Saturday, November 9, 2013

Sovereignty of God - Unwanted Results - Inexplicable Teachings


The Sovereignty of God
Unwanted Results of an Inordinate Emphasis on the Exercise of Sovereignty

Election is terror not comfort

Ephesians 1:3–6
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

Ephesians 1:11
11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

Romans 8:29–33
29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. 31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? 32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.


Another victim of the over-emphasis on sovereignty is the loving act of God electing to save mankind through Christ.  Election, the unquestioned sovereign act of God providing salvation for man, should be an example of God’s loving sovereignty and hope to the world that God loves.  Sadly, it has been made by some interpretations of Scripture to be the most terrifying doctrine ever articulated from the Bible for the majority of the lost world. 

What makes the difference?

The difference is the sovereignty extremist’s demand that only the most severe interpretations of election can combat their perceived, unsubstantiated crisis of scriptural truth regarding God’s sovereignty and man’s free will in this one matter alone.

One such severe interpretation of election is found in the spiritual deadness of men.  Although there is no question that men are depraved, sinful, and dead toward God, there is great question as to the interpretation of this by the sovereign extremists.

Ephesians 2:1
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;

Ephesians 2:4–5
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)

Their interpretation of Ephesians would include the analogy of comparing the physical birth process to the spiritual rebirth as articulated by R.C. Sproul one of the foremost proponents and authorities of Reformation Theology.

In addition, when He exercises this grace in the soul, He brings about the effect that He intends to bring about. When God created you, He brought you into existence. You didn’t help Him. It was His sovereign work that brought you to life biologically. Likewise, it is His work, and His alone, that brings you into the state of rebirth and of renewed creation. Hence, we call this irresistible grace.

The implications are clear from Reformed Theology; man, who is dead, must experience the new birth.  So, where is the severity?  All of us who believe the Bible would be happy with this until it is understood that Reformed Theology teaches that the rebirth occurs before faith can be expressed toward God.  This is quite disturbing since there is absolutely no support for this in the context of Ephesians.  The severity is in the order of the events in which a person is saved. 

If their order of events is sound, then how and when is man brought to spiritual life so he can express faith in Christ.  The answer is a severe interpretation of the Father drawing the lost to his Son which must include bringing spiritually dead men alive, regeneration, before any expression of faith.

John 6:44 (KJV 1900)
44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

Although reticent to explain in full and using euphemistic rhetoric, Dr. Sproul teaches that God, and God alone, must overpower each individual, intended for salvation by the choice of His good pleasure, spiritually and volitionally forcing that individual to live again spiritually prior to any expression of faith.  There is no salvation by grace through faith.

Dr. Sproul states that regeneration occurs before faith can be expressed by the unbeliever which is the historical teaching of Reformed Theology.   Regeneration, the act of the Holy Spirit working on the resistant heart of man during the calling event, must occur prior to any faith being possible (irresistible grace).  Thus, man is brought back from spiritual deadness so he can express faith.

“In historic Reformation thought, the notion is this: regeneration precedes faith. We also believe that regeneration is monergistic.”  (TULIP and Reformed Theology: Irresistible Grace from R.C. Sproul Nov 28, 2012, Article from Ligonier Ministries of R.C. Sproul)

J.I. Packer wrote the following.

Regeneration is the spiritual change wrought in the heart of man by the Holy Spirit in which his/her inherently sinful nature is changed so that he/she can respond to God in Faith, and live in accordance with His Will (Matt. 19:28; John 3:3,5,7; Titus 3:5). It extends to the whole nature of man, altering his governing disposition, illuminating his mind, freeing his will, and renewing his nature. (http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/packer_regen.html)

The question must be asked.  Does God regenerate lost man spiritually prior to the salvation experience by faith?  There is one answer, no.  As supported by the text in Ephesians and Titus, there can be only one spiritual awakening, and that is the spiritual awakening Christ brings to sinful men for eternal salvation through faith. 

