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The point of this blog is not to attack Calvinist per se although I find that I write articles questioning Calvinism often. The reason for this is the rise in Calvinism and its popularity among bloggers in particular. I have been in this “fight” for many years as I attended a Calvinistic college. I was one of a few Arminians and none of us spoke out much against Calvinism for fear of attacks (and this was in the early 1990′s). I know people wonder if I am seeking to “convert” Calvinists and my answer is no. I have no desire to convert a Calvinist if in fact that Calvinist is in love with Christ and seeking Him. My hope is that all disciples of Jesus will find Him to be their focus, love, passion, desire and aim and not Calvin or Arminius.
That said, I have had a few Calvinists come to my side. All of them were in college with me and all of them were “converted” not from theological debates but from pure passion for Jesus. Let me explain.
When I was in college, it was known that I was not a Calvinist. Yet I hungered for God and His presence. You could often find me and a group of international students praying at 4 AM at our prayer towers. We longed for God and not for dry theological debates. We wanted the presence of Jesus more than life itself. We had been saved out of sin and we knew it. Our devotion to Him was not purely academic but was from a deep love for our Savior. When a few Calvinists asked me to debate them once I replied, “I will talk to you about these things but first let us retire to my dorm room and spend a few hours in prayer and worship of our God before we speak of such matters.” They rejected my offer. Yet one guy took me up on my offer and we began to meet in a small room to pray. He told me he wanted to learn to pray. I gave him books on prayer from Leonard Ravenhill and we often talked about prayer and about God’s passion for His glory. He learned to be earnest in prayer and he became a mighty man of prayer. This led him away from arguing about Calvinism to preaching the glory of the risen Christ. His concern was no longer on debating with the saved but with preaching to the lost. He changed sides and all out of passion.
My advice then to my fellow Arminians is to point out that you will not win the debate with Calvinists through arguments. They, like you, are convinced that they are correct. The way to win is to preach the Lord Jesus and allow Him to glorify His name through saving of souls. Spend hours on your face in prayer and worship. Cast aside your theology books for a while and learn to pray (Luke 11:1). John Wesley was asked once how he drew large crowds in his open air preaching and he replied, “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.” I pray that we would do the same, both Arminians and Calvinists.
This debate has been going for now over 500 years. Are you convinced, oh Arminian or Calvinist, that you will end this debate with your wit? This debate will be going, if Jesus should tarry, for another 500 years. Yet you will not endure. You will die. So will I. Only what is done for Christ will last (1 Corinthians 3:12-14). Let us focus on eternity and be zealous to please God. The goal for us disciples is to worship our King through our words, our minds, our hearts, our obedience but I find nothing that suggests that winning a debate is the key to glorifying Christ. I don’t want to convert Calvinists. I want to exalt Christ!
I have been told four times in my life that I was not saved. The first was a guy in college who learned that I rejected eternal security and held to conditional security (1 Peter 1:5) and personal apostasy. He told me I was a heretic and was lost. He spent the next year seeking to belittle me by walking past me in classes or in the hall and saying to me, “Heretic.” I would just smile and walk away. In my unsaved days, I would have beat him up. Sadly, that guy fell away about a year later and as far as I know, he never repented and remains lost. That is the saddest part of that story to me (1 Corinthians 10:12).
The next time I was told I was unsaved was by a Columbia Church of Christ follower (from the old ICOC days). He told me that since I was not baptized in water as a disciple in the ICOC, I was not saved. We debated this and eventually we parted ways. I don’t know what became of him after the old ICOC split. I moved away from the area and lost touch with him completely. I pray he is trusting in Christ alone to save him and not his works nor his baptism (Isaiah 64:6; Titus 3:5-7).
The third time was via e-mail from a Calvinist who told me I was worshiping a false god, the god of Arminianism he called it. He said that I, along with all Arminians, would burn in hell for our mockery of the true God as found in Calvinism. Oh well. I simply replied back, “Love you too bro.” He would send me e-mails from time to time and probably is reading this post. He perhaps will send me yet another e-mail saying I worship a false god, that I want credit for MY salvation, that I am a heretic, etc. But it has been a while since he e-mailed me so maybe there is hope that I am finally saved. I doubt it.
