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. (, 07/01/2013 Jewish

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.