Titus 3:5–7
5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; 6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; 7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

If this historic teaching of reformed theology is true, then the calling or drawing is rebirth of the sinner, regeneration.  This is Irresistible grace.  Euphemistically, Sproul calls it “effectual” grace because it is always effective because no will can be expressed against it.   Irresistible grace is the act of God exerting sovereign control over a particular sinner, reconditioning his will (forcing) through regeneration.  This is clearly the teaching that man is saved prior to faith. The reconditioning and the rebirth of man spiritually must be the same act of God, else there are two acts of spiritual rebirth or some facsimile thereof.  This makes whosoever will a pawn of irresistible grace.

Intentionally, election must include irresistible grace.  This direct act of God with absolutely no expression of man’s will or faith becomes man’s only hope to be saved.

One must be warned; there is a terror to this system of belief because it demands also the ugly doctrine of reprobation.  By fact of such a severe interpretation, there can be no doubt that the opposite is true.  Those not personally impacted by God’s irresistible grace must go to hell.  They have no choice.

Sovereignty of God - Unwanted Results - Inexplicable Teachings


The Sovereignty of God

Unwanted Results of an Inordinate Emphasis on the Exercise of Sovereignty

The Universal Love of God is brought into Question
Another victim of an over emphasis on the sovereignty of God is the Bible’s clear declaration of God’s love for the whole world.  One of the greatest verses for all time is John 3:16 which unmistakably proclaims God’s love for the entire world.  Any doctrine or teaching which would bring into question this clear and simple truth is more dangerous to truth than it is beneficial to the body of Christ.

John 3:16–17
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

To the disappointment of many, sovereignty extremists bring the clear and simple meaning of John 3:16 into question.  They by their hermeneutical gymnastics make this verse mean something much different than its simple and obvious meaning.  They claim that both God loved the world and that God only loved the name by name chosen.  Both can only be true in their warped hermeneutical gymnastics with scripture.

Both cannot be true; because with their interpretation, you have to believe that God hated by His pleasure the bulk of men who have or who will ever live.  This reprobation by arbitrary pleasure of God means the opposite of God’s love for the whole world.  Rather than John 3:16 meaning what it says; they demand that it means that God loved the elect chosen by name before the foundation of the world and all others will go to hell.  Followers of Calvin have no other choice but to believe this; else, they are “childish” according to Calvin.

John 1:29
29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

1 John 2:2
2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

Although God clearly states that Jesus died for the entire world, the concept of Jesus dying for the world because of God’s love is diluted till it means what the sovereignty extremists want it to mean.  I have listen first-hand to an expositor much loved by the Reformed Theologian explain away, in detail, 1 John 2:2.  He unashamedly said that at first reading it says that Jesus died for the whole world, but it demands a closer study to truly understand what God was saying.

The love of God becomes a double edged sword.  Rather than loving the world his love is so restricted by their demand for choice that the bulk of the world is hated by God.  The love is only for those chosen by name individually.  The sin cursed world filled with the poor, the destitute, the hopeless, the suffering, and the sinful were never included in God’s love, because before the foundation of the world most were by the pleasure of God decreed by name to be hell bound.

To see what the love of God actually means you must read the fine-print disclaimers which are the bait and switch of the sovereignty extremists who have deliberately minimized the scope and effectiveness of God’s love.

God gave the New Testament in the common Greek language.  It was meant to be understood by the common man.  It was even written in the common language by common men for common man.  To imagine that common statements require enlightenment because of hidden meaning is offensive to the whole tenor of God’s actions and Word.  If he did not mean the whole world why did he say it over and over?  God meant the whole world; else truly, Jesus did come into the world to double damn and condemn.

Calvin wrote the following.

