Replying to an Amillennial Argument

Hi Jim:

Hope all is well with you and your flock. I saw this on our reformed message board and I wondered if you could offer a response? It reads —

If you are a Premillennialist, whether Dispensational or not, there are several things with which you must reckon:

• You must necessarily believe that physical death will continue to exist beyond the time of Christ’s second coming.

The reason for this is that all Premillennialists must account for the rebellious and unbelieving nations in Revelation 20:7-10 who launch an assault against Christ and his people at the end of the millennial age. Where did these people come from? They must be the unbelieving progeny born to those believers who entered the millennial age in physical, unglorified bodies. Not only they, but also the believing progeny born to those believers will be subject to physical death (notwithstanding the alleged prolonged life spans experienced by those who live during the millennial reign of Christ).

• You must necessarily believe that the natural creation will continue, beyond the time of Christ’s second coming, to be subjected to the curse imposed by the fall of man.

The reason for this is that all Premillennialists must concede that unbelievers will continue to populate and infect the earth during the millennial reign of Christ. Notwithstanding the presence of Christ himself, as Premillennialists argue, the earth will continue to be ravaged by war and sin and death, even if only at the millennium’s end (Revelation 20:7-10). As a Premillennialist, you must necessarily believe that the redemption of the natural creation and its being set free from bondage to corruption does not occur, at least in its consummate expression, until 1,000 years subsequent to Christ’s return.

• You must necessarily believe that the New Heavens and New Earth will not be introduced until 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.

• You must necessarily believe that unbelieving men and women will still have the opportunity to come to saving faith in Christ for at least 1,000 years subsequent to his return.

The reason for this is that, according to Premillennialism, countless millions of people will be born during the course of the millennial reign of Christ. Are Premillennialists asking us to believe that upon their attaining to an age when they are capable of understanding and responding to the revelation of God and the personal, physical presence of Christ Jesus himself, that none of them will be given the opportunity to respond in faith to the claims of the gospel?

• You must necessarily believe that unbelievers will not be finally resurrected until at least 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.

• You must necessarily believe that unbelievers will not be finally judged and cast into eternal punishment until at least 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.

In my study of the second coming of Christ I discovered that, contrary to what Premillennialism requires us to believe (see above),death is defeated and swallowed up in victory at the Parousia, the natural creation is set free from its bondage to corruption at the Parousia, the New Heavens and the New Earth are introduced immediately following the Parousia, all opportunity to receive Christ as savior terminates at the Parousia, and both the final resurrection and eternal judgment of unbelievers will occur at the time of the Parousia. Simply put, the NT portrayals of the second coming of Christ forced me to conclude that a millennial age, subsequent to Christ’s return, of the sort proposed by Premillennialism was impossible.
(Sam Storm)

Would appreciate it if you could respond to these points when you get time.

Thanks,
M.
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Hi M,

I’ve seen this argument before. It’s been floating around the Internet and posted on various boards as if it causes some irreparable harm to the premillennial position. But, it’s an argument based more on assumption than exegesis. Sam Storms is a amillennialist. You can read more about Sam Storms eschatology here:

http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/studies/eschatology/

http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/the-amillennial-view-of-the-kingdom-of-god/

So, let’s get to his points.

First off, he states many of his objections as if the objection itself casts doubt on the validity of the position. The repeated use of the phrase “you must necessarily believe” makes it sound as if believing that point is somehow sub-biblical or without basis. It’s a subtle form of “poisoning the well.”

Storms writes:

If you are a Premillennialist, whether Dispensational or not, there are several things with which you must reckon:

• You must necessarily believe that physical death will continue to exist beyond the time of Christ’s second coming.

The reason for this is that all Premillennialists must account for the rebellious and unbelieving nations in Revelation 20:7-10 who launch an assault against Christ and his people at the end of the millennial age. Where did these people come from? They must be the unbelieving progeny born to those believers who entered the millennial age in physical, unglorified bodies. Not only they, but also the believing progeny born to those believers will be subject to physical death (notwithstanding the alleged prolonged life spans experienced by those who live during the millennial reign of Christ).

Jim:

Well, yes. We do believe in physical death after Christ’s return, especially considering that He will break the nations like potsherds and wipe out people with the two-edge sword from His mouth.

Rev 19:15 – From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.

Regardless of your millennial view, if you believe Revelation 19:15, then you believe that death occurs after His return. And yes, premillennialists do believe that there will be a rebellion after the 1000 years have expired. But we only believe it because that is exactly and precisely what the Bible says —

Rev 20:7-9 – When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.

