200 Words: Why I’m Not Roman Catholic

by Nathan Busenitz

If someone were to ask me why I’m not Roman Catholic, this would be my answer in 200 words or less:

I believe the Roman Catholic church has seriously erred in three fundamental areas: in its approach to God, the Bible, and salvation.

1) In its approach to God, Roman Catholicism approves the veneration of (i.e. bowing down before) images and relics, encourages praying to the saints, and promotes Mary to a semi-divine status. All of these constitute varying forms of idolatry, which Scripture condemns (cf. Ex. 20:4–5Open in Logos Bible Software (if available); Lev. 26:1Open in Logos Bible Software (if available); Acts 10:25–26Open in Logos Bible Software (if available); Rev. 22:8–9Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).

2) In its approach to the Bible, Roman Catholicism elevates church tradition to a place of authority equal to (and in practice higher than) Scripture. The Lord Jesus condemned first-century Judaism as apostate because it likewise elevated the traditions of men above the Word of God (Mark 7:6–8Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).

3) In its approach to salvation, Roman Catholicism adds various sacramental works to the gospel of grace. In a similar way, the apostle Paul condemned the Judaizers because they added self-righteous works to the gospel (cf. Acts 15:1–11Open in Logos Bible Software (if available); Rom. 11:6Open in Logos Bible Software (if available); Gal. 1:6–9Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).

These fundamental issues, in addition to a host of other doctrinal problems (e.g. purgatory, the papacy, priestly celibacy, indulgences, the Apocrypha, etc.) lead me to reject Roman Catholicism.

-Nathan Busenitz, http://thecripplegate.com/200-words-why-im-not-roman-catholic/

200 Words: Denomination or Abomination?

By Nathan Busenitz

Baptists, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. All three claim to believe in Jesus. Yet, only one of these groups can be rightly classified as a denomination rather than a false religion.

With that in mind, the question we are asking today might be stated as follows:

What are the marks of cult groups and apostate forms of Christianity that identify them as false religions—such that we can and should label them as heresies, rather than simply classifying them as different denominations?

Here is my attempt to answer that question in 200 words or less:

The New Testament articulates three fundamental doctrinal criteria by which false teachers (and false religions) can be identified:

1. A Wrong View of Salvation

False religions (whether they claim to be Christian or not) attempt to add good works to the gospel of grace (cf. Rom. 11:6). Rather than trusting in Christ alone for salvation, they seek to earn God’s favor through self-righteous works and human effort (cf. Acts 15:1–11; Gal. 1:6–9; Eph. 2:8–9; Phil. 3:8–9; Titus 3:5–7).

2. A Wrong View of Scripture

False teachers distort, deny, and deliberately disobey the Scriptures (2 Pet. 2:1, 3:16). They add to or subtract from God’s revealed truth (cf. John 17:17; Rev. 22:18–19), looking to some other false authority for their beliefs (Mark 7:6–12; cf. 2 Cor. 10:5).

3. A Wrong View of the Savior

False religions twist the truth about Jesus Christ. They deny aspects of either His Person (e.g. His deity, humanity, eternality, uniqueness, etc.) or His work (e.g. His death, resurrection, ascension, etc.). Those who do not worship the true Christ are not truly Christian (John 4:24; cf. John 1:1, 14; 1 John 1:1; 2:22–23; 4:1–3; 2 John 7–11).

-Nathan Busenitz, http://thecripplegate.com/200-words-denomination-or-abomination/

7 Traits of False Teachers

by Collin Smith

“There were also false prophets among the people,
just as there will be false teachers among you.” (2 Peter 2:1)

There are no “ifs, ands, or buts” in Peter’s words. It’s a clear and definite statement. There were false prophets among the people (of Israel in the Old Testament). That’s a matter of history.

False prophets were a constant problem in the Old Testament, and those who falsely claimed to be prophets of God were to be stoned. The people rarely had the will to deal with them, so they multiplied, causing disaster to the spiritual life of God’s people.

In the same way Peter says, “There will be false teachers among you.” Notice the words “among you.” Peter is writing to the church and says, “There will be false prophets among you.” So he is not talking about New Age people on television. He is talking about people in the local church, members of a local congregation.

