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Marriage, Sexuality

A careful look at the issue of birth control

Children: a calling and a blessing

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God calls the Reformed husband and wife to bear children. Just as marriage is a creation ordinance, so God’s calling to bear children is a creation ordinance. Strikingly, the first thing God says after He creates the woman for the man is that together in their marriage they must bear children: “Be fruitful, and multiply”(Gen 1:28). This command necessitates a link between marital intimacy and the begetting of children (if God in His Providence grants that possibility).[1] For the Reformed couple, this calling intensifies as they see from Scripture that God is pleased to carry on His covenant of structured fellowship also with the children of believers (Gen 7:7, Acts 2:39). Due to this promise, the Scriptures lay further weight upon God’s people to bear children (see Malachi 2:15 “And did not he make one?...And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed” and also 1 Timothy 5:14). Not only is bearing children a calling, but the Reformed couple also gleans from Scripture that children (many!) are a blessing from God (Psalm 127:3-5; Psalm 128:3-4). When the Lord grants little ones to His Church, their presence stands as a reminder of His love and favor and covenant promises. This does not mean the bearing of children is easy. God’s curse for sin affects all things, and this aspect of life in particular (Gen 3:16-19). While God has not made bearing and raising children itself a curse, His curse affects the bearing and raising of children. God has, due to sin, greatly increased a woman’s sorrow in bearing children, and at the same time increased her ability to bear them. The curse has also affected the husband’s calling to support those children. The creation from which he must derive their support works against him instead of with him. REGARDING THE USE OF BIRTH CONTROL GENERALLY The first two truths (that bearing children is both a calling and a blessing) almost put the issue of birth control to rest for God’s people. Indeed, some couples will conclude it is best to never prevent or plan the conception of children. If these couples faithfully raise all the children they bear unto the Lord, then the whole Church is thankful for their godly example and prays for more of their kind. However, as much as we want to caution against its use, we would argue that the reality of the curse of God for sin may allow for the careful use of (some forms of) birth control in some cases.[2] But because selfishness can quickly exploit even that statement, we begin discussing this matter by addressing the heart. Why would we prevent the birth of children? Birth control broadly defined is anything that can prevent the birth of children.[3] There are ethically legitimate and ethically illegitimate methods of birth control. However, even if one allows for the use of ethically legitimate methods of birth control in some cases, he must recognize they can be and often are used wickedly. The issue begins in the motives of the heart. The great question everyone has to ask (including newly married couples who are expected by so many to wait at least a year or two to have children) is: “Why? Why would I prevent the birth of children into my covenant home?” And the Reformed couple must answer this question honestly, for we easily deceive ourselves (Jer. 17:9). As the Reformed couple engages in this heart-probing, consider that the very origin of chemical birth control was the constant push for sex without responsibility in society. It’s not just necessity, but the desire for pleasure, that is the mother of invention. Google a chart of birth rates in United States history, and you will see that the line plummets after 1960 when chemical birth control went on the market, and that the line continues to steadily drop until it arrives at its lowest point in 2016.[4] The ever-increasing desire for pleasure combined with the ever-decreasing desire for responsibility in the world can affect us as Reformed Christians too. So as you answer “why would we prevent the birth of children?” consider the following kinds of questions: Do we seek a standard of living that far exceeds even that of our parents and grandparents in their child-bearing years (not to mention that of the vast majority of the rest of the world)? Have materialism, worldly comforts, and extravagant vacations clouded our thinking? God doesn’t desire that His children be at ease, but that they joyfully and self-sacrificially serve Him by raising children, all the while detaching from the things of this world. Are we selfishly guarding a worldly notion of marriage? Are