Friday, April 29, 2005

The Pandemonium Perpetrated by the Premillennialist Paradigm

* This is an article I wrote for my website in 2002. While more political in nature, I think it addresses issues that Calvinists should take seriously--namely, a return to a more Reformed, Christ-centered view of eschatology.

Any time there is a flurry of activity in the Middle East, you can count on evangelical Christians to put on a good show. They run around proclaiming an "End of the World Is Near" gospel in hopes of scaring people into the Kingdom of God.

I refer to such Christians as "they" because I happen to be one of those Christians who believe that God is no longer dealing with national Israel and that His chosen people are those who comprise the church--essentially, all who believe in Christ. This may seem like a radical concept to those who look upon writers of doomsday fiction as prophetic geniuses, but that's what happens when people are drawn away from that boring, dust-covered, leaherbound Bible on the coffee table by novels with flashy covers and catchy titles.

When it comes to end times "prophecy," premillennialists seem to have a monopoly on the market. Hal Lindsey burst upon the scene in the 1970's with The Late Great Planet Earth. It became an international best-seller. In like fashion, the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins has proven to be one of the most lucrative enterprises in the history of Christendom. Sure, these books are by no means examples of literary greatness, but the authors more than make up for that with pure, unadulterated prophetic sensationalism.

The success of apocalyptic authors like Lindsey, LaHaye and Jenkins stems from their ability to exploit the prevailing eschatological school of thought among evangelical Christians, that being dispensational premillennialism. (Thank you, John Nelson Darby!) When it comes to the end times, most premillennialists believe that all Christians will be "raptured," that is, taken up out of the world by Jesus Christ at his almost second coming. Those left behind will have to face the Great Tribulation, a seven-year period of unparalleled chaos which will also herald the rule of the Anti-Christ. At the end of the Tribulation, Christ will return--his actual second coming--to set up his earthly kingdom and reign on the throne of David for a thousand years. After that millennial time of peace, God will do away with evil once and for all at the Great White Throne Judgment. (How there can be a thousand years of peace with evil present I cannot say. I suppose it's one of those things that just works it self out in the premillennialist model.)

With all the hype surrounding the end times, it is certainly understandable that theological misconceptions will filter down into our political ideology. This is not a new phenomenon. In fact, ever since the arrival of dispensational premillennialism on this continent in the 19th century, our national political position has shifted to accomodate this line of thinking thanks to the efforts of evangelical Christians.

Evangelical Christian influence has been around since the founding of this nation, and the beliefs of evangelicals have spilled over into politics. Ordinarily there would be nothing wrong with this, but flawed theology has since given way to a flawed foreign policy, and U.S. interests have become inextricably tied to the interests of modern Israel.

Strong political support for a Jewish nation began in the early 1900s. During World War I, Arthur James Balfour penned the Balfour Declaration which set the stage for British support of a Jewish homeland:
    His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
Since dispensational premillennialism had already established itself as a part of the evangelical mainstream, it was only a matter of time before U.S. politicians who had been born and raised in that evangelical tradition began to let their theology affect their political ideology. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson signaled his approval of the Balfour Declaration when he said, "The allied nations with the fullest concurrence of our government and people are agreed that in Palestine shall be laid the foundations of a Jewish Commonwealth."

American politicians have continued to voice their strong support for Israel, though little has been mentioned as to why Israel is such an important ally. But that really isn't the issue I want to explore. What seems to be driving the U.S.-Israel relationship, as far as evangelical Christians are concerned, is the popular belief that the nation of Israel still plays an important role in prophecy, and those not wanting to be caught facing the business end of God's wrathful sword come Judgment Day are pushing for more U.S. involvement in the Middle East. About the only reasons we hear are that we have a "moral obligation" to stand behind Israel or that it's simply "the right thing to do."

Dispensational premillennialists typically quote the Book of Psalms when speaking of our "obligation" to support Israel. "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: 'May they prosper who love you'" (Ps. 122:6). This passage has been accepted by many Christians as a universal command by which all believers are bound to pray for the physical city of Jerusalem, lest they fall out of favor with God. Of course, that isn't the case.

