Monday, August 13, 2018

IS IT POSSIBLE FOR A BELIEVER TO LOSE REWARD AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF JESUS CHRIST?

The New Testament teaches us that all believers in the Lord Jesus will someday appear before Him to be rewarded according to what they have done in this life since becoming a believer (2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12). Jesus isn’t obligated to give rewards but He has declared that He is going to do so. Rewards are just more of His grace. The Judgment Seat of Christ will be an event that will take place immediately after the Rapture of the Church. At that time, He will evaluate a believer using three criteria (1 Cor. 3:10-4:5): (1) whether we lived our lives according to His standards and commands as found in the Scriptures; (2) whether or not we were faithful (faithfully using all that the Lord gave to us---spiritual gifts, natural abilities, resources, intelligence, etc); and (3) whether or not our motives were good ones, that is, we did what we did to honor and please Christ. The believer who lives well is going to receive rewards of various kinds that will be manifested in the millennial kingdom, and most likely, in the eternal kingdom as well.

The reality of Jesus giving rewards to believers has raised the question of the possibility of losing rewards. Can rewards be lost as well as gained? Actually, there are two issues here. First, can believers lose rewards that Jesus had wanted to give to them; and second, can a believer lose rewards for meritorious deeds already done.

The first issue is clearly “yes”. There are scriptural warnings about the possibility of losing rewards that are being offered to us. The Apostle John says that we are to be careful not to be deceived by false teachers. One of the consequences of believing false teaching is that we will not live according to the dictates of Scripture and this will cause the losing of reward. This is so because false teaching keeps us from living the way God wants us to.
“Watch yourselves, that you may not lose what we have accomplished, but that you might receive a full reward.” (2 John 8)
This is one of the great consequences of embracing false teaching.

The Apostle Paul warned the Corinthian believers about the same matter. You live badly, you lose reward (not salvation). It cannot get much clearer than the way he states it in these verses.
“Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor….If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Cor. 3:8, 14-15)
Each has a reward that would be given according to his own works, but not to faithfully do those deeds will mean the losing out on those rewards that would have been given. So rewards offered may be lost by living poorly.

Again, Paul shares his concerns for them, and for himself, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. There he states that he disciplines himself, like an athlete does, because he wants to participate in the “game of life” and be able to receive the “crown” at the end. He is fearful of being “benched” (Gr. adokimos) because of not playing “by the rules”. (See also 2 Timothy 2:5). The “crown” (reward) is available but it may or may not be received, depending on the performance of the athlete.

There is no question that the Scriptures reveal the generosity of the Lord and His desire to give good gifts to His children. He is good and He is a giver. His resources are immense and He delights in sharing them with His children. He is not a tight-fisted miser who reluctantly lets go of His rewards. But, not only is He generous, but He is also just in His dealings. And being the best Father there is in the universe, He will not reward the bad behavior of a child in the same way He will reward good behavior. So in a number of reward passages, it become pretty clear that rewards are “on the table” and the offer is authentic. But being offered a reward and actually getting it is not a sure thing. So rewards that are available to the believer just might not be possessed by that believer.

The second issue is that of losing reward that has already been earned. So, if a believer has done a good work (such as giving a “cup of cold water” to one in need) where a reward is promised, can that be rescinded? Once earned, can it be lost? The answer to this seems to be “no”. When we look at Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, we see Him saying that it is permanent.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, whether moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21)
The Lord carefully contrasts treasures accumulated on earth versus those accumulated in heaven. On earth, there is clearly a temporary nature to these possessions. But spiritual investments, placed into the “Bank of Heaven”, are not subject to decay or theft. In other words, they are permanent. The Lord advocates making spiritual investments (“laying up”) because they are, in fact, permanent and cannot be lost. People cannot get at them to borrow or steal, and the laws of decay on earth do not apply to heaven. Once in the “Bank of Heaven” the account remains safe in the vault until the Judgment Seat of Christ where the “dividends” are paid out.

The important issue is our heart. Jesus said that our investments follow our hearts. For many believers it seems that they are not really that interested in laying up rewards in heaven because their focus is on laying up treasures on earth. Their hearts are pursuing the “American dream” or some version of it. (Now there is a very legitimate place for purchasing houses and lands, etc. but these are not life and these are not to be the focus of life). It is, as Jesus declared, an issue of the heart. How we use our time and where we invest our resources tells us in which direction our investments are going. So to each of us there is a crucial question that we must answer: “where is my heart?”

There is no place like the “Bank of Heaven” when it comes to excellent returns on our investments. Hopefully each of us is weekly sending treasures which are being placed into our account!

Monday, July 9, 2018

WILL SOME BELIEVERS MISS THE RAPTURE?