we stingy with respect to our time? Children require a tremendous sacrifice of time and energy – often around the clock. This sacrifice means less time fishing, hanging out with the guys, or sitting in front of the television or computer. Wives, is your view of physical beauty defined by the world? For a woman having children involves a sacrifice not only of her time and personal desires, but also her very body. After several children, she may look in the mirror and feel embarrassed about the dramatic changes she sees. Husbands, do you assure your wife that she has not been “ruined” as the world would say, but that she is beautiful with a beauty that the world cannot see? We can’t say for another couple That said, there is no biblical rule as to when each couple’s quiver is full, and due to the reality of the curse upon life in this world, there are factors that a couple may legitimately consider in thinking about family planning. A mother may face health issues, even ones that can endanger her life and lives of future children (just a few examples include multiple c-sections, extreme diabetes, and cancer). The mental and emotional health of especially the mother may have to be considered (taking care not to cover up selfishness). Postpartum depression is a real issue. In addition, some women are simply physically and emotionally frailer than others. Maybe there is a child (or children) with special needs requiring a great deal of time and energy. Maybe the house is full and teetering on the edge of Mom and Dad’s ability to faithfully rear the children. In these cases (and perhaps others), we believe God’s people have to make judgments with much prayer and soul-searching. This matter is intensely difficult, especially because the old man inside us can be so deceptive. Even sincere Reformed believers may disagree. We must all use sanctified wisdom and live coram Deo (before the face of God). The rule we believe is biblical is that we ought to have as many children as we are able to have, understanding “able” to mean not merely as many as we can have without cramping our lifestyle, nor meaning necessarily as many as we are able to physically produce. Rather, “able” means, able to faithfully raise in the fear of the Lord.[5] Each couple must stand before God. If a couple’s honest answer to that is three, so be it. If it is fifteen, or as many as we are physically able to bear, so be it. The key principle is that we are honest with ourselves before God and are vigilantly on the lookout for selfish motives hiding under the pretense of spiritual ones. And we ought to pray that the preaching ever warns us of that possibility. WHAT BIRTH CONTROL IS ETHICALLY PERMISSIBLE? If a couple before the face of God honestly believes they ought to use birth control at a certain time in their life, what forms are ethically acceptable? All Reformed couples ought to personally research the matter in order to make God-honoring decisions. Here is what we have discovered in our own research.[6] “Emergency contraception” First of all, we must begin with the conviction that life begins at conception.[7] So many doctors (some Christian ones too), speak of life beginning at various other points in the growth process of the fertilized egg. What one says about when life begins will determine what one says about what forms of birth control are ethically permissible.[8] All forms of chemical birth control that are taken after intercourse, such as the “morning-after pill,” RU-486, “emergency contraception,” etc., are abortifacients (drugs which induce abortion). Using these drugs after intercourse, and if you have conceived (which one does not know) it is no different from going into an abortion clinic to kill your child a few months later. It is murder. Other forms of chemical birth control Regarding chemical birth control one takes regularly, such as the birth control pill (whether combined or progestin only), shots, and IUDS, the Reformed couple must be aware of the facts. According to the recently published God, Marriage, and Family[9] these common forms of chemical birth control work to prevent the birth of a child three ways: The first is by preventing an egg from being released. The second is by thickening the cervical mucus so that the sperm cannot reach the egg if an egg is released anyway (which some experts estimate happens as often as 50 percent of the time). The third is by making the lining of the uterus incapable of supporting the life of a newly conceived child given the first two methods fail. There is no ethical issue in itself with the first two actions of the pill. But the third causes an abortion. So the question becomes, do the first two methods of the pill ever fail? We quote from the book mentioned above:

Statistically speaking, when taken as directed, these various types of hormone-based birth control methods are effective (in their first two lines of defense—that is preventing conception CG) 99.5 percent of the time…. From this fact, one can know for certain that while “the pill” is effective in preventing ovulation and preventing fertilization, it does not prevent all fertilization. While there is no statistical data to indicate how many births are terminated by the third mechanism, one can be assured that it does occur.[10]

Though admittedly, the possibility of breaking the sixth commandment here is small, it is still a possibility, and therefore chemical birth control ought not be used by the child of God.[11] This leaves only three ethically legitimate methods: natural family planning, barrier methods, and surgical sterilization.[12]  CONCLUSION  As with every matter in the Christian life, obedience begins in the heart. A heart that responds to the gospel of redeeming grace is filled with gratitude. Gratitude needs a riverbed to flow into. That riverbed is the law of God. We hope we have given some help in determining what God’s law is and is not in these matters, and in setting forth the principles by which we may live in godliness. May God bless us as we live before His face as husband and wife, and as we bring up the godly seed He so graciously gives us. ENDNOTES This is not the only purpose of marital intimacy as the Roman Catholic Church wrongly teaches (among other passages see 1 Corinthians 7:5 and The Song of Solomon). Otherwise a couple who could not bear children would be required to abstain from marital intimacy. Neither does it imply that every act of marital intimacy must have the possibility of conception. However, it does mean a couple must seek to bear children in their marriage. The argument to the contrary from the case of Onan in Genesis 38 does not take into consideration the issues of levirate marriage involved in that passage. This includes everything that prevents conception, to the murder of children conceived but not yet born. 1.8 children per woman, and it’s only that high because of the Hispanic population. We understand even the question of what it means to faithfully raise children in the fear of the Lord will garner disagreement. This aspect too bears serious consideration and discussion as each couple stands before God. It would be worthwhile to read a portion of the book God Marriage and Family we refer to a few paragraphs later. Pages 123-129 are germane. Another worthwhile resource is the book, Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? by Randy Alcorn. In addition to those sources, we have conferred with believing doctors we know personally. This is another article, but the main reason for this position is conclusive. At the moment of fertilization there is a complete genome (determining gender, eye color, height, body type, etc) in the new being. Therefore, the new being is another individual life separate from that of the father and mother. If an individual being with a complete genome, separate from the life of the mother and father is not a separate life, then what is it? If you ask a doctor (even some Christian ones) if a particular form of birth control causes an abortion he may say no, but that may be because he believes life does not begin at conception. He may also further confuse the issue by stating that this particular drug cannot terminate a pregnancy. This is because he may define pregnancy as beginning later than the moment of conception. The authors cite their credible medical sources. Kostenberger, Andreas J., and David W. Jones. God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation. 2nd ed. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. 337, footnote 29. Print. There are some Christian women who take birth control pills as medicine for other physical maladies. If that is you, then you ought to also use barrier methods of birth control to prevent the possibility of breaking the sixth commandment. We are not now saying anything about whether or not these should be used in any individual case, we are merely stating that these are the only ethical forms to use.

This article was originally published in the April 15, 2016 issue of The Standard Bearer and is reprinted here with permission. Rev. and Mrs. Griess live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Theology

The problem with "pan-millennialism"

“I’m not amillennial, postmillennial, or premillennial. I’m pan-millennial.” “Huh?” “Yep, I’m pan-millennial—I believe it will all pan out in the end!” I’ve occasionally heard this humorous remark made when the end times are discussed. Technically, if we believe in the biblical gospel, we should all be panmillennialists. The risen and ascended Christ will return and everything will “pan out” for believers who will ultimately enjoy “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). But the person who tells the “panmillennial” joke, and really means it, isn’t interested in details about the end times. He realizes that eschatology (the study of last things) is loaded with difficulties, and says, “I’m not going to think much about end times doctrine anymore. Jesus is going to make everything right when He comes again, and that’s good enough for me.” This man hasn’t just given up on figuring out what “a thousand years” means in Revelation 20, but has decided that thinking about the end times beyond generalities is just too hard and ultimately fruitless. There’s a major problem with the panmillennial mindset. The Bible does speak about the particulars of the end times, so to ignore those verses is to disregard what the Holy Spirit made sure was included. Furthermore, when we skip over those passages, we lose more than just knowledge. God has spoken in understandable ways about the end times to give us hope and joy Transforming grief The Thessalonian believers enthusiastically awaited the return of Christ (1 Thess 1:9-10). But after Paul was forced out of town by persecution, some believers died, sending the remaining Christians into a state of hopeless grief (4:13). They didn’t just miss the deceased believers, but apparently thought the dead believers would miss out on some blessing at Christ’s return. Paul addressed the Thessalonians’ ignorance by speaking of some of the details about the day of Christ’s return. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, he gave an order of some of the events of that day:

“The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.”

In the first frame of a Peanuts comic strip, Lucy is looking out the window and says, “Boy, look at it rain… What if it floods the whole world?” Linus responds, “It will never do that…In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that it would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.” Lucy replies, “You’ve taken a great load off my mind…” So Linus concludes, “Sound theology has a way of doing that!” Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead in order to give them sound theology so they could take a great load off of their minds. They needed to know that their beloved sleeping believers (4:13) wouldn’t miss anything when Jesus came back. Instead, they would have front-row seats! With that kind of information, their grief would undergo a dramatic transformation. Paul refused to ignore the details about the return of Christ in addressing the Thessalonians, because he understood how relevant and encouraging that information really was. He even charged them to “encourage one another with these words” (4:18). What words? The specific words about the believers who had died and their participation in the events surrounding Christ’s return. Blessed is the one… Revelation is full of end times information, yet it is one of the most neglected books of the Bible due to interpretive difficulties. However, in his opening comments John promises, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (1:3). We should humbly admit when we are confused about certain aspects of Christ’s return. Yet, not everything that God has said about the end times is puzzling. Read those verses carefully and thoughtfully, and blessing is sure to follow.

Copyright © 2013 Steve Burchett (www.BulletinInserts.org). Permission granted for reproduction in exact form.

