The Almost Christian DIscovered

The Almost Christian Discovered

By Matthew Mead, 1661 

A review by Stuart Brogden

This is a review of the 20th century reprint of Mead’s book, with a foreword by John MacArthur. The second sentence in his forward tells us that this book “reveals the force and fervor of Puritan spirituality as vividly as any work” he knew. Ask the early settlers of New England about the “force and fervor of Puritan spirituality” and you may want to ask what was Mac thinking.

Mead’s goal in writing this book, which Mac and I agree with, is that it is far too easy for people to think they are Christians when they know nothing of Christ and exhibit no fruit of His Spirit within. As I heard a fella remark recently, when Jesus saves a person, He changes a person. Mead says he intends no anxiety for the saint; his intention is to cause the “almost Christian” to examine himself. He asks the Christian if the state of the world is grievous to you (page 20) and tells the hypocrite to “read and tremble; for thou are the man here pointed at.” (page 21)

Our author introduces Agrippa (page 27) as an almost Christian, as well as the foolish virgins (page 35) and the rich young ruler (page 33) and he tells us (page 29), the “saint may almost perish but certainly be saved; the hypocrite may almost be saved yet perish.” And he goes on to tell us (page 40) “there can be no grace without knowledge, yet there may be much knowledge without grace.” This contrast between two categories of people is found throughout Scripture and it is good for people in both categories to understand them.

Throughout the book, Mead sets up contrasts to show these things more clearly. We are reminded again and again that attitudes and behavior can be evidences of saving faith, but they are not proofs thereof. This is the central theme of the book. The almost Christian may: be trembling at the Word (page 74), delighting in the Word (page 75), belonging to a church (page 77), confessing sin (page 59), have hope in heaven (page 78), and engage in behavior modification (page 82) and not be a Christian! Would you not agree? Any concerned pagan can do these things and not be in Christ.

And yet this same author, in this same book, says (page 43) that people who preach, pray, and serve people in the church have spiritual gifts and not be a Christian; that a man can have the Holy Spirit within (page 100) and not be a Christian. Mead develops this idea, conflating the spirit coming upon or speaking to a person (such as Balaam) with the Spirit indwelling a person. He claims Judas was indwelt by the Spirit because he cast out demons and says a man may have the Spirit “transiently, not absolutely.” The Spirit may be in a man yet not dwell in the man. “The common work of the Spirit” doesn’t save (page 126). Is it proper to say that the spirit that moves a man to do religious things but does not save is the Holy Spirit? I think such false actions are the work of the spirit of the age!

There is also a theme of perfectionism weaved through this book. In pointing out the dangers of what I would call false confessions, Mead (pages 62 & 63) seems to be saying that sinlessness is the mark a saint yet says (page 70) that Christians have regenerate and unregenerate parts in them. We are told (pages 131 & 132) that the one who loves God with his whole heart, soul, and strength is a Christian. Is it just me that has problems with truly being totally devoted to Christ? Mead would have me think so! He follows this thread, telling us (page 159) man must give all to God or not be saved. Pressuring people to confess these things makes them lie about their condition and makes them disciples of John Wesley rather than of Christ. Our ever present lack of perfection is meant to remind us of our ever present need of Christ – His mercy and grace that He freely gives the children of God. Isaiah was a godly man, but when he got a good glimpse of God, he was reminded how sinful he yet was. This is our condition – redeemed but not yet glorified.

Mead says (page 161) that none are excluded from the kingdom of God unless they exclude themselves. Does this mean people are in the Lamb’s Book unless they rub their own names out? He goes on to develop a works-based justification. This was noted early on as he said (page 43), “to know, to practice what we know – that is gospel-duty. This makes a man a complete Christian.” He tells us (page 207) that we must first show man his sin, then his Savior; calling this the “constant method of God.” I used to believe this, but a study of the effective call in Scripture shows some people are confronted with their sin (sometimes using the law to do so), but not all are. It’s simply incorrect to call it the “constant method of God.”

Our author gives us good counsel on what a Christian looks like, telling us (page 136) “the Christian disclaims self and Christ is most advanced.” Amen! Do we promote self or the Lord Jesus? And he leaves us (page 205-6) with another contrast that should settle down into our souls: “The saint’s peace is a peace with God, but not with sin; the sinner’s peace is a peace with sin, but not with God.” Let’s end with that – it’s so much better than some of the stuff this Puritan has written. It is needful for each of us to examine himself and see – with Whom or what do I have peace?

May the God of peace rule your life!

Salvation is of the Lord!

Authentic Evangelism and Its Counterfeit

Of all the charges we have been given by God, is there any more serious and important than the gospel? If we rightly believe that reconciliation of sinners with holy God is the most vital part of life, then the role given us by God in His grand redemptive plan must be worthy of our close attention. It is call to properly understanding and proclaiming that gospel our author strives to impress upon the reader in this fine book.

Seiver’s book is presented in 3 parts, focusing on the necessity of evangelism, the biblical pattern for evangelism, and the theological foundation for evangelism – which takes up the largest space in this book. This reflects what should be common knowledge among the children of God – our practice in all things related to our faith is informed and formed by what we think of ourselves and of God; our theology. This is why, for example, the first 11 chapters of Romans is a seminary in theology and the last 5 are how it works out in the lives of individuals and the local church.

