Thursday, January 27, 2011

The "Little Extra" of Believing the Word of God

Over at the interesting, and often thought-provoking, non-Calvinist blog "Diglot" (anonmyously authored), I found the following statement:
I think that today’s Christianity in large part has fused the basics of the Christian gospel message together with many peripheral beliefs. When you become a Christian in today’s Western culture, you are not merely “accepting Christ” but you are also accepting an entire package of doctrines and beliefs. All these little extra beliefs are implicitly touted as being inextricably wrapped up with the basic message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

What are the “little extras” I am talking about? Things like being told that as a Christian you have to believe that the world was created 6000 years ago, that evolution is not true, that everything in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) actually happened, that the Gospel of John is a faithful record of what Jesus actually said and did, etc. However, it seems that when many Christians realize that these things are not even remotely true, their entire faith collapses. Not just their Christian faith, but even their most basic faith in any God.
But Jesus said:

John 5:47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

You cannot have Jesus and reject Moses, because Jesus bore witness to Moses. If you believe the words of Jesus, you will believe the words of Moses. If you don't believe Moses, you don't believe Jesus.

Believers are not simply those who "accept Christ," but those who believe and trust in the Word of God. Thus, Scripture contrasts the two positions:

Psalm 106:12 Then believed they his words; they sang his praise.

vs.

Psalm 106:24 Yea, they despised the pleasant land, they believed not his word:

And again:

John 5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

vs.

John 5:38 And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.

And sometimes we see the two tied directly together:

John 12:46-48
I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.

Unbelief in the Bible is unbelief in God. I wish I could offer hope to those who reject the Old Testament but claim to love Jesus, but I cannot. Perhaps God will have mercy on them (after all, we are all sinners and imperfect), but the fruit of the lives of such men is that they have not believed the Word of the Lord.

This is not a little extra, but the central issue - a line that divides heretics from orthodox Christians - those that accept the once delivered faith from those who create a new faith that excludes those parts that they do not wish to hold.

It is not a tragedy when unbelievers identify themselves as unbelievers. After all, it is better for an unbeliever to recognize his situation than for him to falsely imagine himself to be a believer.

Mark 2:17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

So, dear reader, here is a challenge for you: do you believe the Word of the Lord? Is it your rule of faith and life? Do you measure the claims of your church by that standard, or do you interpret the Scriptures according to what your church insists it means? Do you measure the historical and cosmological claims of "science" by what the Bible says, or do you interpret the Bible in light of what "science" tells you? Have you accepted or relegated the Word of the Lord?

Psalm 18:30 As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.

-TurretinFan

7 comments:

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"After all, it is better for an unbeliever to recognize his situation than for him to falsely imagine himself to be a believer."

I agree. Practical situation for ya, TFan. I have folks in my Bible Study who believe that it's pharasaically judgmental to discern whether a person is a false convert. They believe that it's injurious and offensive to inform a person that they may not be a Christian when that person self-identifies themselves as Christian.

Their feeling is that if a person self-identifies as a Christian, they are practically immune from fruit-inspection.

They think it's wrong, even perhaps sinful for a genuine Christian to inform another that they're not Christian and that they need to repent and become a genuine Christ-follower.

They inform me that when they accepted Christ they had a lengthy time of sanctification, and if someone had told them at that "growth" time that they weren't Christian, they might very well have chucked the whole Christian faith.

(I don't know if this is relevant or helpful, but the people who tell me this are women.)

What do you think TFan.

Turretinfan said...

There are two extremes. One extreme is to decide that one is a fruit inspector, with a calling to scrutinize everyone's fruit to see if they measure up to rigorous standards.

Another extreme is to ignore obvious signs of problems because a person calls himself a Christian.

Neither extreme is wise - the latter lacks discernment, the former seems to reflect a lack of self-awareness.

Of course, the elders of the church should be on the look out for issues with the fruit of their flock. Husbands and wives should be concerned for one another in a particular way, and they should be especially watchful of the fruit in their children.

There are those with a duty to be fruit inspectors. There are also those who should be careful about having a judgmental spirit, or judging for the wrong reasons or motivations.

Hopefully that addresses the main question.

-TurretinFan

Strong Tower said...

This is a side question, but not unrelated.

Frank Turk, at Pyro, has posted a "admonishment" of Michael Horton, asserting that the WHI emphasis on the Word of God neglects the "subjunctive," i.e., the volition (Turk's word) of believers. He seems to be asserting that WHI engenders a false sense of assurance in that their emphasis on justification working its way in sanctification may lead to a carnal Christianity, or worse unregenerate membership.

