New post on THE BLOG OF DAVID ROBERTSON

Out of the Ashes – The Fall and Rise of the Church in Scotland – Article in Australian Presbyterian

by theweeflea

This article has just been published in the Australian Presbyterian.

Out of the Ashes – The Fall and Rise of the Church in Scotland 

 

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New College and Edinburgh Theological Seminary 

I suppose that for many Australian Presbyterians Scotland, or at least the Presbyterian Church in Scotland is considered to be the motherland! If that is true, then the cry that comes out from Scotland is ‘your mother is very ill!’ Although we were once known as the land of the people of the book, it is doubtful whether the majority of the population now no even what that book is, never mind what it contains, or the Lord of whom it speaks. In the past decade Scotland has secularised faster than any other nation in history. I am sure that there are lessons that you can learn from us, especially in how not to do things. I offer the following observations in the hope that it will stimulate you to pray for us, to work with us and not to go down the same route we have gone.

 

If you’re seen the British sitcom Dad’s Army, then you will know the dour Scottish character Private Fraser whose favourite phrase was “doomed, doomed, you’re all doomed!”

This is positively optimistic compared with the reaction to the most recent survey of religious belief in Scotland.    Some Christians were discouraged and some of the more militant atheistic secularists could hardly contain their glee.   The headline is that “Almost half of adults in Scotland do not identify with any religion, according to official figures.” The latest Scottish Household Survey (SHS), had 47% of people describing their ‘faith’ as none’. The proportion has increased from 40% in 2009.

27.8% identified themselves as Church of Scotland, 14.5% as Roman Catholic, 1.4% as Muslim, other Christian as 7.7%, Buddhist (0.3%), Sikh (0.1%), Jewish (0.1%), Hindu (0.3%), Pagan (0.1%), and other religion (0.5%).

“There has also been a corresponding decrease in the proportion reporting ‘Church of Scotland’, from 34% to 28%.”

One always has to be careful about figures. The sample size is not massive, 1,000 households. For every 1,000 people there is only one pagan, one Jew, 14 Muslims and 470 ‘no faith’ (incidentally this latter description is false – most of this group will have great faith – just not faith in God or gods!).    So what does this all mean? Is the church on the way out? Is Scotland progressing into an atheistic secularist nirvana, or regressing into a pagan mess?

Although the majority of people in Scotland (just) would still claim some kind of Christian faith, the fact is that the number of those attending church and engaging in any kind of Christian practice is declining. The Church reached a numerical peak in the 1950’s and it has been downhill ever since. Rather than that decline bottoming out (as for example in London), in Scotland it seems to be accelerating. The Church of Scotland has dropped below 400,000 members (it is doubtful whether more than 100,000 actually attend church each Sunday – meaning that less than 1% of Scotland’s population are actually in the Church of Scotland on any given Sunday) and is continuing to lose 20,000 members each year. It is facing a major financial crisis and above all a ministerial one, with only a handful of the required 30-40 ministers being trained each year. The picture is of a declining church in a declining culture. The Catholic Church is still struggling to recover from the child abuse scandals, and there is not much evidence that other Protestant churches are making much of an impact.

As a result of the new moralistic philosophy of secular humanism being adopted by the metro-elites and governors of our culture, and the lack of a coherent and strong ‘salt and light’ Christian church, our culture has become increasingly confused. Overall there has been a general dumbing down as politicians and others offer the ‘bread and circus’s’ mentality. Things that would have been unthinkable a decade ago (such as same sex ‘marriage’) have now become the norm of the new morality. Things that are unthinkable just now; infanticide, involuntary euthanasia, polygamy, paedophilia could easily become the new ‘norm/human right’ in a world where the rich and powerful determine what the moral values are. We are a society that has ‘equality’ as its mantra, but yet we are becoming more unequal. In one of the richest societies in the world we have tens of thousands who are relying on food banks. We say we value education yet we are dumbing down. Our politicians say they want to support ‘the family’ but are unable to define what that actually is, and as a result many of their actions end up undermining the family. That is the environment which the Church in Scotland finds itself.

Although overall the Church in Scotland is in decline, it is not all bad news. I see three areas where there is encouragement and renewal. Firstly in the independent evangelical churches associated with FIEC (the Federation of Independent Evangelical Churches) – e.g. Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh and the work of Twenty Schemes in Niddrie and elsewhere are beacons of light. Secondly there are other biblical churches who have Christ and his Word at the centre of their lives and message who are seeing growth and development – some will be in the Church of Scotland, others associated with CLAN (Christians Linked Across the Nation) or other charismatic and ex-Brethren networks and some in the Baptist and Anglican churches. And how can anyone who believes in a Sovereign God exclude the possibility of him yet working in and through the Catholic Church?

We are also seeing the first signs of a renewed and reinvigorated Presbyterianism in Scotland in my own denomination, the Free Church. New churches are being planted, people are being converted, membership increasing, The Free Church College has been relaunched as Edinburgh Theological Seminary, and there is a new leadership rising.    I was at the presbytery meeting last night where the issues being discussed were problems of space for growing churches, where to put the many new ministers coming in and where should we plant new churches! Changed days!

