Wednesday, March 26, 2014

May God Have Mercy on America

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Here in America the expression, God bless America, has become such a common utterance in presidential speeches that it now seems like a cheap tag line with little meaning. I say this because God has blessed this nation, in abundance, yet sadly America has progressively forsaken those blessings, while blaspheming the God of such blessings year after year. Over my lifetime I have witnessed a tremendous change within America’s culture, and the downgrade only seems to accelerate with time. The most recent forensics of this comes to us through the redefinition of marriage posited by Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Writing for the majority opinion, in defense of same-sex marriage, Justice Anthony Kennedy criticized elements of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), indicating that those who oppose homosexuality resultantly “injure” and “demean” the “moral and sexual choices” of same-sex couples. What was so striking about this decision was that the court went well beyond rendering a judgment against DOMA. In essence, it vilified all those who oppose gay marriage. Thus, this is much more than a “victory” for those who support gay marriage, it is a broad and open door to the future persecution of all those who choose to oppose homosexuality. In view of this I must say that, before petitioning God for blessings, America should repent of her multiple sins and cry out for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Like rebellious Israel, our nation is destroyed for a lack of knowledge.[1]

Though not surprising, the SCOTUS decision reveals America’s continued descent into darkness. The revelation of this new ruling proved to be grievous for the disciples of Christ, but for everyone else, it was a day of celebration:

The National Cathedral: Following the ruling of SCOTUS regarding DOMA and Proposition 8, The National Cathedral in Washington DC rang its church bells in celebration for 45 minutes to an hour.

The Governor of Connecticut: In response to the STOTUS decisions regarding DOMA and proposition 8, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy flew a rainbow flag outside the Governor’s official residence – revealing a profound change since Connecticut’s beginning.[2]

President Obama: The President quickly weighed on this judgment, declaring the following: “I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal — and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

What the president suppresses and denies[3] (along with most Americans) is that the love found within the institution which “God has joined together”[4] is in no way equal to the hedonistic lust of pornea (sexual immorality) so commonly found within this fallen world. Moreover, though it is true that the presidents and judges of this nation can decree, by law, such a notion of equality, the Supreme Judge of all laughs at such foolishness and rebellion.[5] Sadly, America continues in a downward spiral, but such truth ought to drive the church to more earnest prayer, asking the God of all mercy and grace for the blessing of repentance and spiritual awakening. This we must continue to do, knowing that no piece of legislation, no judicial ruling, and no executive order can turn the hearts of men and women away from their enmity with God. Only the Gospel, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can turn and awaken those who remain dead in their trespasses and sins.[6] We must also pray for “kings and for all those in authority so that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life, with all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:1-6). In relation to this latter point, I am concerned that the believer’s Gospel freedoms here in America continue to be weakened, and the recent decision by SCOTUS will further accelerate this trend. As mentioned earlier, SCOTUS did more than make a judgment in favor of homosexuality, it made a judgment of those who oppose such conduct. A plain reading of Kennedy’s majority opinion reveals this. Justice Antonin Scalia offered an ominous summary of the majority’s opinion on this ruling, offering a Latin expression that is strikingly familiar to a familiar one from ancient church history:

Justice Antonin Scalia: “To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to ‘dis- parage,’ ‘injure,’ ‘degrade,’ ‘demean,’ and ‘humiliate’ our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homo-sexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence— indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.”[7]

Having read through Kennedy’s majority opinion on the SCOTUS ruling, I can attest that Scalia’s above summary is spot-on. Though the terms “disparage,” “injure,” “degrade,” “demean,” and “humiliate” are broadly scattered throughout the court’s published opinion, the retributive force of these words is still quite stunning. Scalia’s observations are quite interesting, if not ironic, especially when he invoked the expression, hostes humani generis – enemies of the human race. When I read this, my thoughts were brought back to the writings of Tacitus who described the nature of Nero’s persecution of the Christian community within the 1st century:

Tacitus: "But neither human resources, nor imperial munificence, nor appeasement of the gods, eliminated sinister suspicions that the fire had been instigated. To suppress this rumour, Nero fabricated scapegoats – and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilatus. But in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judaea (where the mischief had started) but even in Rome. All degraded and shameful practices collect and flourish in the capital. First, Nero had self-acknowledged Christians arrested. Then, on their information, large numbers of others were condemned - not so much for incendiarism as for their hatred of humanity (odio humani generis).[8] Their deaths were made farcical. Dressed in wild animals' skins, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight."[9]

Tacitus’ description of the Christian community reminds us of the degrading opinions that developed within the Greco-Roman world: Christians were the haters of humanity. The most likely explanation for this label is that the Christian community was unwilling, for conscience’ sake, to participate in the hedonistic and idolatrous culture of the Greco-Roman world, replete with its sacrifices to the gods and licentious living. Such non-participation was seen as an act of hostility against others, especially since the superstitious and pagan world believed that sacrifices to the gods were necessary for the greater good of the broader community. Because of such non-participation, Christians were ridiculed as the haters of humanity among other things. I would suggest that Scalia’s summary of Kennedy’s opinion offers a historically packed preview of what may come in the future. Apart from God’s merciful and gracious intervention in America’s moral and spiritual suicide, further darkness will prevail in this land. My mention of this is not designed to be morose, but to emphasize the continued need to look to the Gospel for genuine light in this dark world. Too often the modern church has sought ways to nurture friendship with the world, but this has only led to compromise and corruption.[10] This could be a means by which the Lord will purify and strengthen His true church here in America. Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers regarding the darkness of their own world (Eph 5:8-11), in order to enjoin them to a more diligent walk (Eph 5:2, 8, 15) as the children of light (Eph 5:8). Contextually and grammatically he continues his appeal by commanding the Ephesians to avoid foolishness while pursuing the will of the Lord (Eph 5:17), refraining from drunkenness while being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18). Paul then describes what such Spirit-filled living looks like in the children of God: speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be[ing] subject to one another in the fear of Christ (Eph 5:19-21). The verse division between verse 21 and 22 may lead the reader to think that Paul has ceased his description of Spirit-filled living – but this is not the case. Paul’s expansion of this important subject only continues as he describes the beauty of a Spirit-filled marriage, which reflects the glory of Christ and His union with His bride, the church (Eph 5:22-33); and we must not forget that this extends further to a description of a godly family, complete with a father, mother, and children (Eph 6:1-4) who seek to honor the Lord in everything. Yes, Ephesus was engulfed in darkness – but this reality afforded Paul the opportunity to remind genuine believers that their solution was not to dim the light of the Gospel, but to make it radiate more brightly in their individual lives, as well as in their marriages, and families.

Dear reader - what was true in that day is equally true today.

In conclusion, I should also note the profound irony of the homosexual community’s banner which is, of all things, the rainbow.[11] I call this ironic because of God’s stated purpose for the rainbow. Having destroyed the world of wickedness in a deluge, God gave Noah the promise that He would never again “destroy all flesh” by means of a flood. Therefore God revealed to Noah “the bow [haqeshet] that is in the cloud” (i.e., rainbow) as His symbol to all of mankind that He would refrain from giving humanity what it otherwise deserves, thereby supplying a measure of mercy to the sons of men while they live on the earth. The Hebrew word haqeshet (a hunter’s bow) gives us a sense of what is implied by the word mercy: men deserve judgment because of indwelling sin (Gen. 8:21), yet such judgment is withheld as an act of merciful restrain. Those who have ever drawn a hunter’s bow know that it takes a measure of strength to draw and sustain a bow’s tension. Releasing the bow is the easy part, but keeping it drawn and restrained for long periods of time requires significant force. I would suggest to the reader that this is the picture of God’s temporal mercy upon the sons of men in this life, which is similarly unveiled in the New Testament: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). This text in John 3 unpacks some of the inherentrainbow_04 symbolism of God’s “bow (haqeshet) in the clouds” by revealing God’s presently active mercy and pending wrath. Mercy is now active such that men “live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28), enjoying “rains and fruitful seasons” here on the earth (Acts 14:17). Note that the text tells us that God’s wrath “abides” on all those who do not obey the Son. That word “abides” (menei) is the present active indicative form of the verb meno (abide), indicating a present and ongoing reality in God’s relation with this world. In many respects, this is what we see in God’s bow (haqeshet) – the active tension of God’s merciful restraint which will someday give way to the release of His just and eternal wrath upon all those who resist Him. In view of this, the rainbow is both awesomely beautiful, yet haunting in light of its implied message. Overall, let the reader consider this: the image of the rainbow is not just for the homosexual community – it is for all men in light of God’s present Gospel mercy and promised future wrath. It is a reminder that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23); and that the wages of our sin is death (Romans 6:23); therefore, apart from Christ, all men are counted as God’s enemies (Romans 5:8) and must plead for mercy and grace which is fully revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ:

