A Word of Warning for the Trustees of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention

I have been a Southern Baptist most of my life. I was saved at the age of 10 at a revival meeting in a Southern Baptist church in West Tennessee. I graduated from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. I am a proud product of Cooperative Program giving. I have been proud of my association with the SBC because of the Cooperative Program and the opportunity it affords so many to partner in sharing the Great Commission in so many ways. Sadly, this attitude is swiftly changing.

I am very concerned about the soon coming election of the next president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. If the trustees look to Louisville for their next president, our church’s giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering will follow our giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering: $1.

I am sick and tired of this ever-growing list of appointees being chosen to lead the entities of the SBC and their ties to Louisville and this Reformed revival in the SBC. I do not believe I will be alone in this position. In fact, I KNOW I will not be alone in this.

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Jesus and Total Depravity in Matthew 13

Calvinism claims men are totally depraved in that they have no ability to respond to God unless and until God regenerates them or gives them spiritual life to THEN be able to repent and believe and be converted or saved. It is one thing to claim “no man come to God unless the Spirit draw him” and claim the necessity for regeneration for man’s response to God. It is also one thing to claim the necessity for God’s drawing in revelation and reconciliation and it is another to claim that man has the innate ability in and of himself to “come to God on his own.” All too often, these scenarios get easily lumped together as if they are mutually synonymous when they obviously are not.

Consider Jesus’ dialogue with the crowd of people who followed Him and His discussion that followed with His disciples in Matthew 13.

In verse 1, a “great crowd of people gathered together to listen to Him”. One would have to understand the vast majority of these people needed to be saved. Even though they were Jews, they were not all “the elect” in the Calvinist sense. At best, there were “the elect” in this crowd along with the “non-elect.” One must also remember that Jesus is laying the foundation for the gospel message and seeking to establish His authority as the Messiah for He has not yet gone to the cross nor is He addressing that aspect of His coming at this point. However, He does make some interesting comments that are significantly relevant to the discussion of total depravity and inability as posited in Calvinism.

In verses 3 through 8, Jesus gives the crowd a parable; He gives to them an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. He uses an agricultural story as a setting for His parable of the sower who went out to sow seed. His story will contain some aspects that will be easily understood and then some that will not be so obvious. One obvious aspect would be the purpose of the sower who goes out to sow and that is the necessity of the harvest. Anyone who goes out to sow seed does so with a harvest in mind; otherwise there is no reason to sow seed in the first place.

Calvinists will argue this sowing is tantamount to what they call a “general call.” They will argue the necessity of sowing the seed of the gospel because no one knows who is and is not the elect and no one knows who will and will not respond to the gospel message and be saved. This is an accurate statement. While it is true that this parable deals primarily with the ground that the seed falls on, it must be understood that without the sower who goes out to sow there is no opportunity for a harvest. The same is true in the spiritual realm as well; if the gospel is not proclaimed, then there is no possibility of a spiritual harvest for “there is no other name under heaven whereby men may be saved.” Every believer has a mandate to go and sow.

Everyone listening to this earthly story being told by Jesus will understand the different places scattered seed will fall. They will be familiar with the hard, packed ground; they will relate to the stony ground as well as the ground that is covered in thorns and weeds and they will understand that the importance of that seed falling on fertile soil that has the best chance of producing a harvest. As Jesus finishes His story, He gives them a mandate in verse 9: 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” This is a command for the crowd to consider what He has just said and then respond to it.

Calvinism will argue that there is a general call that is available to all men and then there is a special call of God where salvation is concerned that is given to a select group they call “the elect.” They will contend there is God’s general will that all men would repent but there is also this hidden will that God has that extends some special call for a select group to repent and these are those who will do so and be saved. This latter group is represented by the good soil that Jesus is talking about in this parable.

What is obvious at this point to anyone is the fact that some seed falls on bad ground and there is no growth nor is there any real potential for a harvest. The application that is not so obvious is what are the determining factors illustrated by the different types of ground and possibly even the implication of where the seed falls. What do the different types of ground represent and who is responsible for where what seed falls where? Remember one thing.

In a story there are obvious implications that are necessarily applicable but there may be aspects that are applicable to the story but not necessarily applicable to the implications being employed. A great example might be the human characteristics given to God. While references to God’s hands and His eyes for example may be used to talk about His activity in the world, there are certain aspects and limitations that apply physically that do not apply to God. There is always the caution to read enough into the illustration and then not read too much unto it as well. This may well explain the disciples’ question in verse 10: “Why do You speak to them in parables?” They no doubt were confused themselves and they knew the crowd would be.

Jesus answers His disciples. He tells them in verse 11, “It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” This is an interesting answer. One might argue, “Here is Scriptural justification for the concept for total depravity and inability. Obviously it is God who has given this ‘special grace to understand the mysteries of the kingdom that He has not given to others’.” If Jesus had stopped there, one might find that argument valid. However, Jesus did not stop there. He went on to explain why they had been given the ability to understand the “mysteries of the kingdom” while others had not.