While it may be good and practical to pray for the peace of modern Jerusalem, we should really be praying for peace all across the world—the peace that can only come about through the Good News of Jesus Christ. So, in a spiritual sense, Psalm 122 does apply to Christians today. We should pray for the peace of the spiritual Jerusalem, the church (Heb. 12:22), for the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ and the furtherance of the Gospel.

Many Christians, however, are too wrapped up in their flawed eschatology to realize that their first responsibility is to the church, the body of Christ, and not to a nation of unbelievers. As a result, eyes glance up in anticipation at the eastern sky every time Israel is mentioned in the media, and the practice of interpreting Scripture through newspaper headlines becomes commonplace.

It is interesting to see the ensuing pandemonium among evangelical Christians brought about by rumors of war in the Middle East. Believers ignore sound biblical instruction and start buying up extra copies of Left Behind to use as witnessing tools for reaching their non-believing friends. Christian columnists all across America crank out editorial pieces on the Jews' divine claim to the Holy Land and the importance of remaining steadfast in our nation's support of Israel. Jack Van Impe goes on television with an air of righteous vindication and says, "See? My latest reinterpretation of my previous reinterpretation of Revelation was correct! The time of Christ's coming in the clouds is fast approaching!"

Who can blame these Christians for becoming so enraptured (no pun intended) with the idea of being whisked away in the blink of an eye while the world is left to fester for seven years in its own evil juices? It is comforting for people to believe that they will escape tribulation when the end comes.

But ask anyone who holds to the premillennialist view what Christ had in mind when he proclaimed, "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place" (Matt. 24:34). Ask them what the apostle Paul meant when he said, "For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham" (Rom. 9:6b-7a). Ask them why God felt it was necessary to establish a New Covenant (Heb. 8) if the Old Covenant is yet to be fulfilled. Chances are the answers you receive will be less than satisfactory.

The truth is that the covenant God had with Israel finds its fulfillment in Christ. "And if you are Christ's," Paul reminds us, "then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29). Advocating an "End of the World Is Near" gospel that appeals to gullible Christians and poll-driven politicians cannot be edifying for the body of Christ. If anything, it detracts from the work the Son of God already accomplished through his death and resurrection.

I certainly do not hold myself up as a theologian or biblical scholar, but it doesn't take one to see that the premillennialist paradigm is rather precarious. When a fundamental part of our foreign policy is based on a shaky biblical exegesis and championed by the very people who should know better, it gives one reason to question the immediate future of our nation.

At least we can rest in the fact that God is ultimately in control. His true chosen people, those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, will not be forsaken, and the glory of the Almighty will shine forth for all the world to see.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Rejoice in the Risen Christ

George Whitefield explains The Power of Christ's Resurrection:
    ... [A] chief end of our blessed Lord's rising from the dead, was to enter heaven as our representative, and to send down the Holy Ghost to apply that redemption he had finished on the cross, to our hearts, by working an entire change in them.

    Without this, Christ would have died in vain. For it would have done us no service to have had his outward righteousness imputed to us, unless we had an inward inherent righteousness wrought in us. Because, being altogether conceived and born in sin, and consequently unfit to hold communion with an infinitely pure and holy God, we cannot possibly be made meet to see or enjoy him, till a thorough renovation has passed upon our hearts.

    Without this, we leave out the Holy Ghost in the great work of our redemption. But as we were made by the joint concurrence and consultation of the blessed trinity; and as we were baptized in their name, so must all of them concur in our salvation: As the Father made, and the Son redeemed, so must the Holy Ghost sanctify and seal us, or otherwise we have believed in vain. ...

    ... As Christ was born of the Virgin's womb, so must he be spiritually formed in our hearts. As he died for sin, so must we die to sin. And as he rose again from the dead, so must we also rise to a divine life.

    None but those who have followed him in this regeneration, or new-birth, shall sit on thrones as approvers of his sentence, when he shall come in terrible majesty to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.

