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June 28, 2006

I wrote yesterday about my experience at the Bank of Canada as I was taught to distinguish between genuine and counterfeit currency. As promised, today I will provide a few brief applications, though I still have much to think about and reflect upon. I do intend to write more formally about this subject at a later time. I went to this meeting looking particularly for parallels between spiritual discernment and the task of discerning counterfeit currency. I was not disappointed. The parallel between these two disciplines is unavoidable. In this article I am going to draw attention to just a few of these.

I was surprised to learn that the Bank of Canada expects all Canadians to exercise discernment with their currency. Despite having exchanged currency countless thousands of times, it had never occurred to me that I ought to be verifying each bill. I had never been told so. While I consider myself a person who values discernment, I had to admit that I had no discernment when it comes to currency and I could easily have been fooled. The literature the bank produces and the message they attempt to convey says “Check your notes! Make it a habit!” We are expected to check each piece of currency that comes into our possession. And clearly, if every person in the country was equipped to discern genuine from fraudulent, and if every person was to verify every piece of currency that came into his possession, all counterfeit money would be eradicated, as would the livelihoods of those who produce it.

Why is it so important that I check each piece of currency? Because once I accept a bill, that piece of money becomes my responsibility. Should I attempt to later deposit this bill in a bank and should the teller find that it is counterfeit, the bill will be confiscated and I will not be reimbursed. What I accept becomes my responsibility. Now there is a difference between taking a bill and accepting a bill. I have the right to inspect and refuse any piece of currency. But once I accept that money, I am responsible for it.

There is a clear parallel here to spiritual discernment. Just as I am responsible for money I accept and later attempt to spend, in the same way I am responsible for the teachings I accept and later attempt to share with others. Thus it is my responsibility before God to inspect every teaching that comes my way. I should test each teaching that is presented to me, refusing to accept any that go against the plain teaching of Scripture. There are tests the Bible provides which will help us discern truth from error. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 exhorts all Christians to “test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” We are first to test, then abstain, and finally hold fast.

Yesterday I mentioned the phrase, “touch, tilt, look through, look at” as a filter through which I can pass a particular piece of currency. These represent four exercises which will draw my attention to the marks of a genuine piece of currency. Similarly, the Bible provides a series of tests we can use to discern truth from error. I have much reflection to do in this area, but I would suggest some good filters we can apply in the spiritual realm are: examining Scripture, seeking the counsel of godly men and women, and seeking the consensus of historic Christianity.

A parallel commonly used by authors and preachers, is that, like experts in counterfeit currency, a person who wishes to be discerning must focus more on what is genuine than what is counterfeit. Before handing me a stack of bills and asking me to sort through them to discern which were fraudulent and which were genuine, Monica taught me about real currency. Having done that, the differences between good and bad were immediately apparent. In the same way, Christians, and even those with a particular gifting or interest in discernment, should focus more on truth than error. The more we understand what is true, the easier it will be to identify what is fraudulent. The more we know about God’s character, God’s ways, and God’s Word, the greater the contrast will be between truth and error.

Monica taught me the defining characteristics of a genuine bill. There were certain markers she told me to look for: fine-line printing, raised print, holographs, watermarks, and the like. By focusing on these markers, most of which are are difficult to duplicate and are thus missing from counterfeit bills, I was able to make quick but confident judgments. A point she conveyed several times is that counterfeiters usually only put in a minimal effort. They seek to make a copy of the original that is only good enough to pass a cursory inspection. Sadly, most people rarely even consider that a piece of currency may be fraudulent and thus are fooled even by the most pathetic effort at duplicating money. It struck me that most Christians are unaware of their responsibility to test doctrine. And yet most false doctrine is remarkably simple to detect and avoid, for it often is built around minimal effort in undermining truth.

While a single twenty dollar bill has a variety of security features, the Bank of Canada does not expect every person to inspect every one of these features. Rather, they suggest that every person choose two or three features and focus on those ones. This keeps the task of inspecting a bill from becoming burdensome. Still, because of the minimal effort expended by counterfeiters, verifying only two of the security features will usually be enough to discern whether a bill is genuine or fraudulent. If inspecting two does not provide enough information, a person can verify the others as well.

A short time ago, the Canadian media focused a great deal of attention on the so-called “Windsor $100 bill.” Several fraudulent $100 bills had been removed from circulation in the Windsor area, but the media attention made it seem as if these counterfeit bills had flooded the nation. Multitudes of stores across the nation immediately refused to accept $100 bills and even today a great many stores refuse to accept any bill higher than $50. Yet there were only a very small number of these false $100 bills and the amount of media attention was completely unwarranted. Fully eighty percent of counterfeit money is in the $10 and $20 dollar denominations, and in recent months there have been a growing number of counterfeit $5 bills in circulation. While many people were worried about fraudulent $100 bills, many $5’s, $10’s and $20’s were no doubt slipping through unnoticed. We see a similar situation in the church. It is quite rare that we are presented with fraudulent teaching that contradicts the most important teachings of Scripture. More often we are faced with issues of lesser importance than the major tenets of the faith. If we look only for false doctrine that contradicts the first-order doctrines, we may allow countless lesser errors slip through.

I went to the Bank of Canada to learn about currency, but learned a great deal about spiritual discernment. It was a valuable exercise and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn about spiritual discernment in so unlikely a place.

June 27, 2006

“Federal agents don’t learn to spot counterfeit money by studying the counterfeits. They study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing. Then when they see the bogus money they recognize it.” I can’t count the number of times I have read quotes similar to that one, taken from John MacArthur’s Reckless Faith. It seems that whenever an author wishes to discuss discernment, he mentions federal agents and the method they use to discern the genuine from the counterfeit. I have often wondered if this metaphor is accurate and whether agents truly do study genuine currency first. Curious person that I am, I decided to find some answers. I called the Bank of Canada, worked my way through various levels of bureaucracy, and eventually arranged a meeting with one of the nation’s foremost experts on counterfeit currency.

I twice missed the Bank of Canada building, one of just five local offices in Canada, before finally spying the appropriate address. There is no sign on the outside of the heavily-tinted glass building to announce what is within. As I entered the sole door, I found myself in a tiny foyer, only a few feet square. The door ahead was barred and an small sign announced that I was to press an intercom button and to announce my business. I pressed the button and stated that I was there to conduct an interview. After checking my name against a list, the security guard unlocked the door and I was permitted to proceed into a bare reception area. The doors locked behind me and a series of locked doors were ahead of me. The occasional person passed through these turnstile doors, but only after swiping a security card. The turnstiles allowed only one person to enter before locking once more. I passed my identification through a small opening cut into a foot-thick glass window. The guard made a copy of it and passed it back to me along with a visitor’s pass. A few minutes later I was greeted by Monica, the expert on currency, and we walked through bare, utilitarian corridors until we found a vacant meeting room.

twenty dollar billMonica was far friendlier than the security guard, though she had to bring along a tape recorder and later mentioned that some poor soul would later make a complete transcription of our conversation. She asked me about my interest in counterfeit currency and I told her about my interest in the field of discernment and the constant metaphors I have encountered that point towards the training provided to federal agents. She seemed interested and decided that she would provide me with a basic rundown of how agents are trained and would then hand me a stack of mixed currency—different denominations, some of which was genuine and some of which was counterfeit—and allow me to test my training.

And so we began. It turns out that John MacArthur is correct. Training in identifying counterfeit currency begins with studying genuine money. There are certain identifying characteristics that are added to each bill printed by the Bank of Canada. These characteristics are necessarily difficult to reproduce. Some are intended to stump the casual counterfeiter, armed with no more than a scanner and color laser printer, and some will stump the more serious counterfeiter, even if armed with expensive, high-tech equipment. She summarized the approach to distinguishing a genuine bill with the phrase, “touch, tilt, look at, look through.” The first step then, is to touch the bill. Because currency is printed on unique cotton-based paper, a false bill will often feel false. She described the most common reaction to the feel of a counterfeit bill as “waxy.” A person may not quite be able to describe it, but it just feels wrong. There are also two areas on a bill where raised print provides a tactile clue to a genuine bill.