Jesus said, “12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” Verse 12 offers some interesting commentary on Jesus’ illustration. What does He mean when He says, “For whoever has, to him more will be given”? In looking at the context, one would have to conclude that He is saying, “For whoever has ‘understanding’ more understanding will be given to him.” “Those who do not have an accurate understanding will lose out altogether.” This is an interesting perspective for it certainly brings to light the command He gave to the people as He finished the parable for “those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” The question at this point still remains; is God responsible for those who have “ears to hear” or are men responsible for their response to what they hear? Calvinism stands on the former while others will argue, the thrust of Scripture stands on the latter. At this point in Matthew 13, both positions can be substantiated.

Verse 13 begins to shed some light on Jesus’ position. He told His disciples, “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” One could argue that Jesus was saying He intentionally used parables so that they would continue to not understand or it could be argued that He was using a simple illustration that everyone SHOULD have been able to understand but they refused to accept the obvious meaning of the message and so they did not understand. In the former example, they were confused because Jesus did not want them to understand and in the latter, they failed to understand because they did not want to accept what He was saying. The latter explanation would seem to be the better interpretation for if He did not want them to understand the parable, which is a simple story to illustrate a spiritual principle, then it would stand to reason He would have simply NOT have given the story at all. If He does not want them to understand it, then there is no reason to tell the simple story in the first place. After all, the whole purpose for sowing seed is to reap a harvest! If Jesus had no intention of them understanding the story then it could be argued that He would have been guilty of the very lesson He was communicating in the first place.

Jesus is going to use an Old Testament prophesy from Isaiah to explain why some do not understand. This reference is a very interesting one. He will quote Isaiah 6:9-10. He said, “‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive;” obviously, Jesus was drawing their attention to the prophecy that would foretell of the people’s refusal to understand or accept the Messiah when He finally came. This is where Jesus’ use of the Old Testament sheds some serious light on the issue of total depravity as presented by Calvinism. Listen to what Isaiah wrote and Jesus quoted: “15 for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should (or would) heal them.”

The hearts of the people “have grown dull.” That is an interesting statement. The hearts of the people had “grown dull” because some of them were represented by the different kinds of soil. The differing types of soil represent different responses to the truths found in the Word of God. The hearts of the people had grown dull because their ears became hard of hearing and notice this next statement: “their eyes THEY HAVE CLOSED.” God is not responsible for those who refuse to hear Him! The people who closed their eyes are responsible for their own understanding or lack thereof! Their refusal to see and to hear is the reason they have not understood! The whole purpose of Isaiah’s prophesy was to point the children of Israel to Jesus! Again, the sole purpose of the Scripture was to produce a harvest; Isaiah’s prophesy was to point people to Jesus but God was saying through him many would refuse to see and refuse to hear and therefore fail to understand the significance of Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus continues, “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Understand something. Jesus is not commending them for their understanding because God had given it to them and not to others, He is commending them for listening to Jesus’ Words and accepting them as truth and seeing the things He did and accepting the significance of those things. That is what Jesus told the disciples of John when they came asking, “Are You the One who is to come or should we seek another?” in Matthew 11:3.”4 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: 5 The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” Jesus’ final statement to the disciples of John lends credence to the importance of an individual’s response to Him and His ministry. This statement makes no sense in a total depravity/inability setting.

Jesus’ explanation of the different types of soil in verses 18-23 highlights the response of those who hear the Word of God. This is the clear implication of Jesus’ explanation. Each response builds until the final response, which is understood to be the expected response of all who hear. This is why Jesus told the crowd, : 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Revelation and reconciliation demand a response. Verse 23, “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

Jesus shares the parable of the wheat and the tares and then the parable of the mustard seed. Both of these parables deal with the acceptance of Jesus’ teaching among the people. There is the parable of the hidden treasure and then the parable of the hidden pearl. In these latest two parables, a reward awaits the one who is willing to sell all he has to secure the prized possession. Once again, it is the responsibility of the hearer of the Word of God to see its value and do whatever it takes to hold onto that truth. The parable of the dragnet echoes the parable of the wheat and the tares; there is a day that is coming when the unrighteous will be separated from the righteous and those who do not believe will be separated from those who do believe.

In verses 53-58, Jesus is rejected at Nazareth. After all the words of warning to see the things Jesus has been doing and to listen to the things He has been teaching and comparing them to the Word of God found in the Old Testament prophesies, most refused to see Him as the long awaited Messiah who had come to usher in this new kingdom God had promised.

The truth of this passage is this; the message is clear. This message has been revealed to all who are willing to listen to it and consider the merits of it in light of the Word of God that has given to men so that they might believe it and be saved by it.

“Blessed is the one who is not offended because of Me.”

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Why Do Some Repent and Are Saved While Others Do Not?

A question is often asked, “Why is one person saved and another not. Two people can hear the same gospel message and one repents and the other does not.” The question is then asked, “Why does one repent and the other not given the same set of circumstances?” The obvious inference in this question is what Calvinists consider to be the only plausible answer, “God effectually calls the one who repents and He does not extend that call to the one who does not.” This appears to be the only logical answer for the Calvinist. To try to argue differently, the most common retort is that one must elevate the individual’s choice above God’s choice and that is problematic for the Calvinist.

