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Category Archives: Protestantism

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Last week a large group from my church went to Spring Harvest up in Minehead. We were unable to go due to a family holiday in Wales, but I’ve been able to catch up with some of the people who went, and the teaching through the videos that have been posted online. The people I’ve spoken to spoke very highly of the worship, the seminars, the social aspect of gathering together outside of the normal setting with other believers. Very few people mentioned the actual teaching, instead referring to a vague notion of ‘unity’. It was only in watching the Archbishop of Canterbury speak at the conference that I got a firm handle on what was meant by this drive for ‘unity’.

And I was appalled.

Please don’t get me wrong. Unity among Christians is imperative. I agree with the words of John 17 where Jesus asks for his people to be one. That is not the issue. It’s what we’re being asked, through vast assumption and little discernment, to be united with that has troubled me. It is clear that what was meant by ‘unity’ was actually ‘ecumenism’.

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Ecumenism is the movement towards unity among Christian groups, however widely understood to mean unity between every group that self-identifies as Christian. I make the distinction because there are many groups and organisations that self identify as Christian and are not. Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses are two examples. I would add a third, which is where the contention of this issue lies for me, and it’s Roman Catholicism.

Christian unity is very, very important. I cannot restate that enough. The underlying question, however, is what is a Christian?

Is it simply someone who self-identifies as one? Or is there certain criteria we should expect? For instance, we agree that a Christian is someone who loves Jesus. At his speech at the recent Spring Harvest in Minehead the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, suggested such a definition. Therefore, let us use that simple definition for now – that a Christian is someone who loves Jesus.

woman-565104_1920Imagine if I were to sit down and explain how much I love my wife. I am so in love with her I think she’s the most beautiful person in the world. Her long, blonde hair, her tall, slim physique, her penchant for action movies and pre-19th century poetry all fascinate me. I could talk about her all day!

The problem is that’s not my wife. My wife is relatively short. She has shoulder-length brown hair and hates action movies. I doubt she’s ever read a pre-19th century poem since being forced to in school.

So imagine if I were to describe my wife in the first way, then you actually met my wife. You would assume two things. a) I’m lying or b) There is some misunderstanding, and we are talking about two completely different women. Either way, does it look like I love my wife if I’ve got so many details wrong about who she is?

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In the same way, simply saying we love Jesus isn’t enough. The question must be asked: who is Jesus?

1005d1f2f13adcd679bc9acb8caf6cbf_question-mark-red-clip-art-question-mark-clipart-png_198-299Is he the sole mediator between God and man? 1 Timothy 2:5 or does he delegate that responsibility to his mother, priests, the Pope and saints?

1005d1f2f13adcd679bc9acb8caf6cbf_question-mark-red-clip-art-question-mark-clipart-png_198-299Does the Pope serve as “The Vicar of Christ” (the term ‘vicar’ comes from the latin ‘vicarius’ meaning ‘in place of’) or is Christ still active as the high priest for all believers as Hebrews 7 says he is?

1005d1f2f13adcd679bc9acb8caf6cbf_question-mark-red-clip-art-question-mark-clipart-png_198-299Did Jesus die once for all (Hebrews 7:27) or is he to be continually sacrificed in the Eucharist (“The Sacrifice of the Mass is not merely an offering of praise and thanksgiving, or simply a memorial of the sacrifice on the Cross. It is a propitiatory sacrifice which is offered for the living and dead, for the remission of sins and punishment due to sin, as satisfaction for sin and for other necessities.” The Council of Trent, Session XXII, Sept 17, 1562)?

1005d1f2f13adcd679bc9acb8caf6cbf_question-mark-red-clip-art-question-mark-clipart-png_198-299Does Jesus save people by grace through faith (Ephesians 2) or does he save people after they perform meritorious works? Must the believer then maintain their own salvation through confession to priests and receiving the sacraments? (CCC 1131)

1005d1f2f13adcd679bc9acb8caf6cbf_question-mark-red-clip-art-question-mark-clipart-png_198-299Does Jesus regenerate through baptism (section 1215 of the Catechism “This sacrament [baptism] is also called ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit,’ for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one ‘can enter the kingdom of God”) or does he do it through faith (Hab 2:4)?

1005d1f2f13adcd679bc9acb8caf6cbf_question-mark-red-clip-art-question-mark-clipart-png_198-299Does Jesus alone have the power to forgive sins (Psa. 130:4; Isa. 43:25; Dan. 9:9; Mic. 7:18; Acts 8:22) or is the only way to be forgiven by confessing to a priest and being absolved (CCC 1424)?