Having touched the bill, Monica described the “tilt” features. First she pointed out the holographic stripe which is remarkably difficult to accurately reproduce. When the bill is tilted, this holograph will show all the colors of the rainbow. Additionally, each tiny maple leaf on the bill is color-split, so that it appears in two colors simultaneously. And, when studied closely, tiny numbers identifying the denomination of the bill will appear in the background of this stripe.

The third step is to look through the money. By holding a bill to the light, several features appear. There is a small, ghost-like watermark image of the bill’s main portrait. In the case of a $20 bill, this means that a tiny portrait of Queen Elizabeth II appears immediately beside a more pronounced portrait. Another of these “look through” features is a gold thread woven through the bill that will appear solid when held up against a light source, but broken or staggered if counterfeited.

The final step is to look at. “Look at” features include fine-line printing within the bill’s portrait and certain background patterns. These lines and patterns are so fine that they cannot be adequately reproduced by the casual counterfeiter.

We spent a small amount of time examining security features of some of the older bills that are still in circulation, and the features that are unique to lower denominations of currency. All the while I plied Monica with questions. She provided a thorough and helpful answer to every question I could think of.

That was my introduction to counterfeit detection.

And now my training would be put to the test. Monica placed before me a stack of bills of varying denominations. I knew that some were genuine and some were counterfeit. The first, a twenty dollar bill, immediately struck me as a forgery. Just as she said, it felt waxy and seemed to have been printed on standard pulp-based paper. I tilted it and noted that the holographic stripe was not really holographic at all. Though I was already convinced that this was a forgery, I pressed on and noted that no portrait of the Queen appeared when the bill was held to the light, and the fine-line printed was blurry and imprecise. It was clearly a counterfeit.

The next bill was a genuine five dollar bill. I examined the bill and found that everything seemed in order. The security features were in-place. The print was sharp and hidden features appeared just as they should.

I continued to move through the stack of bills. One bill almost seemed sound, but then I noted the thinnest white edge on the bill, showing that it had been poorly cut from a sheet of white paper.

I soon learned that identifying counterfeit currency is not a terribly difficult task. When a person knows what to look for, when he has been trained to examine the bill for particular identifying characteristics, identifying genuine from fraudulent can be done with great accuracy, even on the basis of only a small amount of training. I successfully identified each piece of counterfeit currency.

I will continue this article tomorrow by sharing some lessons I learned at the Bank of Canada.

June 21, 2006

Every year or so I find myself crawling back to a definition of the word Reformed that I first wrote up a couple of years ago. I find it worthwhile to revisit this every twelve months or so. With the amount of reading and studying I do in a year, I feel it is interesting to turn to this definition to see what I would change and what I would refine. I also find it humbling to see which parts of the definition I may have emphasized at the expense of others. And so today I thought I would define the word Reformed, trusting that the readers of this site will find it helpful. While Calvinism and Reformed are not fully synonymous, most people understand them to be so. Because the differences between them are subtle, I will use them synonymously.

It is important to understand that because the Reformed tradition arose from the Protestant Reformation, the term Reformed was not defined from within a void. Rather, it was defined as a biblical response to the excesses and perversions of the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers, having returned to Scripture, attempted to carefully and faithfully rebuild the church upon the teachings of the New Testament. Thus by affirming Reformed theology, a person is implicitly denying certain other theologies, such as Catholic theology (which Reformed theology rose in opposition to) and Arminian theology (which later rose in opposition to Reformed theology). While Calvinism predates Arminianism, it was only codified in the five points after the rise of Arminianism. There is a sense in which Calvinism is both a cause of and the reaction to Arminianism. Or perhaps we could say that Arminianism is a response to Reformed theology, and the codification of Calvinism is a response to Arminianism.

There are many expressions of the Christian faith that are based at least partially on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible. These are separated into four main divisions: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Cults. Protestantism can be fairly readily divided into two camps: Arminian and Reformed. The vast majority of Protestants hold to Arminian doctrine. We will concern ourselves today with the minority who consider themselves Reformed. These tend to be people who attend Presbyterian or Reformed Baptist Churches, though they may be found in other churches as well. Sadly, there are many churches that were once Reformed and may still use the title, even if they have long since abandoned the theology.

It is surprisingly difficult to find a worthwhile definition of Reformed. While many people claim to understand the Reformed faith and are eager to provide a definition, few seem to be both fair and adequate. Here are a couple of examples culled from a Google search:

  1. A term used to refer to a tradition of theology which draws inspiration from the writings of John Calvin (1510-64) and his successors. The term is generally used in preference to “Calvinist.”
  2. Referring to the Reformation, it’s theology, and/or those subscribing to it. Also used to differentiate a,) Calvinism from Lutheranism, or b.) Continental European Calvinism from Scottish Calvinism, aka Presbyterianism.

Those are both concise definitions but ones that do not capture the full sense of the word. A far better and more complete definition is found at Five Solas. There Professor Byron Curtis, a professor at Geneva College breaks the definition into four parts which I will expound in some detail. The first two parts define foundational Protestant beliefs and the second two are exclusively Reformed. According to Curtis, to be Reformed is:

  1. To confess the consensus of the five first centuries of the church:
    • Classic theism: One omnipotent, benevolent God, distinct from creation.
    • Nicene and Chalcedonian Trinitarianism: one God in three eternally existent persons, equal in power and glory.
    • Christ, the God-Man, the one mediator between God & the human race, incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, & coming again.
    • Humanity created in the image of God, yet tragically fallen & profoundly in need of restoration to God through Christ.
    • The Visible Church: the community of the redeemed, indwelt by the Holy Spirit; the mystical body of Christ on earth.
    • The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
    • The Sacraments: visible signs and seals of the grace of God, ministering Christ’s love to us in our deep need.
    • The Christian life: characterized by the prime theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.

    It would be correct to say that, to this point, we are dealing with a statement of the Protestant faith more than a statement of the Reformed faith. From this list we see that Reformed Christians adhere to all the foundational beliefs taught in the Bible. These beliefs were the foundation of the early church and are based on the teachings of the Bible as interpreted by the apostles and early church fathers. Many of these beliefs were changed or lost as the Catholic Church grew in power and authority from the fifth century onwards. Throughout history there were isolated and often-persecuted pockets of non-Catholic believers who held to many or all of these points of doctrine, but they were largely lost until their rediscovery at the time of the Reformation.

    We will find that Professor Curtis’ definition is based largely upon a Presbyterian understanding of several doctrines. Reformed Baptists may take issue with the sacraments being signs and seals. I would suggest that Reformed believers will have a high view of two sacraments, though they may differ somewhat on just how they are to understood and how they are to be administered.

  2. To confess the four solas:
    • The authority of Scripture: sola scriptura (Scripture alone)
    • the basis of salvation: Sola Gratia (Grace alone)
    • the means of salvation: Sola Fide (Faith alone)
    • the merit of salvation: Solus Christus (Christ alone)

    Again, these form the basis for Protestantism as much as they do for the Reformed tradition, though sadly the majority of Protestants will never encounter the terms. These are the principles that drove the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and separated it from the Roman Catholic Church. These four points of doctrine are based entirely on the Bible and were the theological driving force behind the newly formed Protestant movement.

