Sunday, April 22, 2018

Open Letter to Thabiti Anyabwile

Dear Thabiti,

I'm sure you don't remember me, but we met a few years ago. I was one of Voddie Baucham's pastoral interns at GfBC in Houston, and you were a speaker at our annual conference. You preached from 1 Corinthians 12 and the unity of the one body, the church. It was one of the best handlings of that particular text that I can remember hearing.

The reason I write you now, ironically, is because I think you're doing harm to the one body. I think you're causing and prolonging division. You've said so yourself. Perhaps not in those words exactly, but if you'll hear me out, I think you'll agree with my assessment.

If I understand your position correctly, you claim that there is division in the church, and most African American Christians (like yourself) won't reconcile with the church until there is repentance from white brothers and sisters.

Now, I am a white pastor at a small congregation, but one that is significantly made up of African Americans, and unity is of the utmost importance to me. In fact, I just preached yesterday on Philippians 1:27-28 where Paul urges the body to be unified for the sake of the gospel. I love Christ with all my heart and want to see him glorified through the advancement of that gospel. According to Paul, if anything is going to stop that advancement, it's not going to be the enemy that impedes, but division in the ranks. Division is inherently gospel stifling. And so I, (and I'm sure you as well) want nothing more than for the church to be unified, because ultimately, we want Christ to be glorified. He is all that matters.

And so this is why I'm troubled. You know that there is a lack of unity and you won't (can't) be the first one to move towards unity. You claim that you, and other like-minded black men and women, will not forgive and reconcile with the "white church" until something happens first. And this brings me to the reason for writing. WHAT do you want to happen? WHAT needs to happen to attain this unity?  I want nothing more than unity with all people, red, and yellow, black, and white. So let's get to work and identify clearly what needs to be done to seek attain the unity that Christ has purchased with blood. Are you interested?

You obviously want racial reconciliation; and when I say racial reconciliation I refer to racial reconciliation "in the Church," not the world. For it's the unity of the body that I'm after. I hope that when you use the term "racial reconciliation," you also are referring to reconciliation within the church; for it is the body of Christ that is called to be unified. In fact, the only people on earth that can be unified is the body of Christ.


You state that there can be no reconciliation in the church until white people do something first.

You have written,

"Racial reconciliation does not start with forgiveness...There’s no form of reconciliation that starts with forgiveness. All reconciliation—if it’s informed and true—begins with either the injured party declaring someone’s offense or with the confession and repentance by the guilty party. Jesus teaches us this clearly in Matthew 5:23-26. The guy claiming to worship can’t go on worshiping at the altar when he remembers there’s a rift with a brother. He needs to leave his gift—the very gift that was being offered to God for forgiveness. He needs to reconcile. Agree to terms. Get things patched up by dealing with the facts of the offense, and so on, and then come back to the altar where forgiveness with God and man might be enjoyed in a clean conscience during worship. "

So obviously, you want someone to confess to something. You want someone to seek forgiveness for something. And you claim that if that someone would come, confess, and seek forgiveness, then reconciliation will follow. We can make that happen. Since you're the one saying that you will not reconcile until white people act first, then you need to say what action we need to perform.  If you would clearly identify WHO you want to confess and WHAT you want them to confess to, then I'm sure white Christians would be happy to "leave our gifts at the altar" and "first be reconciled to our black brothers." We've been trying to get you to reconcile for a long time.

You contend that you want confession of sin from the "white church" white people don't know what that means.  We're confused concerning what you're after since the white church as already confessed. The Presbyterian Church in America offered a public condemnation of racism throughout their history. The SBC has also offered a public apology to "all African-Americans," as well. White people are striving for unity, even to the point of passing a resolution to "urge churches to demonstrate their heart for racial reconciliation by seeking to increase racial and ethnic diversity in church staff roles, leadership positions, and church membership." And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many efforts that the "white church" has made to seek reconciliation. We're doing all that we know to do.

We are sincerely trying to tell you that we are sorry. So it leaves me wondering why you wrote an article saying, "We Await Repentance for Assassinating Dr. King? We have "left our gift at the altar" and have gone to you, and confessed and repented. You said that is what was necessary for you to offer forgiveness, but obviously, it's not since you're still "Awaiting Repentance."