So far we are being accused of actually believing the exact words of the text. Not much of an indictment.

Where do these rebellious people come from? Well, they are not (despite what Storm says “must be”) “the unbelieving progeny born to those believers who entered the millennial age in physical, unglorified bodies.” That’s just pejorative language with no biblical basis. The texts tells us where they come from. They are the descendants of unbelievers who survived the wars and spent the previous 1000 years under the rule of Christ on Earth without the interference of Satan. Storm seems to think that those who enter the millennium must be “believers,” however he defines that term. But, the believers in Christ — the church — took part in the first resurrection. So, his terminology and assumptions are confused. Once Christ returns in glory and sets up the kingdom promised to Israel by their prophets, Israel is believing. But, the Gentile nations are never spoken of as being converted. They are simply ruled over. And those ancient enemies of Israel return to their natural animosity once Satan is allowed to resume his activities.

Nevertheless, the essence of Storms’ argument is that death must remain after Christ’s return at the beginning of the 1000 years. Yes, we believe that … but only because the Bible says that.

Storms:

• You must necessarily believe that the natural creation will continue, beyond the time of Christ’s second coming, to be subjected to the curse imposed by the fall of man.

The reason for this is that all Premillennialists must concede that unbelievers will continue to populate and infect the earth during the millennial reign of Christ. Notwithstanding the presence of Christ himself, as Premillennialists argue, the earth will continue to be ravaged by war and sin and death, even if only at the millennium’s end (Revelation 20:7-10). As a Premillennialist, you must necessarily believe that the redemption of the natural creation and its being set free from bondage to corruption does not occur, at least in its consummate expression, until 1,000 years subsequent to Christ’s return.

Jim:

Ummmm …. and?

Where in the Bible does it say that it is either un-scriptural or untenable to accept the Biblical description of the 1000 years? Yes, the natural creation will continue until the creation of the new heavens and the new earth. Since that cataclysmic change occurs in Revelation 21, after everything that’s described in Revelation 20, there’s no reason not to accept that the natural order will continue during Christ’s reign on Earth.

Once again, at the risk of being redundant, that’s simply what the Bible says. I know that’s a tough concept for some people who want to twist and contort the book of Revelation and insert theories of repetition and recapitulation, etc. But, to accuse the premillennialist of simply reading and believing what the book actually says isn’t really much of an argument.

Storms:

• You must necessarily believe that the New Heavens and New Earth will not be introduced until 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.

Jim:

Yep. Because 21 comes after 20. That’s just the way numbers work.

Even if you remove the verse and chapter numbers, John’s continued use of conjunctions such as kai (and), kai houtos (and then) etc. make it grammatically impossible to ignore the sequential nature of the events he described.

Storms:

• You must necessarily believe that unbelieving men and women will still have the opportunity to come to saving faith in Christ for at least 1,000 years subsequent to his return.

The reason for this is that, according to Premillennialism, countless millions of people will be born during the course of the millennial reign of Christ. Are Premillennialists asking us to believe that upon their attaining to an age when they are capable of understanding and responding to the revelation of God and the personal, physical presence of Christ Jesus himself, that none of them will be given the opportunity to respond in faith to the claims of the gospel?

Jim:

At this point Storms has gone wwwaaaayyyy beyond the revealed text and has begun insisting on conclusions that the Bible never addresses. We do not know that “countless millions” will be born. We don’t know if in the Millennium Christ suddenly institutes an “age of accountability” such as Storm describes, considering that no such age of accountability exists in Biblical Christianity. We don’t know if people will be “given the opportunity to respond in faith to the claims of the gospel.” We don’t know any of that! The Bible gives us no information on such matters. But, that doesn’t stop Storms from attempting to create an argument against premillennialism based on his assumptions and extra-biblical conclusions. This is no way to make a solid argument.

Storms:

• You must necessarily believe that unbelievers will not be finally resurrected until at least 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.

Jim:

Yep. That’s what it says, alright.

Rev. 20:5a – The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed.

This is easy. I just quote the text and it makes my argument for me.

Storms:

• You must necessarily believe that unbelievers will not be finally judged and cast into eternal punishment until at least 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.

Jim:

Once again, that’s exactly what the text says. To conclude anything other is to go outside of what the Bible actually says.