The technology of today is amazing. It can be amazingly good or amazingly bad. This would definitely apply to “YouTube.” On “YouTube” you can find just about anything by way of subject matter and posted by most anyone. I have found watching some videos of events in nature to be interesting; such as flash floods, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. But other subjects, such as how to clean tile, do not exactly fire me up. On “YouTube” you can also find an astonishing array of preachers as well as amateur theologians who put forth their views on all subjects. “YouTube” has become a modern day pulpit. There seems, however, to be a special preference, among these folks, on prophetic subjects, which brings me to our present discussion.

I have noted that a number of individuals promote the idea that some believers in Jesus will miss the rapture because they are living sinfully and selfishly when Jesus comes. So because of their sinfulness and carnality, they will not be taken up in the rapture but will continue to live on into the tribulation period. Many teach that if these sinful believers repent and get their act together, then there will be other times during the tribulation when they could be taken up. They use Revelation 7:9-14; 11:2; 12:5 and 16:5 to teach raptures occurring during the Tribulation. However, a close inspection of these scriptures, in their contexts, reveal that no sudden, supernatural meeting of Christ in the clouds is in view. These are not rapture passages.

Now for someone who discovered this subject on “YouTube”, they might think they have stumbled onto a new, enlightened teaching. That would not be true. This idea of a conditional rapture has been around since it was first articulated in the mid-nineteenth century. It is commonly referred to as the “Partial Rapture” theory and it teaches that only believers who are “watching and waiting” for the Lord’s return will be taken up to meet Him in the air. In this view, the rapture is actually a reward for faithful believers. And so, those passages that emphasize the need to be alert and anticipating the Lord’s return are the ones focused on.

Many scriptures are used by those who promote this theory. And the use of so many scriptures gives the impression that there is significant support for this idea of a conditional rapture. However, the Partial rapturists generally fail to observe some necessary distinctions. Some of their scriptures are referencing the 2nd Coming and not the Rapture event. Other scriptures are focused on the nation of Israel and not the Church. Yet other passages are really talking about the rewarding of believers and not the rapturing of believers. But beyond this failure to observe these distinctions, there are four reasons why this view should be rejected.

(1) THIS VIEW HAS PROBLEMS IN RELATION TO THE DOCTRINE OF SALVATION. The believer in Jesus Christ is justified by faith and not by works. All aspects of our salvation come to us because of the grace of God. The resurrection and translation of believers to heaven to be with Christ is the future part of our salvation, and we receive that aspect of our salvation also by God’s grace not by our works. Yet, in the Partial rapture view, this aspect of our salvation is based on merit, at least to the extent that the future aspect of our salvation is postponed. To accept a works principle for this important aspect of salvation is to undermine the whole concept of justification by faith through grace, as well as to diminish the present work of the Spirit (Eph. 4:30) who has sealed us for the day of redemption.

(2) THIS VIEWPOINT CONTRADICTS THE PLAIN TEACHING OF SCRIPTURE THAT ALL BELIEVERS ARE INCLUDED IN THE RAPTURE. In the rapture passage of 1 Corinthians 15:51, the Apostle Paul declares that “we shall all be changed.” This rapture passage speaks of just two categories of believers (the living and the dead) and states that all will be involved. There is no indication at all of anyone being excluded. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 that those involved in the rapture are those who are “in Christ”, whether living or dead. Those who are raptured are those who “believe that Jesus died and rose again.” He does not divide believers into categories of “watching” and “not watching” of the partial rapture theory. And these are the two primary rapture passages, and they clearly teach that all believers are taken in the rapture, prior to the Tribulation period. There is no category of “unwatchful believers.” .

(3) THE PARTIAL RAPTURE THEORY CONTRADICTS A CORRECT UNDERSTANDING OF A KEY RAPTURE PASSAGE, THAT OF 1 THESSALONIANS 5:9-10. .
Here the Apostle teaches that it is the sovereign will of God that His children not experience His wrath but, rather, that they obtain deliverance. Paul then gives them additional encouragement concerning their removal from the earth before the time of wrath when he says, “that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.” Often those “awake or asleep” have been interpreted as living and dead believers. Paul, of course, does speak of these two categories of believers in relationship to the rapture event in 1 Thessalonians 4. There Paul contrasts living and dead believers and uses the Greek word koimao when speaking of the dead believers (“those who have fallen asleep”). But in 1 Thessalonians 5:10, Paul has chosen to use the Greek word katheudo to speak about those who are asleep. This word is rarely, if ever, used in the N.T. for death. And in this context it refers to one who is not being watchful and alert. The word was used in verses 5 and 6 to describe the state of unwatchfulness against which Paul is warning. In the same way, the verb in verse 10 for “awake” has been used in verse 6 to describe the state of alertness which is what Paul desires for these believers. Unless sound exegetical procedure is to be thrown out, verse 10 cannot be seen as a description of living and dead Christians. Rather it refers to watchful and unwatchful believers. So Paul is clearly saying that whether a believer is watchful or unwatchful, they will be involved in the rapture which forcefully contradicts the Partial rapture view. Paul, of course, is very concerned that believers live godly lives, waiting eagerly for the Lord’s coming. But in these verses he makes the point that all will go in the rapture. The very next event after the rapture (the judgment seat of Christ) will be the place where the matter of how the believer lived will be dealt with---not the rapture itself. .