One statement from the introduction that sticks out – the gospel “is not even primarily about sinners going to heaven when they die. It is about the manifestation of God’s glory in the contrivance and execution of the plan of redemption.” Being reconciled to God, being with Him in a state of being unable to sin, showing forth the glorious saving grace found only in Christ Jesus – that is the great prize. Since the Bible tells us (Mark 4 – parable of the seeds) that good soil will produce much fruit, and that the seed is the Word of God, we conclude two things that Randy puts before us: The Gospel is God’s message, not ours; and the fruit produced by our message will reflect its source. A false gospel will produce false converts – God promises to attend the proclamation of His Word, not the “wisdom of man”.

Part 1 defines Calvinism, Arminianism, and these views affect evangelism; about which he says, “We can define evangelism as the proclamation of the good news that God has universally published his terms of peace … this proffered pardon is not based in any sense on the sinner’s willingness to return to God or on his believing acceptance of the terms of peace. Pardon is based solely on Jesus’ redemptive accomplishments on the sinner’s behalf.” Our author bids us cast aside our traditions and concepts and jargon that is not found in the Bible; this should be solid ground but I have been amazed at how few people agree with the idea or with working it out to align with Scripture. This will be the rub for many who read this book. I would encourage anyone interested in the idea of biblical evangelism to take and read.

Bottom line from part 1: “People become effective evangelists when they are so filled with the knowledge of God’s glory and of his truth that they simply cannot be quiet.” That is what the Bible records and that is very good counsel.

Part 2 opens with this jewel: “Whenever we search for a biblical pattern for any aspect of the church’s life and ministry we need to understand that such a pattern is established in the didactic passages of the New Testament Scriptures, not in the historical and hortatory passages.” I dare say that many of the errors so prevalent in church life today are the result of normalizing narratives.  Combine that with the long ending of Mark and you have people handling snakes and drinking poison as if commanded to do so by God to demonstrate faith in Him.  As you read the chapters in this part, your thoughts of evangelism will likely be shaken, as many of the practices in our churches are not found in the Bible, but are established only as traditions of men.  Randy sums much of this section up with this: “the message preached to the unconverted included no call for them to believe that Jesus died for them. It simply demands that sinners leave their sin and their wicked and misguided thoughts about God and return to his way. It assures them that when they account God to be faithful to keep his promise, he will pardon them in Jesus’ name (by his authority and through his merit).”

Part 3 is the longest, focused on the proper theology behind evangelism. He spends time presenting a biblical view of God and tells us, “It is never right to conclude that God is unfair [unrighteous] because he did not act in a way that meets our standard of right and wrong.” It is OK for the Christian to admit he doesn’t understand something; it is flat out wrong to say something clearly taught as God’s will is not right. We are reminded of our main goal in life – the glorify our God, and our author highlights how ur gospel proclamation fits into this: “We preach the gospel because it is in line with God’s great purpose—that is, to make his glory known in the earth.” What can be more glorious than the displayed mercy of holy God as He redeems sinners and makes them fit for His house? If some do not hear our message, we do not lose heart – our goal is to be pleasing to our Savior. He bids us to sow the seed He has given to us, not to presume to know or determine the nature of the soil into which we sow.

This section of the book covers other topics, such as the authority of Scripture, the nature and purpose of salvation, God’s eternal purpose, repentance and faith, and conferring assurance.

You are likely to disagree with some of Mr. Seiver’s conclusions or the details of this or that. But unless you want to sit in judgment on God, you will find yourself in vigorous agreement with his over-arching thrust – salvation is of the Lord!

You can buy this book here.

The Dangers of Drifting

A review by Stuart Brogden   Evangelicals-Adrift-94x150

We must, therefore, pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. – Hebrews 2:1 (HCSB)

Matthew E. Ferris’ book, Evangelicals Adrift – Supplanting Scripture with Sacramentalism, is a fairly comprehensive examination of the differences between biblical Christianity and that which is based on sacramental rituals. He also provides examples of people who have crossed the Tiber River from both sides. For the evangelical who drifts into sacramentalism, the dangers are pointed out with the concern of one manning a lighthouse in treacherous waters, where sailing vessels are bound to be broken on the rocks if they drift away from the narrow channel.

In ten concise chapters, our author covers the theological crises in evangelicalism, the nature and authority of the church and Scripture, and the various departures from biblical truth posed by sacramentalism. In the first chapter, Ferris tells us, “My task is to the show that the definition of the bride of Christ put forth by sacramentalism is an erroneous one, and that Scripture is the only sure guide for the way forward in the Christian life. … I am not writing as “anti-Catholic” or “anti-Orthodox”, but rather as pro-Scripture.” (page 25) This is an important point that evangelicals need to keep in mind, as it is far too easy to drift into being against error instead of in favor of truth; and our mission is to be ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:20).