Rev. 20:11-15 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Notice that I am not arguing from a hermeneutic or eschatological position. My replies are simply what the text says. Storms is arguing in favor of a position. Therefore, he’s about to launch into a conclusion that is conveniently devoid of any supporting text.

Storms:

In my study of the second coming of Christ I discovered that, contrary to what Premillennialism requires us to believe (see above) …

Jim:

I love this sort of assertion. Okay, I don’t love it in any positive sense. But, when someone makes broad statements like this you can usually assume that the writer’s “discovery” is going to be well worth reading … for the entertainment value, if nothing else. By the way, in MY study, I’ve discovered that postmillennialism leads to wild speculation. But, that’s just me.

Storms:

… death is defeated and swallowed up in victory at the Parousia,

Jim:

Text, please.

The only place where Paul employs this phraseology is in reference to the instantaneous change believers will undergo at the catching away.

1Cor. 15:51-58 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

What this passage DOESN’T say is that death is utterly defeated at the Parousia and therefore there can be no other death after this event. To draw such a conclusion, “you must necessarily believe” things that the Bible doesn’t actually say. Storms is reaching beyond the text in order to support his assumptions.

Storms:

the natural creation is set free from its bondage to corruption at the Parousia,

Jim:

Says who?

Paul did write, “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” (Rom. 8:22) But, no NT author says that the creation is set free from its bondage to corruption at the Parousia. Once again, it would have been very helpful it Storm would provide chapter and verse to support his contentions.

Storms:

the New Heavens and the New Earth are introduced immediately following the Parousia,

Jim:

Not according to any Biblical text that actually mentions the new heavens and the new earth (Isa. 65:17, 66:22, 2 Pet. 3:13, Rev. 21:1). NONE of those texts connect the parousia with the new heavens and new earth.

Storms:

all opportunity to receive Christ as savior terminates at the Parousia,

Jim:

Stunning.

There’s nothing in the Bible to prove this contention. Again, text would have been nice — if not absolutely required — to make such a statement.

Look, I’m not saying that I know for certain that the “opportunity” to receive Christ does not terminate at Christ’s appearance, I’m just saying that the Bible does not give us sufficient clarity to state either position didactically. And unsupported assumptions simply do not — and indeed cannot — undermine the premillennial adherence to what the text does indeed say.

Storms:

and both the final resurrection and eternal judgment of unbelievers will occur at the time of the Parousia.

Jim:

Both the amil and postmil advocates make this claim. Under the mantra of “the less-clear passages of the Bible must be understood in light of the clear passages,” they identify Revelation 20 as a “less-clear passage” (despite the fact that it employs no difficult words or hard-to-understand phrases), and defer to the separation of sheep and goats in Matthew 25 as their “clear text.” Then, by concluding that the judgment of the just and unjust occurs simultaneously, they argue that there’s no room for 1000 years in the “clear text.”

Voila!

Of course, they ignore that what Jesus described in Matthew 25 is a division of nations, not individuals.

Mat 25:31-33 -“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

In that case, the “brethren” of Christ would be Israelites, not all believers.

I agree with the NET Bible’s note concerning Revelation 20:5, which reads:

The “resurrection of the just” is mentioned in Luke 14:13-14, and the resurrection of “life” distinguished from the “resurrection unto damnation” in John 5:29. We here learn for the first time what interval of time separates these two resurrections.

Storms:

Simply put, the NT portrayals of the second coming of Christ forced me to conclude that a millennial age, subsequent to Christ’s return, of the sort proposed by Premillennialism was impossible.

Jim:

Well gosh. Considering the lack of scriptural support and evidential proof, I’m really wondering what “discoveries” forced Sam to conclude such extra-biblical things! And I equally wonder how it is “impossible” to believe what the Bible actually says concerning the Millennium.

It must be some sort of magic. In the words of Bullwinkle J. Moose, “Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat! Nothing up my sleeve. Presto!”

This sort of argumentation, devoid as it is of Scriptural support, really does no harm to the premillennial position whatsoever.

Grace and peace,

Jim Mc.

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New Article in the Smyrna A.M. newspaper

Sunday morning I mentioned that the local newspaper was about to publish another article I’d written. Local papers often accept submissions from local writers, but the Smyrna AM paper is unique in that they actively solicited faith-based articles from local pastors and church leaders. They’ve published three previous pieces I wrote and yesterday this article was included.