When the SBC published their apology to African Americans, it was received by Reverend Gary Frost who said,

"On behalf of my black brothers and sisters, we accept your apology and we extend to you our forgiveness in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Ephesians chapter 4, verses 31 and 32 say, 'let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice, and be kind, one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as god, for Christ's sake has forgiven you.' Because of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, and his great love toward us, we extend that same love, forgiveness, grace and mercy towards you. We pray that the genuineness of your repentance will be reflected in your attitudes and in your actions. We forgive you, for Christ's sake, amen."

The way that it seems from where I sit, white believers are seeking reconciliation, and some black Christians, like Rev. Frost, are saying, "we forgive you." But you, as well as others, are still saying, "you can't have forgiveness until X happens first." But I have placed X in that sentence because we don't know what X is. We don't know what has to happen.


This brings me back to my core questions. WHO do you want to confess? And WHAT do you want them to confess?  And if you want more than confession and a plea for forgiveness, then you need to tell us. What exactly, in your eyes needs to be done?  Up to this point, you've said that asking forgiveness was all that was necessary, but obviously, that doesn't seem to be the case. White Christians are desirous for forgiveness; for your forgiveness. What do we need to do in order to get it? What still stands in the way?


I don't ask these questions in rhetorical fashion and these questions don't serve to advance an argument. I'm seriously and sincerely asking very real questions; very real questions that you must answer. Your white brothers have left their gift at the altar, come to you, and asked for your forgiveness. The ball is in your court so to speak. You have to be the one to tell them why they still can't have your forgiveness even though they've asked. What more do we (as white brothers) need to do? Please seek to answer this question clearly and openly. What still needs to be done to attain the unity that we have in Christ?

We want forgiveness. We're striving for forgiveness.  Why don't we have it?

We need to get this done so that we can move on to the real work of advancing the gospel. Let's reconcile, for the sake of our Lord. His gospel and his glory demand it. We can't afford to continue stalling on this issue. And we can't move forward until these questions are answered. Let's do this!

"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel."  Philippians 1:27

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Philippians 1:6 Probably Not What You Think It Means

In the movie "The Princess Bride" the inimitable character Vizzini keeps using the word "inconceivable" at every chance possible. Finally, Inigo Montoya can't take it anymore, turns to Vizzini and says, "you keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means."

As Christians, I think we might have more in common with Vizzini than we would care to admit. I sure wish I had an Inigo Montoya there to correct me when I needed it. But if the truth be told, I have someone better than Inigo Montoya. Jesus called him "the comforter" or "the advocate."  We call him, "the Holy Spirit." He has many functions, and correcting us is one of them. Let me offer an example.

All my life I've been convinced that Philippians 1:6 was a declaration of our continued progressive sanctification. You know the verse, "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."

That's about progressive sanctification right? Or is it not? As I was studying this passage recently, I began to have my doubts. It was like the Holy Spirit was there whispering in my ear, "you keep using that verse, I don't think it means what you think it means." 

Before I continue, let me put your fears to rest. I still believe in progressive sanctification. I think it's all over the pages of the New Testament. I just don't think it's on this particular page, not in this particular chapter, and not this particular verse. 

So if Philippians 1:6 is not about progressive sanctification, then what is it about?

In verse 6, Paul references the "good work" which God began in the Philippian church. But Paul is not referencing this "good work" in a vacuum, he's already mentioned what that good work was in verse 5, the "partnership in the gospel." Paul is citing the Philippians continues to share with Paul, their money, their people, and in suffering. In fact, in chapter 4, Paul says, "Yet it was kind of you to share
 my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only."

The Philippians are most likely afraid that all of their efforts have been done in vain now that Paul is sitting locked up in a Roman prison cell. Imagine investing all you have into a company only to see the government come in and shut them down. You would feel like all of your effort and investment has been done in vain. I imagine the Philippian church felt the same way. 

Thus, Paul mentions their "partnership in the gospel from the first day until now" in verse five and then immediately says, that this "good work" that God began will be brought to completion at the day of Christ. In other words, I think Paul is saying, 

"you've partnered in the gospel with me. You've invested money in me. You've invested people to serve me. You've invested in prayers and suffering with me, and all of this partnering with me in the work of the gospel will not be short circuited simply because I'm sitting in a Roman prison cell. Instead, this partnership in the gospel 'will be brought to completion at the day of Jesus Christ' so don't worry. Be encouraged. Nothing was in vain. The work will not stop just because I'm behind bars."

