Why Do I Love My Unbelieving Neighbor?

The title of this post is a question that I asked myself after reading the title of a “Breakpoint” message by John Stonestreet—Our Muslim Neighbors: Christ died for them, we could at least love them. The title seems to suggest that Christians ought to love unbelievers (specifically Muslims) because God loves them. The Bible clearly teaches that God sent Jesus to die for sinners as an expression of his love for sinners. And the logic of Stonestreet’s argument seems to be that if God loves unbelievers in the cross of Jesus Christ then that love of God is the reason that Christians also must love unbelievers.

The issue here is not that God loves unbelievers and sent Christ to die for them. The Bible is very clear that in his love for his people who were yet sinners, hardened unbelievers, God sent Christ to die for them. The issue here is the extent of God’s love for unbelievers that was displayed in the death of Jesus Christ. Is Jesus’ death an expression of God’s love for all sinners or only for some?

Stonestreet’s title suggests that God’s love in the cross of Jesus Christ is universal in extent—it is a love for all sinners. Stonestreet does not explicitly say in the title or in the body of his article that Jesus died for everyone. This is the inference that I am drawing from his assertion that Christians should love people because Christ died for them. In the body of the article Stonestreet speaks of the calling of Christians to “love our enemies,” to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” and to “reach out to all our neighbors (emphasis his).” If we are to love all of our neighbors, and Christ’s death for the neighbor is the basis of that love, then Christ must have died for all of our neighbors. So Stonestreet seems to find a love of God for all men in the cross of Jesus Christ as the ground that necessitates the love of Christians for their unbelieving neighbors.

The idea that Christians must love all men because God loves all men is quite prevalent in the church today. Even in many Reformed churches where the idea that Jesus died for all men is rejected, it is still popular to teach that God loves all men. In these churches they deny that God loves all men in the death of Jesus Christ, but they teach that God loves all men in the preaching of the gospel. The preaching of the gospel is a “well-meant” offer of salvation to all men in which God sincerely loves all men and desires the salvation of all men. It is commonly said this is what drives the church to do missions. Why does the church do the most loving thing it can do for sinners and preach the gospel to all men as it has opportunity? Because God loves all men. Therefore, the church must love all men and seek the salvation of all men too.  So whether it is because God loves all men in Jesus’ death, or because he loves all men in the preaching of the gospel, the conclusion is the same, the reason that Christians must love the neighbor is because God also loves the neighbor.

There is no question that Christians must love their enemies, do good to all men (Matt. 5:43, Gal. 6:10). There is no question about the duty of the church to preach the gospel to all men as it has opportunity (Matt. 28:19). There is no question about the duty of the individual Christian to love and desire the salvation of his unbelieving neighbor whether he be an atheist or a Muslim.

But the calling of a Christian to love the neighbor cannot be grounded upon the love of God for all men. Christian love for the neighbor cannot be grounded upon the love of God for all men because God does not love all men. God did not love all men in the cross of Jesus Christ. Scripture teaches that Jesus died for His elect sheep alone (John 10:15). God loved only the elect in the cross of Jesus Christ. And God does not love all men in the preaching of the gospel. In the preaching of the gospel God also only loves and desires the salvation of his elect (Matt. 13:11-17, Matt. 22:14).

Scripture teaches that God’s love is powerful. It does not matter if one says that God’s love for all men is found in the cross of Christ or in the preaching, either way, if God loves everyone with his powerful love then everyone would be saved. But everyone is not saved. Which means that God’s love must be a weak love if his love is universal. There is no hint of a weak universal love of God that fails to save those who are the objects of that love in Scripture. God’s love is powerful and saving for those chosen by God in eternal election (Rom. 8:29-30).

Christ did not die for all men. God does not have love for all men. Christians then do not love their unbelieving neighbors because they know God loves them.

Oh yes, Christians must love Muslims and their other unbelieving neighbors. Why?

We will answer that question in the next post.

