Calvinism and Covenant Theology

Article by Tom Hicks: The Five Points of Calvinism and Covenant Theology (original source here)

In recent years, there has been a recovery of the five points of Calvinism among many evangelicals, but there has not been a concomitant revival of the covenant theology of seventeenth century Puritanism as the rich soil in which Calvinistic soteriology grows. This post will not attempt to thoroughly defend every doctrine mentioned, but to show the connection between Calvinism and the theological covenants of covenant theology. The Synod of Dordt listed the five points of Calvinism, not in their contemporary order of “TULIP,” but in the order of “ULTIP,” which is the order I’ll be using here.

1. Unconditional Election. The eternal decree of unconditional election is the foundation of covenant theology and the doctrine of salvation. God chooses to save sinners not because of any foreseen goodness or conditions in them, but merely because of His good pleasure to redeem a people for Himself to bring Him glory. Speaking of unconditional divine election, Paul writes, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16). There are no conditions in God’s choosing individuals for salvation. God’s choice is based entirely upon His sovereign will: “He has mercy on whomever He wills and He hardens whomever He wills” (Romans 9:18).

2. Limited Atonement. Limited atonement might be better termed “particular redemption” or “definite atonement.” It means that Christ’s death is absolutely effective to save, purchasing every life blessing for His chosen people, including new birth, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, as well as an enduring holy life (Rom 8:31-39). Hebrews 9:12 tells us that Christ accomplished salvation for His people, “by means of His own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.” Notice Christ’s blood “secures” redemption. It doesn’t just make redemption possible, but actually secures redemption. His blood secures “eternal” redemption, not temporary redemption. And it secures “redemption.” That is, the blood of Christ actually redeems and doesn’t merely make a provision for redemption. Since only a limited number of people are redeemed, we must conclude that Christ died only to save His chosen people. And this is in fact what the Scriptures teach. Matthew 1:21 says, “He will save His people from their sins.” In John 10:15, Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” In John 17:9, Jesus says, “I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me.” Christ’s priestly work of atonement and prayer is limited to the elect alone.

So, what does this have to do with covenant theology? Covenant theology views “limited atonement” as rooted in the eternal “covenant of redemption” between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect. In this eternal covenant (an aspect of the eternal decree), the Father appointed the Son to enter into this world, to fulfill the law of God, to die for His chosen people, and to rise from the dead. The Son agreed to accomplish the Father’s will (John 17:4). A covenant is “an agreement between two or more persons;” therefore, it is proper to view this agreement between the Father and the Son covenantally. Based on this eternal covenant, or agreement, between the Father and the Son, the Son came into the world, kept the law of God and accomplished the redemption of the elect in time (2 Timothy 1:9-10). The whole of Isaiah 53 is about Christ’s temporal obedience to this eternal covenant of redemption, and Isaiah 54:10 explicitly calls it the “covenant of peace.” Continue reading

The Killer Shoes of Peace

Text: Ephesians 6:15 – “and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”

The heavily spiked shoes of the Roman soldier meant sure footing in any type of terrain and also could be used as something of an offensive weapon. In spiritual terms, these killer shoes are essential equipment in the armor of God, and it is vital that we put them on and keep them on. Here’s the “how to” on that.

Responding to Objections to Sola Scriptura

Article: Countdown to Reformation Day: Responding to Objections to Sola Scriptura by Kenneth Richard Samples (original source here)

Kenneth Richard Samples is senior scholar at Reasons to Believe (a science-faith think tank) and an adjunct instructor of apologetics at Biola University. This article is an excerpt from Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 120-27.

The authority of Scripture holds supreme importance in a Christian worldview, especially for Protestant evangelicals who believe that their faith and the way they live depend upon Scripture. Other branches of Christendom and skeptics, such as the convert to Roman Catholicism Peter Kreeft, sometimes raise objections to this crucial distinction. (1) They suggest that this principle is incoherent or unworkable. Responses to seven common objections explain how sola scriptura impacts Christian theology.

Objection #1: Scripture itself does not teach the principle of sola scriptura; therefore, this principle is self-defeating.