  3. To confess the distinctives of the Reformed faith:
    • In salvation: monergism not synergism. God alone saves. Such monergism implies T.U.L.I.P., the Five Points of Calvinism from the Synod of Dordt:
      T = Total Depravity U = Unconditional Election L = Limited Atonement, or, better, Particular Redemption I = Irresistible Grace P = Perseverence and Preservation of the Saints

    These five distinct points of doctrine are also known as the five points of Calvinism as they were first articulated by John Calvin after the Reformation was in full-swing. They are based entirely on the Bible. When people speak of being Reformed these five points of doctrine are most often what they are referring to. Most evangelical (non-Reformed) churches do not hold to all of these points. Some hold to two or three (and occasionally even four), but most reject them in favor of Arminian theology which is, at heart, synergistic, relying on a cooperative effort between man and God.

  4. Other Reformed Distinctives:

    Professor Curtis goes on to list other points of doctrine he believes are Reformed distinctives. They include: The Regulative Principle of Worship, Covenant theology (The Church is the New Israel - we most often see an expression of this theology in infant baptism, but it also impacts eschatology and many other doctrines) and Life is religion (Christians have neither jobs nor careers; they have vocations (callings)). I would not consider adherence to these principles necessary to consider oneself Reformed and I suspect the majority of Reformed Christians would agree with me. It is these distinctions that provide some of the differences between Calvinist and Reformed.

  5. Finally: in everything, Soli Deo Gloria - to God alone be the glory in all things.

    This is, once more, something all Christians would claim, either explicitly or implicitly. In all areas of life we are to give glory to God alone.

So what does this all mean? To be Reformed is to adhere to the purist teachings of the Bible - to affirm the doctrine taught by Jesus, Paul and the apostles. Scripture is considered the ultimate authority in matters of life and faith and all Reformed doctrine is founded on the Bible. I am convinced that Reformed doctrine is nothing more than the teachings of Jesus, the Apostles and the totality of the Scriptures. Were it not for human sin we would have to make no distinction between biblical Christianity and the Reformed faith.

If you are interested in learning more about the Reformed tradition, there are many excellent resources availble to you. Here are a few favorites:

  • Christian Handbook by Peter Jeffery - an excellent little book I reviewed here that introduces Christian beliefs from a Reformed perspective (A very brief review).
  • Putting Amazing Back Into Grace by Michael Horton. This is an excellent, fun introduction to the Five Points (my review).
  • Desiring God by John Piper - not for the faint-of-heart but does a great job of explaining Reformed principles (Discerning Reader reviews).
  • What Is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul (Discerning Reader reviews).
  • The Doctrines of Grace by James Boice (Discerning Reader reviews).
June 19, 2006

It was about six years ago that Aileen and I first moved to Oakville. We realize now that we were backwards in our decision to move, for we moved first and looked for a church second. If, in the future, it becomes necessary that we move again, we will seek a church first and a house second. When we arrived in Oakville, we went searching for a God-glorifying church. Our search took us through several congregations. There were a few that seemed promising for a couple of weeks, but one after the other we determined that they were unsuitable. Some had very poor statements of faith and some seemed to care far more about adherence to programs and fads than adherence to God’s Word. Some were just plain weird. It was a frustrating time and one I hope we never to have to repeat.

At one point we spent several months in a church that we thought was one we could settle in. Though it was in a neighboring town and required a lengthy drive, we were growing desperate and were willing to drive almost any distance to be part of a God-glorifying church. We enjoyed the preaching at this particular church and immediately benefited from it. The worship was focused on God and was based primarily around songs that were theologically-sound. The worship leaders tended to give equal focus to traditional hymns and contemporary songs, a mix that we quite enjoyed. Eventually we found, though, that the church was distinctly unfriendly. This dawned on us one Sunday morning when, after attending for several months, it occurred to us that we did not really know anyone in the church and that nobody seemed to be making any effort in welcoming us. Around that time a new church began in our neighborhood, much closer to home. We became involved in this church and were there for the next five years.

There was one thing about that church (the one we attended for a couple of months) that continually bothered me. It seemed that, for some reason, the church placed a limit on the number of verses they would sing of any given hymn. The limit was three. Sometimes this was not a big deal. Other times it was a great frustration. One hymn that we sang quite often was “My Jesus, I love Thee.” This was clearly a hymn that was a favorite of the church. It is a favorite of mine, so I was always glad to sing it. But there was a problem. “My Jesus, I Love Thee” has four stanzas. And yet this church seemed to always adhere to that limit of three which meant that they would always remove one of the verses. The first time we sang it, they sang stanzas one, two and three. The next time they sang stanzas one, two and four. And that was the pattern they established.

Before I continue, allow me to provide you with the lyrics for this beautiful hymn:

My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign.
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

I love Thee because Thou has first loved me,
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree.
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this hymn shows a clear progression from verse one to four. It begins at conversion (“for Thee all the follies of sin I resign”), looks back to redemption (“purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree”), looks forward to persevering in the faith (“praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath”) and finishes with glorification (“I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright”). To eliminate any one of the verses is to eliminate much of the power and even the purpose of the hymn. It is to tear the hymn’s heart out. It was an ongoing frustration that they would not allow us to sing the complete hymn and thus rejoice in God’s complete work.

Paul Jones has noticed this phenomenon as well. In his book Singing and Making Music he writes, “On occasion I have witnessed a pastor or song leader in the context of worship say something like this: “Let’s all stand and sing ‘Come, Thou Almighty King,’ and we’ll do verses 1 and 3.” In so doing, he has failed to notice that the hymn is a hymn to the Trinity (in spite of the fact that this text is usually sun go the tune TRINITY…and that it clearly outlines praise to the triune God in its stanzas.” He goes on, “It might make some sense to sing the fourth stanza alone, since the doctrine remains intact, but hymns should normally be sung in their entirety. By omitting the second stanza, one leaves God the Son out of the picture, misses the point of the Trinitarian hymn, and unwittingly perpetuates incomplete, heretical doctrine. A bit of planning with forethought and a read-through of the hymn’s text would prevent such an error. Moreover, it might occasion an appropriate comment to alert the congregation to what it was about to sing.” Now it may be overstating things to say that a worship leader may perpetuate heresy in eliminating a stanza, but I think Jones’ point stands. Hymns were meant to be sung in their entirety. Of course, this is not always possible. Some hymn-writers tended to be a little bit long-winded and it is not always practical to sing fifteen or twenty stanzas of a song. But even when a song extends through many verses, I believe that some careful planning by the worship director could choose verses that would not leave out doctrine that is critical to the song’s purpose.

Amazing Grace is an example of song that is sung only in part. Traditionally, churches sing four verses, but unbeknownest to many, Newton actually wrote seven stanzas. Still, the heart of the hymn is provided in the four verses we most commonly sing and we do not lose a lot in eliminating the remaining three. So it can be done.

And so I suppose I am writing today to ask worship leaders to exercise care in choosing songs. Too often a critical portion of a song is eliminated for the sake of brevity. Too often scheduling takes priority over theology.

June 16, 2006

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week (or so) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my left sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making my readers aware of other good sites.

This week’s King for a Week is Together for the Gospel, the group blog that features interaction between Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan. Despite coming from different backgrounds and being members of different denominations, these men “are brothers in Christ united in one great cause - to stand together for the Gospel. We are convinced that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been misrepresented, misunderstood, and marginalized in many churches and among many who claim the name of Christ. Compromise of the Gospel has led to the preaching of false gospels, the seduction of many minds and movements, and the weakening of the church’s Gospel witness.” I greatly admire each one of these men and have grown immeasurably from their ministries.