There is no such thing as a pure church this side of heaven. You will never find it. The wheat and the tares grow together. Warren Wiersbe writes:

Satan is the counterfeiter. . . . He has a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-9), preached by false ministers (2 Corinthians 11:13-12), producing false Christians (2 Corinthians 11:26). . . . Satan plants his counterfeits wherever God plants true believers (Matthew 13:38).

Authentic or Counterfeit?

How would you recognize counterfeit Christianity?

In 2 Peter 1 we read about genuine believers. And in 2 Peter 2 we read about counterfeit believers. If you put these chapters side by side you will see the difference between authentic and counterfeit believers.

1. Different SourceWhere does the message come from?

Peter says, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:16). And then he says the false teachers exploit you “with stories they have made up” (2:3). So the true teacher sources what he says from the Bible. The false teacher relies on his own creativity. He makes up his own message.

2. Different MessageWhat is the substance of the message?

For the true teacher, Jesus Christ is central. “We have everything we need for life and godliness in Him” (1:3). For the false teacher, Jesus is at the margins: “They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them” (2:1).

Notice the word secretly. It’s rare for someone in church to openly deny Jesus. Movement away from the centrality of Christ is subtle. The false teacher will speak about how other people can help change your life, but if you listen carefully to what he is saying, you will see that Jesus Christ is not essential to his message.

3. Different PositionIn what position will the message leave you?

The true Christian “escapes the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (1:4). Listen to how Peter describes the counterfeit Christian: “They promise . . . freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity, for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2:19). The true believer is escaping corruption, while the counterfeit believer is mastered by it.

4. Different CharacterWhat kind of people does the message produce?

The true believer pursues goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brother kindness, and love (1:5). The counterfeit Christian is marked by arrogance and slander (2:10). They are “experts in greed” and “their eyes are full of adultery” (2:14). They also “despise authority” (2:10). This is a general characteristic of a counterfeit believer.

5. Different AppealWhy should you listen to the message?

The true teacher appeals to Scripture. “We have the word of the prophets made more certain and you will do well to pay attention to it” (1:19). God has spoken, and the true teacher appeals to his Word.

The false teacher makes a rather different appeal: “By appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error” (2:18). So the true teacher asks, “What has God said in his Word?” The false teacher asks, “What do people want to hear? What will appeal to their flesh?”

6. Different FruitWhat result does the message have in people’s lives?

The true believer is effective and productive in his or her knowledge of Jesus Christ (1:8). The counterfeit is “like a spring without water” (2:17). This is an extraordinary picture! They promise much but produce little.

7. Different EndWhere does the message ultimately lead you?

Here we find the most disturbing contrast of all. The true believer will receive “a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:11). The false believer will experience “swift destruction” (2:1). “Their condemnation has long been hanging over them and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2:3).

Jesus tells us that there will be many who have been involved in ministry in his name, to whom he will say, “Depart from me; I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21). Who are these people? Surely Peter is describing them in this passage.

Don’t Be Naïve

We must not be ignorant: “There will be false teachers among you” (2:1). So how do we apply this warning?

First, Peter’s plain statement reminds us that the church needs to be protected. Among the many wonderful people who come to through the doors of the church each year, some would do more harm than good.

They may seem the nicest of people, but they do not believe in the authority of the Bible or the exclusivity of salvation in Christ. We welcome such people, because they need Christ as much as we do, but we must not allow them to have influence in the church.

Second, skeptics will always be able to point to hypocrisy and inconsistency in the church. They’ve always done it, and they always will. One of the strangest reasons for not following Christ goes like this: “I’ve seen people in the church who are hypocrites.” So you will not follow Christ because some people who claim to do so are hypocrites?

The existence of the counterfeit is never a good reason for rejecting the genuine. Peter essentially tells us, “Of course there are counterfeit Christians. Of course there are teachers who do the church more harm than good. What else would you expect in this fallen world? Grow up! Don’t be naïve! Don’t miss what’s real simply because you have seen the counterfeit.”

