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Short Thoughts on Oneness Pentecostalism

I grew up in the Assemblies of God, a Trinitarian Pentecostal group.  I was aware even as a child of the “other” Pentecostals out there who were called “Jesus Only” Pentecostals.  My dad explained them to me once saying that they only believed in Jesus and not in the Father or the Holy Spirit.  That was not entirely true but it was the best he understood.  Over the years I have had very few encounters with Oneness folks.  I visited a Oneness church only twice in my life and both for observation.

The Oneness movement is much older than Oneness Pentecostals like to believe.  They like to believe that God restored the Oneness doctrine of God in 1913-14 with the split from Trinitarian Pentecostals.  The Assemblies of God called the new teaching “the new issue” and rejected the Oneness teachings in 1916.  Many AG pastors left the Assemblies of God over the issue.  The largest Oneness Pentecostal group is the United Pentecostal Church International based out of Hazelwood, Missouri.  The UPC is rejects the historic doctrine of the Trinity and holds to the Oneness doctrine.

The teaching is essentially the old heresy of Sabellianism from the 2nd century.  The teaching is also called Modalism.  Modalism teaches that there is only one God who reveals Himself in different “modes” such as the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.  These three modes are not three persons but rather manifestations of the one true God.  The Oneness Pentecostals teach that Jesus is the mighty God (Isaiah 9:6) and that Jesus is the Father and Jesus is the Son and Jesus is the Holy Ghost.  Jesus is all three!  Jesus only is God.  There is no Father who is God nor a Son who is God nor the Spirit who is God but rather there is only one Person in the Godhead and His name is Jesus.  Oneness Pentecostals go to Matthew 28:19 and they see baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and they point out that the Name of God is revealed to us in Acts 2:38 when Peter used the keys given to him by Jesus to preach the truth of the Godhead, that the Name of God is Jesus.  It is this Name (Acts 4:12) that saves us and only those who are baptized in the name of Jesus are truly saved (Romans 6:1-4).

In reality, the Oneness Pentecostals teach that the Father who is named Jesus is truly the eternal God.  They would agree with the Arians, that the Son has a beginning in the incarnation (Luke 1:35) and the Son will have an ending (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).  They love to use the word “begotten” in John 3:16 to prove that Jesus the Son was begotten by the Father.  While this is a poor usage of the Greek term here (see the NIV for example here), Oneness Pentecostals have argued effectively to poorly taught Trinitarians about the nature the Son.  They also love to point out that the words “Trinity” nor “God the Son” nor “the Eternal Son” are found in the New Testament and to them, this proves that Jesus as the Son was not eternally the Son of the Father but rather He had a beginning in Bethlehem.

So what do Oneness Pentecostals do with the Lord Jesus in the Gospels where He over and over again refers to “My Father” or “the Father?”  Or what about where Jesus prays to the Father such has in John 17?  Or what about Jesus’ baptism where all three persons (or manifestations in the Oneness mind) appear in Matthew 3:13-17?  They believe that the key to understanding the life of Jesus is to understand that at times He was speaking as the Son and sometimes as God who is the Father.  The Son, they teach, always refers to Jesus’ humanity and not to His divinity.  When the Son is praying or eating or sleeping, He is doing so as the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).  They believe that the Father (who is Jesus as the mighty God) wrapped Himself in flesh (John 1:14, 18) but the Son was not God only He was a man, the Son of God.  So when Jesus was praying, He was praying from His human side to His divine side.  And when Jesus was baptized, God, being God, chose to reveal all three manifestations at the same time which He can do if He wants.  When we read of Jesus now in the presence of God at His right hand such as in Acts 2:34-36 or Hebrews 1:3, this is speaking of Jesus in His human manifestation before the eternal Father who is Jesus the divine side.  To me it is very confusing and doesn’t allow the texts to read freely but nonetheless Oneness Pentecostals believe this is the key to reading and studying and understanding the Bible.  It is their own unique hermeneutic if you will.

Oneness Pentecostals use three major texts to prove that Jesus is God the Father.  First, they read Isaiah 9:6 and believe that the words “eternal Father” are referring to the Father.  Secondly, they point to John 10:30 and point out that Jesus Himself here says that He and the Father are one.  Third, they point to John 14:9 where Jesus answers Philip and says that if they had seen Him, they had seen the Father.