In the coming days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

June 16, 2006

Dr. Albert Mohler was a guest on Larry King Live last night as a member of a panel that was to discuss the topic of homosexuality within the church. King gathered quite a large and interesting panel that included: Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church; Reverend Jo Hudson, pastor of the United Church of Christ’s Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas, one of Texas’s largest predominantly gay churches; Andrew Sullivan, Time magazine columnist, and openly gay Catholic; Reverend Canon David Anderson, president and CEO of the Anglican American Council who opposes gay clergy in the church; Father Michael Manning, Roman Catholic priest; and Dr. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. They were joined briefly by Bishop Frank T. Griswold, chief pastor of the Episcopal Church of the United States.

If you were unable to watch the show, you may be interested in reading through the transcript. Unfortunately, the transcript cannot convey body language, tone of voice and other elements that are critical to human communication.

There are a few observations I would like to make about last night’s panel discussion.

King began with a couple of questions directed at Bishop Robinson. He asked Robinson if he had desired the office of bishop. Robinson’s response was, “Actually, at first, I didn’t want to be a bishop. God had to chase me for quite a long time before I would say yes. I knew this would be controversial and yet sometimes God asks us to do things that are hard. And in my prayer life, what I discovered was that God was promising to be faithful to me as God had always been faithful to me in my life and would stand by me during this very difficult time if I would just struggle and strive to listen to and for his voice.” It struck me as interesting that, when faced with a difficult decision, Robinson turned to prayer, and sought to hear God’s voice through prayer. Apparently he did not turn to the Bible which would have been perfectly clear on the Scriptural qualifications for a man who wishes to be a pastor or bishop. This is all too common in our day, as more and more people seek God’s voice, but without reading His Word.

It was interesting to see Bishop Robinson, Jo Hudson and Andrew Sullivan defend a view of mankind that regards people as generally good. It was also clear that they adhere to a faith that is subjective and largely of their own making. It is a faith in which the individual is the source of authority. This allows them to ability to ignore those parts of Scripture that they dislike. Robinson said “This [homosexuality] is something that one is. And that’s what’s so important for people to understand. God made me this way and declared me good. And that’s, that’s something that I have laid claim to.” He also said that “we follow a person who was always reinterpreting scripture and letting people know that it’s the spirit of what’s going on in one’s heart that is the real key and when he said love one another as I have loved you, it means that we need to be moving to the margins, doing justice work, working against racism. All kinds of things that Jesus would be doing in this day and time. I have no question in my mind that Jesus considers me beloved. Just as I am.” And finally, “What we’re saying is, look at our relationships. Look at the good that comes from them. If you look closely, you’ll see God showing up in them.” But where is the authority? Where is the adherence to God’s commandments? A man can look good but still be little more than a whitewashed tomb.

Meanwhile Hudson declared that she joined a church because she “fell in love with God” and that she “found a relationship with God that I discovered in the church and want to be a part of a community of faith that brings that love to other people.” She also insisted that the laws against homosexuality were contextual and that the words now translated “homosexual” in the New Testament are translated that way improperly. In reality, she believes, these words suggest some type of pedophilia. Of course it is simple enough to say that others have proven that these words are misinterpreted, but this is a far cry from actually producing legitimate proof.

A few days ago Ligon Duncan posted an article at the “Together for the Gospel” blog and suggested that “if you can get egalitarianism from the Bible, you can get anything from the Bible.” The same is true of homosexuality. I find it interesting that unbelievers know without any doubt that the Bible condemns homosexuality. If the Bible is clear on anything, it is clear on the fact that God regards homosexuality as an accursed affront to His design for sexuality. Unchurched people may hate the Bible for teaching this, but they accept that the Bible makes this very clear. But then there are leaders within the visible church who seek to undermine this understanding. It is people who regard themselves as Christians who so often seem to exert the greatest effort in making grey what is black and white. Those within the church often do much more damage than those outside.

Sullivan used an interesting (and original) line of reasoning, saying that, by denying his sexual orientation, he would be committing a greater sin than expressing his sexuality, for he would be bearing false witness against who he really is and against who God created him to be. And, as we might expect, and despite surely knowing the answer to his own question, he turned to the Old Testament laws and declared that Christians were being inconsistent in believing that homosexuality is wrong but not advocating the death penalty for homosexuality. Like the others, he seems to believe that people are inherently good, for “When you’re told as a child that what you know to be yourself is somehow evil and wrong, it’s a terrible wound that the church places in the souls of so many young people…” I will give him credit for quick thinking with the following jab at the Anglican Church: “It’s not that Jesus said little about homosexuality, he said nothing about homosexuality. The only thing he did say was that divorce was impossible and, of course, without a divorce, the Episcopalian church would not exist at all.”

Sadly, Bishop Griswold seemed to believe much the same as he spoke of a progressive truth. “Truth is unfolding. Isn’t it interesting that we learn more about truth in medical areas, truth about the world around us, but we can’t learn anything new about sexuality? Isn’t that strange?”

In opposition to these people, David Anderson and, to a greater extent, Dr. Mohler stated plainly and repeatedly that we are not good but that we are sinners in desperate need of God’s forgiveness. They were also, both implicitly and explicitly, discussing a higher authority. The first comment Mohler made dealt with authority and this comment stood in stark contrast to many of the others made throughout the evening. “The first thing should never be what really bothers me but whether or not as Christians, God has set a standard to which we are obligated. The issue is, always has been and always will be, the authority of scripture. The scripture very clearly tells us that our creator has a purpose for our sexuality.”

He dealt also with human depravity, saying “we are Christians here talking about the church in the New Testament and there we find the amazing teaching from the Apostle Paul that we’re made up as the church as those who come from many different kinds of sins, all of us, as sinners, speaking of homosexuality, as well as swindlers and others, Paul said such were some of you, speaking to Christians.” King replied with a simple question. “Reverend Mohler, are you a sinner?” Mohler responded with as simple an answer. “You bet I am, Larry, absolutely.” He went on to share the gospel. “It’s a matter of talking about sinners who are saved by grace, sinners who have repented of their sin and the message of the gospel is that all who repent of their sin and come by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved.”

There is a sense in which Dr. Mohler had the most difficult task of the evening, but at the same time, he may also have had the easiest task. While Mohler had to state views that were controversial and unpopular, and views that went against what many of the other church leaders believed, he spoke under the authority of the Word of God. He simply stayed true to the Word of God and shared news of ultimate acceptance and forgiveness.

His final comment summarized the issues of authority and depravity. “Well, I hope not on this regard because it comes under the authority of scripture, but I know the one thing that must not change is this, as one sinner saved by grace to other sinners, I say come to Jesus Christ and come to newness of life. It will change your sex life, for everyone. It will change every dimension of your life and that’s by the grace and mercy of God.”

I can say “Amen” to that!

June 14, 2006

There has been a good bit of talk in the blogosphere over the past couple of weeks about the election of a new President of the Southern Baptist Convention. As you no-doubt know, there are many who have been seeking to build bridges between the Calvinist and Arminian factions within the Convention. Monday’s “debate” between Paige Patterson and Al Mohler was an indication of the willingness of men on both sides of the divide to affirm their mutual respect and admiration.

As is so often the case, much of the discussion between the two factions deals with the subject of evangelism. It is a common charge levelled against Calvinists that Reformed doctrine somehow reduces the desire to share the gospel with the lost. Whether fairly or unfairly, Calvinists are notorious for their lack of evangelism.

This is not a fair charge and I believe that, in many ways, Arminian churches can be every bit as lax in their efforts to evangelize. I would go so far as to say that millions of Americans, sitting in Evangelical churches week after week, have never been evangelized. The reason for this is that too many believers do not understand the difference between outreach and evangelism. Efforts have been made to reach out to unbelievers and they may even have been drawn in to a church, but without ever hearing the gospel message.