I think that makes verse 6 encouraging for two reasons.

1. Whatever you have done in service to God will not be lost, thwarted, short circuited, erased, or diminished. God WILL bring it to completion at the day of Christ. So whatever you've done in service to God that you feel like was done in vain, you're wrong. Partnering with God in the work of the gospel will be brought to completion at the day of Christ, even if our natural eyes see it having come to an end. Don't believe the way things appear. God is still using what you thought was done in vain. 

2. We can be encouraged to continue our efforts for the sake of the advancement of the gospel with full assurance that our efforts are not in vain and never will be. 

Thus, we have hope for both the seed that we have planted in the past, and the seed that we have opportunity to plant today, and tomorrow. 

So let's roll up our sleeves, get to work, and join in the gospel work that God is doing. We have full assurance that our partnership in the gospel will not be in vain, God will bring it to completion at the day of Christ. 

Here are two more detailed arguments concerning verse 6. 



Sunday, March 11, 2018

Shane Claiborne's False Gospel

My wife often calls me prolix. It's a word that we learned from watching Downton Abby. It means that I talk a lot. Case in point, today someone asked me a question on Facebook. I typed out my answer, and it was too long to post. So I'm creating a blog post just for that particular answer.

Since it's a Facebook comment, you won't find citations, you may find poor grammar or misspellings, but at the end of the day, you'll find my answer. Oh wait. I guess I should give you the question.

"What makes you think that Shane Claiborne is not a brother in Christ?"

This is going to be hard for me to do because Claiborne hides pretty well. Many years ago, when the emergent church was being developed, men like Rob Bell, Brian McClaren,Tony Campolo, Doug Pagitt, Mark Driscoll (who ended up leaving the movement because it denied the gospel), and many others introduced a new sort of theology into the church at large.

This theology had many differing characteristics depending upon who you asked but three points of theology upon which all agreed (except for Driscoll, which is why he left) was 1. "there is no salvation apart from Jesus, 2. God is love, and 3. Jesus had already saved everyone whether they realized it or not." 

Of course, such theology would be immediately identified as heresy by the church at large, so here's how the deceit works. 

1. State that salvation is in Jesus alone
2. Speak about God's love and showing love to others
3. Don't mention that you believe everyone is already saved, no matter what they believe. (as an analogy, imagine a person who ran a red light and got ticketed. A neighbor paid their fine. You tell them that the neighbor paid their fine and they don't believe you. But just because they don't believe doesn't mean that their fine isn't paid.) This is how these men see the atonement. All Muslims, Buddhists, and Roman Catholics are saved because Jesus paid their fine, even if they don't believe. 

[now some of those men hold to the governmental theory of atonement and they deny penal substitution but I'm just giving an example to show that they believe that all men are saved and explain how some of them get there. Other men hold to the same doctrine but arrive there in other ways]

So at the end of the day, you had a strong group of radical men within the church proclaiming that there is no salvation apart from Jesus, and speaking about loving God and loving neighbor. 

What a great message right? Salvation in Christ and loving neighbor! Completely in line with the gospel and the word of God. However, it's the silence of point 3 (that all men are already saved) that makes things very difficult. Because, if all men are already saved, then the need to proclaim point 1, expound on point 1, teach point 1, and focus on point 1, is unnecessary. Thus, point 2 becomes the focus. 

That's why when you listen to these men, you will hear a lot about point 2 (how to love one another), but virtually nothing about point 1. 

Thus, Jesus is preached, not as savior of sinners, but as the exemplar for how to love and how to treat your neighbor. 

Shane Claiborne is a part of this group. I'm not saying that he's a part of the Emergent Church (in fact, he doesn't even like the term Emergent Church) but he's a part of this new wave of theology that holds to points 1,2,3 as listed above. 

The reason that it's difficult for me to prove it to you is because he tries very hard to be silent on point 3. The fact that he is willing to confess Jesus as savior and that he speaks much about how to love neighbor are evident, and make it sound like he's a part of the body of Christ. This is how he hides under the radar. 