Response: The doctrine of sola scriptura need not be taught formally and explicitly. It may be implicit in Scripture and inferred logically. Scripture explicitly states its inspiration in 2 Timothy 3:15-17, and its sufficiency is implied there as well. This passage contains the essence of sola scriptura, revealing that Scripture is able to make a person wise unto salvation. And it includes the inherent ability to make a person complete in belief and practice.

Scripture has no authoritative peer. While the apostle Paul’s reference in verse 16—to Scripture being “God-breathed”—specifically applies to the Old Testament, the apostles viewed the New Testament as having the same inspiration and authority (1 Tim. 5:18; Deut. 25:4 and Luke 10:7; 2 Pet. 3:16). The New Testament writers continue, mentioning no other apostolic authority on par with Scripture. Robert Bowman notes: “The New Testament writings produced at the end of the New Testament period direct Christians to test teachings by remembering the words of the prophets (OT) and apostles (NT), not by accessing the words of living prophets, apostles, or other supposedly inspired teachers (Heb. 2:2-4; 2 Pet. 2:1; 3:2; Jude 3-4, 17).” (2)

Scriptural warnings such as “do not go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6) and prohibitions against adding or subtracting text (Rev. 22:18-19) buttress the principle that Scripture stands unique and sufficient in its authority.

Christ held Scripture in highest esteem. The strongest scriptural argument for sola scriptura, however, is found in how the Lord Jesus Christ himself viewed and used Scripture. A careful study of the Gospels reveals that he held Scripture in the highest regard. Jesus said: “The Scriptures cannot be broken” (John 10:35); “Your word is truth” (John 17:17); “Not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law” (Matt. 5:18); and “It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law” (Luke 16:17).

Christ appealed to Scripture as a final authority. Jesus even asserted that greatness in heaven will be measured by obedience to Scripture (Matt. 5:19) while judgment will be measured out by the same standard (Luke 16:29-31; John 5:45-47). He used Scripture as the final court of appeal in every theological and moral matter under dispute. When disputing with the Pharisees on their high view of tradition, he proclaimed: “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition” (Mark 7:13).

Because Scripture came from God, Jesus considered it binding and supreme, while tradition was clearly discretionary and subordinate. Whether tradition was acceptable or not depended on God’s written Word. This recognition by Christ of God’s Word as the supreme authority supplies powerful evidence for the principle of sola scriptura.

When Jesus was tested by the Sadducees concerning the resurrection, he retorted, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures” (Matt. 22:29). When confronted with the devil’s temptations, he responded three times with the phrase, “It is written,” followed by specific citations (Matt. 4:4-10). In this context, Jesus corrects Satan’s misuse of Scripture. Theologian J. I. Packer says of Jesus: “He treats arguments from Scripture as having clinching force.” (3)

Christ deferred to Scripture. Jesus based his ethical teaching upon the sacred text and deferred to its authority in his Messianic ministry (Matt. 19:18-19; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20). His very destiny was tied to biblical text: “The Son of Man will go just as it is written” (Matt. 26:24). “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day” (Luke 24:46). Even while dying on the cross, Jesus quoted Scripture (see Matt. 27:45, cf. Ps. 22:1). His entire life, death, and resurrection seemed to be arranged according to the phrase, “The Scriptures must be fulfilled” (Matt. 26:56; Luke 4:21; 22:37).

Clearly, Christ accepted Scripture as the supreme authority and subjected himself to it (Matt. 26:54; Luke 24:44; John 19:28). Jesus did not place himself above Scripture and judge it; instead he obeyed God’s Word completely. A follower of Christ can do no less. A genuinely biblical worldview requires Scripture to be the supreme authority.

Objection #2: The earliest Christians didn’t have the complete New Testament. Therefore, references to Scripture by Jesus and his apostles apply only to the Old Testament.