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Who Is Jesus?
Jim McClarty

Jesus is not your homeboy. He’s not your co-pilot. And He’s not your boyfriend. Despite the marketing techniques that are in vogue today, which attempt to make Jesus more approachable by making Him more “cool,” the trend toward redefining our Savior may soon make Him indistinguishable from any other pop star or celebrity. And sadly, like most celebrities, He is too often viewed as an optional accessory to be used or ignored according to the whim of the consumer. And, as we all know, audiences are fickle.

What’s worse, notions of Jesus as God – one to be worshiped and obeyed – are markedly absent from most modern sermons and the “dumbing down” of Christ is reaching a sort of critical mass in the contemporary church. Soon, the Jesus of the Bible will disappear altogether.

Here’s a fact: You are not like God and God is not like you. He is different. He is “completely other.” As the prophet Isaiah records, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa. 55:8-9)

In the attempt to fill pews and keep their coffers fat, the modern church has attempted to humanize Jesus in sub-biblical ways. They assume that His love is tantamount to human love, or that His jealousy and zeal are the same as ours. As a result, we have a generation of Christians who define their Christianity by their own feelings and thoughts, rather than by aligning their thinking with the dictates of Scripture. And that’s not just theologically clumsy. It’s lethal.

Jesus once asked His apostles, “Whom do men say that I, the son of man, am?” When they responded that some thought He was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other prophet, Jesus asked them pointedly, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mat. 16:13-15)

That’s an excellent question – one that we all have to come to grips with at some point in life. Who do we say that Jesus is? Is He merely a man with some good social ideas? Is He another in a succession of Hebrew prophets? Or, is He the figment of someone’s fertile imagination foisted on all humankind as some sort of grand, cosmic joke?

Biblically, there’s only one right answer. Faced with that penetrating question, Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” In response, Jesus made sure that only God received the credit for that realization, saying, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in Heaven.” (Mat. 16:16-17)

That means that the only correct answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?” is the answer God reveals – “He is my Son. He is Christ. He is Lord.”

Of course, all of that begs the question, “Who do YOU say He is?”

Be careful. Your answer matters.

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Unitarianism Vs. Calvinism

Yesterday morning I made a passing comment concerning a college friend of mine’s involvement in the Unitarian Church. I also pointed out that the leading historic opponents to the tenets of Unitarian doctrine were Calvinists — you know, those people who emphasize things like sound doctrine and Biblical principles. I didn’t want to leave those comments dangling, so here’s the info for those who want to pursue it.

This introductory quote is from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Grand Traverse, Traverse City, Michigan:

William Ellery Channing (1780-1842) studied theology at Harvard. First, as minister in a Boston Congregational Church, he came to be known as “the apostle of Unitarianism.” He preferred to avoid abstruse points of doctrine, concentrating instead on morality, charity and Christian responsibilities. Denounced by the orthodox Calvinist periodical, “The Panoplist,” Channing issued several defenses of his position, the best-known being “Unitarian Christianity,” delivered at an ordination in Baltimore in 1819. In this famous speech he emphasized the unimportance of “the Trinity.”

You can see why a conflict would erupt between those who hold to the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity and those who felt it was “unimportant.” And while “morality, charity and Christian responsibilities” are all fine and good, they should not be emphasized to the exclusion or subversion of salvation by grace through faith.

So, here’s my point: Today Calvinism is often marginalized or represented as a recent novelty. Those opponents who admit to its historicity often treat Calvinism like Christianity’s ugly step-child. But, the more you know about church history, the more you recognize the indelible stamp of the Reformers on all Protestant and Evangelical churches, contending for truth and standing against the errors and contortions of fringe theologies and heretical groups. Whatever else you may say about Calvinism, its history is rich with education, thoughtfulness, and devotion to the sacred value of God-breathed Scripture.

If you’d like to read the entire text of Channing’s “famous speech,” you can read it here:

Channing Speech

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Theology Matters

A few months ago, Smyrna A.M. — a local paper distributed free to every mailbox in the area — advertised that they were looking for a few local ministers to submit articles for possible publication. Always looking for an avenue to let people know about GCA, I began sending in occasional submissions and (at least so far) every one has shown up in the paper. Today my latest article was distributed.

I had originally titled this article “Theology Matters,” but the folk at the paper changed the title to something more eye-catching.  Thanks again to the editors at Smyrna A.M. for being willing to publish articles of substance from various local pastors and for allowing us another opportunity to spread the word about GCA.

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Wednesday, 10/10/07

The Message: Theology = education, not entertainment
By JIM McCLARTY For SMYRNA A.M.