I came to my current church (St Peters in Dundee in 1992) when the attendance was in single figures.   Now there are over 250 (many of them young people), we have planted a new church in St Andrews, have another one in St Andrews and hope to start another one in Dundee next year. Like the denomination, we still have many problems, because by definition we are sinful, and we dwell amongst a sinful people. But it is so encouraging to be part of the Lord’s work in these exciting and challenging days. I hope that in this globalised world are Australian Presbyterian brothers and sisters will be able to work with us in the cause of the gospel not only here and in Australia, but elsewhere in the world.

In a hostile and increasingly militant secularist environment, traditional, liberal, nominal Christianity cannot survive. But those churches that have deep roots in the gospel will I believe see growth and renewal.   So we have a paradox, an increasingly atheistic secularist culture, marked by a rapid decline in Churchianity, along with an increasingly alive and growing biblical Christianity.   It is the latter that turned the Roman empire upside down and indeed turned Scotland upside down before. All we can pray is ‘Lord, do it again’!
David Robertson

Minister of St Peters Free Chruch

 

 
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Addressing Continuationist Arguments from 1 Corinthians 14

A common continuationist position is that there exists a gift of tongues which is a Spirit-given language, understandable by God, that is exercised in prayer between the believer/Spirit-filled individual and God

Therefore, from these verses in 1 Corinthians 14, it is clear that, as in Acts 2, the gift of languages was the miraculous ability to speak an unlearned language that is known by others for the purpose of exalting Christ and building up others. It served as a loud statement at the birth and foundational time of the church to declare that God’s plan of redemption is no longer restricted to one nation, but all nations. It served as a statement of judgment by God on Israel for failing their mission to be a light to the nations. This gift ceased with the apostolic era in the first century as the New Testament church foundation was established.

 

Last week we posted an article which argued that the idea of a heavenly prayer language is untenable based on Jesus’ command concerning prayer in Matthew 6:7. Additional questions arise on the issue concerning Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 14.

For example, some continuationists claim for the existence of two different types of tongue gifts. The argument claims that there is one gift in Acts 2 and another in 1 Corinthians 14. Among others, Nate Busenitz has demonstrated that this position is unsound from Scripture.

Other continuationists hold to the position of a heavenly prayer language on the grounds of various details in 1 Corinthians 14. As somewhat of a part two of last week’s post, this will briefly address some of the popular continuationist arguments therefrom. It will not deal with every detail in 1 Corinthians 14, but merely a few of the more common arguments posed in favor of the continuationist position.

A common continuationist position is that there exists a gift of tongues which is a Spirit-given language, understandable by God, that is exercised in prayer between the believer/Spirit-filled individual and God (e.g. Gordon Fee, NICNT: The First Epistle to the Corinthians; and David Guzik, Guzik Bible Commentary). Variations of this position exist within charismatic and continuationist theology.

Before a conclusion can be made from 1 Corinthians, an understanding of the context is needed.

The Context of 1 Corinthians

Overall, the book of Corinthians is written to answer several questions about biblical issues, while offering correction of spiritual pride and error rampant in that church. Many in the Corinthian church were overly fascinated and influenced by the culture. It seems they erred by using the spiritual gift of languages in a disorderly, unedifying fashion, while possible engaging in the popular Greek pagan practice of non-language ecstatic utterances. Though it gave a spiritual high, a sense of elevated spirituality, and a feeling of superiority in the culture and above others, Paul rebukes them because it was disorderly and absent of edification. He will argue for intelligibility and order in the worship service, since that is the prerequisite to edification, which is the goal of gathering (1 Cor. 14:12, 40).

If someone did have the legitimate first-century gift of languages, Paul is correcting the failure to translate the languages in the gathering. While some in Corinth may have manufactured the gift with ecstatic utterances, others likely had the legitimate gift. To these he gives corrective instruction on ensuring translation of the language to ensure edification.

The Context of the NT

The New Testament is absent of a teaching on the existence of Spirit-endowed private prayer language. However, we do see the existence of “tongues,” described with some detail in Acts 2:4-11. In that passage, intelligible human languages are listed (Acts 2:6-11). A natural reading of the text reveals that it is the miraculous ability to speak a previously unlearned foreign language for the purpose of exalting Christ and building up others in a foundational way during the early, first-century church. As with any interpretive issue, the less clear is to be interpreted with the help of the more clear. Thus, 1 Corinthians should be understood in light of Acts 2. The idea of a private prayer language as an endowment from the Spirit, called “tongues,” contradicts the more clear description of the gift in Acts 2.

Second, the Greek word, glossa, used both in Acts (e.g. Acts 2:4, 11; 10:46; 19:6) and 1 Corinthians 14 for tongues means either “language,” or the anatomical organ. The burden of responsibility lies with the continuationist position to demonstrate that the word means something other than an earthly, human language in 1 Corinthians 14.

The Context of Redemptive History

The language gift appears at a specific time in redemptive/salvation history for a specific reason. In Israel’s wake were centuries of nationalistic pride. She had presumed upon her pedigree and broken covenant with God. Her Messiah came, but was rejected to the utmost. In God’s sovereignty, however, he was unfolding a mystery. God would no longer center his redemptive plan on one nation with one language, but all nations and all languages (cf. Matt. 28:18-20, Rev. 7:9). So, at the birth of the church, God made it creatively clear with the miraculous gift of previously unlearned foreign languages that his new nation would be made up of the world’s people groups.