Point to 2 Peter 2:1 the next time you meet someone hiding behind this excuse.

-Colin Smith, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/03/19/7-traits-of-false-teachers/

Escaping Satan’s Deception 2:4

How do we withstand Satan’s attempts to paint sin with virtue’s colors? What can we do to be free of this deception? How do we see behind sin’s mask to behold its true corruption?

Our brother Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) gives us a helpful remedy:

“Seriously…consider, That even those very sins that Satan paints, and puts new names and colors upon, cost the best blood, the noblest blood, the life-blood, the heart-blood of the Lord Jesus.

That Christ should come from the eternal bosom of His Father to a region of sorrow and death; that God should be manifested in the flesh, the Creator made a creature; that he that was clothed with glory should be wrapped with rags of flesh; that he that filled heaven and earth with his glory should be cradled in a manger;

that the power of God should fly from weak man, the God of Israel into Egypt; that the God of the law should be subject to the law, the God of the circumcision circumcised, the God that made the heavens working at Joseph’s homely trade;

that he that binds the devils in chains should be tempted; that he, whose is the world, and the fullness thereof, should hunger and thirst; that the God of strength should be weary, the Judge of all flesh condemned, the God if life put to death; that he that is one with his Father should cry out of misery, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Matt. 27:46);

that he that had the keys of hell and death at his girdle should lie imprisoned in the sepulcher of another, having in his lifetime nowhere to lay his head, nor after death to lay his body;

that the head, before which the angels do cast down their crowns, should be crowned with thorns, and those eyes, purer than the sun, put out by the darkness of death; those ears, which hear nothing but hallelujahs of saints and angels, to hear the blasphemies of the multitude;

that the face, that was fairer than the sons of man, to be spit on by those beastly wretched [men]; that mouth and tongue, that spake as never man spake, accursed for blasphemy; those hands, that freely swayed the scepter of heaven, nailed to the cross, those feet, ‘like unto fine brass,’ nailed to the cross for man’s sins;

each sense annoyed: his feeling or his touching, with a spear and nails; his smell, with stinking flavor, being crucified about Golgotha, the place of skulls; his taste, with vinegar and gall; his hearing, with reproaches, and sight of his mother and disciples bemoaning him; his soul, comfortless and forsaken; and all this for those very sins that Satan paints and puts fine colors upon!

Oh! How should the consideration of this stir up the soul against it, and work the soul to fly from it, and to use all holy means whereby sin may be subdued and destroyed!”

-Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, first published in 1652, (Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), 36-37.

How Christians Should Engage Latter-day Saints

By Russell Moore,   

“Christians often wonder why Mormons believe such an incredible system: golden tablets translated with “magic glasses,” an advanced society of ancient American Indian Israelites who left behind no archaeological evidence at all, a “revelation” of polygamy that was reversed when Utah needed to do so for statehood, a “revelation” barring black Mormons from the priesthood that was reversed after the triumph of the civil rights movement, an eternity of godhood producing spirit babies, and special protective underwear.

What we must understand is that Latter-day Saints (LDS) believe these things for the same reason that people everywhere believe the things they do: they want to believe them. Very few Mormon converts become convinced by rational arguments of the prophetic office of Joseph Smith. Indeed, Mormon missionaries don’t ask one to do so; instead relying on a “burning in the bosom” that the claims of Smith are true.

To understand the draw of Mormonism, evangelicals should read the works of Latter-day Saints who explain why they love their religion.

Coke Newell, a convert to the LDS church in his late teens, lays out why a drug culture vegetarian would find the LDS church compelling.  In so doing, he glories in the ancient mysteries of Mormon cosmology and eschatology: from a God and a Goddess who produce offspring to a future in which deified humans rule a vast cosmos. Newell makes clear that he isn’t simply convinced by Smith’s claims; he is convinced because he loves the picture of reality they portray.