Time doesn’t permit me to answer the entire charges here and to be fair, Oneness Pentecostal have other texts they turn to prove their doctrine.  In short, Isaiah 9:6 is not speaking of necessarily titles of the Lord Jesus.  Nowhere in the New Testament are these titles worked out though they are true of Him.  The concept of God as our Father is not fully developed in the Old Testament though spoken of a few times.  Yet here the understanding could be “Father of eternity” in that the One to be born (Isaiah 7:14) is from ancient times (Micah 5:2).  Jesus is eternal and thus He is the Father of eternity but this doesn’t mean that He is the Father.  Secondly, the Greek text of John 10:30 is clear that Jesus is not speaking of unipersonal but essence when He says that He and the Father are one.  The Greek says, “One we are.”  There are very specific Greek words John could have used to show us that Jesus is the Father but instead He uses a Greek phrase that simply makes Jesus of the same kind as the Father.  Third, even Oneness Pentecostals don’t believe that when Jesus the Man was saying to Philip that if he’d seen Him, he’d seen the Father that they were seeing at that very moment the Father.  Oneness Pentecostals hold that the Father is a spirit and invisible to us (Colossians 1:15) but instead Jesus is saying that when the Apostles saw Jesus, they were seeing God the Father in that the Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.  Not once in the New Testament does Jesus ever say that He is the Father though He refers to His Father or the Father or My Father hundreds of times.

Finally, a word about the Oneness view of salvation.  This is the key for me.  Oneness Pentecostals teach that a person must believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, be baptized in water by immersion “in the name of Jesus” for the forgiveness of sins, and then must receive the infilling of the Holy Ghost by the initial, physical evidence of speaking in tongues.  A person is not justified by faith alone in the Oneness mind.  A person must do all the above to be saved.  Now sometimes in the Oneness church, a person will get the Holy Ghost and speak in tongues before being baptized in Jesus’ name but they point to Acts 10:43-48 as proof that this is okay.

Also it’s not enough to just believe in Jesus, be baptized in Jesus’ name and receive the Holy Ghost with evidence of tongues, one must also live a holy life till the end lest they “lose their salvation.”  Holiness includes the holiness codes set up by many Oneness churches including women wearing dresses, not cutting their hair, no makeup or jewelry, and men must be clean-shaven, short hair, avoid alcohol and tobacco and live a holy life.  It is amounts to works-righteousness though Oneness folks will argue that they do it with joy.

In closing, Oneness Pentecostals are nice folks but being nice is not the standard of truth.  The Word of God is the final authority and they would agree.  I have been meeting a Oneness pastor from time to time to talk theology and he is a bright, loving man.  He wants me to accept him merely because he loves Jesus.  That, he says, should unite us.  But I disagree.  I am not mean to him but the Jesus he says that he worships and loves is the not the Jesus of the Bible.  I know that hurts but its true.  The Jesus he says that he worships is not the same as the Jesus I worship.  He believes that since Oneness Pentecostals speak in tongues the same as Trinitarian Pentecostals speak in tongues, this must prove that God accepts them both despite someone being wrong about the Godhead. He also believes that since Oneness Pentecostals teach and preach that Jesus is God, what is the big deal?

There are obviously many errors.  For just one.  Consider the atonement.  In Oneness theology the saving work of Christ is not God dying in my place, standing condemned for my sins.  Instead, we have the Father wrapped in flesh but not really a man.  Instead Jesus only appears as a man but the true Jesus is still the eternal Father.  In other words, the divine payment for our sins is not payed by the Lord God but instead by a mere man albeit a perfect one because the Father was inside of the man.  The payment is not God redeeming us through the divine Son but instead it is the human Jesus paying the penalty for our sins to the Father Jesus.  How weird.  In Trinitarian theology, the second person of the holy Trinity, the Lord Jesus, bears our sins on the cross and redeems us from the holy wrath of God.  God is truly in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-21) because the Son is offering His life for our sins to the glory of the Father who sent Him into the world (John 3:16).

Over even consider Jesus is our high priest who offers Himself before the Father to pray for us sinners (Hebrews 4:14-15).  Hebrews 7:22-28 speaks of Jesus being our high priest before the Father.  Jesus, as our faithful high priest, offered Himself to God (Hebrews 9:24-28) and He now sits at the Father’s right hand to ever live to pray for us.  In Oneness theology, Jesus as the Father hears Jesus the flesh (the Son) when we pray to Him.  In Trinitarian theology, the text is allowed to speak for itself: Jesus the Son prays for us sinner before the holy Father.  Jesus is truly our high priest in every since of the word.  A time will come when this will end at the consummation of the ages but this doesn’t mean that Jesus will cease to be the Son of God nor will He cease to reign as our Savior (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

And I could write much more.  I have gone too long.  I close by simply pointing out that Oneness Pentecostals fall short of the truth of Scripture.  While I admire them for their zeal and for holding to monotheism and to the authority of the Bible, I find much of their theology lacking.  I pray that God will help us, as biblical Trinitarians, to know what we believe about God and why the Trinity is not an optional doctrine.  The Trinity is vital.