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Monday Morning Devotions: Rest

Matt. 11:18 “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

What is Sabbath rest? How can we enjoy Sabbath rest even during the week when we are busy working? Rev. Hoeksema answers these questions (and others) in chapter 7 of Peace for the Troubled Heart. Here is today’s excerpt:

With unrest he fills the heart until every last basis of self-confidence is removed, until from the heart the cry is wrung, “O, God, be merciful unto me, a sinner!”

When all the wisdom and prudence, all the righteousness of works, all self-conceit and self-confidence to carry our own burdens and remove them is uprooted, and the heart longs for a righteousness that is not its own but God’s, he stands forth in all the beauty of his salvation, in all the glory of his power and says, “Weary toiler, it is finished. The task you labor to accomplish is completed. The work is done!”

“It was done for you.”

“Completely finished by me.”

“I will give you rest!”

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The Plain Reading of Genesis

Today I point you to this outstanding article entitled The Genesis Crisis. If anyone needs to be brought up to speed on the creation “debate” that is raging in the churches today this article is a good place to start. Here are some of the questions that the article answers (the answers are gleaned from the article—direct quotes are indicated with quotation marks):

Why do so many in the church today refuse to accept the plain reading of Genesis?

Answer: “Regardless of historical science’s inability to get its story straight, its various conjectures are given unquestioned authority and exert enormous academic and ideological pressure. And in the face of that pressure, many theologians and biblical scholars attempt to harmonize creation and evolution in hopes of maintaining both their academic credibility and their orthodoxy.”

What organization is militantly attacking the truth of creation and promoting the unbelieving theory of evolution?

Answer: BioLogos.

Who are some of the well-known and much too well-thought-of supporters of BioLogos?

Answer: N.T. Wright, Tim Keller, and Bruce Waltke.

What is one of the false charges made against those who accept the plain reading of Genesis?

Answer: That we are anti-science.

How should we respond to the charge we are anti-science?

Answer: “It’s worth remembering that true empirical science is measurable, testable, repeatable, and observable. Therefore evolutionary theories require at least as much blind faith as the Genesis account, if not more. And yet the wonky religions of Big Bang Cosmology and Darwinian Evolution have done an amazing job of frightening theologians with their façade of pseudo-scientific evidence.

Theologians who refuse to compromise and cave to that façade are not ‘anti-science.’ They are against bad science. If a scientific theory conflicts with God’s inerrant Word, it is the theory that requires revision; not Scripture. True biblical scholarship seeks to arrive at exegetical conclusions in conformity with the biblical text, not impose humanistic conclusions upon the text, thus changing its meaning. Those who insist on mixing oil with water combine pseudo-science with pseudo-exegesis and come up with convoluted solutions that neither scientists nor scholars can agree on.”

What errors are “evangelicals” developing as a result of their refusal to read Genesis 1 as history?

Answer 1: NT Wright does not believe that Adam and Eve were the first of their kind who lived alone in the garden of Eden. He sees them as “a primal pair in a world of emerging hominids” that God called out from that group of hominids to live in the garden of Eden. The implication is that Adam and Eve did exist, but they were not created, they descended from some pre-human ancestors—including various animals, plants, and rocks.

Answer 2: Tim Keller is open to the idea that “God forming man from the dust of the ground could be a description of evolution.”

Why is refusing to accept Genesis 1 as a historical account of creation so important?

Answer 1: It denies the authority of Scripture.

Answer 2: It also leads to a denial of the gospel. The article quotes John MacArthur who writes, “If Adam was not the literal ancestor of the entire human race, then the Bible’s explanation of how sin entered the world makes no sense. Moreover, if we didn’t fall in Adam, we cannot be redeemed in Christ, because Christ’s position as the Head of the redeemed race exactly parallels Adam’s position as the head of the fallen race: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18–19). “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45; cf. 1 Timothy 2:13–14; Jude 14).

So in an important sense, everything Scripture says about our salvation through Jesus Christ hinges on the literal truth of what Genesis 1–3 teaches about Adam’s creation and fall. There is no more pivotal passage of Scripture.”