I hope I have demonstrated above that we aren’t dealing with minor peccadilloes but these differences go right to the heart of who Jesus is. What is being presented in both systems is an entirely different gospel, with different means of grace, different definitions of grace, different functions of the atonement and a different Jesus at its centre.

In listening to Justin Welby speak at Minehead he does address these differences very briefly. He calls them ‘really difficult things’ and ‘the biggest issues’. He does this in the middle of his point that unity is more important than these ‘really difficult things’ and ‘biggest issues’. What is implied here is that “the truth of the One God” and “blessing the other” is vastly more important than worrying about whether or not we are preaching a different gospel. It was at this point that I felt he’d be much happier if he simply tore Galatians 1 out of his Bible.

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He goes on to say that unity is the reflection of God’s holiness. Saying, “Disunity is sin. We cannot be holy if we’re not united.” In this he seems to be in ignorance of what the term ‘holy’ actually means. In the Hebrew scripture the term for ‘holy’ is ‘qodesh’, which means ‘separateness, apartness, set-apart”. The word literally means to separate. It was given to the portion of the offering that was set apart for God in the Levitical sacrificial law. Therefore, to be holy means to separate from that which is ungodly, or set against God as he is revealed in his word. To say that holiness means unity, even with beliefs that are set against the word of God, is mind-boggling.

Again, I am all for Christian unity, but I hold with Martin Luther who said “Peace if possible, truth at all costs.” It is my belief that Welby actually intends for us to commit to ecumenism rather than Jesus. This is no surprise, as he openly tells us that his spiritual director is the Roman Catholic monk Nicolas Buttet, and he openly praises the Catholic mystic Jean Vanier as an “extraordinary image of Christ” (Vanier in his book Essential Writings has previously identified the Hindu Mahatma Ghandi as “one of the greatest prophets of our times” and “a man sent by God” and called for all Christians to “open doors to other religions”). One article from a Catholic source said:

Justin Welby has no doubt that he is a Protestant who prays in tongues, whose religion is a Bible religion; but, thanks to P.Nicolas, he adores Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, goes to confession, and has been on pilgrimage to the Anglican shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.  Both Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby break the mould that the past wishes to impose on them.

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After all this, Welby had the gall to reference Latimer and Ridley, two of the early English reformers, who were burned at the stake for having the courage to separate from the Roman Catholic church in the first place, as examples to support unity with the Roman Catholic church! So it is clear that, in calling for unity, Welby is asking us to disregard discernment, doctrine and the legacy of people like Latimer and Ridley and so many others who suffered for our faith, and using the dying words of Latimer to do it.

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I do not feel anger or prejudice against anyone, regardless of religious persuasion. We live in a pluralistic society where I brush shoulders with people of many different faiths every day. However, it is very clear to me in my reading of scripture and understanding of the gospel as passed down to me that no one who follows the teachings and practices of the Catholic church can rightly be called Christian. I believe that scriptures like Gal 1:8 are very clear on that point. I do not say this with any malice, or triumphalism, but with a heavy heart. I want to obey Jesus Christ’s desire that I love people, and in this case I love people enough to say that they are lost and in dire need of the gospel that actually saves.

Justin Welby intimated that the world is dying without Jesus, and that the only way we can show them Jesus is if we are united. The irony of that position is that he is standing alongside, shoulder to shoulder with, people who are dying without Jesus and affirming them in doing so. I would rebut this statement that the only way we can show the world Jesus is if we are united (yes, united) on who Jesus actually is, what he does, and how we can approach him. If we present not just social improvement programs but the gospel. The full, unadulterated gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone.

Love you all in Christ, Ryan.

I’m an avid Star Wars fan. Ever since watching Episodes 4, 5 and 6 on grainy VHS tapes with my dad and older brother, I was completely sucked in to the mythology and action and characters in a big way. To this day, my pulse still races at the sound of a good lightsaber battle. My ringtone is the fierce X Wing battle from the end of A New Hope, and my message alert tone is R2D2’s trademark beeping. On my wedding day, I walked down the aisle with a pair of Darth Vader cufflinks in my shirt.

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The catchphrase of, “Use the Force, Luke.” is also burned into my memory from watching and re-enacting that scene over and over where Luke pulls down the blast shield and blows up the Deathats-no-moon-1024x640th Star. The Force is considered to be this all-pervading…well…energy that flows through all things in the Star Wars universe. Jedi like Yoda and Mace Windu talk about it as if it has a will, one which is working behind the scenes, through the most dreadful of circumstances at times, to bring about balance.

