Another GospelThe seriousness and extent of Arminian thinking can be a point of contention at times.  It is not unheard of that in Reformed circles critical comments about Arminianism are met with blank stares, a degree of indifference, or even a degree of hostility.  The hostility may arise as it is felt that the criticism is unjust, extreme, inaccurate, or, even if it is correct, unnecessary as despite the differences those holding to Arminian theology are still Christians.

In recent reading I came across some remarks concerning Arminianism which showed both the seriousness and extent of Arminian thinking and how it is incompatible with the Reformed faith which, after all, is the Scriptural faith.  In essence, in Arminianism we have a different gospel (see 2 Cor. 11:4Gal. 1:6-8), a gospel which denies salvation is the complete gift of the sovereign God who graciously justifies sinners through faith alone.

Just to refresh your memory,  Arminian thinking, so soundly renounced in the Canons of Dort, denies God’s sovereign eternal election unto salvation.  While affirming God’s grace, Arminianism claims that God merely offers salvation and it is up to man who decides to accept or reject the gospel.  One author summed up Arminian thinking as follows,”….God was made dependent on free-will-equipped-men for whom He politely had to wait, looking to see whether the man would be so kind as to believe”(1).

Though the Reformers of the early 16th Century did not have to contend with Arminianism as such, since Arminianism arose late in the 16th century and early in the 17th century,  they did have to contend with its theological cousin, Semi-Pelagianism.  Semi-Pelagianism teaches that man is spiritually sick.  As such he does need the help of God’s grace in order to get better.  However, it is up to man to take the spiritual medicine which God offers.  God must have man’s co-operation.  In theological terms this was called “synergism”. You can see the similarity to the Arminian position.   The Reformers responded to this by stressing the sovereign grace of God, as heard in the cry “Sola gratia”. God calls those dead in sin to new life (see Eph. 2:1-10).  The Reformers stressed the helplessness of man in sin and the sovereignty of God in grace.  This was a point of unity between the Reformers despite differences about other issues. (2) In the Book “The Bondage of the Will”  this was the point that Luther argued with Erasmus.

We should note then that Arminianism is a reincarnation ofSemi-Pelagianism with its emphasis on man’s freedom.  This explainswhy the churches acted so resolutely with respect to Arminianism.  They saw it as a serious threat to the gospel and condemned it “as being in principle a return to Rome (because in effect it turned faith into ameritorious work) and a betrayal of the Reformation (because it denied the sovereignty of God in saving sinners, which was the deepest religious and theological principle of the Reformer’s thought). Arminianism was,indeed,  in Reformed eyes a renunciation of New Testament Christianity in favour of New Testament Judaism; for to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as unchristian and anti-Christian as the other.”(3)

The Reformed faith thus teaches the helplessness of man insalvation.  Arminianism, in typical Semi-Pelagian style, teachesself-help religion.  It is sovereign God versus sovereign man.  It is indeed the different gospel which Paul warned about.  It is appealing because it extols the dignity of man.  It is a lie because man is dead in sin, totally helpless.

While the aforementioned points show the seriousness of theArminian teaching and how it stands in contrast to true Reformation theology, to what extent is it found today?  One author stated that”Arminianism … has had American evangelicalism in a strangleholdsince the days of Charles Finney.”(4)  Charles Finney (1792-1875) was arevivalist preacher who was very influential with his revival techniques. Another author states that 86 percent of American evangelicals hold to the Arminian position as comes out in their agreement with the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves.” (5)This comes out very clearly in the writings of the well known BillyGraham who has even written a religious self-help manual titled “How To be Born Again” in which the various steps to salvation are clearly spelled out.(6)

The apostle Paul  fought with great vigour against the”different gospel”.  In that gospel they will speak of Christ and use words like grace, election, faith, regeneration, etc.  Yet, it is not the gospel of sovereign grace received through faith but of gracereceived on the ground of one’s faith.  The earlier mentioned reference linking Rome and Arminianism is worth drawing to your attention again.Actually,there is a common denominator in all false religion in that it ascribes ability and free will to man by which he can effect his own salvation if he so wishes.  It displays the arrogance of sinful man,even more so when he dresses lies with words of the gospel.  That makes the enemy all the more difficult to detect as he works in his subtle way.  We can all the more understand Paul’s warning about Satandisguising himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).

Personally I don’t enjoy having to harp on the point of theArminian danger.  I fear, however, that it is necessary because it is not realized how serious and extensive a threat it is.  The true church glories in the gospel of sovereign grace where God rescues deadsinners and grants them the righteousness of Christ through faith.  Let me conclude quoting in full Paul’s words in Gal. 1:6-9,

  I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called youin the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel –not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.

1. K. Schilder, Extra-Scriptural Binding –  A New Danger (In AmericanSecession Theologians on Covenant and Baptism & Extra-ScripturalBinding). (Neerlandia:  Inheritance Publications, 1996.  p. 131.)