The fourth time happened this weekend! I was told by a Calvinist that I am lost because I am not a Calvinist and I don’t hold to perseverance of the saints. Although I reassured him that I do hold to perseverance of the saints in that saints must persevere in Christ to remain saints through faith in Him, he said that was works-righteousness and thus I am lost. When I wrote him and said that I am saved by grace through faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) he again assured me that I held to works-righteousness. When I told him that I believe in Acts 15:11, that we are saved by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, he assured me yet again that I am lost and hold to works-righteousness. And why you ask? Because I don’t accept the Calvinist teaching on unconditional election and I reject monergism and hold to conditional security in Christ. Since I am not a Calvinist, I am not saved.
Of course, this is all ridiculous. Salvation doesn’t come through John Wesley or Alexander Campbell or John Newton or Leonard Ravenhill. Salvation is in Christ alone. Faith clearly is not a work as we see in Romans 4 where Paul contrasts works with faith. Simply because I believe that God’s grace enables us to believe the gospel and through faith we are saved, this means that I am lost? Simply because I reject unconditional election and believe the doctrine to be based on Calvinistic presuppositions instead of Scripture means that I am lost? Simply because I believe that through prevenient grace, God, in His love and mercy, allows people to choose to follow Him and doesn’t force them (or drag them as R.C. Sproul says about John 6:44) to salvation, I am lost?
When did the confession for Christ (Romans 10:9-13) become Calvinism? When did the confession for being a Protestant mean that I have to follow the teachings of Luther or Calvin to the smallest letter? The cry of the Reformation was “always reforming.” Yet Arminius was not allowed to reform the teachings of Calvin or Beza?
Frankly, I praise God that salvation is not based on your ism. There will be many Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Calvinists, and Arminians in hell on the day of the final judgment (Matthew 7:21-23). The only people who go to heaven are those who are Jesus’ people (Matthew 1:21). Those who simply acknowledged Jesus or prayed some sinner’s prayer are not guaranteed heaven. Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people (John 14:1-3) who follow Christ and love Him above all else (1 John 5:13 NKJV).
I praise God that my hope is on Christ and not Arminius (2 Peter 1:10-11).
The representations of grace that the scriptures contain, are such as describe it capable of “being resisted,” (Acts 7:51) and “received in vain” (2 Cor 6:1), and that it is possible for man to avoid yielding his assent to it and refuse all cooperation with it (Heb 12:15, Matt 23:37, Luke 7:30). While, on the contrary, this [Calvinist] Predestination affirms that grace is a certain irresistible force and operation.
In this manner, I ascribe to grace the commencement, the continuance and the consummation of all good. To such an extent do I carry its influence that a man, though already regenerate, can neither conceive, will, or do any good at all, nor resist any evil temptation , without this preventing [i.e. preceding] and exciting, this following and co-operating grace.
From this statement it will clearly appear, that I by no means do injustice to grace, by attributing, as it is reported of me, too much to man’s free will. For the whole controversy reduces itself to the solution of this question, “Is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?’ That is, the controversy does not relate to those actions or operations which may be ascribed to grace (for I acknowledge and inculcate as many of these actions or operations as any man ever did), but it relates solely to the mode of operation, whether it be irresistible or not. With respect to which, I believe, according to the scriptures, that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered. (From Arminius Speaks: Essential Writings on Predestination, Free Will and the Nature of God, ed. John Wagner, pp. 45, 69)
The team at Juicy Ecumenism was kind enough to publish my reflections on a few things the church must learn from the initial silence on the Gosnell trial by mainstream media outlets. Here’s an excerpt:
Abortion and infanticide are two stops on a single road, and
the road has a downhill slope. Make no mistake. The current situation in which
abortion practitioners are engaging in infanticide is the result of our
desensitization by the decades long effort to devalue and destroy the lives of
the preborn. Sin and death always look for new territory to conquer, and having
eradicated the safety of the womb, they now proceed to do violence against the
newly born. They will not stop until infanticide is canonized as a basic
constitutional right of free choice. Then they will move on to wreak havoc and
Don’t believe me? It’s already happening. As I’ve indicated above, a
representative of Planned Parenthood has argued that ending the life of a child
born after a botched abortion should be a decision left to the woman and her
doctor. Sound familiar? The exact same language that was used to normalize
abortion-on-demand is now being applied to infanticide. In 2011, two
bioethicists argued in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Ethics that
ending the life of a newborn, which they nonsensically call “after-birth
abortion”, is moral and should be permitted under law. Sure, there is
outrage now, but give it a little time. Congressional testimony and the
scholarly opinions of allegedly respected ethicists are significant steps down
the path to what will one day be horrifically
called safe, legal, and rare infanticide. It would take only a single
lawsuit heard by the Supreme Court in which the petitioner claims an undue
burden in maintaining the life of a newborn baby to change the law of the land.
