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Articles posts of '2017' 'March'

The Log of Hyper-Calvinism

Introduction

One of my favorite promises in Scripture is “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” What a remarkable invitation! What my heart needs, and what all our churches need, is more of God’s grace. Daily grace. Sanctifying grace. Renewing grace.

And that grace is ours for the taking, like a wrapped gift under the Christmas tree with our name on it, if we would humble ourselves. It couldn’t get any easier, right?

But not so fast.

Why? Because it’s so hard to be humble.

I know I need grace, and God promises to give me grace if I would humble myself, yet I claw and fight against the very grace I want and need because I’m so proud and self-sufficient that I don’t think I really need it. “Wretched man that I am!” (Rom. 7:24).

We all, to one degree or another, have a problem with pride. Jesus called it a log issue. While we major in other people’s specks, we’re blind to the log protruding from our own eye.

This is what happens when we are so busy pointing out everybody else’s failures: our need for grace evaporates, God’s love no longer amazes, and we find identity in what we’re not instead of whose we are. “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11) subtly becomes our rally cry and the posture of our heart.

But if we are too get the grace that we so desperately need, the grace that fuels and sustains and empowers us to a life of Christ-exalting worship, service, and witness, then it’s paramount that we take a good and hard look into the mirror of our own self-righteousness.

To that end, this series has been my attempt to identify some of our corporate logs; that is, the chief sins, weaknesses, and shortcomings of conservative Reformed churches that we are either ignorant about or unwilling to admit.

So far I have diagnosed the following six: legalism, familiarism, conservatism, elitism, tribalism, and retreatism. We come, lastly, to the seventh –ism, known as hyper-Calvinism.

Hyper-Calvinism: Its Diagnosis

Before I attempt to define what hyper-Calvinism is, it may be helpful to know what it’s not.

Hyper-Calvinism is not what we call people who are really passionate about being Reformed. Those are what we called “cage phase” people in seminary: new to the Reformed faith from a wilderness of theological and ecclesiastical confusion, often fundamentalism or Arminianism. The kind of folks whose newfound purpose was not only to show why they’re right, but also why everyone else is wrong.

Yet that is not what we mean by hyper-Calvinism.

While not all hyper-Calvinists agree on every matter, there is a thread that connects these adherents as a theological movement, and it is this common thread that I want to focus my attention on in the remainder of this article.

Much more could be written and has been written about the beliefs of hyper-Calvinism, but for the sake of this article and for this series, my concern is with its tragic tendency to sever the urgency for gospel preaching and evangelism all in the name of Divine sovereignty.

To quote Josh Buice, “When understood properly, hyper-Calvinism is a technical term for an extreme and unbiblical view that rejects any need for Christians to engage in missions and evangelism. Simply put, Hyper-Calvinists forbid the preaching of the gospel and the offer of salvation to the non-elect. Such people believe that God has chosen people in Christ in eternity past and will bring about His results without the help of His people.”

To illustrate using a historical example, an exchange took place in the nineteenth century between a young missionary by the name of William Carey, and that of an older minister and hyper-Calvinist, Mr. Ryland. When Carey stood up to discuss “the duty of Christians to attempt to spread the gospel among the heathen nations,” Mr. Ryland responded by loudly exclaiming, “Sit down, young man! When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine.”

In the mind of the hyper-Calvinist, Divine sovereignty swallows human responsibility. In other words, evangelism becomes pointless because God will save his elect no matter what.

But there is more, and it’s deeper than perhaps we realize. This isn’t just an issue that affects the church’s commission, but it gets to the heart of who God is. In this view, we may not, in fact we cannot, preach the gospel as an invitation to the sinner to come to Christ.

In other words, we cannot tell a person, “God loves you, and he demonstrated his love for you by sending his Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for your sins. If you trust in him today, your sins will be forgiven and you will be justified.” Why? Because God loves only the elect, and here’s the logic: if the person to whom you are speaking is not elect, then God doesn’t really love him. To suggest that God does love him is possibly to make God a liar.

But as Michael Horton shows in “Reformed Theology vs. Hyper-Calvinism,” “Here once again we are faced with mystery—and the two guardrails that keep us from careening off the cliff of speculation. God loves the world and calls everyone in the world to Christ outwardly through the Gospel, and yet God loves the elect with a saving purpose and calls them by His Spirit inwardly through the same Gospel (John 6:63–64; 10:3–5, 11, 14–18, 25–30; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:28–30; 2 Tim. 1:9).”