In his discussion about the nature of the church, Ferris contrasts the Apostles’ teaching found in God’s Word with the progressively developed extra-biblical traditions of the sacramental church, concluding, “The final arbiter for sacramentalism returns once more, not to the Scriptures, but to the church.” (page 35), giving us quotes from Roman Catholics that explicitly confirm this. He then asks, “in what sense can the Church be apostolic if it runs counter to the model the apostles themselves left us?” (page 37) Ferris supports the plurality and equality of elders and the priesthood of all believers in the local church, pointing out the word “clergy” is applied in Scripture to the entire church, not only the elders (page 42). Anticipating the claim that there is unanimity amongst the Church Fathers, our author provides a few quotes to show they had as much variation on issues as do any group of Christians, observing that anyone who wants a clean and supporting historical record to support their view must pick and choose which bits of history to rest on, ignoring those which do not line up with their case. “The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth only in that she upholds and defends it; she does not originate truth.” (page 74)

One way that Christians fail to stay on the narrow road is to neglect church history and conclude that their traditions are biblical. Ferris bemoans the fact that many research or know church history only as far back as the Reformation (page 84), leaving them adrift in the historical influences left unexamined. In commenting on how tradition overshadows Scripture in sacramental churches, he sums up a good quote from Oscar Cullman by saying, “there is no need for a canon at all if the ultimate arbiter of truth is the Church and its magisterium.” (page 86) “Roman Catholic doctrine claims to affirm the inspiration of Scripture and that the Bible is authored by God, yet in practice it severely undermines both of these positions.” (page 102) The Roman Catholic Church demands its dogma be accepted as authoritative, while denying the self-attestation of Scripture. Rather than holding to a proper understanding of Sola Scriptura, the Roman Catholic Church is shown to truly hold to sola ecclesia (page 103). This is compounded by the long-standing position of Rome that only its select clergy can interpret the Scripture, which undermines the authority of the Bible. If the Bible is God’s Word to His people, all of whom are indwelt by His Spirit, does it make sense that only a small number of people selected by a small number of religious leaders would be able to rightly comprehend the essentials of the Christian faith? History records that these select leaders, charged with interpreting the Scriptures for the common folk often disagreed with one another and many changed their minds on topics over time. Heretics and false sons have been in the temporal church since the apostolic era and it flies in the face of history, human nature, and the Bible for Rome to claim immunity from the frailties that each son of Adam faces.

Ferris also discusses how the various sacraments within many churches claim to impart grace, robbing the gift YHWH gives of its meaning. Baptism is one of these, with infant “baptism” having its basis in the false belief that it is needed for salvation. “Sacramentalism practices infant baptism as both an entrance into the new covenant with God and as that which cleanses from sin.” (page 160). If this were true, why was the Apostle Paul’s priority on gospel proclamation (1 Cor 1:14 – 17 & 9:22)? Further, he asks, “If baptism is indeed effective in imparting new life, in washing away sin, in putting one into the church, how is it that so many people who have undergone infant baptism manifest no signs of divine life whatsoever?” (page 166)

Chapters 7 and 8 are excellent reviews of the unbiblical view that sacraments convey grace and that mystical doctrine of Mary worship and veneration. Chapter 9 explores the spurious notion that there is theological and doctrinal unity within the Roman Catholic Church – pointing out there is as much variety within that religion as they claim there is amongst evangelicals.

The final chapter asks, “To Whom Shall We Go?” – and points out that “By insisting on the mediation of the Church in every aspect of the believer’s interaction with God, sacramentalism replaces the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian.” (page 223) Ferris gives the reader an excellent, concise review of the difference between the Roman view of infused grace and the biblical view of imputed grace as the means of saving sinners. The catechism of the Roman Catholic Church declares that the sacraments are necessary for salvation. Our author observes, “There is no experience of God, no conversion, and indeed no final salvation apart from engaging in the ritual acts defined by the Church. This is diametrically opposed to justification by faith in Christ alone. It is the system, rather than the Savior that assumes the importance in sacramentalism.” (page 225) In light of these dangers that we can drift into, to whom shall we go? As Peter rightly understood, we must flee to Christ Jesus – He has the words of eternal life (John 6:68). And so our faithful author points us to the Word Himself. “Every problem, every shortcoming, every doctrinal aberration with evangelicalism, and indeed with any branch of the church, is solved only by an intentional and sustained engagement with scripture. … Embracing sacramentalism will only lead believers further away from the truth that a relationship, not a ritual, is the scripturally ordained way of growth in Christ. Those who drift away can only regain their moorings by once again submitting to the Bible for everything in their Christian live.” (pages 228 & 229)

This book is a most excellent encouragement to the saints of God and, I pray, a wakeup call to those who are drifting into dangerous waters in the Tiber River. To God alone be the glory and honor and dominion and power – now and forever!

The Trouble with Trivial Faith

A review by Stuart Brogden     Tinker

 

The title of Melvin Tinker’s book is designed to catch your attention: A Lost GOD in a LOST WORLD, subtitled From deception to deliverance; a plea for authentic Christianity. That lengthy title conveys the idea that something is terribly wrong and change is desperately needed. If we survey the current offering from professing Christians, we cannot but agree that something is not right. While not addressing everything one might want changed, Tinker’s book is a welcome work that should cause every child of God to examine his own church and life, seeking to be biblical and honorable in the sight of YHWH. Tinker says, “The modest aim of this book is to present those key truths about the lostless of man, the greatness of God and the glory of the future which will correct much wrong thinking and behavior within the church and so enable the church to effectively confront the world by holding out the Gospel.” (page 22) He explores these issues in good measure over nine very readable chapters.