But take quick note of what I said earlier. These men of whom I speak, will all write, speak, and act A LOT concerning point 2, (how to love neighbor) while NEVER preaching repentance in order to be saved. (because they believe everyone is already saved) so the focus of their message will always be about this world, and this life, and how to make this world the best world possible. In other words, let's work to abolish poverty, disease, suffering in this life. After all, if everyone is already saved, then what is the need to speak about the world to come? Does that describe Claiborne? Yes it does. 

But let's continue. As I said, it's almost impossible to pin these guys down because they don't come out and preach point 3 (that all men are already saved). So since all we hear is a little bit of point one and a lot of point 2, they seem orthodox. After all, who's going to declare them heretics for preaching about loving neighbor? So as I continue, I'm asking you to look closely and see that they will come as close to preaching point 3 as they can without actually saying it directly. 

This was the case with Rob Bell. He flew under the radar for a long time and no one listened to my warnings about this very thing until he wrote the book "Love Wins" and came out and declared point 3 publicly in no uncertain terms. Of course, once he did, he was rejected by the church at large. You may or may not remember John Piper tweeting "Farwell Rob Bell" when the book was published.

Claiborne continues to fly under the radar but every once in a while his tail fin will poke above the radar line and you can see a tiny bleep on the radar screen. And unless you already know that the Shane Claiborne bomber is in the air, you might think that blip is just a bird, or perhaps a kid flying a kite. Or you might be confused as to what you're seeing and say something like Jay has said, "he seems iffy." You can tell that there is something wrong, but you won't be able to see it clearly. 

So let's begin looking at a few tail fins that have popped up on the radar screen. 

"when the curtain of the temple was torn open as Jesus died on the cross. Not only was God redeeming that which was profane but God was setting all that was sacred free. Now God dwelled not behind the veil in the temple but in the eyes of the dying and the poor" 

Here, when Claiborne says that he sees God dwelling not inside believers who are dying and poor, but he sees God as dwelling inside EVERYONE who is dying and poor, whether they believe or not. Point 3 has shown a bit on the radar. 

"As I looked into the eyes of the dying, I felt like I was meeting God.”

Not those who were believers and who were dying, but those who were unbeleivers who were dying. (not to mention that even if they were believers this would still be a troubling statement) But suffice it to say that Claiborne sees God dwelling in unbelievers. 

"one of the barriers seems to be the assumption that we (Christians) have the truth and folks who experience things differently (Muslims) will all go to hell"

Here, Claiborne is affirming that even Muslims will be saved because it's only an "assumption" that Christians have the truth. 

In speaking to Tony Campolo he tells Tony,

"You also note in your book the encounter of Francis of Assisi and the Muslim Sultan …they came together across major religious divides and had a mystical unity … Maybe we will even find a mystical union of the Spirit as Francis did."

Really? Are we to have "mystical unity" with Muslims? 

"“Let’s dive into the Scriptures together, correcting distorted understandings of the warrior God by internalizing our allegiance to the slaughtered Lamb" 

There are a few problems with the quote above.

1. He claims that God is not a warrior God and was not responsible for the crucifixion. 
2. He claims that God is a loving sacrificial God who wold never make war on anyone. 
3. He denies that Jesus is returning to make war against the wicked. 

"The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn's Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn't quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone,... He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don't know Jesus... All I could do was think to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my lungs, "God is not a monster.'" 

Here Claiborne shows his hatred for the gospel. He thinks that the God who would send people to hell is a monster. 

"In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, "I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you." If those of us who believe in God do not believe God's grace is big enough to save the whole world... well, we should at least pray that it is." (ellipsis his)

Here Shane appears on the radar screen in two small blips. 

1. He recognizes that there are men who "believe in God" but they don't believe that Jesus' grace can "save the whole world" but he doesn't put himself in that category. In other words, he himself is one who thinks that God's grace is big enough to save the whole world. And he encourages anyone who disagrees to pray that God's grace IS going to save the whole world. 

Shane wrote a series of articles for CT called "The Gates of Hell". Here's how the editor sums up his first article. 

"In part one of his post, Shane Claiborne challenged our assumptions about hell. Is it merely something people experience after death, or is hell a living reality for many on earth?" 

You see? He's challenging our assumptions about hell. It's not a place for the wicked in the future, it's a place here and now (because everyone is going to heaven). 