Understanding the implications of the argument, there is an interesting twist that really tosses the ball back into the Calvinist court in this argument. The same question can be asked about why one person who has been regenerated matures as a Christian and another does not. Why does one Christian stay on a milk diet while another matures to a meat diet. The same question can then be asked, “Why does one individual grow spiritually and walk with God while another does not?” Is God the One who decides who matures in his faith while another does not? It would seem that the only answer for the consistent Calvinist would be, “yes because God is sovereign He and He alone determines who does and does not grow spiritually just as He is the One who determines who is and who is not regenerated.” How can God be sovereign and deterministic in regeneration and not in sanctification?

If one argues that man’s choices are the determining factors in sanctification then why is it completely out of question that man is not equally responsible for his own choices concerning his conversion and regeneration?

I do not believe it is theologically conceivable to posit one position where regeneration is concerned and not extend the same theological postulate to sanctification as one ascribes to regeneration and vice versa. If God is solely responsible for one’s regeneration then why would He not be solely responsible for that person’s sanctification? It does not make sense that God would effectually call the lost to new life and then leave the quality of that life solely up to the new born spiritual babe.

Now on the other hand, if one is going to contend that sanctification is indeed synergistic and God’s response to us is in fact contingent on our choice in obedience to His Word then it would also seem theologically consistent to argue that God’s choice concerning my conversion would be also contingent on my choice with respect to my obedience to the revelation of His promises to me in His precious Word. It would certainly seem plausible from this perspective to suggest that God’s choice concerning my eternal destiny is in fact contingent on what I do with Jesus. It does not seem logically plausible to claim that regeneration is monergistic and sanctification is synergistic.

Sanctification is just as important a part of the salvific process as is justification. If one is synergistic then it would certainly seem feasible that other would be synergist and if one is monergistic then both justification and sanctification would be monergistic. It does not seem tenable to argue that regeneration is monergistic and sanctification is synergistic but that does appear to be the way Calvinism attempts to shape their theological position.

I do not see a Scriptural justification for the two differing views.

If conversion is synergistic, why does one person repent and believe and another not? The Calvinist position reduces this event to ONE moment in time. At the appointed time, God regenerates or “re-births” the elect individual. It is a predetermined or predestined choice made by God before the foundation of the world. This choice is made with no regard to anything the individual may or may not have done, including going to church, being raised up in a Christian home, or spending time reading the Word of God. These human efforts have no bearing on God’s choice in regeneration. The elect WILL be saved and that is the sole determining factor in who is saved.

I believe the Bible presents a very different picture of the salvific process. The answer to this question, “Why does one person repent and believe and another does not?” is rooted in the choices the two individuals have made in their lives and the reconciliatory work of the Holy Spirit in those individual’s hearts up to this point. Two people may hear the same gospel message on a given Sunday and one repent and another not; understand something, both made choices! One chose to repent and the other chose to reject. These choices at this one moment in time could well be more the result of where these two individuals have been and what they have been through to this point. Now this does not discount the immediate impact of the gospel message and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, but even the response to those influences can be the product of events that have taken place and decisions that have been made in the past that lead up to the choice to repent or reject the gospel message in any given moment.

I believe the Holy Spirit can work in a person’s heart long before he may hear a gospel message that may well change his eternal destiny. I believe the Holy Spirit most certainly goes before us on personal evangelistic opportunities. I believe the sum total of one’s decisions in the past help shape our decisions in the present and in the future. I believe it is very possible for me to harden their own hearts to the gospel message as they choose to reject the claims of Christ on their lives. When an individual says “no” to the gospel message and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, I believe it can get easier and easier to do so down the road. I believe sin has a very deceptive side to it. Since our sin does not kill us on the spot, I believe men develop a false sense of security and think, it’s not a big deal. These folks conclude they do not need Jesus when in reality He is the greatest need they have in their lives. I believe this is the key to the story of the rich you ng ruler who came to Jesus in Mark 10.

There is another factor I believe comes into play in answering the question, why does one repent and another reject the gospel invitation and I believe it involves a procrastinating mindset. I believe there are many who come under the convicting Word and work of the Holy Spirit and know they need to respond and repent but decide to wait. Procrastination is most certainly one of the major vices the devil uses to accomplish his goals.

In conclusion, I believe the overarching thrust of Scripture point to a synergistic approach to conversion as opposed to the monergistic approach touted by Calvinism. I believe a person’s response to the gospel is more times than not, a product of the choices that individual has made and the influences that have permeated that individual’s life. Even the first time hearer of the gospel who repents may do so because the Holy Spirit has been at work in the individual’s heart preparing him or her for this monumental moment in their life. One final comment. Revival is sweeping the world today because the gospel is being taken into places that have not been open to it in the past. Muslims and Hindu are coming to Christ in record numbers today because the gospel is more readily available today than it has been in past years and decades.

Is this a response to God’s efficacious call or a result and response to a more prolific proclamation of the gospel, which the Bible says is the power of God unto salvation to them who believe? I believe it the latter and I pray for a continued out pouring of the Holy Spirit into the dark places of the world where the gospel is penetrating the hearts and lives of people groups all over the world.

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Proverbs 22:6 Training Up Our Children In the Way of the Lord

Proverbs 22:6 instructs us as Christian parents to “train up our children in the way of the Lord so that when they are old they will not depart from that way.” We are to instruct our children while they are young to know the promises and provisions of the Lord so that their lives at a tender age might be built on a solid foundation. While this is no guarantee that the child will become a Christian or he or she will even walk with God at all, what is true is this; they will not forget what they were taught as children.