(4) THE PARTIAL RAPTURE THEORY DIVIDES UP THE BODY OF CHRIST. . The unity of the Church, the Body of Christ, is important to Him. And the vital, organic union between Christ and believers cannot be broken. The N.T. doctrine of the oneness of the Church stands against the Partial rapture view. When the Lord Jesus and His Bride are united in marriage (Rev. 19:8-10), which is then followed by the marriage supper (the millennial kingdom), they are never seen separated again. It is inconceivable that after being united with His Bride that Jesus would have part of the Bride disappear for the millennial kingdom (which is what many partial rapturists hold will be the fate of those unwatchful believers who don’t repent during the Tribulation).

To the credit of the partial rapturists, they clearly encourage believers to live holy lives. But the theory has so many exegetical and theological problems that very few people in the last 150 years (since the idea was formulated) have held to it.

Monday, June 11, 2018

WILL UNBELIEVERS BE ANNIHILATED?

In the past, the doctrine of annihilation has been taught by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists as well as some other groups which are usually viewed as cults. Today, unfortunately, the doctrine has begun to invade evangelicalism. This trend does fit in well with the current heavy emphasis in so many pulpits on a God who isn’t particularly interested in judging anyone, but simply wants everyone to be happy, and pretty much guarantees that everyone will end up in heaven.

What is the teaching of annihilation? The basic teaching is that when God judges the unbeliever, He will judge them by causing them to cease existing. This judgment, which will bring about the cessation of their existence, is “eternal” in that it last forever. The view denies that punishing itself goes on forever. In other words, the unbeliever will not suffer torment for all eternity because he no longer exists. This condition will last forever; thus, the judgment is in a sense eternal.

Why is this view held? The position of annihilationism comes primarily from a misguided desire to defend the character and actions of God. It is said that God is loving and gracious (and He certainly is), but it is felt that God would go against His very character if He allowed people to suffer in torment forever and ever. God would then, they believe, be cruel and vindictive, and be a monster akin to Satan. So God’s love prohibits Him from causing unbelievers to suffer eternally. This idea is compatible with so much preaching today, which avoids any real discussion of hell and judgment.

Responding to Annihilationism. There are several basic responses to this distorted doctrine that the Bible believing Christian needs to make.

(1) Jesus’ clear teaching on the subject. In Matthew 25:46 Jesus declared that the wicked “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Jesus used the same word (Gk. aionios ) when speaking of the eternal destiny of both the righteous and the wicked. Since one cannot legitimately have the same word mean two entirely different things in one context (and one verse!), it must be concluded that Jesus was teaching that the duration of the righteous and the duration of the wicked are the same. If the righteous live forever, then the wicked also live forever. The Scriptures teach that the punishment of the wicked is everlasting.

(2) Annihilation is not really logical and is not a punishment at all.
Nonexistence is certainly not an adequate punishment for sin, and the wicked would not feel constrained to cease sinning if that is all they faced. This would, in fact, be a blessing. He would have no pain, no remorse, no guilt and no regrets. Man has sinned against an eternal being and the punishment must fit the crime. God is not only love, but He is also characterized by holiness. He is, therefore, righteous in all His dealings which requires that evil be punished.

(3) Others, besides Jesus, teach the everlasting nature of the punishment of the wicked.
Such passages as Daniel 12:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Jude l:6-13; Revelation 14:11; 19:3 and 20:10 inform us that the unbeliever faces a conscious eternal torment. It should be noted that the Scriptures speak of “everlasting fire” and “everlasting punishment” (cf. Matt. 18:8; 25:41; Mark 9:43). In these passages “gehenna” was the name used. This valley south of Jerusalem, commonly called the Hinnom Valley, came to be equated with the fiery judgment of apocalyptic literature, because human sacrifices were made there and it was a place of burning. We need to observe that “hell” is not the place of eternal punishing (though it is very frequently used that way by Christians). Death and hell are temporary places and will eventually be cast into the “lake of fire”; and, it is the “lake of fire” that is designated as the place of eternal residence of the unbeliever.

