I was using the fly swatter the other day. Oh, don’t worry; I was using it on flies!
I was upset to come home to discover there were a number of flies buzzing around the kitchen area…hard to believe, with the kitchen as immaculately clean as it was (fingers crossed). I was a little disappointed when I saw two flies near each other, but not near enough I could get them both with one swat. Oh well, I made a choice and brought the “judgment gavel” down with deadly efficiency.
And the other flew to safety. In fact, I was almost certain I could hear it issuing expletives as it blasted to safety! “Too bad it could not have been closer to that other fly”, I thought. (I know; you’re thinking, “This guy really needs to get a life!” Anyhow, there is no way that rascal will come back to the same place, and who knows where or when it will light next.
I waited a second or two, and then, in my usual patient manner, I sat the flyswatter down right next to where the two flies had been earlier and headed off to some lesser pursuit. And then, out of the corner of my eye, as I walked away, I saw an amazing thing. The fly came right back to the place of his Uncle Buggy’s demise a few seconds ago. This caught my attention and my imagination immediately, but before I could really get a good grasp on this metaphor that I am now sharing with you, the fly did something else, that blew my mind.
After examining some of Uncle’s remains, he trotted over and examined most of the remaining fly cadaver on the flyswatter, and then just parked his vehicle and sat a spell. That’s right! He bounced right up onto the very instrument of death that caused the untimely departure of his kinfolk. Amazing! I mean you would think (even without a brain), there would be at least a little bit of that thing called “instinct”. Some semblance of self-preservation. Some allusion of wisdom. Something!
The crazy fly marched right on to the flyswatter and camped out, pitched a tent, and dreamt of roasting marshmallows with his squashed bud.
And then it occurred to me. Humans are no different! We want to ignore the protections of God, His commandments. We want to be free of rules and the self-preserving guidelines made available to us by a loving Creator. Do our thing! I am human! Hear me roar! We have all turned to our own way, and ignored the loving, reaching hand of God. Who will deliver us from this propensity to self-destruction?
Even in the ranks of the Church, you can hear the murmurings, and sometimes see those returning “as a dog to his vomit”. Certainly, our hearts break, and we examine our message, and our own lives and our own testimonies. We ask ourselves, did they see the impossibility of it all and miss the fact that God made the impossible possible? Did they not see the stars displaying the power of His grace? Why? Why did the flies return to the scene and instrument of their ultimate destruction? Did they not recognize the fading vapor of their perishing flesh or their decaying possessions? Did they not recognize the clear intimacy of a communicating Designer in the language of DNA? Why? Why would the flies decide to live with the flyswatter? Have they not tasted the fruit of Life? Have they not embraced the warmth of the Servant? Why? Did they miss the purity of poverty in a God made flesh? Or maybe they did not catch the Advocate winning their case by personal substitution. Did someone forget to tell them they are free? Why would they escort themselves to the death chamber? Why? What is wrong with this picture?
Perhaps you can hear the fly saying, “Hey, there is spider webs out there! I’m just afraid!” Maybe you hear another, “But this kitchen counter is covered with delectable dainties! I like it here!” Wait a minute! Stop everything! Listen to me a minute. That’s right. Read this out loud and hear it. Christ took the hit for you! Jesus became sin and suffered the fatal torment…the wrath of God…the judgment of the Almighty for you. You have an opportunity…an opportunity to go home…to the protection and warmth and abundance of your Father’s house. The Father sent His Son to get you. He wants you back. Don’t stay where you are. Don’t send Him away. It is too dangerous! The pleasure is just a deception. The faultfinding is a deception. The self-righteousness, the personal piety, the legalistic techniques to make your own way back…all deceptions!
"Why is the LORD taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and little ones will be carried off as slaves! Let's get out of here and return to Egypt!" Nu 14:3
But wait a minute! What’s up with that? Have you forgotten so quickly what was going on in Egypt. Have you forgotten the oppression, the slavery, the infanticide to control the expansion of your people? Have you forgotten so quickly the constant sense of imminent death? Don’t you remember the flyswatter? You scramble around so eagerly for crumbs, when milk and honey is available to you. When you are looking through the eyes of faith (faith in God), there are no giants in Canaan. You are not the “grasshopper”. You are the beloved offspring of an omnipotent, protective God.
So, come on, cut it out! You may think you have a good excuse, but God says you’re really without excuse. So get real and get off the flyswatter! Just think, swimming through a lake of milk and honey! Sure beats splattering the countertop! I mean, get some sense between those bug eyes of yours! This is a no-brainer. (Sorry, couldn’t resist).
God loves you and I love you, and now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got to buzz off!
Ó 2001 C. E. Briggs
This is the message, which we have heard from Him and declare to you,
that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we
have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not
practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His
Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 Jn 1:5-7) [Bold and underlining mine]
“Walking in darkness” and “not practicing the truth” are apparently synonymous. And if so, it follows that “walking in the light” and “practicing the truth” are synonymous.
Jesus had (and has) fellowship with us and encourages fellowship among us, and indeed marks this as a measure of walking in the light.
We know our sinful nature dogs us, but we have an option that God has given us, His Holy Spirit. If His Spirit lives within us, then we may live after the Spirit and reflect His fruits, rather than the sinful nature and its fruits. But, will sin happen, and what then is our status?
As long as this corruptible flesh contains us, we will be drawn to that which we hate, and when we yield, sin occurs. Are we now walking in darkness? That can best be answered with a question. What do we practice? I didn’t ask in what ways have we failed, faltered, or stumbled? I asked what do we practice?
Do we practice sin? Does sin find a happy, comfortable home in us? Or does sin find an adversary in us? Do we despise sin or do we court it? The resister of sin may struggle and lose some battles, but if he is living after the Spirit, he need not lose the war (and in fact, he need not lose the battle).