I get a lot of e-mail. Due to the popularity of our Web site, I receive comments and observations from a wide range of denominations and countries. One of the most consistent themes emerging from my inbox is the general lack of doctrine and theology being taught in most churches. In its place, churches offer showmanship — clowns, puppets, lightshows, theatrical productions, surround-sound, smoke machines, rock bands, etc.

An elemental shift has occurred in the contemporary church. According to the Bible, although the followers of Christ are in the world, we are not to be of the world (John 17:14-16). We are called to reflect the principles and teaching of Christ, as salt and light in an otherwise decaying and dark environment. But, as church buildings and budgets have grown, churches have begun competing with the world over the disposable income people spend on entertainment. And in the process, doctrine and theology have suffered.

So, does that really matter? I mean, what’s the point of theology anyway? Is doctrine really that important?

The word “theology” is a contraction of two Greek words, meaning “words about God.” The Bible is full of such words. As you learn the Bible, you learn what God is like, how He thinks, how He acts, and what it takes to approach Him. It’s not enough to simply think about God. It matters what you think about God. Proper theology teaches you how to think about God properly.

In his epistles, the apostle Paul urged the church repeatedly to concentrate on “sound doctrine.” That means: solid teaching. They were not to merely imagine what Christ was like or what He taught. They were to devote themselves to the solid, provable teaching handed down to them by the apostles. Proper theology leads to proper Christianity.

Biblical theology answers the most pressing, important question any of us will ever face: “How can sinners stand forgiven and un-condemned before a righteous, holy God?” Given that we are all mortal and the ratio of death so far is a perfect 1:1, what you think about God’s salvation is a very important consideration. Proper theology leads to peace with God.

And finally, once we understand our relationship with God and His Son, that knowledge affects every aspect of our lives. How we treat people, how we raise our kids, how we live in society, and how we treat our marriage, are all directly impacted by a genuine understanding of our position before God. In other words, proper theology leads to a proper life.

So, does theology matter? Yes. In fact, there is no other subject in this lifetime that will have a greater impact on your eternal destiny than the words you say about God.

Theology matters.

Jim McClarty is the pastor of Grace Christian Assembly in Smyrna. GCA meets at 904 Hazelwood on Sunday mornings at 10:30 and Wednesday evenings at 7. For more information visit: www.salvationbygrace.org You can e-mail Pastor Jim at: jim@salvationbygrace.org.

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Handling Snakes and Drinking Poison

Sunday morning as were closing the book of Acts I compared Paul’s snakebite to Jesus’ words to His disciples concerning the divine protection that would accompany their missions. It’s a dicey and very particular bit of theological detail. I expected questions and I started receiving them right away.

The following email exchange is demonstrative of the sort of concerns people voiced. So, I thought I’d post the question and my reply here on my blog in the hope of clearing up any consternation my perspective may have caused.

It’s my constant purpose to be clear and I assume that every person who raises a question represents many more people with the same concern who didn’t write or ask. So, I’m grateful for the question and the opportunity to follow-up on our Sunday morning discussion.

Here’s the email

Hi Jim,

I’m sitting here listening to your Sunday sermon and have a question. You seem to be stating that we are not (since it was only tossed at only the 11) supposed to be following the “Great Commision.”

Mar 16:15 15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

Or am I hearing you wrong?

Blessings,

C. D.

And my reply —

Howdy,

I knew as I approached this passage in Acts and compared it to Jesus’ statements concerning handling vipers it was going to take a fair bit of explaining. But, my position is not complicated. From a very simple, pragmatic point-of-view we must understand our Lord’s statement “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them” (Mark 16:18) one of two ways. Either (1) Jesus intended that every believer would be impervious to snakebites and poison or (2) those words contained an inherent limitation. Since even “snake handlers” die when bitten, it’s hard to make the case for Christian invulnerability. Even as much faith as I have in Christ’s finished work and God’s sovereign mercy, I’m not ready to swig a glass of poison. So, I conclude that Jesus’ words were meant to be understood in a limited fashion. And since he was talking to a particular group of people, I assume that His words were limited to His apostles.

