however, uses the story to demonstrate belief in the resurrection of the just (7:9, 14, 23, 36), and in the possibility of expiation for the sins of otherwise good people who have died. This belief is similar to, but not quite the same as, the Catholic doctrine of purgatory."
  • Does Matthew 5:25-26 Offer Biblical Support For Purgatory?:
          -The context is about anger and settling disputes in relationships (v. 21-24). No one can deny that this passage is speaking about hell because it is mentioned in context (v. 22). A person in hell would be there "until he had paid the last cent," meaning that his stay there would be eternal, as he could never give a ransom for it.
  • Does Matthew 12:31-32 Offer Biblical Support For Purgatory?:
          -The parallel passage makes the meaning of this one crystal clear (Mark 3:28-29). It simply means that a person who commits the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never receive forgiveness from God. Catholic Priest William G. Most agrees with this interpretation, "...the expression quoted is known in Rabbinic literature, where it means merely "never."
  • Does 1 Corinthians 3:15 Offer Biblical Support For Purgatory?:
          -This text is not about punishment for sins. It talks about eternal rewards (or lack thereof). In other words, the context is about testing the quality of each believer's work which determines his heavenly rewards (v. 10-14). It is not about believers undergoing punishment after death for venial sins. God will evaluate the quality of each believer's work so as to bestow praise appropriately (1 Corinthians 4:5). The phrase "he shall suffer loss" in verse fifteen refers to the loss of heavenly rewards. Catholic Priest William G. Most comments on this passage, "...the fire seems to mean the apocalyptic fire of the last day, not a fire of purgatory." The Roman Catholic New American Bible Revised Edition has this footnote on the text of 1 Corinthians 3:15, “The text of v. 15 has sometimes been used to support the notion of purgatory, though it does not envisage this.”
  • Does 1 Peter 3:19 Offer Biblical Support For Purgatory?:
          -This text is not referring to human beings suffering in Purgatory, but rather concerns Christ descending into Hades for the purpose of proclaiming His victory to the fallen angels. It means that the same Holy Spirit of God who resurrected Jesus Christ from the grave also enabled Him to use Noah as an instrument to preach repentance to other men during his earthly lifespan (during the construction of the ark which took place prior to the Genesis flood). Jesus preached the message of His triumph over sin and death to the fallen angels who have been imprisoned since the time of the flood. 1 Peter 3:19 is referring not to a place for believers who were not fully purified from venial sins in this life but to a place for nonbelievers. The Roman Catholic New American Bible Revised Edition has this footnote: "3, 19: The spirits in prison: It is not clear just who these spirits are. They may be the spirits of the sinners who died in the flood, or angelic powers, hostile to God, who have been overcome by Christ (ch 22; Gn 6, 4; Enoch 6-36, especially 21, 6; 2 Enoch 7, 1-5)."
  • Some Eastern Orthodox sources, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate, consider Purgatory to be among:
          -"inter-correlated theories, unwitnessed in the Bible or in the Ancient Church” that are not acceptable within Orthodox doctrine, and hold to a “condition of waiting” as a more apt description of the period after death for those not borne directly to heaven. This waiting condition does not imply purification, which they see as being linked to the idea “there is no hope of repentance or betterment after death.” Prayers for the dead, then, are simply to comfort those in the waiting place."
  • The Origin Of The Roman Catholic Dogma Of Purgatory:
          -“...The written prayers which have survived, and the evidence from the catacombs and burial inscriptions indicate that the early church believed deceased Christians to be residing in peace and happiness and the nature of the prayers offered for them were that they might have a greater experience of these. As early as Tertullian, in the late second and beginning of the third century, these prayers often used the Latin term refrigerium as a request of God on behalf of departed Christians, a term which means ‘refreshment’ or ‘to refresh’ and came to embody the concept of heavenly happiness. So even though the early Church prayed for the dead, it does not support the concept of a purgatory for the nature of the prayers themselves indicate the Church did not believe the dead to be residing in a place of suffering. The roots on the teaching on purgatory can be traced back to pagan Greek religion and philosophy in such writings as the Roman poet Virgil's Aeneid and especially through the influence of Plato, whose views were introduced into the Church primarily through Origen...He was an influential promoter of purgation through suffering after death.” (William Webster, Roman Catholic Tradition: Claims and Contradictions, p. 63-64)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Refuting The Use Of Objects In Worship