In this short book our author examines the weightlessness of God in our culture and what happens when people turn to idols. In these first two chapters Tinker observes “the West is made up of believers alright, but not Christian believers. It is composed of what the Bible calls idolaters” (page 26), further noting idolatry as “the besetting sin of the human race” (page 27). He describes what he means by God being lost: “Not that God has been lost as when we misplace a set of keys, but rather that the truth about the real God is disappearing fast.” (page29) When professing Christians take God for granted, being thoughtless in how He is worshiped (is celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries worshipful?), with shallow prayers (are physical healing and income our most pressing needs?), and absent from our daily conversations He has lost weight in our lives. And something has filled that space, weighing heavily on our minds and our prayers. That something, no matter what it is or where it came from, is an idol. Two short paragraphs sum up the cause and danger of this condition (pages 51 & 52):

The predominate view abroad is that with the right knowledge, the right resources, and the right will, crime on our streets will be reduced, terrorists will be hunted down and brought to account, poverty will be abolished and our environment made safe.

Undoubtedly as human beings we have achieved so much. But herein lies the danger, namely, that of being seduced into thinking that it is by our achievements that we measure our self-worth and thus bolster our self-confidence.

It is the myth of self-achievement, self-sufficiency, and self-aggrandizement. The trap is that such thinking invariably excludes God because our focus is on self.

Do you find these thoughts dominating your mind? Christian – examine yourself to see if you be in the faith! “We cannot really understand why the world is in such a mess, together with the mess of our individual lives, unless we see it as part of the bigger and much more tragic picture of humankind’s devastating fall away from its Maker.” (page 61)

From examining the train-wreck of our natural condition, our author takes the rest of this short book explaining the necessity of various aspects of biblical Christianity (‘tis a pity one needs to use that adjective, but there are so many professing Christian who are not biblical) and how they impact our lives. Chapter 3 addresses The need for the grandeur of God, based on Isaiah 40:1 – 31. Christians know God, but often we hang around the milk cooler rather than spend time and effort at the grill for juicy meats (Hebrews 5:11 – 14). “The highest science, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.” (page 65) “And it is the smallness of man set against the grandeur of God which makes God’s tender kindness towards us all the more remarkable and moving.” (page 81) Chapter 4 brings us to The necessity of the Cross, based on Philippians 2:5 – 11. In becoming a man, creator God revealed part of His character; “this God, the true God, chooses not to exploit his divinity, but to display it differently … he exercise a different divine right – the right to be humble, the right to change his form whilst not ceasing to be God.” (page 86) Augustine wrote of this wonder:

He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, not losing the form of God. The form of a servant was added; the form of God did not pass away. He lies in a manger, but contains the world. He feeds at the breast, but also feeds the angels. He is wrapped in swaddling clothes, but vests us with immortality. He found no place in the inn, but made for Himself a temple in the hearts of believers. In order that weakness might become strong, strength become weak. (page 90)

The mystery of God in Christ – who gave Himself to save sinners. How can a mere mortal truly comprehend this? The cross, an inhumane tool for the torture of humans, stands as the narrow gate to the path that leads to eternal life. Contrary to men pleasers who care not for the Gospel, we who have been bought with the blood of Christ must line up with Paul, whose “primary concern is not with the niceties of literature (or fancy words, my addition) but with the wonder of the Gospel.” (page 91) One of the wonders that Philippians presses on us is the truth that the eternal and divine Son of God put on flesh and became a human. He kept this form of a human (one of His created beings) after His resurrection, forever identifying with those ransomed sinners. Tinker tells us, “it would be a mistake to so emphasize the divinity of Jesus at this point that we neglect his humanity. In ascending back to the Father he did not shed his human flash as a butterfly might shed its chrysalis. The person of the Son of God is forever united to our human nature.” (page 98) Our high priest intercedes for us in this age, the God-man who reconciled sinful men to holy God. Jesus will walk among us in the age to come, His body then perfected as the eternal temple in which He is pleased to dwell. Brothers and sister – do you wonder at Christ? Is He not marvelous beyond words?

Buy the book and read about the work of the Holy Spirit, the necessity of the Gospel, the need for effective grace, the necessity of the second coming, and the need to be heavenly minded. It’s less than 200 pages and, aside from unqualified quotes from some questionable men, a solid work that will cause the child of God to humble himself before his Savior and King. And that’s about all we can expect from a book – a reminder of who YHWH is and who we are.

Titus – a Fresh Look at an Old Letter

A review by Stuart Brogden

Aldred Genade has written a very thought provoking guide to Titus (The Letter To Titus: TitusBecoming a Persuasive Leader and Preacher), with the aim of showing how the Apostle intended Christian leaders to be persuasive. Which preacher does not want to be persuasive? The first chapter provides us a review of the various ways pastoral epistles and Titus in particular have been addressed by theologians and gives us this author’s thesis: “This book is an attempt to advance the dialogue concerning the macrostructural coherence of Titus in a meaningful way. The instrument that will be employed toward this end is a modified rhetorical critical method.” 1 He explains that rhetorical reading entails seeking to truly understand the meaning intended by the author by exploring the bits of the letter and the letter as a whole. This intentional endeavor to grab hold of the author’s intended meaning is a wonderful alternative to the inherent post-modernist view so pervasive and unexamined in our world.