    It is true, as for the outward work of our redemption, it was a transient act, and was certainly finished on the cross, but the application of that redemption to our hearts, is a work that will continue always, even unto the end of the world.
Let us not limit the celebration of Christ's resurrection to an annual event; rather, let us heed the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote, "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (Col. 3:1-2).

Sunday, April 17, 2005

If It Walks Like a Duck and Talks Like a Duck...

Many of you have heard the term "carnal Christian" used to describe someone who has made an initial commitment to Christ--perhaps reciting the "sinner's prayer" at Bible camp at the age of five--yet goes on to live a life of sin. Those who believe in the existence of such a Christian typically hold to the view of "once saved, always saved," allowing for the possibility that the regeneration of one's soul doesn't necessarily translate into a noticable change in one's behavior.

On one hand, I can appreciate the logic behind this position. They at least recognize the fact that true believers are eternally secure. Jesus himself reminded us of this when he said, "My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:29).

On the other hand, this reasoning is scripturally unsound. It ignores the concept of "perseverance of the saints," which, as Dr. C. Matthew McMahon points out, teaches that once a person is saved "he will continue to be saved and show forth the fruits of that salvation." This is borne out in Philippians 1:6: "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."

Perhaps a better description of this process is "preservation of the saints." 2 Timothy 4:18 says, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring [or, as some versions read, "preserve"] me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen." In other words, the One who chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world is not only capable of sustaining us, He will sustain us.

As much as we would like to believe that everyone who makes a conscious decision to "accept Christ" receives eternal life, scripture is clear that is not the case. After all, when it comes to recognizing Jesus as God, "Even the demons believe--and shudder!" (James 2:19).

Nothing illustrates this better than the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:
    "A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear."
Jesus goes on to explain the parable in verses 18-23:
    "Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
It is only the true believers who bear fruit. Some may have a stronger faith than others--they may even be more spiritually gifted--but all believers bear the fruit of their salvation.

Still, some will actually use the Parable of the Sower as evidence of the existence of carnal Christians. They will say that while the plants that were choked by the thorns bore no fruit, they didn't die. So it is with some Christians.

But note what Jesus says in John 15:1-8:
    "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples."
So, is there such a thing as a carnal Christian? Not according to the Bible. All Christians struggle with sin to one degree or another (Rom. 7), but true believers at least have the desire to do what is right in God's eyes. Indeed, they are pained by the remains of sin and depravity in their lives. The same cannot be said of those who embrace sin and resign themselves to a life that is contrary to the Word of God.

Do not be deceived. If it walks like an unbeliever and talks like an unbeliever, chances are it's an unbeliever.

On Suffering, Part III

“So if God is good, why does he allow so much suffering among His people?”

As I’ve written previously, the question of suffering is among the most difficult to answer for the Christian apologist. How, indeed, can a perfectly good God allow so much injustice and suffering?

I’ve tried to point out elsewhere that the root of suffering is human sin, but it is also necessary to affirm as a child of God that our suffering is used by God to accomplish His purpose in us, and through us.

God uses suffering and tribulation to chasten His people. We should not think about the issue of suffering as an isolated phenomenon. Rather, as believers, we must ALWAYS remember that in His atoning death, Christ sanctified us, made us holy, and set us apart. We have become adopted sons and daughters of almighty God, and it is in that relationship that we are chastened. The author of Hebrews says:

Hebrews 12
6For whom the LORD loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives."
7If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.

Chastening means to train by correction. It is important to note that the sufferings God allows are not punitive, but corrective. They are done so that “we may be partakers of His holiness.” Like an earthly father who disciplines his children to bring out the best in them, so God wants to bring out the potential that is in us. Verse 10 says that He does it “for our profit.” Moreover, the text says that if we are without God’s chastening and correction, we are “illegitimate and not sons” of God. So, on one level, suffering is a mark that we belong to God, and are loved by God, who is bringing us into holiness.

We should also remember that there is an important difference between divine punishment and divine chastisement. The Christian is not punished for sins because that punishment was already paid. Consider Hebrews 10:10, “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Scripture tells us that as a result of Christ’s death, there is “no condemnation” and that we walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh (Rom. 8:1). The Bible also says that if we hear God’s Word and believe in Christ, we will have everlasting life, “and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).