This should come as no surprise to Christians who have read the Apostle Paul’s revelation of the roots of human idolatry in the first chapter of Romans.  Fallen humans have affections and inclinations that they then prop up with beliefs, convincing themselves that their systems are true.  With this the case, evangelicals should take more than a scattershot approach to knocking down Mormon claims (although this is necessary). We must also present a counter-story to the Mormon story: one that resonates with the beauty of truth and holiness.

Evangelical “how-to” sermons are not going to reach our LDS neighbors. Neither are anti-theological churches that major on Christian experience and piety disconnected from doctrinal content. Instead, we must present the gospel the way the apostles did in the aftermath of Pentecost: as a “mystery” that now explains everything in terms of God’s purposes in Jesus Christ.

For an example of how to proclaim the gospel to Mormons, we should pay attention to Paul’s proclamation of the gospel to a cultural milieu that closely resembled that of Salt Lake City: the pagan enclave of Ephesus.  Paul presented Jesus as the key to understanding God’s cosmic plan, as the reason for human existence, human worship, human fatherhood, even human sexuality. Paul did not shy away from speaking of what we intuitively seem to know is true: that there is an ancient warfare of which the affairs of human beings are only a part.

The apostle understood that for the Ephesians, and for the Mormons, and indeed for all of us outside of Christ, the allure of falsehood is because falsehood is parasitic on the truth. We need not just ask whether Mormons believe things that are untrue and dangerous; they do. We must ask also why they believe these things, and counter them with the revealed truth.

Latter-day Saints do not need an unbiblical and unsatisfying vision of Christian hope that is not much more than an eternal choir practice. Instead, our LDS neighbors (and all of us) need to hear of the biblical glory of a restored universe in which human beings will rule with Christ over all things, a universe in which nature itself is freed from the curse and in which human friendship, love, and community continue and grow forever.  LDS families don’t just need to hear that we are pro-family. They need to understand that we are pro-family because the family reflects the Fatherhood of God (Eph 3:14), a Fatherhood that finds its meaning not in pre-mortal spirit babies but in the sonship of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:15).

Yes, we need apologetics directed toward Mormons. And, whatever some evangelical leaders may say, we must not back away from the sad reality that Mormonism is not even remotely Christian.  But we must remember that we will not convince Mormons with rational arguments alone.

This means we can’t rely on piecemeal attempts to point out discrepancies in the Book of Mormon, or archeological proofs against the Nephite civilization, or philosophical holes in Mormon cosmology. All of these things are important, but we must remember that, deep within their hearts, Mormons fear that Joseph Smith is wrong. They, like we before conversion, are “suppressing the truth” (Rom 1:18).

The Spirit can conquer this kind of deception, and he does so through the word of truth.  This doesn’t mean proof-text argumentation, necessarily. It does mean presenting the big picture of Scripture, tying it together in the pinnacle of all truth, Jesus of Nazareth.  This is not the subjective, irrational “burning in the bosom” of our Mormon missionary friends. But let’s remember where they found the “burning in the bosom” language.

When Jesus was walking with the dejected disciples to Emmaus, he took them through all of the Scriptures, showing them how the Christ was the focus of them all. After he left them, they said to one another: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).

This was not, and is not, the anti-propositional relativism of postmodern epistemology, nor is it the irrational mysticism of New Age occultism. It is the human heart created in the image of God, freed by the Spirit, resonating with the truth.  This is what the apostle John means when he writes that we know the spirit of truth from the spirit of error because the one who is from God “listens to us,” the prophetic-apostolic instruments of divine revelation (1 John 4:6).

We must remember this when we welcome our LDS neighbors over for dinner, or when we lovingly spend an evening with diligent Mormon missionaries. When divine revelation is presented in all of its Christocentric glory, there is a longing within us for this story. That’s because it is true. And more than that, it is the truth, and the way, and the life.  That is good news for Latter-day Saints, and for old-time sinners like us.”

-Russell Moore, http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/09/11/how-christians-should-engage-latter-day-saints/

Pat Robertson vs. the Spirit of Adoption

by Russell Moore

In a recent broadcast of The 700 Club, a woman sent in a question about a man who wouldn’t marry her because she has children who were adopted internationally. If they were her “own” biological children, he would have no problem, she said. But because they were adopted, he saw too much risk. Host Pat Robertson’s female co-host bristled and said he was acting like a “dog.” Robertson disagreed.