Now, even as I talked of this on Sunday morning, Jennifer asked about the fact that other gifts mentioned in this same passage did manifest to the church-at-large, such as speaking in tongues and healing the sick. And she’s right. But, those gifts are mentioned in later epistles written to the church as a body. So, I see no conflict from a textual standpoint. Some gifts were given to the apostles that were later also given to a larger body of believers — such as tongues, healing, etc. But, other gifts given to the apostles — such as taking up serpents or drinking deadly things — are not mentioned beyond Jesus’ initial impartation of power. So, inasmuch as they do not seem to be promised to the whole corpus of the Church, I conclude that it’s a mishandling of Scripture (and a form of “tempting God”) to assume those words have universal application and start flinging snakes around.

So, within that framework, I can address your question concerning the “Great Commission.” It is true that Mark 16:15 is directed at Christ’s apostles. That instruction was primarily theirs. However, as we read the epistles from Acts forward we find further instruction from those apostles adjuring believers to spread the gospel of God’s grace. For instance, Paul’s instruction to Timothy, “… do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” (2 Tim. 4:5)

The necessity to teach and preach is passed on to the Church —

Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men … And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:8-13)

So, it’s biblically consistent to argue that certain aspects of Christ’s instruction in Mark 16 were meant exclusively for those men standing in His presence as the words were spoken, whereas some of what He spoke was also expanded out into the Church body. That perspective solves the confusion caused by those who see every word uttered by Christ as applicable to every believer in every age under every circumstance. That’s one reason I emphasized the contrast between Paul healing the residents of Malta while failing to heal Epaphroditus. We cannot argue that God’s gifting of miracles is readily available to every person of faith to exercise at their discretion.

So, the long and short of this discussion is simply this: Jesus said certain things to His apostles exclusively and it is an error to usurp His words and apply them indiscriminately. However, certain commands and gifts that Christ gave His immediate disciples were also conveyed to “the body of Christ,” His Church, by the Holy Spirit — including the charismatic gifts and the necessity to preach the gospel of God’s grace. And I am willing to preach both aspects of that equation.

I hope that helps to clear things up.

Thanks for writing! I’m sure you’re not the only one who wrestled with that question.

Yours for His sake,

Jim Mc.

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Five Solas

On Sunday I mentioned the Five ‘Solas’ of the Reformation and wrote them on the board. A few folk have mentioned that when they listen to the mp3’s from our site they cannot see me or what I’m writing. So, I’ll list them here on this fine Reformation Day 2006.

Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone
Soli Deo Gloria: God’s Glory Alone
Solo Christo: Christ Alone
Sola Gratia: Grace Alone
Sola Fide: Faith Alone

Learn ’em. Know ’em. Live ’em.

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Theology (and exegesis) Matters

Sunday morning, as we were wrapping up, Jeff commented on the contrast between two groups of people who heard the word preached:

1) Those Jews who heard Peter preach at Pentecost, were “pricked in their heart,” and asked “what shall we do?” leading to repentance and baptism. And —

2) The high priest and the Sadducees who heard Peter preach, were “cut to the heart,” and took counsel to slay the preachers of the gospel.

In Jeff’s memory, the same terminology was used of each group, but it turns out that the two phrases denoting their heart response were different. Nevertheless, through a bit of careful exegesis, Jeff discovered an even more fascinating bit of info on the words Luke used to describe the activity of God in both groups.

Here’s Jeff’s email (my comments follow)
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I did a little research on the comment I made yesterday at the end of Jim’s sermon – I was assuming that the terminology in Acts 2:37 and Acts 5:33 was the same with “cut to the heart.” I was wrong.

However, I found something more interesting. Acts 2:37 uses a term meaning to “cut or pierce sorely.”

On the other hand, Acts 5:33 and Acts 7:54 both use another term, meaning “to saw asunder or in two, to divide by a saw – to be sawn through mentally.” The Acts 5:33 reference is when they were intending to “slay them” (Peter and the apostles) and the Acts 7:54 reference is when they gnashed their teeth at Stephen’s message and killed him.

Also note, Acts 2:37 is the only place in the NT where that particular word is used. And the Acts 5:33 and Acts 7:54 references are the only places in the NT where that word is found.

I find it more interesting that although “pierce” or “cut” (depending on the translation) is used in all three instances, the 2 Greek words used lead to different results. The first term for “cut to the heart” resulted in a longing for redemption, whereas the other term in the last 2 instances resulted in a vehement hatred.

Note below that in both forms of the verbs used, they are in the “Passive” voice with an “Indicative” mood. The passive voice represents the subjects as acted upon. The indicative mood is a mood of certainty with respect to the completion of the action of the verb. In both cases, the people were “acted upon” – They did not “choose,” after reflection, to love or hate the message they had heard. This “cutting” or “piercing” happened to them upon hearing the message (“when they heard this…”).

