Another son of God movie

Why I’m NOT Seeing the Movie Son Of God

by Reed DePace

Yeah, expect some will disagree with this. Follow this argument with me:

  • Is Jesus God?
  • If you say “yes”, does the 2nd Commandment (Ex 20:4) apply to Jesus?
  • If you say, “yes”, nuff said – you better not go see the movie.

If you say, ‘yeah but” … A common objection to my argument is the idea that the context of the 2nd commandment is about images of God for purposes of worship. I.e., as long as the image made is not for worship (e.g., teaching), its ok. Well, let’s follow that argument:

  • What is the only proper, biblical response to God?
  • Worship (Dt 10:12; Ps 99; Mt 22:37)
  • If Jesus is God (Joh 1:1-5),
  • Then what is the only proper, the biblical response to Him?
  • Uh, worship.

Think about the response on the Mt of Transfiguration (Mt 17:1, ff.) – worship. Think about John’s response on Patmos Island (Rev 1:17) – worship. Think about the response of Doubting Thomas (Jh 20:28) – worship. Think about what Paul says is the proper response to Jesus in light of His great salvation (Rom 12:1)– worship. It is only when folks DO NOT recognize Jesus as God that they give a wrong response (Mt 4:9; 11:31; Mk 6:51; Jh 12:37) – NOT worship.

Think about the response of the 24 elders in heaven, responding to Jesus (Rev 5:8-14) – they worship the ascended, enthroned Jesus. Who are they attempting to picture in the movie Son of God? The ascended, enthroned Jesus!

Even the producers of the movie hope for a worship response to their portrayal of Jesus:

Mark Burnett: “The disciples, they don’t know they’re in the Bible. They’re following their charismatic leader. They later realize it’s the son of God. It’s God on earth. So they fall in love.” (I.e., they worship!)

Roma Downey: [In seeing the movie] “And you get an opportunity to fall in love with him [Jesus], I think. You understand who he is and what he was doing and that he came and did that for us. I think it’s very humbling.” (I.e., worship!)

(http://www.aintitcool.com/node/66327)

Respectfully, I’d ask those who allow themselves this exception, “Images of Jesus for non-worship purposes are not violations of the 2nd Commandment” to re-think their understanding of their relationship with Jesus. Do you really think that even once in the New Heavens/New Earth you will ever respond to Jesus with something less than worship? “Yo! Jesus Dude, hey Baby, how’s it, er, oops, sorry God.”

Do you think there is some exception in the Already/Not-Yet of our present relationship with Jesus? When you preach, teach or witness to people, do you want them to think of Jesus as anything less than God to whom they owe all the love of their heart-soul-mind-strength? I.e., do you want them to not worship Him?

So, no, I’m not going to see this movie. But I don’t think this is not a matter of mere private conviction. I am very concerned that I live amidst a Church in America that thinks so little of the 2nd Commandment that the argument I just made is not even worthy of consideration. “Legalism!” and with a sweeping gesture, the issue is ignored.

In recent preparation for a sermon on Jeroboam II I ran across a comment (can’t find where now) in which the person observed that the reason this king, great in many ways, was still considered evil, was because he followed his namesake in violating the 2nd Commandment (2Ki 14:24). Why is that so bad? Why is it wrong to image God? Because if you get the image of God wrong, you get your understanding of God wrong. If you don’t understand God, who He is, His nature, there is no hope. Remember, true wisdom begins in fear of the Lord. (Pro 1:7) Getting God’s image right requires submission to His own self-description. Nothing is more foundational to this than His command – don’t image God!

I.O.W., blowing the 2nd Commandment results in worshiping God according to your own understanding. Need we be reminded that left to ourselves we worship and serve the creation rather than the Creator? (Rom 1:25, read the context!)

  • So, if Jesus’ self-description is that He is God (Joh 10:58-59), and
  • The only proper response to God is worship (Ps 99; Rom 12:1), and
  • God judges getting His image wrong as an evil worthy of His highest condemnation (Rom 1:18-32),

What might we expect to see in a Church that willy-nilly ignores Jesus at this point of command?

The Church in America is already experiencing the discipline of generations of getting the gospel wrong (the essence of Jesus’ self-description). Could it be that one factor in the Church’s failure is her eagerness to support portraying Jesus on film? Since the first movie went on the reel, one estimate is that there have been over 1,000 movies made about Jesus (IMDB listing, top 30). Over a dozen actors have portrayed Jesus. If putting Jesus on film is so valuable, such a great tool for the Church, why is the Church in America so sick?

Numerous “leading” pastors are actively supporting this movie, seeing it as a great tool for the support of the Jesus they preach and teach (bit.ly/Pastors4SofGmovie). Among them is a man who denies the Trinity. Another teaches the prosperity-gospel heresy. Others are hardly stalwarts in proclaiming the Jesus imaged in the Bible.

Seriously, this is going to be another Passion of the Christ (2004). That movie was so great that a wave of remorse and repentance swept our land; abortion was ended, no fault divorce was reversed, and sexual immorality was reigned in. Oh, wait, um …

God is not mocked. We are reaping what we’ve sown. Even if this movie followed the gospel accounts word for word, it would still violate the 2nd Commandment. Yes, God can draw lines with crooked sticks. But He does that in mercy. He certainly does not use crooked sticks who celebrate their crookedness, and flaunt it as a strength to be used to achieve God’s will.

Think about what Jesus said to Thomas, who would not believe and worship until he saw with his own eyes, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet have believed.” (Joh 20:29)

Don’t put Jesus to the test on this one. Don’t go see this movie. You’ll find He more than strengthens your faith!

by Reed DePace

Lose 15 pounds in less than a day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Too good to be true? No, it has worked for me five times. No gimmicks, just the straight stuff. In fact, in spite of the way it seems, it is a righteous and self-sacrificing thing to do. What is this amazing way? Many of you will have guessed already. It is, of course, giving birth. Just think of the advantages – you get to eat lots of food for months leading up the the one day instant diet, you get an adorable baby afterward to love and enjoy, and there’s no sit-ups involved (though there might be afterward!) So there it is, folks, my best diet tip. Enjoy:)

Please note that my wife actually wrote this post, thinking she was doing it on her blog, when she accidentally put it on my blog (she’s very new the whole blogging thing).

Senior Pastor Opening — Faith Reformed PCA

(Posted by Paige Britton)

On behalf of the pulpit committee at Faith Reformed Church (PCA), I’m pleased to announce that we are now  accepting application materials from those interested in our Senior Pastor position.  We are a nearly 500-member church located in the southern part of Lancaster County, PA, a rural/small town setting that also serves as a bedroom community for many who work in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and even NYC.  Eligible applicants (who are ordained by, or are ordainable by, the PCA) should seek more information and instructions at our web portal, http://faithprespastorsearch.com/. Our current plan is to hold the position open to applicants until mid-October.

If you have any make-or-break questions that I can answer quickly, you are welcome to contact me OFFLINE. I would be happy to speak to you in person or by email about this (but not in the comments below).  My addy is paige, then a dot, then britton, and it’s a gmail address.  Our pulpit committee team is committed to the considerate and confidential care of all applicants.  Hope to hear from some of you, one way or another!

We’re excited to see God’s leading and provision in this process as it unfolds. 

Persecution in America? Chicken Little vs. the Ostrich

by Reed DePace

In the wake of the two same sex marriage decisions from the Supreme Court I wrote to a group of ministerial friends and acquaintances asking for copies of their church’s marriage policies. I did so because I expect churches and pastors will be facing, in just a few years, at least civil assaults via this issue.

