Arminian Today

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Posts Tagged ‘Sufficiency of Scripture

Rhema, Logos, and “Words from the Lord”

From time to time I feel it is important to address the use of the Greek terms “Logos” and “Rhema” which are often translated in our English Bibles as “Word.”  In many charismatic circles, the “logos” is used for the Bible but the “rhema” is used for a “personal word from the Lord” or sometimes its where the Holy Spirit makes the Bible “a personal word.”  Often I have found this doctrine is taught by those in the Word-Faith movement but that is not always the case and many godly charismatics have fallen prey to the teaching.

The teaching often goes like this:  The Bible is important and it is the Word of God (logos).  But God wants to speak to us personally and give us a “rhema” word where He reveals His heart to us.  Sometimes this “rhema” word will come while reading the Bible (logos) but sometimes God will send His “rhema” word to our spirit.  The “rhema” word is a “now word from heaven.”

What happens is that this doctrine undermines the authority of Scripture.  It also undermines the sufficiency of Scripture.  But it also misuses the Greek words.  For example, the word “logos” is most notably used in John 1:1 where Jesus is called the Word of God.  Oneness Pentecostals jump on the term “logos” as meaning “the thought of God” so that they can deny the eternality of the Son.  Oneness Pentecostals teach that only God the Father (whom they name Jesus) is eternal but Jesus the Son is only eternal in the sense that He was in the mind of God the Father.  The context does not allow for this (John 1:1, 14, 18).  The word “logos” certainly is used here for Jesus but the word “logos” can also just mean “a word” such as in Matthew 8:8, 16; Luke 7:7.  “Logos” can mean a saying or discourses or conversation such as in Matthew 12:37; 15:12; 19:22; 22:15; 26:1; John 4:39; Acts 5:24.  “Logos” can mean a report or rumor (Matthew 28:15; Luke 5:15; 7:17).  It can mean a common saying or proverb (John 4:37).  “Logos” can also mean the Word of God whether the law or the gospel (Matthew 13:19-23; Mark 2:2; 7:13; 16:20; Acts 8:4; 2 Timothy 4:2).  It can mean “the ability to speak, utterance” as in Ephesians 6:19.

The word “rhema” is used in many ways interchangeably with “logos.”  For example, Jesus (who is the logos of God in John 1:1) says in John 3:34, “For He whom God has sent speaks the words (rhema) of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.” And again Jesus says in John 8:43, “Why do you not understand what I am saying?  It is because you cannot hear My word (logos)” and then our Lord says in John 8:47, “He who is of God hears the words (rhema) of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”

Notice in the above texts that the living Word of God, the Lord Jesus, uses the words interchangeably.  In context, rhema is not a subjective, personal word from God but is the Lord Jesus speaking to us.  The Bible is the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12) and reveals the words of God to us.

In 1 Peter 1:23-25 we read (NASB):

23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word (logos) of God. 24 For,

“All flesh is like grass,
And all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
And the flower falls off,

25 But the word (rhema) of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word which was preached to you.

If “logos” is the written Word and “rhema” is the personal word from God, why does the Holy Spirit use them both here referring to the same thing?  Again, it is because the New Testament writers use the Greek terms interchangeable at times.  We must examine the context.

What is clear from 1 Peter 1:23-25 is that Peter has the Scriptures in mind.  He is not pointing us to a subjective personal word.  He is pointing us to the sufficient, inerrant, infallible Word of God and he quotes from Isaiah 40:6.

In conclusion, the teaching that the “logos” is the written Word and “rhema” is the subjective personal word is not found in the Bible.  If you want to hear from God, open your Bible and read it.  The Bible is all you need to hear from God.  The Bible is breathed out from God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and is useful for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (ESV).  This “word” is what we are to preach (2 Timothy 4:2).  We need no other.  2 Peter 1:16-21 is clear that we have the sure foundation if we heed the Word of God.  Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

In order for people to accept “words from God” apart from Scripture, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is attacked.  People are taught that the Bible is a “dead book” but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6 misused).  Other “holy” books such as the Quran or the Book of Mormon will attack the Bible itself and mock it.  In the end, if you want to hear from God read the Bible for the Bible is the Word of God.  The Bible is sufficient.  Open it up, read it, and you are hearing from God.

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Why Arminians Should Stand With Calvinists In Regard To Inerrancy

There are doctrines that we disagree with our Calvinist brethren over.  We disagree over the decrees of God.  We disagree over whether we have retained free will after the Fall.  We disagree over what Adam has passed to us.  We disagree over the extent of the atonement.  We disagree over whether election is conditional or unconditional.