Though we are sanctified and set free from judgment by Christ, there is still a process of cleansing that takes place in our life. In the Old Testament, there were a panoply cleansing rituals. John speaks of the connection between confession and cleansing, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

When I pick this up next time, it is in that light that I want to think about suffering. Not as something we endure as punishment that has no meaning, but as a tool used by an all-loving, all-knowing, perfect, holy, redeeming God to cleanse His people and work out His holy will.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Online Library

A vast online collection of free, Reformed publications can be found here. Check it out!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

For Whom Did Jesus Taste Death?

Did Jesus die for everyone? If you are like me, the most difficult element of the so-called "Five-Points of Calvinism" is the notion of limited atonement. In this sermon, John Piper takes the matter head on.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The Cause of Suffering

Christians often speak about claiming the promises of Scripture. One such promise, that we aren’t quite so eager claim, is Jesus' ironclad assurance that we will face times of trouble and tumult. John records our Lord’s words, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Elsewhere, we see the words of Job, who said, “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1).

So times to tribulation and suffering are inevitable, and obviously we cannot always understand and discern God’s purposes. But we are called to live by faith, rather than sight, always trusting and obeying the revelation of God in Scripture and knowing that, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).

Later, I hope to address the purposes of God in allowing suffering, but we need to initially determine its cause. And quite clearly, the genesis of human suffering is sin. There is no indication that there was suffering in Paradise. Indeed, when God looked upon His creation, He proclaimed it “good.” Likewise, it seems clear that suffering will not accompany God’s people into the New Heaven and New Earth, presumably because there is no sin. We can read John’s inspired description of the new creation in Revelation 21, where he writes,

1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2Then I, John,[1] saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."

Though different circumstances bring about suffering, it is important to understand that the essential cause of suffering is sin. After the serpent tempts Adam and Eve into sin, God pronounces judgment, "Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life” (Gen. 3:14).

The phrase “Because you have done this” is the key to understanding suffering. We can, I think, essentially insert this phrase into verse 16 and 17 as well, where God pronounces judgment and condemnation on Adam and Eve for their disobedient actions.

That begs an important question—“What do Adam and Eve have to do with my suffering?” Well, Scripture is clear that Adam was a representative for all of mankind, and that as a so-called federal head, his sin was imputed to all mankind. Paul puts it this way, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). So Adam’s sin, and the consequences of it (death, suffering, etc.), came to all men as a result of Adam’s fall.

The creation account tells us that God made man in His own image (Gen. 1:26-27). Though God had no need for fellowship outside the Trinity, He desired fellowship with His creation. In His goodness, God then gave Adam the gift of a wife, so that he could have fellowship with another being similar to himself (Gen. 2:18-25). They had perfect love for each other and for God. There was harmony—no sorrow, no suffering.

Satan sought to drive a wedge between God and His creation. He did so by convincing Eve that she lacked something essential. He deceived her by suggesting that she should act independently of God. This separated her from God and also from Adam and left Adam alone in fellowship with God. We have no idea how long this remained the case because there aren’t, to my mind at least, obvious time frame references.

So Adam is sort of in the middle. He desires fellowship with his wife on the one hand and with God on the other. In effect, he had to make a choice. He could obey God’s command or follow Eve’s example.

We see that Adam does ultimately partake from the forbidden tree. It's also noteworthy that he was not deceived as Eve had been, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (I Tim. 2:14).

In short, Adam made a deliberate choice to break fellowship with God and rebel against His authority. The point to remember is that suffering is not caused by God, it is caused by sin. It is caused by man.

Nevertheless, we see that God makes provision for His wayward creation. He is determined to repair the damage that has been done. God foretold a coming of one who would “bruise” the head of Satan even as Satan bruises His heel. This is a prophecy of the coming Messiah who would win victory over sin, suffering, and Satan. But that victory would entail a price. And that price would be the suffering taken by Christ on our behalf.

Isaiah 53
3He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Isaiah 53
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

So not only does sin bring suffering to man, it brought still greater suffering to Christ, who took the burden on Himself.