Some reaction to my concern was that I was being an alarmist. Another labeled my concern absurd (def.: ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous; having no rational or orderly relationship to human life).

O.k., maybe like Chicken Little I don’t know an acorn from persecution. Yet, before going gaily on your way, I’d ask you to at least consider the discussion a bit more fully. Maybe the following articles will help:

I do not believe the goal is mere legitimization. No, I think that which is pushing homosexuality across our culture is a greater moral goal, one with two components. This goal is to secure the acknowledgement, in all parts of our culture:

  1. Of the moral superiority of homosexuality, and
  2. Of the moral depravity of any who deny this (and so, must be treated as the worst bigots in history, e.g., KKK, Nazis, etc.).

Think I’m Chicken Little? Stanley Hauerwas, “America’s Best Theologian” (Time Magazine, 2001) began to make just such an argument back in 1993. The Bible is already well on its way to being labeled morally degenerate in terms of its moral condemnation of homosexuality. Already opponents of same sex marriage are shying away from making a moral-based argument.

Whether I’m Chicken Little or not, at the very least the homosexual juggernaut (as another friend labels it) is on the move. Where it stops, and what it crushes along the way may be debatable. It should hardly be a debatable point that it is on an (humanly) unstoppable roll.

Will pastors face persecution via the same sex marriage issue? Christian laymen already are:

Oh, and a church has experienced persecution over this issue.

So what should we do in response? I think there are at least three faith-responses we can offer that we can say are both our Father’s marching orders and carry His promise of blessing in response:

  1. Make reasonable preparations (Matthew 10:16; Colossians 4:5; Philippians 2:15). Investigate whether or not you or church has unnecessary legal exposure in the ways in which you offer services to non-members. Take appropriate measures to remove or mitigate this exposure.
  2. Pray for God to send us into these fields that are ripe for the Harvest (John 4:35; Matthew 9:36-38). The truth is that those in homosexuality are destroying themselves. They, their family and friends are suffering the worst of the effects of the fall, just short of what a Christ-less eternity brings.
  3. Love those who consider us their enemies by bringing them the gospel (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-28): God will surely do in our generation what He has done in the past (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Imagine the joy you, saved from your depravity, will experience standing beside your brother or sister who was once your enemy trapped in homosexuality’s depravity.

I do hope I am just warning about acorns. But I don’t think this is the case. So I’ll see the charge that I’m being absurd and raise a “don’t be naïve!” Or maybe I can put it this way: I’d rather be Chicken Little than an ostrich.

by Reed DePace

GA Debate Squashing– a PCUS Déjà Vu?

by Reed DePace

Reflecting on how this GA went, one friend observed that in the PCA we use procedure to squash discussion. Whether that was the intention or not, from what I saw at this GA, his observation is right on the money.

I understand we need procedures to effectively function. I realize that the sheer number of commissioners at GA presents a challenge to having reasonable discussion on matters. I understand that the Rules of Assembly Operation have been compiled to make things both fair and effective for all voices. I appreciate that Roberts Rules of Order provide a means for even the strongest of opponents to disagree with one another and remain civil and committed to one another in Christian love.

Yet … it looks more and more like our polity has devolved into nothing more than crass politics. This GA had all the appearances of two parties, both with their positions mapped out ahead of time, trying to use the process to achieve their own ends. And, at least from my perspective, it didn’t look an awful lot like one side wanted to actually consider what the other side had to say. In fact, I got the distinct impression that one side came with one grand agenda item in view: squash the other side’s dissent.

As I have no first hand evidence of the plans of either side, I’ll leave my speculations at the level of appearances. Still, even at this level, things were not good at GA. I’m not imputing motives to anyone. And at the same time, I was offered little by way of explanation of motives. I’m not the most informed guy, believe it or not. And it would have helped immensely if men from the one side would have respected men like me enough to give us a clearer presentation of their reasons for proposing actions that effectively squashed the debate from the other side.

One egregious example was over a recommendation from the Nominations Committee regarding what to do in the event that a Teaching Elder and a Ruling Elder from the same Presbytery were each nominated for the same committee. The rules won’t allow both to be elected to the same committee (i.e., an effort to make sure a presbytery does not have too much influence on a committee?). The practice (precedent) of previous GA’s is to take up the election of the TE first. If he gets elected, this automatically disqualifies the RE. A recommendation (purportedly) came from the Nominating Committee to swap this order, to take up the election of the RE first.

My question is why? Why change the current practice of taking up the TE election first? I’ve gone over the Nominating Committee Minutes and I cannot find anything on this recommendation (I did not see anything in the floor minutes either). It was not a motion from this Committee, for sure.

So why the recommendation? Was the recommendation from the whole committee? If so, why did they not simply present it as an actual motion? If it was just a recommendation from some on the committee, why did they propose it? What were they thinking? Understanding their reasons for the recommendation sure would have made it easier for me to make an informed conscientious decision with my vote; something I am accountable before God to do!

Was the reason because of some appearance of unfairness to Ruling Elders? If so, then why wasn’t that voiced? More importantly, if this was the motive, then TE David Coffin’s motion (a coin toss each time) would actually have positively addressed that, securing a visible fairness. I really appreciated one brother’s perfection of Coffin’s motion, adding biblical reasoning to it. If this was the reason, then why didn’t the other side support the motion? (It was obvious from the jumbotron that they did not support his motion.)

Why the numerous “points of order,” parliamentary procedural objections from those who supported the recommendation? We spent at least an hour on this subject, mostly on parliamentary maneuvering. Would that one of them, any single one of them, had spoken to why he wanted to change the precedent, I might very well have agreed with him. But, crickets chirping …

One opinion from some was that the reason for the recommendation was nothing more than a parliamentary maneuver to stop TE Dominic Aquila from being reelected to the Standing Judicial Commission. A RE from his presbytery (Rocky Mountain) was also nominated for the SJC. Others better informed than me believe that this RE’s nomination was part of an intentional process by one side to run candidates opposed to the other side. If this precedent of voting on TE nominations first was reversed (taking the RE nomination first) and this RE was elected to the SJC, that would have effectively eliminated TE Aquila from even being able to stand for election.

In others words, the appearance is that one side wanted to change the procedure here for nothing more than a political power purpose. I’m not saying that WAS the motive. I am only saying that this is the appearance, and that the lack of explanation why IS NOT encouraging. No lecturing me on assuming the best about my brothers. I am. And I’m troubled as to why they seemed unwilling to behave in a manner that was transparent, leaving no judicious reason to question him (cf., 1Ti 3:2, Tit 1:6-7, and the qualification to be above reproach; Php 2:15, 2Pe 3:14).

Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not debating the relative merit of one side’s positions vs. the other’s. I am questioning the use of what appears to be rank political manipulation to achieve one’s ends. Any explanation as to why the desire to change the procedure would have been better than what was (not) offered. And if the appearance was reality there would have been more integrity in a frank acknowledgment that at least one reason for the change in process was to attempt to stop confessional men like TE Aquila from getting back on the SJC. At least such transparency would encourage biblically-based trust in my brothers.

As it is, I watched men push and push, for about an hour, trying all the tricks possible to secure a change in this procedure. In the end I voted for Coffin’s perfected motion, as I could see the possibility of at least the appearance of unfairness to REs (i.e., even though this was never voiced, I was willing to act on an assumption of the best). When that motion was defeated I then had no good reason to vote to change the current practice. And a majority of Commissioners saw likewise on this one. Still, an hour or so of what appeared to be nothing more than rank political maneuvering, without one offering of justification for the change, left me with the distinct impression that I was being manipulated by one side.