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Where is the Discernment?

One of the things that troubles me about many Arminians is their utter lack of discernment.  This is true of course for all believers and not just Arminians but I want to speak to my camp here.  An upcoming event called “Together 2016” features many different people including Roman Catholics.  For the life of me,  I cannot understand how Protestants can join hands with Roman Catholics in any real sense until the Catholics renounce their Catholic beliefs.  The very gospel is at stake here.  This is not just about personal differences or traditions.  This is a gospel issue.

The Roman Catholic Church denies the gospel.  They deny justification by faith.  They deny the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.  They teach a form of works righteousness.  They deny even declared righteousness imputed to the believer by God.  They deny sola scriptura.  They deny sola fide.  They deny sola gratia.  Everything that our Protestant forefathers did for the sake of the gospel, the blood shed in defense of the Bible and in defense of the gospel cannot be lost.

When you read the list of speakers for the “Together 2016” one not included (because he will not there in person) is the Pope.  Yes the Roman Catholic pontiff (whom Arminius called the antichrist) will address evangelicals.  Alongside the Pope will be men such as Lecrae (whom I have lost respect for), Dr. Tony Evans (whom I lost respect for sometime ago), and Dr. George Wood (the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God).  Before you think that only non-Calvinists are there, Calvinists such as Trip Lee and Francis Chan (who studied at the Master’s Seminary) will speak alongside the likes of Hillsong (who has wandered far away into something), Christine Cane, Lou Engle, and Mark Batterson.

What is disappointing about this is the lack of discernment.  Can you imagine Arminius speaking where he knew the Catholic pontiff would be welcomed?  Can you imagine the likes of a John Buynan or Charles Spurgeon preaching at this event?  Would John Wesley join hands with known mystics to promote this “unity?”  Would Leonard Ravenhill promote such an event?

I think the answer is clear.

Arminius wrote about the Roman Pontiff:

Since, therefore, the Roman Pontiff either attributes these most honourable titles of Christ to himself, or willingly suffers them to be ascribed to him; and since he evinces no horror at the blasphemy contained in these titles, and gives no tokens of his displeasure at this ascription of them; it follows, that he puts himself in the place of Christ, and is supremely opposed to Him. There is no excuse in the explanation which is given, that “the head and foundation is ministerial, and that he attributes all these things to himself under Christ, as having been elevated by the grace or favour of God and Christ to that dignity.” For the protestation is directly contrary to the fact; and he is so much the more the bitter enemy of God and Christ, as he the more confidently boasts of being defended by the authority of God and Christ. Such conduct is, in fact, under the semblance of friendship to exercise the deepest enmity, and, under the disguised pretext of a minister of light and of righteousness, to promote the interests of the kingdom of darkness and of unrighteousness. On this very account, therefore, we assert that the disparaging epithets which we laid down in our first Thesis, most justly belong to him; and this we now proceed to show by descending to particulars.

Arminius called the Pope the “pimp of the harlot Church.”  He further wrote:

Although the Roman pontiff calls himself “the servant of the servants of God,” yet we further assert that he is by way of eminence, That Wicked And Perverse Servant, who, when he saw that his Lord delayed his coming, “began to smite his fellow-servants.” (Matt. 24:48.) For the Roman pontiff has usurped domination and tyranny, not only over his fellow- servants, the bishops of the church of God, but likewise over emperors and kings themselves, whose authority and dignity he had himself previously acknowledged. To acquire this domination for himself, and still further to augment and establish it, he has employed all kinds of satanic instruments — sophistical hypocrisy, lies, equivocations, perfidy, perjury, violence, poison, and armed forces — so that he may most justly be said to have succeeded that formidable beast which “was like unto a leopard, a bear and a lion,” and by which the Roman empire was prefigured — and to have “had power to give life unto the image of the beast, and to cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast, should be killed.”

I call on Arminians to follow in the footsteps of Arminius and denounce the Roman Catholic Church.  I am not calling for hatred of Catholics themselves for they need the gospel.  I am calling for a hatred of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.  I am calling for biblical discernment (Jude 3-4).