In other words, historic and confessional Reformed theology protects us from the error of hyper-Calvinism by affirming both God’s sovereignty and particular redemption on the one hand and the free offer of the gospel to everyone on the other.

Hyper-Calvinism: Its Symptoms

What are some of the symptoms of hyper-Calvinism? How, where, and when does it show up in our churches?

The first and most prominent is when our churches fail to preach the gospel as an urgent call to everybody who believes. This happens when we assume the gospel, or when we assume that nobody in our churches needs the gospel since they’re already elect (which points to another problem: thinking that only unbelievers need the gospel, but that’s for another article).

A related symptom is when our gospel preaching is constantly footnoted with an explanation of election. This happens, for example, when the preacher calls for belief in Christ yet then feels compelled to begin a five-minute diatribe on how nobody can come to God unless the Spirit draws them.

To be sure, that is true. Wonderfully and beautifully and graciously true! “You did not choose me, but I chose you” said Jesus (John 15:16). Yet Christ also said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Period. No qualifications, no doctrine of election footnote. A true, sincere, earnest invitation to come find rest in him.

Can we say that to people? Jesus did! When is the last time our sermons included a personal, passionate plea to come to Christ, without any excursus on election? Just straight up, come to Jesus now while it’s the day of salvation?

As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:20–21, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might bemuse the righteousness of God.”

Another symptom of hyper-Calvinism is the absence of evangelism and outreach. Could it be that one of the reasons we as Reformed churches struggle to evangelize our neighbors and communities is because deep down inside we’ve bought the narrative that says God will save his people without us, so why even try? In fact, why get in the way?

Yet, as Geoff Thomas writes, “When Calvinism ceases to be evangelistic it is a cerebral, chilling, and unattractive religious system.”

Historically, the Reformed faith has produced some of the most ardent and zealous missionaries the world has ever known. As J. I. Packer taught in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, it is precisely because God is sovereign that we have the confidence to be the ambassadors we’re called to be. Conversions don’t depend on us, our charisma, or how well we package the presentation. We preach Christ; God opens blind eyes. But we do preach Christ.

Hyper-Calvinism: Its Treatment

It shouldn’t be any surprise to you that I’m going to conclude this series as I have all the others, by argument that the best treatment for the disease of hyper-Calvinism is the gospel itself. Nothing more and nothing less than the pure, sweet, biblical announcement of the perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ for sinners.

God is sovereign. He chooses his people. We believe in unconditional election, irresistible grace, and particular redemption. But we also must affirm that we are called to preach this gospel to anyone and everyone, indiscriminately.

We don’t know who the elect are, so we are commanded to tell them all. And we can really say, sincerely and truly, “Christ died for your sins; believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved!”

The well-being of our churches depends on it. Our testimony depends on it. What this world needs is not a system of doctrine that cuts the heart out of the gospel we preach, but a message that offers the whole Christ to the whole person.

Praise God that he is “not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

May our conservative Reformed churches show the world that to be Reformed is to preach the good news of Christ for sinners. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16–17).

Rev. Michael J. Schout
is the pastor of Grace URC in Alto, MI.
He welcomes your feedback at mikeschout@gmail.com.

Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord by Mr Gerry Wisz

 “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord . . . the Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you.” ­

—Psalm 118:19, 25–28

These are the words the people sang in Jerusalem as Jesus, to much fanfare, arrived just before Passover. The people took off their robes and spread them with cut palm branches before his path as he made his way toward the temple, riding on a donkey. Did they know what they were saying?

Many did receive him as the one “who comes in the name of the Lord,” recognizing at the least that he was a prophet (Matt. 21:11). The fact that he came riding not on a war horse but on a foal of a donkey (Zech. 9:9) indicated to the disconcerted Scribes and Pharisees looking on that he was coming to Jerusalem as a king, bringing peace.

But he was—and is—a priest as well. The priests in the temple were a shadowy configuration of him. How he would fulfill his priestly role was still to come. He himself would be the festal sacrifice bound with cords and brought up to the horns of the altar, after which the curtain separating the inner sanctuary from all the people would be rent in two. The cry for offering a sacrifice at Passover would be fulfilled, but not in the way the people expected.

The people cried out to him as the son of David, “Hosanna,” that is, “Save”; “bring success.” Israel was long under the heels of foreign oppressors of one kind or another; Rome was no different to them. They were counted, taxed, and bullied. They longed for freedom and a restoration of their kingdom, the one David had won and Solomon had established. This, they thought, would comprise their salvation.