Two final thoughts here. First, my wife graciously joined me at this GA. She joined me for one the business sessions. She spent about an hour trying to follow what was going on with one motion. After a plethora (a mass, an overabundance, a superfluity, a whole gobbling throat-choking mouthful!) of “point of order” procedural challenges, she got hopelessly lost. To her, it looked like nothing more than political manipulation, like the worst seen in the halls of any secular governing body. I found it hard to offer a defense of my fathers and brothers for what looked like ungodly behavior.

Lastly, wasn’t one of the reasons for leaving the PCUS (UPC, PCUSA for some of us) because the other side had secured all the political (committee) power – and then used that to squash the ability of “our” side to even debate matters!? I can’t help but wonder, how was the behavior at this GA from the one side any different than that which drove our fathers all out to form the PCA in the first place? One side, rather clumsily, tried to follow the procedures to at least be heard. The other side, much more effectively (think pro-football team playing against a beer-belly team), used the same procedures to squash any reasonable discussion whatsoever.

So, given how this all went down, given the rather across the board effectiveness of one side squashing the debate from the other side, how is this any different than the political manipulation used in the PCUS? And if the rank political manipulation used there lacked any integrity, then why should we not be concerned about the sense of déjà vu now?

by Reed DePace

Of Tzitzits, Tallits and Traditions

by Reed DePace

Those involved in the Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM) take great pains to note that they are only calling Christians to a greater consistency with God’s word. To give them all the benefit of the doubt possible, we can even say that they are arguing for these things as expressions of faith, not that gets one saved, but will determine the quality of their experience of salvation. Their argument to other Christians is simple, “but you’re not obeying ALL God’s word.”

Lay aside for the sake of discussion the issue of whether or not the Law of Moses is rightly divided into the moral, ceremonial and civil components. Leave aside also the issue of whether or not the NT amends the practice (but not the principles) of the ceremonial/worship components of the Mosaic Law.

Look simply at the issue of traditions. Jesus admonished the Pharisees:

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mk 7:6-8)

I maintain that the whole of the HRM (and large parts of the Messianic Christianity Movement) are doing exactly what Jesus condemned here. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is not a single practice the HRM maintains, as an application of the ceremonial/worship components of the Mosaic Law, that is not in some essential manner NOT tainted by this tradition-over-commandment sin that Jesus condemns.

TNT002-30

Yes, I know, sweeping statements are dangerous. But I’ll risk the potential brashness at this point. In support of my contention look at just one simple practice common among Messianic Christians, that of using a prayer shawl with tassels on the four corners.

In anglicized Hebrew the prayer shawl is called a tallit, the tassels are called tzitzits. Sit down with any Messianic Christian who uses a tallit with tzitzits and ask them to explain the practice. Very quickly they will be offering you arguments based on men’s traditions – NOT the Scriptures.

KariateSeph

Yes they will offer some Scriptures. But like the Pharisees, they will twist those Scriptures to support their traditions. In the case of tallits and tzitzits this is rather easy to see. While tzitzits are found in Scripture (Nb 15:38-39), it is a plain and simple fact that the tallit IS NOT! The practice of using tallits (prayer shawls) is expressly a tradition of men. Further, it is a tradition that comes from unbelieving Judaism!

It is hard to understand how this practice of the Mosaic Law is nothing more than a tradition of man. Therefore, to insist that in any manner its practice is even advisable for Christians, is to teach as holy what Jesus condemned as wicked.

A similar case can even be made for tzitzits, tassels. The Mosaic Law calls for them to be placed on the ends of ALL the exterior garments men wear, not merely a non-commanded tallit, prayer shawl. Again, man’s tradition usurps and yokes God’s word to the task of enslaving God’s children!

Ask about any other “Messianic,” “Hebrew” practice that practitioners of Messianic Christianity insist still applies to the Christian’s belief and practice today. Call me foolish and brash. But I expect I will be proven right to observe that you will see the same exact pattern: man’s tradition, yoking God’s word, to enslave Christians.

It gives me no joy to be proven right. Would that God would free them from their slavery and turn their joy in their traditions into moans of repentance.

by Reed DePace

Gentle-Hardness with the Hebrew Roots Movement

by Reed DePace

O.k., I’ve been admonished twice now that I may be speaking too harshly, without proper biblical gentleness, in some of my comments on the Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM). O.k., acknowledging that possibility, let me instead simply lay out from Scripture why I believer strong, even severe words are biblically called for when responding to the HRM.

Let me say up front that the more I hear from proponents of the HRM the more I am persuaded it is a modern form of the Pharisaical-Judaizing heresy condemned in Scripture. More broadly I think these criticisms also apply to a large part of the Messianic Christianity movement (MCM). This follows because the HRM is both a child of the MCM and is the deep doctrinal well which waters the growth of the MCM. I recognize that there exist Messianic Jews who shun with horror the errors of the HRM and more broadly those in the MCM. My criticisms do not apply to them.

In my own pastoral calling I’ve have had to help families affected by the HRM/MCM. It was this need that first prompted my study of this subject a couple of years back. In part I sympathize with those attracted to the HRM/MCM. I acknowledge and affirm their desire for a better relationship with God.

One of the greatest sadnesses in my community is the problem of gospel-presumptive Christians. These are not nominal Christians, folks who are nothing more than culturally Christian. No, these are folks for whom Christianity is a regular part of their everyday life. They have a rudimentary grasp of the basics of the gospel. Yet they have little practical understanding of how to live by the gospel (Rom 1:16-17, Gal 2:20, Col 2:6-7, etc.). As a result they are left to trying to live the Christian life through the use of their own resources (i.e., living by sight, not by faith; 2Co 5:7). So when such folks run across a new (old) teaching that promises a whole new experience of God’s power; that offers out the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of the abundant life (John 10:10), it is understandable how the HRM can be attractive to them.

The problem is that what is attracting them is not a better understanding of the gospel at all but something straight from the pit of Hell.

Yes, hard words, but gently offered. Even more importantly, I am not offering a poetic effort at hyperbole to drive home a point. Rather, it is a boiled down, rather basic and unvarnished summary of what the Bible itself teaches about the HRM. Consider this (dates approximate):

AD 39-40: The Church in Jerusalem concluded that God has rescinded the Mosaic Law’s Jew-Gentile separation provisions (Acts 10-11).

AD 49-50 (the exact order of the following series is immaterial to the points being made):

  • Paul confronts Peter and Barnabas for their hypocrisy in separating themselves from Gentile believers in the Church in Galatia.
  • Later, Paul writes to the Galatians to warn them in the strongest terms against (supposed) Christians who were teaching them that Gentile believers needed to keep the Mosaic ceremonial/worship laws in order to be right with God.
  • The Church concluded that Gentile believers ARE NOT to be subjected to the ceremonial/worship provisions of the Mosaic Law (Acts 15).

AD 62-68 (again, the exact dates for writing each of these is immaterial to the points made):

  • Paul writes (First) Timothy, offering him instruction for his pastoral duties (Ephesian Church).
  • Paul writes to Titus, giving him counsel on his pastoral duties (Cretan Church).
  • Paul writes further instruction to (Second) Timothy in the discharge of his pastoral duties.
  • In all three letters one of the critical issues Paul addressed was the heresy of the Judaizers, those who would require Gentile Christians to practice the Mosaic ceremonial/worship laws.