We aren’t there yet, but we are closer than we think.
The rest of the essay considers how the gospel should inform the church’s response to the Gosnell horror. Read it here.
Ephesians 1:13 says,
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.
Let us work through this text to see the order of salvation.
First, we must hear the gospel (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47; John 20:21; Acts 1:8; Romans 10:14-17).
Secondly, we must believe in Jesus (John 3:16; 6:29; 20:31; Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:9-10).
Thirdly, at this point we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit or born again (John 3:3-7; Romans 3:21-26; 4:24-5:1; 8:9, 15; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Galatians 3:13-14).
So the order of salvation here in Ephesians 1:13 would be:
Hear the Gospel ———> Believe the Gospel ————-> Be Sealed With The Spirit
This runs contrary to the Reformed view that regeneration must precede faith for salvation.
Arminians such as myself are thankful that Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) and that the gospel is to be preached to all (Mark 16:15). I am thankful that God calls all to repent (Acts 17:30-31). I am thankful that Jesus died for all so that all can come and be saved through faith in Him (John 1:29; 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:1-6; 1 John 2:1-2). All who come to Christ are the elect of God through faith in Christ (1 Timothy 4:10). Those who go to hell go to hell because of their rejection of Christ and their love for sin (Mark 16:16; Revelation 21:7-8).
Calvinism teaches that God also gives a general call to salvation for all to come and be saved. This general call goes to all nations. However, since Christ died only for the elect, only the elect will receive a special, inward call or effectual call that the Holy Spirit works in their hearts to regenerate them so that they can exercise the gift of faith and be saved. Calvinists believe that this general call to salvation is a sincere call from a loving God for people to come to faith in Christ.
The problem is that one will be hard pressed to show that this is a sincere call from God for people to be saved. Consider this, in Calvinism God elects people before time began and He reprobates others (the vast majority in fact). God then sends His Son to die for the elect that He predestined. God then tells the elect to go and preach the gospel to the non-elect whom He has rejected and whom He has left in their sins when He could have chosen them if He wanted to. How is this a sincere call? The fallen creatures cannot respond to the gospel apart from God’s intervention but we are told that God is still sincere in His desire for them to come and be saved despite the fact that A) He has not chosen them to do so and B) He has made sure that they will not hear His effectual call to salvation.
Now the Calvinist says that God is good and loving and that He could have left all in their sins without hope of redemption. This is certainly true but I am thankful that Scripture reveals that God has sent His Son to redeem all of humanity who would come and be saved. When the Philippians jailor asked what he must do to be saved in Acts 16:30, the consistent Calvinist would have to tell him, “Nothing, unless God has called you and then you will respond to His effectual, special call.” Yet Paul told him to look to Christ to be saved. This is the call of the Arminian, to preach to all to look to Christ to be saved and this call is not a hidden, secretive call but a true call to repentance. We believe that our evangelism is consistent with our view that Christ died for all (2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2).
Consider this from the book Why I Am Not a Calvinist:
Only the elect can actually accept the offer of salvation and be saved.
Not all are elect.
Not all persons can actually accept the offer of salvation and be saved.