   2. J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston, “Historical and Theological Introduction,” in Martin Luther,The Bondage of the Will, trans. J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston (Cambridge: James Clarke/Westwood, N.J.:Revell,1957, pp. 57-58)

   3. Ibid. p. 59

   4. R.C. Sproul, Grace Unknown.  (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 1997)  p.180

   5. M. Horton, In the Face of God.  (Word Publishing, 1996)  AppendixCURE (Christians United for Reformation).

   6. To give just two examples, Graham writes “The context of John 3 teaches that the new birth is something that God does for man when man is willing to yield to God”, and “He gives the Holy Spirit to draw you to the cross, but even after all this, it is your decision whether to accept God’s free pardon or to continue in your lost condition.”   (B. Graham, How To Be Born Again.  Originally published 1977.  Quoted from  the 1989 edition by Word Publishers, pages 150, 162)

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I Hear Thy Welcome Voice

  1. I hear Thy welcome voice
    That calls me, Lord, to Thee,
    For cleansing in Thy precious blood
    That flowed on Calvary.

    • Refrain:
      I am coming, Lord,
      Coming now to Thee!
      Wash me, cleanse me in the blood
      That flowed on Calvary.
  2. Though coming weak and vile,
    Thou dost my strength assure;
    Thou dost my vileness fully cleanse,
    Till spotless all, and pure.
  3. ’Tis Jesus calls me on
    To perfect faith and love,
    To perfect hope and peace and trust,
    For earth and heav’n above.
  4. ’Tis Jesus who confirms
    The blessed work within,
    By adding grace to welcomed grace,
    Where reigned the pow’r of sin.
  5. And He the witness gives
    To loyal hearts and free
    That every promise is fulfilled,
    If faith but brings the plea.
  6. All hail, atoning blood!
    All hail, redeeming grace!
    All hail, the gift of Christ our Lord,
    Our Strength and Righteousness.
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Pray for God to heal you. Psalm 6:2-7

PrayerIt’s a fact that some sincere believers are hesitant to petition God for their own needs. They believe that it’s selfish to ask for God’s help and think they should rather be praying for others. While this attitude is noble, it is not the teaching of Scripture, nor is it the example of the psalms. David cried out to God for relief from his pain and for the healing of his sickness.

Scripture commands the sick and suffering to pray (James. 5:13-16). The Bible unquestionably declares that neglecting to pray for others is a sin (1 Samuel. 12:23), but it is certainly not a sin to pray for ourselves.

  1. When to ask for healing (vv. 2-3).

David begged God for mercy (khanan). This word means “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior.” In verse 4 David calls upon God’s mercies or unfailing love (chesed), but here he simply pleads with God to pity him. He asks the Lord to look down upon him with compassion and to show kindness to him. David was powerless to heal himself; nothing he could do had the power to relieve his pain, but God could help him. God alone had the ability to heal him and to ease the pain he was suffering.

In desperation, David described his condition to the Lord.

First, he was physically weak (umlal)—exhausted, feeble, and unable to care for himself (v. 2). He felt that his life was slipping away. This word is used in the Old Testament to “express the process of withering of leaves [and] crops (Isaiah. 24:7; Joel 1:10, 12).” He was in excruciating, unrelenting pain. His suffering was so severe that his bones, the very core and frame of his body, were trembling in agony.

Second, he was in severe emotional distress (v. 3). His soul was intensely troubled. He trembled not only because of physical pain, but because of emotional anguish. Note that his emotional pain was far worse than his physical pain. Physically he was in agony (vexed), but emotionally he was in anguish (sore vexed).

Acute, ongoing pain can cause people to plunge into the depths of depression. And many are powerless to pull themselves out of the pit of despair. Medical experts have repeatedly documented the impact of a positive mental attitude upon healing. As an example, the Apostle Paul says that he survived the trouble and afflictions he bore by renewing his inward person—his soul—daily in the Lord (2 Corinthians. 4:16).

  1. Why ask God for healing (vv. 4-7).

David suffered spiritual as well as physical pain (v. 4). He could not renew himself in the Lord because he was out of fellowship with God. His sin placed a solid barrier between him and God, and he felt forsaken by God. In desperation and fear for his life, David begged God to turn back to him and to deliver him from his intense suffering.

Note that David’s basis for crying to God for healing was his covenant relationship with the Lord. His hope that God would deliver him was based on the Lord’s love and faithfulness to His promises. The Lord is the God of mercy, the God of steadfast, unfailing love (v. 4).

The man after God’s own heart (Ac. 13:22) prayed for healing so that he might continue to live to worship and serve the Lord (v. 5). David was genuinely convinced that he was going to die; consequently, in desperation, he begged God for his life. The Bible warns that persistent sin can cost believers their lives. If we stubbornly continue in sin, God may choose to take us to heaven prematurely to keep us from harming others (1 Cor. 5:4-5; 11:30-32).