The Calvinist position that places one’s conversion solely on God basically negates the importance of this mandate found in Proverbs 22. Nothing the Christian parent does or does not do in the way of raising their children will have any effect on whether or not that child becomes a Christian. The testimony of the parent and the witness in the home has no bearing on who does or does not receive God’s effectual calling. One must also understand that the prayers of the Christian parent for the salvation of their children is of no value either if God has in eternity past determined who will and will not be saved. One may certainly say his prayers are necessary but that cannot be the case if God has indeed made the choice, with no respect to persons, as to who will be saved and who will not.

The thrust of Scripture is that salvation comes to those who believe and those who believe do so, at least in part, to the influences of the testimonies of those around us and the foundation established by the promises found in the Word of God. One of the issue that I believe Calvinism fails to factor into its theological system is the active work of the Holy Spirit in the world. The Holy Spirit is actively at work as these Christian influences are being experienced. For example, as Christian parents effectively train up their children in the way of the Lord, the Holy Spirit is actively working to build a foundation that will enable that child to look to Christ and realize their need to repent and place their faith in Him. Does this guarantee that the child will do so, No but it does mean that child will understand the need to do so and the benefits and consequences that are associated with their ultimate choice.

Calvinism focuses on one moment in time in the concept of effectual calling and regeneration as if that is the sole beginning of conversion. This concept completely erases any need for or any value of any prior experiences because prior to regeneration those influences fall on a dead heart, deaf ears and blinded eyes. In other words, they are totally of no effect until regeneration takes place and that happens when God effectually calls someone to life as many argue is symbolic of Jesus’ calling of Lazarus from the tomb. Prior to Jesus’ command for him to come forth, nothing that was said or done while he was in the tomb has any effect on him coming out of that tomb with the exception of Jesus’ direct command.

This simply is not an acceptable Scriptural position. Consider Jesus’ command to some of the disciples, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt. 4:19; Mark 1:17.) Here one could certainly see man’s role and responsibility suggested as Jesus tells these disciples their responsibility is to go and get lost men and His responsibility is to save them. He does His part as we do ours. The Great Commission in Matthew 28 certainly underscores this mandate for before we baptize anyone, they must be saved. What is interesting in this command is the phrase “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” This no doubt qualifies the statement, “making disciples of all nations” which could be interpreted “all men from all walks of life.” Disciples are “learners” or “students” and “followers” not dynamic mature Christians. They must be taught the truths revealed in the Word of God as revealed to us!
While it is true, Calvinist or not, that no one but God knows who will and will not be saved, there is a mandate to “go and tell” and there is a mandate to lead and teach our family and our neighbors the truths found in the Word of God. Romans 10:14 says, “14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” Understand “preacher” is really “proclaimer of the gospel” which is the mandate of all those who have been born again. We do need to go. We do need to tell. We do need to train and instruct our children and our neighbors because the Holy Spirit is working in those testimonies and that teaching and the sewing of seed that may or may not come to pass until some later time. It may not come to pass at all. Our responsibility is not to save; that is God’s. Our responsibility clearly is to be fishers of men.

May we all be about the Father’s business, making sure we make the main thing the main thing, which is telling people about Jesus who has come to seek and to save those who are lost! How does He do that? God’s Word tells us that He saves those who repent and believe and all who call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved. I believe all are saveable if they will repent and believe by faith that God is everything He says He is and that He will do everything He say He will do.

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Matthew 23:37 Is Problematic For the Calvinist Concept

Matthew 23:37 is problematic for the deterministic stance calvinism posits:

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”

If calvinism is correct, then Jesus’ statement that He “often wanted to gather the children of Jerusalem together” is problematic in two areas. First of all, this passage implies that Jesus wanted to do something that He was not able to do and it even further implies that the people were not willing to do what He wanted them to do. If those who were not willing were not effectually called then they could not be “unwilling” because they had to choice to choose to be willing.

The truth is, Jesus “often wanted to gather them together BUT THEY were not willing.” That is what the text says. There is no caveat here that says, “Jesus wanted to gather them but didn’t because it was not God’s will and He could not have said “they were not willing” if He knew that God never intended to save them in the first place.

The only possible objection would be the statement, “Jesus is not talking about saving them.” In His humanity, he is pointing to the frailty of life and the fact of judgment that faces all who are lost and without Christ. This MIGHT work IF Jesus had not said, “How often I would have gathered you together.” Calvinism cannot comport with “Jesus wanting to often gather them together” with “they were not willing.” These two phrases cannot be reconciled in a calvinist concept. One of two things has to be true; one, Jesus was not willing together them together and so they were not willing or 2 had Jesus really wanted to gather them together they WOULD HAVE been willing. Verse 37 cannot be reconciled within the calvinist framework as it stands.

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Acts 11 and The Gift of God Given When We Believe

In Acts 11, the Bible says the Apostles heard that the gentiles had received the Word of God. Reading between the lines, this was not considered a good thing for in verse 2 and 3 we read, And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, 3 saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” The remainder of the chapter is a record of Peter’s response to their charges.

4 But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. 6 When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 10 Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven.