God makes a bona fide offer of salvation to all persons.
A bona fide offer is one that can actually be accepted by the person to whom it is extended.
All persons can actually accept the offer of salvation and be saved.
Do you see the contradiction here? The Calvinist says that God makes a bona fide call for people to be saved. Yet not all can come and be saved since God has elected to save only those whom He has predestined to save. Therefore, this cannot be a bone fide call to salvation. God is not sincere in His call for the lost to be saved in Christ.
Arminianism is superior here because our call is truthful. All can be saved through faith in Christ. Where Jesus is preached, He draws sinners to Himself (John 6:44; 12:32; Romans 10:17). Those who repent are saved through faith and added to the Church (Acts 2:37-39, 47). Our cry to the nations is repent! Our cry is to look to Christ to be saved. There is no salvation apart from Him (John 14:6). Our passion should be to make His name known in all nations so that all can be saved (Romans 10:13). Our passion should be to glorify Christ through faithful preaching of His salvation to all (Luke 24:47). Christ died for all so that all can be saved (2 Peter 3:9). Praise God for that truth!
Here is a video of Dr. Jerry Walls teaching on what is wrong with Calvinism from an Arminian-Wesleyan perspective.
Some believe that Romans 14:4 clearly teaches eternal security. The passage reads:
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
The ending there is where people get this idea that this text teaches unconditional eternal security. I believe Dan Corner’s comments from his book, The Believer’s Conditional Security, is worth repeating:
1. That verse only applies to one serving God, not one serving his own flesh (sinful nature)! If a Christian sows to please his own sinful nature, he will reap destruction instead of eternal life (Galatians 6:8-10).
2. Also in Romans 14, verse 21 definitely states the possibility of one being the cause of a brother falling. Therefore, the possibility of not standing must exist or there would be no chance of falling. Hence, a condition must exist thought it isn’t plainly stated.
I would add myself that for the disciple of Jesus we have the promise that He will keep us by grace through faith (Jude 24-25) and yet we are told to persevere in the faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Colossians 1:21-23). It is much like many of the other promises of God that are conditioned upon us looking to Him such as in prayer (Matthew 7:7-11) but this promise requires prayer in faith (James 1:6). In the same way, we have the promises of assurance and eternal salvation in Christ but the key is to have faith in Christ (2 Peter 1:10-11).
Rick Warren has been heavily criticized over his son’s suicide. I agree that only jerks would use this tragedy as a chance to attack the Warrens, but I would also like to address the reasons why the complaints are invalid, not just rude. One specific complaint I would like to address is the idea that since Christians are supposed to be different, how can this happen in a Christian home?
When God regenerates a sinner, he does change their lives resulting in great moral reform. So how is it that a regenerate person can suffer from chronic mental illness? Science tells us that those with mental disorders have differences in their brains:
Regeneration takes place in the person’s soul, not their body or brain. Sure, Christ healed the sick in the past and he could heal a person’s brain. But just as regeneration does not normally result in removing physical blindness, so also it does not normally resolve mental disorders. So when a person with mental disorder dies, their disorder brain will remain in the grave while their soul lives on.
To be sure, when God created Adam from the ground and breathed life into him, Adam couldn’t have had a mental disorder. What God created was very good. Likewise, in the resurrection, none will have mental disorders. But because of the fall and until Christ makes all things new, mental illness exists.
Now I am sure that God has a stunning array of good reasons for not healing all mental disorders, but I would like to explore one. The suffering mental disorders causes can be a suffering for Christ. 1 Peter 2:20 says But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. Even if your struggle is with your own mental illness, if you are fighting to live the Christian life and suffering for it, God will reward you.
Arminianism has historically taught that personal apostasy is a very real possibility in the life of the believer. A person can believe the gospel and then become sluggish, indulge the flesh into sin, and ultimately turn away from trusting in Christ alone for their salvation and commit personal apostasy (Hebrews 6:4-20; 10:19-39 along with many others).