He said the man “didn’t want to take on a United Nations,” and that, after all, you never know about adopted children; they might have brain damage and “grow up weird.”

I am taking a deep breath here and reciting Beatitudes to myself. I had promised never to mention Robertson here again. Every few months he says some crazy scandalous thing. He blames 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina on gays and lesbians, cozies up to the Chinese coercive and murderous one-child policy, counsels a man that he can divorce his Alzheimer’s-riddled wife because she’s “not there” anymore.

Let me just say this bluntly. This is not just a statement we ought to disagree with. This is of the devil.

The last go round, Robertson “clarified” his statements on a man leaving his sick wife. Didn’t mean to say it was right, he said, just that the man’s got to have some companionship and a divorce is better than adultery. Please. Robertson’s defenders said to me in letters and calls and emails that Robertson is just not what he used to be mentally and that you ought to hold him to a lower standard. That would be true if people were tapping his phone, or going to his house and recording conversations. However, man is on television, representing to millions of people what Christianity is about.

The issue here isn’t just that Robertson is, with cruel and callous language, dismissing the Christian mandate to care for the widows and orphans in their distress. The issue is that his disregard is part of a larger worldview. The prosperity and power gospel Robertson has preached fits perfectly well with the kind of counsel he’s giving in recent years. Give China a pass on their murderous policies; we’ve got business interests there. Divorce your weak wife; she can’t do anything for you anymore. Those adopted kids might have brain damage; they’re “weird.” What matters is health and wealth and power. But that’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ. For too long, we’ve let our leaders replace the cross with an Asherah pole. Enough is enough.

Jesus was, after all, one of those adopted kids. Joseph of Nazareth was faced with a pregnant woman he could easily have abandoned. He knew this child wasn’t his, and all he had to go on was her word and a dream. He could have dismissed either. But he strapped on his cross, provided for his wife, and protected her child. Indeed, he became a father to her child. God called this righteous. The child Jesus seemed to be a colossal risk. His own family and neighbors and villagers thought he’d turned out “weird” (Mark 3:20-21). Maybe he was demon-possessed, they speculated, or maybe even “brain damaged.”

The Bible tells us that Jesus is present with the weak and the vulnerable, the “least of these,” his brothers and sisters. When one looks with disgust at the prisoner, the orphan, the abandoned woman, the mentally ill, the problem isn’t just with a mass of tissue connected by neural endings. The issue there is the image of God, bearing all the dignity that comes with that. And, beyond that, the issue there is the presence of Jesus himself.

Christians are the ones who have stood against the prophets of Baal and the empire of Rome and every other satanic system to say that a person’s worth doesn’t consist in his usefulness. Christians are the ones who picked up abandoned babies, who wiped drool from the dying elderly, who joyfully received developmentally disabled children, and who recognized that our own sin has made us nothing noble or powerful. We’re all just dead and damaged and, well, “weird.” But Jesus loved us anyway.

I say to my non-Christian friends and neighbors, if you want to see the gospel of Christ, the gospel that has energized this church for two thousand years, turn off the television. The grinning cartoon characters who claim to speak for Christ don’t speak for him. Find the followers who do what Jesus did. Find the people who risk their lives to carry a beaten stranger to safety. Find the houses opened to unwed mothers and their babies in crisis. Find the men who are man enough to be a father to troubled children of multiple ethnicity and backgrounds.

And find a Sunday School class filled with children with Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol syndrome. Find a place where no one considers them “weird” or “defective,” but where they joyfully sing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”

That might not have the polish of television talk-show theme music, but that’s the sound of bloody cross gospel.”

-Russell Moore,  http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/08/17/pat-robertson-vs-the-spirit-of-adoption/

Why the LDS are Growing Faster

by David French

Our churches face a demographic crisis.