  • Introduction: 
          -The Roman Catholic Church (and Eastern Orthodox) use statues and icons as part of their worship. People who occupy objects for such purposes believe that they aid them in remembering God, Jesus, Mary, or other important figures in Christianity. The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church says, "Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.” (Paragraph 2132)
          -Advocates of using images in worship regularly bow down before statues, icons, and images of Christian figures, kissing at the feet of the statues, and praying to them. Some will even be rolling in front of statues, showering flowers on them, lighting candles before them, carrying statues in procession, and changing the clothing on them daily. In Roman Catholic churches, there are several paintings of Jesus, Mary, Peter, and canonized saints. There is an abundance of religious iconography.
          -"Owing to the influence of the Old Testament prohibition of images, Christian veneration of images developed only after the victory of the Church over paganism. The Synod of Elvira (about 306) still prohibited figurative representations in the houses of God (Can. 36)." (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 320)
  • The Case Against The Use Of Statues, Images, And Relics In Worship:
          -Actions such as kneeling (in religious contexts) and prayer are defined as worship according to Scripture (Exodus 20:5; Isaiah 44:17; 45:20; Matthew 4:9-10; 6:6-14; Philippians 2:10). The apostles refused to accept honor as people knelt before them (Acts 10:25-26; 14:13-15). Even the angels who served God did not want people bowing before them in reverence (Revelation 4:10; 19:10; 22:8-9). Directing such adoration and devotion to entities other than God is idolatry. It also is noteowrthy that Roman Catholics sing worship psalms to various saints and wear amulets with pictures of Mary on them.
          -God clearly condemned making figures for the purpose of giving religious devotion or honor to beings other than Him (Exodus 20:4-5; Deuteronomy 4:15-24; 2 Chronicles 33:6-7). In fact, the Apostle Paul specifically said that God is not served with physical objects (Acts 17:23-25). God said that He would not give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8). We are not to worship God like the pagans do with their gods. That kind of worship is offensive to Him.
  • A Valid Practice In The New Testament?:
          -In the New Testament, we are never given permission to use statues as an aid in worship. We have no examples of such activity being approved of by God. As noted previously, the Apostle Paul affirmed Old Testament prohibitions on using material objects in worship. Idols pose a danger to our relationship with God. There are also different forms of idolatry (Ephesians 5:5-7). The only time we see people bowing before statues in Scripture are the unfaithful and unbelieving.
  • Veneration Verses Worship:
          -When Roman Catholics are accused of worshiping Mary and the saints, they usually respond by saying that they are simply venerating (i.e. giving honor to) them. This claim is elaborated on by dividing this veneration into three distinct categories (using Latin): latria (God alone), hyperdulia (Mary alone), and dulia (saints and angels).
          -Even though this argument sounds good when written on paper, it is theoretical only. It does not work in practice. Occupying separate labels does not change the essence of what is being done. Scripture does not provide any justification for three different classes of honor to give to three different classes of beings (i.e. God, Mary, and saints). In fact, every instance of religious veneration recorded in Scripture by a faithful person is directed to God alone. That point is not without significance. We would do well to remember that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:24; Nahum 1:2). He does not take the issue of worship lightly.
  • Defining What Is Permissible:
          -We ought to give honor to the people who deserve it (Romans 13:1; Hebrews 13:7). Bowing can be a custom of respect toward authority, although God has never ordained that a person represented by a statue be the recipient of such honor. It is also not wrong to have pieces of art for decoration and pictures that we cherish. God can indeed use images to communicate divine truths. Moreover, it is even acceptable to honor Christians from the past by acknowledging their faith and following their moral example (Hebrews 11). However, building statues with the intent of bowing before them and offering prayer or adoration to entities other than God Himself transcends honor. Such behavior is idolatry.
  • Does The Creation Of The Bronze Serpent Support Bowing Before Statues In Worship (Numbers 21:6-9)?:
          -God commanded Moses to make the Bronze Serpent for a one time purpose (John 3:14-16). However, the Israelites converted it into an object of worship. It ended up getting destroyed by King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:3-4). There is no scriptural evidence that the Bronze Serpent was ever supposed to be used as an aid in worship.
  • Does The Creation Of The Two Cherubs Support Bowing Before Statues In Worship (Exodus 25:18)?:
          -God commanded the making of two golden cherubs, but the Jews were not called to bow down before them or serve them.
  • Does The Creation Of The Ark Of The Covenant Support Bowing Before Statues In Worship (Joshua 7:6-7)?:
          -God ordered the Israelites to make the ark so that He could dwell in their presence and meet with the leaders (Exodus 25:8; 22). But why does the ark have two images of angels (Exodus 25:18-21)? It has them because it is a replica of God's throne in heaven (Isaiah 6:1-2). This is further evidenced by the fact that the ark of the covenant also served as a footstool for the "feet" of the Lord (1 Chronicles 28:2). Unlike the ark, the images used in Roman Catholic veneration represent alleged saints.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Lord's Prayer (An Exegetical Analysis Of Matthew 6:6-14)