You see, we always know we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ. So, back to the question, do we walk in His light? If so, the decision is clear whenever we are faced with “get up or give up”. We rise, and we confess the sin that we so desperately hate and refuse to practice and then we know the confession of our sin secures the forgiveness of sin and cleansing (both soul and conscience) from sin by the blood of Jesus Christ.
While I am always concerned with my conduct, I am not as concerned in the action of the moment as I am in the actions that I practice. Hopefully, as we endeavor to love God with all of our heart, soul, might, and mind, our daily actions will always consistently glorify God.
And when there is a hiccup, a violation, let us look to the Spirit that lives within. Let us turn to the Savior, of whom the Spirit testifies. And let us confess to the Father in Heaven, our sin, and our hatred of that sin, and our desire of the deliverance He promises.
What is the practice of your life? Practice truth.
Ó 2001 C. E. Briggs
Isn’t it interesting how?:
We can be surrounded by a forest full of crickets and sleep peacefully as we camp out in our tent, but a single cricket under our bedroom nightstand can drive us absolutely nuts!
We can lay next to a roaring brook with clarity of mind, but a persistent little drip from the faucet can drive us stark raving mad!
We can be surrounded and hounded by a world of iniquity and enjoy peace that passes understanding through Christ Jesus, but the indulgence of one little sin can leave us feeling defeated and empty.
Philippians 3 (NIV)
…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Repentance (turning loose of sin) and believing (taking hold of) the Good News of Christ Jesus, not only produces immediate admittance into the family of God, but daily transforms us to reflect more and more the lordship of Christ in our lives as the children of God. Trust God every day; serve God every day; praise God every day, and He will give you your deepest desires: desires, which are now focused on the heavenly treasures of joy, peace, and love, rather than earthly treasures.
Ó 2001 C. E. Briggs
Do you believe in miracles?
While most people do believe in miracles, they do so in many different ways.
There is a lot of attention given to miracles these days. We need only turn on our TV sets to see programs portraying angels, demons, witches, sorcerers. Many programs portray miracles indirectly; but some use miracles as their main theme.
Roger Ebert, the famous movie reviewer, exclaimed once about “angel” shows, “These scenarios are all wrong, wrong, wrong, from a theological point of view (which is the only one worth having about angels).” [Quoted in Citizen, December 1997].
Jesus responding to some who were taunting him to perform another miracle, said in Luke 11:29, “This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.”
Hiking the trails of the Rocky Mountains, one occasionally will come to a sign that points the way to the destination. The sign is not the destination. It just points the way to the destination.
Sometimes the signs are just mounted loosely in a pile of rocks. They can be easily turned by the wind or by pranksters. If the sign is blindly trusted, one could end up hiking in the wrong direction. The wise hiker will always confirm the sign with the map and compass.
Our map is the Word of God, and our compass is the Spirit of God.
Jesus referred to the Old Testament account of Jonah to illustrate His death, burial, and resurrection as the sign that should be trusted over all other signs or miracles. If the others don’t point to this one, they are pointing the wrong way.
The greatest healing, the greatest miracle, the greatest blessing is not the remission of the cancer, the business success, or the unexpected romance. The greatest is the eternal salvation of the soul.
May God bless you with this miracle first and many more following.
Ó 2002 C. E. Briggs
I was enjoying some Bible verses this week in the book of John and thought it would be good to share them. The scene in these verses picks up soon after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, when He has appeared to some of His disciples.
JOHN 20:24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord." So he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." (NKJV)
Of course Thomas is known as The Doubter; in fact his name was immortalized in the expression, Doubting Thomas. But Thomas had previously demonstrated powerful faith (John 11:16), even willing to die at one time for his Lord. Frankly, I think he was like many of us. Sure Thomas was a little clumsy with his faith, but he was honest and he wanted to be sure he was not falling for some crazy religion, which there was plenty of in his day (as well as ours). He wanted facts! (John 14:5).
But this time Thomas is seriously fed up with the whole situation. He has just seen the Person in Whom all his hopes and dreams rested, brutally tortured and killed. He was in no mood for mystical musings. This was the biggest loss of his life. In other words, “Look guys, He is dead! He is buried! It is over! I am tired of wishful thinking!”
Then -- the Lord pays another visit, and this time, Thomas is with them! Read:
JOHN 20:26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, "Peace to you!" 27 Then He said to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing." 28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." 30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (NKJV)
Notice Jesus does not criticize Thomas for his radical demand. Instead the Lord provides Him with the requested proof, and Thomas responds with one of the most powerful affirmations of the deity of Jesus in the Bible, “My Lord and my God!”
With discoveries such as the Dead Sea scrolls, the historical accuracy of the Bible has been verified. In fact, we have documents verified to within a few years of the crucifixion that match our current translations almost exactly. In comparison, the earliest available copies of Aristotle’s writings are dated 1300 years after the original writings and yet ironically are never questioned, even though historians suggest it takes about 200 years for legend to begin to invade truth.
The fact is, the evidence of the validity of the claims of Christianity far exceeds the most burdensome demands of secular legal proofs.
Which leads me to ask: If you were wrong, would you want to know it?
Ó 2003 C. E. Briggs
Nearly everyone knows the story, either from the Bible, Sunday School, or even from the movies. God told Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, and Moses wasn’t very happy about it. He wasn’t even sure how to identify God to the people. God said, “Tell them, ‘I AM has sent you.’” (Exodus 3:14) Fifteen hundred years later, Jesus uses the same phrase in the following conversation:
So the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." (John 8:57-58)
It sounds like a grammar mistake, but a closer look at the verbs is interesting. The phrase “was born” is translated from a single word, genesqai, which means to come into existence. The next verb “am” is translated from the word eimi, which means eternal existence.