In discussing the salutation found in Titus, Genade observes it is meant “to emphasize the divine basis of legitimate ministry.” 2 (emphasis in original) We see in several places in his letters how Paul emphasized his appointment as Christ’s Apostle as a means of impressing on Christians the truth of his message (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:1; and 2 Timothy 1:1). I think this is an example of being unashamed of the calling; something we could all learn from. Staking our identity in Christ (not as an Apostle, but as an ambassador of the gospel – 2 Corinthians 5:20) is the proper way for every one of us to establish authority; not our own, which every man can claim, but that which comes from the Creator and Judge of all people. This is the basis of Paul’s authority and that’s what makes his – and ours – legitimate ministry. False teachers and false converts have no such solid foundation (Matthew 7:24 – 27). Our author points out the focus of Paul’s ministry (and, by extension, that of the local church) is with the elect of God: Titus, his true son in the faith in Christ they have in common. As we will see later in this book, much of Paul’s message to Titus is meant for the entire church located in Crete.

So as not write a book about this book, I will highlight a few points that I think will serve the reader best. Genade’s book is heavily end-noted; this is good news as a careful writer will always let his readers know his sources. He also uses Greek words “in the open” as part of his dialogue with the reader. If you are like me, ignorant of Greek, the letters and words will make no sense; but the paragraphs in which these appear give us excellent context and explanation so as not to left in the dark. Our author also provides a brief summary and some excellent questions at the end of each chapter. If you have ever tried to formulate questions that require some thought and more than a one-word answer, you will recognize hard work here; and it pays off for those who pay attention.

Each of the twelve chapters covers a different aspect of persuasion, as Genade works through the epistle. Chapter 4 is Persuade by Exposing the Opposition, 5 is by Affirming the ministry of Others. Chapter 7 is Knowing Why You Obey, and is where we will dig in a bit before I sum up. In the previous chapter the lesson was on right behavior, based on Titus 2:5 & 10. This brings us to chapter 7 (Titus 2:11 – 15) and the importance of knowing why we obey. To do good one must have the right goal, the right method, and the right motive. Saints want to do good and we know obedience is better than sacrifice, so know our motives is critical! Genade claims, “Paul is now arguing that God is the one teaching the doctrine, making the doctrine and the behavior inseparable. The teaching as well as the Teacher are transcendent and must therefore be obeyed because they are not of human origin. This line of reasoning stresses the obligatory nature of sound doctrine upon the minds of the Cretans. In other words, sound doctrine must be obeyed because it is the exact opposite of “the commandments of men” (1: 14). Not to obey the doctrine and therefore not to manifest these particular behavioral characteristics is tantamount to disobedience to God.”3 The Christian who cares not about obeying God is testing God: a double bad place to be.

We are further instructed, “Obedience to the instruction becomes obedience to “someone,” rather than something. This is a very persuasive angle. Grace offers the complete opposite of what the false teachers have to offer. By formulating the proposition in this way, the appeal of sound doctrine is highlighted, making the argument for compliance to it even more persuasive. Furthermore, the personification of grace reinforces the notion of accountability.”4 This builds on the same foundation as noted in the opening chapter – Christ Jesus is our righteousness and if one has been made a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17), he will be humbled to be so clothed, knowing how filthy his own righteousness is apart from Christ (Isaiah 64:6) and this makes each of us who have been born again willing and able to obey our Lord. Again, the false teachers have no foundation and the false convert has no clothes (Matthew 22:11 – 14). As our author tells us a bit later,

They have become in Jesus Christ the objects of divine interest, when he gave himself for them (ὃς ἔδωκεν ἐαυτὸν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν). The inclusive language in this part is also emphatic. They are no longer mere Cretans, but the people of God— God’s own peculiar people (ἑαυτῷ λαός περιούσιος). Their identity and consequently their natures have been changed. They have been made God’s own “unique people.” This expression reinforces the communal sense prevalent in this section. Thus, when Cretan believers perform good deeds, in other words, when they obey the instructions of divine grace, they are acting consistently with their new character.5

So it ought to be in each local church, this sense of unity in Christ and the desire to honor Him and encourage one another to do so. A church that does not embrace this “communal sense” nor recognize their identity as God’s “peculiar people” is adrift in humanism and the Lord Jesus bids them to return to their first love.

While this book is mostly academic in style and content, it is engaging and provocative, a book I intend to return to time and again when the Lord brings this epistle to mind. We need such books if we are to renew our minds and test what we believe to see if these things be so. For the child of God will seek to be aligned with Holy Writ, not content with the mere words of men. Our brother has written a book that will help us examine our thoughts and God’s Word, and submit the former to the latter.

Footnotes:

1 Genade, Aldred (2015-09-21). The Letter To Titus: Becoming a Persuasive Leader and Preacher (Rhetorical Bible Commentary Book 1) (Kindle Locations 126-128). Africa Scholars Press. Kindle Edition.