Dating, Parenting

Marriable Men

Two qualities dads should look for in boys who want to date our daughters

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Here's a topic that's best to get to too early rather than too late - what sort of men should our daughters marry? Dads are going to have a lot of input in this decision, one way or another. If we actively try to influence our daughters – by example, through conversation, and by requiring interested young men to talk to us first – we'll point them to a certain sort of man. And if we don't talk about what makes a man marriable, if we aren't a good example of a godly man and good husband, and if we have no role in our daughter's dating life, then we'll point them to another sort of man. What kind of man do we want for our daughters? The answer is simple when we keep the description broad: a man who loves the Lord, and will be a good leader to his wife and children, who’s hardworking, and also active in his church. But what does this type of man look like as a boy? If our daughters are dating and getting married young, they'll unavoidably have a "work in progress." That's a description that fits all of us – sanctification is a lifelong process – but which is even more true for a boy/man in his late teens who hasn't yet shouldered the responsibilities of providing for himself, let alone a family. It's hard, at this point, to take the measure of the man he will become. How do we evaluate potential suitors when there isn't a lot of track record to look back on? We need to find out how they react to light and to leadership. 1. Light

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:19-21

Does a young man love the light? This is a characteristic that is easy for us dads to check up on. It's as simple as asking his parents if they know where he is on Friday and Saturday nights. Does he think it's no big deal to tell his parents where he will be? Or does he want to keep what he's up to a mystery? Does he have a problem with having his parents around when friends come over? Or has he introduced all his friends to them? When he goes out to other friends' houses does his group pick spots where parents are home? Or do they want their privacy? Many young men in our congregations are planning or attending events that take place late at night and far away from parental, or any other type of, supervision. They may not have a specific intent to get drunk or do other foolishness, but by fleeing from the light they've created the opportunity. A teen who tells his parents that it is none of their business where he is going is a boy who loves the dark. Another question to ask: does he have monitoring software on his computer – Covenant Eyes, for example – and would he be willing to show his smartphone to you? Would he be happy to let you know where he's been on the Internet? This would be a young man who is unafraid of, and loves, the Light. 2. Leaders

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... – Ephesians 5:25

There's a reason that young women are attracted to "bad boys." When the other young men they know are doing nothing all that bad and nothing at all remarkable, then an arrogant kid who doesn't care what anyone thinks can look like leadership material. He, at least, is not lukewarm. But this is the last man we would want for our daughters. His "leadership" recognizes no authority but his own. In contrast, God tells us that as heads to our wives we are called to serve, imitating Christ. Godly men don't dominate their wives; they die for them. So how can dads spot this sort of servant leadership in young men? It shows itself in big ways and little. In a church service, does he hold the songbook for his sister? Or does he have his hands in his pockets while his sister holds the book for him? Does he sing? Or is he too cool (too lukewarm) to praise God with enthusiasm? How does he treat his mom? If he treats her with respect – if he readily submits to authority – that is a good sign that he can be entrusted with authority. If he treats his mother shamefully, yelling at her, and ignoring what she asks, every young lady should beware! If he's a terror to someone placed over him, we don't need to guess how he will treat those under his authority. Another question to consider: did he take the servant-leader role in the relationship right from the beginning? In any boy-girl dynamic, someone has to be the first to say "I like you" and with that comes the very real risk of being the only one to say it. When that happens, it stings. So was this boy willing to stick his neck out for your daughter? Was he willing to risk looking the fool so she wouldn't have to? Or did he wait for her to take the lead and ask him out? How does he take correction? Any boy who dates our daughter is going to be, at best, a godly man partly formed. While we are all works in progress, not all of us recognize this – arrogant young men think themselves beyond the need of correction. If a potential suitor bristles at any suggestion from his elders, or if he's unwilling to apologize when he's wrong, then he is definitely the wrong sort for our daughters. We, instead, want the young man who, as we read in Proverbs 15:32, "heeds correction [and] gains understanding." Conclusion Young men hoping to get married are aspiring to a leadership role. But while marriage makes a man a leader, it won't magically make him a good one. Fortunately, leadership is a skill that can be learned, and love of the Light something we can grow in. So fathers shouldn't be expecting perfection. But we also shouldn't settle for lukewarm. It's one thing for a young man to not yet be the leader he could be, and something else entirely for him to not be aspiring to this role or preparing for it. It's one thing for a young man to not be seeking the Light as consistently or vigorously as he should, and another for him to be fleeing from it. Fathers, we want our daughters to marry young men who love the Lord and want to honor Him in their roles as husband, father, and elder. Let's be sure, then, that we teach them to look for true leaders who love the light.