          In prayer, our principal focus must be on God. He is to be the object of our attention and thoughts. We are in His divine presence. He answers one's prayer based on sincerity and faithfulness (v. 6). Christ's words are not a condemnation of public worship itself. Prayer is not to be done with the intent of impressing other people.

          We are not to pray in the manner that pagans do, as for instance like the worshipers of Baal (1 Kings 18:26). Prayer should be intelligent and coherent. Repetition itself is not a problem (Matthew 26:42–46). It is not to be done boisterously or in a state of ecstasy. We are not to utter rash sayings in offering up our prayers to God (v. 7). He rejects prayer tainted with self-righteousness.

          God knows everything, which includes our prayer requests, even before we even go to Him (v. 8). We do not know ourselves as well as He does. Only pagans think that their gods need to be told about human needs. That is not the case with the living God. Thus, the purpose of prayer is communion with Him. Christ is our spiritual food. He is consumed by faith.

          We acknowledge that God is the Creator and Lord of all. It follows from that premise we are to give Him rightful honor and worship (v. 9). We must approach Him in humility and respect. Jesus Christ was giving to His disciples a proper model for prayer in contrast to the vain and empty words of unbelievers. It would also indicate who was one of His disciples. Israel had failed to properly honor God's name (Ezekiel 36:22-23).

          We pray with knowledge beforehand that God is sovereign for His kingdom to come (v. 10). It has no boundaries in terms of extent. Our wills are to be perfectly aligned with God's will. Our desire is that good conquers the evils of this world. God has a plan which cannot be thwarted. It will be fully brought to fruition when Christ returns for a second time.

          We live in a world that overflows with tragedies: poverty, wars, famine, diseases, etc. Only goodness can exist in the kingdom of God. We pray that He supply our needs on a daily basis (v. 11). He continues to provide for us according to His will. This points to the reality that we need to depend on God daily. Prayer is more than merely asking God for material items.

          In prayer, we humbly ask God for the forgiveness of our sins (v. 12). Sin is an offense against Him. We have repeatedly violated His perfect standard of morality, the Law. We must pray for sins committed even after conversion. This does not mean we must approach God with a list of our sins because we could not possibly remember all of them or realize the degree to which we are sinful. His mercy is greater than that.

