January Roundtable

The Conclusion of Ecclesiastes
January 26 Pastor’s Roundtable

Pastor Dave Chambers
Pastor Joe Herr
Pastor Tom Schierkolk

What is the doctrine of election?

The doctrine of election has been a source of debate among Christians for many centuries. One Bible teacher, Millard Erickson, who wrote a 1,000 page book about all the major doctrines of the Bible, said this doctrine is, “Certainly one of the most puzzling and least understood.” The Biblical doctrine of election has nothing to do with who is going to be the next President of the United States. The doctrine of election is about how God determines who will be saved.

Election is defined in many different ways. One view of election is typically associated with the group of teachings known as Calvinism, and is also closely related to the Lutheran view of election. This view teaches that God unconditionally chose to save certain, specific people. He chose these people before He created anything. He chose them only because of His grace, not because He saw they would believe in Jesus or because of some other good He foresaw would be in them. The ones God chose to save will be saved because He Sovereignly works in them to bring them to salvation.

The position that is often seen as the opposite of Calvinism is the Arminian view of election. This view teaches that God chose to save those who would believe in Him. In this teaching, God chose to save but He did not chose specific individuals who would be saved. Some variations of Arminianism teach that God chose to save individuals based upon foreknowledge of who would believe. That is, God saw who would believe Him and He elected to salvation those He foreknew would believe.

Others believe that election is of a means of salvation. God did not choose who would be saved, but He chose to save through the death of Jesus. All those who believe Jesus are joined to the chosen Savior and become part of the elect.

Others believe God chose to call out a group of people to Himsel, but He did not select the individuals of that group. He chose the nation of Israel in the Old Testament and He chose the church in the New Testament. In the New Testament era, all who are saved become part of the body of Christ. The individual members of this elect group are then known as the elect.

The question of election is challenging because it struggles with ideas that seem to be competing and contradictory. If God Sovereignly chooses those who will be saved and if only those He chooses can be saved, then how can He righteously punish any who do not believe what He has not given them the ability to believe? On the other hand, if man has the ability to believe or reject salvation then God cannot be fully Sovereign. If people have the full freedom to chose or reject God, then they have the ability to do things that God has no control over. The question of election wrestles with this seeming paradox of God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability.

Despite the challenges surrounding the doctrine of election, several key truths about God must be upheld. These truths cannot be denied and remain true to Biblical teaching. God knows everything. God knows the past, the present and the future. His knowledge includes everything that was, is and will be. He knows what men will believe and what men will not believe.

God is good and infinitely loving. He always acts for the benefit of His creation. He is not cruel or malicious. He is just. He does not play favorites with humanity based upon color, language, wealth, education, employment or power. God does not prefer those who have the most to offer Him. He deals with all men in goodness and justice.

Though many Christians have reached different conclusions on this subject, election should not divide sincere believers. In the end, each Christian will have to reach his own conclusions on the doctrine of election.

Does God raise the dead today?

A December news item reported the heartbreaking story of a church which prayed for the healing of a two year old girl who had died unexpectedly. She stopped breathing, was rushed to the hospital, pronounced dead and transferred to the city morgue. While she was in the morgue the church members gathered to pray for her to be restored to life.

An official statement from the church said, “Bethel Church believes in the accounts of healing and physical resurrection found in the Bible (Matthew 10:8), and that the miracles they portray are possible today.” Despite the church’s prayers, the young girl did not revive.

Most Christians readily admit God is able to do the miraculous. Many Christians believe the miracles described in the Bible, including resurrections, actually happened. The question is not if God is able to raise the dead to life. The question is, should Christians today pray for the immediate resurrection of one who dies before their time?

God is absolutely able to raise the dead to life, but the Bible never promises He will do so. The Bible never teaches that resurrection should be a regular part of the Christian’s experience today. In the 4,000 years of Biblical history recorded from Genesis to Acts only 9 people are named as being raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus is the most important. In the Old Testament, only three people were raised back to life. All three of them were in connection with the prophetic ministries of Elijah and Elisha. In the gospels, Jesus restored three people to life. In Acts, Peter and Paul each raised one person to life. Millions of believers never saw a resurrection. The Bible never tells of God raising someone from the dead in answer to the prayers of a local church or its pastors. Jesus, two prophets and two apostles are the only ones who brought the dead back to life. Nothing in the Bible teaches Christians to expect to see resurrections in answer to their prayers. God is able to restore the dead to life at any time He desires, but Scripture shows His intent is for the dead to remain dead until the resurrection at the last day. The great resurrection at the return of Jesus is the only one promised to believers.