Young people are leavingeven the Southern Baptist Convention is losing members, and when you drill down deeper—comparing church attendance with population growth—the picture looks even more bleak. Simply put, when America’s fastest-growing religious segment is “nonreligious,” we have a problem. The Barna Group recently compiled the results of a number of national studies and published a list of six reasons why young evangelicals leave the church:

  1. The church is overprotective.
  2. Their experience of Christianity is shallow.
  3. Churches seem antagonistic to science.
  4. The church’s approach to sexuality is judgmental and simplistic.
  5. They wrestle with the exclusivity of Christianity.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

These answers are just what you’d expect, because they correspond to many leading churches in modern evangelicalism that combine nominally traditional doctrine with shallow commitment and have been plagued by rampant divorce and extramarital sex—all against a backdrop of extreme cultural hostility. In other words, we’re about 95 percent like the surrounding culture and hated for the 5 percent deviation.

But one religious group shows consistent growth year by year and decade by decade. Mormons, living in the same country and culture as evangelicals, keep growing their church. Why? I propose six reasons.

1. Mormons have bigger families.

This is the easiest and simplest explanation. But it’s far from the entire story. In fact, if family size were determinative, then many churches in America would be growing at a rate that exceeded general population growth. After all, the birth rate of religious families generally exceeds that of nonreligious families. Instead, church after church shrinks or remains basically steady in spite of the higher birth rate. Mormons start with a bigger baseline family, but then they tend to hold on to their kids while evangelicals often do not.

2. Mormons have lower divorce rates.

While regular church-going evangelicals divorce less often than secular couples, Mormon-marrying Mormons have the lowest divorce rate of any major religious group. Families that stay together are more likely to pray together. Few experiences are more demoralizing to a young Christian than seeing his parents destroy their own marriage and destroy their own kids’ childhoods in a blaze of selfishness, lust, and pride.

3. Mormons share their faith.

Who hasn’t met a Mormon missionary? My wife used to debate them at the doorstep, but we made many new Mormon friends and now welcome them into our home, offer them rides in the rain, and generally get to know young people who experience a very different young adult rite of passage than your typical evangelical. A Mormon mission is a sacrifice—a deep sacrifice. Evangelism not only wins converts, it also strengthens the faith of the evangelist.

4. Mormons are “orthodox.”

No evangelical can call Mormons “orthodox” in terms of the Apostles’ Creed and biblical canon. But they are orthodox within their own, distinct faith tradition. In other words, members of a Mormon church tend to know and believe their faith. Go to a typical evangelical church—like my own Presbyterian congregation—and you’ll find very wide theological divergence. Nationally, 84 million people self-report as evangelicals, but of that number only 19 million according to Barna actually have orthodox evangelical beliefs. In other words, the evangelical church must improve in transmitting even the most basic elements of the Christian faith from generation to generation.

5. Mormon leaders ask a lot of their members.

I’m always amazed at the level of church involvement of Mormons compared to evangelicals. From giving, to service, to teaching, to raw number of hours in the church building, Mormons are simply doing more. To some evangelical critics, you’d think we lose members because we’re so demanding. But compared to the Mormon experience, evangelical churches are a carnival ride of short services, low accountability, and rare church discipline. If you’re a faithful Mormon, you’re not living a 95 percent secular life like so many evangelicals. At least in this regard, Mormons are truly countercultural.

6. Mormons are less selfish.

Add up points one through five, and you get to the sum. Too many of us evangelicals have forgotten the fundamental paradox of Scripture—you won’t gain your life until you lose your life. We ask our kids to lose just a little life to gain . . . what, exactly? If Christianity isn’t worth losing everything, is it worth only losing some things? And if it’s not worth losing everything, why is it worth losing anything?

Big families, intact families, years-long missions, faithfulness to church teaching, and a lifetime of service add up to a sustainable, Christ-honoring counterculture. By contrast many of our churches will prove to be ashes and dust—unable to resist a culture that relentlessly demonizes even the small remaining differences between evangelicals and atheists.