Calvinism has historically taught that once God has chosen a person from eternity past (divine, unconditional election) then He will save that person (irresistible grace) and seal them unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13). Thus a true saint of God will always persevere. Those who fail to persevere prove they were never regenerated to begin with (1 John 2:19).
So instead of going over what Arminians and Calvinists disagree over, let us turn to what they agree with and that is the condition of the apostate. The Arminian views the apostate as once saved but now lost. The Calvinist views the apostate as never saved and still lost. However, both agree that the apostate is lost. Both affirm that the apostate should repent. Both should affirm that the apostate, unless they repent, will not inherit eternal life.
In essence, both Arminianism and Calvinism teaches that it is necessary for saints to persevere. While Calvinists will say that a true saint will persevere, nonetheless they also affirm that the true saint must persevere. Both agree that a saint is a saint through faith in Christ. Both affirm that salvation is focused completely upon the Lord Jesus Christ and His grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Some Calvinists attempt to argue that Arminians are still lost because they deny that faith is the gift of God given only to the elect. I find this ridiculous. We both acknowledge that salvation is not by works (Titus 3:5-7) and that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:14-17). We may disagree over the nature of election (whether it is conditioned upon faith or not) but we both agree that a sinner believes the gospel by their own free will (whether it be compatible with God’s sovereignty or with libertarian freedom is another issue). God does not believe for us. We must believe to be saved. Even those Calvinists who hold to regeneration before faith would still argue that faith is something the person does by the grace of God. Again, God does not believe for us nor does He force us to believe against our will but according to Calvinism, He makes us willing to believe. Arminianism teaches that God’s Spirit and His grace enable the sinner to believe out of their own free will and the sinner can reject the gospel if they harden their hearts to His call (Luke 7:30). A key text is Luke 7:50 where Jesus tells the sinful woman that her faith saved her. Jesus didn’t say someone else’s faith saved her but her own faith saved her.
Yet both agree that a truly saved person must continue in the faith. Only those who hold to a more radical view of “once saved, always saved” would argue that a person need not continue in the faith. Both Arminians and Calvinists would appeal to the same texts regarding the security of the saint such as John 10:27-29 or Romans 8:38-39 or Jude 24-25 and both would appeal to texts that teach we must continue until the end to be saved (Matthew 24:13; John 15:1-11; Acts 14:22; Romans 11:20-22; 1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Galatians 5:1-4; Colossians 1:21-23; 1 John 2:28-29; 5:13 NKJV). If the person fails to remain faithful to the Lord Jesus, the Arminian would view them as having fallen from grace whereas the Calvinist would view the person as never saved to begin with. But both would acknowledge (or should at least) that the said person must repent or they will not be in heaven.
From time to time my mind drifts back to the 1990′s when I first got saved and when it seemed everywhere I went, people were talking about revival. I remember the Bible teacher that I sat under those early days of my salvation would often weep over the need for revival. He would talk about the great revivals of Church history and then he would weep over the lack of revival in our day. I remember hearing men of God like David Wilkerson or Leonard Ravenhill speaking on revival and how we needed a move of God. We believed, in those days, that revival would make things right.
In 1995 Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida begin to say that revival had come. On Father’s Day, evangelist Steve Hill preached to the large Assembly of God church and revival services began. The revival would continue night after night from 1995 to about 2000. The revival would slow and finally ended in 2002. I visited Brownsville Assembly of God three times. I first went in August of 1996 but I admit I went with a critical spirit. Myself and a friend of mine attended for a week in August, 1996 and while I was not 100% on board with the revival, I did see many good things. The gospel was preached with a cry to repentance. Prayer was powerful. The hunger for the presence of God was intense. There were bizarre physical manifestations and there were folks there for experiences instead of hungering for Christ but I walked away believing that there was much good going on at Brownsville despite the claims of the detractors who hated the revival. It was there also that I met Dr. Michael Brown for the first time and I was impressed with his knowledge and his zeal for the Lord.
I visited Brownsville two more times with teenagers in 1997 and in 2002. By the time we came in 2002, the atmosphere had changed dramatically and the revival was nearly over. Dr. Brown had left to start the Fire School of Ministry in Concord, NC and the revival days were over.