A French version of this article can be found by clicking here.

Adult non-fiction, Theology

Calvinist vs. Arminian: a tale of two books

Why revisit the debate between Arminianism and Calvinism? Isn't it a waste of precious time to discuss these differences even as the world is aflame with political unrest? No, this is a debate that should always generate interest and discussion. Dr. J. I. Packer once observed that the very terms Calvinism and Arminianism represent opposition:

“The words are defined in terms of the antithesis, and the point is pressed that no Christian can avoid being on one side or the other."

Arminianism had considerable influence in Anglo-American theological developments and, on the surface, Calvinism might seem to have lost the battle in the theatre of American evangelicalism. Many evangelicals even believe that Calvinism is “irrelevant.” They say, “Christianity cannot possibly teach that.” With a commitment to egalitarianism and the rejection of the traditional doctrine of original sin, American culture is receptive to Arminianism. The Arminian emphasis on individualism and self-determination dominated much of 20th century American evangelicalism. Billy Graham, for instance, uses the language of Arminianism in his crusades when he asks attendees to "make a decision for Christ" – language that Calvinists find utterly foreign to their understanding of salvation. Revival of Calvinism So it seems clear that Calvinism does not fit the American ideal. Why would anyone be a Calvinist then? The reason is quite simple. The gospel of Jesus Christ is countercultural. Perhaps this is why Calvinism seems to appeal to young people, especially college students. There is also a renewed interest in Calvinism among the Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. What is at stake? But why should we know the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism? Because they represent stark opposing theological visions, at the heart of which are profoundly different views of God. Two books, published as a set of sorts, highlight just how profound the differences are: What I am not a Calvinist, by Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell, and Why I am not an Arminian by Robert Peterson and Michael Williams. The authors of Why I am not a Calvinist believe:

“...the heart of the matter is how we understand the character of God. The issue is not how powerful God is but what it means to say he is perfectly loving and good.....The breathtaking vision of God's Trinitarian love is obscured by the Calvinist claim that God passes over persons he could just as easily save and thereby consigns them to eternal misery."

The following questions then, are at issue: How are we saved from our sins and granted eternal life? Are human beings so fallen that they must be saved exclusively through the unilateral and unconditional actions of God? Is it possible for human beings to successfully resist the saving approaches of God's grace? Can any who were once truly redeemed through faith in Christ fail to receive final salvation? The tone of the debate Considering the seriousness of the differences, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the history of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism has been one of intense and often "mean-spirited" confrontation. However, Why I am not an Arminian's authors aims to treat their Arminian brothers and sisters in Christ as they would want to be treated. They also note that the Synod of Dordt was right to condemn the Arminian misrepresentation of the saving ways of God. "Yet we do not think of Arminianism as a heresy or Arminian Christians as unregenerate." They observe that Calvinists and Arminians are brothers in Christ. In other words:

“The issue of the debate is not between belief and unbelief but rather which of two Christian perspectives better represents the biblical portrayal of the divine-human relationship in salvation and the contribution of both God and man in human history."

And Why I am not a Calvinist authors rightly say,

"We should all speak with a measure of care and reserve when delivering our interpretative conclusions."

Why I am not a Calvinist So what type of argument do the authors Why I am not a Calvinist make? They first provide some background. Arminianism has its roots in the work of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). It teaches that salvation is available to anybody who exercises faith; it contrasts with the Calvinist understanding that God alone determines who is and who is not among the elect. Arminian popular belief tends toward the overestimation of human ability and the human redemptive contribution. Traditional Arminianism believes that the death of Christ provides grace for all persons and that, as result of his atonement, God extends sufficient grace to all persons through the Holy Spirit to counteract the influence of sin and to enable a response to God. But, they argue, it is possible for sinners to resist God's initiative and to persist in sin and rebellion. Arminianism believes that God's grace enables and encourages a positive and saving response for everyone, but it does not determine a saving response for anyone. Furthermore, an initial positive response of faith doesn't guarantee one's final salvation:

“It is possible to begin a genuine relationship with God but then later turn from him and persist in evil so that one is finally lost.”

In 1610, the disciples of Jacobus Arminius produced a manifesto called the Remonstrance, which they regarded as a corrective to the Calvinist doctrine of election. The authors view the divine election of Israel and Christ as “that tree of redemption into which all persons can be incorporated by faith.” They state:

“God doesn't unconditionally predestine particular persons to salvation. Rather, election is in Christ, and all are saved who do not knowingly and persistently refuse God's gracious offer of life.”