Did you follow the progression of these things? From eliminating Jew-Gentile separation, to removal of Mosaic law provisions on Gentiles, to fighting against those who would place Christians back under slavery to the Mosaic Law. This is as serious as it gets. This is a matter of life and death. Accordingly, the Scriptures speak of these things in the hardest terms. You can see this in the Scriptures themselves:

And he [Peter] said to them [the Gentiles in Cornelius’ household], “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.” (Act 10:28-29 ESV)

[Peter speaking to the Jewish Christians in the Jerusalem Church] “If then God gave the same gift to them [Gentile Christians] as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Act 11:17-18)

Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in– who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery– to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. (Gal 2:4-5)

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Gal 2:15-16)

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Gal 3:10)

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (Gal 5:4)

I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! (Gal 5:10-12)

But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them [Gentile believers] and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them,

Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Act 15:5-10)

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. (1Ti 1:3-4)

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1Ti 1:5-7)

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1Ti 4:7-8)

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. (1Ti 6:3-5)

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” (1Ti 6:20)

This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. (Tit 1:13-14)

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Tit 3:9-11)

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2Ti 2:23-26)

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2Ti 3:1-5)

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2Ti 4:3-4)

Consider the severity with which Scripture speaks about the teaching that ceremonial/worship aspects of the Mosaic Law still apply to Christians. Emasculation! Devoted to myths! Foolish controversies! Depraved minds! Puffed up with conceit! Unhealthy cravings! Warped, sinful, self-condemned! In the very same passage where Paul teaches us to correct with gentleness he observes that those who buy into the HRM are trapped in the snare of the Devil! Clearly gentleness does not preclude hard words.

If you think I’m missing something here, just stop for a moment a contemplate Paul’s imprecatory warning in Galatians towards those who teach the HRM. Emasculate themselves! What a horrible thing to say against anyone– unless their error is so horribly more dangerous. And that’s just it. The errors taught by the HRM are so egregious that the hardest terms are needed. To be sure they must be spoken without animosity or rancor. Yet in order to be truth spoken in love the severity of the words must match the severity of the danger of the errors!

Or, at least that’s the pattern of Scripture on this subject.

Those who in any way teach that the ceremonial/worship aspects of the Mosaic Law in any practical manner still apply, who teach that the Christian’s relationship with God in any way is affected by his practicing or not practicing these Mosaic Law provisions, are teaching something that the NT says is from Satan himself (i.e., a snare of the devil). We must therefore, for the sake of the souls of both the speakers and the hearers, warn them of the seriousness of their danger. We must with Paul ask God to emasculate their wickedness, to stop up their teaching that they might no longer seek to return God’s people to a slavery that will only destroy them and thereby rob God of the fullness of glory due to him.

The Hebrew Roots Movement, according to the teaching of the NT, is deadly. Accordingly it calls for just as hard an imprecatory warning as found in the Scriptures.

I pray for the souls of the men commenting here in support of the HRM. May God indeed be merciful and grant them repentance. I do not hate them; I hold them no ill will. With Scripture I do offer them the gentle-hardness that Scripture uses to condemn their error. May we all see our errors, and rejoice at the throne of Jesus together.

by Reed DePace

Hebrew Roots, Unhelpful Fruits

by Reed DePace

I first was compelled to examine the Hebrew Roots Movement (more broadly, Messianic Christianity) because of a beloved Christian father in my circles who had a relative drifting into the movement. This relative has a sincere faith, spending a part of life working for a reformed ministry of some renown. Circumstances in life led this relative to some understandable and rightly placed disillusionment with some reformed churches. In response to these hardships the relative sadly and unwisely in my view latched onto a Messianic congregation/ministry. Hence, in order to help this Christian father, I did some research on this movement.

I’ve concluded that MOST of the folks involved with what Lane has aptly titled the Hebrew Roots Movement are dissatisfied Protestants looking for THE explanation/interpretation that will bring to life the full realization of the promises for the Christian Life taught in the Scriptures. Rightly NOT satisfied with the experience of ordinary Evan-jellyfish Christianity that makes a great blasting trumpet sound but has no extraordinary follow through, these folks, motivated by a sincere desire to believe Christ, are looking for the answer somewhere other than the tradition they’ve come out of.

Thus they follow in a long line of similar seekers of the fulfillment of what Calvin called “Golden Jewish Dreams.” They are the descendants of the Anabaptists, the various movements into spiritualism, mysticism and pietism. They are the next heirs of the higher life movement, the Pentecostals, and late born cousins of Dispensationalism and prosperity gospel preachers. Like all such movements, they claim a “New” understanding of the gospel that is also recovery of the gospel as taught in the Early Church.

And, in a manner they do not suspect, they are indeed right. They do have ancient roots and they are the latest new version of an old error. These folks yet again, in the end, propose a relationship with God that is synergistic for its fulfillment. For them it is not Jesus + fundamentalism, or Jesus + sacerdotalism, or Jesus + mysticism, or Jesus + signs and wonders, or Jesus + prosperity. No, for them it is Jesus + a modern expression of the oldest form of fundamentalism known in the Church. They are indeed a new expression of the old Judaizers. Like some of the early profession-making Pharisees (the party of James), these folks in the end teach a Jesus + Talmudic-Torah-observance, a Jesus + the necessity of some sort of a Jewish informed lifestyle.

They don’t realize that they are making (at least) two tragic mistakes. First, like most imbalanced Jesus + something else movements, they have an over-realized eschatology. They are expecting the experience of things now that are reserved for the eternal state. Specifically they are expecting a fleshly experience of what is only a spiritual experience of the Christian life now. They mistakenly think that fleshly practices in some way secure the dramatically powerful experience of the Spirit’s work in day to day life. In this they are no better than the forms of Evan-jellyfish they left behind. Missing that the ordinary experience of the Christian life is one marked by fleshly suffering and weakness this side of eternity, they are pursuing just another expression of the “Kingdom NOW” lie so common in the Church today.

Second, these Hebrew Roots Movement folks unwisely are adopting practices and habits, accouterments of a “Jewish” lifestyle that actually are derived from a heretical source. These folks do not seem to realize that with the destruction of the Temple the practice of a Jewish form of Christianity ceased to be an option. The core of OT worship was the sacrifices; all of Leviticus, the key book in terms of Jewish life and worship (i.e., life = worship, worship is life), is built around the sacrifices. They were essential to the maintenance of even the smallest component of the law of cleanliness, etc.. Without sacrifice one CANNOT rightly practice any of the OT worship system.

And when the Temple was destroyed – that was it. All that was left was the Pharisaical/Rabbinical traditions. All that was left was the ethical teaching of the rabbis (the Talmudic tradition) coupled with the imitative worship practices, the “616” applicatory traditions of the Pharisees. Outside the book of Acts we actually do not have any Church exclusive sources of what first century Jewish Christianity was like. All we have are sources that at best seek to interpret what Jewish Christianity must have been like based on similarities with second and later century Diaspora Judaism. It is amazing that Messianic Christians think they are practicing a purer form of Christianity. In reality, they are practicing a form contaminated by unbelieving Jews who maintained their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.

These modern day “Jewish” Christians fail to grapple with what Jesus said:

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mar 7:6-8 ESV)

Quite simply, those who would restore a Jewish form of Christianity are actually restoring the Pharisaical form at best, something condemned by Jesus and done away with at his express command (e.g., Acts 10, 15, the books of Galatians and Hebrews in total). All the practices adopted in Messianic congregations have as their source Rabbinic Judaism, that branch of Judaism that refused to repent of their rejection of the Messiah when in A.D. 70 God removed the earthly temple and left standing only the true spiritual temple, the Church of Christ.