But Jesus came to establish a different kingdom. The focus was no longer to be Israel’s national temple; he was the Temple into which all the nations would come (Isa. 2:2). The temple of bricks and mortar would eventually be destroyed and evacuated, but as the Temple, Christ—the one whom the rebuilt temple represented—though destroyed, would be reconstituted and stand forever. Thus he fulfills and grants the request of “Hosanna”: the redemption and establishment of a kingdom, this time one that will never end.

While in the temple, Jesus overturns the money-changers’ tables, again fulfilling prophecy (Isa. 56:7; Jer. 7:11), showing that in matters pertaining to God and his worship, there is no place for profit taking. He has choice words for the chief priests and Pharisees, whom he tells that they have matters exactly backwards: their rule devising, burdening the people with them, and repeatedly failed attempts at keeping them themselves are not the way to God.

The way to God, but also the truth and the life, is standing before them. Jesus instructs as well as rebukes them, on paying taxes, on the resurrection and marriage, and on the identity of the Son of Man. Before leaving the city with his disciples, he grieves over Jerusalem, remarking that they will not see him again until they—like the people at his arrival—say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matt. 23:39; Ps. 118:26).

In the meantime, his prophetic Word and Spirit would soon begin to change the face of the world, and his high priestly office—established within days of his arrival in Jerusalem—will achieve what all the chief priests through all of Israel’s generations merely pointed to. May we also then sing verses 22–23 of Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing: it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Mr. Gerry Wisz
and his wife, Betty, live in Garfield, NJ, and are parents to eight children and grandparents to six. His family (children still at home) are members of Preakness Valley URC in Wayne, NJ. Gerry has been a long-time contributor to Christian publications, including Christian Renewal and World Magazine, and is featured on Redeemer Broadcasting’s show “Holding All Things Together.” He has also served as an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He can be reached at gmwisz@optonline.net.

 

Welcoming Your Minister by Rev. William Boekestein

When Jesus sent out his twelve disciples to minister the gospel he told them how they should conduct themselves as kingdom servants (Matt. 10:5–15). But he also spoke of the responsibility of the people to receive these ministers as his official representatives. Jesus insists that the way people receive his ministers reflects their relationship with God (Matt. 10:40). He invites God’s people to welcome “a prophet in the name of a prophet” and “to receive a righteous man’s reward” (v. 41).

There is no better time to respond to this invitation than when your church receives a new minister. In the denomination in which I serve, the form for ministerial ordination asks the congregation, “Do you, in the name of the Lord, welcome this brother as your pastor?” That’s an important question. But it is just as important to ask, “How will you welcome this brother as your pastor?” in order to prepare the way for a fruitful ministry.

Begin Well with Your Minister

The importance of the first several days, weeks, and months in a new ministry cannot be overstated. A well-worn maxim suggests that it takes years for a congregation to bond with their pastor. Doubtless, this can be true. But does it have to be? Is it not just as likely that a church has a brief window of opportunity to establish the crucial habits that form a beautiful pastoral relationship?

Though most of Paul’s seasons of ministry were brief, the believers befriended him quickly (e.g., Acts 13:42–44; 16:11–15, 33–34). After Paul’s longest ministry—just three years—the church and its minister had so connected that, when he left, “they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorrowing” (Acts 20:37–38). This kind of bond is formed, in part, by the way congregations welcome their ministers actively and early.

Especially if you did not vote in favor of calling your new minister, make every effort to begin your relationship positively. Your reservations will be better handled (down the road) if you establish a healthy rapport with him.

Befriend Your Minister’s Family

The ministry can be terribly lonely. Perhaps because congregants suspect that ministry families’ calendars overflow with social commitments the minister’s family can receive less care than others. A new minister and his family are outsiders trying to enter a closely-knit network. As counterintuitive as it sounds, unless your new minister grew up in your congregation, he is a stranger within your midst. He likely has no local connections and no local extended family members. Remember that “the stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34).

Pray with and for Your Minister

In one of the shortest verses in the Bible, Paul pleads with the church on behalf of himself and all Christian pastors: “Brethren, pray for us” (1 Thess. 5:25). My ordination form admonished my church to “pray that he may, in the power of the Spirit, equip [them] in the work of advancing God’s Kingdom for the honor of Christ our Lord.” Let your minister know that you are praying for him. This habit, one practiced by Paul (Phil. 1:3, 9; Col. 1:9), assures those for whom you are praying that they are remembered before the throne of grace.

Communicate with Your Minister

Ironically, ministers can be among the last to know about pastoral needs. When this happens, their ability to fulfill their God-given duties is severely hampered. Paul pleads with his fellow church members to communicate openly and honestly with their shepherds. “We have spoken openly to you . . . you also be open” (2 Cor. 6:11, 13).