2 ibid; Kindle Locations 267-268

3 ibid; Kindle Locations 1057-1061

4 ibid; Kindle Locations 1106-1109

5 ibid; Kindle Locations 1205-1210

Christ and the Gospel

A review by Stuart Brogden. Book available on Amazon.

The subtitles of Jon Cardwell’s book must not be overlooked or you will be confused. The focus Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 9.43.03 AMof this book is the proper understanding of the biblical gospel – that is the title: The Simple Gospel. What our brother rightly understands is that one cannot have a true understanding of the gospel if one does not have a true understanding of the person and work of the Lord Jesus. Without a biblical Jesus, faithfully fulfilling the requirements of the Law and the Prophets and taking our place in facing God the Father’s wrath for our sins (Him being without sin), we do not have the biblical gospel. The subtitle, Including Other Essays Exalting Christ’s Person and Work, gives us advance notice that we will spend some time reading about essentials that provide the foundation of the true gospel.

In this title chapter our author gives us his summary of what the Bible presents as the gospel:

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the revelation of God, according to the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, which focuses on the Person and work of Jesus Christ in His incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and restitution of all things in His bodily return. 1

Note this: the gospel is about the redemptive work of Christ and our need of Him; the gospel is not the entire Bible, although all Scripture has this meta-plan as its ultimate purpose. A little later in this chapter, while reviewing the meaning and significance of the crucifixion, Jon pleads the sufficiency of Christ’s blood, saying, “The power of the purity of Christ’s blood is sufficient to cleanse the redeemed soul from every confessed sin he has committed after he has been saved by God’s grace (1 John 1: 7-10).” 2 While I agree with the intent, I think this idea would be better stated as “The power of the purity of Christ’s blood is sufficient to cleanse the redeemed soul from every sin he has committed or will commit, and is applied when he is saved by God’s grace (1 John 1: 7-10).” For we are commanded to confess our sins, all the sins of the redeemed are forgiven when he raised from spiritual death to new life, not just those committed after salvation and not only those confessed.

Still in this section, Jon brings to our mind the picture of Christ suffering God the Father’s wrath for our sins – a much more horrifying punishment than physical death on the cross, as painful and horrible as that is. If we don’t see Jesus being punished spiritually for the sins you and I committed, we are taking His sacrifice too lightly. This is closely tied to this statement: “The shame that comes to our souls in the light of the revelation of the offense our very lives bring to God, far exceeds the shame of Adam and Eve when their nakedness was revealed to them.”3 Far more powerful than our shortcomings in our foolhardy attempts to keep the law or earn God’s favor by our own strength, seeing the glory of God in Christ will undo us as it did Isaiah and the Apostle John and others who were privileged to see Him clearly. This is the power of the cross!

When he quickly reviews the resurrection’s part in the biblical gospel, our brother tells us two dear truths: “The resurrection of Christ is God’s open display to the entire creation of His seal and acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice.” 4 and “When we speak of the resurrection of Christ we also speak of God’s assurance of a resurrection to come. God promises to all whom He has saved in Christ will one day be resurrected from the dead. The importance of the resurrection is such that a denial of the bodily resurrection of Christ means a denial of the faith altogether (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).” 5 Let no one who claims Christ forget the import of the resurrection – if Christ be not raised from the dead, we are to be most pitied.

His last section on The Simply Gospel is about the restitution or restoration of all things. We cannot, Jon tells us, fully comprehend the recreation of heaven and earth and the Lord’s glorious return without understanding the biblical doctrine of hell. And, he goes on, we cannot rightly comprehend either the new earth or hell if we do not rightly comprehend God! “The same presence of God that is a consuming fire for the wicked dead, Christ’s presence is peace and comfort (2 Corinthians 1: 3), and fullness of joy with pleasures forever more at His right hand (Psalm 16: 11).” 6 This oft-repeated exhortation to see the Lord as He is in His glory and power is a welcome one that does the souls of the saints much good.

Chapter 2 – Propitiation through Faith is an enlightening walk through Romans 3:23 – 27. Our faithful author tells us, “Romans 1: 17 is the key to this epistle, Romans 3: 23-27 is most certainly the door the key unlocks.”7 and “It is through this door one must pass in order to enter life eternal. In one way, it may be here that the Lord’s cryptic words become especially insightful: “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10: 9; cf. 10: 7). The door of this passage is that wicket gate Mr. Bunyan’s allegory refers. Jesus Christ is that door, that wicket gate, and His cross, His propitiation, is eternal treasure.”8 Such exegesis is welcomed in this day of shallow, superficial reading, as is this: “To sum it up, God’s righteousness was openly displayed and manifested in the… Person of Christ Presentation at the Cross Power of Christ’s resurrection Perfection in Christ’s ascension.”9 As the Apostle Peter told us (2 Peter 1:12), we need to be reminded of the essential things even though we already know them. Cardwell does well in this regard, as he desires to stir up the saints of God to dig into the Word and walk as those who have been raised from the dead. I do wish Jon had spent some time on exploring what Paul meant by the phrase, “the law of faith” in verse 27. I think it is tied to what he elsewhere calls “the law of Christ,” which (I believe) is defined by the Lord’s answer to the Pharisee in Matthew 22:37 – 40 (I highly recommend Charles Leiter’s excellent book, The Law of Christ).