In verse 8, Peter acknowledged the tradition that he had been taught. He had no intention of eating what he had been taught about eating what the Scripture had been labeled as “unclean.” Notice something. Peter said, “I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat’.” Now, Peter has no idea whose voice it is that he heard and so his response was the right discussion. One might understand that this is the way temptation comes. Peter’s response to this “voice” is also telling; “Not so Lord!” Our response to temptation ought to always be addressed to the Lord, who is out strength! In speaking to the Lord, God spoke back!

In verse 11, “At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing.” The whole purpose of the vision God let down from heaven, was to let Peter know that he needed to go with these gentile men to their home. When Peter arrived at the gentile’s home, he recounted the following: “13 And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, 14 who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’”

This statement, “he will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved” is very interesting. Some might look at this statement and conclude, “God has brought salvation to the elect who lived in this house.” He sent Peter to share the gospel with them because God has opened their eyes so that they can respond and be saved.” One thing is unquestionably true; God made it clear that these gentiles needed to hear the gospel to be saved. The question remains, how was this household saved?

Listen to Peter’s testimony; “15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” OK; here it is; “the Holy Spirit fell upon them as it did for us at the beginning.” Regeneration preceded their repentance and believing faith and they were saved. God told them to go find Peter and bring him to their house so that he could share the gospel and “you and your household WILL be saved.” How much clearer could the Scriptures be?

Consider verse 17. “If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” WOW. God gave these gentiles the SAME GIFT He gave us, notice this, “WHEN WE BELIEVED on the Lord Jesus Christ.” As Peter was sharing the gospel with them, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as He did for them when they believed, and these gentiles believed and THEN they were saved. God gave THE GIFT WHEN THEY BELIEVED. He did not give THE GIFT and THEN THEY BELIEVED.

It is clear in this passage that “the gospel is indeed the power of God unto salvation to them who believe.” The GIFT of salvation comes WHEN we believe not so that we can believe.

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The Error of Total Depravity and Inability in Acts 17

In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul addresses the philosophers at Mars Hill. I want to look at a couple comments that I find very interesting concerning the issue of total depravity and inability as trumped by Calvinism. I will also make a comment concerning the emphasis on God’s sovereignty and omniscience that drive the Calvinist tenets.

In verse 22 we read, “Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:”

It is interesting that Paul is here addressing a group of educated pagans who are “religious folk.” In the courtyard, they had erected statues to all kinds of gods and even had one to “the unknown god” to appease one they may have not known about. This is an interesting comment seeing that apart from God’s effectual calling, no one will “seek God.” These educated men knew that there was a god. Unlike the educated folk today, they made a place for gods in their lives. It still seems a little odd to me that a theological position could ignore men’s long standing effort to KNOW GOD and then deny his ability to respond to the God of the Bible apart from some special grace on God’s part. I will leave that statement at that. Paul says, this unknown God is the One I want to “proclaim to you.” In Paul’s mind, there is no idea of effectual calling or special grace that enables any of them to be miraculously saved; he believes that the proclamation of the Word can save them all if they will respond in repentance and believing faith.

He introduces this unknown God as the Creator of the world and everything in it. This God does not live in statues or manmade edifices like the temple. He made every person from one blood; one family and God has the boundaries of their being for one reason; verse 27, “that they should seek THE LORD (not some pagan god) in hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any of us.”

This statement is more than interesting because Paul is clearly saying in this message to a group of lost pagans, that they are where they are so that they might seek the Lord in hopes that they MIGHT find Him. This statement made by the Apostle Paul clearly debunks the whole concept of total depravity and inability and the necessity of regeneration prior to repentance and believing faith. Paul is telling these learned men that they are in a place in their lives where they might seek God and find Him. The proclamation of the gospel has power to save those who respond favorably to the promises made in it by God Himself. This is the essence of what Paul is preaching to the philosophers in Athens.

In the earlier verses of chapter 17, Paul preached Jesus in Thessalonica and verse 4 says, “some were persuaded.” This is also an interesting choice of words. Paul and Silas moved on to Berea where it is said that these folks “were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.” (VV11-12) The question is, were they “more fair-minded” because they were regenerated or because they were willing to listen to Paul and Silas’ preaching to be moved by the power of the spoken Word? Regeneration cannot be the case because they “searched the Scriptures” to find out for themselves if the things Paul had been preaching was true or not. Had they been regenerated enabling them to search the truth, they would have repented instead of searched the Scriptures. One thing is true about calvinism’s regeneration; it cannot be a progressive move. When one is effectually called, he repents. One cannot be gradually called to “new life.” So, one of two things had to be true. One, regeneration as posited by Calvinism is not supported by this passage or Paul’s statement here is theologically inaccurate. These new believers heard the gospel and searched the Scriptures to verify the accuracy of the claims being presented. If they heard and had the desire to search the Scriptures, then they had to have been regenerated in the Calvinist system; if that were the case they would have repented instead of having to search. This is completely inconsistent with the total depravity/inability position.