Positive communication with your minister means being willing to gently confront him (Gal. 6:1). Of course, you must overlook his sins when possible (Prov. 17:9). When you cannot, you must seek the opportunity to forgive your minister in a timely manner before hurts calcify into grudges. God’s plan for restoration from sin applies also to pastors: “Go and tell him his fault between you and him alone . . . If he will not hear, take with you one or two more . . . and if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:15–17).

One of the worst ways you can damage your congregation is to gossip about your minister. Gossip is always toxic. It poisons a person’s reputation, sometimes irreparably. But secret criticism against the minister can shake the congregation’s confidence in the minister and jeopardize the entire ministry. “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Prov. 18:21). Use your tongue to talk with your minister, not to gossip about him.

Affirm Your Minister’s Preaching

Pastors don’t necessarily need congregants begging for their preaching (but see Acts 13:42). Still, most ministers are helped by knowing that their people desire the preached word (1 Pet. 2:2).

A welcoming congregation will affirm the preaching during the sermon. Maintaining eye contact and communicating through engaging facial and body expressions can be a huge gift to the preacher. Conversely, those who seem (only God knows the heart) disinterested can deflate any minister. A minister can better preach his heart out when he perceives that people are feasting on the Word.

God’s people should also affirm the sermon after it is preached; not to feed your minister’s ego but to respond to his human need for encouragement. Thank your pastor for his preaching. Ask that nagging question about the sermon. Debrief with family and friends. Of course, the greatest affirmation of the preached word is prayerful, active application.

Follow Your Minister

Even as they pray for leadership wisdom, take to heart the feelings of the congregation, and submit to the oversight of the elders, ministers have a responsibility to lead. They have been trained to lead. The church has approved their qualification to lead (1 Tim. 3:1–7). They have been ordained to lead (1 Pet. 5:1–4). Ordinarily, they spend more time thinking about the future path of the church than anyone else in the congregation.

Church members need to recognize these realities. If you have concerns about the leadership of your minister, talk to him. If you feel that he is leading the church in a wrong direction, write a letter of concern to the consistory. Otherwise, the leadership of the minister should be received with respect and submission, unless it is proved to be in conflict with God’s Word (1 Tim. 5:17).

Be Thankful for Your Minister

The ordination form used at the start of my ministry stresses the need for thankfulness. “We receive this servant of our Lord from the hand and heart of the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. We are grateful that our Savior has committed preaching, teaching, and pastoral care to the office of the ministry.” The form charges “beloved Christians” to “receive your minister in the Lord, with all joy . . . let the feet of those who preach the Gospel of peace, and bring the Good News, be beautiful and pleasant to you.” We should pray with gratitude when we think of our minister: “Merciful Father, we thank Thee that it pleases Thee by the ministry of men to gather Thy church out of the lost human race to life eternal. We acknowledge the gift of this thy servant, sent to this people as a messenger of Thy peace.”

Your minister might not always appear to be a gift. Even then we can trust that God is working his perfect will through him, sometimes in spite of him (Phil. 1:15–18).

Receive Christ Through Your Minister

Christ has given himself as the spotless Lamb through whom we can approach God in peace. God’s ministers declare this message both publicly and privately, in their words and in their deeds. Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever receives you receives me.”

That old ordination form puts it well: God uses ministers to “gather His church out of the corrupt race of men to life eternal, and to give to His church such teaching and care that she may grow in faith and love and service.” God uses his pastors and teachers to equip, build up, unify, sanctify, fortify, mature, and grow his people (Eph. 4:11–16). It is they who plead with us to be reconciled to God in every sphere of our lives (2 Cor. 5:20).

Those who receive Christ through the minister have this promise: “The God of peace shall enter your homes. You who receive this man in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet’s reward, and through faith in Jesus Christ, the inheritance of eternal life.”

This article first appeared on The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ website; www.alliancenet.org under the heading The Christward Collective, December 22, 2016.

Rev. William Boekestein
happily serves Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, MI (in which he and his family have been warmly welcomed!). He has written several books, including Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation(with Joel Beeke).

A Matter of the Heart

In Leviticus 11, God sets forth various regulations governing clean and unclean foods. Certain animals, for example, could be eaten as food and others were forbidden to be eaten. God’s rule for determining whether an animal is clean or unclean is stated in Leviticus 11:2: “You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud.” Then some examples of clean and unclean animals are listed so that the people will clearly understand God’s law.