Every Christian should agree on the necessity of reaching out to the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Through history some Christians and some groups of Christians have placed more emphasis on this than others, but nearly all have agreed on its importance. In the English language we have two terms that are often used synonymously to describe the sharing of the Good News - evangelism and outreach. In this article I would like to address the difference between outreach and evangelism, for I believe we often confuse the terms. We often feel that we have fulfilled the Lord’s command to preach the gospel through evangelism, when in reality we have been involved in outreach. While both are noble pursuits and can bring honor to God, it is evangelism that best fulfills His command to take the Good News to all the world.

e-van-gel ( -v n j l)


1. The Christian gospel.

2. An evangelist.

[Middle English evaungel, from Late Latin vangelium, from Greek euangelion, good news, from euangelos, bringing good news  eu-, eu- + angelos, messenger.]

The root of the word evangelism, evangel, is derived from the Greek word euangelion which is translated good news. From that same word, we derive the word gospel. We find also that many words we use in English are in reality synonymous - evangel(ism), gospel and good news all speak of the same thing and find their root in the same word. They speak of the act of spreading the gospel and to the content of the message that is given. This is an important point to note - they refer both to the method and the message.

The word euangelion is found in many places throughout the New Testament. “The term is often used to express collectively the gospel doctrines; and ‘preaching the gospel’ is often used to include not only the proclaiming of the good tidings, but the teaching men how to avail themselves of the offer of salvation, the declaring of all the truths, precepts, promises, and threatenings of Christianity.” It is termed “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23), “the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16), “the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15), “the glorious gospel,” “the everlasting gospel,” “the gospel of salvation” (Eph. 1:13).” (Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

In the Elwell Evangelical Dictionary we read specifically about Paul’s application of the term which he used over 60 times and is found in every one of his letters except for Titus. “Paul’s ministry was distinctively that of the propagation of the gospel. Unto this gospel he was set apart (Rom. 1:1) and made a minister according to the grace of God (Eph. 3:7). His special sphere of action was the Gentile world (Rom. 16:16; Gal. 2:7). Since Paul accepted the gospel as a sacred trust (Gal. 2:7), it was necessary that in the discharge of this obligation he speak so as to please God rather than man (I Tim. 2:4). The divine commission had created a sense of urgency that made him cry out, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (I Cor. 9:16). For the sake of the gospel Paul was willing to become all things to all men (I Cor. 9:22-23). No sacrifice was too great. Eternal issues were at stake. Those whose minds were blinded and did not obey the gospel were perishing and would ultimately reap the vengeance of divine wrath (II Cor. 4:3; II Thess. 1:9). On the other hand, to those who believed, the gospel had effectively become the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).”

We can find insight into what the gospel means to Christians through the words of William Tyndale, who was a great English Reformer and Bible translator. To him it signified “good, mery, glad and ioyfull tydinge, that maketh a mannes hert glad, and maketh hym synge, daunce, and leepe for ioye.” It truly is Good News!

Evangelism is more than telling people that Jesus loves them or that He died for them. It is telling people that they have offended a Holy God and stand before Him as condemned sinners. It is sharing with them that the good news, the best news of all, is that Jesus died for that very type of person. Jesus died to reconcile those condemned individuals to this God of justice. It is sharing with people that through faith they can be saved and can avoid an eternity of suffering for their offense to God. The Good News can only be understood in context of the bad news. If people do not understand the bad, if they do not realize that they are repugnant to God, befouled by their sin, they can not understand just how good the Good News is!


Unlike evangel, the term outreach is not found in the Bible, though the idea certainly is. Outreach implies action more than message. Perhaps it is best defined as a business term: “an act of reaching out, bringing an organization’s services or products out into the community.” When a church engages in outreach, it is reaching out to the community in order to meet needs or to let people know of its existence. The Salvation Army is an excellent example. When tragedy strikes, especially in the case of natural disasters, the Salvation Army is often on the scene, providing food, clothing and other necessities. The Southern Baptist Convention does much the same as we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Local churches in my hometown have some excellent outreach programs. For example, every year our town has a festival in a park down on the shores of Lake Ontario and one church brings in a climbing wall and allows all the children to scale the wall for no cost. This is an act of love by the church and allows people to make a connection with the church - a connection they hope will eventually draw people into fellowship. They see this as a selfless act and an act of grace as they give people something for nothing. So often people are shocked that a church would do this, for this activity usually represents the only activity in the entire festival that costs nothing. And so the church reaches out to people to give them an opportunity to see Christians in action and to learn about the church.

This is outreach. Unbelievers are given a glimpse of the love of Christ through believers. Believers take their love for the lost into the community and allow them to see changed hearts in action. There is usually nothing offensive about outreach, and it is often regarded as noble, even by those who are opposed to Christ.

The Great Commission

Jesus’ final words to His disciples, the foundation upon which His church would be built, were “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” This “Great Commission” was given by our Lord to direct the actions of His church from the moment of its birth until He comes again to bring it to Himself. Jesus’ words imply not outreach, but evangelism. We are to go to all nations and share this awe-inspiring message with people of every nation, race and creed. We are to share the full truth of the gospel. Needless to say, we can only share such news with our words. Our actions are important and should not be under-emphasized, but people are not saved by actions - they are saved by this message which holds the power to convict men’s hearts.

1 Corinthians 1:21 tells us “it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” This speaks both of the method, which is preaching, and the message, which is the Gospel. When we share the Gospel, then, we share a message that is offensive to the natural human mind. No human likes to be told that he has offended God and stands before Him as a condemned man. No human, in and of himself, would humble himself before this God and seek repentance. It is only through the power of God through the message of the Gospel that people can be saved, for God has ordained that He will work through this message to save His people. God uses this seemingly foolish and offensive message to reach people’s hearts and turn them to Him.

When we evangelize, we share this message in all its offense, for in the offense of the Gospel there is power! When we remove the offense, we remove the power.

Outreach vs. Evangelism

There is clearly a significant difference between outreach and evangelism. They are both noble actions and bring honor to God. It is important to realize, and this should be clear through the descriptions, that they are not synonymous. The greatest difference is that evangelism is primarily a message while outreach is primarily an action.

We should note that there may be an important link between outreach and evangelism. Often times we reach out to people to draw them into a place where we can evangelize to them. We may provide children with an opportunity to have fun so that we can invite their parents to come to our church where we will take the opportunity to share the Good News with them. It is the hope of any believer that his actions will cause others to realize he is somehow different and convict that person so he can ask what makes the believer different.


It is important that we do not confuse outreach with evangelism. Jesus gave His church, the body that He valued so highly He gave His life for it, a commission to go to the world and share the Good News of what He did. Every believer is responsible before God to do this - we are to tell others of their condition and to share with them God’s remedy. This can only be done through evangelism, through sharing the evangel which God uses to draw His people to Himself.

Don Whitney likens the evangelist to a mailman. The mailman has fulfilled the obligation of his job when he has delivered the mail to me. The measure of success in his job is to carefully and accurately deliver the message. How I respond to the letters I receive is none of his business. And the same is true of the evangelist. We have successfully evangelized when we have shared the Gospel. When we have carefully and accurately delivered the message of God, we can trust that we have pleased our Father. The message is delivered not through outreach, but through evangelism. It is simple enough to attract people to a message through outreach, and we can gather a large group of people through simple outreach, but we may not have evangelized them, even if they fill the pews of our churches.

Do you wish to fulfill our Lord’s great commission? Then go boldly, sharing this foolish, offensive gospel message, knowing that it carries in it the very power of God. Trust and believe that in so doing you are bringing honor to our Lord and Savior and doing your part to build His Kingdom. Reach out to the lost, but ensure that you always leave them with the message of the gospel. Actions may draw them, but words are necessary to convey the message through which God saves His people.

June 13, 2006

Sometimes I am tempted to think that I enjoyed blogging more back in the days when nobody read my site. Of course those are mostly moments when I am feeling sorry for myself and the thoughts are not worth entertaining. After all, if no one read this site I wouldn’t get nearly as many opportunities to liveblog some really amazing conferences. And I really enjoy those conferences. Now that I have written a great deal, people tend to assume they know what I am saying even before I say it. It seems that some people begin to read my articles, or perhaps even just read the headlines, and immediately jump to conclusions. Or maybe I am just very poor at expressing myself. I prefer to believe the former.

A case in point was the article I wrote yesterday. I thought I was quite clear in expressing that the point of the article was not “Tim Challies believes that the Roman Catholic Church is the antichrist.” Yet, judging by emails I’ve received and comments posted at other sites, that is exactly what people took from it.

Andy Jackson said “Tim wants to defend Roman Catholic Beast position…” and that I believe that “there is a forceful argument for the Roman Catholic Beast postion based on past great men, not the Bible or contemporary great Evangelical theologians.” Blogotional says I came out “in defense of the contention that the Roman Catholic Church is the beast of Revelation!” He also says that “Challies needs to grow a pair and say what he thinks.” Joe Carter addressed my article (calling it a beastly argument), even analyzing my line of reasoning:

Tim’s primary premise could be outlined as:

The Beast of Revelation (a) is an Antichrist (b)

The papacy (c) is an antichrist (b)

The Beast of (a) Revelation is the papacy (c)

And so on. The fact is that my argument was clearly stated in my final sentence. “To simply ignore the consensus of so many great men, and to label such a consensus as ‘absolutely ridiculous’ seems to me to be far more ridiculous.” I was not arguing that the Roman Catholic church is antichrist, but that to simply ignore the testimony of so many other believers is folly. And secondarily, I wished to show that these people made some claims that were not wholly unjustified. My purpose in writing the article was to show that Andy Jackson’s charge that to consider Rome the antichrist was “ridiculous” was itself a ridiculous claim, for this is a belief a great number of Christians have held to.

Several people expressed disgust that I did not back my claims from Scripture but only from a bunch of old, dead theologians. And yet this was exactly the point of the article. These old, dead theologians, despite being both old and dead, deserve to be heard. And yesterday I gave them a voice. I did not argue from Scripture that the Catholic Church is antichrist because I don’t know that this is true.


I don’t know how I could have stated this more clearly. It seems to me that many who read the article carefully understood my intent and responded accordingly. If you want to argue whether or not the Catholic Church is the antichrist, take it up with Luther or Calvin or any of the rest of them.

June 12, 2006

Every now and again I receive an email, often as part of a group mailing addressed to a wide variety of the most-read bloggers, asking me to use my site as a platform to post or provide comment on a particularly inflammatory issue. I got one of those emails today, this one from Andy Jackson of “SmartChristian” fame. Andy noticed that Ken Silva, one of the writers at the “Slice of Laodicea” blog, quoted Robert Murray M’Cheyne and his suggestion that the beast of Revelation is the church of Rome. On his blog Andy declares that “this is absolutely ridiculous” and in his email says: “Please take a look at this post at Slice and either post on it or provide a comment. I understand apologetics and standing for right teaching, but I have concerns about this blog labeling and condemning others in the body of Christ that we might not agree fully with.”

Here is the offending quote from M’Cheyne:

Now, we know quite well that the beast is the Church of Rome; we are told that the beast sits upon seven hills; and we are told at the end of the second verse that the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. So that there is no doubt, dear brethren, but that the great enemy of the sheep the false shepherd, who comes like a lamb, but who has the paw of a bear - is Antichrist. Now, there can be no doubt but that he gets his power from Satan.

M’Cheyne is by no means unique in suggesting that the beast is none other than the Roman Catholic Church. One could easily argue that this is nothing more than the consensus of historic Protestantism. If Ken Silva does believe this, and nowhere in the article does he affirm such a belief, he finds himself in good company. It is only in the past few decades that this belief has fallen out of favor. Not surprisingly, this change coincides with increasing efforts to bridge the theological gaps between Catholicism and Protestantism.

I’d like to take a look at what some great Protestants of days past have had to say about the beast of Revelation. As you read, remember that we tend to misrepresent the meaning of the prefix “anti-” in the word “antichrist.” We most often think of the prefix “anti-” as meaning “against,” but in context of antichrist it actually means “in place of.” So these men were not looking for someone or something that sought to fight explicitly against Christ (such as the Muslim faith) but something or someone that sought to set itself up in place of Christ. Of course the two means lead to the same end, but a person who puts himself in place of Christ is likely to be far more subtle and may arise from within rather than from without the visible church. Those who look outside Christianity for antichrist may miss him altogther. This is the true sense of what the word means and this is the sense in which Christians used it in days past.

Before we look at some interesting quotes, I will affirm that Protestants do not have a great track record when it comes to predicting just who the antichrist is. Some time ago Stephen Nichols wrote an article entitled “Prophecy Makes Strange Bedfellows: On the History of Identifying the Antichrist” in which he argued that Christians should not attempt to identify the antichrist. After examining the biblical case for antichrist and the history of biblical interpretation regarding this figure, he suggests that prophecy makes strange bedfellows, for Protestants of all stripes, many of whom would agree on little else, have affirmed their belief that the pope or the Catholic Church is anitchrist. He goes on to list some other people who have been so labelled. “The studies of Paul Boyer…chronicle the vast range of likely and unlikely suspects including Juan Carlos of Spain, Mussolini, Hitler, Ronald Wilson Reagan (whose name contains three words of six letters each and who almost moved to a 666 street address), Elvis, JFK, FDR, Henry Kissinger, Gorbachev (who has an uncanny birthmark on his forehead), Moshe Dayan, Anwar el-Sadat, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, and Saddam Hussein.” I would like to note three things about this list.

First, while it is true that all of these men have been labelled as the antichrist, this has never been done with any sort of consensus within the church. If we were to look through church history since the time of the Reformation for the church’s consensus, we would soon find that all roads, or most roads at any rate, lead to Rome. Second, all of these figures are from recent history. Prior to the twentieth century, there was, as I have indicated, a much more consistent consensus. Third, we should note that most of the men listed by Boyer are dead, and those who are not will surely die soon. And yet the Catholic Church lives on; the papacy continues. Rome is, by her own testimony, semper idem: always the same; never changing.

Some time ago I discovered an interesting list of quotes from some of the great Reformers and spiritual giants of the past concerning the Roman Catholic Church. I will post them below that you may understand the consensus of these great men of faith.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) (Lutheran): “Luther … proved, by the revelations of Daniel and St. John, by the epistles of St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. Jude, that the reign of Antichrist, predicted and described in the Bible, was the Papacy … And all the people did say, Amen! A holy terror siezed their souls. It was Antichrist whom they beheld seated o­n the pontifical throne. This new idea, which derived greater strength from the prophetic descriptions launched forth by Luther into the midst of his contemporaries, inflicted the most terrible blow o­n Rome.” Taken from J. H. Merle D’aubigne’s History of the Reformation of the Sixteen Century, book vi, chapter xii, p. 215.

Based o­n prophetic studies, Martin Luther finally declared, “We here are of the conviction that the papacy is the seat of the true and real Antichrist.” (Aug. 18, 1520). Taken from The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, by LeRoy Froom. Vol. 2., pg. 121.

John Calvin (1509-1564) (Presbyterian): “Some persons think us too severe and censorious when we call the Roman pontiff Antichrist. But those who are of this opinion do not consider that they bring the same charge of presumption against Paul himself, after whom we speak and whose language we adopt… I shall briefly show that (Paul’s words in II Thess. 2) are not capable of any other interpretation than that which applies them to the Papacy.” Taken from Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin.

John Knox (1505-1572) (Scotch Presbyterian): John Knox sought to counteract “that tyranny which the pope himself has for so many ages exercised over the church.” As with Luther, he finally concluded that the Papacy was “the very antichrist, and son of perdition, of whom Paul speaks.” The Zurich Letters, by John Knox, pg. 199.

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) (Anglican): “Whereof it followeth Rome to be the seat of antichrist, and the pope to be very antichrist himself. I could prove the same by many other scriptures, old writers, and strong reasons.” (Referring to prophecies in Revelation and Daniel.) Works by Cranmer, Vol. 1, pp. 6-7.

Roger Williams (1603-1683) (First Baptist Pastor in America): Pastor Williams spoke of the Pope as “the pretended Vicar of Christ o­n earth, who sits as God over the Temple of God, exalting himself not o­nly above all that is called God, but over the souls and consciences of all his vassals, yea over the Spirit of Christ, over the Holy Spirit, yea, and God himself…speaking against the God of heaven, thinking to change times and laws; but he is the son of perdition (II Thess. 2).” The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, by Froom, Vol. 3, pg. 52.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647): “There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition that exalteth himself in the church against Christ and all that is called God.” Taken from Philip Schaff’s, The Creeds of Christendom, With a History and Critical Notes, III, p. 658, 659, ch. 25, sec. 6.

Cotton Mather (1663-1728) (Congregational Theologian): “The oracles of God foretold the
rising of an Antichrist in the Christian Church: and in the Pope of Rome, all the characteristics of that Antichrist are so marvelously answered that if any who read the Scriptures do not see it, there is a marvelous blindness upon them.” Taken from The Fall of Babylon by Cotton Mather in Froom’s book, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Vol. 3, pg. 113.

John Wesley (1703-1791) (Methodist): Speaking of the Papacy, John Wesley wrote, “He is in an emphatical sense, the Man of Sin, as he increases all manner of sin above measure. And he is, too, properly styled the Son of Perdition, as he has caused the death of numberless multitudes, both of his opposers and followers… He it is…that exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped…claiming the highest power, and highest honour…claiming the prerogatives which belong to God alone.” Antichrist and His Ten Kingdoms, by John Wesley, pg. 110.

Charles Spurgeon: “It is the bounden duty of every Christian to pray against Antichrist, and as to what Antichrist is no sane man ought to raise a question. If it be not the popery in the Church of Rome there is nothing in the world that can be called by that name. If there were to be issued a hue and cry for Antichrist, we should certainly take up this church on suspicion, and it would certainly not be let loose again, for it so exactly answers the description.”

“Popery is contrary to Christ’s Gospel, and is the Antichrist, and we ought to pray against it. It should be the daily prayer of every believer that Antichrist might be hurled like a millstone into the flood and for Christ, because it wounds Christ, because it robs Christ of His glory, because it puts sacramental efficacy in the place of His atonement, and lifts a piece of bread into the place of the Saviour, and a few drops of water into the place of the Holy Ghost, and puts a mere fallible man like ourselves up as the vicar of Christ on earth; if we pray against it, because it is against Him, we shall love the persons though we hate their errors: we shall love their souls though we loath and detest their dogmas, and so the breath of our prayers will be sweetened, because we turn our faces towards Christ when we pray.”

A Great Cloud of Witnesses: “Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, Cranmer; in the seventeenth century, Bunyan, the translators of the King James Bible and the men who published the Westminster and Baptist confessions of Faith; Sir Isaac Newton, Wesley, Whitfield, Jonathan Edwards; and more recently Spurgeon, Bishop J.C. Ryle and Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones; these men among countless others, all saw the office of the Papacy as the antichrist.” Taken from All Roads Lead to Rome, by Michael de Semlyen. Dorchestor House Publications, p. 205. 1991.

These are but a drop in the bucket. It would not be difficult to fill a book with similar expressions. Protestants have long held the Roman Catholic Church with great suspicion, and more often than not, have done so for good reason.

Back at “Slice of Laodicea,” Silva posted a brief article to provide a point of clarification regarding his intent. “My intent with the Robert Murray M’Cheyne quote was simply to illustrate how far Christians have fallen from a proper view of the apostate Church of Rome, and not to state that I personally believe Rome is the ‘great whore’ or ‘beast’ in Revelation.” He does well to quote John MacArthur who says “The Catholic Church claims to be true Christianity. And…we [can’t] reverse 450 years of history and just throw our arms around the Roman system, which…we have to say in all honesty is not a group of wayward brothers, but is an apostate form of Christianity. It is a false religion; it is another religion.” It is, indeed. In fact, it is a false church that sets itself up not against but in place of the true body of Christ.

Like Silva, I am not arguing that I believe the Roman Catholic Church is the beast of Revelation, but am saying that one could make such an argument and make it forcefully. And of course, through the history of the church, many have made that argument. Those who do so today have many heroes of the faith on their side—men who knew their Bibles and loved God. Some of these were even put to death by the church they labelled antichrist. Among these was Thomas Cramner, who, when asked to renounce his heresies, said “And as for the Pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy and Antichrist, with all his false doctrine.” He was soon led to the stake where he often spoke the “words of Stephen, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,’ till the fury of the flames putting him to silence, he gave up the ghost.”

In his article, Nichols writes, “Naming the antichrist probably reveals more about the person naming than anything. In some instances naming reveals a person’s interpretation of texts or theology. In others, the naming has more to do with one’s sociological or political views.” He warns against improper hermeneutics, saying “Overcoming what one brings to the text is, as many contemporary writings on hermeneutics conclude, not so easy, if even possible. Nonetheless, a reading of the text that is governed by what we bring to the text as opposed to what we find in the text is likely to lead to a misreading of the text.” As we saw in a previous quote from this article, Protestants have a long history of seeing antichrist only within the context of a particular time and culture. How else could anyone understand Henry Kissinger or Elvis Presley to be the antichrist? In the days of the Reformation and the years that followed, Christians brought to Scripture their understanding of a Church that was adamantly and violently opposed to their faith and was seeking, by fire and sword, to stamp it out. It is little wonder that they saw the Church in the beast. In our day and in our culture we bring our understanding of a Church that regards us as but separated brethren and which seeks to unite us under the papacy through gentle persuasion. We bring an understanding of the faith that is, in many ways, blind to the history of the church. It is little wonder that we do not see the Church in the beast.

In the days of the Reformation, the Catholic Church sought unity through force. Today, many Protestants and Catholics seek unity through dialogue. But unity comes at a cost whether it be with a clash of swords or a meeting of minds. As the ends are the same, so must be the ground we give. That ground is the pure, true gospel message of justification by grace alone through faith alone. Surely the exhortation of Charles Spurgeon, even with the offending word “antichrist” removed, stands true today: “It should be the daily prayer of every believer that [the Roman Catholic Church] might be hurled like a millstone into the flood and for Christ, because it wounds Christ, because it robs Christ of His glory, because it puts sacramental efficacy in the place of His atonement, and lifts a piece of bread into the place of the Saviour, and a few drops of water into the place of the Holy Ghost, and puts a mere fallible man like ourselves up as the vicar of Christ on earth; if we pray against it, because it is against Him, we shall love the persons though we hate their errors: we shall love their souls though we loath and detest their dogmas, and so the breath of our prayers will be sweetened, because we turn our faces towards Christ when we pray.”

Is the Roman Catholic Church the beast of Revelation? I don’t know. Truthfully, I have never invested a lot of time or effort in examining the evidence and forming such a judgment (and, in fact, the same is true of me in most areas of eschatology). I am not convinced that God has enabled us to know the identity of the beast with any great certainty. But it seems to me that if we are to ignore the testimony of so many great believers, from Luther to Spurgeon, from Whitefield to Lloyd-Jones, we may do so at our peril. To simply ignore the consensus of so many great men, and to label such a consensus as “absolutely ridiculous” seems to me to be far more ridiculous.

June 08, 2006

As you might imagine, I receive a good deal of email from people who read this site. More often than not I am glad to receive these emails and to respond to them. Communication with readers has proven to be a tremendous challenge and encouragement to me, for which I am exceedingly grateful. Probably the most common questions I receive deal with the subjects of books and reading. It seems that I have established a reputation as a bookworm (which may be justified: I did a Google search on my site this morning for the term “reading.” Google turned up 10,700 results) and people often ask just how I find time to read so many books. I thought that today I might share a little bit about how I read as well as why I read and hope it proves interesting and perhaps helpful.

I love to read and have always loved to read. There have been times in life where I have preferred other hobbies, but on the whole reading has been my favorite past-time since I was just a child. When I was younger my parents gave me books by Christian authors like R.C. Sproul and encouraged me to read biographies of great men and women. They modelled a love for reading as both of them constantly read good books. While I chewed on the books they gave me dealing with spiritual topics, I positively devoured books on history, and in particular, military history. My love for this subject took me through university and into adulthood. About four or five years ago, though, I began to be drawn towards Christian books. As far as I can recall, the first of these I bought was Classic Christianity by Bob George and it was soon followed by Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur. That began a trend that has only intensified a the years have gone by.

It just just about three years ago that I decided, mostly on a whim, that I would try to read a book each week for what I hope will be the rest of my life. Subsequently, I also decided that I would attempt to provide reviews of the majority of these books. My reasoning was simply that through these reviews I could help other people who are interested in reading only a few books per year focus on books that are worth their while, while helping them avoid the mountains of trash on the bookstore shelves. My primary inspiration in both reading and reviewing was Gary Gilley of Southern View Chapel and I will always be grateful to him. I realized that if I were to live for another fifty years, this commitment would mean that I would be able to read over 2500 books before I die. The thought of being able to learn from what God has taught 2500 other people was inspiring. Since I set that goal I have found that I can actually read closer to two books every week, so now tend to read and review between 100 and 120 books a year. I suppose this raises the potential to reading over 5,000 books in the next fifty years. I’m going to need some more bookshelves.

What follows is some seemingly-random points about reading that you may find helpful.

The more I read, the easier it is to read. A couple of years ago I read four books that discussed godly principles for decision making. Three of them were based primarily on the fourth (and anyone who has read about this subject will know what book I am referring to). Needless to say, it became progressively easier to read and understand each subsequent book. I have found that this is true of any topic. It is also true of reading in general. The more I have dedicated myself to reading, the better I have become at it. I have often spoken to people who have given up on reading because they have found it difficult. To these people I offer this encouragement: press on. Like any discipline, reading will become easier as you dedicate yourself to it.

A lot of the books I read are short. The majority of the books I read are under 250 pages, and quite a few have fewer than 200 pages. I generally do not discriminate against a book based on its page count, so this is either a product of coincidence or of percentages. It seems to me that the average “Christian Living” book weighs in between 160 and 200 pages. Biographies and books dealing with theology or church history tend to be longer and require greater effort.

I read all the time, or most of it anyways. I do not watch all that much TV, but even when I do, I usually have my nose in a book. I also get out of bed a couple of hours before everyone else so I can have some quiet time to read. When I go to the doctor or the barber, I tend to stick a book in my pocket so I can use that fifteen minutes doing something other than reading old copies of People magazine. It is amazing how many ten and fifteen minute periods there are in life that can be used for reading. I realized two Sundays ago that the perfect Sunday afternoon involves being sprawled out on the couch reading systematic theology, sipping on a Coke (with Lime, and in a glass with ice) and having a baseball game (the Toronto Bluejays, of course) on in the background. Life does not get much better.

I do not advocate reading while driving or while operating heavy machinery.

For those who insist that they have no time to read, consider this. If you were to read one page of a book per day, you would be able to read at least two of the average Christian Living books in a year. And, of course, a bathroom break is the perfect time to read a page or two of a book. So consider: if you were to keep a book in the bathroom and read only when you were going to the bathroom, you could read two books per year. If you were to read only when you were brushing your teeth, you could read another book or two a year. So if you feel that you do not have time to read, why not keep a book in the bathroom and commit to reading it there? Here is a good book to keep in the bathroom.

One of my peculiarities, but one I have found helpful, is reading two or even three books at a time. I used to find that I would sometimes mistake physical fatigue for what was actually a fatigue brought about by dwelling too long on a particular subject. A perfect example is the biography of William Tyndale I was reading last night. It is a difficult, dense book and I found myself growing very tired as I was reading, even though it was only nine o’clock. When I put it down and began reading a second book, I immediately felt refreshed. My mind was tired and this was making my body feel tired.

I have never been taught how to best read a book. It is entirely conceivable that I do things all wrong. I know there are some excellent books on the topic, but it seems somehow strange to me to read a 500-page book that will teach me how to read a book. Over the past years I have tried a few different methods, some of which have worked and some of which have not. Here is a basic outline of how I read a book.

I begin by giving the book a quick scan, hoping to understand what it is about, what the author is going to attempt to prove and how he is going to set about this task. I read the back cover and the endorsements. I skim over the table of contents and look through the endnotes and bibliography. Having done that, I tend to linger a little bit over the introductory chapter(s), for I find this to be the most important section in the book. It generally lays out the basic framework of the author’s argument and lets me know what he is arguing against. I read with a pencil in hand (I buy those clickable Bic pencils by the box) and underline liberally (usually using a Monergism.com bookmark as a ruler). I also tend to jot short notes and questions in the margins or at the end of chapters. Points that are important to the author’s argument tend to receive a *, and points that are exceedingly important receive a bigger *. I often also make a list of important page numbers and questions on the inside front cover of the book. In some cases I’ll make two or three columns of page numbers. For example, when I was reading Mark Driscoll’s Confessions of a Reformission Rev. I found myself writing down the page numbers that contained his best points in one column and the page numbers containing his irreverent, crude points in another. I don’t know if there is an objectively good way of marking books, but I doubt it. So work on a system that works for you and stick with it.

This method does not always work. Lately I find myself doing a lot of reading while holding a baby. I can hold a baby and a book, or a pen and a book, but not a baby, pen and book all at the same time. I also tend to spend a lot of time reading while walking the baby in endless circles from the living room to the dining room to the kitchen to the hallway and back to the living room. In such cases I continue reading and try to return later to mark down important points. Looking over the books I have read recently, I can tell which chapters I read while walking the baby as they tend to have far less markings.

I forget a great deal of what I read. Anyone who tells you otherwise may not be telling the truth (unless he has a Spurgeon-like photographic memory). I used to be discouraged if, a year after reading a book, I could barely remember the content. I have since realized that this is inevitable. I focus on remembering what I can and trust that simply because I do not remember the complete outline of a book, this does not prove that a book has not been edifying to me. After all, if this was our standard, every sermon would be a complete failure. I trust that the Spirit works in me as I read good books and that He works despite my imperfect memory.

Reviewing books is an excellent way of driving home the main points of a book. It is as good a memory device as I can imagine. In fact, I would encourage every reader to review the books they read, even if those reviews will never be made public. It is a good discipline to think through the main points of the book and is as valuable a discipline to formulate thoughts on whether or not the reader agrees with a book.

When looking for a good book to read, find a person whose judgment you trust and read what that person is reading. I am collecting lists of recommended books from a wide variety of discerning Christian authors and leaders and will soon post these lists at Discerning Reader. I believe these lists will prove valuable and I am excited to work my way through the books on some of these lists.

Let me wrap it up this way. I see reading as a discipline, but a pleasurable one. I love it and have found it to be tremendously beneficial to my spiritual life. Reading and writing have together brought me untold benefit. I can honestly say that most evenings there is nothing I’d rather do.