(4) The proper understanding of “destroy”. Annihilationists commonly interpret words that speak of the destruction of the wicked as meaning the cessation of their being. But the word for destroy (apollymi ) does not mean annihilation but rather “loss” or “ruin.” For example, its means “lost” in the parables of Luke 15. It can be applied to that which has become “useless”, as in the case of the wineskins in Jesus’ parable (Matt. 9:17) or the idea of Judas Iscariot having already “perished” in John 17:12. In none of these passages would the idea of annihilation be appropriate. And it questionable that it is ever used that way. To destroy simply is to ruin something.

Another word for “destroy” (olethros) is found in a key passage in 2 Thessalonians 1:9. There the word emphasizes the point of the ruination of people; that is, they are away from God and their lives no longer have the value and meaning that God originally intended for mankind. Their very purpose for their being is gone and will never be retrieved. There is no full, meaningful lives for these, but rather the loss of well-being; the ruination of the very purpose of their being. Originally intended to be ruling the planet and in fellowship with God, they have nothing. They are separated from God and even from His “common grace.” Their condition will be one of everlasting depression.

A conclusion. Although annihilation might appeal to human sentiment and human wisdom, it is not a doctrine that emerges from a study of the Scriptures. We must never forget that the Judge of the Earth will always do what is right and will maintain the perfect and proper balance between love, justice, patience and holiness. In the Gospels, the Lord Jesus taught and warned people to escape from hell (Gehenna/Lake of fire) more than any other individual. Instead, He encouraged people to enter the joy and blessing of the Lord forever.

People today need constant reminding that there is not only a heaven to gain but a hell to avoid. As we share the whole counsel of God, we do no favors to anyone when we cut the bad news out from the good news.

Monday, March 12, 2018

WHAT IS “DISPENSATIONAL THEOLOGY” (And Should We Care)?

As I was thinking about writing this article on “Dispensational Theology”, it did occur to me that it might not be necessary. After all, the people reading materials sent from Scofield Ministries are pretty articulate in truths related to dispensational theology. And while I am sure this is an accurate assessment, I do imagine that for some (or for some friends of Scofield folks) the subject may be a little less than clear. Just a few days ago, one who had been a believer for many years did ask me, “Just what is dispensationalism?” So I will answer that believer and you can listen in if you wish. If not, I will be back next month!

(1) WHAT IS A DISPENSATION? Dispensation is a word that comes from the Greek word oikonomia, and is used in several places in the N.T. (e.g. Eph. 1:10; 3:2, 3; 1 Tim. 1:4; Col. 1:25). Oikonomia comes from two Greek words: oikos (which means “house”), and nemo (which means “to manage”). The word dispensation (oikonomia) communicates the idea of a stewardship where someone who has authority delegates duties to another who is a subordinate. We who are parents have experienced this with our children. As the authority, we set the rules (and the consequences) for our children. They understood what they could or could not do and the benefits of obedience and the negative consequences for disobedience. As they grew from being infants to toddlers to young children to teenagers, the rules and regulations changed to fit the situation. And, if we were good parents, we clearly spelled out those changes in the rules and the consequences to our children.

In this world, God is the authority and He is the One who sets the rules and regulations for humans. Depending on the era of human history, the rules God has established has different. God never changes, but what He requires of people does, and He lets mankind know what those changes are.

(2) WHAT A DISPENSATION IS NOT. Sometimes it is thought that a dispensation is, at its core, a period of time. It is not. Although a period of time is obviously involved, a dispensation is a stewardship or a way in which God administers His will in this world. So what He required of Adam is different from Abraham which is different from Moses which is different from Peter and Paul.

Also, dispensations are not different ways of salvation. Probably due to some unclear statements made in the past by some dispensational theologians, it has been concluded that dispensational theology teaches different ways of being saved. That is not the case. Salvation has always been by faith based on the finished work of Christ on the cross.

(3) HOW MANY DISPENSATIONS ARE THERE? The number of dispensations in human history is usually thought to be seven; with six bringing us up to the present and one yet to come. There have been slight differences among theologians based on whether they see enough differences and changes in God’s administration. But generally, the number is seen as seven.

(4) ARE DISPENSATIONS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FROM ONE ANOTHER? No, there are often carry overs from one dispensation to the next. For example, the right of capital punishment was given in the dispensation of human government (dispensation #4) but was also carried over into the next dispensation of the Mosaic Law (dispensation #5). That is to be expected, since God’s truth does not cease to be truth. But each dispensation will have features that are unique to it.