Ok, language class is over. Now, take a look at what this means. First, it means Abraham had a beginning. Second, it means God did not have a beginning but existed eternally. Christ could have asserted His eternality by saying “I was” but to show that He transcends the whole concept of time, He says, “I am.” When speaking of God’s existence the best word to use is not was or will be. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
This can be hard for a human to understand. We are conditioned to think in the context of time and it can cause many errors when considering the nature of God.
God understands this and so He condescends into time to speak so that we can understand. In fact, God’s Word actually became flesh when Jesus was born:
The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
What does all this mean to you today - right now? It means that God knows your earthly time is limited. While you are stressed because there are not enough hours in the day, God is concerned with the welfare of your eternity. In fact, He loves the world so much, He sent His only Son to secure eternal life for those who trust in Him (John 3:16).
Prophecy may be the best demonstration of God’s lordship over time. Prophecy is unique to the Bible. It is not found in the writings of other major religions, such as the Book of Mormon, the writings of Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science), the Quran of Islam, the Vedas of Hinduism, the Tripitaka of Buddhism, or the Si Shu of Confucianism.
There are 100’s of prophecies in the Bible and the rate of accuracy is 100%. I would suggest it is because its Author knows exactly what the future holds. He knows because He sees all of the past and all of the future – right now!
That may leave you struggling to understand many things but one thing it should not do, is leave you wondering where to place your trust.
He stands at the door of your heart. Won’t you open to Him today?
Ó 2003 C. E. Briggs
When people tell me they are sick of trying to live a good life because of their constant failures, I tell them they are closer than ever to the Kingdom of God. Of course, they are surprised. They are thinking why would God give the Ten Commandments, if no one can successfully follow them. I mean - I cannot even get past the first one without messing up!
The Apostle Paul explains that the purpose of the Law of God is to provide a mirror to reveal our sinfulness. While the Law is good, it quickly teaches us we are not. We may try to live by it, but our best falls short. The question is naturally raised, “How can a holy God forgive me without becoming unholy Himself?” If God is righteous, He will not wink at sin – He must judge it. Anything less and He would not be holy, and then frankly, we would all be toast!
But God has graciously allowed a system of substitution. If we can find a human who has lived a perfectly holy life with no personal sin whatsoever, and that person is willing to stand in for us, consign our sin to Him, consign His righteousness to us, and receive all the judgment for our sin that we deserved, then we can spend eternity in the presence of the most beautiful Being ever, God Almighty. But God knew that no person born of man can live sinless, so if His creation is to be saved while He remains righteous, He will have to become human Himself, live sinless, and provide Himself to suffer and die to save the world that He so deeply loves. God satisfies His own wrath! Amazing love!
Man simply cannot invent a religion like this! How do we gain access to God? Every other religion shows us what we must do. Christianity shows us what God has done.
A new movie, called, The Passion of Christ opens in theatres the week this is written. If you decide to see it, please remember, the greatest agony endured by our Lord on the cross and in the days before was not visible to human eyes. The greatest agony felt was when the Sinless One had my sins (and yours) imputed to Him. You see, I know what I have done! And I cannot imagine the torment for Perfect Purity to be exposed to such filth! What love is this!!
If you have not already done so, embrace the Good News of Jesus Christ today!
Ó 2004 C. E. Briggs
The Unity of Purpose
Charles E. Briggs
Copyright © 2003 by Charles E. Briggs
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,
1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)
Charles E. Briggs
Of the many theological debates within Christianity, the one that fascinates me most is that of the so-called Arminians and Calvinists, in which their differing views on the doctrines of Depravity, Election, Atonement, Regeneration, and Free Will are discussed. I am drawn to this debate because it appears so irreconcilable and because there are so many in both camps that are unarguably and mightily used by God.
While much of the debate is resolved by the elimination of semantics, there are nevertheless real differences. When each side to the debate discusses their views in the Spirit of Christ, they inevitably discover with surprise that much of what they believe is the same. The problem is many of the terms potentially have dual meanings, or in some cases, dualistic language is deliberately used to achieve desired support for an established belief (Merriam-Webster 1059). Walter Martin says, “The problem of semantics has always played an important part in human affairs, for by its use or abuse, whichever the case may be, entire churches, thrones, and governments have been erected, sustained or overthrown” (29).
The intent of this project is to identify the common ground of the Gospel of Christ and the unity of purpose it requires. In the process, I hope to expose the attitudes prevalent in the Calvinist-Arminian debate, and to examine those attitudes that promote division, as well as those that promote unity. If the Gospel is presented through (or despite) both theological systems, we have an obligation to unify in the Great Commission of taking the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.
The views set forth in this project may appear naïve or idealistic, but I submit the alternatives are unthinkable and unacceptable.
Roberts said of The Potter’s Freedom, “In a manner reminiscent of Luther demolishing Erasmus, James White grinds the Semi-Pelagianism of Dr. Geisler to fine powder – not in the spirit of triumphalism, but knowing that all Arminianism is as hostile to the true gospel as it is friendly to a reviving Roman Catholicism” (back cover).
A person’s attitude is generally revealed most vividly in his choice of adjectives and verbs. Consider “demolishing” and “grinds” and “hostile to the true gospel.” These dramatic word pictures remind us more of a coworker’s break-table review of a slow-witted action movie than the meek exchange of differing views between Christian brothers. Or should we conclude that Dr. Geisler or Dr. White is not a Christian brother? Are these terms justified? Do they promote unity? I am not suggesting weakness when debating issues one believes to be truth, but I am suggesting meekness, and in fact, it is more than a suggestion (Matt. 5:5). God has clearly told us to respond to challenges to our beliefs with meekness (1 Pet. 3:15).