          We must follow the example of God forgiving our trespasses against Him (v. 14). That means we ought not hold anger or resentment towards other people. We do not hold offenses committed against us by others in the past over their heads. We must forgive the sins of other people because that is what He has done for us. We too are sinful beings. Forgiveness is the essence of the Christian message. It eliminates human pride and boasting.

          We pray to God that He protects us from succumbing to the influences of evil in this world. This request encompasses both attacks from Satan and unfortunate events in our lives. Temptation is inevitable for us as long as we live on this earth. God will bring His purposes to pass in His own timing. He is entitled to perpetual glory (v. 13). 

Surveying The Book Of Ecclesiastes

          The Book of Ecclesiastes describes what life is like in a fallen world. It gives an account of man living out his life in temporal terms and God's control over him (Ecclesiastes 3:15; 9:1). The author of this work, traditionally ascribed to Solomon, portrays eating, drinking, and work in a positive light. He says that there is a time for everything, whether it be laughter, joy, or sorrow. These things are beneficial to man in their own way. 

          This work is distinct from other writings of the Old Testament due to its seemingly pessimistic language in regard to the continued pursuit of earthly pleasures. It would make more sense to approach it with an eternal perspective in mind than our limited human understanding. It is from the former point of view that optimism shines through in our lives. We are hereby compelled to change how we think about things.

          Ecclesiastes is similar to Philippians in that all earthly pursuits are subordinate to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:8). The author of this work uses the phrase "under the sun" more than once in writing. He made observations about the transitory nature of our life and achievements. They are as a grain of sand in a desert.

          Ecclesiastes illustrates the futility of placing an over emphasis on worldly passions. It destroys the mentality of a materialist by showing him the futility of his own ways. Even if one could find satisfaction in earthly possessions and success, death lies at the door. Compare Ecclesiastes 3:19 to Genesis 3:19. We can honestly say with Abraham that we are but dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27).

          The fate of man is the same as that of a beast, death. The fate of the righteous man is the same as that of the unrighteous man, death. We all have the same fate. We will all meet our Creator one day. The only difference lies in our eternal destinies. The righteous will receive eternal life and the unrighteous eternal damnation. Man dies and is forgotten. The events of his life are forever hidden from posterity. Man no longer partakes of things in this world once he passes away (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6). 

          Ecclesiastes crushes any form of human pride by setting forth a proper perspective of life. The point being made is not that earthly pursuits as such are bad in and of themselves. It is wrong to excessively esteem our abilities. Things that we have accomplished have been done by others who lived before us. Life from a materialistic perspective is futile. That is the reason for the author's usage of the phrase "vanity of vanities."

          The human heart longs for something more than this life. That is why man is instinctively religious. He has a strong desire for something that transcends this temporal order. The human heart finds its fulfillment in God. The world and the things therein are perishing. The things of our fallen world are subject to wear and tear. The human heart can only rest content in God.

    Saturday, February 18, 2017

    Amazing Grace

            Amazing grace! How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see.

            ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed.

            Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.

            The Lord has promised good to me, His Word my hope secures; He will my Shield and Portion be, As long as life endures.

            Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease, I shall possess, within the veil, A life of joy and peace.

            The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, The sun forbear to shine; But God, who called me here below, Will be forever mine.

            When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun, We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we’d first begun.

      Lyrics originally written by John Newton

      Did The Catholic Church Give Us The Bible?