(5) HOW DO WE KNOW WHEN THERE IS A CHANGE IN DISPENSATIONS? Each dispensation does have unique aspects to it that are clearly revealed by God. The requirements, responsibilities, blessings and disciplines are spelled out by revelation from God. New responsibilities are spelled out by new revelation. Everyone observes that the requirements and responsibilities for mankind before the Fall of man, and after the Fall, are distinctly different. The age before the giving of the Mosaic Law and the age after the Law are obviously not the same. And, so it is with all the dispensations.

(6) WHAT ARE THE “NON-NEGOTIABLE” ELEMENTS OF DISPENSATIONAL THEOLOGY? Many years ago, Dr. Charles Ryrie set forth three indispensable elements of dispensational theology. These three elements have proven to be an accurate assessment of dispensationalism.
  • A consistent literal approach to interpreting the Scriptures. All who approach the Scriptures with a literal (normal) hermeneutic end up believing certain doctrinal truths. For example, conservative theologians all believe in the Trinity because they take the Bible at face value on what it teaches about the Godhead. When the basic interpretive approach of taking the words of Scripture in their historical, grammatical, normal sense is taken, then the various dispensations are sitting there in the Scriptures and can be easily seen. When this approach is taken in all of the Scriptures, and allegorization is avoided, then the various dispensations emerge out of our reading of Scripture. The dispensations are not forced on the text of scripture but rather emerge from the scripture.
  • A clear distinction is made between the nation of Israel and the church of Jesus Christ. When the student of the Bible observes the biblical differences (starting with the Abrahamic Covenant) between Israel and the Church, they will almost always end up in the dispensational camp. To try and make the Church the “new Israel” is simply not supported by the Scriptures, and it ignores the nature of God’s covenant commitments to Israel. (Past studies have looked at the distinction between Israel and the Church. If you go to my website Paulbenware.com you will see on the main menu “Prophecy Articles”. If you click on that you will see a sub-section “Interpreting Bible Prophecy”. In that section there are 5 articles on the subject of Israel and the Church that were previously written for Scofield Ministries).
  • God’s glory is the ultimate purpose of history. In Covenant Theology, it is normally said that the purpose of history is the salvation of the elect. As we have noted before, in other studies, that is far too narrow. Everything that was lost in Eden is going to be restored by God and He is moving through history to bring about the restoration of man’s unique role of ruling the planet (starting with the Son of Man); the restoring of the physical paradise that man was originally placed in (thus a new heaven and earth); and the restoration of believing people back into full fellowship with God (we will see His face and He will dwell among men).


Dispensational theology does a good job in bringing clarity and unity to our understanding of the Bible. It does so by approaching the Scriptures from a normal interpretation of language. Sometimes non-dispensationalists scoff at dispensational theology as being simplistic and somewhat naïve. It is okay for simple folks, but if one wants to understand the “deep things” of the Bible, then dispensational theology will not take you to the deep and profound things. But we must remember that God communicated His truth through the written Word, and He intended for His Word to be grasped by ordinary believers. There does seem to be more than a little arrogance in some who “trash” dispensational theology. If it is naïve to simply take God’s Word at face value, then let us strive to be naïve.

Monday, February 12, 2018

WHAT IS “COVENANT THEOLOGY” (And Should We Care)?

For many the above subject is in the category of “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.” In other words, it is of no real value or concern and should be filed away in the “Who Cares” folder. But for those who want to know what the Bible teaches, the theological system that you embrace is quite foundational and therefore quite important.

One of the emphases that I have made over the years of teaching in the college classroom has been the importance of the biblical covenants. So to my students, I have early and often talked about the Abrahamic, Davidic, New and Land covenants (and even the Noahic and Mosaic); covenants that God made with Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob. A student approached me one day (trying to figure me out, I guess) and said “you must be a covenant theologian”. I told him that I really was not and explained that “covenant theology” is not derived from the above named biblical covenants. Rather the covenants of “covenant theology” are theological ones that have been postulated by theologians. And since that day when that student evidenced some confusion on this subject, it has been my observation that others are a little unclear on this subject as well. Thus the purpose for this brief article. This will not be detailed but will give just a summary.

Some in Covenant Theology (CT) believe that there are three covenants while others think there are just two. These three theological covenants are known as the covenants of works, redemption and grace. The reason for the difference in the total is that some in CT see the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace as two phases of one covenant. Anyway, all of the Bible is interpreted on the basis of these three (or two) covenants. CT was formulated in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and has been refined over the years.

CT teaches that prior to the fall of man, God entered into a covenant relationship with Adam. This is the covenant of works and in it man was promised eternal life for obedience but death for disobedience. Man failed badly, bringing death into the human experience. After this failure, God graciously instituted the covenant of grace in order to bring salvation through Jesus Christ. Covenant theologian Louis Berkhof says that this covenant was not made with all of mankind, but was a covenant made between God and the elect sinner. God promises eternal life and the elect sinner accepts this salvation, promising a life of faith and obedience. This covenant of grace is actually based on the covenant of redemption made in eternity past between the Father and the Son. According to CT, each dispensation or covenant mentioned in the Bible is simply another stage of the progress of revealing the covenant of grace in history, with the result that there is one, and only one, people of God. In other words, the Church and Israel are not distinct in God’s plan or dealings.



But for those of us who are not in the CT camp, we see a number of serious problems with this theological system. A very brief list is now given.

(1) COVENANTAL LANGUAGE IS MISSING IN THE THEOLOGICAL COVENANTS. The biblical covenants are clearly covenants because the two parties are clearly defined and there is language which tells us that a covenant is being made (“the cutting of a covenant”). The theological covenants lack clear covenant language, sometime borrowing language from the biblical covenants. For example, CT “borrows” some of the “New Covenant” (Jer. 31, etc.) language and applies it to the covenant of grace. The theological covenants of CT are really logical deductions rather than the products of exegesis of the biblical texts.

(2) CT EMPLOYS SPIRITUALIZATION IN ITS APPROACH TO SCRIPTURE. Most taught believers know that when spiritualization is used, the interpreter really becomes the final authority instead of the text itself. In order to make the biblical covenants of the Old Testament squeeze into the mold of the all-encompassing “covenant of grace”, CT is forced to leave literal/normal interpretation and allegorize. For example, the promises given to Abraham are spiritualized to apply to the Church instead of national Israel. Spiritualizing tampers with the promises and provisions of the biblical covenants.

(3) CT DOES NOT ADEQUATELY DEAL WITH THE MANY DISTINCTIONS FOUND IN THE BIBLE. CT stresses the alleged unifying principle of the covenant of grace, and by so doing fails to deal with the significant differences in the Bible. The “covenant of grace” is said to cover the time from the Fall to the end of the age with no real distinctions made between the different covenants and covenant people. Not to see the many differences between the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant and the New covenant will always lead to unclear and invalid interpretations. The Apostle Paul is so very clear in Galatians 2 and 3 that the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are different kinds of covenants given for different reasons. According to Jeremiah 31, the Mosaic covenant and the New covenant are just plain different. The biblical covenants are not (as CT claims) simply progressive revelations of the “covenant of grace”. The biblical covenants include many more elements than just the matter of the redeeming of the elect.

(4) THE GOAL OF HISTORY IN CT IS NOT BROAD ENOUGH. CT has rightly stressed the concept of God’s grace in our salvation. However, though the salvation of the elect is an important part of God’s purpose for history, it is not the whole story. The story of the Scriptures is a restoring of all that was lost in Eden. In the Bible, God does have varying purposes for the church, Israel, gentiles, the saved, the unsaved, holy angels, fallen angels, and the universe itself. All these cannot be forced into the confines of the theological “covenant of grace.” Not recognizing the varying purposes of God will often lead to unbiblical eschatological positions, such as that Israel has no future as a national entity.

A much better way to understand the Scriptures is the approach of dispensational theology. Dispensational theology emerges out of the text of the Bible and relies less on the interpreter and more on the Scriptures themselves. This will be the subject of study next month.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

MTD AND THE CHURCH IN 2018

The church in North America is badly infected with MTD and it likely going to get worse in 2018. This spiritual disease is now so rampant and pervasive, that the spiritual health of the church will most likely continue to decline noticeably. Unless things change dramatically in the church, 2018 will not go well for the Body of Christ. While we do not want to be unduly pessimistic, we really need to be realistic.

First, as we think about this matter, we need to remember that the Apostles of the Lord Jesus issued warning after warning about false teachers and their false teaching. And they seemed to indicate that towards the end of the age, such falsehood would gain momentum and not lessen.
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned.” (2 Peter 2:1-2)
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” (1 Timothy 3:1)
“For certain persons have crept in unnoticed…ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ….These men are those who are like hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves…” (Jude 1:5, 12)
“…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears ticked, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in according to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4)
Peter, Jude and Paul communicate several significant points that we ought to be alert to. (1) These distributors of falsehood come into the church subtly and deceptively; (2) they tell people what they want to hear; (3) they will be very popular, with many people buying into their false teachings; (4) the actual origin of these teachings is the Devil and his forces; (5) their teachings are not only harmful but they produce a level of contempt for the Truth, causing people to look with disdain on those who proclaim the authentic truth of God; (6) these false teachers bring their errors in alongside of God’s truth, which gives the air of credibility to what they are teaching; and (7) the only antidote to this spiritual poison is the constant, consistent proclaiming of God’s Word.

But, back to MTD. Just what is MTD? It sounds really bad. Some years ago this label was employed to describe (with accuracy, I believe) a growing theological idea spreading in the church. MTD stands for Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Quite a mouthful. But essentially it alters one’s view of God, salvation and the purpose of life.

It suggests that there is a good, nice God who created and watches over the world and He is concerned that things go well for us. He wants us to be good and nice to one another, and He says so in the Bible, and also in most other religions. The main goal He has for our lives is that we are happy and that we feel good about ourselves. Our happiness is really the main thing. However, on a daily basis, it is not really necessary that we involve Him in our lives. But He is there if and when we run into problem and difficulties. He is happy (and apparently even obligated) to bail us out. And, because He is nice, we are told that good people will all end up going to heaven. (Such things as sin, the blood of Christ and personal faith in the one and only Savior Jesus, are not points of emphasis). If you listen closely, these ideas are being heralded to tens of thousands each week in churches and over the air waves.

What has brought MTD about is that over the past 60 years there has been a growing departure from solid, biblical teaching of the Word of God. It has not happened overnight, but it has happened. Good theological instruction is not what folks want and they are quite satisfied with the sweet, frothy motivational stuff that regularly passes for biblical preaching. But this should not come as a complete shock to us, as we just noted, that the writers of the New Testament foretold this happening as this church age moved along.

The solution to MTD, of course, is a return to the careful exposition of God’s Word. It is the Word of God when understood and embraced that brings spiritual health and strength to believers. To replace the Word with MTD is to replace the nourishing wheat with the valueless chaff. With MTD, the needs of the audience, not the message, is of primary importance.

Frankly, it does not seem hopeful that 2018 will witness the return to the needed expository preaching of the Scriptures in American churches. The desire and ability seems to be lacking. Os Guiness said, in his book “Dining with the Devil”, that today’s churches are fundamentally interested in “nickels and noses”; that is, in money and attendance. Pastors and church leaders are under pressure to be successful and, above all else, “relevant.” This means that there must be continual growth in numbers and plenty of money coming in. Now it seems apparent that MTD brings in lots of people (just as the Apostles predicted). But, in spite of the declarations by most MTDers that they are seeking to reach people and see them changed, the truth is that only the Word proclaimed can transform people (Rom 12:2). The fact is that these preachers are not “teaching them to obey everything” that Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:20). The result is that disciples are not being made, which means that churches are not really healthy and growing spiritually in spite of the outward trappings of success.

For the believer who so wants the Word of God taught to them, there are some real challenges in our present religious climate. It could well be that it will not be in the large church that the exposition of the Word is present, so it might be prudent to check carefully some of the smaller churches. The key is the pulpit. Such a smaller church may not be glitzy or glamorous and may not have all the latest in technology or resources. But if the Word is central and is proclaimed faithfully, such a place is probably just what we need. But we will need to look beyond “nickels and noses”. It could be that finding like-minded believers will bring about a move to gather in a “house church.” In either case, it is the Word that builds us up and changes us. And so in 2018, hungry believers need to pray and seek a place where the Word taught is central.

Monday, August 14, 2017

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS FROM THE BOOK OF REVELATION - #4

We continue with some often asked questions from the book of Revelation.

#1 – Why does Revelation speak of things happening “shortly” or “quickly” when, in fact, almost 2,000 years have gone by? That doesn’t seem very quick to most of us.

These words, as they are translated, can be confusing. These words appear to be timing words, but they are not. They are not chronological indicators telling us when something is going to take place, but rather are qualitative indicators telling us how things will take place. The family of words (tachos; tachy) are best translated “suddenly” or “swiftly”. “Tachos” in Revelation should be translated as descriptive of the manner in which things happen (that is, “suddenly”). For example, when the Lord returns it will be suddenly or swiftly. The “adverb of manner” does not describe when the events occur, but the manner in which they occur. So we would translate these events as taking place suddenly. (This is the position taken by key Greek lexicons such as Liddell and Scott, and Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich).

Those holding to an AD 70 fulfillment of Revelation and the Olivet Discourse (Preterism) insist that a first century fulfillment is required by these words. But, when we see the proper understanding of these words, no such fulfillment is required by these words. After some 2,000 years, the events of Revelation have not yet been fulfilled but when they are fulfilled they will be taking place suddenly. We probably should not speak of the “soon” coming of the Lord and of these events, but rather they are imminent, and once the time does come these events will come swiftly.

#2 – Revelation speaks of the “book of life.” What is the book of life? And who is in it, and can a person be removed from it?

The “book of life” is mentioned a number of times in Revelation (3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; and 21:27). It has been suggested that this book contains the names of all who are born into this world (a book, therefore, of physical life) or it is a register of all believers including professing believers (who will eventually see their names blotted out of the book). The “book of life” is best understood as a divine listing of all those who will receive the blessing of eternal life. In Philippians 4:3, the Apostle Paul uses this same imagery and applies it to those that labor with him in the ministry. In Revelation 20:15, the issue is spiritual life, not physical life. Those who are not in the book of life are dispatched to the lake of fire; telling us that they are unbelievers. That believers only are found in the book of life is supported by 21:17 where no one on the new, eternal earth in the New Jerusalem can be there if not found in the book of life. Revelation 17:8 says that those in the book of life were written there from the foundation of the world; that is, it is the elect of God who are in the book. Followers of the Antichrist (these who by choice worship him) are not found in the book of life even though they are physically alive on the earth (13:5).

We should note that there are many books that are mentioned in the Bible. These books are not to remind God of something He might forget, but are there to give clear evidence to a person’s spiritual condition or to their rewarding or their punishment. In addition, we should be aware that books in the OT are different from the NT book of life. In the OT, these are referencing a book of covenant blessing; a register of the covenant people. And one could be blotted out of the book and by so doing forfeit the privileges of living in the theocracy (note Exo. 32:32-33).

It is probably Revelation 3:5 that gives Bible students the most trouble, as it speaks of a name being “blotted out” of the book of life. This is part of the letter to the church at Sardis where the “overcomer” is being addressed. If one holds that the “overcomer” is a special class of Christians (who have live well and successfully for the Lord), then it is seen as a figure of speech which denies the possibility. If one sees the overcomer as another name for the believer, who overcomes in Christ (cf 1 John 5:4-5) then this is simply a powerful promise of what will not be his fate. The promise is that they shall surely never (a double negative is used strengthening the promise) be blotted out of the book of life. It is not a threat of something that could happen but a promise of what will not happen. It is similar to the promise to the overcomer in the church at Smyrna (2:11), where the overcomer (believer) is assured that he will not “be hurt by the second death” (which is the lake of fire).

#3 – In Revelation 10, John is spoken to by the “seven peals of thunder”. What are they communicating and who are they? A strong, glorious angel, who had a scroll in his hand, appeared to the Apostle John. This angel cried out with a very loud voice (10:3). And when he did, the “seven peals of thunder” also spoke out (10:3). It is clear that what they said was understandable to John because he began to write down what they said. In 10:4, he is told not to write down what the “seven peals of thunder” had to say. So what they had to say was apparently significant. But why tells there was important information that we are not privy to? Probably, this is just a reminder to us that while the book of Revelation is filled with information, there are also events that will take place and people who will appear that are not being revealed. In other words, not everything that will take place in the end times is revealed to us. God has many unrevealed secrets.

Now, who are the “seven peals of thunder”? Angelic beings are deeply involved in Revelation in communicating God’s words and God’s judgments. So, it could be that this is a reference to yet another category of angelic beings who are carrying out the judgments of God (e.g. 8:5). Some have suggested that this powerful, lion-like voice is none other than the voice of Christ or God the Father. In any case, this is a word (likely of coming judgment) that is coming from heaven.

#4 – What is the marriage and the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:7-10)?

In Revelation 19:7, the declaration is made that it is time for the marriage of the Lamb. The scene is in heaven and the bride is seen in beautiful apparel which represents the gracious rewards given by the Bridegroom to His bride. This would tell us that when the marriage is ready to take place that the judgment seat of Christ has just taken place, since the church is seen as rewarded. The purpose of marriage is to unite two people and create a wonderful new relationship which includes the two being together; where one goes the other goes. For Christ and His bride there is no more separation. When He returns to the earth, so does His bride.

But then a future event is spoken of to which “blessed” persons are invited. That future event is the marriage supper of the Lamb. The marriage supper is a picture of the messianic kingdom. This imagery was used by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 22 as He discussed His coming kingdom. Blessed people are the ones who get to enter and experience this time of great joy and marvelous blessing. The marriage is in heaven but the marriage supper is on the earth; the revitalized earth of the messianic age. Even in our own culture and time, the marriage and the wedding reception, or supper, are often in two different locations. The marriage might be in a church sanctuary while the reception/supper is a mile or two away in another setting. So it appears that this will be the case in the marriage and marriage supper of Jesus, the Lamb. Blessed are all those who will be attending these grand events.