Response: This objection fails for four reasons. Continue reading

Getting Past the TULIP

Article by Dr. Michael Horton (original source here)

Countdown to Reformation Day: Getting Past the TULIP

Just as Luther’s followers preferred to be called “evangelicals” but were labeled “Lutherans” by Rome, around 1558 Lutherans coined the term “Calvinist” for those who held Calvin’s view of the Supper over against both Zwingli and Luther. Despite self-chosen labels such as “evangelical” and “Reformed” (preferred because the aim was always to reform the catholic church rather than start a new one), “Calvinism” unfortunately stuck as a popular nickname.

No Central Dogma

Contrary to popular misconception, Calvin did not in fact differ from the average Augustinian theologian, either in the substance or the importance of his doctrine of predestination. As for the content of the teaching, Calvin’s view of predestination was the traditional Augustinian view, affirmed even by Thomas Aquinas. Luther’s mentor, Johann von Staupitz, wrote a treatise (On Eternal Predestination) defending all of the doctrines known later as the “five points.” As for centrality in Calvin’s preaching, one looks in vain for predestination in his Geneva Catechism. Just as Luther’s strong defense of predestination in The Bondage of the Will was provoked by Erasmus’s Freedom of the Will, Calvin’s lengthy discussions of the subject were responses to critics. As important as predestination was in the thinking of the Reformers, it was not a central dogma from which all other doctrines were developed. In fact, the Belgic Confession devotes one long sentence (in English translation at least) to election, while its only mention in the Heidelberg Catechism is under “the holy catholic church” as “a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith.”

As we have seen in this issue, even what we know as the “five points of Calvinism” emerged as a response to internal challenges. Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) and his followers mounted a campaign against the Reformed consensus. The Arminian Articles of Remonstrance affirmed total depravity, but rejected unconditional election and particular redemption. The articles also made regeneration dependent on human decision and affirmed the possibility of losing salvation.

In response, the Reformed Church called the Synod of Dort (1618-19). Not only a national synod, it included representatives from the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, and other Reformed bodies in Hungary, Poland, Switzerland, and elsewhere. (Even the Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril Lucaris, made the Canons of Dort part of the Orthodox Church’s confession, although he was assassinated and Orthodoxy subsequently condemned Calvinism.)

The result was a clear statement of Reformed unity on the doctrines of sin and grace, known as the Canons of the Synod of Dort—or the Five Articles against the Remonstrants. Each canon states the Reformed view positively and then repudiates the corresponding Arminian error. The Canons of Dort are part of the Reformed confession, and its substance was incorporated into the Westminster Confession and Catechisms in the mid-seventeenth century.

“TULIP”

The clever “TULIP” acronym (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints) seems to have first appeared early in the twentieth century in the United States, and its aptness can be challenged. Since the Reformed view teaches that Christ actually saved all for whom he died (rather than merely making salvation possible), “limited atonement” is not the best term. Furthermore, the Canons of Dort labor the point that our will is not coerced or forced, so “irresistible grace” is not as good as the traditional terms such as “effectual calling” and “regeneration.” But it’s hard to find a good flower for a more accurate acronym.

It’s always better to read a confession than to reduce it to a clever device. One finds in the Canons of Dort an abundant appeal to specific scriptural passages—not merely proof-texting, but demonstrating how dependent the argument itself is upon the passages selected. These five points do not summarize the whole teaching of Reformed theology, but they certainly are essential to its faith and practice.

Summarizing Dort

First Head of Doctrine: Divine Election and Reprobation

All share in Adam’s guilt and corruption, and God would be just to leave all to perish in their sins. Nevertheless, God sent his Son to save all who believe and sends messengers with his gospel. That many do believe is credited solely to God’s grace in Christ and by his Spirit, through the gospel, in granting faith. Unbelievers have only themselves to blame. God decreed to grant faith from all eternity and in time actively softens the hearts of his elect and inclines them to trust in Christ, “while He leaves the non-elect in His just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy.” Continue reading

Can Faith Forestall Death and Give You Longer Life?

Here’s a recent article (original source here) written by my pastor friend in Kenya, Elly Achok Olare:

CAN FAITH FORESTALL DEATH AND GIVE YOU LONGER LIFE?

I pose this question because of a post I read from a Facebook conversation. The person wrote among other things this statement which we wish to investigate in the light of scripture.

