f The Wittenberg Door: January 2007

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Who’s Sovereign in Salvation? – Part 2 – Universalism Continued

In Part 1 we learned what Universalism was, and we considered the Scriptures pressed into service on its behalf. Here in Part 2 we’ll consider another argument given by Universalists, one that is particularly popular in our culture: that a loving God would never eternally punish people for their sins.

There are two problems with this view: first, the Scriptures expressly teach that God DOES judge people for their sins (Heb. 9:2 7, Ecc. 11:9, Acts 17:31, Rev. 20:11-15, 2 Pet. 2:9, Mat. 23:33, Prov. 11:2 1; Mark 9:43-46).

Second, Universalists pit God’s love against His justice. The Scriptures teach that God is both loving (1 John 4:8) and just (Rom. 3:26). However, God would not be loving if he allowed injustice to triumph, nor would He be just if He allowed sin to go unpunished or inadequately punished.

Here’s an example: Let’s say that someone kills your family. Later, in the name of love, the court releases the perpetrator. Would you be satisfied? Of course not. You would demand justice—and you should have it. For it would be unjust, and also unloving, for the man not have a penalty commensurate with his crime.

People are prone not to think about this. But God’s judgment exists and will be dreadful, terrible, and eternally destructive of everything that is not good.

John Owen (1616 - 1683)


As we saw in Part 1, the Scriptures put forth do not teach Universalism. We now see that Universalism is inconsistent with both God’s love and his just character. Therefore, all men are not saved, and God never intended on saving all men.

Stay tuned for Part 3 where we’ll take a consider the Five Points of Arminianism.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Letter to a Christian Nation – Part 4 – Slavery

In assessing the moral wisdom of the Bible, it is useful to consider moral questions that have been solved to everyone’s satisfaction. Consider the question of slavery. The entire civilized world now agrees that slavery is an abomination. What moral instruction do we get from the God of Abraham on this subject? Consult the Bible, and you will discover that the creator of the universe clearly expects us to keep slaves . . . (pg. 14, Lev. 25:44-46 cited).

Is it true that God expects us to keep slaves? Does the Bible allow a man “to sell his daughter into sexual slavery” (pg. 15, Ex. 21:7–11 cited)? Does the Bible condone the “abducting and enslaving [of] millions of innocent men, women, and children . . .” (pg. 18)?

Initial Thoughts

Slavery in Old Testament (OT) times was very complex and differed greatly from the chattel slavery practiced in the US. A pitfall we modern observers must avoid is that of anachronistic thinking, such as Mr. Harris does. Instead, we must take time to study the Scriptures to find out the “hows and whys” of the practice.

As I’ve indicated, this is a very complex issue. For example, the term “slave” (sometimes translated “servant”) is applied to a broad range of people in the Scriptures. Here are a few examples:

  • The patriarchs, prophets, and kings of Israel are often referred to as slaves of God (Ex. 32:13; Lev 25:55; 1 Sam 3:9; Ezra 9:11)

  • The people comprising Judah and Israel are called slaves of their kings (1 Sam 17:8; 29:3; 2 Sam 19:5; Gen 27:37; 32:4)
  • The Hebrews refer to themselves as slaves when addressing Moses and the prophets (Num 32:25; 1 Sam 12:19)
  • Christians are referred to as slaves of Christ (Eph. 6:6; Col. 3:22)

For a more detailed study of the issue of slavery in the Bible, I recommend the following resources from A Christian Thinktank:

In OT times, there were two broad groups of slaves: Hebrew slaves and foreign slaves. I think it’ll be helpful to take a high-level look at each group.

Foreign Slaves

“Foreign” in this context refers to someone who is not Hebrew. There were two ways foreigners became slaves of the Hebrews:

  • Their nation was conquered—When the Hebrews were going to lay siege to a people, they would first give them the opportunity to surrender. If they did, the people would become vassals of the Hebrews (Deut. 20:10–11); although the men were sometimes used as conscripts (2 Sam 20:24, I Kings 9.15), they were not slaves in the normal sense of the term. Instead, it was more like Jews being ruled over by the Romans (i.e., the Jews were vassals of Rome).