What I miss about all this is not the excess flesh. I miss the passion for God. I miss seeing teenagers crammed into a building on Thursday nights for the youth service and hearing brother Richard Crisco preaching the Word of God. I miss the prayer meeting on Tuesday night that was packed with intercessors crying out to the Lord. I miss the worship of God that filled your heart with joy. I miss hearing of revivals breaking out in other places from Brownsville. I do admit that not all of the revival was correct. After all, we are talking about a revival among fallen flesh. There is no such thing as a perfect revival. Every revival will feature things that we don’t like or approve. Thankfully God uses fallen people despite our sins and errors.
I can’t remember the last time I heard someone speak of being hungry for revival. Gone are the days of Ravenhill or Wilkerson I fear. Where is the hunger for God’s presence? Where is the passion for God in prayer? Where are the thousands of intercessors who would shut themselves in a room for a night of seeking God? Brownsville was not perfect but I miss the passion. I miss the zeal. I miss the joy of the Lord in singing praises to our King. I miss the reports of souls getting saved. I miss the Friday night baptisms. I miss the hunger for the Holy Spirit to be fully active in our lives.
Oh where are those who hunger for revival? Oh God send the fire (Acts 2:17)!
For more information on Brownsville Assembly of God check out this article.
Here is an excellent article on what will come next following the American culture adopting same-sex “marriage” as normal. The Church is facing a time when we need to cry out to God for revival and to be faithful in preaching the gospel (Acts 1:8). This alone can transform our nation.
You can find the article here.
It is clear in Scripture that we believe and this saves us. We are not regenerated to believe but we believe to be saved or born again or regenerated. This post does a good job teaching this important point.
There is no doubt that postmodernism is taking hold of our society. From the issue of same-sex “marriage” to drugs to almost anything, the cry of the age is to allow for people to have personal freedoms and for no one to say that another person’s personal freedoms are wrong so long as those “freedoms” are viewed as what the culture likes. Romans 1:32 fulfills this view:
Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
What culture views as appropriate is what is being championed today. The majority wins.
And this is effecting the Church as well. From the heretical emergent movement (that is thankfully dying) to the seeker church to the evangelical church, we see a move toward postmodern thinking taking hold of the Church. One way that I see clearly is the loss of desire from Bible teachers to be dogmatic over theological issues. I have a buddy who is open to Catholics being saved even if they hold to Catholic teachings faithfully. Perhaps there are Catholics out there who are truly born again of the Spirit (John 3:3-7) but I have witnessed to many Catholics and have never encountered such a person. When I begin to discuss salvation through faith alone in Christ alone, every Catholic I have evangelized did not understand the gospel. They always had a works-righteousness view where Jesus is part of their salvation but He and His work are not the finality of their salvation. Yet my friend believes that simply because a person has confessed Jesus Christ, they perhaps should be viewed as saved. He believes the society just will not tolerate the dogmatic teachings that a person must hold to the fundamentals of the faith to be rightly called a Christian.
Postmodernism has caused people to ask the question, “Is justification enough?” Can we make the gospel issue really about the nature of justification by grace through faith in Christ alone (Romans 5:1) or should be broaden our views so that we include Catholics, Oneness Pentecostals, etc.? Why be dogmatic about doctrine? Let us unite around our common experience in Christ (or whoever if you are an emergent) but not around doctrine.
The fact is that doctrine does two things. Doctrine affirms that we are in the faith and allows the Church to pursue the same goal of exalting the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10). In Acts 2:42 we read that the early Church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. This is our New Testament. The early Church devoted themselves to hearing and obeying the Apostles who in turn, through the Spirit of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17), gave us the New Testament. Our duty today is to be devout in studying the New Testament and applying it to our lives. Paul told Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely (1 Timothy 4:16 NIV). That should be our passion as well, to remain faithful to God in teaching His truths (Titus 2:1). Doctrine does matter both now and for eternity (Galatians 1:6-9).
Secondly, doctrine divides in a good way. Doctrine allows us to see who are the genuine children of God and who are not. 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 says:
18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.