"Just as we are building walls to keep people out of our comfortable, insulated existence, we are trapping ourselves in a hell of isolation, loneliness and fear. We have "gated communities" where rich folks live. We put up picket fences around our suburban homes. We place barbed wire and razer-wire around our buildings and churches. We put bars on our windows in the ghettos of fear. We build up walls to keep immigrants from entering our country. We guard our borders with those walls - Berlin, Jerusalem, Jericho. And the more walls and gates and fences we have, the closer we are to hell. We, like the rich man, find ourselves locked into our gated homes and far from the tears of Lazarus outside, far from the tears of God."

Hell for Claiborne is poverty and suffering.

"Let us pray that God would give us the strength to storm the gates of hell, and tear down the walls we have created between those whose suffering would disrupt our comfort. May we become familiar with the suffering of the poor outside our gates, know their names, and taste the salt in their tears? then when "the ones God has rescued," the Lazaruses of our world - the baby refugees, the mentally-ill wanderers, and the homeless outcasts - are seated next to God, we can say, "We're with them." Jesus has given them the keys to enter the Kingdom. Maybe they will give us a little boost over the gate."

And salvation is salvation from temporal suffering. Jesus died to help us put an end to temporal suffering.

Twenty three days from this posting, Shane Claiborne will be meeting with Tony Campolo at Yale University. If anyone disagrees with my opinions given above, I challenge you to watch the live stream of the conversation he has at Yale. Listen for talk about sin, repentance, hell, punishment, and the need for everyone to become a Christian or be cut off from God forever. It's 23 days away. I'm not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet but I can tell you this. There will be NO talk about the need for men to come to faith in Christ. There will be NO talk about all other religions being false. There will be no attempt to save men from the wrath to come. How do I know this?  Because I know Claiborne and Campolo. They're false teachers.

There may be talk about Jesus and how he loves and wants to save. But be careful, because they won't be referring to salvation from sin, they will be referring to salvation from suffering and "evil in this world."

One of the greatest ways to detect a false teacher is not to listen to what he says, but to pay close attention to what he does NOT say.

Below you will find the link for the live feed of the Yale conversation. You will have to copy and paste it since it's not a live link yet. (at least not for another 23 days)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Three Forms of Covenant Theology (part 3; The Law of the New Covenant)

I've finally gotten the time to record , edit, and publish this very important message. The Message is in 2 parts. The first section is a proof that the New Covenant must be comprised of a new law, both logic and Scripture require this. After having shown that the New Covenant must have a new law, part two identifies and explains what that new law is.

Part one ends at the 25 minute mark, so if you just want to know what the law of the New Covenant is, and you're pressed for time, then I recommend that you begin at that mark. However, if you don't see how the New Covenant requires the establishment of a new law that did not exist in the Old Covenant, then be sure to watch from the beginning.

I identify the law of the New Covenant in four sections,

1. The commands of Christ
2. The example of Christ
3. The Apostolic instructions written in the NT
4. The Record given to us in the OT

I also, spend some time contrasting the law of the OT vs the law of the NT.

I'm certain that I could have done a much better job on this. I worked on this message for a long time, struggled to preach it, and have never been perfectly happy with it. However, I pray that the Lord may use my weakness for his own glory, and I pray that you will be spurred on to learn more for the purposes of becoming more like Christ.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Forms of Covenant Theology Part 2: 1689 Federalism and New Covenant Theology

Last time we examined the 3 major forms of Covenant Theology. This week we will examine a new form of Covenant Theology called New Covenant Theology. This form is very close in almost every aspect to 1689 Federalism. However, there are some important differences.

I was contacted by a few individuals who were unsure how they differed after watching part 1 of this series. In this video I explain the two major differences between the systems. One difference concerning a covenant in the Garden of Eden, and the other difference concerning the nature of the Decalogue.

I hope you are edified and encouraged. I don't use any quotes from New Covenant Theologians in this presentation since I'll be covering what they believe in more detail in Part 3 of this series.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Three Forms of Covenant Theology

Over the past twenty years, thousands of young Christians have been leaving behind the Dispensational and Arminian theologies of their parents. This is a good thing in my opinion. I think the Dispensational ideas have been hurtful to Christianity. But with the many young men and women of my generation leaving Dispensationalism, the question is, "where are they going?"