Looking for the transformative power of the Christian life, these sincere but misguided folks ignore the warning of the Spirit who is the source of this transformation:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, (1Ti 4:1-3)

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations– “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)– according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Col 2:20-23)

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Tit 3:9)

The Hebrew Roots Movement, Messianic Christianity, while well intentioned, is yet another deflection from the simple, pure gospel of Jesus Christ. It is based on the heresy of rabbinic Judaism, NOT first century Jewish Christianity. It in the end, like all forms of Jesus + me Christianity, teaches a defective gospel.

For more information, and helpful “inside” critiques of the movement, see the following resources:

Stan is a Jewish believer in Christ, former pastor, and lately a missionary with Jews for Jesus. Raised in American Judaism, he speaks from first-hand knowledge of the Messianic Christian movement. One interesting tidbit he shares: upwards of 80% of the members of Messianic congregations are NOT Jewish by birth. Instead they are Gentiles, mostly disaffected evangelicals attracted to the Hebrew Roots Movement by a promise of a restoration of “authentic” Christianity.

Baruch is a born and raised Israeli Jew. He grew up actually Jewish, served his mandatory term in the Israeli army, and lived a thoroughly Jewish life before being converted. And after conversion, he continued to live a Jewish lifestyle – but one that does not involve the restoration of rabbinic Judaism in the Church seen in Messianic Christianity. A reformed pastor, he has a long-term credible missionary-pastoral-writing ministry based in Israel. If anyone can speak with credibility to the non-Christian aspects of the Hebrew Roots Movement, it is Baruch.

In the end, I conclude on a sad but hopeful note. The sadness is that these folks have saddled themselves with the old law-slavery that Jesus lamented: 

And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.” (Luke 11:46)

The hope is that it was to just such a people Jesus called out with this promise: 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-1)

===============================================

NOTE: significant in the misunderstandings of these folks is the role of the Levitical regulations. It is these that make up the bulk of the “Jewishness” that Messianic Christians strive to adopt in their worship and life.

Consequently, both to understand where these folks get off track and in order to help them, getting a handle on how Leviticus works is important. Consider the following sources:

For some really deep background and seminal thinking on the nature of clean/unclean, holy/common themes in Leviticus, one ignores Mary Douglas to their own hurt: The Forbidden Animals in Leviticus and Leviticus As Literature. While you may not agree with all she says, her insights are very helpful in rightly interpreting the meaning of these concepts.

For some thinking on the role of the Mosaic law in the Church/Christian life, see:

As well, one will find great help, simple and sound investigations of the Scripture via the Westminster Confession of Faith. See Chapter 19, Of the Law of God,  especially paragraph three (scroll down to page 83).

Reed DePace

Complaint Sent by Hedman et al to the SJC

Here is the text of the complaint in full. It is important to read this carefully, because it provides the context for the prosecutor’s brief, which will be shortly following.

Complaint

To Dr. Roy Taylor, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.

And now, this fourteenth day of May, A.D. 2012, comes RE Gerald Hedman and complains against the action of Pacific Northwest Presbytery on April 27, 2012 in denying the complaint of October 18, 2011, RE Wesley Witt versus Pacific Northwest Presbytery, in connection with the trial of TE Peter Leithart on June 3-4, 2011, and in support of said complaint sets forth the following reasons:

Whereas it is the obligation of teaching elders to uphold in their teaching the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards (BCO 21-5.2), and;

Whereas presbyteries are charged to “condemn erroneous opinions which injure the purity or peace of the Church” (BCO 13-9.f), and;

Whereas, the same or similar views taught by Pelagius and Celestius on final justification, on perseverance, on law and grace, and on the imputation of sin and righteousness were condemned as heresy by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., and;

Whereas, the same or similar views were opposed by the Protestant Reformers when taught by the Roman Catholic Church and denominated as Pelagianism by Calvin, Luther, Melancthon and other Reformers in the sixteenth century, and;

Whereas, the same or similar views when taught by Albert Barnes, Charles Finney and others in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America in the nineteenth century resulted in heresy trials denominated as the “Pelagian” trials, and;

Whereas the Standing Judicial Commission of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America ruled on March 5, 2010 that PNWP erred “in its handling of the Reports of the PNWP Study Committee appointed to examine Leithart’s fitness to continue as a PCA teaching elder” and sustained the complaint which was brought against the presbytery, and;

Whereas the Standing Judicial Commission further directed Pacific Northwest Presbytery in March of 2010 that they may counsel TE Leithart “that the views set forth above constitute error that is injurious to the peace and purity of the church”; that they may offer him “pastoral advice on how to recant or make reparations for those views”; that they may counsel him that “he is free to take timely steps toward affiliation with some other branch of the visible church that is consistent with his views”; or, that failing any of the above, they “shall take steps to comply with its obligation under BCO 31-2”, and;

Whereas PNWP did not counsel TE Leithart that this views “constitute error that is injurious to the peace and purity of the church”, and;

Whereas TE Leithart at the October 2010 meeting of PNWP declined to recant of his views or make reparations for them, and;

Whereas TE Leithart at the October 2010 meeting of PNWP informed the body that he would not transfer his credentials out of the PCA, and;

Whereas PNWP indicted TE Leithart on January 17, 2011; received his not guilty plea on January 31, 2011; and conducted a trial on June 3-4, 2011 (the results were sealed until October 7, 2011) which resulted in a judgment that he was innocent of all charges, and;

Whereas, PNWP’s Standing Judicial Commission deliberated upon and denied the complaint of October 18, 2011, and;

Whereas, Pacific Northwest Presbytery upheld the court’s Standing Judicial Commission’s decision on April 27, 2012, and;

Whereas TE Leithart continues to promiscuously teach and publish doctrines in flagrant contradiction of the Westminster Standards, to wit:

1) TE Leithart teaches a doctrine of baptism which contradicts the Westminster Standards and Scripture by attributing to the sacrament of baptism saving benefits such as regeneration, union with Christ, and adoption. Water baptism, according to Leithart, assures:


Those who are members of the church [that they] stand righteous before God, are holy, and are sons because they are members of the body inseparably joined to the Son of God, who is the righteous and holy Son…. Membership in the visible church involves us in marriage to Christ. We are members of his body as much as a bride is a part of her husband’s flesh. 

Again, Leithart says:

 
The baptized is made a member of the family of the Father … [and] branded as a sheep of Christ’s flock. All that is gift. All this the baptized is not only offered, but receives. All this he receives simply by virtue of being baptized.

Yet, the Westminster Standards teach that the efficacy of baptism or the saving benefits received through baptism are only for those who are true recipients of grace.


The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to the moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of the ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will. (WCF 28.6). 

These saving benefits are not for all the baptized, but only “to such as that grace belongeth unto.” Such people are those to whom the “the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost.”

TE Leithart teaches that these benefits of salvation belong, at least for a period of time, to everyone who is baptized. He teaches that through being united to Christ in baptism:


We enter into the new life of the Spirit, receive a grant of divine power, are incorporated into Christ’s body, and die and rise again with Christ. In the purification of baptism, we are cleansed of our ‘former sins’ and begin to participate in the divine nature and the power of Jesus’ resurrection, being made “new creations in the deepest possible sense,” being “born again as a ‘son of the house.” 