Monday, April 04, 2005

On Suffering, Part I

If God in His providence holds all things together through Christ (Col. 1:17), the obvious implication is that even man’s suffering has purpose. Over the course of multiple posts, I hope to discuss the issue of suffering. My goal, gentle reader, is not to cover every nuance or sprint down every rabbit-trail, but to help us gain a greater understanding of God’s purpose for us as believers. (Note—my thoughts on suffering will be most relevant to those inside the family of faith).

Let’s admit up front that the question of suffering is a difficult challenge to the Christian worldview. John Stott puts it this way, “The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in very generation. Its distribution and degree appear to be entirely random and therefore unfair. Sensitive spirits ask if it can possibly be reconciled with God’s justice and love.”

While Stott is correct, it is also important to note that other worldviews and philosophical systems likewise have to deal with the problem. In the remainder of this post, I would like to VERY briefly consider a few non-Christian responses to suffering.

Derived from the Greek word doceteo, which means, "to appear to be", Docetism is the notion that evil doesn't really exist except in our perception, and we should simply learn to tune it out. The Hindu Brahmans believe this; so did Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy, who wrote: "The only reality of sin, sickness, or death is the awful fact that these unrealities seem real to human, erring belief, until God strips off their disguise. We learn in Christian Science that all this is illusion."

The Christian refuses to look at suffering as an illusion. There is no attempt to gloss over it or use euphemisms to diminish it. Sometimes, Christian pastors will use euphemisms to diminish suffering, but Scripture does not. When Lazarus dies, to take but one example, we see Jesus weeping bitterly for His departed friend. For the Christian, suffering is not illusory.

There is also the view that suffering is simply “payback” for our actions—something akin to “bad karma.” The Christian may unconsciously say something like "What goes around comes around," and indeed the Scriptures do teach the general principle that one reaps what they sow, but for the Christian, suffering is not “pay back” from God for something we’ve done wrong. Such is not the way of the God of Scripture.

The Stoics concluded that everything that takes place in the physical world happens on the basis of mechanistically determined physical causes over which we have no control. That is, there is nothing you or I can ever do, think say or achieve that will change the course of human events.

So if there is nothing we can do to control events, the Stoic says that what we must do is simply try to always remain calm, to not let anything disturb us—in short, “take it like a man.” Is this Biblical? In many, if not most of the Psalms, we see the psalmist crying out to God, calling upon Him to act. The so-called “lament” is even a celebrated part of Hebrew literature. Solomon writes that there is “a time to mourn,” and Jesus Himself says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” We must not adopt a determinism or fatalism that claims we have no control over suffering.

Hedonism is an ethical system that maintains that the highest end of man is pleasure, and that pain and suffering are to be avoided at all costs. In the ancient world, there were to main schools of hedonists. The Cyrenaics believed that the pleasure of the body were important to happiness while the Epicureans thought the pleasures of the mind were ultimately more important.

There are at least a few other schools of thought on the issue, including Existentialism. For now, let me just conclude by saying that every philosophical system has to come to grips with the existence of suffering.

When I pick this up later in a few days, I’ll begin to examine how the Christian views suffering. Come back soon!

R. C. Sproul on the Terri Schiavo case

Listen to the interview (from

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Are Calvinists Fatalists

Before getting to my post, I want to take a moment to thank Lee for allowing me to contribute occasional thoughts on living out the Christian life. Thanks, Lee, and may God bless you and all your efforts.

One of the reckless charges that critics frequently direct at Calvinists is that we are fatalists. “After all,” they ask, “if God has ordained all things to come to pass, why would you pray, or evangelize?” The allegation is a serious one, for if true, Calvinism is heretical. One cannot be a “fatalist” and a Christian without an amazing tolerance for cognitive dissonance. So, is the charge fair?