We need to heed 1 Timothy 4:1-2.  We need to heed 2 Timothy 4:3-4.  We need to stand agains the Roman Catholic Church and preach against her false doctrines.  We need to call Catholics to repent and believe the gospel.

I pray that men such as Dr. George Wood would not only decline speaking at the “Together 2016” event but denounce it.  I pray that men and women of God would rise up and denounce the event altogether.  In our troubled world we need the true gospel and not a mixing of errors.  Now is not the time to lay down our swords in the midst of a sinful world.  What is going to slay the evils we see of racism, sexual immorality, abortion, homosexuality, wicked killings, etc. is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16-17).  We lose the gospel.  We lose the war.

Seeing “Us” in Scripture

I enjoy Chris Rosebrough and his podcast “Fighting for the Faith.”  Chris often uses satire and comedy to point out false teachers and teachings.  His podcast often has sermon reviews of both good and bad sermons and Chris will point out why they are that.  I am often amazed at what passes for sermons these days.  Much of what seems to be coming out of the seeker church is not even close to true biblical teaching.  It is more or less about “us.”  It is man-centered to its core.

I have written often on the need for expository teaching and more sound doctrine being preached.  Just this week while working I was pondering why people enjoy attending seeker churches where doctrine is minimized and those who desire to go “deeper” with their faith are criticized.  I want to ask them, “How can you sit under this guy and learn anything?  What has he taught you that brought you closer to Christ, deeper in your theological understanding of the gospel?”  Heck, most of the teachers Chris plays on his podcast have no gospel understanding.  The seeker churches are just “say this prayer and become a Christian” as their gospel.

I subscribe to a local church here in my city that has been sucking people from the more traditional churches (mainly Baptist churches) for some time.  They started at about 50 people or so and today have over 1000.  Because of their growth, church leaders often avoid criticizing them because of their growth.  They are instead esteemed.  I point out that growth is no indicator of truth.  Look at the cults.  Look at Islam.  Truth is not pragmatic.  Truth is truth and God’s Word declares the truth of God (John 17:17).  Jesus said that He is the truth (John 14:6).  God has given us His truth through His Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  We need no other “truth.”  Yet many are unwilling to take the truth of the Bible and examine the teachings of large seeker churches because of their numbers.

Each week I get their Sunday services on my podcasts.  I listen to their sermons.  Why?  Because I want to know if they are preaching truth.  Often they are not.  In fact, they often are preaching nothing at all.  They are currently preaching through John but they are not expository nor are they dealing with their text.  They often just read the text and fill in stories about themselves or others to pass the time.  They are not false teachers.  They are “un-teachers.”  They are teaching neither bad doctrine nor good.  They are teaching nothing.  They just focus on “us.”

This is true nearly of all seeker churches that I know.  The focus is on “us” and not Jesus.  The gospel is not about the glory of God, the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, His sacrifice for our sins, along with His death, burial, and bodily resurrection from the dead where He now sits at the right hand of God to pray for us.  No!  The “gospel” of seeker churches is on “us.”  It is about “us” and our glory.  The gospel of seeker churches is about Jesus coming to give us an “abundant life” or to give us a “hope and a future” (both John 10:10 and Jeremiah 29:11 are seriously abused and destroyed there).

Just this past week I listened to two seeker churches Resurrection Day services.  Both were focused on “us.”  The gospel was not taught.  The focus was not on the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  The focus was on God resurrecting your dreams.  Neither church preached repentance for the forgiveness of our sins (Luke 24:47).  Neither church even mentioned repentance at all.  Both did mention sin but only in passing.  Sin is what keeps us down, what keeps us from reading our potential.  Gone is the truth of the gospel of repentance.

The gospel is not lost.  It is easily found in the Bible.  One can skip it.  One can downplay it.  But one cannot ignore it altogether.  Just reading the New Testament brings us face to face with our sins, with our inability to save ourselves by our good works, with the fact that we are enemies of God because of our rebellion against His law (Romans 3:19-20).  We find that our world is not getting better by works of the flesh but we realize that we must repent of our sins if we are to have peace with God (Acts 2:37-39; 3:19-20).  We find that repentance brings salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).  We find that Christ alone saves us from the wrath of God by His grace and mercy (Romans 5:1).  The gospel is focused on the person and work of the Lord Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-14 and notice how many times “He” is mentioned and we are not).  Salvation is not accomplished by making amends or trying harder or your good deeds (Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  Salvation is the gracious work of God wrought in us by His Spirit through the saving work of the Lord Jesus.