There is one important question that the article does not answer. What is the most subtle and therefore most dangerous view of Genesis 1 that denies that it is a historical account of God’s work of creating the heavens and earth?

Answer: The Framework Hypothesis.

Where can you go to read more about the Framework Hypothesis?

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In the Beginning God

COMING SPRING 2015!

The 1960s were years of challenges to the infallibility and inspiration of scripture. These attacks were precipitated by the increasingly popular theory of evolution, which was making inroads into Reformed churches and schools. In contradiction to this creeping heresy and in unequivocal defense of the doctrine of scripture, the Reformed Free Publishing Association published In the Beginning God.

Since then the conflict between creation and evolution as the explanation of the origin of the world has intensified, and the doctrine of scripture is increasingly compromised, even in historically Reformed churches and schools.

God’s people must be knowledgeable regarding the doctrines of scripture and of creation so that they are able staunchly to defend these truths. To this end the Reformed Free Publishing Association is pleased to republish this explanation and defense of these timeless truths.

  • 144 pages
  • paperback
  • ISBN 978-1-936054-76-3
  • Retail price $9.95
  • This book will be automatically sent to Book Club members.

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Monday Devotions: Compassionate Remembrance

Psalm 103:14 “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.”

Has he forgotten how frail we are? Rev. Hoeksema says our experience seems to tell us he has. We suffer persecution, sickness, the death of loved ones, and many other things. And all of this comes from God! What does Psalm 103:14 tells us? Rev. Hoeksema writes,

He never forgets.

A load of sickness and pain never breaks the dust-frame of his children because he was forgetful of its frailty and overburdened it. It never breaks accidentally. When it does break it is only because he comes to break it. And when he comes to break that dust-frame, he does so in his mercy and compassion because he know that thus it is best.

He never makes his children bear a load of grief and pain, of sorrow and distress, of tribulation and persecution, without mercifully remembering that the bearing frame is dust. And when the load becomes too heavy for mere dust-children to carry, yet it must be borne, he adds grace to dust and mercifully makes his strength perfect in weakness.

And, oh, what wonders are accomplished when the strength of his marvelous grace is made to sustain the frailty of human dust! Then the Lord’s dust-formed children pass through the fire, and it does not burn them; then floods submerge them, yet they are not drowned; then the night of tribulation can be frightfully dark, yet they rejoice; then suffering day-by-day may be their lot and may wreck their mortal frame, yet they sing,

           Though I am weak God is most high,

            And on his goodness I rely;

            Of all his wonders I will tell,

            And on his deeds my thoughts shall dwell.

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Monday Morning Devotions: Sojourning Safely

This morning’s excerpt is from chapter 4 of Peace for the Troubled Heart. I am jumping over chapter 3, not because it isn’t worth reading, but only because its theme is similar to chapter 2’s theme. Chapter 4’s theme is Sojourning Safely based on Psalm 105:14, “He suffered no man to do them wrong.” Here is today’s excerpt about God’s care of his sojourning people:

God suffered no man to do them wrong.

He was Abraham’s shield, Isaac’s protector, Jacob’s guide, and Israel’s deliverer. He is the refuge and high tower of all his people throughout their earthly sojourn, and he never fails nor forsakes them.

This is quite sufficient, for he is God almighty.

He ordained all things with a view to the salvation if these sojourning strangers; he made all things with a view to their glorification; he moves and directs all things with a view to the realization of their eternal inheritance. Without him no creature moves. Without him no hateful heart registers another beat; without him no malicious mind contrives a single plan; without him no reviling tongue utters another syllable. No murderous sword strikes a blow, no human power condemns, no human army moves, no devil stirs in the darkness of the abyss, but by his will. No lion roars, no serpent sneaks, no pestilence stalks, no fire burns, no water drowns, no death lurks, but when he allows. If he does not suffer, nothing in all the wide creation stirs.

Still more: when they do move, beat, contrive, speak, strike, sneak, lurk, they do so to serve his purpose. He it is—the Almighty—who suffers no man to do these sojourners wrong.