These truths are not just for one sector of our society, but they are for all men: “…he who believes in the Son has life, he who does not obey the son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” John 3:36.


[1] Hosea 4:6.

[2] From The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1638-1639): “For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God by the wise disposition of his divine providence so to order and dispose of things that we the Inhabitants and Residents of Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield are now cohabiting and dwelling in and upon the River of Connectecotte and the lands thereunto adjoining; and well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affairs of the people at all seasons as occasion shall require; do therefore associate and conjoin ourselves to be as one Public State or Commonwealth; and do for ourselves and our successors and such as shall be adjoined to us at any time hereafter, enter into Combination and Confederation together, to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, as also, the discipline of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said Gospel is now practiced amongst us; as also in our civil affairs to be guided and governed according to such Laws, Rules, Orders and Decrees as shall be made, ordered, and decreed…”

[3] Romans 1:18-24.

[4] Matthew 19:4–6 — 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, 5 and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’? 6 “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

[5] Psalm 2:1–6 — 1 Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. 5 Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, 6 “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

[6] Ephesians 2:1–3 — 1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

[7] NationalJournal: Scalia: 'High-Handed' Kennedy Has Declared Us 'Enemies of the Human Race', http://www.nationaljournal.com/domesticpolicy/scalia-high-handed-kennedy-has-declared-us-enemies-of-the-human-race-20130626.

[8] Scalia’s reference to hostes humani generis, though strikingly similar in meaning, is probably rooted in maritime history, rather than being a quote from the ancient Roman historian.

[9] Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome (Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1993), p. 365, italics mine.

[10] James 4:4 — 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

[11] The establishment of the rainbow, as a symbol for the homosexual community, is normally attributed to Gilbert Baker – an artist from San Francisco – who first designed the flag in 1978. There is no apparent evidence that Baker was attempting to imitate the Bible’s description of the rainbow in Genesis 9. Instead, the homosexual community has used several colors (in recent history) in order to depict various aspects and perspectives of the gay community.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dear “Self-Respecting Calvinists” -

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The world of Christian media is a bit of a two-edged sword. Through it many Bible teachers have helped the cause of the Gospel in the lives of many men and women. It is this side of the sword that cuts well – for the glory of God. Then there is the other side of this sword – the one which tends to spill more blood than supply corrective surgery. In this latter side of the blade we find the unhelpful or sometimes destructive influences of popular preachers/teachers whose misplaced dogmas and verbal mishaps find their way into the local church through various ways and means. The pastor of a local church may wish to ignore the presence of this bad side of the blade – but he hasn’t the luxury to do so, especially if some of his congregants are the devoted disciples of such Bible teachers.

Over the years in the ministry I have had to invest more hours than I can count addressing so-called “controversies” that were whipped up by others simply because I happened to disagree over a point of doctrine with popular teachers, both past and present. While this problem is not new, I believe that the modern church is mass-producing this matter through what I call the industry of retail Christianity; as a disease, it is becoming pandemic. Moreover, I am of the opinion that few popular teachers truly understand the extent of divisiveness that they can easily generate when they act imprudently over issues of doctrine – especially those issues that are not central to the Gospel. No one is perfect. When we fail, it is needful to make restitution for such failures. Should we ever err on a point of instruction, or overemphasize a matter which results in unnecessary conflict, then we need to own up to it for our own sakes, and for the sake of those whom we instruct and influence. Whether a man is a media star or a pastor of a small church, the principle remains the same, however, I would suggest that a man’s personal responsibility increases in proportion to the extent of his influence.