David offered a sound reason for God to heal him: if he died, he could no longer praise or be a witness for the Lord here on earth. David was implying that if God would let him live, he would remember His mercy and loving-kindness. His life would be a memorial to God’s goodness and faithfulness.

When severe trials and suffering confront us, we sometimes feel it would be better to go on to heaven than continue here on earth. But as believers, we should covet to live so that we may have more time to worship and bear witness for God.

David cried out to God for healing because he could no longer bear his pain and suffering (v. 6). He was a broken man—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The suffering king provided a detailed description of his anguish:

  • He was weary or worn out —totally exhausted—even to the point of gasping for breath because he was too tired to inhale and exhale.
  • He moaned in unceasing agony. Groaning speaks of wailing, making audible sounds and sighs that are the uncontrollable expression of tormenting grief and pain.
  • His pain and suffering were so great that he could not sleep. He lay awake and wept all night so profusely that his bed was literally drenched with his tears. His body could not find the rest it so desperately needed to revive itself.
  • His vision was blurred (v. 7a). His sleepless, exhausted eyes could no longer focus on his surroundings.
  • His enemies gloated over him and rejoiced in his suffering (v. 7b). Could it be that David was not suffering from an illness, but from injuries inflicted upon him in battle? Either way, the crowing of his enemies rubbed salt in his wounds. It may be that they were taking advantage of his infirmity to gain ground against him.

David expressed the hearts of so many suffering people when he cried out, “How long?” (v. 3). “Here we are given permission to question God, permission to cry out in our pain. If our prayers are not honest they are not prayers.” Scripture teaches that it is not wrong to question God when we are suffering, as long as we ask in faith and trust, not in doubt. God promises to give us wisdom—insight and understanding—as we deal with the trials and sufferings of life:

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth [rebukes] not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James. 1:5-6).

When the Israelites came to the bitter waters of Marah, the Lord revealed Himself to them by a new name—a new dimension of His character. He called Himself Jehovah Rapha, the Lord that heals (Exodus. 15:26). God is the Great Physician, the one who heals all your diseases (Psalm. 103:3). This verse declares that the Lord heals all our diseases. How does He do this? How can the Bible make this claim when, in fact, many sicknesses are terminal and result in death? Note three ways that Jehovah Rapha heals:

(1) Sometimes He heals naturally. Our bodies are amazing machines. They are designed by our Creator to naturally restore and rejuvenate themselves. God has also given humanity incredible knowledge about the body; He has revealed to us how to use substances and chemicals (medicines), as well as procedures and treatments, to help heal our bodies. The spontaneous recovery of the human body and the effectiveness of the medical arts fall within the realm of natural healing.

(2) Sometimes He heals supernaturally. God is still in the business of reaching down from heaven and sometimes touching the sick and infirm with His miraculous, almighty healing hand.

(3) Sometimes He heals ultimately and finally. God chooses to heal many of His dear children by releasing them from their bodies to never again know sickness or pain. Consider this: every person healed by natural or even supernatural means will suffer again. For example, every individual in the Bible who was miraculously healed by Jesus eventually died. But when we are liberated from our sin-cursed bodies through the process of death, we never again know suffering, sickness, or pain. “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord…” (Revelation. 14:13).

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The Regulative Principle of Worship by Derek Thomas

Hymn BooksPut simply, the regulative principle of worship states that the corporate worship of God is to be founded upon specific directions of Scripture. On the surface, it is difficult to see why anyone who values the authority of Scripture would find such a principle objectionable. Is not the whole of life itself to be lived according to the rule of Scripture? This is a principle dear to the hearts of all who call themselves biblical Christians. To suggest otherwise is to open the door to antinomianism and license.

But things are rarely so simple. After all, the Bible does not tell me whether I may or may not listen with profit to a Mahler symphony, find stamp-collecting rewarding, or enjoy ferretbreeding as a useful occupation even though there are well-meaning but misguided Bible-believing Christians who assert with dogmatic confidence that any or all of these violate God’s will. Knowing God’s will in any circumstance is an important function of every Christian’s life, and fundamental to knowing it is a willingness to submit to Scripture as God’s authoritative Word for all ages and circumstances. But what exactly does biblical authority mean in such circumstances?

Well, Scripture lays down certain specific requirements: for example, we are to worship with God’s people on the Lord’s Day, and we should engage in useful work and earn our daily bread. In addition, covering every possible circumstance, Scripture lays down a general principle: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1–2). Clearly, all of life is to be regulated by Scripture, whether by express commandment or prohibition or by general principle. There is therefore, in one sense, a regulative principle for all of life. In everything we do, and in some form or another, we are to be obedient to Scripture.