    As an aside, Israel was not allowed to attack countries in lands that the Lord had not given them (i.e., outside of the Promised Land), unless they were first attacked (Duet. 2).
  • They were sold—The Hebrews were allowed to buy (not take) slaves from pagan nations (Lev. 25:44–45).

Foreign slaves were well treated by the Hebrews, although without some of the rights enjoyed by Hebrew slaves (more about that later). Here are a few:

  • They did not have to work on the Sabbath (Ex. 20:9).
  • They were not to be injured severely or killed (Ex. 21:21-27).

    Two notes regarding Ex. 21: In verse 21 the term “his property” is used; this indicates that a foreign slave is in view because the term would be inappropriate if applied to a Hebrew.

    Notice that the slave’s rights are on par with those of the freemen; also consider Due. 25:1–3, 2 Sam. 7:14, and Prov. 13:24 where freemen are likewise punished with beatings. This indicates a level of humane treatment that was unheard of in other slave states.
  • Runaway slaves were granted right-of-refuge and not allowed to be extradited back to their foreign owners; in addition, they were allowed to live in whatever town they wanted and were not to be oppressed, even though they were foreigners (Deut. 23:15-16).
  • If the slave belonged to a priest, he could eat “the holy gift,” something that most Hebrews were not allowed to do (Lev. 22:11).
  • The women could be taken as wives with the corresponding rights and privileges, including the right to freedom should she be divorced (Deut. 21:10–14).
  • Reminding the Hebrews that they were once slaves, God commanded them to love their foreign slaves and to treat them fairly (Lev. 19:34–35; Deut. 10:19).

In the next post for this series well take a look at Hebrew slavery, so stay tuned!


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Pat Robertson and the Swarmers

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The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men . . .

Westminster Confession, chapter 1, article 6

One of the issues resolved by the Reformers was that of final authority, i.e., Are the Scriptures sufficient for doctrine and life? The Reformers, of course, answered in the affirmative. Louis Berkhof summarized their case as follows:

In Scripture each succeeding book connects up with the proceeding (except in contemporary narratives), and is based on it. The Psalms and the Prophets presuppose the Law and appeal to it, and to it only. The New Testament comes to us as the fulfillment of the Old and refers back to nothing else. Oral traditions current in the time of Jesus are rejected as human inventions, Matt. 5:21–28; 15:4, 9; I Cor. 4:6. Christ is presented to us as the acme of the divine revelation, the highest and the last, Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; 17:4, 6; Heb. 1:1. For the knowledge of the way of salvation we are referred to Scripture only, to the word of Christ, and the apostles, John 17:20; I John 1:3 . . .

Both Rome and the Anabaptists rejected the sufficiency of Scripture. Rome put as Scripture’s rival her church councils and traditions, with the ultimate authority residing in the pope. The Anabaptists, however, had a low view of Scripture for other reasons: they sought guidance from an “inner light” and direct revelations from God, resolving that the Spirit worked apart from the Word because the Word was dead.


Renting the Spirit from the Word by claiming direct revelations from God was something the Reformers could not abide. For that reason, Martin Luther derisively referred to them as “swarmers” because they were “swarming everywhere, deranged by the devil, regarding Scripture as a dead letter, extolling nothing but the Spirit and yet keeping neither the Word nor the Spirit.”

Likewise, in speaking of the link between the Spirit and the Word, John Calvin wrote . . .

Two things are connected here, the Word and the Spirit of God, in opposition to the fanatics, who aim at oracles and hidden revelations apart from the Word.

Modern Swarmers

In my years as a Pentecostal I saw the shipped-wrecked lives of those who listened to the modern swarmers. I’ve also experienced (and am still experiencing) the derision of unbelievers as they scoff at Christ and His followers because of those who claim that God is whispering in their ear. Worst of all, these false prophets blaspheme our God by taking His name in vain. It is for this reason that God commanded that they be put to death (Deut. 13, 18:20-22, 13:12-13; Ez. 13:1-9; Zech. 13:3).