I have reviewed Horton's position and for the life of me cannot understand from where the Turk is coming. Far from encouraging neglect, I find Horton's emphasis to be right on the mark, placing as he does the necessity of the sanctifying effect of the Word of God through the Spirit's enabling. I also understand that a TE would be subject to review if his teaching was so imbalanced as to deny one aspect of the WCF by too great an emphasis on another, even if only perceived. With Horton's subscription to the WCF, and an even more scrupulous presbytery, I would think that his own would be holding him more accountable.

My feeling is that Turk isn't seeing the WHI's bent for what it has been, a corrective. But, as I said, Horton has gone on record, and does include the admonitions of Scripture and the WCF in reference to neglect in pursuit of sanctification.

"It is not a tragedy when unbelievers identify themselves as unbelievers. After all, it is better for an unbeliever to recognize his situation than for him to falsely imagine himself to be a believer."


Now, both Horton and Turk would agree. It is in fact what Turk questions: How can one say they believe and yet deny they do by their actions? Of course, Horton's emphasis is what one believes is the cause of what one does. Some how Turk finds an exception, namely that one can believe and not do. But that, Horton would say, is impossible.

So getting to TUAD's question and your response. You're right, we have been given overseers who are charged with watching over our souls. The presumption is the confession is true while the discipline addresses the deficiency, and not necessarily the reality, of ones faith. And still, by discipline, is brought to bear upon one's conscience the need for the Gospel. And in that sense, even without judging the condition of one's soul, if they are lost, the Gospel is still preached. One of the things that the Gospel presumes is sin which needs to be cleansed, be it the sin of unbelievers, or of believers. Paul's challenge is to be noted when he addresses believers to check themsevles to see if they are in the faith.

From my stand point, one cannot get to Turk's position without going through Horton's. While at the same time, Horton finds that emphasis placed where Turk apparently thinks it should be, interferes with the work of God if one is a believer.

As you quoted, we must first believe what is written. For how then would we know that we are to repent and believe?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Hopefully that addresses the main question."

With all due respect, not really.

But that's okay. It's really a pragmatically difficult situation to navigate.

You see, when you wrote: "One extreme is to decide that one is a fruit inspector, with a calling to scrutinize everyone's fruit to see if they measure up to rigorous standards"

there is nobody like that that we know of or are in contact with.

So that concern is a non-issue.

When you write: "Another extreme is to ignore obvious signs of problems because a person calls himself a Christian."

That's the issue. The "non-judgmentalists" say that it's wrong to discern that another person who self-witnesses himself or herself as a Christian is not really a Christian.

For example, suppose a self-declared Christian does not read the Bible, does not pray, and hasn't attended church for 7 years. By appearances, this self-declared Christian is functionally identical to a secular non-Christian.

The "non-judgmentalists" have informed me that it's wrong to think or discern that such a person is not a genuine Christian.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"He seems to be asserting that WHI engenders a false sense of assurance in that their emphasis on justification working its way in sanctification may lead to a carnal Christianity, or worse unregenerate membership.

I have reviewed Horton's position and for the life of me cannot understand from where the Turk is coming."


My gut feeling is that Horton and Turk are closer theologically than they are apart theologically. Could be some misunderstanding.

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

I believe we are doing a person a great disservice if we do not challenge them at a certain point to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith. If we do not and they are not, we are planting primroses on the path to hell. Granted salvation is from God it is our job to properly preach His truth. I would be very careful of categorically saying someone is not a Christian, I do not know heart. But to fail even call the person into question, if it is warranted is serious mistake (see James particularly chapter 2).

natamllc said...

I have come to this article several times now and each time I am moved to comment something comes up.

So, before that happens again...!

You write:

Unbelief in the Bible is unbelief in God. I wish I could offer hope to those who reject the Old Testament but claim to love Jesus, but I cannot.

To wit I say, AMEN!

If after reading this:

Mat 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Rom 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.


and do not experience a similar reaction, this:

Rev 5:1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.
Rev 5:2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?"
Rev 5:3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it,
Rev 5:4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.


then I would be suspect that you are not hearing the voice of the Spirit of Christ or the Holy Spirit as they go about working on your behalf sanctifying you out of this world of Satan, sin and death!

We, True Spirit filled born again believers, indeed, are, either living in this world, or, after passing out of this world, in Heaven itself. If we cannot now see or come to realize that there is no other way out of this world into Christ's Kingdom, Heaven itself, but through Christ and Him crucified fulfilling all that the Law requires of us, for us, we are not living by His Faith or Righteousness, but by another's; either our own, with human carnal reasonings, or, by the violent evil faith of Satan, sin and death!

I would say if you are not under attack on those "Little Extras" too, there must be a rational reason to be suspect that the sanctification work of the Holy Spirit is not afoot upon your soul.

1Pe 1:1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
1Pe 1:2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
1Pe 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
1Pe 1:4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
1Pe 1:5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.