Interestingly, Why I am not Calvinist's authors go beyond traditional Arminianism, and seem favorably inclined to Openness Theology, also called Open Theism. Advocates of Open Theism have argued that while God knows everything that can be known, He cannot have exhaustively definite knowledge of the future. Since the future will involve decisions made by genuinely free creatures, knowledge of the future is said to be impossible, by definition. Since God doesn't know future free choices, the future is not completely settled. Clark Pinnock, a noted Open Theism advocate says, “Some prophecies are conditional, leaving the future open, and presumably, God's knowledge of it.” And Richard Rice argues, "Where human decision is presupposed, God cannot achieve his purpose unilaterally. He requires our cooperation.” Open Theist theologians acknowledge “the triune God of love has, in almighty power, created all that is and is sovereign over all,” but in His freedom and desire to enter into a relationship of love with humanity has “decided to make some of his actions contingent upon our requests and actions.” They also believe that God is “dependent on the world in certain respects.” Consequently, they propose that the traditional view of God's infallible foreknowledge is a conviction that should be dispensed with. Open Theist theologians seem to highly esteem people while limiting God. For example, according to Pinnock human freedom can be won only by surrendering divine foreknowledge. I agree with those theologians who call Open Theism radicalized Arminianism. And if our future free actions cannot be known with certainty, even by God, how can we believe in the fulfillment of prophecy? Why would God "promise" anything if He cannot know the future or guarantee it by His almighty power? For the authors, the doctrine of election does not seem to hold any mystery. In fact, an appeal to mystery scandalizes them. They claim that some Calvinists “make a hasty retreat to mystery” when faced with charges of inconsistency. And they argue, “It isn't a sign of true piety for one to be willing to dispense with logical coherence in the name of mystery.” They critique John Piper's declaration that the potter has absolute rights over the clay, and if God chooses not to save some persons, it is not for us to understand but simply to adore. Interestingly, on the one hand the authors state that Calvinists have been zealous evangelists and missionaries and have contributed powerfully to the cause of winning the lost for Christ. On the other hand, they argue that Calvinists can't make coherent sense of their claim that God makes a bona fide offer of salvation to persons he has not elected for salvation, nor can they explain how God can truly have compassion for such persons. They claim, “the consequences for evangelistic preaching are profound indeed.” Why I am not an Arminian What are the counter arguments from the authors of Why I am not an Arminian? In their carefully reasoned, understandable exposition of Calvinism, they address the historical context, theological concerns, and biblical texts in a readable manner. In fact, they are Bible-centered in their presentation. They point out that the question of ecclesiastical authority and the integrity of the church as a confessional body was an intense bone of contention for both sides in the struggle between the Calvinists and the Arminians within the Dutch church. The Calvinists argued that a Reformed church is a confessional church. Hence they pleaded for the maintenance of particular confessional standards. Following in the tradition of Erasmus of Rotterdam, however, the Arminians championed the liberty of the individual conscience relative to doctrinal standards. The authors show that Calvin was not the first one to talk about reprobation or the absolute sovereignty of God. They point to the church father Augustine who emphasized the utter dependence of man upon God alone for salvation and the supremacy of grace to the exclusion of all human contribution. His teaching has proven a problem for many Christians throughout the centuries, and it still lies at the heart of the Arminian rejection of Calvinism, which was in many ways a 16th century revival of Augustine's teaching on sin and grace. The authors show that Calvinism stands for the doctrine that all humankind is sinful. Human beings will not and cannot make their way to God, retrieve their own lives or earn their own salvation. If humankind is to be saved, God must act. God must be gracious. Human beings are utterly dependent upon the saving grace of God. And apparently, God has not acted on behalf of all. He has not chosen to be gracious to all human beings. Sovereign in His grace, God showered His redemptive love upon a Jacob but not on an Esau. It is a mistake, therefore, to pit individual and corporate election against each other. In other words, egalitarian fairness – treating all persons the same – may be a cultural ideal for the modern West, but there is no biblical reason to suppose that God shares it. The authors write:

"For his own reasons, God assumes the right to save one and not another – a Jacob, for example, and not his older, more talented brother; for Esau, left to himself and his sinfulness, is deserving divine wrath.”