Until next time, keep loving and living in the gospel.

Needed: Biblical Discernment

Proverbs 2:3-5 (NKJV) reads:

3 Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
4 If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
5 Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,
And find the knowledge of God.

I am convinced that we need a revival of biblical discernment.  How often do I hear sermons, songs, books, movies, etc. that claim to be Christian but lack any sound doctrine?  Sound doctrine is neglected as pragmatism now reigns over the churches.  We truly need a revival of discernment.

We need to question everything and hold fast to that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  How do we learn to discern?  Discernment comes by heeding the Word of God.  We must learn to hide the Word in our hearts so that we have the sword of the spirit to cut through false teachings (Hebrews 4:12).  This comes by faithful reading and studying of the Word of God (Hebrews 5:11-14).  As we hide the Word in our hearts, the Lord gives us the ability to discern based on His truth (John 17:17).

Proverbs 2:3 above states that we are to cry out for discernment and lift our voice for understanding.  John MacArthur writes:

This shows the passionate pleading of one who is desperate to know and apply the truth of God.  The least bit of indifference will leave one bereft of the fullness of wisdom.

I often pray for God to give me discernment according to His Word.  I want to judge all things by the truthfulness of the Word of God (1 John 4:1-2).  God’s Word is perfectly sufficient to provide all we need in hearing from God and learning discernment.  We don’t need the Bible plus an inner voice or plus hearing “the voice of God” by subjective means.  We need to open the Bible, learn the Bible, and through the Bible we get discernment to judge all things.

If this were to take place in the Church of Jesus Christ at large can you imagine what would take place?  “Christian music” would turn from shallow, narcissistic lyrics to sound doctrine.  Sermons also would turn from shallow stories, poor eisgesis, toward sound doctrine with unction.  Evangelism would be focused on the gospel and preaching the truth of the gospel instead of trying to make friends with the world.  The church would turn from its entertainment drive toward truth proclaiming.  Pragmatism would be replaced with sound doctrine and biblical discernment of Bible teachers.  False teachers would be turned away as the Church embraced the sufficient of the Word of God and learned how to rightfully divide the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15).

All the things the church is now known for from the love of money to the willingness to accept false teachers who fleece the saints to using worldly entertainment to feed the goats, this would all clear up if biblical discernment were sought after diligently.

Where do we begin?  First, we must pray for discernment (Proverbs 2:3).

Secondly, we must seek discernment from the hidden treasures of God’s Word.  This will in turn lead to a holy fear of the Lord and we will find the knowledge of God.

I want both the fear of the Lord in my life as well as the knowledge of the Lord.  I want to know Him more and more (Philippians 3:7-10).  I know that only in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).  I want to know the Word of God not just to point out false teachings but for the good.  I want to hear from God (John 8:47) and I know that I hear from God when I read and study His Word.  His Word is the voice of God (Hebrews 1:1-3; cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17).  I need no other voice.

Lord give me discernment.

Why Pragmatism Reigns in the Modern Western Church

Pragmatism is the notion that meaning or worth are determined by practical consequences.  If a church has large numbers because of its programs, its rock band “worship” team, its shallow preaching, its non-doctrinal position, then it is deemed good.  If a church is the opposite with a focus on preaching, on prayer, on confrontational evangelism, on preaching against sin, on confronting sin in the camp, or singing songs that are doctrinally sound and God-exalting, then it is deemed bad (but only if the numbers are low).  In our day, success is viewed in size terms and behind the scenes with money.

In the Bible, faithfulness is placed above success.  After all, many in the Bible where not successful but they were faithful.  Even Jesus, who once had the crowds following Him until He began to preach the radical demands of discipleship (Luke 14:25-35; John 6:60-66), must be viewed as a “failure” according to modern church growth and seeker sensitive churches yet His disciples turned the world upside down with the gospel.  Paul died a lonely man in prison (2 Timothy 4:16-17) but he was faithful (2 Timothy 4:18).  Noah preached the judgment of God to his generation but he only saw his family repent and believe and were saved from God’s judgment (1 Peter 3:20) yet Noah was faithful.

The fact is that Jesus said He would welcome faithful disciples into His everlasting kingdom (Matthew 25:21).  Faithfulness is what God is after.  Faithfulness to His Word.  Faithfulness to the gospel.  Faithfulness to follow Christ no matter what.  Sadly, few want this today.