Notice Paul’s statement in verse 29: “29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.” Paul talks about “God’s Divine nature.” He does not talk about God’s sovereignty; he does not speak about God’s omniscience; he speaks of God’s Divine nature. This is important because God’s sovereignty is an attribute of His divinity. God’s omniscience is an attribute of His divinity. He is not divine because He is sovereign or omniscient; He is sovereign and omniscient because He is divine. I believe this points to one of the more serious problems shaping the academic theological landscape. Instead of building theology based on God’s Divine nature, most have focused on His sovereignty and omniscience to frame the foundation from which they have built their cases.

Why is this distinction important? It is important because focusing on a particular attribute can give a false picture of the whole entity. For example, a man can be a father; he can be an employer and he can also be a gambler and a drunkard. If one focuses on the father and employer. One might think “this guy is a great guy.” If one focuses on the drunkard and gambler, one might think, “Wow this guy is a real loser.” The problem ought to be obvious; neither conclusion is necessarily accurate and the conclusion drawn is clearly determined by the attributes considered. All attributes accurately describe the man but obviously give very differing perspectives.

Is it possible to focus on God’s sovereignty or His omniscience and “miss God’s Divine nature completely?” If God is sovereign and omniscient BECAUSE He is Divine, then perhaps focusing on individual attributes may indeed give one a false picture of God’s total Divine nature and ultimately His total character and being. I believe this to be true where the majority of academic theological discussion stands. God is more than sovereign or omniscient. He is perhaps more than anything, love. (Ps. 118:1; I John 4:8,16) God is Holy. (Is 43:3; 6:3; I Peter 1:16) He is Merciful. (Deut. 4:31; Ps 103:8, 116:5; Eph. 2:4) He is Perfect in all He does. (2 Sam. 22:31;Ps. 18:30; Matt 5:48) He is Faithful. (Deut. 7-9, 32:4, Ro. 4:21; I Cor. 1:9, 10:13) He is Sovereign,(Gen.1:1; I Chron. 29:11-12; Ps. 115:3; Lam. 3:37; Eph. 1:11) Omnipotent,(Jere. 32:27; Is 40:28; Matt. 19:26; Luke 1:37; Heb.1:3) Omniscient, (Job 3:16, 28:24; I Sam. 2:3; Ps. 147:5; Matt. 10:30; I John 3:19-20) and Immutable, (Job 23:13; Mal. 3:6; Heb. 6:17) a God of Wrath, (Zeph. 1:14-15, 18; Ps. 69:24; Rom. 1:18; Heb. 12:29; Rev. 19:15) A God of Grace (I Cor. 15:10; Eph. 2:8; Titus 2:11) and this is not an exhaustible list. 2 Peter 3:19 clearly states, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” This passage reflects God’s Divine nature and clearly stands as one of the more problematic passages in the total depravity/inability and limited atonement tenets presented by Calvinism.

Consider verses 30 Paul tells these religious educated philosophers, “God has overlooked men’s ignorance as seen in their use of statues but now God commands all men everywhere to repent.” Repentance is man’s response to the gospel message that says God “31 has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” In verse 34, Paul says, “some joined him and believed.”

The truth is simple. If total depravity and inability are correct there are a couple of things that are problematic in the passage. First of all, the new believers in Thessalonica and Berea do not fit the regeneration before repentance and faith model presented by the Calvinist system. Second, in Paul’s address to the men in Athens, they should seek THE LORD (not some pagan god) in hopes that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any of us.” There is no hint of depravity or inability to be overcome by regeneration. In fact, God is “near them all” Paul says indicating that He is also accessible to those who would repent and believe, which some did.

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Romans 1 and Total Depravity in Calvinism

Paul writes in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

“For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed ‘from faith to faith’.” This verse is important because it identifies the purpose of the power of the gospel as it is both experienced and then lived out in the life of the new born believer. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to EVERYONE who believes. Believing in the provisions and the promises of God brings salvation to the lost sinner. The gospel of Christ IS the power of God unto salvation. These words are themselves life to those who hear them and believe. (Proverbs 4:22, John 5:63)

In verses 18 and following, Paul focuses his attention on God’s wrath on unrighteousness.

Paul writes, “18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. Notice something very interesting. Paul says that the unrighteous “suppress the truth” because “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.” This presents some very serious problems for the total depravity/inability position and regeneration solution to man’s plight as a sinner in need of conversion. First of all, suppressing the truth is a conscious choice made on man’s part and one that is made in light of the truth that has been made manifest to them by God Himself. This would serve to support the statement in Genesis 3:22 where God said, “man has become like us ‘knowing good and evil’.” Total depravity and inability maintains that man has no ability in himself or on his own to “know good” nor to choose good because all good things come from God and apart from His grace being bestowed on the unregenerate, he can only know and choose evil. In Romans 1:18 Paul says man “suppresses the truth that has been made known to him by God Himself.”

In regeneration, God gives man a new heart and a new nature that allows him to know the truth and to respond to that truth in repentance and believing faith. This response to the newly regenerated being is irresistible and in fact the only response that he can make. He cannot choose to do otherwise. A serious problem with this concept is highlighted in Romans 1:19. God has made Himself known to men. That is crystal clear in this passage.