“The reason as to why God brought Jesus on the scene is to restore us to longevity even though it is a choice based on an individuals level of knowledge and understanding (Hosea 4:6)”.

This is an extremely startling statement, but sadly one that is representative of the majority report within the faith movement. It is lethal because it paints Jesus ‘in good light’ our knight in shining armor-sentiments which easily resonate with the scripturally ignorant majority. It is not an innocent statement when it is marinated in proof texts – illegitimately pressed beyond their proper hermeneutics.

What this person is saying, in not so many words, is that longevity of life depends upon your level of knowledge. If you die in-car crash as have many good people from the word of faith movement, and HERE I CALL ATTENTION TO DR. MYLES MUNROE who crashed with a private plane close to 2 years ago. Well…says this logic, his premature death (by the way what is premature or mature death?), was due to His knowledge and understanding. Or the late Dr. Paul Crouch, the great founder and proprietor of Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), who died of cancer as well.

So to be honest, this faith, this knowledge and understanding is not working very well for its adherents does it? Sooner or later the strongest faith preachers reckon with sickness and disease just like the rest of ‘mere mortals’. They soon come to terms with the naked reality they have been fighting to rebuke, declare and confess away-they all soon die, many at a relatively young age.

The illusion is just that -illusion, it’s a fairy tale sold to millions who fear death and are desperate to cling to some kind of hope. It is palatable to those who are not sure of the life hereafter and would cling to this one as long as possible. Why would one embrace the fact of their death when they have no idea what the other side of life portents for them? The other side is a scary unknown for many and the maximum they are likely to embrace is the one offered in disguised forms by the faith movement.

Joel Osteen would call it “your best life now”. As Pastor John MacArthur has observed “For those outside Christ, this is indeed your best life…because an eternity of untold torment in the lake of fire awaits you on the other side when God unleashes His unmitigated wrath on you. This is what the Rich man in Luke 16:19-23, found out. However for those who trusted truly in the redeemer this is your worst life, your master Himself tells you “in this world you will have many troubles .” The Apostles who bore the Gospel that saved you are united in their testimony that your life here on this earth will be full of sorrows and pain and hurt and suffering (Romans 8:18-23, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

For those redeemed by the sin atoning blood of the lamb like Apostle, the faith message is ridiculous. They say “to die is gain…for to be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord (which is far more preferable). This is a mindset that is at stark variance with the faith preachers, it has to be because it a language of children of zoonotic, not children of Babylon, it is the speech of the future glory, not one of present material aggrandizement.

Our forefathers in Africa lived much longer than the word of faith preachers yet their knowledge and understanding of scripture was very low, in many cases zero. On a comparative scale, I would say the knowledge of foods and herbs my forefathers had served them better than this faith serves its adherents. Conventional medicine does a whole lot better than the word of faith prescription .Most of the big names of this movement I know of suffer from one terminal illness to another (they do a great Job of hiding it from the public, but make no mistake, these men fall I’ll like the rest of us).

We know Benny Hinn struggles with a heart disease. Creflo Dollar was recently diagnosed with a cancer and the list goes on. Of course their convenient teaching allows them to lie in the name of faith by what is called “positive confession” (itself a justification for living in denial or simply outright lie).These men and women have the best doctors in the world looking after them, doctors procured by the large amounts they solicit for In terms faith seed. They ask you to depend upon a system they themselves don’t depend upon. It is to say the least treacherous and hypocritical.

HERE IS A QUESTION, is there any faith preacher (even the greatest of them like Kenneth Hagin) who does not age? Do their skins wear out and sag? Does white hair come upon their heads? Do they lose steadily the agility of youth like all humans? Do they get to menopause or sterility? Does their strength fail and voices distort with age? Do they get a point where they eyes fail, eye muscles weaken and they have need of reading glasses? If your answer is yes (in whatever format) that’s what is called the process of death. Death works in and on us while we live-we are dying while we live. Death is in that respect natural and native to all humans since the Fall of man. Continue reading

The Regulative Principle of Worship (Article Series)

What follows is a very helpful series of articles by Dr. Ligon Duncan, written in July 2014 at his blog of ligonduncan.com:

Why how we worship matters
July 12, 2014

Protestants have always believed that how we worship, the manner of our public worship, matters. The main reason for this is because Protestants believe that the Bible itself, in both the Old and New Testaments, commands a number of important things about how we are to conduct ourselves in gathered worship.