I was reminded of all of this some time ago when a man came to visit our church for Sunday morning services. This man braved 1 ½ hours of driving in order to fellowship with us, hear God’s word, and ask me a question that was burning in his conscience. Sensing his desire to speak at length about what was burdening him, I invited him over to our home for lunch following the services. We had a wonderful time of fellowship together. Early on, we spoke for some time before he asked me his core question, and yet, in some strange way I could almost anticipate his concern before he expressed it. My clues came in pieces through some of the things that he said; through the study Bible that he had in hand; and by means of the comments he made about his church. Thus, when the question came – it offered little surprise. As well, I felt quite prepared to offer a response – simply put, I’ve had to deal with this issue for some time. His question was simple enough: he wanted to know if he should leave his church since his pastor was post-millennial. The basis for his query came from his repeated exposure to an audio tape of John MacArthur issuing a millennial manifesto, where he said,

“Every self-respecting Calvinist is a premillennialist.”

This gentleman repeated this manifesto thrice, saying “it keeps going on in my mind”; and this meditation of his only increased his sense of burden and concern. Before addressing my thoughts about such “self-respecting Calvinism,” I asked this man questions about his present church. For all I knew, there could be other issues that would actually warrant significant concerns. I asked about his church’s core doctrine (very sound); the body dynamic and health of the flock (loving and lively); the leadership – their doctrine and example of life (above reproach); and inquired about their focus on the Gospel and outreach to the lost (excellent). I am only summarizing the exchange here, but by the time he was finished describing his flock – I nearly wept in the man’s presence. Though I am deeply aware of this controversy that has been produced by MacArthur’s manifesto, I still remained incredulous concerning the practical effects that it has in the lives of real people within real churches. Here was a man who was prepared to leave a loving flock over this matter. Wanting to be careful and measured in my response to him, I began discussing the extent of the controversy in its modern form (i.e., historic Pre-millennialism vs. Dispensational Pre-millennialism); the overall debate in view of church history; the relevance and purpose of prophecy in the life of a Christian; and the importance of the primacy of the Gospel in everything. Then I told him –

“Concerning pastor MacArthur’s manifesto: with all due respect, no self-respecting Calvinist would make eschatology such a divisive issue.”

I don’t think that he expected to hear this from an alumnus of The Master’s Seminary, but he listened carefully and attentively anyway. My simple prayer for this man has been that he would pray and think through this matter very carefully – since the thought of leaving a church body is quite serious. Without hesitation I told him that I saw no reason for him to leave – period.

When I first heard MacArthur employ this manifesto, I was struck by his dogma and insistence. He has all the freedom in the world to believe this about his theological opponents, but when one considers what is conveyed in this pontification, its meaning and implications are quite draconian. MacArthur’s Pre-Millennialism, which is Dispensational Pre-Millennialism and not Historic Pre-Millennialism, formulates the centerpiece of what he calls self-respecting Calvinism. The implications of his charge are as follows: anyone who does not hold to such Pre-Millennialism is not a self-respecting Calvinist.

Really?

Are we really to believe that brethren throughout the ages and in the present day, who have a differing view on this subject, must now be tossed out of the sorting bin of “self-respecting Calvinism” (whatever that means)? I should, however, credit MacArthur for some measure of consistency in his manifesto. The strength of his charge is only reinforced by the following assertions:

“Let’s leave Amillennialism for the Arminians. It’s perfect. It’s ideal. It’s a no-brainer. God elects nobody and preserves nobody. Perfect. Arminians make great Amillennialists.”