Most young Christians, the Young, Restless, and Reformed, and many other young people, are heading into the Reformed school of thought. This is a good thing. But as they enter they are usually unaware of what "Reformed" actually  means. Some think that holding to Calvinism makes one "Reformed."  Some think that holding to the "5 Solas" makes on Reformed. Those things, and others, are important aspects of Reformed Theology, but they do not form the basis of Reformed Theology. And at it's core, "Reformed" means that one holds to one of the Confessions which underpin Covenant Theology, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith (for Presbyterians) or the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (for Baptists).

However, what many don't realize is that there are 3 forms of Covenant Theology?
There is actually a Covenant Theology for Presbyterians, a different form of CT for Baptists, and a third, which is a mix of the Presbyterian and Baptist forms.

1. Westminster Covenant Theology
2. 1689 Federalism
3. A freakish blend of 1 and 2. It is sometimes referred to as 20th century Baptist Covenant Theology.

In the video below I'll try to adequately describe all of the views for you, so that you can begin to understand what being Reformed is and why the difference between Presbyterians and Baptists has nothing to do with Baptism, but everything to do with the way they view the Mosiac Covenant vs. the New Covenant. (The Abrahamic Covenant is of great importance as well, but I'll save that for another day)


I seek to study well and confirm all positions before I speak about one. I want to bring correct and unbiased views when I present information. However, every time I put forth someone's theological position, they respond by saying, "that's not a correct representation of the position."  Additionally, within each view there are sub-groups which may vary on various aspects. So for the record, I'm posting links so that each position may be able to speak for itself.

The major points that I'm trying to get across are

1. Presbyterianism =  One Covenant of Grace with Two administrations (the Mosaic vs. the New)
2. 20th Century RB = One Covenant of Grace with two administrations (with the exception of infant baptism)
3. 1689 Federalism = Two distinct covenants (Mosaic and New; the New being the Covenant of Grace)

The first link connects to the Westminster Confession which posits that there is only one covenant and two administrations.

The second link is from the blog of Brandon Adams who is a scholar and a man of understanding who specializes in 1689 Federalism (as well as all other Reformed topics), and is more than adequate and qualified to communicate what 1689 Federalism (this Historical Baptist view) teaches. Clearly, the 1689 view rejects the Presbyterian view and sees two completely different covenants.

The third link is again from Brandon Adams who contrasts the 1689 Baptist view with the 20 Century Baptist view.

The forth link is posted at Brandon Adam's blog but is an argument from Sam Renihan against the 20 Century view and for the Historic 1689 view.

For more information, is a great source.

Link 1: The Westminster/Presbyterian view posits one covenant and two administrations (paragraph 5 and 6)

Link 2: The 1689 Reformed Baptist View rejects the Presbyterian view of one covenant of Grace with with two administrations

Link 3: The most popular view of the 20th century is the freakish blend of view 1 and 2.

Link 4: A 1689 Federalist seeks to correct a 20th Century Baptist View of Covenant Theology

Friday, May 5, 2017

Les Lanphere and the Warning Passages

This morning, Les Lanphere put a challenge to Baptists. He states,

Show me that the New Testament warnings of covenantal apostasy are just hypothetical to put fear in the Saints, and I'll show you an immediate contradiction in thinking. If you know they can't happen, then you can't be fearful of them.
The warnings would only work on people that don't yet know they can't actually happen, so the warnings are temporary for people with bad theology. And you explaining it to me would be effectively causing me to stop being fearful of them. This is an unintelligible interpretation. God doesn't warn against things that can't happen.


If you know anything about Baptist beliefs, you must know that we submit that the only members of the New Covenant are saved individuals. One who professes to be a part of the New Covenant and is not really saved may profess to be in the covenant, but he is not.

Presbyterians on the other hand seek to advance the claim that there are saved members in the New Covenant, and there are unsaved members of the New Covenant. Thus, Les' statement about "covenantal apostasy" make sense. He believes that there can be members of the covenant who become apostate and are removed from the covenant.

The warning passages in Scripture seem to support this idea. After all, "how could a warning be hypothetical?" If it were hypothetical, an empty threat simply made to "put fear in the Saints" that would be "an immediate contradiction in thinking." I mean, "if you know they can't happen, then why be fearful of them."  That's madness! Obviously, these warnings are real, and they can happen. Thus, we must confess that people can be tossed out of the covenant. But if we acknowledge that God will never lose any of his own, then we must confess that there are those in the covenant who are not "God's own," those who are not saved. Hence, the membership of the New Covenant must consist of both the saved and the unsaved. See? It's all very logical. Logical... and wrong.