Reymond said, “The Potter’s Freedom is the much needed antidote to his [Norman Geisler’s] flawed (and failed) attempt, in typical Thomistic fashion, to synthesize what cannot be synthesized.” Is that true? Can these views not be synthesized? Do they even need to be?
In What Love is This?, Dave Hunt tells us, “Far from glorifying God, Calvinism gives God a bad name (213).”
An endorsement of Dave Hunt’s book by Elmer Towns of Liberty University speaks of “the agonizing faults of Calvinistic abuses,” and says that the arguments of students for and against Calvinism “are like weeds, i.e., dandelions that bear no fruit.” He also says, “Very little of their discussions are grounded in the truth of the Word of God (inside cover).” Indeed, dandelions are colorful, and can draw one’s attention as they dance in the fields, but they are weeds, and any farmer dedicated to a healthy crop and productive harvest will know, the fewer weeds there are, the greater the harvest will be.
The question is, “Can Calvinists and Arminians be saved while fully embracing their particular beliefs?” Once you answer that question and realize synthesis of beliefs may not be possible, a problem emerges. Because Jesus said, “[. . .] he who is not against us is on our side” (NKJV, Luke 9:50).
I have met Calvinists and Arminians that work very effectively together reaching the lost. They do not agree with one another on several theological issues but they do agree on the essentials of the Christian faith. Paul Lim, in an article in Modern Reformation, entitled, “The Unity of the Church,” said:
As confessing evangelicals, we can and should reflect more biblically and theologically on the nature and necessity of the church’s unity (11 par. 2).
However, there are probably even more of those who call themselves Arminian or Calvinist who find this cooperation repulsive. They are absolutely opposed to one another and consider each to be reprobate.
Ch. 2. Barely Saved
Many theologians attempt to “ride the fence” possibly for marketing reasons, but their speech inevitably reveals their attitudes. R.C. Sproul, a prominent Calvinist theologian, (respected by this writer) made the regrettable statement in his book, Willing to Believe: “People often ask if I believe Arminians are Christians? I usually answer, ‘Yes, barely’” (25).
Is this concept of “barely Christian” possible? I suggest there is no scriptural support for this idea, nor does it have any place even in Calvinist theology. Some might say 1 Corinthians 3:15 suggests a person can be barely saved, but a closer look reveals a discussion of works and rewards rather than salvation. It does however reinforce the fact that no person is barely saved. He either is or he isn’t. Jesus does not barely save anyone (Heb. 7:25). How does a Calvinist (in the context of God’s sovereignty and irresistible, unconditional decrees) say someone is barely saved? Did the Almighty have a weak moment in which He was hindered?
The fact is, if it is agreed we have been saved, unity in the body of Christ should be a primary concern and quest. Let’s look again at Luke 9.
Now John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” (NKJV, vss. 49-50)
This is the attitude of Christ concerning unity. Clearly some are against Jesus and His followers and clearly some are on their side. Jesus’ words show there is to be a division. Those that are “against” are excluded--no compromise--no accommodation. Conversely, in the same statement, Jesus reproves the attitudes that hinder unity within “our side.” While the disciples with Christ were jockeying for positions of authority, this busy missionary was not even in their company, but going about winning souls for Christ. We should go the extra mile to find common ground in the gospel of Jesus Christ. But just how far did Jesus go with this concept?
He said, “Do not forbid him.” The only thing Jesus tells us to analyze is whose side they are on. He indicates we can find out who they support by identifying who they are against. If they are on the side of Christ and His followers, we must not hinder them.
Dr. Norman Geisler spoke to the congregation of Calvary Chapel in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, on June 24, 2001. The title of his message was Five Reasons I Am Not a Five Point Calvinist. As he developed his clear anti-Calvinist message, he chose to use (in my opinion) a regrettable phrase. He said, “God is not a divine rapist.” His point of course was to show that God does not force His love upon anyone, since forced love is a contradiction of terms and is not possible. His choice of words was disappointing and unnecessarily inflammatory, but I suppose he did not consider the audience to be antagonistic to his message. But just how friendly was the audience?
Apparently, at least one Calvinist in the area decided to check out Dr. Geisler. Mr. John Nolan wrote an open letter to A Puritan’s Mind, a website presented by C. Matthew McMahon to propagate and promote historical Puritan theology. The letter was a response to Dr. Geisler’s message at Calvary Chapel. It was entitled, The Gospel According to Timothy McVeigh. As you might deduce from the title, Dr. Geisler’s beliefs are equated with the beliefs of Timothy McVeigh, convicted murderer and bomber of the Murrah Federal building, in which 168 men, women, and children died. His statement, read shortly before his execution, proclaimed, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
Is this the meekness or gentleness that Peter spoke of in 1 Peter 3:15? This comparison of a mass-murderer to a humble servant of God is possibly more regrettable than Dr. Geisler’s choice of “divine rapist” as an insinuation of the Calvinistic view of God. Dr. Geisler has provided voluminous, Christ-honoring works respected and used in the work of the Kingdom of God throughout the world. Norman Geisler’s works have been daily referenced for many years by evangelicals globally, including Calvinist scholars.
Frankly, I live in the Oklahoma City area. My office building rocked from the blast of the bomb that Timothy McVeigh planted in front of the federal building. I lost friends in that disaster. I attended memorials including the funeral of two baby brothers. I have several of Dr. Geisler’s books in my library along with many books by Calvin, Sproul, and White, among others. I have read and referenced them for years. I realize they have differences, but I am reluctant to conclude any of them are unsaved, barely saved, believers in “divine rapism,” believers in “the gospel of Timothy McVeigh,” or any other such inappropriate illustrations. It is heartrending when children of God reject the fruit of the Spirit in the egotistical debate of dogma.
