CTT | You Say Calvinism, I Hear Gospel?

CTTToday’s Completing The Thought (CTT) post is a reaction to some comments I read in social media a few weeks ago. At two separate times in two different threads from two different people came the comment “When you say Calvinism, I hear Gospel”. Both threads were calling Calvinism into question, so there is a sense of defensiveness at play here, but we are going to address this statement here today. The short answer is, “you understand neither Calvinism nor the Gospel”.

Calvinism

Let’s begin with a definition of Calvinism from the folks at CARM:

Calvinism is a theological system of Christian interpretation initiated by John Calvin. It emphasizes predestination and salvation. The five points of Calvinism were developed in response to the Arminian position (See Arminianism). Calvinism teaches:

1) Total depravity: that man is touched by sin in all parts of his being: body, soul, mind, and emotions;

2) Unconditional Election: that God’s favor to Man is completely by God’s free choice and has nothing to do with Man. It is completely undeserved by Man and is not based on anything God sees in man (Eph. 1:1-11);

3) Limited atonement: that Christ did not bear the sins of every individual who ever lived but instead only bore the sins of those who were elected into salvation (John 10:11, 15);

4) Irresistible grace: that God’s call to someone for salvation cannot be resisted;

5) Perseverance of the saints: that it is not possible to lose one’s salvation (John 10:27-28).

It is a system of Christian interpretation of Scriptures. It isn’t “the Gospel”. It directly affects how one reads the Gospel and probably heavily impacts how one preaches the Gospel, but Calvinism is not “the Gospel”. Calvinism is a framework that elevates the sovereignty of God above all of His other attributes. It’s goal was to guard Christians against the works-based salvation of the Roman Catholic Church as well as some of other doctrines that were sliding into open-theism.

To demonstrate how Calvinism is a framework of interpretation, let us look at John 3:16.

John 3:16-18 (ESV) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

The non-Calvinists read this verse as indicating that the atonement was for all and that anyone who believes in Jesus will be granted eternal life. They use this verse as a call or a plea for all to believe in Him so that you can have eternal life.

The Calvinist sees this verse not as an open call to belief, but a reflection of the separation from those who will believe (due to unconditional election, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints) in Him from those who will not believe. Also, that God’s giving of His Son was not for those who are unconditionally reprobate (unbelieving); rather, this gift of atonement was limited only to those who were pre-destined to believe in Christ.

Same verse, different frameworks of interpretation. Now, to determine which one is “better” depends on how you matrix passages and how far you go to resolve mysteries. The point of this post isn’t to promote or refute Calvinism… the point of this post is to keep the concepts of “The Gospel of Jesus Christ” and “Calvinism” separate. John Calvin wasn’t an Apostle of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (ESV) | The Resurrection of Christ

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV) | By Grace Through Faith

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 3:1-12 (ESV) | The Mystery of the Gospel Revealed

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

These are clear passages for answering the question of “What is the Gospel?”, but there are many more passages we can look to in the New Testament. I stuck with Paul’s writing primarily because of what we see him write to the Galatians.

Galatians 1:6-9 (ESV) | No Other Gospel

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

The gospel we are to preach is the Gospel of Jesus Christ recorded in Holy Scriptures.

Conclusion

If you are a Christian, you are my brother or sister in the Body of Christ, whether you are Reformed, Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal or non-denominational. The primary concern I have is of your understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in light of our sin. There are Christians who reject Calvin, just as there are Christians who can see no other framework of Biblical interpretation outside of Calvin. I think it is important to engage one another in the scriptures to sharpen one another as iron sharpens iron, but let us not err in confusing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our own frameworks. I urge you not to make the mistake of empty boasting such as what we’ve addressed today. There are both Calvinists and non-Calvinists who remain faithful to the Preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The litmus is the Gospel they preach.

Amen.
In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

CTT | Don’t Narcigete Your Church, Either

CTTToday’s Completing The Thought (CTT) post should be fairly short. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, I trust you are familiar with exegesis and eisegesis. If you are not familiar with narcigesis, it is the conflation of narcissism and eisegesis.  There is a great definition of Narcisgesis available at Apprising.org, the work of the late Ken Silva.

NARCIGESIS [nahr- si -jee’ -sis]

[(From: narcissus; 1540–50; < Latin < Greek nárkissos plant name, traditionally connected, by virtue of plant’s narcotic effects, with nárkç numbness, torpor; probably from a pre-Gk. Aegean word, but associated with Gk. narke “numbness” (see narcotic) because of the plant’s sedative effect.) (From: eisegesis; 1890–95; < Greek eisḗgesis, equivalent to eis- into + ( h ) çge- (stem of hçgeîsthai to lead) + -sis -sis {C19: from Greek eisinto, in + -egesis, as in exegesis}.)]

Common Examples of Narcigesis

furtickWe’ll start out simply with Steven Furtick. If you want a case-study on how NOT to exegete a passage of scripture but instead narcigete it, go to any book written by Furtick, or sermon preached by him. The dude wrote an entire book (and sold lots of church bible-study paraphernalia) and preached several sermons based on the narcigesis of Joshua 10:12. One. Verse.

Joshua 10:12 (ESV) At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”

Furtick then encouraged Christians that they should all pray “Sun stand still” prayers. It wasn’t a prayer, we are never taught to pray that way, God had already promised Joshua that battle, and the text itself in (verse 14) clearly states this was a unique and isolated event.