The modern church wants success.  Preachers (if you can call them this for they are not preaching the Bible but only proof-texting from it) are out for power and control.  The drive is to be bigger, to be bolder, to out-do the other guy.  The competition among pastors is gross.  The drive for more money and power seems to drive them.  Pastors today rally around methodology and not theology.  Theology is not even a serious issue.  This is why seeker churches have no trouble modeling this guy or that guy with no thought to their theology.  They are willing to embrace whoever because of pragmatism.  I remember having a conversation once with a pastor about the modalist, TD Jakes, in which he defended Jakes not by looking at his theology but his “anointing” and his numbers.  How could we reject Jakes when it is clear that God is using him?  This is pragmatism.

In the modern pragmatic church, numbers often equal success.  Larger numbers equals more money.  More money equals more programs and bigger buildings.  But what you win them with is what you win them to.  This is why seeker churches are doctrinally shallow.  This is why I consistently meet lost sinners who know nothing of the gospel but claim to be members of such and such seeker church.  This is why you can meet a “youth pastor” on the street and ask him to explain to you how to become a disciple of Jesus and he has no clue.  His entire outlook is pragmatic.

This is why pragmatic churches deplore churches that are Christ-centered and Christ-exalting.  While seeker churches give lip service to Jesus, Jesus is used as a means to an end.  They use Jesus to lure the people into their promise that He will give them a better life now, that He will give them hope.  They fail to mention that the “seeker” is a lost sinner who needs to repent.  They fail to mention that the “seeker” is an enemy of God apart from faith in Christ (Romans 5:10).  They fail to tell “seekers” that they must turn from their wicked ways and turn to Christ alone and completely for eternal salvation.  Instead, they preach a Jesus who is just this cool, hip, shallow guy who loved them so much He died for them.  But they ignore why He had to die.  They ignore the fact that Jesus died for our sins and that it was our sins that brought the wrath of God down upon His Son (John 3:36; Galatians 1:4).

Pragmatic churches are perfect for this “selfie” generation.  It’s all about me.  It’s not about the wrath of God.  It’s not about the holy law of God.  It’s not about the coming judgment of God.  It’s not about eternal damnation.  It’s about my best life now.  This is what counts and this is what matters.  And this preaching gets results.  This preaching gets numbers and power and money.  The preaching of the cross gets you one thing: a cross.

Yet Jesus warned us in Luke 6:26: “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”

My earnest prayer is that the Church would rise up and cast off the gimmicks of this world.  Cast off cheap “Christian” music that doesn’t exalt the Lord Jesus Christ and declare His glory.  Cast off shallow preaching for expository preaching that is biblically focused.  Cast off dead prayer meetings that don’t truly seek God while He may be found (Isaiah 55:6).  Cast off friendship evangelism that is the evangelical copout for not preaching the gospel to the lost but instead declare the gospel to the sinners.  Cast off churches that are focused on pragmatism and lack any doctrinal preaching, any doctrinal discernment.  Instead, love the truth and defend it (Jude 3-4).

I urge you to pray.  Pray for the Church.  Pray against pragmatism.  Pray for God to raise up godly leaders who will preach the gospel with no focus on being men-pleasers (2 Corinthians 2:14-17).  Pray for a revival of expository preaching in our age.  Pray for the Lord to glorify His name in His Church just as He has promised He would (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 3:21).  Pray for sinners to repent of their sins and turn to Christ in true repentance and faith (Romans 10:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-6).  I urge you to pray (Luke 18:1)!

The False Notion That All Religions Worship the Same God

I heard a song this morning while working that claimed in it that all religions essentially worship the same God.  The song was calling for religions then to be peaceful toward each other since we all are seeking to worship the same God.  The song, along with modern culture, is oblivious to theology or they would not write nor utter such non-sense about God.  Anyone can study the various religions and see that they don’t all worship the same God.  Just consider Islam and Christianity for example.  Both of these are the two largest religions in the world.  Both claim to worship the one true and living God.  Both believe the other is wrong with the exception of a few liberals among them.  Now let us put this to the test.

  • The God of Christianity is triune in the person of God.  The false god of Islam is completely one (absolute monotheism).
  • Jesus is the Son of God in Christianity, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit.  Jesus is the Messiah in Islam but just a man.  Allah does not begot.
  • Yahweh has revealed Himself as a loving, good, merciful, compassionate, and graceful God who saves those who have faith in His Son.  Allah is said to be merciful and compassionate but there is no concept of grace in Islam because there is no understanding of personal sinfulness in Islam.
  • Yahweh transforms His people from the inside out through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Allah demands outward performance to worship him.
  • Christianity claims the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God.  Islam claims the Quran is the inerrant and infallible Word of God.