Today, of course, we do not put false prophets to death. Instead, the church’s obligation is to withhold the Lord’s Table from them (see Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 82 and the accompanying Scriptures: 1 Cor. 11:17-32; Ps. 50:14-16; Isa. 1:11-17). If the offender still refuses to repent of his errors, he is to be removed from Christ’s church through excommunication (see Q & A 85 and the accompanying Scriptures: Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:3-5, 11-13; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; Luke 15:20-24; 2 Cor. 2:6-11).

Pat Robertson: The God Whisperer

Pat Robertson, president of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), is such an offender. Time-after-time he claims to be speaking on behalf of God (apart from the Word), despite his confession that “sometimes I miss.” This includes a new “prophecy” uttered on January 3 regarding a major terrorist attack in 2007.

Since it’s evident that the leaders of whatever church he attends refuse to do their Biblical duty, Frank Turk of And His Ministers a Flame of Fire and Pyromaniacs has an idea about what we can do: an online petition. In this petition, which will be sent to Pat Robertson, CBN, and the 700 Club, the signatories graciously ask that Mr. Robertson stop claiming to be a prophet, and to apologies for his false predictions. Please take a moment to sign the petition, and thus take a stand for the holy name of our gracious God.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Who's Sovereign in Salvation? – Part 1 – Universalism

At the time of the American Revolution, most American Christians were Calvinist. But after casting off the bonds of a monarchy, the new-found American individualism eventually cast off the bonds of the creedal church too—and the sovereignty of God in salvation. By the mid nineteenth century, Arminianism had gained a foothold in the American theological landscape.

Today, Arminianism is assumed—it’s the theological air modern Evangelicals breath—and Calvinism is looked upon with great suspicion, and even scorn. But is this justified? Who do the Scriptures say is sovereign in salvation, God or man? Did Christ’s work merely make salvation possible? Or did he actually save sinners? It is to questions like these that we’ll now turn our attention. But first, we’ll consider the question, Does God save all men?

Are All Saved?

The claim that in the end all men will be saved is known as Universalism (apokatastasis). This doctrine claims that all men, regardless of whether or not true faith is present, will be saved.

Universalism has been with us for a long time, tracing its history back to the Greek church fathers. The two best known proponents of this doctrine were Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) and his student Origen (c. 185 – c. 254). In 553, Universalism in general, and Origen’s theology in particular, were declared heretical at the fifth Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople.

Scriptures Used to Support Universalism

There are six verses commonly used to support Universalism. Here they are in summary:

  • Mark 1:5 – All went out to him and were baptized
  • Luke 3:15 – All wondered if John the Baptist was the Christ
  • John 3:26 – All were coming to John for Baptism
  • John 8:2 – All came to the temple to hear Christ teach
  • Acts 22:15 – Paul will be a witness to all men
  • 2 Cor. 3:2 – “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men”

Theologian A.W. Pink sheds light on these passages:

In none of the above passages has "all," "all men," "all the people" an unlimited scope. In each of those passages these general terms have only a relative meaning. In Scripture "all" is used in two ways: meaning "all without exception" (occurring infrequently), and "all without distinction" (its general significance), that is, all classes and kinds—old and young, men and women, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, and in many instances Jews and Gentiles, men of all nations . . .

A.W. Pink (1886–1952)

Were the Aztecs baptized by John? Did the Pygmies go to the temple to hear Christ? No. As A.W. Pink points out, these texts refer to “all” without distinction, not "all" without exception. Remember the following three rules of interpretation: context, context, context.


As we have seen, the Scriptural support is found wanting. In my next post we'll see what Scripture has to say about God's judgment, and we'll consider the claim of Universalists that a loving God would never eternally punish people for their sins.

Stay tuned for part 2!

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