      • Defining The Issues:
                -The Church of Rome argues that if we did not have its allegedly apostolic oral traditions, we would not have the canon of Scripture. This claim is obviously one of the Roman Catholic Church's attempts to exalt itself as an infallible authority in addition to the Bible.
                -It is claimed that the canon issue was settled at the Council of Hippo (393 AD) and the Council of Carthage (397 AD). Then, it was supposedly reaffirmed at the Council of Trent (1546 AD). As a result of this major accomplishment, we are indebted to Rome and obligated to submit to its claims to infallible teaching authority.
                -Roman Catholic apologists commonly argue that we must embrace the traditions of their church in order to know with certainty which writings comprise the Bible. These people assert that we can have no certainty as to which books belong in the canon of Scripture, apart from Rome's authoritative pronouncements.
      • A Circular Appeal:
                -This point can be illustrated in the following manner: "The Bible and Tradition are true because the infallible Church defined them to be such. The Roman Catholic Church is true because the Bible and Tradition told us so." The ultimate argument offered by Rome to us on this issue is that we must accept the canon of Scripture on the basis that it says so, which is circular reasoning. How can we know that the Roman Catholic Church's claims to infallibility are true or not? The Roman Catholic Church's claims to authority are ultimately self-defeating, since its "infallible" dogmas must be fallibly interpreted by the individual.
      • How Can We Know Which Person Wrote Which Books Of The Bible, Since The Bible Does Not Contain Its Own Table Of Contents?:
                -How do Roman Catholics know which oral traditions are inspired? Do they have an inspired table of contents identifying which specific oral traditions that we are supposed to heed to?
                -Canonical writings such as Job and Hebrews have unknown authors, yet the Church of Rome has never identified who wrote those books. If "not knowing the author" automatically means a denial of the divine inspiration of a text, then would Roman Catholics be willing to throw away those books of the Bible, since their authors are unknown?
                -We must be dependent on outside sources of information in order to gather information regarding the canon of Scripture. No figure from the early church can directly tell us which books of the New Testament are canonical because they are now deceased. So we must resort to the extant extra-biblical writings of the early church. We must draw some of our conclusions from the early church fathers.
      • The Problem Of The Old Testament Canon:
                -How did the Jewish people, who lived prior to the birth of Jesus Christ, know how to identify Old Testament books such as Isaiah and Jeremiah to be inspired by God? How did the Jews know that such books were inspired without the assistance of an infallible teaching authority? How come God did not simply give the Jews an inspired table of contents specifically identifying which Old Testament books were inspired?
                 *The Roman Catholic Magisterium could not have identified the inspired books of the Old Testament for the Jews because it did not exist before the birth of Christ.
                 *There is no historical evidence pointing to any sort of belief in the infallibility of the Jewish religious leaders. In fact, Jesus Christ rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for doctrinal errors (Matthew 15; Mark 7).
      • The Irony Of Affirming The Need Of Infallible Certainty Over The Canon:
                -If infallible certainty over the canon is as important as Roman Catholic apologists make it sound, then why did it take Rome over 1,500 years to officially settle the issue at the Council of Trent? Why would a supposedly infallible institution need to wait so long to give its members infallible certainty on the canon of Scripture?
                 *“According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the Biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church (at the Council of Trent). Before that time there was some doubt about the canonicity of certain Biblical books, i.e., about their belonging to the canon.” (The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 3, page 29, Copyright 1967; Under “Canon, Biblical”)
                 *“The Tridentine decrees from which the above list is extracted was the first infallible and effectually promulgated pronouncement on the Canon, addressed to the Church Universal.” (New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, under the category titled "Canon of The Old Testament")
      • The Councils Of Hippo And Carthage Were Local Synods, Not Ecumenical:
                -The Councils of Hippo and Carthage were only provincial. The decisions of these groups were limited to their respective regions, despite there being debates with broader implications than their associated localities like clerical discipline, baptism, and heretical practices. Their rulings were not binding on the Christian church as a whole. These were African councils. In fact, neither the Councils of Hippo nor Carthage were able to definitively finally settle any issues occurring in the church during that specific time.
      • The Canon Of Scripture And Church Councils:
                -While church councils helped to make more pronounced the New Testament canon, they did not give the New Testament books their authority (which is not official Roman Catholic teaching but, a popular assertion parroted by its apologists). Scripture is inherently authoritative because it is God-breathed. The degree of certainty that one posses regarding the canon is sufficient certainty. The early Christians identified the inspired writings and affirmed them as such.
                -"It is a remarkable fact no early Church Council selected the books that should constitute the New Testament Canon. The books that we now have crushed out all rivals, not by any adventitious authority, but by their own weight and worth. This is in itself a strong proof of the genuineness and authenticity of the books that have survived. It is not until the close of fourth that any Council even discussed the subject." (Henry Clarence Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament, p. 25)