These benefits of water baptism are not for adults only, but also belong to infants who are baptized, according to Leithart. He says that the infant who receives the “justifying and sanctifying washing” of baptism becomes a son of God and “the sonship conferred by baptism is not ‘external’ to our basic identity but constitutive of it.” Additonally, baptism, Leithart says:

 
Also confers the arrabon of the Spirit, and in this sense too is a ‘regenerating’ ordinance. There can be no ‘merely social’ membership in this family.

There are obvious problems with Leithart’s views. First, how can baptism be a ‘regenerating’ ordinance without actually conferring the never ending new birth of the Scripture? Leithart has turned the matter completely around. He says all these benefits flow from water baptism, including the new birth. Yet, Shorter Catechism Question and Answer #31, says:

 
Q. What is effectual calling? A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel. (Bold added for emphasis).

According to the Westminster Standards, the new birth is the result of God’s effectual calling. Westminster Confession of Faith 10.1 describes this renewal of the will:

 
All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; in enlightening their minds spiritually to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh>; renewing their wills</strong, and, by His almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace. (Bold added for emphasis).

The new birth is often in Scripture described as taking away the old heart or the heart of stone and giving a new heart or a heart of flesh (Cf. Ezekiel 36:26; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:5-11). The Confession makes it clear that this new birth is the result of the Word and Spirit. Water baptism is never mentioned with respect to the new birth. Thus, Leithart’s view that water baptism effects the new birth contradicts the Westminster Standards. The answer to Larger Catechism Question # 67 teaches the same thing about the ministry of the Word and Spirit with respect to the new birth.

The Westminster Standards also make it clear that the elect, and only the elect, are so effectually called. Larger Catechism Question and Answer # 68 says:


Q. Are the elect, and they only, effectually called? A. All the elect, and they only, are effectually called; although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their willful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ. 

Thus, the Westminster Standards leave no room for someone to hold to Leithart’s view that water baptism imparts the new birth “in the deepest possible sense.”

Second, how can all those who are water baptized become “new creations in the deepest possible sense”, and yet lose that status? If they are born again in the deepest possible sense, in what sense are those born again who persevere unto everlasting life? Leithart is left with two possible responses. Either he can say that those who are saved for eternity are born again in the exact same way as everyone who is water baptized (the result of that answer would be that the difference between the saved and the lost is all in the power of man); or, Leithart can answer that the saved experience an even deeper sense in which they are born again, which would make his words superfluous in the extreme. As noted below, Leithart chooses the first answer and, thus, makes man’s will- not God’s grace- the ultimate determiner of salvation. Such a view is in blatant contradiction to the Westminster Standards which teach consistently that it is God’s almighty power alone which makes us to differ.

Third, how can all who are baptized be righteous, holy, justified, sanctified, regenerated, sons of God, receive the arrabon of the Spirit and yet many of them are not even believers? Leithart answers these questions in the following way:

 
These benefits of baptism, however, belong, finally only to those who respond in God’s grace in faith; there are some who are made sons by baptism who fall away. (Judgment and Reasoning of the Standing Judicial Commission of Pacific Northwest Presbytery, October 7, 2011, p. 11).

Leithart’s answer raises even more questions. How can someone who is baptized by water receive all these benefits of Christ, including the new birth, as Leithart alleges, and not even be a believer? He cannot. Where do the Westminster Standards teach that saving faith and perseverance can be separated from the other saving benefits of Christ? They do not.

In the trial testimony, Leithart admitted under cross-examination that he had changed his earlier position, which was that everyone who is baptized receives everything that Christ has to offer. His reason was that:

 
There are obvious gifts that the elect receive… that don’t go to every baptized person. Perseverance was the obvious one. (Trial testimony, page 228).

Yet, the Westminster Standards connects perseverance with acceptance, calling and sanctification (WCF 17:1), which Leithart says are benefits every baptized person receives. The answer to Shorter Catechism Question # 36 (What are the benefits which in this life accompany or flow from justification, adoption, or sanctification?) says:

 
The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end. (Bold added for emphasis).

Perseverance is a benefit which all those who are justified, adopted, and sanctified receive according to the Westminster Standards. Thus, Leithart’s position contradicts the Westminster Standards. It is obvious why Leithart changed his position concerning perseverance. If every person baptized by water also received perseverance in addition to all the other benefits of Christ then every person baptized by water would also be eternally saved.

In the trial testimony Leithart stated that his views on the benefits of Christ covered Scripture truths which the Westminster Standards do not address. There are certainly areas of truth which are not addressed by the WCF. Yet, Leithart did not show from Scripture that everyone who is baptized receives all the benefits of Christ’s grace. Nor, did he show the difference between the benefits supposedly received by everyone who is baptized and the benefits which belong to those who are saved. What passage of Scripture shows the difference between the “justifying and sanctifying washing” which Leithart says every baptized person receives and the “justifying and sanctifying washing” which only true believers receive? The fact is that these distinctions are simply the product of Leithart’s fertile, but improperly informed mind. They are not taught by the Scriptures.

Leithart also stated in the trial that his own presupposition concerning baptism is that every passage which speaks of it is speaking about water baptism unless it states otherwise. When questioned by the defense, Leithart said that Calvin took the view that Romans 6 was speaking about water baptism (Trial transcript, p, 227). Yet, that was either an ingenuous or disingenuous misstatement of the truth. Calvin actually takes the opposite view; that baptism refers to God’s spiritual work in making believers new creatures in Christ. Commenting on Romans 6:3, 4, Calvin says:

 
It is not a washing alone, but also the mortification and putting to death of the old man, which is there set forth… Baptism means that being dead to ourselves, we may become new creatures… It is irrelevant to argue that this power is not apparent in all the baptized, for Paul, because he is speaking to believers, connects the reality and the effect with the outward sign in his usual manner (John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul to the Romans and to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973), 122-123).

Thus, Calvin’s view is just the opposite of Leithart’s view on Romans 6:3, 4. Calvin teaches that Paul is not speaking to everyone who is baptized, but to true believers. Therefore, says Calvin, Paul “connects the reality and the effect with the outward sign.” This is an example of TE Leithart trying to claim that his views have support among reformed scholars from the past when in fact his claim is repudiated by the views of Calvin.

Calvin’s view on baptism is made even clearer in his commentary on Jeremiah 9:26:

 
Hence the prophet says, that though they had the visible symbol in the flesh, they were yet uncircumcised in heart, and ought therefore to be classed with the nations. We see how sharply he reproves them; for God cares not for the external symbol, but regards the chief thing, the circumcision of the heart. It is a common thing with Moses and the Prophets to call an unrenewed heart, uncircumcision, and to say that the people are uncircumcised in heart: for circumcision, while an evidence of free salvation in Christ, at the same time initiated the Jews into the worship, and service of God, and proved the necessity of a new life; it was in short a sign both of repentance and of faith. When, therefore, the Jews presented only the sign, they were justly derided by Moses and the Prophets; for they seemed as though they sought to pacify God by a thing of nought, without regarding the end. The same is the case now when we boast of baptism alone; and are at the same time destitute of repentance and faith; our boasting alone is absurd and ridiculous. And hence Paul calls the external rite, when the sign separated from its reality and substance, the letter of circumcision; and on the other hand he calls that the true circumcision, which is in secret and in the spirit. We may say the same of baptism,- that the literal baptism avails hypocrites nothing, for they receive only the naked sign; and therefore we must come to the spirit of baptism, to the thing itself; for the interior power is renovation, when our old man is crucified in us, and when we rise again with Christ into newness of life (Bold added for emphasis. John Calvin, A Commentary on Jeremiah, Volume One (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), 507-508).