At times there are Scriptures that directly contradict one another, if I may speak that way. For example, in Ephesians 2, Paul says that salvation comes "by faith, not works" while in James 2, James says, "
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." Of course, we protestants understand how these passages complement one another. We understand that instead of being contrary, they give the Christian a more accurate and holistic understanding of salvation.

Thus, those who err on this matter do so only when they take one passage as "the way it is" and ignore the other passage. For example, those who over-focus on salvation by faith end up falling into the error of the ever-sin-loving "believer" who is saved no matter what his life looks like. While those who over-focus on Jame's salvation that is comprised of faith with works and ignore the passages about salvation by faith alone, end up teaching that salvation is by faith plus works. The key to interpreting Scripture however is to reconcile the two seemingly contrary passages. We can't afford to "explain away" the claims of a particular passage simply because it contradicts a passage that we value.

At this point, perhaps you're asking, "why is this important? And what does this have to do with Les Lanphere and the Presbyterian position. Well, it seems to me that Mr. Lanphere is erring by over-emphasizing one passage to the neglect of another. Instead of harmonizing the two passages as he ought, he emphasizes the warning passages while he ignores the passages that seem to contradict the verses that he values.


In Jeremiah 31, the prophet tells us that all those in the New Covenant are saved. Their iniquity is forgiven and their sins are "remembered no more." In fact, Jeremiah says that this is true of all the members of the New Covenant, "from the least to the greatest." Therefore, since we know that when God says, "their sins are remembered no more" that all members of the New Covenant are saved. There is no exiting the New Covenant to find ourselves in a place where God will remember our sins again. Once you're in the New Covenant, there is no leaving it. There is no way to be lost. But, didn't we see earlier in Mr. Lanphere's argument that people can commit "covenantal apostasy?" Didn't we already see that the warning passages have to be real because after all, "God doesn't warn against things that can't happen." Therefore, it must be possible to exit the covenant, and if it's possible to exit the covenant, then the covenant must be made of some saved and some unsaved.

So here we are. We have two passages that seem to contradict one another. On one hand, Jeremiah says that all who are in the covenant will "have their sins remembered no more" and all who are in the New Covenant must be permanently saved. But on the other hand, God doesn't warn against things that can't happen, therefore, exiting the covenant and being damned must be possible. What are we to make with these contradictory passages? Mr. Lanphere, and our other Presbyterian brothers decide that they will focus on the meaning of the warning passages and ignore the fact that Jeremiah 31 contradicts their interpretation. They of course will claim that Baptists focus on Jeremiah 31 and ignore the fact that the warning passages contradict our interpretation. And perhaps that may be true for some baptists. But I will now show the harmonization between the two passages which validates the Baptist interpretation. (Conversely, I posit that Mr. Lanphere and other Presbyterians cannot harmonize Jeremiah 31 with their interpretation. Let them attempt to do so if they wish).


Baptist want to harmonize all of Scripture (as does anyone who loves God's word; and I count many Presbyterians in that group as well.) But my contention is that there is a difference between wanting to harmonize the Scripture and actually doing it. Mr. Lanphere is guilty here of wanting to harmonize the passages but failing to do so.

Here are the competing claims of Scripture

1. All members of the New Covenant, from the least to the greatest shall have their iniquity forgiven and their sins remembered no more.
2. God warns of those who exit the new covenant and are damned (because their sins were NOT forgiven.)

Baptists harmonize these two passages by affirming Jeremiah, that all members of the New Covenant will be saved and by affirming that the warning passages are real, yet "it can't happen," it never will happen. God warns of something that will never happen. Therefore, the passage in Jeremiah is free to stand as is, and the warning passages are free to stand as is as well. Of course, Les is arguing that it's illogical to say God would "warn against something that could never happen." But a lot of things in Scripture are illogical. For example, Jesus is 100% God and 100% man (that's 200% for those of you keeping score). God is immortal, yet he died on the cross. God ordains all men's actions, yet man is 100% responsible for his own actions. God is one, yet at the same time He is three. Logically, none of these things make sense. How can you be both one and three at the same time? But we believe them not because we can logically make sense of them, but because Scripture teaches them. And this is Len's error. He wants logic over Scripture. He wants to focus on the warning passages and ignore Jeremiah 31. This way the logic can stand. He is right after all, "it's an immediate contradiction" because "God doesn't warn against things that can't happen." Logically, he makes perfect sense. But what if I told you, that God does warn against things that can't happen?