How safe they are!

Peace, be still!

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The Status of the Federal Vision in the URCNA

Yesterday I posted this article about the decision of Pastor Tony Phelps to leave the PCA. His decision to leave (explained in this article) is based on his conclusion that the PCA “has failed to be meaningfully confessional.” He explains various ways the PCA has departed from the Westminster Standards, pointing out that the PCA’s failure to hold ministers who teach the Federal Vision accountable is especially grievous. Because the Federal Vision (FV) has the approval of the PCA “as a whole” Phelps has left the denomination. I promised to write another article in response to the article by Phelps. Today we look at the other side of the decision Phelps made to leave the PCA—his decision to join the United Reformed Churches of North America (URC). And we consider the status of the FV in the URC.

About his decision to leave the PCA and join the URC Phelps writes,

I am grateful for the PCA’s zeal for the Great Commission. However, my conscience is grieved about the confessional state of the PCA. Therefore I am leaving the PCA, to seek to minister the Gospel with a clear conscience in a confessionally robust Reformed context. By the grace and providence of God, I will serve as an interim minister at Covenant United Reformed Church in Colorado Springs, CO. If the Lord wills, this may lead to a regular call there. Of course, there are no perfect denominations or federations. But according to Westminster’s biblical doctrine of the visible church, there are “more pure” and “less pure” churches. In the URCNA, officers subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity because they agree with the Word of God. Reformed faith and practice are not divorced, but the former necessarily shapes the latter. Not only is the FV repudiated on paper, but I have confidence that the URCNA will not provide a safe haven for the anti-Reformed, Gospel-corrupting doctrines of the FV.

If Phelps said he joined the URC because it is more committed to the Reformed Confessions than the PCA, I would probably not be inclined to argue with him. But Phelps describes the URC as “confessionally robust,” indicating that there are no concerns about the URC’s commitment to the Reformed Faith. But Phelps actually ought to have some of the same concerns in the URC about confessional commitment as he had in the PCA.

Phelps states that those who adhere to the confessions in the PCA “lost on Westminster’s language regarding creation “in the space of six days.”” In the URC Phelps will find men who deny the truth that God created “in the space of six days.” It is true that the URC does not subscribe to the Westminster Standards, and that the confessions the URC subscribes to may not be as explicit about six 24-hour day creation.[1] But if Phelps is committed to the biblical truth of creation, he will find that he has left one denomination that tolerates its denial to join another that allows the same thing.

Phelps should also be concerned about the status of the FV in the URC. I will not delve into the URC’s failure to get at the root of the Federal Vision (FV) heresy, which is a conditional doctrine of the covenant. The URC cannot be viewed as having dealt sufficiently with the FV because it has not killed the heresy at its root. It should be a grave concern to Phelps that there are many in the URC who are disciples of Klaas Schilder and strongly committed to the conditional doctrine of the covenant that is the root of the FV heresy. For more on this I point the reader to this book.

Phelps notes that the URC, like the PCA, has repudiated the FV “on paper.” First of all, he ought to question whether that is even true in the URC. If he means that the URC has adopted a report that condemns the FV by name and pointedly condemns teachings of the FV, he is mistaken. An anti-FV report was submitted to the URC Synod of 2010, but it was not adopted by that Synod. The Synod adopted 15 affirmations, which simply restate points of doctrine found already in the confessions. Of course the confessions that the URC adheres to condemn the FV. In that sense the URC “on paper” condemns the FV just as much as the PCA does with its Westminster Standards. But the question is, will the URC do what the PCA failed to do and use the confessions to hold FV men accountable?

There is reason to be concerned about the URC holding FV men accountable. The URC does not currently have a Peter Leithart or Jeff Meyers or anyone else who is a known advocate of the FV. But the URC did have some proponents of the heresy in its ranks in the past, John Barach perhaps being the most notable example. It is true that Barach and the others did not stay in the URC and find, to use the words of Phelps, “a safe haven” in the URC. But these FV men never faced any discipline when they were in the URC, even though there was ample opportunity for them to be disciplined.