“We can leave Amillennialism to the process theologians or the openness people who think God is becoming what He will be; and He’s getting better because as every day goes by, He gets more information; and as He gets more information, He’s figuring out whether or not, in fact, He can keep some of the promises He made without having to adjust all of them based upon a lack of information when He originally made them. Let’s leave Amillennialism to the Charismatics and the semi-Pelagians and other sorts who go in and out of salvation willy-nilly; it makes sense for their theology.”[1]

[Postmillennialism isn’t given any better treatment when he says]: “…Postmillennialism… is ‘optimistic Amillennialism’…the two positions are basically the same.”[2]

If anyone wishes to search out the oddities and heresies associated with any system of eschatology, they are certainly welcome to do so – but is this helpful? For example, comparing MacArthur to Harold Camping (a Dispensational Premillennialist) would be a fool’s errand and would take us no-where, thus, is it at all fair to associate the whole of Amillennialism with the likes of Arminians, process theologians, or even openness theologians? Arguments of guilt-by-association can be very startling, and may seem to justify the label of “non-self-respecting Calvinist” for some – but such arguments don’t advance any reasonable or meaningful debate. It is not terribly surprising that those who hear such statements are quickly led to the fearful belief that Amillennialism directly corresponds to various forms of rank heresy. Thus, it is perfectly understandable that this man came to me, with such a manifesto resonating in his mind, wondering if he should leave his church immediately.

It is understandable, but it is all quite sad and disturbing.

I can say that I greatly appreciate John MacArthur’s historic defense of the Gospel. He is not a perfect man, and he has, at times, said things that I could not defend; however, his overall defense of the Gospel has been forthright and sound. It is for this reason that his recent heralding of eschatology seems rather strange and even ironic, and here’s why: the Fundamentalist movement of the early 20th century included Dispensational Premillennialism within its definition of biblical orthodoxy. C.I. Scofield advanced this line of thought extensively, heralding Dispensationalism and Eschatology to a fault. As a result, a church culture was born out of such an influence which focused on the structure of Dispensational thought and Eschatology at the expense of the substance of Theology proper, Hamartiology, Anthropology, Soteriology, and Christology. Resultantly, many churches in America became aliens to the historic doctrines of grace, though they retained a strict stance in Dispensational and Premillennial thought. This segment of church history should remind us that when a particular view of eschatology is heralded at the level of the Gospel itself, or higher, the seed of such error will grow and thrive in time. Ironically, it was this very theological culture that MacArthur confronted with the historic doctrines of grace during the 90’s. His book, The Gospel According to Jesus, created a firestorm of controversy among many Dispensationalists. For a man who had to face the errors of a culture which exalted Dispensationalism and Premillennialism above its theological place, one must wonder why he would seek to pick such a fight over this matter in the present day.

This is pungent irony.

Let me end this with a comment, a recommendation, and an appeal. My comment is this: I have a deep love for brethren who love Christ, the rich doctrines of grace, and who share in the same commitment and evangelical zeal for the Gospel Jesus Christ. With this in mind, I often think of the Puritans of old whose eschatology did not take them into the depths of heresy. Though I may hold to differing views on eschatology, this does not change my high esteem for them as self-respecting Calvinists, if you prefer to employ that label at all. My recommendation is that if you are a Dispensational Premillennialist, then broaden your reading a bit by getting books like The Puritan Hope (Iain Murray, 1971), or MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto (Samuel E. Waldron, 2008). I recently read Waldron’s work and must say that it is a must-read for anyone who wishes to search this matter out with better information and understanding. The subtitle to Waldron’s work is: “A Friendly Response.” I must say that his response is indeed friendly, the tone is mature and irenic and is therefore highly commendable. Which brings me to my simple appeal. I am quite sure that John MacArthur holds a busy schedule; but since it is he who has opened the war room of this discussion – there ought to be a discussion of some sort. I don’t know of anyone who has written a full book addressing MacArthur’s manifesto (other than Waldron) – if there is someone else who has invested such time and energy, then I am completely unaware of the matter. But Waldron has written a book on the matter and it is now four years old. His work is not a diatribe; it is not guilty of ad-hominem attacks; or guilt-by-association argumentation. It is a friendly response indeed, and it absolutely deserves a response.

Unfortunately, to my knowledge (and as of the writing of this article), Pastor Waldron has received no response from MacArthur for what he has written. Thus, my appeal is simply this: Dr. MacArthur, as the one who started this conversation, please take the time to read and respond to Dr. Waldron. As an example to a watching world, do it for the sake of God’s glory and Christ’s church.

If this matter is as important as you insist, then a non-response is simply indefensible.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] John MacArthur, Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Premillennialist, Shepherds’ Conference 2007, First Message.

[2] Ibid.