One could argue that this is the result of his being created in the image of God. Nowhere in the Bible is it ever said that God stopped making man in His own image. The Bible does say that man now has a sinful nature that is the direct result of Adam’s sin in the garden but nothing is ever said that man is no longer made in the image of God. If man does indeed have this created nature and an acquired secondary sinful nature, then it is certainly possible that God has made Himself known through this created nature that every person has and man’s acquired or secondary nature “suppresses that truth in unrighteousness.” In either case, this passage certainly casts doubt on the total depravity/inability and regeneration process as presented in Reformed Theology.

Continuing, “20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Paul writes and interesting statement here: “His invisible attributes are ‘clearly seen’.” That which is invisible is everything but clearly seen. However, with God all things are possible and He has Himself made Himself known to sinful man. That is what the text clearly says.

Once again, this passage is especially problematic for the Calvinistic position on irresistible grace because Paul clearly says the person who has been enlightened by God Himself and understands those things, is without excuse. These men know God but do not glorify Him as God nor are they thankful and they have become “futile in their thoughts.” Notice his statement in verse 22, “Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” Paul says, “they BECOME futile in their thoughts and they BECAME fools.” Their spiritual condition is the result of the ramifications of the choices they have made concerning the claims of Christ revealed to them in the gospel. There are consequences to the choices men make! They are not fools BECAUSE of the limitations on their choices; they become fools because of their choices.

Look at verse 23; “they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” These are the choices these unrighteous men made. Look at verse 24; “24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” THEREFORE, because of what has already taken place, “God gave them up to uncleanliness.” If they were totally depraved as Calvinism contends, there would be no need for God to “give them up” because the Calvinist truth is God had no plan or provision for the salvation of the non-elect in the first place. This is extremely troubling.

Verses 26 and 27 say, “26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” Again God would not be giving up the guy who had no chance of redemption. The text clearly says that these individuals “received in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” Clearly these individuals are going to face consequences for their choices.

Finally Paul writes in Verse 28: “28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting.” Once again there is no need for God to give the unregenerate in the Calvinist scheme over to a debased or depraved mind. If he is already spiritually dead, blind and deaf this passage makes no sense. Understand something, according to verse 32 these men “know the judgment of God” but reject Him all the same and are deserving of death.

The truth is man is responsible in his response to the gospel. He is responsible for what He does with God’s special revelation of Who He is and what it is that He wants to do in a person’s heart as God reaches out to the lost through the power of His Word and the reconciling, convicting work of the Holy Spirit in the unrepentant heart. To continue to refuse the offer of grace to be saved carries with it serious consequences as laid out in these few verses in Romans 1.

Posted in Calvinism, SBC and Calvinism, SBC Issues, Soteriology Simplified, Southern Baptist Convention, Transformed Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 55 Comments

Problems With Proposed Article III to the Constitution of the SBC

On March 4, Baptist Press published the following article titled, Q&A: Article III on Messenger Qualifications.

In this article, in a Q&A with SBC LIFE, Ernest Easley, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, addressed some of the main issues surrounding a proposal regarding how churches qualify to send messengers to the SBC annual meeting.

The following are the proposed changes that were approved at the EC meeting in February to be revisited at the June 9 meeting of the Executive Committee meeting for presentation at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the SBC in Baltimore. To read the article in BP CLICK HERE.

Following is the text of the proposed Article III, to be considered in June.

Article III. Composition: The Convention shall consist of messengers who are members of Baptist churches in cooperation with the Convention at levels which the Convention, from time to time, determines. The following subparagraphs describe the Convention’s current standards and method of determining the maximum number of messengers the Convention will recognize from each cooperating church to attend the Convention’s annual meeting.

1. The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work (i.e., a “cooperating” church as that descriptive term is used in the Convention’s governing documents) which:

(1) Has not intentionally operated in any manner demonstrating opposition to the doctrine expressed in the Convention’s most recently adopted statement of faith. (By way of example, churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.)

(2) Has formally approved its intention to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention. (By way of example, the regular filing of the annual report requested by the Convention would be one indication of such cooperation.)

(3) Has made undesignated, financial contribution(s) through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity during the fiscal year preceding.

2. Under the terms above, the Convention will recognize to participate in its annual meeting two (2) messengers from each cooperating church, and such additional messengers as are permitted below.

3. The Convention will recognize one (1) additional messenger from each cooperating church for each full percent of the church’s undesignated receipts or for each six thousand dollars ($6,000), whichever is less, which the church contributed during the fiscal year preceding through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity.

4. The messengers shall be appointed and certified by their church to the Convention, but the Convention will not recognize more than twelve (12) from any cooperating church.

5. Each messenger shall be a member of the church by which he or she is appointed.

6. If a church experiences a natural disaster or calamitous event and, as a result, the church is not qualified to appoint as many messengers as the church could appoint for the Convention’s annual meeting immediately before the event, the church’s pastor or an authorized church representative may, for no more than the three (3) annual meetings after the event, certify the facts to the registration secretary and obtain the same number of messengers it could have certified for the Convention’s annual meeting immediately before the event.

I have already commented on the 1% provision and the $6000 limit for additional messengers.

Today I want to look at what I believe is the more egregious language in the proposed changes and this has nothing to do smaller church complaints on messenger representation.

I find the following proposed changes very troubling.

1. The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work (i.e., a “cooperating” church as that descriptive term is used in the Convention’s governing documents) which:

(1) Has not intentionally operated in any manner demonstrating opposition to the doctrine expressed in the Convention’s most recently adopted statement of faith. (By way of example, churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.)