The URC cannot be said to approve of FV theology in the same way the PCA approves of it, since the URC has not exonerated any FV men. There are also indications that some men in the URC will seek to implement discipline if someone in the denomination would openly teach the FV in the future. But like the PCA the URC had opportunity to use its Confessions to hold FV men accountable and failed to do so. This should temper the confidence of Phelps that “the URC will not provide safe-haven for the anti-Reformed, Gospel-denying doctrines of the FV.”

So when it comes to the FV has Phelps left a denomination that has failed to be confessional, the PCA, only to join another denomination that has failed to be confessional? In answer to that it must said that both denominations have failed to implement the Reformed Confessions’ doctrine of unconditional salvation to root out the erroneous conditional doctrine of the covenant that is the root of the FV. It must also be said that neither denomination has held FV men accountable for their heresy when they had opportunity. However, the URC has not given its stamp of approval to the FV as a denomination by exonerating men who teach FV doctrines. Therefore, there is some hope that the URC will use its confessions to hold FV men accountable if they should appear in the denomination again in the future. Hopefully the URC has taken notes and will learn from the PCA’s failure to be, in Phelps words, “meaningfully confessional.”

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[1] The Belgic Confession Art. 16 requires that Genesis 1 be read as history, which means that it requires that days of the creation week be understood as normal, 24-hour days. 

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The PCA Has Failed to be Meaningfully Confessional

The title of this post is a quotation from this article by Pastor Tony Phelps in which he explains why he left the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America). This is an important article because it exposes the ways the PCA has departed from the Reformed faith, and by doing so, highlights the issues that pose a serious threat to the confessional integrity of every Reformed denomination today. I encourage you to read the article to see what all of these significant issues are. My focus in today’s post, and the one I intend to write tomorrow, is on the one issue that is probably the single biggest threat to the Reformed church world today—the Federal Vision (FV). Not much is written about the FV these days. But it is alive and well. And it is more than a mere threat to infect Reformed denominations. In some cases, such as the PCA, the infection has become septic.

Throughout its history the PCA has had some status as a confessional denomination (committed to the Westminster Standards). Phelps writes, “On paper the PCA is Reformed.” An indication of the PCA’s status as a “conservative” denomination is that it is a member of the North American Alliance of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches (NAPARC). Phelps left the PCA because he is convinced the PCA “as a whole is no longer meaningfully confessional (emphasis mine).”

The Federal Vision and the PCA’s response to it looms large in Phelps’ conclusion that the denomination as a whole has departed from the Reformed Faith. Phelps’ explanation of the status of the FV in the PCA is helpful. It is well known that the PCA adopted a study committee report that condemns the FV. It is also well known that prominent ministers in the PCA such as Peter Leithart and Jeff Meyers openly identify themselves with the FV, and various ecclesiastical bodies have approved of their views by refusing to place them under censure.[1] But there is some question (in fact I was asked about this last week) about whether the FV has the official approval of the PCA as a whole. Or is it the case that some rogue men are teaching this heresy, but sooner or later one of the ecclesiastical bodies will likely catch up to them and take steps to squash the FV movement in the PCA. Phelps answers that question, convincingly making the case that the FV already enjoys the official stamp of denominational approval. He emphasizes the seriousness of the FV writing, “the Gospel itself is directly undermined by the FV.” Then he explains why the FV must be viewed as having the approval of the PCA:

Leithart’s formulation would be more at home in Rome than Westminster. And yet Leithart and Meyers remain ministers in good standing in the PCA. If either of them should leave to more honestly align themselves with a like-minded body (CREC comes to mind), that would hardly be a victory for confessional fidelity in the PCA. The fact remains: the PCA refused to discipline ministers who clearly contradict the Standards to which they subscribe. As a result, the PCA has tolerated their corruption of “the doctrine of the standing or falling church,” justification by faith alone. I say the “PCA” has done this, because it is a connectional denomination. According to PCA polity, the actions of one court of the PCA are the actions of the whole church (cf. BCO 11-4). Make no mistake, the PCA exonerated Meyers and Leithart—not “that” presbytery, or “that” SJC [Standing Judicial Commission]. And this grieves my conscience. If the PCA can flex Westminster to accommodate not only non-Reformed practice, but now the anti-Reformed, Gospel-corrupting doctrines of the FV, then the PCA as a whole is no longer meaningfully confessional.