Cardwell emphasizes the fact that the life of a person who has been raised from spiritual death will be evident: “the result of the saved life will be evidenced by, but not limited to these things: a growing resemblance to the life of Christ in sanctification (1 John 1: 7); repentance of sins as the illumination of His light reveals them (1 John 1: 8-10); a love for God’s Word (1 John 2: 3-5); abiding in the Holy Spirit-led life (1 John 2: 6); exhibiting a sacrificial love for fellow-believers (1 John 2: 9-11); a hatred for the things of this world and hatred for the lusts of the flesh because those things are at enmity with the Father (1 John 2: 13-17); and a love for and discernment of the truth (1 John 2: 20-21).” 10 Let no one go easily on with the lie that one can be saved yet unchanged.

I will only touch on the topics of the balance of the book, each chapter will challenge the reader to examine his belief in the Word and the meaning of specific passages and traditions as Cardwell examines the meaning of the sign of Jonah, the Shroud of Turin, traditions of men, and a few other topics.

The fifth chapter examines the Chief End of Man, and Jon does well to debunk the seeker sensitive madness Rick Warren is famous for, but he also takes the Westminster Shorter Catechism without question to answer the question. The problem with the catechism and its answer is the lack of defining the audience. About which man is it asking about the chief end – fallen man or redeemed man? In the context of the catechism, the very beginning, the catechism must be talking about man in general, not the redeemed. And because of this, their answer fails – because those who are bound for eternal torment do not have, as their chief aim “enjoying God.” Further, I find no support in Scripture that our benefit (the redeemed enjoying God forever) is our chief end. All of creation has as its chief end the glory of God. They should have put a period after the first phrase and worked out the latter portion in a later part of the catechism, making it clear enjoying God is a blessed benefit the redeemed will reap. Jon does point out that, to “enjoy God forever did not mean that man’s ultimate happiness comes as the result of what we receive from God. Following this thought toward its logical conclusion would ultimately suggest that God exists for man’s good pleasure and not the other way around.”11 Amen!

Christian – are you satisfied with your understanding of God’s Word and how it applies to you? I trust that is not the case. This short book is a good one to provoke any believer to dig deeper into the Scriptures, to pray for God’s wisdom, and examine some of those things we have been taught but never have thought about. Take and read!

 

Footnotes:

1 Cardwell, Jon J. (2014-11-15). The Simple Gospel – Including Other Essays Exalting Jesus Christ’s Person and Work: The Gospel Truth of Jesus Christ According to Scripture (The Biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ Book 2) (Kindle Locations 172-174). Vayahiy Press. Kindle Edition.

2 ibid; Kindle Locations 210-211

3 ibid; Kindle Locations 241-242

4 ibid; Kindle Locations 252-253

5 ibid; Kindle Locations 259-262

6 ibid; Kindle Locations 299-301

7 ibid Kindle Location 332

8 ibid Kindle Locations 339-342

9 ibid Kindle Locations 361-365

10 ibid Kindle Locations 504-509

11 ibid Kindle Locations 915-917

A Catholic Fable

A Catholic Fable   Francis

A review by Stuart Brogden

I tried to give this book, My God and My All – The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi, an honest opportunity to impress me. Elizabeth Goudge was a 20th century novelist and it is most appropriate that a fiction author wrote about this topic. The cover art gives us a peak into the perspective the reader will face: it’s a well-known (in Roman Catholic circles) painting of Francis in prayer. His hands are crossed over his chest and there is a nail hole visible in his left hand. Several segments within the Roman Catholic Church believe they are obedient to Scripture when they punish their bodies in imitation of the physical punishment our Lord took upon Himself in obedience to His call as being born under the Law, cursed for the sake of those He was sent to save. This may also be a twisted view of Colossians 1:24. Sam Storms has a very good analysis of this verse (posted here: http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/filling-up-the-afflictions-of-christ–1:24-) that, may it please the Lord, will help some Roman Catholics see the truth of Scripture on this topic.

It is fitting that a novelist wrote this book for two reasons. First, the book is a fictionalized account of Francis’ life. Secondly, it presents a thoroughly Roman Catholic view of Francis’ life, which is as much a work of fiction as is every distinctive of that religion. I’ll focus on this second aspect, as fiction presented as truth is a danger that we cannot blithely ignore. And we see this false religion on pages 1 and 2:

In the case of those whom we call the saints, this power is immeasurable. They are the true makers of men. Other great men may alter the material aspect of life for millions, but the saints make us for eternity. By emptying themselves, by getting rid of self altogether, they become the channels of God’s creative power and by him, through them, we are made. … And so his (Francis’) power lives on and we cannot measure it because it is nowhere near its end.

The Bible calls all of His redeemed people, saints. There is no determination by any man-made religion as to whom is worthy of being identified as such. The one who plants and the one who waters are nothing – the growth comes from God and He, alone, is everything (1 Cor 3:7). The “saints” of Rome do not “make us for eternity,” they were in every bit the same need of God’s grace to be saved as any other men. There are no “great men” in the world or in the body of Christ; all men are weak and sinful and the only good we have claim to is the good He (not any religious pretender) works in and through us.