The teaching of Leithart is that water baptism conveys the very thing signified which differs from saving grace only because it does not last or does not produce fruit. As Leithart says:

 
Some are united to Christ yet do not persevere. During the time they are branches in the vine, they do receive benefits from Christ through the Spirit and may enjoy real, personal, and deep communion with Jesus for a time. Yet, their relationship with Christ is not identical to the relationship of the elect. Put it this way: Some are united to Christ as members of the bride but are headed for divorce; others are united and headed for consummation.”

Leithart continues by saying that:

 
Everyone who is baptized—every one—is brought into the body of Christ, ordained to be a priest before God, married to Jesus, and brought into the family of the Father, into the circle of God’s personal favor—everyone who is baptized is shown favor simply by the fact of their being baptized… [yet] that favor does not last, or it does not produce fruit, without faith. Only those who respond in faith fulfill their priestly role rightly, persevere in the marriage covenant with Christ, stay in the family, remain in the circle of God’s favor.

The failure of TE Leithart’s views on baptism is that he does not properly distinguish between the sign and the things signified; between what men can do and what God alone does. A minister can apply the water of baptism, but only God can renew the will and cause a person to be born again. A minister can baptize with water, but the saving benefits of Christ are reserved only for those who are effectually called, and none other according to the Westminster Standards.

2) TE Leithart teaches a view of the covenant of works/covenant of grace which is contrary to the Westminster Standards. Leithart says:

 
We do have the same obligation that Adam (and Abraham, and Moses, and David and Jesus) had, namely, the obedience of faith. And, yes, covenant faithfulness is the way of salvation, for the “doers of the law will be justified” at the final judgment. (Prosecution’s Brief, page 8). (Bold added for emphasis).

Leithart also wrote:


That the differences between Adamic and post-lapsarian covenants are not at a “soteriological” level, but at the level of covenant administration. (Prosecution’s Brief, p. 8). 

Leithart, therefore, obliterates the necessary distinctions between law and grace; the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The Westminster Standards connect the law which Adam was responsible to obey in the garden with the law given on Mount Sinai:


God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity, to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endowed him with power and ability to keep it. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments. Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned, yet it is of great use to them, as well as to others (WCF 19.1,2a, 5a). 

TE Leithart, thus, contradicts both the Westminster Standards and the Scriptures (cf. Galatians 3:10-14) in teaching that “covenant faithfulness is the way of salvation.” The Westminster Standards teach that no person is saved by a covenant of works, but by grace. If we are saved by covenant faithfulness, then we are saved by works and by law-keeping, whether Leithart realizes it or not. Paul specifically condemns trusting in circumcision which makes “Christ… of no benefit to you” and places you “under obligation to keep the whole Law.” (Galatians 5:2, 3). Paul contrasts such covenant faithfulness with salvation through faith in Christ.

3) TE Leithart teaches a view of the imputation of Christ which contradicts the Westminster Standards and the Scripture. TE Leithart in his views and teachings rejects the teaching of the Westminster Standards that the obedience and satisfaction of Christ are imputed to the believer (WCF VIII.5; WCF XI.3; Rom. 4:1-8; 5:17-18).

The Westminster Standards could not be plainer about the fact that what is imputed to the sinner in justification is the work of Christ:

 
Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies… by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them (WCF 11.1).

Yet TE Leithart explicitly denies this teaching when he writes:

 
There is no “independent” imputation of the active obedience of Christ, nor even of the passive obedience for that matter; we are regarded as righteous, and Christ’s righteousness is reckoned as ours, because of our union with Him in His resurrection. What is imputed is the verdict, not the actions of Jesus. (“More From Ward,” emphasis added).

While there is no dispute that some of the Westminster Divines rejected the language of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience, there has never been any debate about whether his passive obedience is so imputed to us. Yet TE Leithart insists that not only is he unsure about the concept of imputation in general (see the evidence for Charge #3 in the Indictment of the Leithart Trial Documents), but also that the actions of Jesus, whether active or passive, are not imputed to sinners.

From a theological standpoint, what is problematic about TE Leithart’s denial that the actions of Jesus are imputed to sinners, and his insistence instead that his righteousness is credited to us via our union with him, is that in this scheme the sinner is never counted as a law-keeper, neither can he said to be credited with any positive righteousness (as though man’s only problem were his sin, and not additionally his deprivation of positive righteousness). Rather, he only shares in a verdict pronounced over the Son by the Father at the resurrection, and this participation in the Father’s verdict comes by virtue of a baptismal union that TE Leithart unequivocally states can be lost through lack of covenant obedience. Furthermore, Paul teaches that the result of the second Adam’s obedience and satisfaction is that an “abundance of grace” and a “free gift of righteousness” is granted to all who trust in Jesus (Rom. 5:17-19). Furthermore, the “one Man’s righteousness” in verse 18 is parallel to “the one Man’s obedience” in verse 19, meaning that the free gift that the believer receives is nothing less than the right action or conduct of Christ. That which results from Jesus’ federal headship, therefore, is not merely his resurrection verdict being shared by those provisionally united to him, but the believer actually receiving, as a free gift, the imputation of the merit of Christ’s righteous conduct.

4) TE Leithart teaches a view of justification and sanctification which directly contradicts the Westminster Standards. The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 11:2, 4 says:

 
Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet it is not alone in the person justified, but it is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love. God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification: nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.”

The answer to Larger Catechism Question # 73 says:

 
Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.

The answer to Shorter Catechism Question 33 says:

 
Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone.

TE Leithart affirmed during the trial that justification is a once-for-all judicial act and sanctification is a process of growth and holiness (Trial Transcript 6.11.21-25). Yet, he also teaches that there is a kind of justification for all who are baptized when God declares them to be right with Him and accepted by Him into His family. This justification which is the result of water baptism cannot be the once-for-all judicial act, though, because not all the baptized endure to the end so as to attain salvation, as Leithart admitted.

Leithart secondly teaches that those who believe in Christ are justified. According to his views, the justification which results from saving faith also cannot be the once-for-all judicial act he professes to believe for reasons which will follow in this paragraph. Leithart thirdly teaches that there is a final justification at the final judgment. This is the only “justification” according to Leithart’s views which can be a once-for-all judicial act. If the justification of the believer when he comes to saving faith was the once-for-all judicial act, then there would be no need for a final justification. Final necessarily means that everything which preceded it was not final nor was it “once-for-all.” Thus, Leithart’s views require that only his theory of ‘final justification’ can be the once-for-all judicial act he says he affirms. Such a view is out of accord with the Westminster Standards.

Leithart’s view of final justification is in complete contradiction to the Westminster Standards and the Scriptures. Neither the Bible nor the Westminster Standards ever mention a final justification. That term is a product of the Federal Vision theology to which Leithart holds, but is not taught anywhere in the constitution of the PCA. WCF 33 teaches about the final judgment, but the phrase ‘final justification’ is nowhere mentioned in the Westminster Standards nor is it mentioned in the Scripture. The final judgment is not a once-for-all judicial act which determines the eternal salvation of anyone. The final judgment is for “the manifestation of the glory of his mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect: and of his justice, in the damnation of the reprobate” (WCF 33:2).

The salvation of the elect is guaranteed by God’s eternal decree and the application of salvation to them through the work of the Holy Spirit- including effectual calling, saving faith and justification by faith alone. The salvation of the elect is not in suspense until the final judgment, as Leithart asserts, at which time they are finally justified on the basis of their whole life.