Narcissus, a Greek mythological character, was so fascinated by his reflection in the water that he fell in and drowned. Today, the term narcissist describes one who makes personal fulfillment first priority.
Dogmas, creeds, and confessions too often become the platform of egos and the fertile soil of unbiblical deviations. Unsubdued egos, when studying God’s Word, render attitudes that can lead to cultic behavior.
In The Kingdom of the Cults, Martin says the typical cult “requires absolute faith in the supernatural authority of those who received the initial revelation” (37). So when “special revelation” is said to be needed to understand that which controverts the Word of God and common reasoning, beware. Many have been ensnared in the “Kingdom of the Cults” by this tactic. Martin quotes The Watchtower, a publication of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (1 Feb. 1952, 79-80): “If we do not see a point at first [. . .] we should meekly go along with the Lord’s theocratic organization and wait for further clarification” (36). Actually, we should diligently and prayerfully seek “further clarification” before we “meekly go along.”
God invites us to reason with Him (Is 1:18). He tells us to study to gain approval and avoid shame (2 Tim 2:15), and to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks a reason of the hope in us (1 Pet. 3:15). Discussion, study, and preparation, when approached with meekness and gentleness, will assure the approval of God, the respect of man, and the unity of believers.
On October 13, 1995, during a broadcast of the Bible Study Hour, which was presenting an episode of the White Horse Inn broadcast, the host and president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Dr. Michael Horton, and a group identified as “the staff at Christians United for Reformation” began to discuss “anti-authoritarian movements creating authoritarian sects.” The discussion was referred to as part of “The Reformation Slogan tape series, produced by CURE.” They immediately homed in on one “movement” only, and they identified it by saying, “It starts with a ‘C’.” I was struck by this childish language so uncharacteristic of the scholars participating in the discussion. If the name is inappropriate for this public venue, then hints of the name are also inappropriate. The abbreviation is an indictment against the attitude and maturity of the speaker.
Dr. Horton went on to say (about this church), “Reformed people are not to be allowed in their congregation. They’re booting out the Reformed folk.” Another said they do this “under the guise of not being a church.” Referring to the pastor as “Pastor X” and “the pope” who “called a summit of all the cardinals; I mean pastors,” Dr. Horton said this pastor “doesn’t have any theological training,” and “Calvinists are not to be allowed in the denomination [. . .], but evidently, philanderers are.” The doctrine of this church was then referred to as the “particular pastor’s navel-gazing.”
The reference here is to the Calvary Chapel at Costa Mesa, California. The “pope” referred to is Chuck Smith, the founder of the Calvary Chapel movement, which currently has approximately one thousand churches in America and many more around the globe. The “summit” these men were speaking of was a conference held at Twin Peaks in the San Bernardino Mountains that same year. I confirmed this in an interview with one of the attendants of the conference, Ken Merrihew, of Calvary Chapel of Oklahoma City, April 25, 2003.
Regrettably, the words of the discussion on the Bible Study Hour were either outright wrong or out of context. Chuck Smith does have theological training, and he did in fact graduate (4). He “is one of the leading Bible teachers in the United States” and “his radio ministry, The Word For Today, is heard on hundreds of stations across the United States” (cover). They do not “boot out” anyone because of adherence to Reformed (or Calvinist) theology. They do, however, disallow extremists from Calvinism, Arminianism, or any other theological persuasion to sow discord or division in the body of Christ by forcing dogmas down the throats of people who wholeheartedly embrace the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
The Calvary Chapel organization is a respected, fundamental Protestant movement that has been clearly blessed of the Lord. There is not a single claim to perfection or papacy by Chuck Smith or any other pastor of Calvary Chapel. The only exclusions in this organization are directed at sowers of discord, open and unrepentant immorality, and rejection of the Fundamentals as listed herein (Smith 118-119). Even in these cases, every effort is made to reconcile and restore a brother or a sister, but the priority is unity in the body of Christ (Smith 119).
However, the purpose of this project is not to argue the validity of the views of any person or group, but to consider the attitudes that take place among those in the body of Christ who debate theology. Clearly the misrepresentation on the White Horse Inn (mentioned above) was inappropriate and unChristlike. The words spoken were improper in any setting, but especially in such a public setting as a worldwide radio broadcast.
C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, “Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son” (6).
In chapter 7, we will examine an email debate in which Dr. Horton conducts himself much more honorably, but before we do, in our quest for common ground, let’s take another look at the “requirement” of salvation (ch. 5) and the essentials of the Christian faith (ch. 6).
In the identification of common ground among believers, a big question is always, “What is the Gospel?” Is the Gospel what we must believe to be saved? Most would think so. In fact, in Mark 1:15 Jesus began His earthly ministry saying, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (NASB). At first, it seems appropriate to say the Gospel is the minimum we must believe to be saved, but consider the implications. The word “minimum” suggests there are more things you can believe to be saved, and yet, they are not part of the “minimum.” Most would argue, if anything saves, then that is all that saves. Actually, a song by Priscilla Owens and William Kirkpatrick, says it very well, “Jesus Saves!” For over a century that song has clearly expressed the most profound truth in world history (97). Too many in Christendom today find this fruit from the Tree of Life desirable to eat only when mixed into a fruit salad from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Of course, this truth goes back much further than a song from the 19th century. In the development of the early Church as recounted in the book of Acts, there is a marvelous drama in chapter 16. As Paul and Silas sang and worshipped while chained in a dungeon, God sent an earthquake. The doors of the jail opened, and the chains fell off the prisoners. When the jailer discovered Paul and the others had not tried to escape, he brought them out, and trembling, he asked the question that has echoed through the corridors of world history and in the hearts of mankind from the very first feeble attempts of Adam to cover himself. The jailer said, “What must I do to be saved?” (NASB, vs. 30).