Okay Mr. Lanphere, if you want me to show you that the New Testament warnings can be hypothetical to put fear in the Saints, then I will. I just ask that you listen with a willingness to hear the argument and consider that I may be onto something. Turn in your Bible to Acts 27. Here we find that Paul is sailing to Rome to stand before Caesar. As they make their way across the sea, a mighty storm happens upon them. The men become fearful for their lives and begin to panic. What they don't know is that Paul had already been visited by an angel who promises that all will survive. Let's read the text.

Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss.
 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’

So we we see that God Himself, by way of an angel, has promised that "there will be no loss of life among you" and again, that God has "granted you all" to arrive in Rome.

So now that all of them have been guaranteed, by God himself, to keep their lives, how silly and illogical it would be for God to warn them that they could die. But let's keep reading. Skip down to verse 30,

And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship's life boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 

Well that's weird!  Why would God start by promising that none of them would die and then immediately turn around and say, "if those men get off the ship, you will die?"  That's what Les Lanphere would call, "an immediate contradiction."  But there it is, staring us right in the face, mocking us, challenging us to surrender our natural logic and calling us to wrestle with the Scriptures.

How shall we answer Paul here? "But Paul, how can you warn us that we will die if those men get off the ship? You already promised us, by a promise of an angel from God, that none of us will die?!"

Should we believe Paul here? Should we believe that they would in fact die if those men got off the ship? Is Paul's warning of certain death even applicable since he had already warned of certain life?  Shall we tell Paul that his warning of death can't be true? Or are both statements true? Is this one of those times when Scripture seems to have a contradiction and we have to figure out how to harmonize them before we arrive at the truth? What's the answer to this illogical dilemma?

Let us look at the text again.

Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship's boat and let it go."

What purpose did the warning of death serve? The warning actually caused the men to take the action necessary that fulfilled the original promise that no one would be lost. The promise of life actually came to fruition because of the warning of death. Was the warning of death true? Yes. We have to believe that it was. We have to hold that Paul was telling the truth, IF those men left the ship, then the others would die. That is true. But, we already knew that those men would not get off the ship because their life had already been assured. Thus, we see that the warning was not given because there was a possibility of those men getting off the ship, but the warning was given because there was NOT a possibility of those men getting off the ship. The warning actually functioned as a tool in the hands of God to ensure that His promise of life would hold true.

So in this case, God did indeed give a warning of something that could not possibly happen. For if it could have happened, then God's original promise of certain life would have proven to be a lie, and God cannot lie. So why give the warning if it couldn't happen? Because it was the warning itself that ensured that it would not happen. It was the warning of death that caused the soldiers to cut away the life boat keeping all on board, thus sparing the life of all and bringing to pass the original promise from the angel, that "there will be no loss of life among you."

Did the soldiers take the warning seriously even though they had already received the promise of certain life? Yes they did. Do we as believers do the same? Yes, we do. Is this an immediate contradiction. I suppose so. But it's true.

Thus, seeing that God both promised the sailors their lives and warned them of death, we can affirm that God does give warnings for those things that cannot happen because those warnings serve God's purposes. And ultimately, we see that the words of Jeremiah 31 do not contradict the warning passages. The promise of life stands, even when the warning of death remains present. The warnings actually affirm the promise, and they work to assure that the promise stands steadfast and true.

So is Les Lanphere right about hypothetical warnings being an "immediate contradiction?" Yes. He is. This is an example of a logical contradiction, like so many other 'contradictions' in Scripture. But God calls us to submit our often mistaken, fallen and errant "logical" conclusions to the truth of His word. Yes, God is both one, and three at the same time.  The immortal can die. The Christ was 100% God and 100% man. And God gives warnings of death to serve his purpose, knowing that death will never come' "for all in the New Covenant will know Me, from the least to the greatest, and I will remember their sins no more."