My first question is why this proposed change in the first place? Dr. Easley gives an answer to this question in the BP article:

Q: If giving or attendance are not expected to be improved by the suggested changes, what improvements are expected?

A: To name a few, friendly cooperation is better defined, the Cooperative Program is explicitly referred to and prioritized, greater participation by smaller churches is facilitated, filing an Annual Church Profile is promoted (though not required), and involvement in the annual meeting is protected for churches affected by calamity.

By making participation in the convention more than just about money, it sends a signal to churches that may wish to give a token contribution to the convention in order to benefit from such things as seminary tuition discounts, that being identified with the SBC means something.

I understand what Dr. Easley is saying here and I am not questioning the intent of the proposed provision. However, I do believe it poses a serious potential problem. The problem is not in the intent today but in the application in the future. “Friendly cooperation with the convention” opens the door to all kinds of interpretation and that seems terribly problematic. The proposed changes should be focused on messenger qualifications but these provisions reach much farther than that. These provisions seem to qualify what is and what is not considered a member church of the convention. One might argue that is not the intent but clearly it could be seen as such down the road.

Dr. Easley makes a great point in his discussion when he says, “filing an Annual Church Profile is promoted (though not required), and involvement in the annual meeting is protected for churches affected by calamity.” I believe it would be well to require churches that qualify for additional messengers to be those that file the ACP report. However that should not be a determining qualification in determining a church’s being friendly with the convention.

The proposed changes continue in defining what could be considered a non-friendly church:

(1) Has not intentionally operated in any manner demonstrating opposition to the doctrine expressed in the Convention’s most recently adopted statement of faith. (By way of example, churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.)

This is terribly problematic. A friendly church could now be defined as one that has “not intentionally operated in any manner demonstrating opposition to the doctrine expressed in the Convention’s most recently adopted statement of faith.” This provision has no business being in the Constitution of the SBC. If a church took a stand against some provision that was deemed oppositional to the BF&M, that church could be voted out of the SBC. The issue of homosexuality is listed today but tomorrow that could be Calvinism, Communion or a host of other theological issues that the current leadership might want to seek to isolate and eliminate.

Some will no doubt say, these are outlandish charges. The Executive Committee has no intention of any such thing taking place. I have no doubt but what that is true. The point is, if these provisions are adopted as they are presented, they will no doubt open the door to applications that may not have any basis in intent today but may be used at a later date in much different applications than those being suggested for the adoption of these provisions today.

My prayer is that these provisions will be reconsidered and the EC proposal deals specifically with messenger quotas and drop the additional proposed provisions.

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New EC Proposed Changes for Messenger Qualifications to SBC Annual Meeting

Baptist Press recently announced the Executive Committee of the SBC has voted to place on its June 9th meeting a recommendation to be presented at the annual meeting in Baltimore to change Article 3 of the SBC constitution dealing with qualifications for churches to send messengers to the annual meeting of the SBC. Article III currently states that churches in friendly cooperation with the convention can send one messenger and one additional messenger for each $250 per year “paid to the work of the Convention,” an amount dating back to 1888.

Under the new proposal to be considered at the June EC meeting on the Monday before the SBC annual meeting, each cooperating church that contributed to Convention causes during the preceding fiscal year would automatically qualify for two messengers. Additional messengers would be recognized from a cooperating church by one of two options, whichever allows the greater number of messengers:

— One additional messenger for each full percent of the church’s undesignated receipts through any combination of gifts through the Cooperative Program, designated gifts through the Executive Committee for convention causes or to any SBC entity.

— One additional messenger for each $6,000 the church contributes in the preceding year through the same combination of the Cooperative Program, designated gifts through the Executive Committee for convention causes or to any SBC entity.

The $6,000 figure was arrived at by adjusting for inflation and other factors since 1888. It is meant to be comparable to the $250 figure adopted 126 years ago.

You may read the BP article in its entirety by CLICKING HERE.

What is interesting to me is the idea that smaller churches may be upset with the newer proposal. Every church has gone from one messenger to two, which represented the highest number of messengers sent from churches in the first place. This allowance makes it possible for the pastor and his wife to attend as messengers. The next highest group of registered messengers is one single messenger. I do not see why smaller churches ought to be upset with the proposed changes.

There is one thing I do not understand. Why do we need the $6000 qualifier for additional messengers? Why does the EC believe a church that has $1,000,000 in undesignated giving get 1 additional messenger for $6,000 instead of the 1% figure of $10,000? Why should a church whose undesignated giving is $10 million get additional messengers for $6000 instead of the 1% figure of $100,000?

I believe the 1% rule ought to apply to ALL giving of ALL churches with no provision for a reduced allowance. In addition to that, I believe the giving ought to apply to CP giving since that is the engine that drives the convention. Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon giving ought to be considered as well.

Personally, I do not believe monies given directly to entities ought to be considered for messenger qualifications. I do not believe Great Commission giving ought to be considered for messenger qualifications. These figures do not represent monies given to promote the financial budgeted items that are adopted and approved by the messengers at the annual meeting. CP funds currently drive the SBC and those churches who support the CP are the ones who ought to be able to send the most messengers to the annual meeting.

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