There are, of course, historical reasons for this interest in the manner, or how, of public worship as well. For instance, the Protestant reformers believed that the way you worship actually influences and reinforces what you believe. That is one reason they were so interested in reforming the worship practices of the church in their day. They did not believe that you could make a Protestant with Roman Catholic worship. More deeply, they believed that much of Roman Catholic worship was unbiblical (and that it undermined the Gospel), and hence they wanted to reform congregational worship according to the Bible. Indeed, John Calvin said that there were two main issues at stake in the reformation: biblical worship and justification by faith (in that order!). So, for Calvin, how we worship is no small matter.

But isn’t focusing on “how” we worship a little legalistic? Worship is a matter of the heart, right?, and so doesn’t focusing on the outward manner of worship get us off on the wrong track. Well, I hear that objection and I am not unsympathetic to its concerns. Externalism and formalism are both serious problems when in comes to public worship. Certainly the Bible vigorously and extensively condemns hypocritical external piety and shows a prime concern for the state of our hearts in approaching God. But the Bible also show a serious concern about the manner of our worship. Heart and form need not be set in opposition. The Bible shows an interest in both.

Furthermore, Protestants are not concerned with the manner, or how, of worship, with the forms and circumstances of public praise, simply for their own sake, but for the sake of the object and aim of worship.

In other words, Protestants understand that there is an inseparable connection between way we worship and whom we worship. It has often been said that the Bible’s teaching on idolatry shows that we become like what we worship, but it also indicates that we become like how we worship, because the how and the who of worship are linked.

The Protestant reformers (from whom we have learned much about Scripture) understood two things often lost on moderns. First, they understood that the liturgy (the set forms of corporate worship), media, instruments and vehicles of worship are never neutral, and so exceeding care must be given to the “law of unintended consequences.” Often the medium overwhelms and changes the message.

Second, they knew that the purpose of the elements and forms and circumstances of corporate worship is to assure that you are actually doing worship as it is defined by the God of Scripture, that you are worshiping the God of Scripture and that your aim in worshiping Him is the aim set forth in Scripture.

So the Protestant approach to liturgy (not a word Calvin liked, but by it we simply mean: the order of service) is based on this foundation. Protestants care about how we worship not because we think that liturgy/order of service is prescribed, mystical or sacramental, but precisely so that the order of service can assist and get out of the way of (rather than distract and impede) the gathered church’s communion with the living God. The function of the order of service is not to draw attention to itself but to aid the soul’s communion with God in the gathered company of the saints by serving to convey the word of God to and from God, from and to His people. Continue reading

The Regulative Principle of Worship

A Banner of Truth article by Terry Johnson (original source here)

Jesus rejects the worship of the Pharisees saying their worship was futile because they were teaching their doctrines rather than God’s doctrines. They were worshiping according to their will rather than according to His will.

In Taylors, South Carolina on March 11th 2003, the Rev. Mr. Terry Johnson, Senior Minister at Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia, opened the spring theology conference for Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary with an address on the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW).

A minister in Central Georgia Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Mr. Johnson began with the subject of the importance of worship, stating, “You can make a case that there is a true sense that the whole Bible is the story of the establishment of the true worship of the true God.” Citing John 4:22, Mr. Johnson proceeded to defend the biblical basis for the regulative principle.

Because the whole Old Testament is in a sense the story of the establishment of the true worship of the true God, Biblically there could be no more important subject, and certainly that is also true of our Reformed tradition.

Carlos Eire, in his War Against the Idols, reminds us that the central focus of the Protestant Reformation was this very issue. Furthermore, the Puritans and the British monarchs battled over it for 100 years, and today the importance of worship is being underscored again. Continue reading