As a Calvinist member of the Presbyterian Church in America, I’ve got my theological differences with the LDS church. But if we evangelicals don’t believe we have anything to learn from our Mormon friends, then we’re foolish. Our churches will not grow by conforming, by shedding the last remaining distinctions between Christians and the secular world. That route is well-traveled by the imploding mainline denominations. Instead of asking less of our families and youth, let’s ask more by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit. Instead of giving less, let’s give more. Instead of believing we’re unique theological snowflakes capable of discerning truth on our own, let’s teach church doctrine early and well. And let’s not be afraid of church discipline.

What are the core lessons for the church? Conform and die. Resist and live.”

-David French,  http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/08/16/6-reasons-why-mormons-are-beating-evangelicals-in-church-growth/

 

Love Wins: One Year Later

by Jesse Johnson, http://thecripplegate.com/love-wins-one-year-later/

It has been just 16 months since Rob Bell’s Love Wins was released. The book, which seeks to undermine the biblical doctrine of eternal punishment, was roundly rejected by evangelical leaders (see herehere, or here). But in college ministries across the country, it had the effect of introducing ambiguity where there was previously certainty.

Today, Rob Bell has left his church, and moved to Los Angeles where he is “working on other creative projects,” and thus proving Jesus’ words that wisdom is vindicated by her children. Those projects are as of yet undisclosed, but there are rumors of a TV show about his life.

As for the theology about eternal punishment, I don’t know of any churches that have changed their doctrinal statements as a result of Bell’s book. He may have introduced ambiguity into the hearts of Christians, but—as of now—it seems like the doctrine of eternal punishment withstood its latest attack.

It is helpful to remember why Christians believe in eternal punishment. I’m not talking about the theological reasons, of which there are many. I’m talking about the biblical reasons. This is a doctrine that is so horrible that nobody would accept it or teach it willingly. It takes more than deductive reasoning to get people to embrace the concept that the majority of people who have ever been born are now in hell, and that they will be there forever. As Robert Peterson in Hell on Trial points out, there are really two kinds of Christians: those that have entertained doubts about the eternal nature of hell, and those that have not seriously thought about the implications of the doctrine. Even Wyane Grudem points out that “if our hearts are not moved with deep sorrow when we contemplate this doctrine, then there is a serious deficiency in our spiritual and emotional sensibilities.”

Because of the reluctance with which most people hold this doctrine, it is not as if the arguments that are put forward in Bell’s book are going to be persuasive. If sound and biblical thinkers could be persuaded out of believing in hell, they would abandon the doctrine. Most people who hold to the doctrine do so not because they want to, but they have simply been overwhelmed by the biblical evidence. For me at least, this is how my thoughts go: “I don’t want to believe in hell, and I can’t imagine the horrors of it, and I can’t imagine how and why it would endure forever and ever, but the Bible is so clear that this is the case, and I am bound to believe what the Scripture teaches.”

What are the main Scripture passages that describe hell as eternal? This list is not comprehensive, but are the ones that I think are most clear:

• OT Prophecy: The most well known passage in the OT on hell is at the end of Isaiah. There, the prophet describes hell as being visible in the eternal state, and notes that “Their maggots will never die, their fire will never go out, and they will be a horror to all mankind” (Isa 66:24). The context of this passage is important. Isaiah is describing how at salvation, the old is gone and the new will be there (Isa 65:17). In that place, where people dwell with God forever, the torment of hell will be real and ever present. Then, to seal this imagery, Jesus quotes these words in Mark 9:48, using the Greek word that indicates that this fire is indeed eternal. Daniel describes hell as eternal as well (Dan 12:2), and this is another verse that is repeated by Jesus.

• Jesus: Our savior describes the fire as hell as “unquenchable” (Mark 9:43). He describes hell as eternal when he explains that at final judgment he will say to those on their way to hell “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!” (Matt 25:41). Later he compares the eternality of hell to the eternality of heaven (Matt 25:46).

• NT Prophecy: The Apostle John describes the smoke of hell as ascending “forever and ever.” In that same passage (Rev 14:11) the smoke is explicitly connected to the torment of those suffering, and is then compared to the endurance of the saints. So the torments of hell last as long as the endurance of those who are saved. This imagery is repeated later—and applied to demons and the devil as well—in Rev 19:3 and 20:10. Later in Rev., it is clear that throughout the new heaven and new earth, there are those outside the city who are being punished by torment (eg. Rev 22:14), so that as long as heaven exists, this description stands.