Leithart’s view of final justification also requires him to believe that sanctification takes place prior to this final justification or not at all. As WCF 13:1 says:

 
They who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them.

Sanctification, according to the Westminster Standards begins with the new birth and continues throughout the whole life of the believer. If the once-for-all judicial act of justification does not happen until the final judgment, then sanctification precedes justification. Yet, the WCF teaches a different ordo salutis in which effectual calling, regeneration, justification and adoption precede sanctification.

The Westminster Standards also connect justification and sanctification to effectual calling- not to water baptism. Effectual calling occurs only once according to the above quote from the chapter on sanctification in the WCF. Regeneration also occurs only once according to the same chapter in the WCF. Since the Westminster Standards additionally state that “those whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justifieth” (WCF 11:1) and those who believe are justified when the Holy Spirit “in due time, actually apply Christ unto them” (WCF 11:5), this establishes the only time in which justification can be said to happen according to the constitution of the PCA.

Justification does not happen when a person is baptized by water, according to the Westminster Standards. Justification does not happen at the final judgment, according to the Westminster Standards. Justification happens only at that one time when a person is effectually called and regenerated. Thus, once again, Leithart’s views on justification and sanctification place him in flagrant contradiction of the Westminster Standards.

5) TE Leithart teaches a view of the benefits of Christ which is in flagrant contradiction to the Westminster Standards. First, WCF 13:1 teaches in consistency with the Scripture that effectual calling and regeneration happen only once and are the result of God’s work of grace in the hearts of the elect (see previous paragraph).

The answer to Shorter Catechism Question #32 says:

 
They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, sanctification, and the several benefits, which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.

The answer to Shorter Catechism Question #36 says;

 
The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.

The Westminster Standards set forth a consistent order of salvation and the several benefits which accompany these acts or works of God’s free grace. The graces are effectual calling, justification, adoption and sanctification. The benefits of these graces of God are assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Spirit, increase of grace and perseverance. All these benefits of Christ are given to believers in their effectual calling- not their baptism.

Baptism, according to Shorter Catechism Question #94:

 
Doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.

The benefits of the covenant are not applied to all those who are baptized, as Leithart contends, but only to those who are effectually called, truly regenerated, embrace Jesus Christ through saving faith, are justified, adopted and sanctified.

TE Leithart teaches a parallel plan of salvation which begins with baptism. All the graces of Christ and all the benefits of Christ are given to everyone who is baptized, according to his parallel plan (refer to his quotes about the benefits given through baptism in the point 1 above). Yet, he denies that perseverance is given to those who are baptized. Thus, Leithart teaches that this parallel plan of salvation begins with water baptism, not the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit (which is real baptism).

Leithart teaches that water baptism does not confer eternal grace, but rather confers graces which can be lost. He teaches that water baptism confers graces like regeneration which makes all who are baptized “new creations in the deepest possible sense”, but strangely they are not truly new creatures in the Scriptural sense. Does that mean, therefore, that Scriptural regeneration is deeper than the regeneration through water baptism; that the regeneration of saints is not as deep as the regeneration through water baptism; or, that they are both the same? Leithart does not clarify that point. Again, he teaches that water baptism confers all the benefits necessary to salvation, except the one benefit which will prevent them from losing their salvation, perseverance.

TE Leithart says he is not teaching a parallel way of salvation, but the evidence would show that he is either mistaken or confused. Like other people in the federal vision, Leithart has retracted some of his statements and changed his views on various things. At one time, he taught that even perseverance was a benefit given to everyone who is baptized with water. A study committee of PNWP convinced him to change his position on that point. If all those baptized with water were given the grace of perseverance, then that would guarantee their eternal salvation.

In making the difference between these parallel plans of salvation to consist in perseverance, Leithart puts salvation in the hands of man. The difference, according to Leithart, is that one persevered and the other did not. Leithart’s views are confused and dangerous. They are contradictory to the clear teaching of the Westminster Standards which makes the difference to be the grace of God who effectually calls one and not the other. Leithart himself is confused and has not yet reached a resting place in his theological journey. He began his journey by trying to think of a new way to express the statements of the Scripture concerning baptism. Leithart’s views are a new way, but they are contrary to the Westminster Standards.

TE Leithart contends that the benefits of Christ received at baptism concern areas of truth outside the teaching of the Westminster Standards. Is that really true? Are there really temporary benefits, such as justification, sanctification, regeneration, adoption, and others, which can be lost? Leithart originally taught that perseverance was also one of the benefits given to everyone who is baptized. Now, he has retracted that position. Why? Because perseverance would guarantee that all the baptized would be saved. Yet, that could only be true if the perseverance given to all who are baptized is exactly the same as the perseverance given to those who are effectually called. If perseverance is the same grace in both instances, then that means all the other benefits which Leithart alleges are given at water baptism are also the same as those given at effectual calling. That means Leithart is teaching that a person can be truly born again, regenerated by the Spirit of God, and yet lose his salvation. Moreover, it means that the only thing which makes one baptized person differ from another is that some persevere and others do not. Such teaching is clearly and flagrantly out of accord with the Westminster Standards.

Therefore, the undersigned complains that Pacific Northwest Presbytery acted unconstitutionally on April 27, 2012 in denying the October 18, 2011 complaint of RE Wesley Witt versus Pacific Northwest Presbytery, in their adopting the report of the court’s Standing Judicial Commission on October 7, 2011. This egregious and unconstitutional error permits TE Peter Leithart, who is flagrantly out of accord with the Westminster Standards, to teach and publish his false doctrines with impunity. We further complain that this action of PNWP undermines the Westminster Standards and the system of doctrine taught in the Scripture.

Whatever Happened to the Church

Reed DePace

Question I’d ask any to comment upon: is God in the process of judging the Church in America? Scripture to contemplate: Jh 6:28; Mt 5:13; 1Ti 3:4-5; Eph 5:13; 2Ti3:1-5; Jh 15:6

The background to my question comes from this FB status I posted:

Whatever Happened … To the Church?

That is what your grandchildren may ask one day. If things keep going the way they are, God is going to remove the Church from this land. America may become a post-post-Christian nation with barely a remembrance of Christ.

What ever happened to a man not being qualified to shepherd God’s family if he cannot shepherd his own family (1Ti 3:4-5)? Preachers’ Daughters (check out the family bios.)

We are awash in pastors who promote godliness but deny the only One who is its power (2Ti 3:5). Christianity IS NOT about us keeping the rules, and pastors who teach that are doing the same thing the ones Jesus condemned did.

(Don’t read between the lines. Holiness is essential. We don’t get it in any manner that is based on our effort. Our problem with sin is worse than we imagine. We neither believe nor live in what Jesus said is necessary for true holiness. Jh 6:28)

The shame of the Church continues to be paraded and laughed at by the unbelieving culture. What in the world are we thinking supporting that by parading our own sinfulness – and celebrating it – before those who mock Jesus Christ? (Eph 5:12; 1Pe 4:3)

When salt is worthless, what do you do with it? According to Jesus, you throw it into the mud where at least it can add some traction for the feet of those who walk on it. (Mt 5:13) The Church is washing away her saltiness in shallow love for God and heated love for the world. Our children are leaving us in the mud and jumping into the manure-pile of the debauchery of this world.

God have mercy, Christ have mercy, Holy Spirit have mercy. If He doesn’t our grandchildren will be wondering whatever happened to the Church in America.

Reed DePace

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