In all 3 cases, the Gospel message did exactly what it was intended to do – call sheep and condemn goats. In other words, God is Sovereign!

katanuÈssw ( 1 instance in the NT )
1. to prick, pierce – to be sorely pricked
2. metaph. to pain the mind sharply, agitate it vehemently
a. esp. of the emotion of sorrow

(katenuÈghsan) – 3rd Person Aorist Passive Indicative
Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”

diapriÈw ( 2 instances in the NT )
1. to saw asunder or in two, to divide by a saw
2. to be sawn through mentally, i.e. to be rent with vexation

(diepriÈonto) – 3rd Person Imperfect Passive Indicative Plural
Acts 5:33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and were intending to slay them.
Acts 7:54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.

2 Corinthians 2:14-17 –

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”
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The preaching of the Word of God is an overwhelming responsibility. As Paul asked, “Who is sufficient for these things?” In preaching the Word, we plead for men to come to Christ, anticipating that God will call out His sheep through the preachment of His gospel. But, the reality is that God also uses the preaching of His word as a method condemn those who have heard the truth and rejected it.

This is not the type of thing we should be trifling with. The ever-living, never-dying souls of men and women, boys and girls are at the very heart of the matter. We are called to preach the truth, the sound doctrine of the things of God, without flinching or covering up the uncomfortable parts. We are called to convict men of their sinfulness and point them to the One who eternally saves.

We are called to tell the truth.

Once again, theology matters.

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Preaching Christ and Him Crucified


The fellow seen here is Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He died back in 1892. He is often referred to as “the prince of preachers” because of his gift for communication and command of the English languge, as well as his grasp of doctrine and commitment to the text of Scripture. There are very few preachers in the world who have not at some point “borrowed” something from Spurgeon. And most denominations have attempted to connect C.H. to their brand of theology; his influence is that wide. As different groups have attempted to co-opt him, Spurgeon has been called a Premillennialist, an Amillenialist, a post-millennialist, an Arminian, a Calvinist, an evangelical, etc. (By the way, the evidence is that he was Premil.)

But, as for his leanings soteriologically, you have only to read the following quote. I’m posting this quote here because sometimes we at GCA start to feel like a “voice crying in the wilderness” when compared to the mega-churches and modern movements within “christendom” that draw huge numbers of people with offers of little more than theological pabulum  But, we stick to our guns, preaching the doctrines that lay at the heart of the Protestant Reformation. And if that means we’re out of the mainstream, so be it. We still walk in the footsteps of giants.

This particular pericope comes from a sermon entitled, “Christ Crucified.”

Enjoy.

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Before I enter upon our text, let me very briefly tell you what I believe preaching Christ and him crucified is: My friends, I do not believe it is preaching Christ and him crucified, to give people a batch of philosophy every Sunday morning and evening, and neglect the truths of this Holy Book.

I do not believe it is preaching Christ and him crucified, to leave out the main cardinal doctrines of the Word of God, and preach a religion which is all a mist and a haze, without any definite truths whatever.

I take it that man does not preach Christ and him crucified, who can get through a sermon without mentioning Christ's name once; nor does that man preach Christ and him crucified, who leaves out the Holy Spirit's work, who never says a word about the Holy Ghost, so that indeed the hearers might say, "We do not so much as know whether there be a Holy Ghost."

And I have my own private opinion, that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism. I have my own ideas, and those I always state boldly. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism. Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.

I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith without works; not unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor, I think, can we preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the peculiar redemption which Christ made for his elect and chosen people; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation, after having believed. Such a gospel I abhor. The gospel of the Bible is not such a gospel as that.

We preach Christ and him crucified in a different fashion, and to all gainsayers we reply, "We have not so learned Christ."
Delivered on February 11, 1855
by the C. H. Spurgeon
At Exeter Hall, Strand.
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Happy ChrismaHanaQwanzaDon!!

It’s been interesting to watch the Christmas/Holiday debate this year. Historically, it’s hard to conclude that Jesus was actually born on December 25. Even a cursory look at the Biblical facts should make any honest bible student ask questions.

For instance, it’s cold in Israel in December, so you’re not likely to find shepherds watching their flocks in the fields by night. And seems rather cruel of the inn-keeper (with Joseph’s apparent agreement) to consign an obviously pregnant girl to the manger/grotto/stable in midwinter. And according to Luke’s account of the birth of John the Baptist, Jesus’ birth six months later would have occurred somewhere in the fall, around September. So it’s a safe assumption that December 25 is a traditional, rather than historic, observance of the birth of Christ.