Notice that Paul the Apostles states that these divisions are good because they force the Church to know the truth. Doctrinal controversies have been a part of the Church since her beginning. Yet when we ponder the great doctrines that came out of controversies, we realize that not all doctrinal debates are bad. Nearly all of the New Testament letters were written over doctrinal issues. And in all the New Testament letters, Paul spends time at the beginning of them discussing theological issues. The book of Romans, for example, spends 11 chapters before beginning in chapter 12 with “practical living.” Yet the modern church today spends 3/4 of her time with “practical living” and very little on doctrine.
We see this affecting the Church in many ways. False conversions. Shallow understanding of the gospel. Lack of passion for God in prayer. Lack of desire for evangelism. A careless attitude toward theology, toward holiness, and toward the Bible. We see people waffling on cultural issues such as same-sex “marriage” because they don’t know what the Bible says. We see a plethora of topical preachers because they are careless in their handling of God’s Word. We see theologians rejecting the inerrancy of Scripture because it just doesn’t fit into our modern times. This lazy attitude toward doctrine and toward holy living has in turn produced a very world, very cultural driven church.
I urge you faithful brethren in Christ to stand firm for the gospel. Defend the gospel. Die for the gospel if necessary. Let Jesus Christ be your passion and your God. I pray that those who love the truth of God would preach His truth in every city across our nation and around the world. Our world doesn’t need a compromising church. Our world needs the truth of God preached through tears and exhortation to repentance. I pray that every true disciple of Jesus would obey Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20) and be faithful to make disciples and to teach them His Word (John 15:1-11).
May God be exalted.
Here’s an extended quote from Marcus Borg that does a great (and somewhat discomforting) job applying Jesus’ command for enemy love by considering it in light of the original context.
“Love your enemies” thus had the connotation of “Love your non-compatriots.” What would this have meant in teaching directed to Israel in the late twenties of the first century? It had an inescapable and identifiable political implication: the non-Jewish enemy was, above all, Rome. To say “Love your enemy” would have meant, “Love the Romans; do not join the resistance movement,” whatever other implications it might have had. That it would carry this meaning in a milieu of political conflict is illustrated by what the saying would be understood to mean when uttered in a modern situation of conflict, whether in Northern Ireland or Central America or elsewhere. To say “Love your enemies” would have a concrete as opposed to generalized meaning. It would not simply inculcate a discarnate attitude of benevolence, but would meant to eschew acts of terrorism and revenge” (Conflict, Holiness, and Politics in the Teaching of Jesus, 142).
The most important feature of this paragraph is the way it pushes us to think concretely about the identity of our enemies. Borg is right that when we read Jesus’ command to “Love your enemies” we tend to think of that as vague kindness or simply being a generally nice person. You know, not getting too mad when someone cuts you off in traffic. But the implications are much more striking and serious when we consider that Jesus spoke those words in a day when Israel was being occupied and heavily taxed by the world’s most powerful military. Borg argues that Jesus’ conflicts with various parties arose out of competing visions of holiness. Some saw holiness as rigorous law observance; others as purifying and preparing oneself to do battle with the enemies of God and his people. It was a time when powerful social and cultural forces pressured young Jewish men to join resistance movements against Rome. Against these movements, Jesus challenged his hearers to think of holiness in terms of love, and love for enemies not least. He taught that holiness was manifest in bearing the burdens of the occupying forces and interceding before God on behalf of those who levied taxes so heavy it was near impossible to put food on the table. That’s tough. Real tough. Jesus’ command for enemy love stands in stark counter-cultural contrast to the typical perspectives of his day.
How do we appropriate this for the church today? Borg’s book was originally published in 1984; so his references to modern day conflict are somewhat dated. But if you want to feel the force of Jesus’ command, pause for a moment to consider it in light of ongoing world conflicts. Then read Matthew 5:46-48 and ask yourself (if you dare): Who are my enemies? Who are the people who seek to do me harm? Do I love them? Do I pray for them? Do I believe Jesus? Am I obeying him? Am I holy?