So after that very brief survey of Christianity and Islam, only a foolish person would read that and then assume that these two religions worship the same God.  Jesus said that He was the only way to God (John 14:6) and Paul the Apostle said that there is only one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  Islam would deny both claims.  Christianity claims from Revelation 20:15; 21:27 that only those who have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life will be in heaven.  The rest will be destroyed in an eternal hell (Matthew 25:46; 2 Thessalonians 1:9).  Islam teaches, for the most part, that only faithful Muslims will enter into heaven.

For the disciple of Jesus, we have known this.  We know just from talking to people that no two religions are the same.  I have found that even people who claim to be Christians, who claim to be evangelicals, that they often worship a god of their own imagination.  The great Puritan Stephen Charnock called most people “practical atheists.”  Charnock noted that people often did not deny the existence of God with their lips or minds but with their lives (Titus 1:16).  Charnock wrote,

“This secret atheism is the spirit of all sin.  Every sinful motion practically throws off God’s law and sovereignty, declaring Him unworthy of His being.  If it were allowed to be carried to its logical end, every sin of mankind would impugn, dethrone, and annihilate God, while setting up the sinner as a wiser authority.”

All sinners, whether they claim Jesus or not, operate as practical atheists when they refuse to worship and submit to the Lordship of Almighty God.  You and I likewise are acting as practical atheists when we sin against God and refuse to obey Jesus as Lord (Luke 6:46-49).  As Charnock goes on to note, we all want to be our own gods.  This was the sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:5) and is still true today of us all who rebel against God and His Word.

May the Church rise up to answer the false notions of modern culture.  Only Jesus saves and all who die without Him are doomed (John 3:18; 5:24-25).  The Church must preach the truth of Jesus to the world (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15) and the world must hear the gospel to be saved (Romans 10:14-17).  We must preach the truth of the gospel to all including the false religions such as Islam or Buddhism or any others.  The world must repent or face the holy wrath of God (Acts 17:30-31; Romans 1:16-18).  May we disciples of Jesus be active in preaching the gospel to the lost by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/12/2013 at 4:15 PM

The Idolatry of Doctrine

Doctrine is important.  Scripture is clear about this.  Last night my little boys and I were studying from John 7 and here Jesus makes this statement about doctrine in John 7:16-18 (NKJV):

16 Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. 17 If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. 18 He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.

Adam Clarke wrote about verse 17:

I will give you a sure rule by which ye may judge of my doctrine: If you really wish to do the will of God, begin the practice of it; and take my doctrine, and apply it to all that you know God requires of man; and if you find one of my precepts contrary to the nature, perfections, and glory of God, or to the present or eternal welfare of men, then ye shall be at liberty to assert that my doctrine is human and erroneous, and God has not sent me. But if, on the contrary, ye find that the sum and substance of my preaching is, That men shall love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbour as themselves; and that this doctrine must bring glory to God in the highest, while it produces peace and good will among men; then acknowledge that God has visited you, and receive me as the Messiah promised to your fathers.

Doctrine must glorify God.  Doctrine must focus on the work of the Lord Jesus.

In the Church of Jesus Christ, doctrine is vital.  We read in Acts 2:42 that the disciples saved on the day of Pentecost continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine.  Ephesians 4:14 says that the purpose of Bible teachers is to help the children of God mature and not be confused by false teachings but to remain faithful to sound doctrine.  1 Timothy 1:3 tells Timothy to charge some that they teach no other doctrine.  1 Timothy 4:1 warns that the time will come when people will turn away from the faith and turn to teaching doctrines of demons.  But Timothy is to remain in faithful doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6) and he is to be faithful in teaching sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:13) for in so doing he will save both himself and others as well (1 Timothy 4:16).  Paul praises elders who are teaching sound doctrine (1 Timothy 5:17) and he tells slaves to be faithful that the doctrine of God might be praised (1 Timothy 6:1).  Paul’s warning in 1 Timothy 6:3-5 (NKJV) is worth reading:

3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, 4 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, 5 useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that all of Scripture is breathed out by God and useful for doctrine.  2 Timothy 4:3-4 warns that a time will come (and has come since) when people will not endure sound doctrine but will turn aside to myths.