Above all, a Christian

john-calvinFor years now I have been accused of being many things in view of my basic defense of God’s sovereign work of salvation: I have been accused of being a Calvinist, a Hyper-Calvinist, a “Calvinist-heretic,” and even a “Calvinist-cultist.” What I find absolutely fascinating about all this tongue wagging is this:

It has never been my practice to use the label – “Calvinist” at all. 

Now, to my sovereign grace friends, please know that I do not vilify those who use such a label – let every man do what he is persuaded to do in his own conscience. Additionally, it should also be said that I have been committed to the realities of man’s total depravity, God’s unconditional election, an atonement that is particular and extensive[1], God’s grace which is irresistible, and the reality of the saint’s perseverance. Yet despite all of this, I do not go about with the label: “Calvinist.” For many Arminians, this practice of mine will probably be judged as utter hypocrisy; for some “Calvinists,” this is high treason. For myself, it is my highest preference for ministering the word as a follower of Christ, and, secondarily, it is the best way that I know how to honor the memory of one of my favorite Christians in all of church history: John Calvin.

Why do I say this?

Over the years, I have become deeply impressed with Calvin’s humility as a mere man and child of God, especially in view of his zeal for evangelism; his heralding of God’s authority in the Scriptures alone; his vehement opposition against Papalism and the adoration of mere men; and his insistence on using church fathers as mere guides to exegesis, not as final authorities of it. In fact, it is this latter priority of his that has so deeply affected my own life and ministry. During Calvin’s lifetime, the Roman Catholic church was showing all of the signs of man-centeredness that one could possibly imagine. Scripture had become an incidental decoration to Rome’s masterpiece of man-made tradition. Priests recited, not the authority of God as their ultimate source of truth, but only those church fathers whose views favored their own. When one studies such severe adoration of mere men during this period, it is difficult to avoid comparisons with that of the Pharisees in the 1st century. Pick up a copy of the Mishnah, the written collection of rabbinic traditions, and you will find, line after line, authoritative instructions all prefaced with the formulaic expression: Rabbi ____ says. Line after line, their formulaic instructions all began with the premise, not of Scripture, but of the teachings of popular Rabbi’s throughout history. Such oral traditions, which the Pharisees vehemently defended, were rebuked as that which “nullified the commandments” of God, as the Savior declared. For the Pharisees, as well as the leaders of the Romish church, truth was decided by a contest between popular Rabbis and church fathers, not God’s Word. However, in the imitation of Christ Himself, Calvin refuted this slavery to tradition and hero worship, and directed others to the principle of Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Soli Deo Gloria. Without Sola Scriptura, all of the other Solas will be lost in the morass of human “wisdom” and reasoning.

I would urge the reader to pick up a biography of John Calvin, and you will discover that he sacrificed much in his life in order to deter others from the man-worship that was so prevalent in his day. As I learned more about this soldier of Christ, it seemed difficult to believe that he would approve of people going about identifying themselves by his name. At least, for myself, it is something that I cannot fathom doing for a few reasons. If I could imagine a way to honor the memory of John Calvin, it would be by heralding the only name which he sought to herald – the name of Christ alone.

But this is not my principal reason for avoiding such a label.

With or without John Calvin, bearing the name of Christ is a privilege that transcends imagination – and it comes at a great expense: the shed blood of the unblemished Lamb of God – Jesus Christ. It brings to mind Christ’s mercy and love in the salvation of this depraved sinner; it reminds me that the Father elected me, in His Son, despite my own wretchedness; it underscores the truth that the Good Shepherd laid down His life for me, as one of His frail sheep; it compels me to remember that my salvation has been brought about by His sovereign grace alone; it gives me hope in His continuing grace to persevere me to the end; and it reminds me that I have been bought with a price, therefore I am to glorify God with the whole of my body, life, and being.

Dear reader: above all, I am a Christian.


[1] For years now I have employed the expression “extensive atonement” in view of the Apostle John’s numerical analysis of Christ’s atoning work: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands;” Revelation 7:9 (NASB) – italics mine. My book, All Nations Under God, details the reality of Christ’s atonement which is clearly particular, yet wonderfully extensive.