This new language gift was a sign of judgment upon Israel for failing her purpose (cf. 1 Cor. 14:21). An era of hardening had come upon her as God gave time to the nations (cf. Rom. 11:25). What better way to demonstrate that than to endow the early Christians with the ability to speak the word of God in the languages of the people whom Israel despised? The old was fading and the new was dawning. The temporary gift of languages, then, served the transitional period to make it absolutely clear what God was doing in birthing and building the church.

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Valentine was a Catholic martyr – is romance also being put to death?

Today is known as Valentine’s Day – a day when we’re encouraged to celebrate all things pertaining to romance and love. Newsagents and florists love the financial boost they get. Red hearts abound. Grocery stores sell lots of chocolate. Tradition tells us that the day is named after a third century Catholic priest, who was martyred on this day. And there are ominous signs that true romance, celebrated on this day, is also on its deathbed.

The thin veneer of hype that is Valentine’s Day fails to combat what appears to be a concerted effort to kill true romance for this generation. Our young people are being sold a lie when it comes to all things love.

Look around on this Valentine’s Day 2017 and this is what you see –

  • Fifty Shades Darker is the buzz in our movie theatres, and, despite the story line being about an abusive, obsessed and sadistic man’s domination of a woman, it is promoted as a romantic Valentine’s Day movie experience;
  • Volley sandshoes are promoting the celebration of sexual expression online to anyone who wants their sandshoes, including children;
  • The objectification of women continues to be overlooked by our Advertising Standards Board in public advertising;
  • Australia has ‘respectful relationship’ curriculum materials for state schools which includes activities for 12 year olds to role play a 17 year old female who has had 15 sexual partners and who rarely practices safe sex because she is often drunk when she has sex.
  • Pornography has become normalised in our society. Children are exposed to sexual content at a frighteningly young age, and young people are having their first sexual experience long before they can get their drivers licence. The ill-named “Safe Schools” ‘educational’ program promoted for use in our schools does nothing to discourage under-age sexual activity. In fact it does the opposite.

If all of this wasn’t so serious, you would have to pass it off as a bad joke. Instead, the dark undercurrent that threatens to kill the concept of lasting love and commitment for our next generation is causing incredible harm.

There is no excuse for glamorising abuse against women and dressing it up as romance. Humiliation does not a romantic fairy tale make! Violence and abuse is never an indication of love.

Australian teenagers are experiencing significant health issues that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

In an attempt to confirm to perceived ideals of body shape and size, eating disorders are affecting more young Australian girls than ever before, with many experiencing long term impairment including psychiatric and behavioural effects, medical complications, social isolation, disability and an increased risk of death.

Our children deserve their innocence. They should not be burdened with adult concepts prematurely. They should be playing sport for the simple pleasure of playing sport and not in the hope of being thin. We as adults owe them the opportunity to experience romance, and to understand what real and lasting love is, at an appropriate time and place.

New post on This Day in Presbyterian History

February 13: Rev. Dr. Robert Strong

by archivist

Here in the PCA Historical Center I often come across the most interesting and useful things while searching out a patron’s request for some article or other material. For context, this article was written in the midst of those years leading up to the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. Strong’s audience would have been those men who were considering leaving the old Southern Presbyterian denomination in order to form a new, faithful Church.

A History Lesson
by ROBERT STRONG [1908-1980, and pastor of the Trinity Presbyterian Church, Montgomery, AL, 1959-1973]

[The Presbyterian Journal, 27.42 (12 February 1969): 9-11.]

The struggle for the faith in the Presbyterian Church USA has been protracted. I grew up in that church and was ordained in it years ago when it was called the “Northern Presbyterian Church.” Thus I knew at first hand the issues as well as some of the people involved in the conflict.

Beginning in the nineteenth century, the strife deepened in intensity in the twentieth century and came to a climax in the 1920’s. Awareness of the rising tide of unbelief, and resistance to it, occurred in a spectacular way:

In 1923 the General Assembly endorsed adherence to five cardinal points of doctrine: the verbal inspiration of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, His mighty miracles, His substitutionary atonement and His bodily resurrection.

In reaction came the Auburn Affirmation, so-called because men of Auburn Seminary were its authors and from Auburn, New York it was distributed to gain additional signatures. In time, these amounted to 1100 names.

Cause and Effect

The Auburn Affirmation was in two parts: The first was an attack upon the right of the General Assembly to single out certain doctrines when the Northern Presbyterian Church was already committed to a system of doctrine as set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith. This was specious logic. This was illogic! This was evasive action.

In the second part of the Auburn Affirmation, an attack was made specifically upon the doctrine of verbal inspiration. It was alleged that this doctrine was harmful!

The other doctrines were treated in a way to suggest that a man in good standing might follow a different interpretation of the virgin birth, of the miracles, the Cross, the empty tomb, from the position set forth in the General Assembly’s deliverance of 1923.

The effect was to say that the General Assembly’s statement which was, of course, in the historic Christian and Presbyterian tradition, was only one of several possible interpretations. The effect was really to call into question these doctrines as historically stated and received. The issue was out in the open.

The center of traditional Presbyterianism had been Princeton Theological Seminary, but some of those connected with Princeton were sympathetic with the liberalizing trend in the Northern denomination. They agitated for and secured General Assembly reorganization of Princeton’s administrative set-up.

In the Northern Church, the Assembly has full control of the seminaries and must approve even the bestowing of the professorial dignity upon a man. So the General Assembly could and did reorganize Princeton.