      Loving One's Neighbor

      We all have the tendency to act selfishly toward others. In our world, people are constantly thinking of themselves and fail to recognize that it is not right or proper for them to behave in such a manner. If we can support ourselves and focus on our own desires, then what barrier is preventing us from doing the same with other people? A distinguishing characteristic of Christian piety is not simply love for one's own, but love even for enemies. We often do not live according to Christ's teaching ourselves. Why would God create us if our purpose was only to live in a dungeon of sin? Jesus Christ commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our purpose in life is to know, love, and serve God in this world with the intent of spending eternity with Him.

      We act according to God's will when we love our neighbors as ourselves. His Son gave Himself up on a cross for our sake so that we could be with God eternally in heaven. We who worship Him can give ourselves up by spreading the Gospel of Grace. We can help others to see beyond a self-serving scope which is created by the lenses on the glasses of sin. We know God through His work. We can see things clearly when we put on the glasses of godliness. What is the right decision in life? The proper decision is to demonstrate our love for God by loving our neighbor. We can do kind deeds for others such as raking lawns for the elderly, giving food to the poor, and forgiving the wrongful actions against us committed by others.

      We more fully understand what it means to love God when we love our neighbors. If we do not love them, then we do not love God and cannot serve Him. Jesus said,"If you love Me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Our lives as Christians are to be lived out in obedience to Him. Human life itself has intrinsic value. God judges without showing partiality. The love of self is the natural predisposition of man. It is our assumed state of being. The challenge lies in projecting that love away from ourselves. We ought to love God and neighbor. 

      We serve the Creator when we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. When we serve others, we are fulfilling His message of doing good for others. When we feed the hungry, we are serving God. When we cloth the naked and visit the prisoners, we are serving God. When we do any form of charity, we are serving God. Preaching the gospel should be our utmost way of serving Him.

      We live in a world that is selfish. This is not the way that God intended things to be. That way of life is contrary to His morality. We must look beyond ourselves and our passions. We must extend a helping hand to others, especially our brethren in the church. We are fully capable of doing good works through the grace of God and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He changes the hearts of people who repent of their sins and believe on Christ for salvation. We are to devote ourselves to the will of God with an eternal perspective.

      Friday, February 17, 2017

      What Is The Relationship Between Faith And Reason?

                Secular people tend to believe that religion and science contradict each other. They are thereby depicted as not being compatible entities. It is claimed by atheists that faith and reason together cannot be used to construct a coherent worldview. A dichotomy is set up between an irrational person who believes in religion or the rational and sane person who believes in science alone. That is a misguided conception, however. It would be akin to saying that one has greater faith in science than faith itself.

                The truth of the matter is that people who maintain that faith and reason are incompatible have presented a false dichotomy. A logical person can also be religious. A religious person can indeed be reasonable and intelligent. In fact, foundational scientific advancements were made during a time when most scientists were religious people. While faith and reason are distinct from each other, they function together in different amounts.

                Faith and reason are inseparable. Faith cannot operate without reason. Reason cannot operate without faith. One cannot function independently of the other. Both must co-exist. Faith and reason overlap. The two do not stand in contradiction to each other when their relationship is properly understood. They complement each other. Beliefs rest on both faith and reason. Faith exists no matter how strong the evidence for a given proposition is.

                Our faith should not be blind but informed by evidence. We occupy reason to grasp scientific concepts such as DNA, the atmosphere, and dinosaurs. Truths revealed solely through divine revelation would include the Trinity and virgin birth. These spiritual truths transcend the natural realm. Faith and reason overlap in areas such as intelligent design, objective moral laws, and the resurrection. These matters require both elements. When faith and reason walk together, we see completeness in our lives.