Paul’s response is the only true answer to the jailer and every other person that has ever lived or ever will. Also interesting, is what he does not say. He does not say, “You must believe the ’true gospel’ as presented by John Calvin or James Arminius.” He does not say, “Embrace the creeds, proclaim the confessions, and complete the 2-year catechism program of the First Baptist or the First Presbyterian or the Holy Pentecostal Church, maintain a good attitude and you have a great shot at being saved.” He does not ask to what religious persuasion the jailer is inclined. He did not even say, “God forbid you should do anything! Do you think you are the master of your own destiny? Shame on you!”
No, we all know what he said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved [. . .]” (NASB, Acts 16:31). Verse 32 then says, “They spoke the word of the Lord to him [. . .].” The next verse leads us to believe that within an hour Paul and Silas explained the Gospel to them, the jailer cleaned their wounds from an earlier beating, and the jailer with his family was baptized. It is unlikely Paul and Silas took them through the full details of the book of Romans, and after intensive Bible study, made sure all was perfectly understood before baptizing them. So what was “the word of the Lord” that “they spoke [. . .] to him”?
Paul’s writings indicate he knew how to present the Gospel succinctly. To the Corinthians he wrote that he gave them the Gospel that was able to save them, and he said he did it right up front (1 Cor. 15:1-3). He said it was “of first importance,” so it is reasonable this would be his focus with the jailer. See if you don’t think it would be brief enough and simple enough to present to the jailer and his family. He said, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and [. . .] He was buried, and [. . .] He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures [. . .]” (NASB, 1 Cor. 15:3-5). Great scholarship is not required to see the correlation between these verses and the “five fundamentals” (see ch. 6).
Want to know what to do? Believe what Jesus did!
Since it is generally agreed among orthodox Protestants that truth is absolute and relativism is unacceptable, it seems the best effort for unity within the body of Christ would be to identify a basic core of beliefs recognized as essential to established orthodoxy. This would not be an activity of synthesizing biblical and non-biblical beliefs, i.e., ecumenism, but of identifying the foundational truths of the Christian faith. Such identification would surely bring Christians of various Protestant denominations together for the glory of Christ and the work of the Great Commission. Obviously, many differences would still exist but would not hinder a coalescence of purpose, such as reaching the lost. The family of Christ could pursue cordial, scholarly debates (which actually serve to further our knowledge of Christ), or simply agree to disagree on the non-essentials.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? That was essentially the intent of identifying The Fundamentals, a set of beliefs initiated in 1878 at the Niagara Bible Conference, in answer to the prevailing modernism of the day. In 1910, these beliefs were refined into the following articles, called the “five fundamentals”: 1) literal interpretation of the Bible, 2) virgin birth and deity of Jesus Christ, 3) doctrine of atonement, 4) bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and 5) imminent second coming of Jesus Christ (Fundamental, par. 3). These beliefs seem basic enough for most Christians, but unfortunately, whenever truth is proclaimed in any absolute manner, it will incur strong reactions from those who feel exposed by it. Ironically, while these articles did provide a unifying effect that brought many evangelicals together on common ground, they also effected a division of those repelled by one or more of the five articles.
To make matters worse, extreme conservatives extended these beliefs into voluminous, pharisaical interpretations that ultimately projected a negative image, even beyond Christianity, to the world. As a result, these five simple articles of belief became a new, and often, negatively viewed movement called, Fundamentalism. An article on the website of Columbia University, written by Macksood Aftab, the managing editor of The Islamic Herald, says, “The term Fundamentalist in the Christian world, is synonymous with the ‘Bible Thumpers’ and the tele evangelists” (Aftab, par 3). While this seems a rather bigoted remark, it nevertheless illustrates a prevailing mindset in academia.
Indeed, even among evangelicals, unnecessary and improper enhancements of these fundamental beliefs have caused many misunderstandings and hard feelings. In some cases, the gap has widened within soteriology, as well as eschatology, primarily due to the sense that a belief in dispensational theology is essential to the fundamentals. But those adhering to covenantal theology, amillennialism, and postmillennialism can most certainly find common ground in these fundamentals with the dispensationalists and premillennialists. We are Christians--the body of Christ. We are members with different tasks and outlooks, but we have a common purpose, which is to serve the Head, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and spread His good news.
Ch. 7. The Chief Aim
We return now to witness Michael Horton in a more positive setting. Dr. Horton has written many books and articles, and participated in many debates. I have read much of his work, and I am grateful for his additions to my library. I have always perceived him to be a wonderful servant of the Lord. In fact, in contrast to the disappointing deviation above, Dr. Horton has demonstrated clearly that he can employ a mature, Christlike attitude when debating with other Christians who may oppose some of his views. In the March/April 2003 edition of Modern Reformation (vol. 12 no. 2 pp. 20-23), an email debate between Dr. Horton and Roger Olson is partially recorded in an article entitled, The Nature and Future of Evangelicalism: A Dialogue. The entire dialogue can be found, unabridged and unedited, at <www.modernreformation.org>.
Roger Olson initiates this debate with some important questions that speak well to the subject of this project.