Another short insight into the dual nature of this being a novel: on page 6 the author shows us her method of weaving this story together, speaking of Francis’ birth:

Tradition says it was long and hard and that as the hours passed and her child was not born she asked to be taken to the stable that adjoined the house, that she might feel a little nearer to Mary, the Mother of God, and that in the stable her child was born. Today the little place is a chapel, the Chapel of the Infant Francis.

Many Roman Catholics deify Mary, who was a sinner used by God, not a sinless woman God was fortunate to have on His team. She was the mother of Jesus, the man, not God. Jesus, being eternally existent as the second member of the Trinity, was not born of a women in the sense that would validate this phrase beloved by Rome – Mary, mother of God. That is a blasphemous statement, but not seen as such by those who worship Mary. We also see here the practice of building a shrine at “sacred places,” as if Jesus did not have the conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4. Places are not sacred in the Christian world, only in the pagan world. God’s people (individually and corporately) are His temple (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; Eph 2:17 – 22). He does not require nor even want temples made by human hands (Acts 7:48; 17:24) and when men make ornate buildings as places of worship, the tendency is to take pleasure in the grand architecture and the images normally found therein – forgetting the God Who made all things and is Lord of all things.

Francis was, as many Roman Catholics are, a mystic who imagined he heard direct from God apart from His Word (page 22). In one such moment he dreamed YHWH revealed the perfect bride for him, “Lady Poverty” (page 21). And by so determining he must deny self by becoming temporally poor, “Francis entered upon this battle of winning himself for God.” (page 22) This reveals one danger of the mystical life: a person can be misled by various voices which lead away from God’s Word. This shows up again on page 28 as Francis “heard the Lord speaking with the voice of a friend, and saying, ‘Francis, go and repair my church, which as thou seest is wholly in ruin.” In focusing on the crucifix, Francis “realized that though the sufferings of Christ in his human body were ended yet the At-one-ment was always going on. Christ still reigned from the cross, looking out over the suffering world, drawing all men to himself on his cross that might unite them to God in himself.” When Jesus finished His work of redemption, He sat down at the right hand of God (Heb 1:3). He is not still hanging on the cross!

Francis is recorded in this novel as working on the rebuilding of three buildings, which are called churches. This is a vital error, putting places in the place of the body of Christ, as noted earlier. Of His church, the Lord said He would build her (Matt 16:18), this spiritual building that is the work of God alone. He does not need the help of men, although He does command us to be obedient in proclaiming the gospel to men everywhere and to disciple the saints within the local church.

Chapter 5 carries the book’s title and describes the Roman Catholic mass as the center of worship. “Nothing could be greater than the coming of Christ the King in the sacrament of the altar. Soon the little church would be as holy as the courts of heaven” (page 50). So much of the Roman religion is taken from the Jewish religion without any discernment. The New Covenant church has no altar, and Christ the King is not offered up on any altar! His empty cross serves as a spiritual altar (Heb 13:10). Note how this is explained by the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary:

Christianity and Judaism are so totally distinct, that “they who serve the (Jewish) tabernacle,” have no right to eat our spiritual Gospel meat, namely, the Jewish priests, and those who follow their guidance in serving the ceremonial ordinance. He says, “serve the tabernacle,” not “serve in the tabernacle.” Contrast with this servile worship ours.

an altar—the cross of Christ, whereon His body was offered. The Lord’s table represents this altar, the cross; as the bread and wine represent the sacrifice offered on it. Our meat, which we by faith spiritually eat, is the flesh of Christ, in contrast to the typical ceremonial meats. The two cannot be combined (Gal 5:2). That not a literal eating of the sacrifice of Christ is meant in the Lord’s Supper, but a spiritual is meant, appears from comparing Heb 13:9 with Heb 13:10, “with grace, not with meats.”

The last thing I will briefly cover comes from chapter 6 – The Rule. We have a snippet written by Francis wherein he reveals his authority: the pope. “And when the Lord gave me some brothers, no one showed me what I ought to do, but the Most High himself revealed to me that I should according to the form of the holy gospel. And I cause it to be written in a few words and simply, and the pope confirmed it for me.” Also on page 73 the author says “Francis was a devoted and loyal son of the Church.” When Francis and his brothers formed their group, “Francis promised obedience and reverence to both Innocent and his successors after him. All the brothers were to take the three evangelical vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and they were to live without any property whatever” (pages 74 & 75). These “evangelical vows” are not found in Scripture. We find in God’s Word that His children are to be poor in spirit, not proud; sexually pure, in marriage unless gifted with singleness; and obedient to Christ as revealed in Scripture, not to traditions and words of men.

The god of Francis appears, from this book, not to be the God of the Bible. If that god was his all, his end was worse than his beginning. I pray all who claim to be in Christ examine themselves to see if they be in the faith (2 Cor 13:5). The Christian religion is not the product of men. It is the work of God in the people He called to new life in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) from their natural condition of spiritual death (Eph 2:1 – 10). To Him alone be all honor and glory and dominion, and none of that to any man.