There are two key points that Phelps makes here. One is that Leithart and Meyers have been declared to be ministers in good standing by minor (narrower) assemblies of the PCA. The second key point is that in the PCA these decisions are considered to be binding for the whole denomination. In addition to these two points there is a third that is the clincher, in my estimation, for concluding that the FV has the approval of the PCA as a denomination. Phelps mentions this third point earlier in the article. The PCA’s broadest assembly had opportunity to overturn the decisions of the narrower assemblies through its SJC. Instead the SJC (representing the General Assembly) upheld the decisions to exonerate Leithart and Meyers.[2] This means that the decisions to exonerate these men, having been challenged and upheld, must even more be viewed “as actions of the whole church.”

The FV is not a threat lurking outside the walls of the city. Nor is it merely in the city lurking in the shadows. The FV is in the palace and spread throughout the city. It won’t be long, if it hasn’t already happened, that it will take over the palace and rule the entire city of the PCA. Let every Reformed denomination take heed!

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[1] Phelps’ analysis is that “where the rubber (a solid study committee report) meets the road (actually holding errant ministers accountable to Westminster), the tires blew out.”

[2] The SJC did not treat the teachings of Leithart and Meyers, but on the basis of legal technicalities decided to uphold the decisions to exonerate them.  The SJC’s attempt not to take a position failed because by supporting the decisions to exonerate Leithart and Meyers the SJC gave approval for the FV to exist in the PCA. 

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Monday Morning Devotions: The Pilgrim’s Goal

In chapter 2 of Peace for the Troubled Heart Rev. Hoeksema provides an exposition of Hebrews 13:4, “For we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” He explains that this word of God encourages us to press on to the goal of heaven while we recognize that this world is not our home. Understanding the beauty of heaven as our goal encourages us to seek it as our goal. Here is part of what Rev. Hoeksema says about the heavenly city we seek:

God is the chief joy of the heavenly Jerusalem. His presence fills the city. His blessed covenant friendship perfected is the very essence of all its bliss and rejoicing. Unlike the earthly Jerusalem, built of wood and stone, it has no temple. If you entered the gates of Jerusalem that once was, and if you would inquire as to the dwelling place of the Most High, and you would be pointed to a building made with hands. If, approaching the temple and entering through its outer gate, you would repeat your query, bystanders would direct your gaze to the sanctuary proper, at the same time warning you that you could not enter there to see the face of God. It was all so imperfect, earthly, and prophetic of things to come. But when you enter the heavenly city through its pearly gates, you need not inquire, for there is no temple there. God himself and the Lamb are the temple of that city, and its preeminent joy and glory is that there the tabernacle of God is with men; he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God.

We need to be reminded of how good the goal is because the way to the heavenly city is difficult. Rev. Hoeksema explains that the way to the heavenly city is through the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is the means by which pilgrims “have properly washed garments to enter the city of eternal light and joy.” But the cross is also the symbol of the world’s rejection of Jesus and all of his servants on earth who “share his reproach.” In light of the suffering involved in living a pilgrim’s life it is good for us to know the goal and that it “is about to come.” Rev. Hoeksema reminds us that the sufferings of this life are brief in comparison to eternal glory. “Yet a little patience and a little suffering, yet a little struggle, and a little battle, and the end of your journey will be reached. A very light affliction quickly passing and then eternal joy.”

With this encouragement pilgrims are ready to hear the call to continue to direct their lives towards the heavenly city that is to come. Rev. Hoeksema writes, “Seek that city! Press on!”

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RFPA Update - Winter 2015 Issue

 

Click the PDF link to read the rest of the RFPA Update Winter newsletter. 

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