Why does God elect some and others are passed by? God does not elect Abraham and Jacob based on foreseen merit or even foreseen faith. The basis of their election is God's love and will. The authors also show that both individual and corporate election are taught in the Old Testament. God chose Abraham and Jacob, also the nation of Israel. As fallen human beings, Calvinists struggle with a sovereignty that stretches and often transcends our abilities to discern the redemptive ways of God. Scripture leads us to the contention that divine sovereignty – God always prevails – is compatible with human freedom. God is not rendered idle by a world ruled by human freedom. Furthermore, in the new heaven and earth:

“the ultimate life of the redeemed will not include libertarian freedom, the ability to choose sin rather than obedience, apostasy rather than faithfulness.”

The authors also show that Calvinism is much broader in scope than the TULIP doctrine. The five points of Calvinism do not sufficiently define Calvinism, and certainly do not say all there is to be said about the Reformed faith. They affirm the five points of Calvinism but also a Reformed understanding of the church and sacraments. They explain the particular Reformed contribution to Christian reflection on the covenant and the kingdom of God. They also stress the church as the people of God with a call to seek a cultural life in the world that is typified by justice, mercy, and a transformational vision for individual vocational life. Both Arminians and Calvinists agree that not all believe. One person hears the gospel as the word of life; another sees it as foolishness. But the authors of Why I am not a Calvinist critique Piper's rejection of "the wider hope," which holds that saving grace is available to all persons, not just those who have heard the gospel in this life. The Cannons of Dordt follow Augustine in their explanation. God has sovereignly chosen to save some but not all. And unlike Arminianism, Calvinism believes in the perseverance of the saints. The Canons of Dordt judged the Arminian agnosticism regarding perseverance as a hopeless position. If our salvation depends on us, whether it be our merits, our will or even our striving to keep in step with God's grace, we are most surely lost. The authors of Why I am not a Calvinist claim that an emphasis on God's sovereignty in salvation hinders evangelism, yet that emphasis encouraged the apostle Paul to continue preaching. In the line of Paul, Calvinists believe that the message of the cross is to be presented to all in order that they may believe and be pardoned. The good news of a provided forgiveness is to be as universally proclaimed as is the command to repent. God commands us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and to every person in it. The Synod of Dordt did not see the doctrine of particular atonement as compromising preaching in the slightest. "God wants all to hear the gospel, but He intends to save only some. Why that is the case, we don't know." As evidence of the compatibility of belief in limited atonement, and a fire for spreading the gospel, Calvinists can refer to Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles H. Spurgeon and Francis Schaeffer. They proclaimed a redemption that is definite and yet good news and offered an invitation addressed to all. Much more can be said about the differences between Calvinism and Arminians. I hope that this summary review will enhance our readers' love for our Calvinist heritage and the rich doctrines of sovereign grace.

Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. Many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections. 

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Tagged: Christine Farenhorst, death, evangelism, featured

“And behold, I come quickly” – the dying need to hear the gospel

He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be. (Rev. 22:11-12) 

**** 

Many people harbor the delusion that when they will die, they will simply continue in the state they are in. They exhibit no visible doubt, no terror, about the passage from this brief life to eternity.

Nearing the end

In the fall of 2015, during the course of a sunny morning, my husband, daughter, and daughter-in-law were beginning to slaughter fourteen meatbirds by our chicken coop. They were skinning and gutting with gusto, each heartily approaching their respective jobs, when the dog began to bark and bark. He generally only barks when people approach. As it was my job to wash and bag the birds, and as none were ready yet, I took it upon myself to investigate. Following the sound of the barking, I walked past the side of our house towards the driveway. There was a small car parked at the very end of the driveway, close to the road. My first thought was that it was the mailman who sometimes personally delivers packages. As I began to approach the car, thinking the man might be a little worried about encountering our still barking canine, a voice spoke behind me.

“Hello there.”

Turning, I saw an older fellow emerge from our garage. He rather startled me. Very well-dressed in a grey suit, it occurred to me immediately that our mailman had changed, had grown older, and had discarded his usual tee shirt. But it was not the mailman. I observed this in the second instant as I noted the Bible and a Watchtower tract clasped in the gentleman’s veined hands. He smiled, exhibiting wonderfully white dentures, reminding me strongly of a friend we had a long time ago – a Dutch gentleman who has since died. It’s strange how many thoughts can pass through your mind in the space of a few seconds.

The old fellow extended his hand and I shook it, admonishing Spurgeon, our faithful watchdog, to stop barking. (But the truth was that he was being a faithful Spurgeon.)

“You are a Jehovah’s Witness,” I said.

He nodded in agreement.

Perhaps I should have given him time to get into his spiel but thinking of the chickens to which I had to return, I immediately followed with, “I’m sorry, but you and I are going to disagree on a very basic truth – the truth that Jesus Christ is God.”