God is not like this in most respects. He is not a vague energy, nor is he found in all things. That would be pantheism. At the same time, all things are through him, and by him and for him, to bring about his glory (Romans 11:36).

Now I know what you’re thinking: this sounds like Calvinism!

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And you’re right. It does link with Calvinism. I hesitate to say it is Calvinism, because it’s simply the bare words of scripture. If you wish to argue with it, simply go back and read Romans 11:36 again. Not satisfied? Give it another read. In that one verse is encapsulated the will and activity of God. What in this universe is for him? All things. What is by him? All things. What comes through him? All things. Why? For his glory.

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In a recent blog post, my friend listed his objections to Calvinism very clearly, and I would first like to address these and then look at the alternative which I feel should not go undefended. I intend to address each objection one at a time.

  1. Double predestination

This is the logical outworking of the belief in predestination. It follows that if God chooses some to save, he must choose to damn others. The objection to this is that it is incredibly unjust (my friend uses the word ‘ridiculous’ also). He posits the following analogy:

If your father said to you that your brother would inherit his whole will but you would get nothing, and that he had decided this even before both of you were born, would you not be insensed at such a ridiculous decision?

My first response is to say that the above analogy is unjust because both sons of the father feel they deserve an inheritance. It is expected that the just thing for that father to do is to share his wealth with both his sons. What my friend is saying here is that God owes all his sons and daughters the equal chance at salvation. That is only fair.

bible-neethling-efs1755mm-6232880-oLet’s look at what the reality of the situation is, however. Owing to man’s fall, sin entered into the heart of man to the extent that God never in the Bible describes the unregenerate people as his ‘children’. The paternal relationship of the analogy is non-existent in reality, due to the presence of sin. Instead, we are told that prior to conversion, unbelievers are ‘children of wrath’ (Ephesians 2:3). It is only through faith in Christ that we become children of God via adoption (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:5, Ephesians 1:5). The analogy does not work because it assumes that everyone has that paternal relationship with the Father and therefore that God owes them a chance at salvation. The truth is that God owes us nothing, there is no mandate coercing him to offer anyone salvation.

What does he owe us? The concern of the analogy is about what is just for God to do. Therefore, what are our just desserts here? We are told in Romans 6 that the wages of sin is death, and that death spread to all men because all men have sinned (Romans 5:12). In an oft-forgotten piece of scripture, God through the Psalmist tells us that he hates all evildoers (Ps 5:5), this is corroborated in instances in Hosea 9:15 and Proverbs 6:16-19 among others.

bcgrnnqki-1To tinker the analogy then to make it a little more accurate (still not quite there I’ll admit), an old man is beset by two robbers who are intent on destroying him and stealing all his stuff. The old man manages to catch the two men in the act. What does he owe two guilty criminals? He owes them the full penalty of the law. It’s only in letting one, or both, go that he is actually acting in an unfair manner. I would urge my friend to be very careful, therefore, in determining that in offering salvation God should be just and fair, because just and fair means we all get hell.

2. My choice

This is an argument based on my friend’s choice to follow Jesus which can be pinpointed to a particular time in his life. Immediately my thought is that if we place our own personal experiences over the authority of scripture then we are on a slippery slope. The downfall of the modern day pentecostal movement is replete with people who interpret scripture in the light of their personal experience rather than the other way around.

I was speaking to a young person over the Summer who came to me with a problem. This was a very devoted, godly young man, who came to me and said that he wasn’t sure he was saved. Sometimes he felt saved, but at other times he didn’t (this young man attended a denomination with Arminianism at its core). He had spent the previous evening in a worship service on his knees weeping for God to let him know if he was saved or not. Imagine that? Imagine having to come to your Father and beg him to let him know if he loves you or not? Imagine expecting that to change based on your own performace? Yet this was the situation this young man was in.

I will lead my friend who wrote the blog through the same journey I took this young man. “Last night,” I said, “you were seeking God. Would you say that’s correct?”

The young man agreed.

“But if you look at Romans 3:20-21, it says that no-one seeks God. No not one. So how can you be seeking God if God says no one seeks him?”

The young man was stumped, and it took someone else to say, “God is seeking you in the first place.”