At the same time, there are numerous parallels between modern Christmas traditions and ancient pagan practices. As a consequence, early America was careful not to observe the holiday. The History Channel sums it up like this:
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“The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident. After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.”
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That quote comes from here . So, if you figure that Columbus landed on these shores in 1492 (or thereabouts) and that the pilgrims arrived in 1620, followed by the Declaration of Independence culminating in 1776, and Christmas was declared a federal holiday in 1870, Christmas was not observed on a national level for the first 400 years of our tenure on this continent. But importantly, the reason that Congress did eventually recognize Christmas was specifically because of its connection with the birth of Christ. They had no problem with its connection to Christianity.

These days, Christmas is entrenched in our society. While a portion of America celebrates it as a Christian holiday, it has also become a vital part of our retail economy. The Friday after Thanksgiving is known as “Black Friday” among retailers because it is usually the point in the caledar year where they move into positive profits, out of the red and into the black. So, it would be quite impossible to remove Christmas from America’s calendar because of its economic impact.

On the other hand, even though Christmas cannot be altogether eliminated, the anti-Christian secularization of America marches forward and those who object to being reminded of Jesus’ birth have rallied successfully to make retailers and those dependant on the whim of the consumer nervous about using Christian-sounding phrases. So, in order to be politically correct, and avoid offending any potential shoppers, many businesses and retailers have abandoned the “Merry Christmas” greeting in favor of the more generic “Happy Holidays.” Several schools across the country have even replaced their traditional Christmas concerts with “Winter Solstice” programs. And, in so doing, they’ve come full circle back to the pagan roots that surround December 25. Meanwhile, the Christian pro-Christmas groups are quite vocal in their opposition to these replacement greetings, making sure to say “Merry CHRIST-mas” at every ocassion.

So, we live in interesting times. Early America avoided Christmas because of its pagan connections. Later America celebrated it as a Christian holiday. Present America objects to its connection with Christianity, but do not want to lose the economic benefits. And Christians are left arguing in favor of an observance our forefathers rejected, trying to “put Christ back into Christmas” when He was likely never in it in the first place.

Whew. The only thing we’ve learned from history is that we’ve learned nothing from history.

So, where do I stand in the midst of all the cross-traffic? It’s undeniable that Christmas/December 25 has a load of pagan baggage attached to it. And I do shudder at the intermingling of pagan and quasi-Christian symbols during this time of year. For instance, my neighbor has a well-lit manger scene in his yard (replete with the magi who never actually attended Christ’s birth but arrived when Jesus was around two years old) with Santa Claus overseeing the whole affair. I’m a bit surprised he doesn’t have reindeer watching over the Christ child along with the cows and sheep. Oh, and there was never a drummer boy at the manger, either.

BUT, all that being said, I equally dislike the systematic elimination of all references to Christ in our schools and society. The idea that Christianity is somehow harmful to our public discourse is very disturbing. So, I find myself, for better or worse, siding with the pro-Christmas crowd in order to combat the continuing encroachment of secular powers against the rights of Christians to worship according to their customs.

It’s a terrible shame that Christianity has lost its position in the marketplace of ideas. As Purpose-Driven, seeker-sensitive, be-careful-not-teach-anything, TBN-style “christianity” dominates the “evangelical” landscape, the Bible is viewed with increasing suspicion and opposition. And Christians are no longer equipped to posit a defense for the faith. Rather than be fully equipped with sound doctrine, modern “christianity” is left Biblically ignorant and easily confounded by the arguments posed against it.

It seems to me that the more the modern church continues to act like the world in order to appeal to the world, the more it loses its effectiveness to genuinely influence the world. This current Christmas debate is yet another red flag that indicates the secular world’s increasing opposition to all things Christian. And as the modern church loses its focus on the historic doctrines that separated it from the world, it will equally lose ground in the battle for the hearts and minds of men.

While we know that faith in Christ is a gift from God and that not all men will embrace Christianity, there was certainly a time in our nation’s history when Christianity was respected and the government recognized that having Christians in the midst resulted in a better, more law-abiding, civil society. The primary reason that secular society so easily opposes Christianity in our day is that they fail to see any real benefit to having Christianity in their midst.

And that’s not their fault. It’s ours. Posted by Picasa

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