He nodded happily and enthusiastically in apparent total agreement.

“Jesus was a good man,” he smiled, “and a god.”

There is a certain amount of sadness about disagreeing with pleasant people. It is much easier to disagree with nasty people. Here was a feeble, old man, possibly 90 plus, with one foot in the grave, willfully denying the Savior. There is nothing more dismal.

“Yes”, I replied, “I know that you believe that He is a good man, but He is also God. I do respect your zeal in going door to door, but your zeal is not based on the right knowledge.”

“The doctor has only given me a year to live,” he responded, “I have cancer.”

I was totally caught off guard and shocked at this revelation and asked what kind of cancer he had. He told me it was bone cancer and prostate cancer.

“I’ve stopped taking the radiation and chemo treatments,” he said, “and feel so much better since I have stopped. And now I spend time doing this.”

I told him he had done well to stop the treatments and passed on some information about natural treatments he could look into. I also asked him over for supper some time in the future as he lived in a town not too far from our home. And, guess what? He was Dutch. He said he’d check it out with his wife who was waiting in the car. He was, humanly speaking, such a very nice gentleman.

I patted his arm, gave him our name, and said, “Before you leave I have to tell you once more that Jesus is the only way. He is truly God and our only Savior.”

And there he went, smiling affably, thin as a rail, cheerfully on his way to hell unless God opened his eyes.

Unsure of the end

The next day there was another strange encounter as I was waiting in the line-up at the TD bank. It was raining outside and leaves were swirling around on the sidewalk. The sixty-plus lady waiting in front of me turned around. She was very talkative.

“You look happy,” she said to me, “Why is that?”

Not waiting to hear an answer, she went on to conduct a diatribe against the weather. I interposed by saying it was rather cozy and that when she went home, she could turn on the lights and curl up in a comfy chair with a good book. She thought this was a good idea but then, jumping from one thought to another, said she was sorry she was getting older.

“Well,” I replied,” you wouldn’t want to not get older.”

“Yes, I would,” she said, “I don’t like getting older.”

She was a well-groomed woman, a trifle shorter than I was, with an immaculate hairdo and tailored clothes, and she repeated emphatically, “I don’t want to get older.”

“Well,” I countered, “you know what the alternative is.”

For a minute she gazed at me, wide-eyed, and then I asked her if she was a Christian. The immediate response was “Yes.”

“Well, in that case,” I smiled, “you know where you are going in the long run.”

She broke up laughing at this statement, as if I had told her a joke.

“Heaven or hell,” she chortled.

I nodded and then, again changing the subject, she asked if I didn’t just love the pope? Wasn’t it marvelous how he identified with the poor, and wasn’t he a wonderful example? I responded by saying that we should all be examples, but that we couldn’t be unless our hearts were changed. She eyed me a little warily now, and I added that I would like to hear the pope say that people’s hearts should be changed instead of hearing him speak about climate change. She pondered this, clearly at a loss for words for a moment, but then was called to the bank wicket.

“Nice chatting,” she said.

What a strange bank visit!

****

We did visit the Jehovah Witness gentleman and his wife several times. We were received graciously. He died several months later, confident that he had no need of Jesus as God at all.

In pursuit of exceptions

It is a sobering thought, as Octavius Winslow, (1808-1878), pointed out in one of his devotions, that human character,

…which time has been shaping for years, yields to the demands of eternity in the precise mold in which it was formed. Death hands over the soul to the scrutiny and the decision of the judgment exactly as life relinquished it. [Death], the “king of terrors,” has received no commission and possesses no power to effect a moral change in the transit of the spirit to the God who gave it. Its office is to unlock the cell and conduct the prisoner into court. It can furnish no plea, it can suggest no argument, it can correct no error, it can whisper no hope to the pale and trembling being on his way to the bar. The warden must present the criminal to the Judge precisely as the officer delivered him to the warden, with all the marks and evidences of criminality and guilt clinging to him as at the moment of arrest…. Do not men die mostly as they have lived? The infidel dies in infidelity, the profligate dies in profligacy, atheists die in atheism, the careless die in indifference, and the formalist dies in formality. There are exceptions…”

We will, all of us, have encounters each day with neighbors and strangers, on driveways and in shopping malls, encounters in which possibly we might be allowed to address that exception.

 

Christine Farenhort’s new devotional The Sweet Taste of Providence is available in Canada at www.Sola-Scriptura.ca/store/shop and can be ordered by phone 1-800-563-3529.


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