Yet the doctrine of Scripture should be a doctrine that we agree on.  After all, it is the preaching of the gospel that brings salvation (Romans 10:14-17).  Paul the Apostle stated clearly that the preaching of the cross was foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).  The preaching of the gospel is necessary to bring about the salvation of sinners (Matthew 28:19-20).  So it would only logically make sense for us to take a firm stand on the authority of the Bible.  The Bible is given to us by the work of the Holy Spirit working through godly men to bring about His holy Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Jesus said that the Word of God cannot be broken (John 10:35).  Jesus further said that His Word would never pass away (Matthew 5:17-18; Luke 16:17).

How is then that some Arminians want to reject inerrancy of the Bible?  Some reason that this is not a biblical position noting that the word inerrancy doesn’t appear in the Bible.  I would note that the word Trinity is not in the Bible either but it is based on reasoning from the Scriptures.  The same is true for inerrancy.  We base our view of the Word of God on what God has already said about His Word in the Bible.  The Bible says that God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2) so what He says in His Word is absolutely true.  Some will contend that this is circular reasoning but it is biblically true.  Proverbs 30:5 says that every word of God proves true.  This is true of Genesis 1 as well as John 1 or Philippians 1.

Others want to say that they believe in “salvation inerrancy” meaning that only passages related to salvation are inerrant.  My question: how do they know that John 3:16 is true if they can’t trust what God said in Genesis 2?  The reality is that those hold to this “limited inerrancy” view are in fact placing themselves as the judge of Scripture (or at least others such as scientists or secular historians).  Only those who hold to full inerrancy can truly believe that what God said in 2 Timothy 3:15 is true just as what God said in every portion of Scripture.

Arminius was not like these Arminians.  He wrote much about the perfection of the Word of God.  He wrote:

We assert, that the arguments which, contained in the Scriptures, prove the Divinity of the religion prescribed in them, are so full and perfect, that no arguments can be derived for the defense of any religion which are not comprehended in these, and in a more excellent degree. (2 Cor. iv, 2- 6.) They are indeed of such high value that the truth of the Christian religion is established by them as strongly, as it is possible by any other arguments to prove that there is any true religion at all, or that a true one is possible. So that to a man who is desirous of proving, that there is any religion which is true, or that such a religion is possible, no way is more compendious and easy than to do so by these arguments, in preference to any other which can be deduced from general notions. But the most wonderful of all is, that the very thing in the Christian religion which seems to be one of the greatest absurdity, affords the most certain proof of its Divinity, it being allowed to be a very great truth — that this religion has been introduced into the consciences of men by a mild suasion, and not by the power of the sword. (1 Cor. i, 29-xxiv, ; 2 Cor. v, 11; Luke ix, 54, 55.) Of a similar tendency is the argument formerly used by St. Augustine: “If the Christian religion was established by the miracles which are related in the Scriptures, it is true; but if it was not, the greatest of all miracles is, that it has been able to obtain credit without miracles.” For the internal suasion of Him who alone can work miracles, ought to stand in the place of miracles outwardly performed, and to be equally potent. (Rev. ii, 17.) And thus the very narration, contained in these books, of the miracles which were performed in the early ages in proof of the doctrine, is now, through a most beautiful vicissitude of circumstances, proved to be true by the Divinity of the doctrine when subjected to examination.

John Wesley stated about the truthfulness of Scripture:

This is that word of God which remaineth forever, of which, though heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle shall not pass away.  The Scripture therefore of the Old and New Testament is a most solid and precious system of Divine truth.  Every part thereof is worthy of God; and all together are one entire body, wherein is no defect, no excess.

I hold with both Arminius and Wesley that the Bible is true in all that it affirms.  Some want to even use the term “inerrancy” but they only mean that the Bible is inerrant when it speaks of salvation and not historical or scientific truth.  I affirm that the Bible is true in all that it affirms.  While the Bible is not a science book or even a history book per se, it still is true in what it affirms in regard to science or history.  I hold that the Bible is true in Genesis 1-11 and equally true in John 1-11.  There is no difference.  Whatever the Bible affirms is true because the very Spirit who has given us the Bible is the Spirit of truth (John 15:26).  Jesus Himself said that the Word of God is truth (John 17:17).

I find it alarming further that people who claim the infallibility of the Bible but deny its inerrancy will say that the Bible contains errors.  While they don’t produce any without their own presuppositions, they suppose that the Bible does contain errors.  2 Timothy 3:16 says that all of Scripture is breathed out by God.  Those who will say that the Bible is not true in whatever it teaches is making a grave assumption of God, that is that 2 Timothy 3:16 is not true since they would argue that such and such passages are in error.  They first make themselves the judge of Scripture as to what is true or not while ignoring their own utter sinfulness and faulty understanding in light of their own sins (Romans 1:21-22).  God alone is perfect in His wisdom and understanding yet sinful men will claim that they know where God has erred in His Word while ignoring 2 Timothy 3:16.  They claim that some parts of Scripture are indeed inspired by God such as John 1:12-13 but they will not say that all of Scripture is inspired of God despite 2 Timothy 3:16.  I fear for them before a true and holy God.  I am not saying that such people are not saved (for God saves us by His grace and not based on our perfect theological understanding; Ephesians 2:8-9) but I do believe them to be calling God a liar no matter what they may argue.

