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." 


  1. My only issue is the characterizations of certain ideas Scripture teaches as illogical. They are paradoxical but paradoxes are not necessarily illogical, and the points you bring up that communicate Scripture truth are certainly not illogical.

    Scripture teaches that Christ is 100% God and 100% man to express the idea that He is of two distinct and unmixed natures. The illogical idea is to say that Christ is of one nature that is 100% God and 100% man, and Scripture does not teach this.

    The statement "God is immortal, yet he died on the cross" IS illogical, and this is not what we can express about what Scripture teaches. Where Scripture does teach that Christ is of two natures, God and man, we can express that it is the man that died, and not God.

    God is one, yet at the same time He is three. This is true and not illogical because God is a unity in one sense while three in a another, different sense.

  2. I get what you’re saying, but while logic is great it is not the end all. While God is the author of logic that does not mean he is bound by it. Not by any means. In fact, God does some rather illogical things to accomplish His purpose and us slowcoaches struggle to understand as He defeats the wisdom of the wise. Like all good tools, use logic when you need it and trust God in faith at all times.