“What do you think about evangelical diversity? Can the movement include both monergists and synergists? What concerns do you have about the identity of Evangelicalism?” (21)
Dr. Horton’s response includes statements that indicate he is concerned with unity and is committed to the attitudes that promote it. An example follows:
“Evangelicalism has found it possible to accommodate a rather wide variety of soteriological interpretations, ranging from Arminian (synergistic) to Calvinist and Lutheran (monergistic).” (22)
“I don’t think Arminianism is as evangelical as it should be (theologically), but it’s a good deal more so than, say, Unitarianism. I have Roman Catholic friends whom I regard without hesitation to be my brothers and sisters, but I do not regard the ecclesiastical institution to which they are attached as an evangelical body. Similarly, “open theism,” to my mind, is out of bounds of historic Christian commitment, but that in no way indicates what I think about the destiny of its adherents.” (23)
While we can discern Dr. Horton’s differing views, we can also clearly see the wise avoidance of a divisive attitude. Therefore, his capabilities in this regard, both negative and positive, are evident. When he suppresses the egotism portrayed publicly with comrades on the broadcast previously mentioned, he is an articulate influence for unity in the body of Christ.
We revert now to the Calvary Chapel issue for a few additional (personal) thoughts. I attend a Calvary Chapel. I have been greatly blessed by fellowship in a church family that exemplifies the unity that Christ prayed for (John 17). My church family is comprised of Calvinists and Arminians, but mostly comprised of those who prefer that such designations not be used when referring to them. The teaching and discussions, at times, may favor Calvinism, and other times, Arminianism. But, more often, the teaching simply reveals what an unsaved person must “do to be saved” (Ac 16:31), and what a saved person must do to fully glorify and enjoy God. My church family regularly enlists in parachurch activities (i.e., Billy Graham Crusades), announced from the pulpit, associating them joyously with numerous other Protestant denominations. As with the apostle Paul, the people of Calvary Chapel desire the people of their community to know, if they “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” they will be saved. Any view that cannot allow this response to the “what-must-I-do” question is extremism, unbiblical, and should be avoided.
I have attended churches conforming wholly to Calvinism (i.e., Presbyterian), and I have attended churches conforming wholly to Arminianism, i.e., Nazarene. Of both, I encountered congregations in which I was convinced the chief aim was to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Regrettably, of both, I also encountered groups in which I was convinced the chief aim was different.
8. WWW: Whitefield, Wesley, and the World
Three hundred years ago, John Wesley (not yet a committed Arminian) and George Whitefield (not yet a committed Calvinist) became friends in college through a strong, shared desire to live a disciplined, godly life. However, their crushingly legalistic efforts failed to bring them spiritual peace. Neither had realized that justification before God comes only by grace through faith. Later, Whitefield discovered the need to be born again, and received Christ in a dramatic conversion experience. Wesley also soon recognized the truth of justification by faith alone and was converted. Whitefield eventually embraced the doctrine of predestination, while Wesley ultimately rejected it. As they discovered the differences that had emerged in their beliefs, they decided to go their separate ways.
In time, however, Whitefield pursued reconciliation with Wesley, and until Whitefield died; John Wesley, his brother Charles, and George Whitefield would simply agree to disagree doctrinally, while recommitting themselves to unity and reaching the lost. Their love and support for one another was truly reflective of the attitude commanded by Christ. One account revealed:
Even in death, George Whitefield had a final lesson for his friends. Before he had left England the previous year, Whitefield had told Robert Keen that if he should die, he wanted John Wesley to preach the funeral sermon. It was a fitting tribute to his single-minded determination to find common ground between his Calvinist Methodists and John Wesley. (Fish 193)
Whitefield referred in his will to John and Charles Wesley as his “honoured and dear friends and [. . .] fellow-labourers.” According to Fish, in the funeral sermon Wesley gave for Whitefield on November 18, 1770, his concluding comments included these words:
“Have we read or heard of any person since the apostles, who testified the gospel of the grace of God, through so widely extended a space, through so large a part of the habitable world? Have we read or heard of any person, who called so many thousands, so many myriads of sinners to repentance?” (196)
In chapter one, I mentioned the ongoing published debate of James R. White and Norman Geisler through books such as The Potter’s Freedom and Chosen But Free, but despite some of the previous references, the two have generally conducted themselves in friendship and respect toward one another. On the cover of White’s book, The King James Only Controversy, Dr. Geisler writes, “This is the best book in print on a topic too often riddled with emotion and ignorance.” The two have enjoyed the friendship of one another, and if that friendship is strained now, I would pray the example of Whitefield and Wesley is discovered and emulated.
Another worthy example is The Bible Answer Man, a daily radio broadcast hosted by Hank Hanegraaff. Hanegraaff has hosted numerous famous authors, including R. C. Sproul, Norman Geisler, Philip Yancey, Randy Alcorn, and many others with differing views theologically. The show and its host are highly respected even though his views have similarities and differences to nearly all his guests. While the broadcast is noted for the difficult issues discussed, it often notably avoids taking sides in controversial, non-foundational doctrines. Whether this is purely marketing wisdom or otherwise, is not important to this subject. What is important, is the beautiful cooperation by virtually all guests. They simply make the choice to avoid such exchanges as the Calvinist-Arminian mud-slinging exercises, and advance the kingdom of God.
Indeed, whether it is Whitefield, Wesley, Geisler, White, Sproul, Horton, Olson, Hanegraaff, Smith, Merrihew, or the countless other servants of the Almighty, it is certainly possible that they all be one, even as the Father and the Son are one.
It seems every worthy cause or proper motivation eventually has to deal with the encroachment, or downright invasion, of extremism. Extremists who label themselves Christians have been responsible for many bloody conflicts in human history, and yet, the Church has prospered and expanded globally.