Although the Holy Scriptures contain a perfect doctrine, to which nothing can be added—our Lord having been pleased therein to unfold the infinite treasures of his wisdom—still every person, not intimately acquainted with them, stands in need of some guidance and direction, as to what he ought to look for in them, that he may not wander up and down, but pursue a certain path, and so attain the end to which the Holy Spirit invites him.
Hence it is the duty of those who have received from God more light than others to assist the simple in this matter, and, as it were, lend them their hand to guide and assist them in finding the sum of what God has been pleased to teach us in his word. (Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)

It is not a mistake to read the words of those who have studied diligently the Word of God.  However, it must be remembered; they are the words of fallible men upon the Words of an infallible God.  God says he loved the world and without hermeneutical gymnastics, it would be wholly unquestioned.

Sovereignty of God - Unwanted Results - Inexplicable Teachings


The Sovereignty of God

Unwanted Results of an Inordinate Emphasis on the Exercise of Sovereignty

Another interpretation inconsistency as a result of an inordinate emphasis on the sovereignty of God is found in Exodus 4:10-12.  One author, in an effort to attribute to God’s sovereignty sweeping exercise latitude, claimed that God made everyone.  Then, he proceeded to attribute all human deformity to God by His deliberate intervention in the birth of humans.  I can only assume that he means that God overrides genetic transmission in the normal process of birth.  He said that God does this in all who are born deformed in particular.

His support for this is found in Exodus 4:10-12.

Exodus 4:10–12
10 And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. 11 And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.

As a person who helps people all over the world, this claim is particularly vulgar and odious.  I have seen deformity in the world, and it is a horrible picture to behold, especially in an under-developed nation.  There is not glory for God in such terrible deformity and mental deficiency.

It is even harder to accept that in this life a person is decreed by God to suffer untold agonies of deformity or mental deficiency; and then, this person is also deemed unworthy of salvation because God declared him reprobate as Calvin taught.  Then, that person would burn in hell forever only because God took pleasure to do this.

I believe that our author has lifted a statement out of context and made a sweeping claim of doctrine.  The context of this passage is not deformity and mental deficiency.  This is not an admission by God that he is personally responsible for each horrible deformity or deficiency in the world.  It does not approach the level of importance that would make us believe that God pre-imps the standard birth process which he established just to make sure that there are deformed or deficient people in the world.

The specific context is Moses feeble excuses about his ability to do God’s work in the deliverance of Israel.  This is all that is addressed; not a universal statement that makes each individual, deformed human being a special object of God’s negative attention.

Moses is not speaking of a deficient speech because of physiology, but he is speaking of needing God's great sufficiency to help his ability to communicate.  There is no indication in scripture that Moses was physically unable to speak clearly, because of deformity.  The thrust of Moses entire argument is who will listen to him; he is not gifted in elocution and articulation of thought; and he is fearful that he will be unbelievable to those listening to him.  It would be inconsistent to assume God’s answer is a broad admission of horrible physical actions against human beings because of this lame, at best, rebuttal from Moses.  This is made clear in verse 12.

The context is accomplishment of God's will, and God can control speech and sight if it is necessary to accomplish His will.  Here God clarifies that he can make the deaf and dumb, blind and seeing for the work of his will.  That is all he is saying.  Zacharias is a perfect example of this argument in favor of God’s will.

Luke 1:18–20
18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. 20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

This type of interpretation lends itself to the thinking that God can do things strictly for the purpose of his good pleasure apart from the other attributes he possesses.  God can do horrible things to man because he wants to, and because He is sovereign.  From that argument comes the thinking that God can reprobate men into hell as Calvin taught, simply because he is sovereign, no matter how horrible it might be.

Sovereignty of God - Unwanted Results - Inexplicable Teachings


The Sovereignty of God

Unwanted Results of an Inordinate Emphasis on the Exercise of Sovereignty

Another difficulty of an inordinate emphasis on the sovereignty of God can be inconsistency of interpretation and application of scripture.  The existence of rebellion, sin, and evil in heaven and the creation exposes a great inconsistency.

An inordinate emphasis on sovereignty accentuates the problem of sin’s existence.  If God created all beings without any degree of self- determination then rebellion, sin, and evil, by course, must be God’s choice making God the sovereign author of all evil in heaven and earth.

For those who make sovereignty the attribute of God to which all other attributes must give way, the existence of sin has to be the quintessential challenge to their strongly held belief in God’s sovereignty.  The rebellion of heavenly creatures and earthly man’s fall into sin would register the death of God’s claim to sovereignty. Inexplicably, the sovereignty group readily accepts that the existence of sin offers no challenge to God’s sovereignty.  To the contrary, the depraved nature of man, totally “dead in sin and trespasses,” is the first element of the “TULIP.”  They find great pleasure in stressing the existence of sinful nature, depravity, and spiritual deadness.

Even more inexplicable, the sovereignty group, with great vigor, opposes any allowance that God allows man free will to accept or reject God declaring in the strongest possible language that free will of man is an irreconcilable affront to God’s sovereignty.  In fact, they would go so far as to say such an affront is a defection from the true God of Scripture.

They accept that the creatures of heaven and earth can rebel defying God’s will which is sin and God’s sovereignty is unaffected.  Yet, they choke on the possibility that God could decree that man may choose life or death, for himself, without mortally wounding God’s claim to sovereignty.  Why is this so?

It is very simple; existence of rebellion, sin, and evil does not allow latitude to challenge in scripture.  Also, when you realize, total depravity is the bedrock teaching that God has to bring man to life so he can bring man to life; the reason for their lack of challenge becomes apparent.    What is the scriptural position concerning both concepts being in harmony with the sovereignty of God?

It appears that the only true God-honoring explanation for rebellion, sin, and evil is free will to accept God or reject God.  If Lucifer and his angels in heaven were not free to choose then God made Lucifer and the angels fall   I cannot find this in the scripture.  Lucifer and fallen angels chose their lot.

Jude 6
6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.

Angels had self determination will, intellect, and freedom to keep or leave.  They chose to leave.  Thus, sin was a consequence of choice.  There is absolutely no indication that they were subjects acting under irresistible sovereign manipulation.

Even the angels in heaven following Satan choose to fight against God.

Revelation 12:7–9
7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, 8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

There is no indication that God made Satan or angels rebel and sin against Him.  To the contrary, as intellectual beings, they were given the ability to choose to fight God or serve God.  They could accept obedience to God, their superior, or they could exalt themselves and leave their sovereign.

If this is true, then it is only reasonable that God gave all His creation free will.  This is in keeping with clear, simple statements of scripture

Genesis 3:6
6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

1 Timothy 2:14
14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

The introduction of sin does not hinder God’s sovereignty nor does the free will of man make God less sovereign.  Freedom of choice is a consistent interpretation of Scripture.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sovereignty of God - Unwanted Results - Inexplicable Teachings


The Sovereignty of God

Unwanted Results of an Inordinate Emphasis on the Exercise of Sovereignty

An inordinate emphasis on the sovereignty of God can lead to doctrinal conflicts in the church because of inexplicable teachings arrived at by theologian’s systematic teachings.  Sadly, God’s people, all too often, are forced to reconcile terrible interpretations of God’s Word with very clear Biblical teachings.  The theologians and good meaning men obscure or hide the truth.  In fact, those most prone to obscure God’s truth are those who claim most vigorously that they have a fuller understanding of God’s Word.  In his final words, Job lamented this very situation...

Job 42:3
3 Who is he that hideth counsel   Without knowledge? Therefore have I uttered that I understood not; Things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.

One such doctrinal conflict is the demand to explain Calvin’s reprobation doctrine from his systematic theology Institutes, and the clear, simple teaching that God loved the world.  Calvin’s teachings concerning sovereign election have obscured truth becoming a stumbling-block to the young theologian, the discouraged older theologian, or to the aggressively intellectual theologian.

In his Institutes, Calvin clearly teaches as part of sovereign election the doctrine of reprobation.  Free grace of God is made sovereign grace.  It confuses believers who believe that God is love; that Jesus died for all men; and that God desires all to come to repentance.

The doctrine of reprobation teaches that if some are arbitrarily elected to salvation by God, then there has to be the opposite and equal teaching that God arbitrarily elected some to damnation.  This is by Calvin’s own words a “horrible” doctrine.  Calvin even characterized those that would not accept reprobation as “childish.”

Among “modern” theologians, John Calvin gave an early and detailed treatment of eprobation in his Institutes (III. 23. 1ff.), calling it a “horrible” doctrine, yet one that could not be avoided from the plain teaching of Scripture. The example of Jacob and Esau (Rom. 9:13) is cited as a prime example of reprobation, where even before their birth, one is elected to blessing and the other consigned to judgment. (Boa, K., & Kruidenier, W. (2000). Vol. 6: Romans. Holman New Testament Commentary (294). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)

The human mind, when it hears this doctrine, cannot restrain its petulance, but boils and rages as if aroused by the sound of a trumpet. Many professing a desire to defend the Deity from an invidious charge admit the doctrine of election, but deny that any one is reprobated (Bernard. in Die Ascensionis, Serm. 2). This they do ignorantly and childishly since there could be no election without its opposite reprobation (Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)

God is said to set apart those whom he adopts for salvation. It were most absurd to say, that he admits others fortuitously, or that they by their industry acquire what election alone confers on a few. Those, therefore, whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children. (Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)

Calvin’s justification for such a “horrible” doctrine includes the Romans 9, Jacob and Esau passage.  If Jacob and Esau are examples of Paul’s teaching of election for eternal salvation; then, God should have given that inspiration to Paul as he wrote Romans 9.  To the contrary, the context is not salvation of the lost worldwide, but the selection of which child would be a father of earthly Israel.

God “hated” Esau and would not give him the role as a father of Israel.  This is a quote from Malachi with nothing to do with the death of Christ, salvation of the lost, or the damnation of the lost.   Being a member of earthly Israel has nothing to do with eternal salvation, unless you believe that Israel will be saved apart from Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

In fact, it would be hard to prove that Roman’s 9 is anything more than Paul’s complete broken heartedness over Israel’s advantage being lost as the earthly people of God.  God by sovereign choice made Israel His earthly people.  He gave them advantage with the delivery responsibility of God’s message and savior.  Their rebellion caused God to reject them and nullify their advantage.  God is justified by His rejection of Esau and now Israel.  They cannot say to the potter, “Why have you made me thus?”

It is not their salvation, but it is the loss of advantage as God’s earthly people.  God did not consign them to eternal hell, but He did reject them and grafted in the Gentiles.  The Gentiles now have the privilege of which Israel was unworthy.  . 

By the same token, the Gentiles may be rejected should they refuse His offers of reconciliation and God would be totally justified.  No place in the passage does Paul give reference to the arbitrary damnation of the lost.

Never is there a discussion of God’s sovereign determinate council before creation in which He decreed individually all that would go to hell.  However, repeatedly we see the free grace of God and his will to save all men.

John 3:15–17
15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

God has gone to a lot of trouble to cover-up his true intention to damn people arbitrarily with all these simple statements from Scriptures.  With regret, the conflict for the church rages on because simple truth has been replaced with the complex systems of theology, and the church struggles to carry these theological burdens.

Sovereignty of God - Unwanted Results - Superiority and Pride


The Sovereignty of God

Unwanted Results of an Inordinate Emphasis on the Exercise of Sovereignty

An inordinate emphasis on sovereignty – especially election – can produce a sense of superiority and pride concerning exclusive representation and understanding of God’s person and purposes.  The Pharisee’s mantra about being Abraham’s seed is a prime example.  Their appeal concerning heritage was to the special election of God toward them as an earthly nation.  They haughtily believed that they by merit of election exclusively represented God on earth.  They alone were God’s people with God’s message.