At the very least, the Bible ties the duration of those that worship God to the duration of those that are punished in hell by God. It is not a happy truth, but it does continually provoke us to be more thankful for his grace and mercy, and that thankfulness will apparently grow even throughout eternity.

Are All the Foes of Zion Fools?

Are all the foes of Zion fools,
Who thus devour her saints?
Do they not know her Savior rules,
And pities her complaints?

They shall be seized with sad surprise;
For God’s revenging arm
Scatters the bones of them that rise
To do His children harm.

In vain the sons of Satan boast
Of armies in array;
When God has first despised their host
They fall an easy prey.

O for a word from Zion’s King,
Her captives to restore!
Jacob with all his tribes shall sing,
And Judah weep no more.

-Isaac Watts, 1719

Attractive Idolatry

Most Westerners have struggled at one time or another to understand the attraction of idolatry in the ancient world. What could be so compelling about an inanimate block of wood or chunk of stone? Hard core idolatry feels as tempting as beet juice. It’s likely someone out there loves a frothy glass of obscure vegetable extract, but the temptation doesn’t weigh heavily on our souls.

But idolatry made a lot of sense in the ancient world. And, had we lived two or three millennia ago, it almost certainly would have been tempting to each one of us. In his commentary on Exodus, Doug Stuart explains idolatry’s attraction with nine points. You’ll likely want to save this list and file it for future sermons or Bible studies.

1. Idolatry was guaranteed. The formula was simple. Carve a god out of wood or stone and the god would enter the icon. Now that you have a god in your midst, you can get his (or her) attention quickly. Your incantations, oaths, and offerings will always be noticed.

2. Idolatry was selfish. Scratch the gods backs and they’ll scratch yours. They need food and sacrifices; you need blessings. Do your stuff and they’ll be obliged to get you stuff.

3. Idolatry was easy. Ancient idolatry encouraged vain religious activity. Do what you like with your life. So long as you show up consistently with your sacrifices, you’ll be in good shape.

4. Idolatry was convenient. Gods in the ancient world were not hard to come by. Access was almost everywhere. Statues can be used in the home or on the go.

5. Idolatry was normal. Everyone did it. It’s how woman got pregnant, how crops grew, how armies conquered. Idolatry was like oil: nothing ran in the ancient world without it.

6. Idolatry was logical. Nations are different. People are different. Their needs and desires are different. Obviously, there must be different deities for different strokes. How could one god cover all of life? You don’t eat at one restaurant do you? The more options the better. They can all be right some of the time.

7. Idolatry was pleasing to the senses. If you are going to be especially religious, it helps to be able to see your god. It’s harder to impress people with an invisible deity.

8. Idolatry was indulgent. Sacrificing to the gods did not often require sacrifice for the worshiper. Leftover food could be eaten. Drink could be drunk. Generosity to the gods leads to feasting for you.

9. Idolatry was sensual. The whole system was marked by eroticism. Rituals could turn into orgies. Sex on earth often meant sex in heaven, and sex in heaven meant big rain, big harvests and multiplying herds.

Can you see the attraction of idolatry? “Let’s see I want a spirituality that gets me lots, costs me little, is easy to see, easy to do, has few ethical or doctrinal boundaries, guarantees me success, feels good, and doesn’t offend those around me.” That’ll preach. We want the same things they wanted. We just go after them in different ways. We want a faith that gets us stuff and guarantees success (prosperity gospel). We want discipleship that is always convenient (virtual church). We want a religion that is ritualistic (nominal Christianity). Or a spirituality that no matter what encourages sexual expression (GLBTQ). We all want to follow God in a way that makes sense to others, feels good to us, and is easy to see and understand. From the garden to the Asherah pole to the imperial feasts, idolatry was the greatest temptation for God’s people in both testaments.

A look around and a look inside will tell you it still is.

-Kevin DeYoung
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2012/04/18/why-idolatry-was-and-is-attractive/