However, the Reformers (John Calvin especially) and the Westminster Divines (as representative of seventeenth-century puritanism) viewed the matter of corporate worship differently. In this instance, a general principle of obedience to Scripture is insufficient; there must be (and is) a specific prescription governing how God is to be worshiped corporately. In the public worship of God, specific requirements are made, and we are not free either to ignore them or to add to them. Typical by way of formulation are the words of Calvin: “God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his Word” (“The Necessity of Reforming the Church”); and the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689: “The acceptable way of worshiping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures” (22.1).

Where does the Bible teach this? In more places than is commonly imagined, including the constant stipulation of the book of Exodus with respect to the building of the tabernacle that everything be done “after the pattern … shown you” (Ex. 25:40); the judgment pronounced upon Cain’s offering, suggestive as it is that his offering (or his heart) was deficient according to God’s requirement (Gen. 4:3–8); the first and second commandments showing God’s particular care with regard to worship (Ex. 20:2–6); the incident of the golden calf, teaching as it does that worship cannot be offered merely in accord with our own values and tastes; the story of Nadab and Abihu and the offering of “strange fire” (Lev. 10); God’s rejection of Saul’s non-prescribed worship — God said, “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22); and Jesus’ rejection of Pharisaical worship according to the “tradition of the elders” (Matt. 15:1–14). All of these indicate a rejection of worship offered according to values and directions other than those specified in Scripture.

Of particular significance are Paul’s responses to errant public worship at Colossae and Corinth. At one point, Paul characterizes the public worship in Colossae as ethelothreskia (Col. 2:23), variously translated as “will worship” (KJV) or “self-made religion” (ESV). The Colossians had introduced elements that were clearly unacceptable (even if they were claiming an angelic source for their actions — one possible interpretation of Col. 2:18, the “worship of angels”). Perhaps it is in the Corinthian use (abuse) of tongues and prophecy that we find the clearest indication of the apostle’s willingness to “regulate” corporate worship. He regulates both the number and order of the use of spiritual gifts in a way that does not apply to “all of life”: no tongue is to be employed without an interpreter (1 Cor. 14:27–28) and only two or three prophets may speak, in turn (vv. 29–32). At the very least, Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians underlines that corporate worship is to be regulated and in a manner that applies differently from that which is to be true for all of life.

The result? Particular elements of worship are highlighted: reading the Bible (1 Tim. 4:13); preaching the Bible (2 Tim. 4:2); singing the Bible (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) — the Psalms as well as Scripture songs that reflect the development of redemptive history in the birth-life-death-resurrection- ascension of Jesus; praying the Bible — the Father’s house is “a house of prayer” (Matt. 21:13); and seeing the Bible in the two sacraments of the church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38–39; 1 Cor. 11:23–26; Col. 2:11–12). In addition, occasional elements such as oaths, vows, solemn fasts and thanksgivings have also been recognized and highlighted (see Westminster Confession of Faith 21:5).

It is important to realize that the regulative principle as applied to public worship frees the church from acts of impropriety and idiocy — we are not free, for example, to advertise that performing clowns will mime the Bible lesson at next week’s Sunday service. Yet it does not commit the church to a “cookie-cutter,” liturgical sameness. Within an adherence to the principle there is enormous room for variation—in matters that Scripture has not specifically addressed (adiaphora). Thus, the regulative principle as such may not be invoked to determine whether contemporary or traditional songs are employed, whether three verses or three chapters of Scripture are read, whether one long prayer or several short prayers are made, or whether a single cup or individual cups with real wine or grape juice are utilized at the Lord’s Supper. To all of these issues, the principle “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40) must be applied. However, if someone suggests dancing or drama is a valid aspect of public worship, the question must be asked — where is the biblical justification for it? (To suggest that a preacher moving about in the pulpit or employing “dramatic” voices is “drama” in the sense above is to trivialize the debate.) The fact that both may be (to employ the colloquialism) “neat” is debatable and beside the point; there’s no shred of biblical evidence, let alone mandate, for either. So it is superfluous to argue from the poetry of the Psalms or the example of David dancing before the ark (naked, to be sure) unless we are willing to abandon all the received rules of biblical interpretation. It is a salutary fact that no office of “choreographer” or “producer/director” existed in the temple. The fact that both dance and drama are valid Christian pursuits is also beside the point.

What is sometimes forgotten in these discussions is the important role of conscience. Without the regulative principle, we are at the mercy of “worship leaders” and bullying pastors who charge noncompliant worshipers with displeasing God unless they participate according to a certain pattern and manner. To the victims of such bullies, the sweetest sentences ever penned by men are, “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to His Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also” (WCF 20:2). To obey when it is a matter of God’s express prescription is true liberty; anything else is bondage and legalism.

From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: Email: Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.

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