But even if you haven’t heard of Steven Furtick, I’m sure you’ve heard Hillsong’s “Oceans (where feet may fail)”, right? That song narcigetes the story of Jesus walking on the water, suggesting that God is asking each of us to walk on water. He isn’t. Many times the Story of God defeating Goliath is told in such a way that the listener plays the role of David and needs to find his 5 smooth stones, or master a skill in his “down time” doing menial tasks of watching sheep until “such a time” as the LORD would call them to use their skill (sling) to defeat the Goliath in their lives…. see where this is going? Narcegisis points to people… the Scriptures point to Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.

The heroes of the Old Testament point us to the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, Jesus Christ. While we should seek to emulate their faith (Hebrews 11), their actions are not always commendable, nor are they a prescription for getting the same results they got. Because their actions didn’t make them chosen, their actions didn’t curry the favor of God, it was their faith. And faith doesn’t come by copying the actions of one of the heroes in the Bible, faith comes from hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17). We’ve said it many times, don’t read yourself into the heroes of the Old Testament. Read yourself into the sinner that needs the Savior, sure… but not at the expense of missing the Truth of Scripture when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees by telling them, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” (John 5:30-47)

Corporate Narcigesis

It happens with churches, too. The most common area where I see this happen, is whenever a church does “a series in Acts”. This isn’t always the case, but it happens a lot more than you’d think. Even in churches claiming to engage in expository preaching. Yes, it is possible to work through a text verse by verse and still engage in Narcigesis… by having a preacher chase rabbit trails and share personal or even corporate anecdotes throughout a sermon. Even if a passage is read aloud in-context at the beginning, a preacher looking to “deepen the congregation’s understanding of the passage” can engage in narcigesis by skipping around proof-texting verses to emphasis a point that isn’t even being made by the text. In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, many a small church preacher will read in Acts 2 how 3,000 men were added to the church and how more were being added every day and think that the key to being a blessed church is to grow in numbers. Others will look at the miracles God performed for the lame beggar in Acts 3 and think that the reason the church isn’t seeing such miracles is that we don’t have men of great faith (dare I say audacious) like Peter and John, or that we aren’t all of one heart and soul (ch 4:32) so as a church we need to focus on being more Unified and then the church will be blessed. These are all false-readings. Let’s look at how Luke introduced his work.

Acts 1:1-8 (ESV) | The Promise of the Holy Spirit

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me;for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Yes, we call the book the Acts of the Apostles… but their acts, clearly defined by Jesus, were to be witnesses of Him. When the Apostles cast lots to select a replacement for Judas Iscariot, they narrowed the field to only those who were fellow witnesses from the beginning. The Apostle Paul was an undisputed witness of Jesus, since his encounter with Jesus produced immediate repentance. Jesus began the work, and He continued the work through His Apostles who were promised the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Promise of the Holy Spirit wasn’t limited to them:

Acts 2:38-41 (ESV)

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying,“Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Had Peter done anything special to earn his calling? No. Was Peter the head of the church? No. Christ is the Head of His Church, and He gave us His Apostles, the last of whom was the Apostle Paul. Don’t read your church into these texts hoping to discover some formula for building a successful church… men do not build Christ’s Church. Peter rejected these notions even as he addressed the men of Jerusalem after God miraculously healed a 40-yr old lame beggar

Acts 3:1-16 (ESV) | The Lame Beggar Healed

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Peter Speaks in Solomon’s Portico

11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. 12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

Conclusion

We need to start scrutinizing the rabbit trails and personal anecdotes that have overrun our sermons and bible studies. The occasional anecdote can be helpful in as much as it points to the Scriptures. Too often, however, these anecdotes merely engage the audience in a bit of humor, or tend to highlight the creation rather than the Creator. This needs to stop. It is my sincere belief that the vast majority of those who are guilty of this form of narcigesis do so honestly; meaning they are so caught up in poor methodology and worldly ecclesiology that they’ve bought into the lie that it is up to them to make the Word of God relevant for their hearers. Men, if you start to recognize these trends in your pastor’s sermons… remain humble and gracious, and grant him the benefit of the doubt and ask to speak with him. Women, first speak with your husband and ask him to speak to the Pastor. If you are an unwed woman, ask to speak with the pastor’s wife or the wife of an elder. To everyone, walk in grace and humility, and engage the text, the Word of God. Trust in God the Holy Spirit to open the eyes and ears of His servants. They are your overseers, after all, and they will have to give account for their stewardship.

Romans 15:1-7 (ESV) | The Example of Christ

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Amen.
In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

Pastor Ken Silva’s Passing

IKenSilva had only been made aware of his website less than a year ago. I learned a great deal from his writings and his research has helped me more than I can convey. The following is the note of his passing posted on his website:

PASTOR KEN SILVA’S PASSING

It is with mixed emotions that I take this time to write on behalf of Connecticut River Baptist Church to let you know of Pastor Ken Silva’s passing. Yesterday morning at around 10 a.m., 29 September 2014, Ken was found at home, having passed away. He had succumbed to the strain of the pain he had been enduring for the past few years.

The mixed emotions are sadness at losing our dear brother in Christ – I shall miss his wisdom and guidance – but also joy. Joy because, as Paul noted in 2 Cor. 5:8, ‘We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.’

Yes we know that Ken is now present with the Lord. We can also be thankful in knowing his pain has ended.

We will still miss him deeply.

Blessings,

David H. Moses
Associate Pastor
Connecticut River Baptist Church

I’ve started up a few blog posts that I hope to complete soon. Until then, I thought it would be nice to introduce some of his work, the fruits of his labor in Christ.

THE PAPACY OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH

THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH HASN’T CHANGED ITS CONDEMNATION OF THE GOSPEL

His passing has left many with heavy hearts. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are mourning.  May the Lord bless you and give you peace.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge