Monday, September 29, 2008

Posts on Apostasy

Over at Pyromaniacs, Phil R. Johnson has posted two posts (here and here) on the issue of apostasy with regards to a former commentator called 'Touchstone'. Certainly very sobering words for thought, and shows us how apostasy starts with moral failures and/or coupled with disbelief in the Word of God and substituting it with the wisdom of Man's philosophy.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Law and Gospel: Galatians - Theme

[continued from here, here and here]

The Epistle to the Galatians marks the only letter whereby Paul focuses exclusively on only one controversy, and it contains no commendation in any way. Gone are the 'flowery' language which permeates Paul's introductions as seen for example in Rom. 1:1-15 and 1 Cor. 1:1-9, or even Paul's exclamation of praise in Eph. 1 - 2:10, with a particularly long paragraph in Eph. 1:3-11. Instead of such exclamation of praise and preliminary words of greetings we are treated to the following:

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Gal. 1:1-5)

as compared to

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 1:1-7)

The brevity of the introduction is even more pronounced by the way Paul introduces himself. In this epistle, Paul introduced himself as "an apostle — not from man or through man, BUT through Jesus Christ and God the Father", certainly a phrase that forcefully asserts his apostleship as being from God. This assertion of his apostolic credentials is hammered into the audience in Gal. 2:1-10 once again, as Paul specifically mentioned that James and Cephas and John (who incidentally are ALL apostles) gave the right hand of fellowship to him Paul and his companion Barnabas (Gal. 2:9). An interesting thing to note here is that these three apostles were stated as "seemed to be pillars", or stuloi (στυλοι) in Greek. The same Greek word is used in 1 Tim. 3:15, in which the church of the living God is the stulos (στθλος) — pillar and buttress of the faith. This therefore shows us that Paul through this passage was asserting his apostolic authority as being recognized at the highest echelon of Apostolic Church leadership.

Such a strong assertion of Paul's apostleship and its recognition by the other Apostles makes sense only when one recognizes this entire letter as being one of almost total rebuke of the Christians in Galatia, and Paul is therefore using his apostolic authority as a basis to rebuke and judge them. Having no commendation and a short introduction, the following verse immediately is meant to shock the congregation. Verse 6 states the following:

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 (Gal. 1:6)

To get an idea of the severity of this sentence as it was intended, it might help to remember that this whole letter was to be read in all its fullness on a nice Sunday morning in the midst of the assembled congregation. After brief, probably rather curt, greetings in verses 1-5 , these words were spoken to the congregation of believers:

Paul: 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 (Gal. 1:6)

Suddenly the morning doesn't seem too nice after all.

This verse is then followed by verse 7, which identifies some that are within the church as those who are troubling the Galatian believers with a false Gospel, which is no Gospel at all. To these believers, that Judaizer heretic may be your friend, your neighbor sitting there just besides you. Paul, this is going to be a recipe for how to engineer a church split, or don't you know that? After all, we are all supposed to be united, you know? How dare you create division in the Church?

Sarcasm aside (to rib the effeminate spineless ministers in our present age), let us continue looking through the passage. Verses 8 and 9 contains one of the harshest judgments of Scripture on any person. The Gospel is the subject, and the apostolic curse is pronounced. The word anathema (αναθεμα) used here denotes devotion to God as being a sacrifice consumed by fire, and in the context of the Gospel thus proclaims that such a person is beyond any hope of redemption; they are damned to hellfire without hope of salvation . This strongest and harshest judgment find an echo only in the book of Hebrews with its warning against apostasy (cf Heb. 6:4-8; 10:26-30) which merits the same punishment, thus showing forth the severity which Paul regarded the twisting of the Gospel. The pronouncement is repeated twice — once in verse 8 and once in verse 9, thus showing forth the strong emphasis being placed on this issue.

As it can be seen so far, Paul's manner of writing in this epistle and his opening salvo shows us the issue Paul was addressing — the distortion of the Gospel, and the seriousness he treats this issue. And therefore this sets the stage for the entire epistle to the Galatians, in that the whole Epistle is all about the Gospel, and the seriousness it should be held. Those who distort the Gospel according to Paul and are teaching others to do the same are damned unless they repent. In order to understand Galatians, we must therefore look at the epistle in this light, and know that the primary focus is on the nature of the Gospel rather than on issues like the Law or the fruit of the Spirit. The theme of the Gospel therefore must function as the interpretive grid through which we exegete the relevant passages in Galatians.

With this, let us continue to see what exactly was the distortion of the Gospel the Galatian Christians were falling into?

[to be continued]

Weekly Meditations: Is. 14 (1)

For the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob. And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them in the Lord's land as male and female slaves. They will take captive those who were their captors, and rule over those who oppressed them.

When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:

“How the oppressor has ceased, the insolent fury ceased! The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked, the scepter of rulers, that struck the peoples in wrath with unceasing blows, that ruled the nations in anger with unrelenting persecution. The whole earth is at rest and quiet; they break forth into singing. The cypresses rejoice at you, the cedars of Lebanon, saying, ‘Since you were laid low, no woodcutter comes up against us.’ Sheol beneath is stirred upto meet you when you come; it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations. All of them will answer and say to you: ‘You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us!’ Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, the sound of your harps; maggots are laid as a bed beneath you, and worms are your covers.

(Is. 14:1-11)

Following the prophesying of the destruction of Babylon, Isaiah moves on to the restoration of Israel the people of God in verses 1 and 2. After destroying their oppressors, God will once again have mercy upon Israel and bring them back to their own land (v. 1). And whereas previously, they were oppressed by foreigners, the Lord will now give the foreigners to them as their slaves, in a mighty reversal of roles. Those who oppress the people of God are now in turn subjugated to them (v. 2).

This restoration was fulfilled in part in history when the Jews returned back to Jerusalem during the time of the Persian Empire. And verse 2 did in fact occur in some small measure for example in periods like the time of Esther and Mordecai. Yet, such fulfilment is fleeting and temporal, as the Israelites were once again subjugated first by Greek and then Roman rule, before finally the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 under Titus brought an end to the Jewish Kingdom until the modern era.

The passage therefore point towards the true fulfilment of the restoration of the people of God in the future for us. God who is gracious will one day restore His persecuted people by destroying the persecutors and their false religion (representing Babylon), and thus gathering us unto Him. Those who oppress the Church will pay on that day for their crimes against Him who is on the throne, and the roles will be reversed figuratively speaking (cf v. 2). Now, these oppressors will be subjugated to the people of God and to God Himself, as He punishes the oppressors with His wrath and judgment.

Verse 3 starts with a taunt that the people of God are to take up against Babylon, which represents the oppressors of the people of God and the ensnarement of all false religion, and who oppress the people of God with "pain and turmoil and hard service". The insolence of the oppressor has ceased (v. 4) and the power of the oppressor which was used to oppress and persecute the people of God (v. 6) has been destroyed by God Himself (v. 5). The people of God rejoiced at this event, and this good thing so joyous that it is stated as being celebrated by the earth itself (v. 7-8). Sheol or Hell/Hades is figuratively stated as coming forward to meet Babylon as represented by the King of Babylon as Babylon is destroyed. Proud Babylon, the oppressor of God's people and the center of all idolatry, has fallen (Rev. 18:2)! She who considers herself strong and mighty will be dragged down to the grave, to the mockery of all those defeated kings before her (v. 9-10). The strength and might and status of Babylon would not help her at all, but will follow her to the grave in destruction (v. 11).

So therefore, in this time of on-going persecution and oppression of God's people, let us look ahead to Christ's second coming. For at that time, God's people will emerge triumphant as Babylon tumbles and falls, and we will finally be at peace as our oppressors come crashing down. This is our hope and our joy; so may we look earnestly to that day of our Lord. Amen!

Prayer requested

As I am growing more and more certain that God is calling me into ministry, it seems that more and more opportunities are opening up to minister to the saints. And with that, I would covet your prayers as I decide on two matters. The first involve a tentmaking course introduced by my pastor which looks quite interesting, while the second involved an invitation to submit a [scholarly] article in commemoration of [John] Calvin's 500th birthday which is on next year 2009. Both involve time and commitment, and the second one especially requires research and reading up. And no, I don't feel that adequate and certainly do not feel qualified to write such an article. Any scholarly article/post that I have written so far is by God's grace alone, because I know by myself I am utterly inadequate to be compared with the giants of the faith. So please pray for me in these two areas, especially the second one.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Archbishop of Canterbuy endorses Marian apparitions

Well, Rowan Williams might as well just go ahead and kiss the Pope's feet, after stating that the Marian apparitions are truly visions of Mary. Ever since GAFCON, the conservative Anglican churches are trying to set up an alternative Anglican body. I would suggest that if they are truly committed to biblical authority, they should break communion immediately with Canterbury and denounce Rowan Williams as a heretic.

[HT: Watcher's Lamp]

Marketing strategy that is faithful to Scripture

Probably. But this is an interesting marketing strategy that can be used to get the malnourished sheep to come over to be fed in Bible teaching churches.

[HT: Christian Research Net]

Some thoughts on Reformed rap

This article is Sam Guzman's take on the issue of Reformed rap. Do look at the video towards the end:

After looking at this video, the question to be asked is this: Is sensuality ever acceptable if it is baptized in Christian lyrics and even motives? Whatever happened to the command of holiness?

And yes, I reject the notion that music is neutral. Certainly this is not to denigrate any genre fiat, but then the spirit behind the music is the important thing which must be evaluated, not the music per se.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn. 4:1)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Law and Gospel: An Introduction to the Book of Galatians (part 2)

[continued from here and here]

The Jerusalem Council

The Jerusalem Council took place in Acts 15, and as the first and only infallible council, the truth proclaimed in it is surely very important to us, and would have bearings on how we are to properly interpret the epistle to the Galatians, and in fact, as we shall see, the Gospel.

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

“‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15: 1-29)

To analyze this passage, it may be helpful to look at various aspects of it.

Occasion for the council

The occasion for the council can be seen in verses 1-2, in which certain men from Judea, purportedly from the Jerusalem church, came to Syria Antioch and began to teach a certain doctrine — that salvation is impossible unless the believers adopt the sign of the Old Covenant ie circumcision. Such a sign is to be administered according to the Old Covenant, because it is stated as being "according to the custom of Moses", which is to say what those Judean teachers desire is not merely the 'surgical' cutting of the foreskin, but it being done as a sacramental sign of the Old Covenant. It must definitely be remembered that these teachers came from a Judaist background, being orthodox Jews, and therefore they most certainly know the letter of the Law reasonably well, having being "forced" to memorize the Torah from young.

Such a teaching causes dissension and debate between these teachers on the one side and the apostle Paul and Barnabas on the other side. And the disputation was rather heated, so much so that the church at Syrian Antioch who were disturbed by these Judean teachers decided to send representatives to the Church at Jerusalem to enquire of this issue; to the apostles who are the foundation stones of the church (Eph. 2:20).

Appeal to the Council

As it was mentioned earlier, representatives were sent to the Church of Jerusalem from the Church at Syrian Antioch. However, does this mean that it was an appeal from one church to a "mother church" so that there is precedent for a centralized system of government or Episcopal polity? No, for the appeal was made to "the apostle and elders", while the church body was mentioned in verse 12 and verse 22 as being present while the issue was being hammered out. The appeal terefore was to the apostles mainly, and the elders in the Church of Jerusalem who rule and teach the church in conjunction with the apostles. Further proof that a church-to- church appeal isn't what Scripture is describing nor teaching can be seen in Paul's attitude in this particular episode, which we shall see below.

Paul the Apostle and the Council

Paul, as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, certainly had the authority of an Apostle, and he could always use that authority to proclaim authoritative teachings of Scripture, which he in fact did when he wrote his various epistles especially the teaching epistles (ie Romans, Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians). As an Apostle, he could always pronounce the infallible truth and judgment on these Judean teachers who were disturbing the Antioch Church (like he did in various epistles he wrote), yet he didn't do so in this particular instance.

Various theories are advanced as to why Paul did not do so, of which being subject to a church council being one of them. Yet such a theory is not viable in light of the fact that verse 3 recounts how he continues to share the conversion stories of Gentiles along their way to Jerusalem, which certainly means that in his mind his mind was made up on the truth regarding the conversion of the Gentiles. We must remember that the Judaist opponent of Paul declared the Antiocheans unsaved unless they partake of the Old Covenant sign of circumcision, so the context is of the salvation of Gentiles who most assuredly do not possess the sign of the Old Covenant. Yet Paul proclaims along his way to Jerusalem the ... salvation of the Gentiles, which would be strange since there is no prior indication that the Council will judge in Paul's favor and if not, then Paul's recounting of the Gentiles' salvation would be strange and outrightly premature.

If Paul was not subjecting himself and his doctrine to the Council, then why would he seemingly subject himself to the judgment of the Council? Or can it be that Paul confidently knew that the Council would definitely judge in his favor? Yet even if so, why? One reason was certainly due to the fact that the Judaists came from Judea, so Paul may have come to the source to solve the problem that seems to be coming from the Jerusalem Church. Another thing was to propel the church to consolidate the position of the Church on this particular pertinent topic — the Gospel message. As we will see in our study of Galatians, Paul's passion was for the Gospel and this issue was one area in which Paul was determined that the Church be strong in.

With regards to the issue of the judgment of the Council, since the apostles are led by Christ, there shouldn't be any conflict between their beliefs as Christ leads them in the Truth, so therefore Paul could be certain about them judging in his favor in the final analysis, which they in fact did.

Subject matter of the Council

On the surface, the Council convened to judge with regards to the issue of circumcision and keeping of the law of Moses. It may thus be thought that the issue is with regards to the rituals of Judaism and whether Gentiles needed to become Jews before becoming Christians. N.T. Wright for example treats this as an ethno-centric issue[1], boosted probably because the works under question were quintessentially Judaist. However, is that truly what the issue merely is, one purely of ethno-centrism, of Covenantal inclusion and exclusion?

As it has been said, a surface reading of the text surely supports this reading as a valid interpretation of the issue before us. For surely, verse 8 does in fact teach that God gave the same Spirit to them as He did to us, says Peter. Verse 9 similarly proclaims that now there is "no distinction between us and them", and that now there is one way — faith — by which all men can be saved, available to both Jews and Gentiles. Similarly, verses 11, and 14-18 proclaims the common position now for both Jews and Gentiles before the Cross.

Now, most certainly, ethnocentrism is a symptom of the problems. In point of fact, Wright's point is correct in that ethnocentrism is a problem, but his diagnosis doesn't go deeper, and thus is in error because it neglects the weightier issues at hand, which is what we would be looking at, in verse 10.

Verse 10 in my opinion is the weak spot for the New Perspective's position on the issue raised in the Jerusalem Council. At the same time, it shows us the heart of the issue of the Law also. In verse 10, we read that the placing of the Law was a yoke which neither the Jews then as like the Apostles nor their forefathers were able to bear. If the practicing of these things was not bearable even for the most orthodox of Jews (cf Phil. 3:5-6), then surely these things were never meant to be practiced with an eye to be saved in any way or shape reformed. Even the talk about Covenantal inclusion/ exclusion fails here, for unless the practicing of the Law was meant to be one big show of hypocrisy like what the Pharisees are often accused of, how can one even begin to talk about obedience to the Law especially prior to the coming of Christ? Notice here that the ability or lack thereof is the issue at hand, not the motive to attempt to obey, as if they meant anything at all in God's sight. After all, judgment by works require truly acceptable works before God, and good motives will not suffice (cf Rom. 2:6-10)

To further confound New Perspectivism, verse 11 follows immediately on the heels of verse 10. On its own, verse 11 may seem to support New Perspectivism, but when placed in context with verse 10, the 'support' vanishes. For in verse 11, the object is God's grace which saves us, and that grace is contrasted (by the word 'But') with the inability of the yoke of the Law which is unable to save since they cannot be kept by any Jew anyway. Such a contrast immediately posits a sharp distinction between Law and Gospel, and confirms that the issue at hand is salvation or soteriology and not merely covenantal inclusion. For if Jewish believers were not saved by the Law but also by grace, whereas previously they were not saved in their law-keeping either, then this Covenant in the New Testament seems to be a new covenant starting with a null set, of which entry into the Covenant was not by law-keeping or obedience or anything else but through the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and of which before the Cross this Covenant does not yet exist in time.

So with all this said, it can be seen that the issue before hand is indeed the Gospel message; the message of salvation. Is salvation one of grace through faith, or is one of obedience of the Law by fidelity to the Old Covenant rites and rituals?

Judgment of the Council

As it has been hinted previously, the Apostle Peter in verse 10 proclaims the insufficiency of the Law in saving even the Jews who could not keep them. Nevertheless, the Jewish believers were still very much enmeshed in their traditions and only by much sharing of God's miraculous work among the Gentiles, thus showing forth God's approval in reaching Gentiles as Gentiles, were they finally convinced. The council then proclaims judgment in favor of Paul's position, with a few rules meant to eliminate unnecessary tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians such as abstaining from food offered to idols, strangled food and food with blood, which evidently were practices particularly offensive to Jews

Implications of the Council

The verdict in favor of Paul has important implications for the Gospel. For now the Gospel is emphatically stated to be one of grace apart from observance of the Mosaic Law and especially the rites and rituals of the Old Covenant. The split between the blind adherents to the Old Covenant and those who embrace the New Covenant was beginning and the resulting controversy clarifies to us more with regards to the Gospel, as we shall see as we look to the book of Galatians, written many years after the controversy began in Syrian Antioch.

[to be continued]


[1] John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright (IVP, England, 2008), p. 22-23, 133, 147-161.

Article: On Women's Ordination - A Response to Dr. Davis on 1 Tim. 2:12

Over at Reformation21, Rev. Rick Phillips evaluates the egalitarian argument by Dr. John Jefferson Davis on 1 Tim. 2:12, who attempts (unsuccessfully) to argue for women leadership in the church.

In August 2008, Professor John Jefferson Davis of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary posted a serial paper on the proper exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:12, titled, "1 Timothy 2:12, the Ordination of Women, and Pauline Use of Creation Narratives." His paper argues that the Greek word authentein, traditionally rendered as "to exercise authority," is better translated as "to usurp authority" or "to dominate". Furthermore, he argues that Paul's appeal to the creation narrative in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 should not be taken as establishing a universal, transcultural principle with regard to women in church leadership. Rather, Davis argues, Paul's commands are church-specific, intending only to deal with local problems in Timothy's immediate pastoral setting. Davis then extrapolates from the example of Deborah's leadership in Judges 4 and 5, citing it as a positive biblical example of divinely-approved female leadership that sets a precedent for the same today. By accepting his revision of 1 Timothy 2:12, regarded as a crux of the complementarian position, Dr. Davis concludes that "the way would be clear to recognize the calling of such gifted women and set them apart for leadership in the church."

Dr. Davis' paper deserves a response from the complementarian camp for two reasons. The first is that we should all be willing to consider biblical appeals and take seriously the exegetical arguments of other positions. Second, given today's context in which many Christians would readily escape from the cultural scorn heaped upon those who uphold traditional Christian views of male headship, any biblical argument is likely to serve as a pretext for revising our beliefs and practice. For this reason we should be especially careful in our exegetical arguments. In assessing the contribution of Dr. Davis's paper with this in mind, I would like to pose four questions.


A "Fresh Fire" for the Assemblies of God churches in Singapore?

I wonder what the Assemblies of God denomination in Singapore is doing.

Come November 2008, the AOGS will be organizing a Fresh Fire Conference to mark the 80th anniversary of the AOGS to “catch the fresh fire of the Lord – one that is greater than what we have experienced before.” The speakers include female apostle Naomi Dowdy (formerly from Trinity Christian Centre), Kong Hee (City Harvest Church), two other female reverends, and a healer/prophet. The conference organizers “believe that the Lord will release a fresh prophetic word over the AOG churches as well as other churches in Singapore and release His anointing in a brand new way.”

So the AoG in Singapore are now embracing the New Apostolic Deformation 'Reformation' and the Word-Faith cult? What exactly does AoG Singapore wants to accomplish through this? Imitate Todd Bentley whose ministries is called Fresh Fire Ministries?

[HT: All of Grace, Word and Verse]

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Don Carson soundbites

I have finally received the MP3s for the D.A. Carson talks held during the Living Word conference 2008, which incidentally raised my opinion of Singapore Anglicanism. So I have been ripping and editing the MP3s to extract some nice soundbites, typically in the beginning at the Q&A session since I am so not going to attempt to find a section in his sermon which can be generally understood without its context of the entire sermon, though I am sure there are such good soundbites around.

Anyway, here are the interesting soundbites by Don Carson:

Carson on Sin and Grace - Don Carson

Carson on those who didnt hear the Gospel - Don Carson

In this inclusive postmodern age and time, it is certainly sad that the truth that all people are by nature children of wrath needs to be qualified and treated delicately. I would be happier if Carson did not make that qualifier at the end of his answer to the Inclusivist question, as it distracts from the truth of Scripture and adds nothing of value to it.

And here is Don Carson on the Prosperity 'gospel', which is no gospel at all:

Carson on the Prosperity 'gospel' - Don Carson

Carson taught on the second day on the topic of the Antichrist that the nature of the two beasts mentioned in Rev. 13 was such that one overly persecuted Christians (the first beast) (cf v. 7) while the second beast 'persecutes' Christians via deceiving them to worship the first beast via heresies and every wind of false doctrines. The question was thus put to him as to whether the Prosperity 'gospel' is a second beast, and he said yes. As you can hear from the clip, I was one of those who applauded, but I did not stand up to applaud him, which my friend Huaizhi did. That said, I similarly think that the qualifier placed at the beginning is totally unnecessary, and serves to confuse more than to enlighten. After all, which prosperity preacher except for the most extreme type would state upfront that they are preaching nothing but prosperity and not Christ? Rather, is it not the nature of deception to play the game of bait-and-switch; to state that they preach Christ yet in practice preach the so-called "benefits" of material prosperity and health?

And onto the last clip:

Carson on Magician 'pastor' - Don Carson

This was the clip which did not exactly endear themselves to members of FCBC since it was obviously talking about their pastor "Apostle" Lawrence Khong, who incidentally is part of the New Apostolic movement since he calls himself an apostle. Anyway, the question as can be heard wasn't phrased well, and seems to be more of a question of using magic during his services occasionally, plus a tad bit ad-hominem. As I have stated in my review of the talk:

With regards to the first question, the question was rather pointed such that everyone immediately knows who it was referring to – (Apostle) Pastor Lawrence Khong of FCBC. The questioner asked what did Carson thought about the use of magic by a prominent pastor in Singapore, or something to that effect. In my opinion, that was a question that would not really get to the point of contention about Lawrence Khong’s use of magic. After all, with this, it cannot be expected for Carson to know anything of the background information or what this whole issue is about. Furthermore, the question sounded rather personal so it wasn’t a very good question overall. Therefore not only was the basic issue not addressed, but the question was too ad-hominem in nature. From the way that Carson answered, it shows precisely why that was a bad question because Carson probably had in mind a pastor who uses magic occasionally during his sermons. Such magic is thus not occultic in nature, but sleight of hand, and therefore has nothing to do with Scripture’s condemnation of magic. Carson however states that if the doing of magic becomes the primary focus such that it is done to show people how good we are at magic, then he would have a serious issue with that, and with that he ended his answer.

In my opinion, the question should be better worded to focus on the real problem and not on the person. The problem with Lawrence Khong’s focus on magic is not stated here, which is the doing of magic as a semi-substitute for preaching the whole counsel of God, and a distrust of the sufficiency and power of the Word of God to effect salvation apart from his magic tricks. Since Rom. 10:17 proclaims to us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, it is totally unbiblical and inconceivable that anyone can truly comes to faith by just going to one of Khong’s “evangelistic” magic shows, in which no mention is made of the wrath of God, of the sinfulness of Man, and of the necessity of repentance and true faith [mere words do not count], and where magic skills were flaunted This then is the issue and the background information which should be conveyed to Carson, instead of giving a question which assumes as if Carson knows anything about the issues with Lawrence Khong, not to mention Khong is personally irrelevant to the entire issue. A better question to ask Dr. Carson thus is: “What do you think of the using of magic shows by a pastor as a medium for evangelism?”

This then ends Carson's soundbites. For the content of the talks, either go get for yourself a copy of the talks on MP3s somehow, or read mine and various others' reflections on them.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kong Hee to surpass Cho Yonggi in influence?

Over at Word and Verse, Isaiah has posted a video that was purportedly filmed during the City Harvest School of Theology graduation ceremony. Urghh, what blasphemy! You’ll see Kong Hee, the senior pastor of City Harvest Church, being “anointed” here by Alex Abraham of Indonesia to “replace myself; to replace Dr. Cho Yonggi”. The Word-faith heretics seem to be busy prophesying lies over each other....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Law and Gospel: An Introduction to the Book of Galatians (part 1)

[continued from here]

The book of Galatians — an epistle written by the apostle Paul, and the only one in which there is no commendation of any sort as compared to all of the other Pauline epistles. Written to the church in Galatia, the epistle was definitely written during or after the time of Paul's second missionary journey and thus after the proceedings of the Jerusalem Council.

Establishing the historical context

The internal evidence in Galatians, Gal. 4:12-14, indicates that Paul came to the Galatian believers personally and preached to them in the past, while verse 13 indicates that he has came to them at least once prior to the writing of this epistle. Historically as we read through the narrative, the first time the apostle Paul came to the region and province of Galatia was during his first missionary journey in the cities of Pisidia (Antioch), Iconium and Lystra, and he had returned to Syrian Antioch along that route in encouraging the churches after turning back at Derbe (Acts. 14:20-21). Upon his return to (Syrian) Antioch, the Judaist opposition to the Gospel of grace began as detailed in Acts 15:1-2. After the great Jerusalem Council precipitated by this crisis described in Acts 15 had been settled in their favor, the delegates from the Jerusalem Church, Judas and Silas, were sent out to the churches "in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia" (Acts. 15:23) to proclaim the rulings of the Jerusalem Council to the believers there. Sometime later, Paul would embark on his second missionary journey through the province of Galatia (and Phrygia) all the way westwards to Mysia and Troas (Acts 16: 7-8), and then across the Aegean Sea all the way to Philippi in Greece.

Such historical background would help us to see that the internal evidence in Galatians itself suggests that the epistle must be written after Paul's first missionary journey. Furthermore, since the Judaists arose while Paul was in (Syrian) Antioch, and the Jerusalem Council had settled on the Gospel's and Paul's side, it is highly unlikely that Paul would write a letter to the churches in Galatia when Judas and Silas were going to deliver the "authoritative pronouncement" as it were of the mother church in Jerusalem together with all the Apostles. Paul in his second missionary journey went through the province of Galatia himself so that would not be a good period to place the writing of this epistle while he was on his way to visit them. Therefore, the epistle to the Galatians should be placed after Paul's visit to the Galatian churches during or after his second missionary journey. Louis Berkhof places the writing of this epistle during Paul's time in the city of Corinth[1], of which one notable reason he deduced this was that Silas' and Timothy's names were not present on the epistle although they were known to the churches of Galatia. Since the only duration whereb Silas and Timothy were not present with Paul was during Paul's stay in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) and the first part of Paul's stay in Corinth (cf Acts 18:5), Berkhof inferred that Paul wrote Galatians while he was in Corinth. It can of course be seen however that Athens is another distinct possibility. Regardless of when the epistle was exactly written, the scriptural and historical evidence points us to the conclusion that the Epistles to the Galatians was written quite some time after the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, and thus we must interpret what it says in light of the historical context of the struggles of the early church in order to grasp its teaching more firmly.

With that said, let us therefore look into the historical theological context of the book of Galatians.

Historical theological context of the book of Galatians

Knowing therefore the historical background, we can look at the theological development and issues that were faced by the early Christians during that period, as Paul certainly did not write his epistle in a theological vacuum. This is especially so since even a cursory read through the epistle shows that Paul is addressing some issues within the Galatian churches, which we have previously assumed to be the problem of the Judaizers and would now give more proof for it.

So what exactly is the theological climate of the period of the writings of Galatians? The Jerusalem Council was over and its proceedings and judgments disseminated to the churches throughout the world wherever the Gospel spread, especially to the region of Asia Minor at least initially in Cilicia. Such being the first and only apostolic authoritative church council, its pronouncements would certainly be highly regarded and revered as like the infallible ruling of Christ Himself on this issue, which it most certainly is since the account and judgment is found in the Canon of Scripture.

This alone however may be irrelevant to our study into Galatians, if not for the fact that the subject matters treated in both cases are so similar. For example, the word "circumcision" is mentioned 8 times in the book of Galatians. Furthermore, every time it is mentioned, circumcision was part of the topic under discussion and not a fact mentioned merely in passing. The antagonists also seem similar, with Paul calling them the "circumcision party" in Gal. 2:12, contrasted with the record of the Jerusalem Council antagonists who proclaimed "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1b). In fact, as it will be proven later, the antagonists in both cases are exactly the same group of people and the issue remains the same also. Suffice is it for now however to say that such similarity between the antagonists and the issues faced in both instances means that great attention must be given to the Jerusalem Council to provide the needed background to understanding the book of Galatians.

With that said, let us therefore look into the Jerusalem Council. What exactly was the issue at hand, and what was the apostolic and biblical answer to it?

[to be continued]


[1] Louis Berkhof, Introduction to the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1915). As accessed on Christian Classic Ethereal Library here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Interesting quotes that are a sad indictment on "evangelical" Christianity

David Servant has posted the article Three Lessons from Lakeland in which he has extracted three lessons to learn from that fiasco. Going off on a tangent however, here are two quotes which are a sad indictment of the contemporary "Evangelical" scene (not just limited to the Charismatics by the way)

One lesson we can all learn from Lakeland is that you can toss out the gospel found in the Bible, kick and punch people who are seeking healing, regularly chat with angels with names like “Winds of Change” and “Emma,” act like a drunken fool, transfer your anointing so that others can spread these blessings around the globe, repeatedly exaggerate and lie, gain riches in the process, and be a successful minister in the U.S. But whatever you do, don’t divorce your wife. That could ruin you (at least temporarily).

It is very very sad that Christians behave exactly like the world in this regard. Heresies of all kinds are allowed to be taught, but anytime you commit one of the "big" moral sins (in this case divorce), you are done for. This is not to say that divorce is a small thing; the moral outrage at Bentley's unfaithfulness is justifiable But why, oh why, is it that we have our pet sins, the new "sins against the Holy Spirit", which when committed ruin a minister, but the much more pernicious and damnable sins of heresy are allowed to be committed with impunity from the pulpit, and God's people are not outraged!!??! Not even a fraction of outrage will you get from promoting heresy as compared to any type of moral failing?


What is the motive of those whom God has not called to be apostles or prophets yet who claim to be apostles and prophets? It can only be pride and self-exaltation. For this reason, thousands of ministers in North America and elsewhere are seeking titles and joining organizations like the International Coalition of Apostles (where membership dues are $650 per year). They want recognition, and so they play a more subtle version of the child's game King of the Hill. It wasn't too long ago that these self-promoters were vying only for the title of "bishop."

Nothing much to add here, except to note the latest advertisement from "apostle" Chuck Pierce for a product which was used in Bentley's "anointing" service.

Be Revived Anointing Oil and Candle Set

Revival is in the Earth’s atmosphere! Because the anointing breaks the yoke, we have sought the Lord on the ingredients needed for a revival fire anointing oil and candle. The first aspect of Be Revived is “awakening”. We use costmary, an original herb used by the colonists to stay alert and awake. The second ingredient we incorporate is pomegranate, representing healing, overcoming and prosperity. The third ingredient is “harvest”. This is a mixture of botanicals which represent the fullness of unlocking the harvest fields. There is a boldness that God is bringing on His people to pray over others. We must come alive and be bold witnesses in this hour. Be revived and use these resources to “break the yoke” as you minister to others.Candle with 1 oz. Anointing Oil Roll-on is $20 (regularly $22)

I guess such blasphemy speaks for itself. Sometimes I guess it hurts so much to see such blasphemy that the only sane response left is satire.

[HT: End Times Prophetic]

More on Jonathan Koh the heretic

I was recently asked for some information on my former friend Jonathan Koh over an urgent issue at hand. Besides his heinious embrace of the Hegelian Dialectics, there are two more issues which show just how far this former "Reformed Charismatic" has apostasized from the faith, which I shall reproduce from my prepared letter below.

2) His sympathy towards universalism

In his own words, according to his “theological pilgrimage”,

However, around the middle of 2003, I read Keith DeRose’s article entitled Universalism and the Bible. This was the first time I read an article laying out biblical arguments for Universalism. I had vague ideas about what Universalism was before reading this site. My first reading of this article did clarify some misconceptions as to what Universalism is and how it could be defended. Yet even that didn’t move me much as the idea of Universalism was too offensive to my mind – even as a Christian who was becoming more open to alternative beliefs. A few more readings of the article gradually convinced me that there was a strong case for Universalism in the Bible. …

I’ve still not come to my conclusion concerning Universalism – and probably never will – but I remain a hopeful Universalist.

In Keith DeRose’ article on the Internet which Jonathan referenced, “Christian” universalism is defined as

As I'll use it, "universalism" refers to the position that eventually all human beings will be saved and will enjoy everlasting life with Christ. This is compatible with the view that God will punish many people after death, and many universalists accept that there will be divine retribution, although some may not. What universalism does commit one to is that such punishment won't last forever. Universalism is also incompatible with various views according to which some will be annihilated (after or without first receiving punishment). These views can agree with universalism in that, according to them, punishment isn't everlasting, but they diverge from universalism in that they believe some will be denied everlasting life. Some universalists intend their position to apply animals, and some to fallen angels or even to Satan himself, but in my hands, it will be intended to apply only to human beings. In short, then, it's the position that every human being will, eventually at least, make it to the party.

3) His abominable take on the sin of homosexuality

Jonathan Koh is pro-homosexual. In his own words,

I [Jonathan] do think they [homosexual acts] are sins and less than God’s ideal for us. However, I am not about to condemn such acts like conservative Christians do. I think homosexual relationships are not what God intended for us. But they exist because the world is fallen or “out of wack” as a result of sin entering the world. Because of this, I’m inclined to think that God is tolerant of such acts. The world is complex, the issue is complex and I’m not about to accept easy answers that both conservative and progressive Christians put forward. Most homosexuals are born with such inclinations and try as they may, they probably won’t change. God can change them, but God hasn’t changed many of them. So I will say homosexual acts are wrong but that because the situation is more complex, I think God loves homosexuals and accepts their relationships - if monogamous and faithful. I think it’s cruel and utterly uncompassionate to condemn all forms of homosexual acts the way conservative Christians do. God is a compassionate God and He knows the struggles of homosexuals. I’m sure He understands how difficult or impossible it is for homosexuals to either change their sexual orientation or be chaste their whole life! For every Christian who says that homosexuals ought to change or ought to be chaste - as if it’s so easy to change or remain sexually inactive one’s whole life - my wish for them is that they could spend some time being a homosexual and being on the receiving end of such cruel admonitions.

It is indeed sad to see someone so blind and deluded by the lies spun by the liberal Academy, and refusing to yield his life and doctrine to the Lordship of Christ. What's left now is to hope that the Singaporean churches will realize the threat within their midst and not allow him to join them, for whether he is sincerely deluded or purposely out to deceive, his embrace of postmodernism on the one hand and liberalism on the other, together with his substantial reading and learning, makes him out to be a very dangerous wolf able to deceive many into the soul-damning heresy called "progressive Christianity", which is certainly neither progressive nor Christianity. May God protect His church from those who seek to destroy her. Amen.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Weekly Meditations: Is. 13

The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.

On a bare hill raise a signal; cry aloud to them; wave the hand for them to enter the gates of the nobles. I myself have commanded my consecrated ones, and have summoned my mighty men to execute my anger, my proudly exulting ones.

The sound of a tumult is on the mountains as of a great multitude! The sound of an uproar of kingdoms, of nations gathering together! The Lord of hosts is mustering a host for battle. They come from a distant land, from the end of the heavens, the Lord and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole land.

Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt. They will be dismayed: pangs and agony will seize them; they will be in anguish like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at one another; their faces will be aflame.

Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. I will make people more rare than fine gold, and mankind than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. And like a hunted gazelle, or like sheep with none to gather them, each will turn to his own people, and each will flee to his own land. Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished.

Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not pity children. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them. It will never be inhabited or lived in for all generations; no Arab will pitch his tent there; no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there. But wild animals will lie down there, and their houses will be full of howling creatures; there ostriches will dwell, and there wild goats will dance. Hyenas will cry in its towers, and jackals in the pleasant palaces; its time is close at hand and its days will not be prolonged. (Is. 13)

Isaiah moves from prophetic proclamation over Assyria to her successor, Babylon, who will be the one who will destroy Jerusalem and subjugate Judah historically. Here Isaiah proclaims the destruction of Babylon (even before she rises) as a judgment sent by God on the wicked empire who oppresses His people. The picture is here given of a signal raised on the hill calling upon Babylon's conqueror to come and enter Babylon to conquer it (v. 2). Furthermore, the conqueror enters through "the gate of the nobles", thus showing forth first, Babylon's wealth and her cultured people, and secondly, that all of that would not help Babylon but instead be the reward for her conqueror. The people doing this are set apart for God for this very purpose (ie 'consecrated' in this sense) (v. 3), and are therefore ordained and empowered by God for the very purpose of destroying Babylon and therefore executing God's wrath on her.

Verse 4 shows us the gathering army comes from diverse people, of which Media and Persia is made up of. The various tribes and kingdoms of Media and Persia would unite together to form a great army, and behind this is the hand of God in gathering them. They came from a place which is rather distinct for people during that time living in the Middle East, as further east is the land of India which they do not know much about, and thus the threat posed by them was ignored. Functioning as the LORD's tool of His indignation at the way Babylon oppress His people, the conquering army would put to waste the cities and strongholds of Babylon, laying waste to the pomp of Babylon.

In light of this fact, the people are called to wail and mourn, for the Lord's anger is coming in judgment and they are doomed (v. 6). The courage and strength and hope of the people will melt because nothing can withstand the power of God through the conquering army, looking aghast as the futility of their situation would become known to them (v. 7-8)

The wrath of God will manifest itself in the cruelty of the invading army against the objects of God's wrath, to execute God's judgments against the wicked (v. 9). Borrowing an imagery from apocalyptic literature, the day would seem as if the end of the world has came (v. 10) for such people, as their world is destroyed in one fell stroke and pandemonium reigns. Through the cruelty of the conquerors, God will judge the proud and wicked empire of Babylon and her rulers and humiliate her people (v. 11). Again using hyperbole, the destruction of Babylon is likened as to making people there rare, as multitudes would be killed, so that expensive and rare gold, even the rare gold of Ophir, is more plenteous than people (v. 12).

The news of the destruction of Babylon would reverberate throughout the nations, and the heavens is said to tremble as the wrath of God is manifested in such cruelty (v. 13), and all peoples will scatter, each back to their own peoples (v. 14) instead of presenting a united front against the (outside) conqueror. The cruel and horrific judgment of God on Babylon can be seen in verses 15-16, as all who are found will be killed, infants killed without pity (v. 18), their wives raped as the invaders invaded.

Verse 17 identifies for us the identity of the invader ordained by God to perform such a task. — the Medes, who as hill people aren't exactly so civilized to delight in gold and silver. Yet, it is God's will that they be His instrument to punish Babylon and deal with them so cruelly. Babylon that is so glorious, the head of Gold (Dan. 2:36-38), would fall in judgment for persecuting God's people as well as her idolatry (being the location of Babel and thus the progenitor of all idolatry), and God will make her into a wasteland like Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 19). The entire area of Babylon was prophesied to be made desolate such that nobody will live in it ever (v. 20), nor even an Arab herdsman coming to tent there, thus showing forth that the area would not be a place for people to settle in. In a final insult to Babylon, wild animals will be her inhabitants, even in her towers and pleasant palaces (v. 21-22). The whole area is destined to be a wasteland where once it was a thriving metropolis.

With regards to the destruction of Babylon, the destruction was not immediate as the invading Persians did not wipe it out immediately. Yet, over time, the city known as Babylon was abandoned and fell into ruins. Where once God's people were mocked by the Babylonians, yet God overthrew their oppressors and their pride and arrogance (v. 19) and eliminated them as punishment for gloating over the plight of His people. God will repay the wicked even as they gloat in their victory and oppress God's people. In the end, God's name will be vindicated and His justice manifest.

So therefore, we, like the Israelites of old, have no need to fear. For God's enemies, even if they triumph, will not have the last word. Instead, God will in judgment punish our oppressors and the enemies of His truth. This should serve to comfort us, who see the growth in wickedness and persecution of Christians worldwide. Yet God is not silent, and in time will punish our oppressors, even in cruelty. Let us therefore trust God, knowing that in the end justice will be served and His cause vindicated.

Exposition of 2 Peter 3

I have not been feeling very well recently, but anyway I was asked to lead cell bible study yesterday, and here are the exposition notes that I have prepared.

Exposition on 2 Peter 3


This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen (2 Peter 3)

Verse 1
… stirring up your sincere mind

Peter here shows his concern over the flock; and this is his second letter to them, thus showing forth his concern and love towards them. Both of them is directed towards the mind, hence Christians are to think; the foundation of faith is doctrine which requires thinking. But mere intellectual exercise is not in mind, for it must be sincere too. Thus only a believer who knows AND acts on that knowledge is in mind here. So as with all believers, we are to stir up our sincere mind as we approach God’s Word.

… by way of reminder

We are to be constantly reminded and remember the truth of God’s Word. There is no such thing as a truth of Scripture which we have heard enough of. For we are prone to forget God’s precious truths for us, and we must thus constantly immerse ourselves in them.

Verse 2
…that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets

The specific teaching that Peter wants us to remember is here to be presented. It is something that is predicted by the prophets of God. It is therefore not something random but a future event that is sovereignly ordained by God which will come to pass. This must have been frequently taught by Peter and all the apostles too (cf 2 Thess. 2:1-12) as Peter calls the believers to it “by way of reminder” (v. 1)

… and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles,

God has already prepared us for the certain future as He gave us commandments for how we should conduct ourselves in these last days. It is the commandment given by God who is our Lord (kurios) and Savior, and this is mediated by the apostles; our apostles who are God’s gifts and messengers to us and FOR us.

NOTE: The Apostles sacrifice themselves for the flock, like Jesus for His flock. Those who want to lead must do likewise. The way up is down. (cf Mt. 20:25-28)

Verse 3
… knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires

In the last days, which we are in, scoffers or mockers will arise to mock Christians and the Christian faith. This is normal; that men (and women) will come out and mock Christians and mock the faith. They follow their sinful desires, thus showing forth that at the root of opposition to Christ is because men love the darkness rather than the light. They detest us because our lives and our Gospel shine a light and expose their wickedness and sinfulness. (cf Jn. 3:19-20)

Verse 4
… They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

These scoffers will mock us, and in this case the mockery will take the form of attacking God’s promises to us; the promise that God will come again for us. The scoffers use the evident uniformity of life against us. Surely, where is God since there is no visible proof of Him or His presence? Things have continued since “the fathers fall asleep” – a reference to great antiquity, up till now; even from creation till now. The world is continuing “by natural law” without God present, or so they say.

Verse 5
… For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God

According to Scripture (Gen. 1:1-2), the earth was formed out of water by God. Peter uses this as a historical fact to refute the scoffers. Creation is here being used as a fact to refute the scoffers to show God’s people that God is faithful to His promise made to us.

Notice here that Peter was not embarrassed of this truth, which in his day and age was contrary to the ideas of Greek philosophy (which taught an ancient form of the “steady state theory” cf Socrates) or of pagan religion with its mystical tall-tales. Yet over and above all this, Peter proudly proclaimed the FACT of Creation as a fact to refute the scoffers, even though the scoffers clearly do not believe in the biblical account of Creation. Peter does not adapt his message and water it down to “find common ground” with the scoffers but instead authoritatively call them to account using the truths of Scripture as factual truths.

In our day and age, the “scientific” theory of Evolution aka Neo-Darwinism functions as the ruling paradigm for the scoffers of our age. Similarly, we do not need to give them an inch and concede anything to them, except to show from Scripture and even the scientific method (or even philosophy of science) that Neo-Darwinism is intellectually and factually bankrupt as a paradigm to live our lives by or to rules our thoughts.

Verse 6
… and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.

This is an obvious reference to the Flood of Moses’ time. Like the Creation account, Peter treated this as a historical reality. The catastrophe that was the Flood left behind lots of evidences like the Great Canyon or the Fossil Record, which sinful Man try to suppress (Rom. 1:21) and re-interpret.

Similar to the reality of the Flood, there is simply no way except to take the events as historical and of Peter’s words as literal. Rejecting this means calling the Scripture and thus God a liar, for God can never inspire error.

Verse 7
… But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly

Just as the ancient world was destroyed by water in the Deluge, the world that we live in now will be destroyed by the opposite – fire. The present heaven and earth are awaiting destruction by fire, on the Great Day when Jesus Christ will come again to judge the world. This is a foretaste of eternal judgment as the ungodly will face the wrath of God in judgment for living a life in rebellion against God and His eternal holy Law.

Verse 8
… But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day

The context is talking about the seeming delay in God’s promise to come back again for His Bride, the Church. Yet we are here reminded that in God’s view time is no issue. There is no actual perceptive difference in God between a day and a thousand years, as God exists apart from time.

Verse 9
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness

Since there is no perceptive difference in God, God is always on time. And here, Peter explains why the Lord tarries and does not come sooner. Far from it that the Lord is slow in coming as we understand slowness, ...

… but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

God is patient towards us, not wanting us to perish, but that all to reach repentance. Who is the “us” – the object stated here? It is those who will believe in Jesus Christ and be saved through repenting of their sins and believing in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. The reason stated by Peter why God does not come quicker in our scheme of time is because God is still waiting for people to repent and believe in Him. When all that will believe (the “all” stated here) have believed, then the end will come; when the Great Commission has been completed, then the end will arrive and Jesus will come for us the Church.

Verse 10
… But the day of the Lord will come like a thief

It is an utter waste of time trying to predict when Christ will come, since the very nature of His coming is secret and not known to us, just like a thief would not inform you beforehand when they will strike. So we are to be always prepared for our Lord’s coming.

… and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved

As verse 7 states, the second coming of the Lord will be accompanied by flames and the melting of the elements which make the Sun look cool in comparison. The entire Creation would be burned up on that day, including planets and stars.

… and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed

There will be no more secrets on that day, as the Light of Christ will expose all acts, even the darkest and most hidden acts will be brought to the light and seen for what it is.

Verse 11
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, …, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn

In light of the knowledge of the Second Coming which is soon, and the temporal-ness of all things, how should we live? We should be living in lives of holiness and godliness, so as to be like God. We are to grow to be more and more Christ-like each and every day of our lives, and that should be our life’s purpose.

Verse 12
… waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God …

We are to live our lives in watchful anticipation of Christ’s coming again. Not only that, we are told to “hasten” the coming of the day of God. In what way are we to do this? We are to do this through evangelism; in sharing with others about Christ and thus bringing more people to repentance and faith in Him.

This is of course not to say that we can actually control Christ’s coming, but humanly speaking it will seem that way as we do what Christ has commanded us to do, as the reason why Jesus is not coming back yet is because they are still people that have not believed in Him which He died for. Such hastening is thus relative from our viewpoint depending on world evangelism.

Verse 13
But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

This is our blessed hope; the one goal we should be looking towards. Our goal is the new heavens and the new earth, where righteousness dwells. We yearn for perfect justice, and perfect righteousness of which He has called and destined us for.

Verse 14
Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish and at peace

As we await the coming of our Lord, let us be diligent (involving effort) to be seen by Christ as being holy. We are to work towards holiness and purity in our lives, being without as much as possible the pollution of sin.

Verse 15
And count the patience of our Lord as salvation

God’s patience in not coming sooner should be considered as salvation, especially for those of God’s people who have yet to believe in Christ. Do not therefore think of our Lord not coming as a bad thing, but of allowing sinners an opportunity to repent of their sins so as to be saved.

Verse 15-16
... just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters.…, as they do the other Scriptures

Paul’s writings are here very early, even while the Canon was still in the process of enscripturation, regarded as Scripture. This is an important point for us to note: that the Spirit of God works in the writers of the Scriptures so that what they produce will be the exact inerrant Word of God, and He further leads the Church to endorse them as the Word of God which it indeed is.

There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction … Scripture is sometimes harder to understand; difficult passages are present, yet all of these do not make the Scripture not Scripture. These hard to understand things are then mis-interpreted and twisted by the “ignorant and unstable” for their own destruction. From here, we can see that twisting God’s Word is NOT a trivial issue; it is a serious crime and ultimately leads to the path of destruction for those who persist in it. Note also that it is the ignorant and unstable who are stated as doing such. Ignorance is NOT a virtue ever celebrated in the Scriptures, and neither is unstableness. As we grow in our walk with God, we should grow less and less ignorant, and more and more grounded on God’s Word so that we are not unstable, carried about by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14)

Verse 17
You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability

We are to take responsibility for our walk with God, and we should grow in Christian maturity, not to be carried away by wicked, lawless people

Verse 18
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen

Instead of carried away by false teachings and wicked people, we are to positively grow in Christ. We are to grow in grace which builds our character and continues to make us godlier. Amen.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Article: Does Sarah Palin present a Dilemma for Complementarians?

An interesting look at the topic raised on the topic of women and the role of women in society, caused by the unexpected choice of Alaskan governor Sarah Palin as the Vice-President candidate on the US Republican ticket. How are Christians therefore to view this issue? More fundamentally, how does one view this issue biblically in light of the biblical truths of Complementarianism and the different gender roles assigned in Scripture?

Over at the Gender blog, David Kotter has posted a four-part series on this topic [part 1, 2, 3, 4] to help us think through this topic.

The media is swirling with opinions and breathless news about Sarah Palin potentially being the Vice President — or even under some dark scenarios the President —of the United States of America. The role of Gender Blog is not to provide a voter's guide, but to help Christians to think biblically about a female vice presidential candidate. It is times like these that underscore the importance of looking to the Word of God as our guide in sorting through ever changing cultural and political situations.

From the outset we must remember that on November 4 the voters will not elect a national minister or pastor in chief. A president is not held to the same moral standards as an elder of a church. While it is a blessing from God to have ethical or even Christian political leaders, the Bible places no such requirements on secular governments. Even though the Bible reserves final authority in the church for men, this does not apply in the kingdom of this world.

Therefore we must be careful to not go beyond the teaching of the Bible. The Bible calls women to specific roles in the church and home, but does not prohibit them from exercising leadership in secular political fields. Rather, the Queen of Sheba is presented in 1 Kings 10:1-13 in a positive light in her interaction with King Solomon. Queen Esther offers an even better example of a woman who appropriately exerted influence for the good of her people without holding the highest position of national authority (Esther 2:17). In this light, we cannot categorically say that it was sinful for Queen Victoria to lead England as a single woman strictly because of her gender, nor can we condemn Governor Palin or any other woman for seeking the office of Vice President.

Women should not be held back from an office that is not strictly forbidden in the Bible. Nevertheless, the question remains whether or not it is wise for a specific woman in a particular season of life to seek such an office — and the same would apply to any man. In evaluating individual cases, a spouse and a local church pastor would be a crucial source of counsel and a means of grace from God. Because of cultural voices to the contrary, we must remind ourselves of the unbelievably high calling of being a wife and mother, and that faithful service in the home is just as pleasing to God as national leadership.

I echo these sentiments. The only legitimate question that I think can be raised is whether such a decision is a wise one in light of family and other commitments, but this is a question to be answered by Sarah Palin and her family and her church to God, not to others.

P.S. There is nothing wrong with Sarah Palin being a Charismatic, even New Apostolic. The way some people criticize her doctrine, you would have thought that civil leaders are to be elected national pastors and popes of the country!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Jerry Bridges on The Pursuit of Holiness and the Discipline of Grace

The Saturday afternoon before last, 30th Aug 2008, I went for a talk by Jerry Bridges organized by the Navigators held at True Way Presbyterian Church, which my friend Huaizhi whom I providentially met there has posted on also. Anyway, here are just some personal thoughts on the talk.