The young man left that conversation with a newfound assurance and trust in the Father who loves Him with a steadfast, everlasting love (Jeremiah 31). That anyone who comes to the Lord shall in no wise be cast out (John 6:37). Why? Because as Jesus puts it:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him – John 6:44

The young man, just like my friend, had the perception that coming to God was his decision. Due to this, he had no assurance because he could easily just decide not to follow Jesus and would then not be saved. I had the same perception until I read the scriptures and found that I had only chosen God because the Father had drawn me to Jesus in the first place. What he has begun in me he is faithful to finish, and in that I have such assurance of my salvation. Assurance that lets me sing, “Thank you for saving me, what can I say?” because he is the one who does the saving, not me.

3. Hyper Calvinism

The objection here is over the sovereignty of God in all things. We’ve already seen that my friend places himself in opposition to Romans 11:36 here, but I think we can afford to nuance this a bit.

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If we consider the example of Joseph, we can see clearly the providence and sovereignty of God in even the darkest of circumstances. Joseph was thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, put in prison and left to rot until he was miraculously rescued. Not only this, but he saved the land of Egypt, and his family (the very brothers who threw him in the pit in the first place) from starvation. God, in his wisdom, used even the “free will” sin of Joseph’s brothers to bring about their salvation. The brothers willed to sell Joseph into slavery, but in all of it God was working his sovereign purpose to preserve the bloodline of the Messiah that was to come.

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Whose will was carried out that day? God’s? Or the crowd’s?

Jump forward a few thousand years and we see the same thing play out at Calvary. Judas has a “free will” decision to betray Jesus. Pilate has a “free will” decision to have Jesus killed or not. The crowd have a “free will” decision between Jesus and Barrabas. The guards had the “free will” decision to break Jesus’ legs or not. And through it all, every single decision that was made served to fulfil the prophecy God gave through Isaiah some 500 years before. In the midst of such seemingly random chaos, God’s pre-ordained plan was being filled out to the letter.

All things are through him, and by him, and for him. We can trust that, in the bleakest of circumstances, in the hardest of struggles, that God is still working in us his will and pleasure. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. 2 Corinthians 4:17.

Eph 1:3-6 ESV – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

My friend calls this sort of reading scripture “dogmatism”, which is merely a namecalling technique liberal people love to use when they want to dismiss an argument or opponent without having to face the argument. He even likens people who do this to ISIS fanatics who behead children, which would be hilarious were it not clearly offensive. In a rare moment of Biblical appeal, he gives three scriptures which apparently “undermine predestination”. These are

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1Tim. 4:16)

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Heb. 10:36)

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matt. 10:22)

Which seems to be explaining that salvation is secured through perseverance in the faith.

WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT CALVINISM TEACHES.

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I’d thank my friend to familiarise himself with the P in TULIP. Calvinism (in accordance with Romans 9:18) teaches that God elects those he will for salvation. Calvinism does not teach who those people are, because it doesn’t know. Rather, the only way we can tell if someone is truly predestined is if they persevere in the faith (1 John 2:19).

The pet complaint against Calvinism is that it paints a heartless, callous God who damns people to hell unfairly. Hopefully, I have addressed some of those concerns in this response, although it’s not intended to be an exhaustive list. I’m always open to discussing and debating finer points in order to get to the bottom of what the scripture actually teaches.

However, I find the God of Calvinism by far more preferrable to the God of Arminianism. I cannot accept a God who might love me today, but cast me out tomorrow based on my performance for him. I find that hard to reconcile with the idea of a good Father. Maybe it’s because I’ve recently become a Father myself, but I know that my little girl made no decision to be born to me, nor to accept my love and acceptance. I will certainly not raise her with the expectation that she is my daughter today, but might not be tomorrow unless she continues to please me. I tremble at the idea anyone could believe in a God like this.

I tremble at the idea anyone could believe in a God who is subserviant to the will of man. Often the charge laid against Calvinism is “Why pray then?” And my response is often, “If God is not sovereign in salvation, why are you praying?” Are we not, in praying for God to save someone, asking God to overrule their free will? How horrifying would it be if the answer came back, “Sorry, I’d love to save the crack addict, the prostitute, the drunkard, the abuser, but gosh darnit they don’t want to be saved!”

Instead, I believe in a God whose mission in Christ Jesus was not just to make it possible for some people to be saved if they want to, but to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). That salvation belongs to him alone (Jonah 2:9) and he is able, beautifully able to save (not just a little bit and wait for us to do the rest, but) to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25) and never cast them out (John 6:37).

I love Star Wars though.