There is a fear among some Arminians to join hands with our Calvinists brethren to defend the doctrine of inerrancy.  I reject such a view.  I rejoice that many godly Calvinists are indeed declaring the truthfulness of Scripture and affirming the inerrancy of the Bible.  I rejoice that God is using many godly Calvinists to glorify His name.  Whether they be Arminians or Calvinists, if the Lord Jesus Christ is being exalted, worshipped, adored, and praised, I rejoice in those who preach Him!  I will gladly join with my Calvinist friends in preaching the Lord Jesus and I will gladly join with them in defending the truthfulness of the Bible.

Others are fearful that holding to inerrancy automatically means that we ascribe ourselves as “fundamentalists.”  I myself have no problem being labeled as such.  Certain aspects of current Baptistic fundamentalist trouble me and I am not a King James Bible only advocate.  I find the KJV only position to be illogical.  That said, I do agree that the fundamentals of the faith are worth defending (Jude 3). I believe strongly in many fundamentalist positions of doctrine such as the virgin birth of Christ, His sinless life, His miracles, His vicarious atonement, His death and bodily resurrection and His ascension to the right hand of the Father.  I ascribe to many of the creeds of Christianity and affirm, yet again, that the Bible is true in all that it affirms.  I study my Bible each and every day because I love the Word of God and long to know it more.

In conclusion, the Bible is the Word of God.  The very claims of Scripture are that it is true.  The Lord Himself spoke in Isaiah 45:19 that He speaks the truth.  Again 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all of Scripture is God-breathed.  The Bible is given by the Spirit of God whom is called the Spirit of truth.  The authority of the Church to proclaim the risen Christ, His salvation, and His judgment to come is based on the Word of God.  The precious promises of heaven and eternal life are based on Scripture.  The foundation of human thought and wisdom come from the Scriptures.  Our authority in evangelism is based on the truthfulness of Scripture.  Our authority to preach the forgiveness of sins is based on the absolute truth of the Bible.

So I stand with my Calvinist brothers and sisters who preach the inerrancy of the Bible.  I will gladly join with them in defending its truth and I believe that every Arminian should do the same.

Critical Thinking Out Loud

Let me do some critical thinking out loud for a moment.  I am pondering two questions.  First, if God is speaking to us through visions, dreams, personal prophecies, etc., why is it that so often those who receive these visions, dreams, personal prophecies are some of the weakest people I know?  I am not going to lump all charismatics together here as I don’t know all of them of course and that would be unfair but those that I do know who claim God is speaking to them in a dream or a “word” in their spirit are typically not committed to studying the Bible, are often ignorant of basic doctrines, don’t pray too much, are not serious in evangelism, and for the most part are weak spiritually.

Secondly, how can we claim that we believe in the sufficiency of the Bible if in fact we are not making a commitment to study it or apply it to our lives?  This is true for both evangelicals and charismatics.  We have all been guilty in knowing too much and not obeying what we know (James 4;17).  The truth is that we all need to take serious our study of the Bible.  The Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and is true in all that it says (John 17:17).  David said in Psalm 119:142 that he would not forget God’s precepts but have we?  Do we know God’s precepts?  I believe the answer is that we know much but obey little and in reality, we don’t know as much as we think we know.  Remember Jesus’ disciples are those who hear His Word and put it into practice (Luke 11:28).  James the Apostle says that is true faith, to put into practice the truth of God (James 2:14-26).

So the bottom line for me is this: people are running around seeking a “word from the Lord” when in fact He has spoken faithfully and truthfully in the Bible.  The Bible is sufficient to teach us the ways of the Lord and we must be faithful to heed His voice in the Bible.  In reality, we don’t need any other voices.  We have a prophet in the Lord Jesus.  We have a king in the Lord Jesus.  We have a rabbi in the Lord Jesus.  We have a faithful high priest in the Lord Jesus.  We have an advocate with the Father in the Lord Jesus.  We have One who died in our place for our sins as our Passover lamb in the Lord Jesus. We have a sabbath rest in the Lord Jesus.  All of this is revealed not by some revelation apart from Scripture but in the Word of God.  We would do well to go to the Bible and hear it (Psalm 119:151).

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