Alexander Strauch tells us; in an article entitled, The Interdependence of Local Churches, published in the Emmaus Journal of the Emmaus Bible College; that these fanatical, unbalanced, unChristlike attitudes are the same as those that split the Brethren movement. He refers us to Harry A. Ironside’s “An Historical Sketch of the Brethren Movement.” He goes on to tell us:
Jack Van Impe [. . .] in his revealing book Heart Disease In Christ’s Body [. . .] [speaking of] fundamentalists’ churches [said] [. . .] in the name of protecting the truth and their local churches, the most Satanic [sic] attitudes and deeds were justified by so-called godly Christian leaders. These Christians had right doctrine (or so they boasted) but wrong, sinful attitudes.
James Emery White says many in the world today avoid churches because, “Division and discord are perceived to be more present in churches than in many other groups. Why would anyone want to become involved with something that, in their mind, is so obviously dysfunctional?” (17).
Larry Burkett says, “The difficulty is most Christians don’t understand that we’re in a battle. We’re too busy with our individual differences to unite.” Burkett goes on to quote his friend, Dr. Tony Evans:
“Brother let me tell you this: that when you’re in a foxhole, you don’t care what color the guy is next to you; you don’t care what denomination he is; you don’t care if he’s pre-trib or post-trib. All you care about is he’s shootin’ in the same direction you’re shootin’ in!”
I recall the book, The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs: Five Things Every Man Should Know, by E. Glenn Wagner. Space will not allow me to share the wonderful truths in this book, and so I will just refer the title to your consideration. May we rediscover and embrace the shared beliefs of Christianity and reach out to the lost with the message of Christ crucified. Yes, indeed, Dr. Horton, the movement does start with C. Let us look to Christ, and Him crucified, for it is only as our focus remains on Him will we come evermore into the unity that our loving Lord prayed for in John 17, and indeed, commanded in John 13:34.
It is essential to the Christian witness, before a world of lost sinners, that Christians discuss their different views in civility and love with the intent of growing in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ph 3:10). Egos and dogmas must be surrendered to Christ, and love for fellow Christians should be the principal motivation in all our discussions.
I have concluded with several pointed quotations, earnest prayers, and a passionate desire to cause change. I leave you with one final quote from God’s Word, delivered through a prisoner of Rome, while chained to a guard:
…if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. (NASB, Phil. 2:1-2)
Aftab, Macksood. “What Does Fundamentalism Really Mean?” The Islamic Herald. Ed. Aftab Macksood. Apr. 1995. 21 Apr. 2003 <http://www1.cs.columbia.edu/nlp/summarization-test/summary-test/fundament1/text.html>
“Bible Answer Man.” Host, Hank Hanegraaff. KQCV, Oklahoma City.
Burkett, Larry. Our Economy in Crisis. Audiocassette. Wheaton: Oasis, 1994.
Fish, Bruce and Becky. George Whitefield: Pioneering Evangelist. Uhrichsville: Barbour, 2000.
Fundamental Christianity. 14 Mar. 2003. Wikipedia. 21 Apr. 2003. <http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalist_Christianity>
Geisler, Norman. Chosen But Free. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2001.
---. “Five Reasons I Am Not a Five Point Calvinist.” Calvary Chapel, Ft. Lauderdale. 24 June 2001.
---, Endorsement. The King James Only Controversy. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1995.
Horton, Michael, et al. Discussion with Christians United for Reformation. White Horse Inn broadcast presented on Bible Study Hour. KQCV, Oklahoma City. 13 Oct. 1995.
Hunt, Dave. What Love Is This? Sisters: Loyal, 2002.
Impe, Jack Van. “Heart Disease in Christ’s Body.” Royal Oak: Van Impe, 1984. Ref. by Alexander Strauch. “The Interdependence of Local Churches.” Emmaus Journal 6 (1997): 189-212
Ironside, H. A. “A Historical Sketch of the Brethren Movement.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1942. Ref. by Alexander Strauch. “The Interdependence of Local Churches.” Emmaus Journal 6 (1997): 189-212
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2000.
Lim, Paul C. H. “The Unity of the Church.” Modern Reformation Mar-Apr 2003: 11-17.
Martin, Walter. The Kingdom of the Cults. Ed. Hank Hanegraaff. Rev. ed. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1997.
Merrihew, Ken. Personal interview. 25 Apr. 2003.
NASB: New American Standard Bible. “Holy Bible.” Updated ed. Iowa Falls: World Bible, 1995. [See Title-Copyright Page]
NKJV: New King James Version. “Holy Bible.” Nashville: Thomas Nelson. 1998. [See Title-Copyright Page]
Owens, Priscilla, and William Kirkpatrick. “Jesus Saves!” 1882. Church Hymnal. Cleveland: Tennessee Music, 1951.
Reymond, Robert. Endorsement. The Potter’s Freedom. By James White. Amityville: Calvary Press, 2000. Cover.
Roberts, Maurice, ed. Banner of Truth Magazine, Edinburgh, Scotland. Endorsement. The Potter’s Freedom. By James White. Amityville: Calvary Press, 2000. Cover.
“Semantics.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 10th ed. 1993.
Smith, Chuck. Calvary Chapel Distinctives. Costa Mesa: Word For Today, 2000.
Sproul, R.C. Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.
Strauch, Alexander. “The Interdependence of Local Churches.” Emmaus Journal 6 (1997): 189-212
“The Nature and Future of Evangelicalism: A Dialogue.” Debate of Michael Horton and Roger Olson. Modern Reformation Mar-Apr 2003: 20-23.
Towns, Elmer. Endorsement. What Love is This? By Dave Hunt. Sisters: Loyal, 2002. Inside front cover.
Wagner, E. Glenn Ph.D. The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs: Five Things Every Man Should Know. Audiocassette. Dallas: Word, 1995.
White, James Emery. Rethinking the Church. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997.
White, James R. The Potter’s Freedom. Amityville: Calvary Press, 2000.