Instead of two boards, one to deal with temporal matters and one to deal with theological training, the seminary was reorganized to have but one board. And on that board two Auburn Affirmationists were named.

This was the signal to Dr. Robert Dick Wilson, the famous Old Testament scholar, Dr. J. Gresham Machen, the famous New Testament scholar, Dr. Oswald T. Allis, assistant to Dr. Wilson, Dr. Cornelius Van Til, beginning on his career of instruction in theology and apologetics, and John Murray, an instructor in the seminary, to take alarm. They resigned from the faculty.

Others, like Parks Armstrong, a great defender of the faith in the New Testament field, and Casper Wistar Hodge, a solid theologian in the Hodge tradition, remained with Princeton Seminary.

The five men who resigned became the nucleus of the faculty of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. A number of prominent Presbyterian ministers and laymen associated themselves with these leaders as the board of trustees of the new seminary. According to its charter, the seminary would be forever free of ecclesiastical control.

Westminster Seminary opened its doors in 1929. The seminary drew increasing numbers of students and my own enrollment occurred in the fall of 1933.

Incidentally, I had the inestimable privilege of being a student of }. Gresham Machen, a magic name and a most interesting personality. I digress to note that Prof. Machen was a character! Sometimes he would lecture his classes at a furious pace, with his head against the blackboard, writing the Greek alphabet in small letters. Once in a while he would go up the stairs on hands and knees.

On occasion he would stand on a chair, continuing his lecture with no change of expression. He was such a skilled lecturer he didn’t need to resort to tricks and devices. 1 guess it was just an expression of a facet of his character — it bespoke the non-conformist. He was a great stunter at student events and was ever being called on to give recitations.

Machen was a great scholar. His books are classics. I will continue to be personal by saying that when I was attending theological school in California, I found in an atmosphere of modernism there a true friend, Machen’s book, The Origin of Paul’s Religion. I think it is his very greatest; I rate it higher than bis Virgin Birth of Christ.

Machen’s Influence

Machen was also an ecclesiastical activist. Many criticize him for that. They think he should have been content to dominate the theological scene by his writings, lectures and classroom instruction. It’s an open question.

As things moved along in the Northern Presbyterian Church, Machen took a still more active part. It wasn’t enough that he had led in the organization of this new seminary which was having increasing influence and would, through the years, send a perfect stream of conservative men into the Northern Presbyterian ministry as well as into other churches.

Machen was compelled to be active also in the ecclesiastical issues in other departments of the life of the Church. He took a great interest in world missions and offered an overture to the General Assembly asking that it study the Board of World Missions and institute corrective procedures. The modernist Pearl Buck was a case in point. Everyone knew how far removed from evangelical Christianity she stood, but she served in China as a missionary of the denomination.

Machen’s overture was turned down overwhelmingly. General Assemblies have a habit of not criticizing their own agencies — that’s one of the problems in our own Church. You just can’t get the Assembly to pass actions critical of their own boards. That has long been characteristic of Presbyterian ecclesiastical practice.

Machen and others then took the step, which to this day is debated as to its necessity or wisdom, of organizing the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. Some Southern Presbyterians were put on the board. This was window-dressing, for it was a Northern Presbyterian effort.

Charles Woodbridge was brought home from the Cameroons to be the executive secretary of the board. Several missionaries resigned from the official Board of the Presbyterian Church to accept membership under the Independent Board. The Northern Presbyterian leaders began to realize that here was a threat.

In 1934 at the instigation of Lewis Mudge, then Stated Clerk, the General Assembly passed a mandate whose language included such astounding declarations as this: a member of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America is as obligated to support the official programs of the church as he is to take the Lord’s Supper. That’s assuming a very extreme position!

Conform, Or Else!

The mandate’s thrust was against the Independent Board and called upon those who were members of the Board and missionaries under the Board to resign or face ecclesiastical penalties. Now such a mandate is distinctly in opposition to Presbyterian polity, for our system is to work from the bottom up. You go from the session to the presbytery, to the synod, to the General Assembly.

But here was the General Assembly arrogating to itself the right to tell individual ministers and lay members of the denomination to disassociate themselves from an independent agency working in the field of world missions. The argument of course was that this was competitive with the official Board.

Now what did the presbyteries do? They fell into line in almost all cases. Charges were filed against J. Gresham Machen, J. Oliver Buswell of Wheaton College, Carl McIntire, and Charles Woodbridge. On and on and on went these cases of process. The focus of interest was, of course, the case against Dr. Machen. He was a member of the Presbytery of New Brunswick.

A Footnote

Here is an interesting ecclesiastical footnote. Because he lived in Philadelphia, Machen had sought to be transferred from New Brunswick presbytery in the Synod of New Jersey. He had asked for a letter of transfer to Philadelphia presbytery and it had been acted upon.

The Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of Philadelphia had not sent back to New Brunswick that little coupon on the bottom of letters of transfer reporting a minister has been received into the membership of the new presbytery.

On the strength of that clerical failure, New Brunswick claimed and exercised supervision of Machen and entered into the exercise of jurisdiction by formal process of trial. I went from Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, where I was serving, to all three of the sessions of the Machen trial.