Jerry Bridges gave two short talks based upon two of his books, The bestselling Pursuit of Holiness and the Discipline of Grace, of which those of us who registered (with payment) receive copies of both of them (the books that is). The talks were simple yet profound in depth, which shows his skill in communication. Yet what is most impressive is his grasp of the relation between striving and grace, which we shall now look at.

In the first talk entitled The Pursuit of Holiness, based upon his first and bestselling book, Dr. Bridges exposited from Eph. 4:17- 5:5. Before going into the text, he places the passage in its context of the entire book of Ephesians, and thus show us that the practical teachings in this passage is based upon the deep and glorious doctrinal teachings of Eph. 1-3 — of election, predestination, adoption, of salvation by faith through grace apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9), etc. Dr. Bridges didn't go in detail into these doctrinal teachings, which I think is necessary for the average Singaporean Christian, but it's good he mentioned them at all (Btw, Dr. Bridges is a Calvinist). The key teaching for this talk in my opinion is the idea of the symmetry between putting off and putting on, referencing Eph., 4:22-24, which reads as follows in the ESV (which incidentally is Dr. Bridges' normal usage bible version after switching over from the NIV)

to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:22-24)

Dr. Bridges focuses on the putting on and the putting off, telling and reminding us that the two are placed here side by side and meant to be done as side of the same coin. It is thus not helpful to "put off" without "putting on" the new self; thus it is no point putting off the old self by trying NOT to sin and placing prohibitive measures in place WITHOUT putting on the new self simultaneously in pursuing after God and godly disciplines in holiness in all we do; in progressive sanctification. Dead moralism is furthest from his mind, and should be furthest from ours too. Telling people NOT to do something is by far the worst thing we can do to help a person, short of condoning the sin itself. Rather, we must replace the sinful desires with something else of equal or greater value, and God alone can and must satisfy. For God alone can satisfy the unquenchable thirst of the soul of Man for love, significance and worth.

Dr. Bridges finishes off this talk by reminding us that all of this is to be done by God's power, and that alone, referencing Phil. 4:13 to that effect. As the next talk begins, after a good 30 minutes break, Dr. Bridges focuses on this in the talk about the Discipline of Grace. Focusing now on the text of Titus 2:11-12, Dr. Bridges talks about the necessity of training in grace. As it is written

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2:11-12)

Note here that the grace of God has appeared already among us all as stated in verse 11. This grace is a free gift of God apart from works, which Dr. Bridges similarly emphasized. Therefore, we are not striving for salvation or for God's grace, but whatever we do must start from a foundation of perfect salvation secured by the blood of the Lamb on our behalf (NOTHING whatsoever of our works can even come close to pay for it; and in fact it subtracts from it). Yet, this grace is not something passive, but it is something which trains us in godliness (v. 12). Here Dr. Bridges applies the "put on/ put off" concept in Paul's epistle to Titus; we are to put off "ungodliness and worldly passions", and put on "self-control, uprightness, and godliness". Furthermore, noting that the same Greek root word is used in 1 Tim. 4:7 and 2 Peter 2:14 for train (Gumnazo - γυμναζω), of which the former is "train ourselves for godliness" while the latter is "trained in greed", Dr. Bridges teach us that we are always in training, either towards godliness or ungodliness, so it is not a matter of whether we train, but what are we training towards.

And this ends the two short talks by Dr. Jerry Bridges. Here are some good one-liners from Dr. Bridges:

The keeping of the Law only when based upon what Christ has [already] done is pleasing to Christ

Grace is God's blessings through Christ to people who justly deserve His curse

Those whom God saves He always train

We are always in training — either towards godliness or ungodliness.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Weekly Meditations: Is. 12

You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song,and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” (Is. 12)

Following on the heels of the prophecies of the coming Messianic Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ comes an outpouring of praise. Isaiah representing the people of God praises and thanks God for how good he is in averting His anger from us. As formerly God's people were subjected to God's wrath and punishment, yet now God's anger has turned away and He is there to comfort us once again. God indeed is our salvation, our strength and our song who works all things together for our good (cf Rom. 8:28). For God in the Messiah has reconciled His people to Him (2 Cor. 5:19) and therefore we are no more under His wrath. Because Jesus is spotless and His propitiation perfect, therefore our salvation is assured and we can completely trust God for it. Therefore, we can praise God for His exceedingly great salvation He has wrought for us.

Such a reality is indeed cause for joy, for we who were once under God's judgment because of our sins are now saved from it by God's grace (v. 3; cf Rom. 5:8-9), with the resultant overflowing of that joy in exalting His name among the nations and making known His deeds (v. 4). Historically, this shows the global scope of Israel's mission, which is to glorify God's name among the nations, which she failed to do time and time again. Nevertheless, God is not limited to Israel's failures and His cause would spread into the nations with or without Israel, as indeed it happened when Israel rejected her Messiah.

So let us come and sing and shout for joy to God (v. 5) for God the Holy One is in our midst (v. 6), for us and not against us. Amen and Amen!

Some exegesis on Gal. 2:1-10

Here is an introductory exegesis on the passage in question by Dr. James White:

And an excellent albeit short article by Steve Camp on the passage can be found here.

Law and Gospel: Prelude

Having previously posted on the topic of the Sabbath with a broader look at the theme of the Law of God, I have been receiving some flak from the Legalists, both from a Seventh-day adventist apologist and prophecy 'expert' Charlene Fortsch and advocates of a particular form of Israelism (or new Jews) calling their group 'the Israel of God'. While they have proven incalcitrant in refusing correction by the Word of God, and instead seek to place believers under the yoke of slavery to the Law (cf Gal. 5:1), interaction with them has indeed helped in clarifying my thoughts on the topic of the Law with respects to the Gospel. I also have a polite invitation from a Seventh Day Adventist pastor Jan McKenzie to debate the issue of the Law of God with a special focus on the epistle to the Galatians.

With such a situation therefore, I would thus be able to kill these many birds with one stone by primarily going through Galatians on the topic of the Law and the Gospel, and thus vindicating the Gospel of Sola Fide from her enemies, which is what I would be doing in a future series of blog posts.

Before I start, there are two extremes — two ditches on the side of the road that we must avoid. The first one is Legalism (including Soft Legalism), which I would be dealing with, and the other is Antinomianism or Licentiousness or "Easy-believism", which my friend Mike Ratliff has posted a series of four posts discussing it. Without going into much detail, it must be said that salvation cannot be merited or repaid or improved (contra Legalism), and it brings forth fruit (contra Antinomianism). The confusion comes about surely when the idea of fruits are mixed up with the idea of merits, and therefore the Legalists would attack the true Gospel as being lawless, while the Antinomians would attack the true Gospel for adding works as a requirement for salvation.

So what exactly is the difference between fruits and merits, it may be asked? After all, since salvation yields fruits of salvation, therefore does this mean that lack of fruits signify a lack of salvation? If so, what then is the difference between fruits and merits? One way of looking at this is that merits are prior to salvation while fruits are posterior to salvation. Therefore, basing salvation on merits gives a person no assurance, since nobody has any idea whether they have fulfilled the merit quota necessary to earn their 'ticket to heaven'. Fruits however, are done upon an assured foundation of salvation, and therefore there is no quota to fulfil. Secondly, what is even more striking here is that fruits by definition are natural outgrowths of something, and this something is salvation, which comes about through the new nature given us by God through regeneration. As stated in Rom. 6:2, how is it that we who died to sin still live in it? Therefore, while merits involve striving to meet a standard, fruits involve naturally growing from an assured foundation which provide the strength and will to grow.

With this, let us then continue to look into the book of Galatians.

[to be continued]