Matthew 3:7–10 (KJV 1900)
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

And think not to say within yourselves (και μη δοξητε λεγειν ἐν ἑαυτοις [kai mē doxēte legein en heautois]). John touched the tender spot, their ecclesiastical pride. They felt that the “merits of the fathers,” especially of Abraham, were enough for all Israelites. At once John made clear that, reformer as he was, a breach existed between him and the religious leaders of the time. Of these stones (ἐκ των λιθων τουτων [ek tōn lithōn toutōn]). “Pointing, as he spoke to the pebbles on the beach of the Jordan” (Vincent). (Robertson, A. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Mt 3:9). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.)

As Robertson points out, John the Baptist struck them in their pride that they were the chosen of God with exclusive representation of God on earth.  The Pharisees made this appeal of heritage to insinuate and accentuate their uniqueness and advantage with God.  As a result, they were religiously haughty and disdained the slightest appeal by others of knowing the purposes of God apart from them.  No one else was the chosen except them; and therefore, they could never be replaced as God’s only source of understanding or knowing His presence.  At least they thought that way.

The haughtiness of the Pharisees was very overpowering about spiritual matters.  Their pride made them unbearable, and other sects in Israel gave way to their proud spirit.  An example of such spiritual haughtiness was Gamaliel’s address to the Jewish Council, and his advice to leave the way of Jesus alone.  Gamaliel was speaking to many Sadducees who were prone to accept the Pharisees spiritual understanding in most things.

Josephus said that the Sadducean officials usually yielded to the recommendations of the Pharisees because the latter enjoyed the support of the masses. Gamaliel may have used this occasion as another opportunity to assert this Pharisaic ascendancy over the Sadducees.  (Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary (170). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers).

The Pharisees might have to share power, but they did not have to submit since they were the exclusive voice of God.  This election-spirit led to a separatist position which disallowed others.  It produced a system of human rules, laws, and unwritten expectations to disallow others.  They, in effect, blocked entrance or worthiness to enter God’s elite.

Matthew 23:4 (KJV 1900)
4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

Matthew 23:13 (KJV 1900)
13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

The application to the church is simple.  Election haughtiness based on an inordinate emphasis on the sovereignty of God can lead believers to establish a series of expectations added to Salvation by those who claim to be saved.

Christian’s can become so increasingly selective about who is worthy to name the name of Christ and identify with Him that they should be glad no one put this same standard on their salvation experience.

Christ’s burden is light; man’s burden is heavy.

The burden of Christ will not include discipleship before salvation.  It will not demand a human standard to demonstrate worthiness of spiritual belief.  It will not make salvation a work and not a step of faith.  No one wants “easy believe – ism”, but neither can we tolerate “faith-plus believe – ism”.

The burden of Christ will not produce a censor board of would-be demagogues becoming an earthly holy spirit to determine worthiness to claim the name of Christ.  The mantra of these demagogues should be, “We protect God from saving the wrong people who claim salvation but don’t live it according to our censorship.”

This is quite an increase on the simple job of proclaiming the Gospel.  We preach; He saves.  Today, “we preach” is lost.  It has been replaced by “we examine."

Sovereignty of God - Unwanted Results - Willless Participation


The Sovereignty of God

Unwanted Results of an Inordinate Emphasis on the Exercise of Sovereignty

An inordinate emphasis on sovereignty can produce a sense of fatalism. It leads to will-less participation in life, because God’s sovereignty allows no participation by His disciple. It leads to will-less participation because God has decreed everything that will ever happen prior to the disciple’s ability to participate. It leads to will-less participation and eventual capitulation to the inevitable outcome.

The Pharisee Rabbi Gamaliel was held in highest esteem by the Jewish Council. He offered the following advice to the Jewish Council concerning their judgment against those who were followers of Christ and their preaching.

Acts 5:37–40 (KJV 1900)
37 After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. 38 And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: 39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. 40 And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

Gamaliel was a Pharisee and his belief in God’s control of events apart from free will is well documented and very significant here.