It must be understood that the unclean animals were themselves not less good for food than the clean ones. It appears, rather, that God wanted his people to prepare themselves properly in worshiping and serving him. The case of Nadab and Abihu seems to make this clear. These two sons of Aaron came to worship “with unauthorized fire before the Lord “contrary to his command” (Lev. 10:1). The Lord responded to their impropriety by sending forth fire which “consumed them and they died before the Lord” (Lev. 10:2). Proper preparation, therefore, to worship the Lord requires observance of his laws. Thus, the ceremonial laws were intended to help God’s people honor him as holy and properly worship him. Now we can see that the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. One’s heart must be clean in order for our worship to be acceptable to God. That’s why the ceremonial laws could pass away when Jesus came “in the fullness of time.” He made it clear that cleanness and uncleanness come from within the heart of a person. Jesus declared to the people of his day that “nothing outside a man can make him ’unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’” (Mark 7:15). By so teaching, “Jesus declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:18). So the heart is what must be cleansed in order to satisfy the real meaning of the Old Testament ceremonial law regarding cleanness.

The apostle Peter also learned this truth when men were coming from Cornelius the centurion to ask him to return with them to the house of Cornelius. One will recall that Cornelius had been directed by an angel to send for Peter (Acts 10:5). As the men approached Joppa, where Peter was staying at the time, “he fell into a trance.” While in the trance, Peter saw “a large sheet let down to earth” in which were many ceremonially unclean animals. At that moment “a voice told him, ‘Get up Peter, kill and eat’” (Acts 10:13). Peter, always being careful to observe God’s law, rejected the command and responded: “Surely not, Lord! . . . I have never eaten anything impure or unclean” (Acts 10:14). Thereafter, “the voice spoke a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”’ Apparently, God meant to reinforce this instruction in Peter’s mind, for Scripture states “this happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven” (Acts 10:16). Peter was still pondering the meaning of the vision when the men from Cornelius arrived and asked for him. It was then that Peter was given specific direction by God’s Spirit to “get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them” (Acts 10:20). Peter’s action was so contrary to what a good Jew would ordinarily do that it aroused controversy among the Jewish believers. Consequently Peter had to defend his conduct before them in Jerusalem (Acts 11:2–3). There Peter explained to them all that had happened to him and what happened later in the house of Cornelius, namely, “While [he] was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message” (Acts10:44). This settled the matter among them, for we read: “When they [Jewish believers] heard this, they had no further objection and praised God, saying, ‘So then, God has granted even to the Gentiles repentance unto life’” (Acts 11:18). This now makes crystal clear that anyone who repents of sin and believes in his heart that the Lord Jesus has forgiven his sin can be saved; even Gentiles who once were considered unclean in terms of the ceremonial law. Thank God that his grace reaches even to sinners like you and me!

It seems then, that the ceremonial law about clean and unclean was intended to remind God’s people to have proper regard to his holiness and to worship him with proper regard to his majestic sovereignty. Thus, all that would hinder proper respect for God’s holy name must be set aside. That would include even associating with other peoples who did not acknowledge him. That helps explain also the “wall of partition” between Jews and Gentiles. All of that, however, has changed with Jesus’ coming into the world to die for sinners. Now the “middle wall of partition” has been destroyed and the ceremonial law with its commandments and regulations has been abolished (Eph. 2:14–15). We are back once again to the heart of the matter, which is to have our hearts attuned to God himself through Jesus Christ. He alone is “the way and the truth and the life” though whom we “come to the Father” (John 14:6).

It becomes evident, therefore, that we are called to examine our hearts. What is in the heart tells us the type of person we are. Surely, as believers in Christ, we should want to serve God with our whole heart and manifest the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Gal. 5:22–23). Let us seek to respond positively to the words of Proverbs 22:26:

My son, give me your heart

And let your eyes keep to my ways.

Or, in the words of an old hymn:

“Give Me thy heart,” says the Father above,

“No gift so precious to Him as our love;

“Softly He whispers, wherever thou art,

“Gratefully trust Me, and give Me thy heart.”

—Eliza E. Hewitt, 1898

 

Dr. Harry G. Arnold
is a retired minister in the Christian Reformed Church and lives in Portage, MI.
He is a member of Grace Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, MI.

 


Current Issue: November/December 2018
Volume 68 Issue 6

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Listen to a 42-minute audio lecture by Dr. Carl Trueman
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This lecture was given at the annual meeting of Reformed Fellowship held November 7, 2008, at Trinity United Reformed Church, 7350 Kalamazoo Ave SE, Caledonia MI.

 

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