It was a travesty. He was forbidden to raise any question of jurisdiction. He was forbidden to raise any question of constitutionality. The trial proceeded on the narrow question: Will you obey the General Assembly’s order? I can still hear Machen saying,

“I cannot do that, it is against conscience; it is in effect to put the command of the General Assembly above my conscience and to make an ecclesiastical order superior to the Word of God. I cannot obey the order.”

The outcome was foregone. He was found guilty of disobedience, of violation of his ordination vow to be subject to his brethren. Now let this sink in. Machen was the greatest Biblical scholar of the century, a noble figure, an eminent figure. He was suspended from the ministry of the Gospel, forbidden to preach, forbidden even to go to the Lord’s table.

Similar condemnations were handed down upon other members of the Independent Board. These things were appealed to synod. Synod upheld the presbyteries. At last the appeals came to the 1936 General Assembly at Syracuse. I went to that meeting to be in at the death and sat in the balcony and watched the proceedings unfold.

Asserting that the General Assembly had the right to order the affairs of the whole Church, the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly found in behalf of the Synod of New Jersey, which had found in behalf of the Presbytery of New Brunswick. The sentence of suspension from the ministry was affirmed.

This became the signal for action. Machen resigned from the ministry of the Northern Presbyterian Church. Other pastors resigned also, standing with Machen’s position that the Church had become officially apostate by subordinating the Word of God to the commandments of men.

These men laid plans for the formation of a new denomination and in June, 1936, in downtown Philadelphia, the first General Assembly of the then-named Presbyterian Church of America was constituted. Dr. Gordon H. Clark, a name familiar to all who have done any reading, nominated Dr. Machen to be the first Moderator of the new denomination.

For men like me, just out of seminary, it was a terrible issue to confront. What should we do? After a summer of agony, I decided that I would stand with Machen. I didn’t do this blindly; I sought to reason it through, suffer and pray it through. Many young men whose ecclesiastical careers were thought promising laid their heads on the ecclesiastical chopping block and, believe me, our heads were cut off!

Most of us called congregational meetings, announced our intention to resign and asked what the congregation wanted to do. The Willow Grove congregation, which had tripled in those two or three years I had been there, decided, two to one, to stand with its young minister. We left the property and met on the third floor of the Legion Hall for three years until we could buy ground and build a meeting house.

That was happening here and there over the country. Instead of calling it a split, call it a splinter. We were meeting in store fronts, rented halls or wherever temporary lodging could be found.

The Northern Presbyterian Church sued us at law over our name. The judge ruled the name must be changed. An awkward name was selected, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. As just a young pastor I was selected Moderator of the 8th General Assembly — we were a bunch of amateurs trying to build a denomination but making many, many mistakes.

One reason for the mistakes was that in 1937 the great, illustrious, the almost indispensable Dr. Machen was taken by death. Troubles compounded after that. There was a split between the majority in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the McIntire group. Then Charles Woodbridge was wooed away from his place of significant leadership in the OPC.

We had a heavy setback in what is called the Clark case. Unable to endure the pettiness shown toward Dr. Clark, man after man went into the old U.P. Church or the Southern Church. A great pool of ministerial talent was lost from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

These sorts of things are not matters that happened in a corner. No man is an island, and no church should be considered an island. What happens anywhere will affect us everywhere.

The things that went on in the North were a tocsin heard in the South. Maybe they served, in God’s providence, a purpose in our region. Perhaps the events just recalled helped to alert Nelson Bell and Henry Dendy and their colleagues so that they organized the Presbyterian Journal. It is certainly to the Journal that we owe the great victory of 1954-55 when we turned down union with the UPUSA Church.

Perhaps those influences that led not only to the Journal but also, at last, to other institutions, like the Reformed Seminary, account for the faith in our Southern Church. Many of these things which show the conservatives alert and determined and willing to act have resulted from the stand taken earlier in the North by men of conviction.

 
archivist | February 13, 2017 at 12:05 am | Categories: February 2017 | URL: http://www.thisday.pcahistory.org/?p=17372

Is Jesus Knocking at the Heart of the Unbeliever?

from Feb 10, 2017 Category: Articles

We have all heard evangelists quote from Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20). Usually the evangelist applies this text as an appeal to the unconverted, saying: “Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart. If you open the door, then He will come in.” In the original saying, however, Jesus directed His remarks to the church. It was not an evangelistic appeal.

So what? The point is that seeking is something that unbelievers do not do on their own. The unbeliever will not seek. The unbeliever will not knock. Seeking is the business of believers. Jonathan Edwards said, “The seeking of the Kingdom of God is the chief business of the Christian life.” Seeking is the result of faith, not the cause of it.

When we are converted to Christ, we use language of discovery to express our conversion. We speak of finding Christ. We may have bumper stickers that read, “I Found It.” These statements are indeed true. The irony is this: Once we have found Christ it is not the end of our seeking but the beginning. Usually, when we find what we are looking for, it signals the end of our searching. But when we “find” Christ, it is the beginning of our search.

The Christian life begins at conversion; it does not end where it begins. It grows; it moves from faith to faith, from grace to grace, from life to life. This movement of growth is prodded by continual seeking after God.

In your spiritual walk, are you moving from faith to faith, from grace to grace, from life to life? Are you continually seeking after God

The Advocate

The Advocate

If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 1 John 2:1

From a Florida prison cell in June 1962, Clarence Earl Gideon wrote a note asking the United States Supreme Court to review his conviction for a crime he said he didn’t commit. He added that he didn’t have the means to hire a lawyer.

One year later, in the historic case of Gideon v. Wainright, the Supreme Court ruled that people who cannot afford the cost of their own defense must be given a public defender—an advocate—provided by the state. With this decision, and with the help of a court-appointed lawyer, Clarence Gideon was retried and acquitted.

But what if we are not innocent? According to the apostle Paul, we are all guilty. But the court of heaven provides an Advocate who, at God’s expense, offers to defend and care for our soul (1 John 2:2). On behalf of His Father, Jesus comes to us offering a freedom that even prison inmates have described as better than anything they’ve experienced on the outside. It is a freedom of heart and mind.

Whether suffering for wrongs done by us or to us, we all can be represented by Jesus. By the highest of authority He responds to every request for mercy, forgiveness, and comfort.

Jesus, our Advocate, can turn a prison of lost hope, fear, or regret into the place of His presence.

Father in heaven, please help us to know what it means to have the freedom of Your love and presence. May we experience this freedom even in places that we have only seen as our confinement!

The one who died as our substitute now lives as our advocate.

INSIGHT: John encourages us to be honest about ourselves. Actually, his words are more of a warning than they are encouragement. Writing to a struggling church, John reminds his readers that we all struggle with sin and the claim that we don’t struggle has several drastic consequences: We deceive ourselves, the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8), we make God out to be a liar, and His word is not in us (v. 10). But John’s point is not a downer. Those warnings surround a very familiar promise. Our sins do not keep us from God—because when we acknowledge (confess) them, we are forgiven for them (v. 9). What do you need to confess as sin and then trust that God has forgiven?

The Charge of Replacement Theology is a Cover for Fuzzy Theology

Joseph Farah of WND (WorldNetDaily) has written the following in an article titled “To those Israel-rejecting Christians. . .”:

“[A]n evil doctrine known as Replacement Theology, every bit as ugly as Liberation Theology, has taken root in the church. I’m sorry to say it, but you’ve got to discard or allegorize much of the Bible to adopt either one of these views and still call yourself a Christian.”

Here’s a challenge, Joseph. Set up a debate with Joel Rosenberg and me on the meaning of Ezekiel 38 and 39 to see who “allegorizes.” Like the “Replacement Theology” straw man, someone who does not agree with the modern-day, end-time approach to Bible prophecy is labelled an “allegorizer.”

Replacement Theology is defined as the belief that the Church has replaced Israel and that God is finished with the Jews. Joseph Farah leaves the impression that there is a causal relationship between his straw man version of Replacement Theology and the rise of anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jews. The next sentence that follows his “evil doctrine” claim above is this gem:

Meanwhile, Jewish children are being executed in cold blood on videotape in France. Some of the most well-known “Christians” in America are trying to find common ground with Muslims, who they claim worship the same god.

Because of my work on this topic, I was asked by WND Commentary Editor Ron Strom if I had “any interest in writing a response” to Joseph’s article. In fact, I had been working on a response before I received Ron’s email. There is so much I would like to say about what Joseph has written, but I’m going to restrain myself and deal with the theological heart of the issue: why the charge of Replacement Theology is a cover for fuzzy theology and for hiding the fact that modern-day prophetic speculation has distorted the Bible, not only on the topic of Bible prophecy, but on its impact on culture as well.

This article can’t begin to do with all that needs to be discussed. If you are truly interested in this topic, take a look at my books Last Days Madness, Is Jesus Coming Soon?, The Early Church and the End of the WorldLeft Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction, and 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered (among others).

The charge of Replacement Theology is a cheap way to end any discussion on the relationship between Israel and Christianity. Notice I did not say “Israel and the Church.” It’s like calling someone a “racist” in a discussion about race, or a “homophobe” in a discussion about homosexuality. “Replacement Theology” is a more discreet way of calling someone an anti-Semite without ever sitting down to discuss the real issues. Here’s a typical definition:

[A] theological perspective that teaches that the Jews have been rejected by God and are no longer God’s Chosen People. Those who hold to this view disavow any ethnic future for the Jewish people in connection with the biblical covenants, believing that their spiritual destiny is either to perish or become a part of the new religion that superseded Judaism (whether Christianity or Islam).1

As anyone who is familiar with the Bible knows that Christianity does not “supersede Judaism” and Christianity is not a “new religion.” Messiah-anity is about Jesus as the promised Messiah, the fulfillment of the Scriptures. Did Jesus fulfill His mission, or didn’t He? Did He “redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21) or didn’t He?:

And [Jesus] said to [His disciples], “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. . . .

Then [Jesus] told them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures  (Luke 24:25–27, 44–45).

The genealogies found in Matthew and Luke clearly show that Jesus is “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). The first New Covenant believers were from the nation of Israel (Luke 1–2) with hints of a later expanded redemptive role for Samaritans (John 4:7–45), Greeks (John 12:20–22), the nations (Luke 2:32), and the world (John 3:16; 4:42; 1 Tim. 3:16). At Pentecost, we see that the gospel was preached to “Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). This was no new thing; it was Jesus’ mission. It’s why He was born and predestined to die (Acts 2:23).

Gentile believers were grafted into the Jewish assembly (ekklēsia) of believers (Rom. 11:17–24) and were given “the same gift,” the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; 2:38). There’s one olive tree, not two; one Spirit, not two; “one new man” in Christ, not two (Eph. 2:15). Pentecost was not the beginning of the “church” since Peter declares that the events of that day were a fulfillment of a prophecy given to Joel, an Old Testament prophet: “this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28–32). Peter’s message was to “all the house of Israel” (Acts 2:36). When these Israelites asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (2:37), Peter replied: “For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord God shall call to Himself” (2:39).

Israel’s spiritual destiny is the same as it is for non-Israelites: Repent and believe in Jesus as the Messiah! No one said anything about a postponement in the promises that had been made to Israel. In fact, Peter clearly told his fellow-countrymen that the promises were for them and their children right then and there (2:38). They didn’t have to wait 2000 years for God to renew His covenant for a later remnant. Jesus said as much when He met His disciples on the road to Emmaus.

The Church could not replace Israel because the Greek word ekklēsia translated “church” is not something new to the New Testament. Ekklēsia was used many times in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament called the Septuagint (LXX) for the Hebrew word qāhāl. Both qāhāl and ekklēsia are best translated as “congregation” or “assembly.”2 Earl D. Radmacher writes, “[T]his Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures was the Bible of the early church. . . . Thus, when the writers of the New Testament, whose Bible was the Septuagint, used ekklēsia, they were not inventing a new term.3 They found the term in common use and simply employed what was at hand.”4

William Tyndale’s translation makes this point, and it got him in big trouble with the Roman Catholic Church. The Tyndale New Testament, the first English translation to use the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, did not use the word “church.” Tyndale (1494–1536) chose the words “assembly” and “congregation”5 to translate ekklēsia. Here is how Tyndale’s translation handled the first two appearances of ekklēsia in the New Testament (spelling modernized):

  • “And upon this rock I will build my congregation: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).
  • “If he hear not them, tell it unto the congregation: if he hear not the congregation, take him as an heathen man, and as a publican” (Matt. 18:17).

Stephen describes Israel as the “ekklēsia in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). Most translations get it right by translating ekklēsia  as “congregation.” Ekklēsia appears again in the next chapter: “And on that day a great persecution began against the church [ekklēsia] in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (8:1).

Thomas More protested Tyndale’s use of “congregation” as the proper translation of ekklēsia because it called into question the entire ecclesiastical structure of the church’s hierarchy. For his efforts, Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake in 1536 for defying church authority, opposing the Church by promoting doctrines such as sola Scriptura, justification by faith alone, the denial of purgatory, questioning the number of sacraments, and translating particular words that could lead the laity to believe that the Church’s authority was limited. That included his more accurate translation of ekklēsia as “congregation” and not “church.”

One of the Rules to be Observed in the Translation of the [King James] Bible required the following: “The old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation &c.”6 This time “the Anglican establishment,”7 wanted to impose on ekklēsia a contemporary “ecclesiastical” understanding of the word rather than its biblically contextual definition. Because of Rule 3, the hands of the translators were tied since they were in the employ of the king.

This means that the argument that there is a distinction between Israel and the church is false. The first believers in Jesus were Jews and they made up the first members of the New Testament ekklēsia which was an extension of the Old Testament ekklēsia. There is redemptive continuity between the testaments. Jesus didn’t come to start something new. We know from the book of Acts that probably tens of thousands of Jews came to Jesus as the Messiah. Remember, the gospel was to be preached throughout the cities of Israel before the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 10:23). We also know that the gospel was preached throughout the Roman Empire where probably a million or more Jews embraced Jesus as the promised Messiah (Rom. 1:8; 10:11–21; 16:25–26; Col. 1:6, 23).

The way Joseph Farah and other prophecy writers tell the story, the promises made to Israel have been postponed until a future time when God will once again deal with Israel as a separate redemptive people. We were told that this happened in 1948 and the “rapture” would take place within 40 years. You can read about the math in Hal Lindsey’s 1970 bestseller the Late Great Planet Earth and in the prophecy writings of Chuck Smith and others. For nearly 2000 years, so the theory goes, God has being dealing with His “church,” but one day He will get back to Israel. The Bible does not teach anything like this. God does not postpone His covenants.

Consider God’s covenant with Noah. He promised never to flood the Earth again like He did in Noah’s day. But what if God decided to postpone the covenant, to put it on hold for a time, so he could work with another group of people? During the time of the postponement, God sent another flood. Would God have been a covenant breaker? Not if we follow the logic of those who argue that we are living in a time when God is dealing with His “church” and not Israel.

Dispensationalists claim that their particular brand of eschatology is the only prophetic system that gives Israel her proper place in redemptive history. This is an odd thing to argue since in the dispensational view of the Great Tribulation, two-thirds of the Jews will be slaughtered (Zech. 13:8). Charles Ryrie writes in his book The Best is Yet to Come (except if you’re a Jew) that during this post-rapture period Israel will undergo “the worst bloodbath in Jewish history.”8

Dispensationalists don’t interpret “all Israel” (Rom. 11:26) to mean every Israelite who has ever lived. They don’t even understand “all Israel” to mean every Jew alive during the post-rapture great tribulation period since they believe that two-thirds of them will be slaughtered (Zech. 13:8). They mean by “all Israel” the remnant, what’s left of Israel after the antichrist has his way with the newly constituted nation. To get this remnant, two-thirds of the Jews have to be killed in another holocaust.

Joseph, you might want to see how this view of the end times affected the way some prophecy writers took a “hands off” approach when they heard how Jews were being persecuted. Like you, they argued that it was “predicted.” I tell the story in my book Last Days Madness.

John Walvoord follows a similar line of argument:

“Israel is destined to have a particular time of suffering which will eclipse any thing that it has known in the past. . . . [T]he people of Israel . . . are placing themselves within the vortex of this future whirlwind which will destroy the majority of those living in the land of Palestine.”9

Arnold Fruchtenbaum states that during the Great Tribulation “Israel will suffer tremendous persecution (Matthew 24:15–28; Revelation 12:1–17). As a result of this persecution of the Jewish people, two-thirds are going to be killed.”10 Since Joseph Farah is concerned about the Jewish people, as I am, he needs to deal with those who are predicting a new holocaust. The problem is, Joseph writes, “In fact, it is predicted.” If it’s predicted, then there is nothing that can be done to stop it.

According to the view espoused by Joseph and others, Israel has waited thousands of years for the promises finally to be fulfilled, and before it happens, two-thirds of them are wiped out. Those who are falsely charged with holding to “Replacement Theology” believe in no such inevitable future Jewish bloodbath. In fact, we believe that the Jews will inevitably embrace Jesus as the Messiah this side of the Second Coming. The fulfillment of Zechariah 13:8 is a past event (Matt. 3:7; 21:42–46; 22:1–14; 24:15–22). Those who believed Jesus’ words of warning at the impending destruction of Jerusalem that took place in A.D. 70 were delivered “from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10).

Conclusion

In Jeremiah 31:35–36, God promised the following to Israel: “Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The Lord of hosts is His name: ‘If this fixed order departs From before Me,’” declares the Lord, ‘Then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever. Jeremiah 31:7 continues: “Thus says the Lord, ‘If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,’ declares the Lord.”

Jeremiah’s prophecy was given more than 2500 years ago. Prior to 1948 and after A.D. 70, Israel had not been a nation. So we have a few interpretive choices regarding the Jeremiah passage: (1) God lied (impossible); (2) the promise was conditional (not likely); the promise was postponed (always the dispensationalist answer and untenable); (4) or the fulfillment was fulfilled in the new nation that grew out of the New Covenant made up of Jews and non-Jews(most likely). Consider what Jesus tells the religious leaders of His day:

“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust. When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them” (Matt. 21:43–45).

Peter, quoting portions of the Old Testament related to Israel, raises the nation issue as it pertain to “the sons of Israel” (Ex. 19:6): “But you are ‘a chosen race,’ a royal ‘priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession,’ so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were ‘not a people,’ but now you are ‘the people of God; you had ‘had not received mercy,’ but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9–10). Does this not fulfill what is promised to Jeremiah? There is no need of a parenthesis, a postponement of covenant promises, for a future fulfillment. Peter is clear that a new nation of believers in Jesus Christ has been founded made up of Israelites and non-Israelites.

We need to stop teaching the two-people of God gospel, which is no gospel at all. There is one gospel and one people of God if they are in Jesus Christ: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17)

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  1. Randall Price, Unholy War: America, Israel and Radical Islam (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2001), 412. []
  2. Even modern-day Hebrew translations of the Greek New Testament translate the Greek ekklēsia as the Hebrew qāhāl. []
  3. Following the LXX, the sacred assembly of Israel was the “ekklēsia of the LORD” (Deut. 23:1). “The people of God” are “in the ekklēsia” (Judges 20:2). Solomon took “all the ekklēsia” to Gibeon where the ark was (2 Chron. 1:3). There the ekklēsia inquired of the Lord (2 Chron. 1:5). When the temple was completed, Solomon blessed “all the ekklēsia of Israel” (1 Kings 8:14; cp. 8:22, 55; 2 Chron. 6:3). If this verse were in the NT, it would read “all the church of Israel.” When Solomon stands before the altar and prays, he is “before all the ekklēsia of Israel” (2 Chron. 6:12). The “ekklēsia of the LORD” was the covenantal assembly of Israel (Deut. 4:10). []
  4. Earl D. Radmacher, What the Church is All About: A Biblical and Historical Study (Chicago: Moody Press, [1972] 1978), 121, 132. Radmacher argues that “although the etymological associations of ekklesia have their unquestionable bearing upon the significance of the term, the deciding evidence must be drawn from the exhaustive investigation of its actual use in the New Testament. While it is true that historical continuity seems to demand that the early appearance of the word ekklesia in any new literature should simply suggest ‘assembly,’ it is also true that the Holy Spirit frequently lifts words from their current usages to a higher plane of meaning and packs into them such vast new content as their etymologies will scarcely account for. Whitney states: ‘Philologists agree that the final authority of any word does not lie in its etymological or historical connotation but in its actual use’” (132). That is the question. What is its actual use and meaning in the New Testament? []
  5. William Tyndale, “Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue” in The Works of William Tyndale, 2 volume work (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1849–1850), 2:13–16. []
  6. Quoted in David Daniell, The Bible in English: It’s History and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 439. []
  7. Alister McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 172. []
  8. Charles C. Ryrie, The Best is Yet to Come (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1981), 86. []
  9. John F. Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1962), 107, 113. Emphasis added. []
  10. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, “The Little Apocalypse of Zechariah,” The End Times Controversy: The Second Coming Under Attack, eds. Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2003), 262. []