Thus the Pharisees left to man freedom of will in his spiritual life, but denied any independent initiative in his material life, which they considered entirely subject to predestination. This view is expressed in the Mishnah in the following terms by Hananiah ben Dosa: "Everything is foreseen, but freedom is given" (Abot iii. 15). The same idea is expressed in other words by R. Hanina: "All is in the hands of God, except the fear of God" (Ber. 33a). Another saying of his is: "A man does not hurt his finger in this world unless it has been decreed above" (Ḥul. 7b). Similarly it is said: "The plague may rage for seven years, and yet no man will die before the appointed hour" (Sanh. 29a; Yeb. 114b). "Forty days before the birth of a child," says the Talmud, "a Bat Ḳol [heavenly voice] proclaims: 'The daughter of A shall belong to B; the field of C to D; the house of E to F '" (Soṭah 1a). In another passage it is said that the angel who presides over pregnancy addresses God in the following terms: "Lord of the world! what shall come forth—a strong man or a weak one, a wise one or an ignoramus, a rich man or a pauper?" (Niddah 16b). The most striking example of fatalism found in the Talmud is the legend concerning Eleazar ben Pedat. This amora, being in very straitened circumstances, asked God in a dream how long he would suffer from his poverty, whereupon God answered him: "My son, wouldst thou have me overthrow the world?" (Ta'anit 25a), meaning thereby that Eleazar's poverty could not be helped because it was his fate to be poor. (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6035-fatalism, 07/01/2013 Jewish Encyclopedia.com)

Gamaliel using logic demonstrating the Pharisaical teaching of predestination convinced the Jewish council to a course of inaction. The inaction, will-less participation, was based on the fact that God’s determinism is invasive and cannot be opposed.

This fatalism of Jewish predestination is one of the greatest accusations against reading the Hebrew Old Testament literally. Many believe that the Old Testament is a great deterrence to Israel’s defense of its people. The Jews refuse to defend themselves because God is punishing them or they have no control over those persecuting or attacking them.

The historical and archaeological evidence supports the view that reading the Hebrew Bible as literal history is an error, and once this has been accepted the above major contradictions will also disappear from Judaism, making it easier, moreover, for Jews to defend themselves.

Gamaliel advocated inaction, will-less participation, because it was inevitable that the way of Jesus would fail or succeed based on God's determinism. He was confident of this because of experience. Was his call to inaction based upon truth? It was not. Many false teachings obviously arose and did not fail. Does this make God the author of these? Does this mean that they were all to exist and not be opposed?

Is it sound doctrine to believe that when you fight what you believe to be a false teaching from sound doctrine that you could oppose God? All the Jewish leaders at that meeting believed Jesus to be a blasphemer. They believed him to be dead and stolen by his disciples. They were willing to put to death all those who followed that way and did so in subsequent chapters of Acts. However, Gamaliel advised that they should take no action because God in his sovereignty would allow or disallow this new way.

This is pure fatalism. If it succeeds, God must have ordained it in his sovereignty and to oppose it would be to oppose God. What has been decreed cannot be changed, and in Gamaliel’s way of thinking could not be opposed. It would be futile.

If this is always so then, we must see first if a false teaching using Christ’s name succeeds before we oppose it. I do not know of any under-shepherd of the flock who would subscribe to such advice. It would be inconceivable to a true believer that inaction is the best course of action until you determine the success or failure of a teaching based upon God’s sovereignty.

I cannot oppose something because it could be God ordained, and I can’t know until it succeeds or fails. This is pure fatalism. Somebody should have told the martyrs because their opposition was pure foolishness, and they died prematurely.

We can never know God’s will of right and wrong We can do nothing to stop it or promote it, so take no action. This would be pure confusion in the church body.

1 Corinthians 14:29–33 (KJV 1900)
29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

Although he confounds the world regularly, he does not confound the church in such fashion. Gamaliel’s fatalism is directly from an inordinate emphasis on sovereignty.