I suppose that in the wrong hands, Calvinistic doctrine may devolve into something like Stoicism. But true Calvinism cannot be equated with blind fatalism. Calvinists believe in a personal God who maintains absolute sovereignty and governs all things via His providence (Col. 1:16-17). By contrast, fatalists look to the impersonal force of fate. Calvinism celebrates the grand purpose of life, to glorify God and love Him forever (Rev. 4:11), while fatalism espouses meaninglessness. As a Calvinist, I set my hope in the future manifestation of God’s heavenly glory and my ultimate citizenship in His Kingdom (Phil. 3:20). Fatalists look to a future of utter nothingness.

In short, fatalism cannot be equated with Calvinism. Though Calvinists recognize God as the primary cause who works all things in accordance with His holy will (Eph. 1:11), that in no way implies that the secondary cause of human action is without significance. God works through human actions to manage His will and has made us responsible for our actions, which have real and eternally significant results.

God ordains not only the ends, but the means as well (this has practical implications for prayer and evangelism, for instance). How all this ultimately works is, of course, mysterious. But God has ordained that events will come about by our causing them. Of course, we do not know what God has planned even for the rest of this day, to say nothing of the future. But we do know that if we obey God, he will bring about good things through that obedience (Rom. 8:28).

To quote Calvin on the matter, “God is pleased to hide all future events from us, in order that we should resist them as doubtful, and not cease to oppose them with ready remedies, until they are either overcome or pass beyond all care…God’s providence does not always meet us in its naked form, but God in a sense clothes it with the means employed.”

Friday, April 01, 2005

God's Sovereignty and Our Faith

I was listening to a sermon by John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn., called "The Supremacy of God in Missions." While addressing the subject of God's sovereignty, he recalled an article he read that drove home the point that God is ultimately in control of everything that happens.

You may recall hearing of the martyrdom of missionaries Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully and Peter Fleming in Ecuador almost 50 years ago, in a remote area known as Palm Beach. It was the subject of the book Through Gates of Splendor, written by Elisabeth Elliot, Jim's widow. The article Piper quoted in his sermon was written by Steve Saint, Nate's son, entitled "Did They Have to Die?"

In a word, yes.

Saint, who returned to Ecuador and interviewed the men who murdered his father, writes, "As they described their recollections, it occurred to me how incredibly unlikely it was that the Palm Beach killing took place at all; it is an anomaly that I cannot explain outside of divine intervention." Saint understood that the incident was not a random tragedy. It was all part of God's ultimate plan.

The murders eventually brought Rachel Saint, Nate's sister, and Elisabeth Elliot back to live among the Aucas, where they shared the gospel with the very men who took their loved ones from them. Those men became followers of Christ. Steve Saint writes that one of them "has repeatedly asserted that all he wants to do is go to heaven and live peacefully with the five men who came to tell him about Wangongi, creator God."

Saint came to the conclusion that everything worked out just as God had planned:
    Dad strove to find out what life really is. He found identity, purpose, and fulfillment in being obedient to God's call. He tried it, tested it, and committed himself to it. I know that the risk he took, which resulted in his death and consequently his separation from his family, he took not to satisfy his own need for adventure or fame, but in obedience to what he believed was God's directive to him. I suppose he is best known because he died for his faith, but the legacy he left his children was his willingness first to live for his faith.
May God grant us the kind of faith that those five men had. May we learn to trust completely in our sovereign Lord and "know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).

Many Members, One Body

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:12-13). I think it's safe to say that all Christians believe this. But how many of us actually put it into practice?

My friend Dave Black, in his essay "A Fowl Lesson," reminds us that we believers are indeed part of one body. Many evangelical churches, however, seem to ignore that spiritual truth:
    Modern Christianity has fled from the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. There is very little "one-anothering" taking place in many of our congregations. Just as we have cars full of single people, so the church is marked by organized artificial performances in which the majority of believers are mere passive observers.
Dr. Black uses the example of geese flying in formation to drive home the point that Christians have a duty to minister to one another:
    What, then, can we conclude except that just as the geese take care of each other, we as believers are called upon to love all true Christian brothers, and to love them in such a way that the world might observe our love in action. A return to biblical norms of doing church must involve a renewed emphasis on the notion of mutual ministry rather than reliance on professional clergy.
It's a sad state of affairs when the lowly goose seems to have a better grasp on the value of togetherness than most Christians.
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