I could go on and on.  Sound doctrine is vital.  It is important for the Church to study sound doctrine and to abide in the Word of God.  We need to be faithful in Bible study and in sound exegesis.  We need faithful Bible teachers who will stand up and teach the truth of God without fear of men (Proverbs 1:7).  Sound doctrine is vital.  It is possible to believe in lies and a false christ (Matthew 24:24).  2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 says that when people abide in sin and do not love the truth, at times, God allows a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.  In essence, sincerity is not enough to be saved.  We must have faith in one true God to be saved.  I recently heard a prominent preacher say that Rahab the harlot (Hebrews 11:31) was saved and he was sure that she was not sound in doctrine.  He also pointed to Acts 16:30-34 with the pagan jailer as another example of poor doctrine in which a person was saved.  His point: God saves those who believe and not theologians.  He went on to say that he hoped that those in cults would be saved despite poor theology.  For instance, he went on to say that he hoped Jehovah’s Witnesses would be saved despite their false teachings.  He believes that the JW’s teach salvation by faith in Christ.

There are many problems with his views.  First, we don’t know the doctrinal understanding of either Rahab or the Philippian jailer.  Yet we do know that the Israelites were worshiping the one true God in Joshua 2.  In fact, Rahab acknowledges the authority of Yahweh in Joshua 2:9 by name.  Rahab was not seeking the false pagan gods of her culture but the one true God in Yahweh.  The same is true of the Apostles in Acts 16.  Paul was clearly preaching the true God (Romans 1:16-17) and this gospel would set sinners free.  Further, Paul makes it clear in Acts 16:31 that it is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who saves (John 14:6).  Paul was not praising the jailer for his faith in the false gods of Rome but he is preaching the true and living God in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:1).

Now my point here is not to simply acknowledge true doctrine.  I do believe that true doctrine is vital to the health of the Church and to salvation of the lost.  We can preach false christs.  We can preach another gospel (Galatians 1:6-9).  We must be careful to abide in the teachings of Jesus (John 15:1-11; 1 John 4:1-6).

That said, I believe that we can abide in faithful doctrine and yet love doctrine above loving Christ.  We must be careful to not fall in love with teachings about Jesus Christ while not loving the person of Christ.  The person of Christ is our salvation.  Salvation is not found in the teachings about Jesus as much as they are found in the person of Jesus.  Jesus is alive.  He is not dead.  Jesus is not confined to a book.  Jesus is the risen Savior.  Certainly we must study His Word that He has given us to know Him more and more but the knowledge of His Word is to know Him and not merely about Him.  We can know about Jesus while not knowing Jesus.  It is possible to sit week after week under sound doctrine and still be lost.  We can think we are saved because we think that salvation comes through knowledge about Jesus.  This is not true.  James 2:19 makes it clear that demons acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus but they are not saved.  Demons acknowledge sound doctrine about Jesus.  They acknowledge He is God.  They acknowledge He is Lord of lords.  Yet demons are not saved.

James 2:14-26 is important here because it is not enough, writes James the Apostle, to acknowledge the truth of God.  We must allow the truth of Jesus to transform us.  I know of people who would claim Christ.  They would acknowledge that we are justified by faith.  They would acknowledge that the Bible is the Word of God and that Christ alone saves.  Yet they abide in sin (1 John 3:4-9).  They are not saved from the wrath to come (Romans 5:9).  By their life, they testify that Jesus is not Lord of their lives (Luke 6:46-49; Titus 1:16; 1 John 2:3-6).  They are not saved at all.  They would claim salvation but they would not be able to point to what they are saved from.  They are not saved from God.  They are not saved from sin.  They are not saved from the bondage of the devil.  They are not saved from the fear of death.

True salvation is not simply doctrine.  To love doctrine above Jesus would be idolatry.  It is possible to love Arminius or Calvin or Edwards or Spurgeon above Jesus.  Jesus must be our focus.  Is the gospel of the Lord Jesus that saves me and not any flesh (John 1:12-13).  Jesus is our salvation (Romans 3:22-27).  Jesus shed His blood for our salvation (Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7) and His blood alone is able to cleanse us from sin (1 John 1:7).  His blood frees us and empowers us to be kings and priests unto God (Revelation 1:5-6).  The truth of the gospel is contained in the powerful words of John 3:16.  Our love should be for sound doctrine but even more for the person of the Lord Jesus who is alive and reigns forever.  May our love and devotion be to Him always and not to our theological systems.  I assure you that there will be many theologians in hell (Matthew 7:21-23) but the true saints of God are those who love Jesus and obey Him as Lord (Revelation 14:4).

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