The New Testament miracles were directly associated with the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. The miracles recorded in the New Testament were the Divine certification that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the apostles were messengers of Him. The miracles were intended to act as confirmation of Jesus and His apostles. Jesus told the unbelieving Jews, “The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.” (John 5:36) When the apostolic era came to an end the miraculous confirmation of the truth of the apostles message was no longer needed.

Jesus’ death on the cross removed the sting of death, but death is still a grievous enemy. The death of a child is even more terrible. However, the Christian’s hope is not in a few more years on this earth with a loved one. The Christian’s longing is for the eternal life and the eternal joy of heaven. The Bible promises Christians they will one day put aside all sickness and death, but that day is not now.

Did the crucifixion cut short Jesus’ ministry?

In a recent conversation someone mentioned that the death of Jesus seemed to be such a waste. This individual wondered that if Jesus was such a great teacher, who taught people to love one another and who did kind deeds for others, wouldn’t God’s plan have been better served by Jesus remaining alive?

Many people understand Jesus’ life and ministry to be all about teaching people to love one another. The author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, Douglas Adams, said, “(Jesus) had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change.” But what if Jesus was doing something other than trying to convince people to be nice to one another? What if Jesus’ crucifixion was not the interruption of Jesus’ ministry but its purpose? The death of Jesus was not a failure in God’s plan. Jesus’ death was the plan.

A few days before His crucifixion, knowing that His betrayal and death were near, Jesus said, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” (John 12:27) Jesus came into this world to die. When He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples that He could call down twelve legions of angels to deliver Him from the hands of the Roman soldiers, “But how shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matthew 26:54) The death of Jesus was no accident, no failure in His Divine plan. It was the plan all along.

Jesus did not come to earth to show mankind how to be more loving. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.” (Luke 19:10) “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) The angel told Joseph that when Mary had given birth, “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” The apostle Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

Jesus became a man that He might save men from sin. The problem of humanity is not unkindness, hate or poor education. The problem of humanity is sin. Mankind’s sin can not be corrected by a valiant effort to be better or by a great example of love. The problem of the world is a deep seated one that can never be rooted out by any person’s effort.

The death of the Son of God for our sin shows how terrible the problem of sin is. God graciously provided a means by which a substitute could take the place of the sinner. The wages of sin is still death, but God made a way for an innocent victim to die in the place of the guilty. Jesus was the innocent One who died in the place of the guilty. Christ’s death was the plan all along because His death is the only way the sin of men can be taken away.

Did Jewish Shepherds Swaddle Lambs?

This Christmas a new story related to be the birth of Jesus was brought to my attention. According to the story, many of the lambs to be offered at the temple in Jerusalem came from nearby Bethlehem. The law of Moses required every lamb that was sacrificed to be free from any defect. The shepherds- or priests, depending on which version of the story you find- would examine the lambs very carefully. To protect the sacrificial lamb from injury it was tightly cocooned in blankets or strips of cloth- it was swaddled. Then the swaddled lamb was laid in a stone feed trough, a manger, to protect it from harm.

When the angel told shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem of the birth of Jesus he said to them, “This shall be a sign unto you, Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” What an incredible dovetailing of circumstances! An event familiar to the shepherds fit perfectly with the birth of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! These simple shepherds would have immediately recognized the significance of a baby swaddled and laid in a manger. As great as this story is little evidence exists to support the tale of swaddled lambs.

An online search will return many articles repeating this story. But none of the sites I perused cited any archaeological or historical evidence for the story or presented any credible evidence of this taking place in ancient Israel. I was unable to find any commentary, Bible dictionary or other scholarly work which referred to this practice. Time to research this story was limited and it is possible there is evidence to back up the story that I have not yet found. I also realize the lack of evidence for something is not the same as proof against it. Possibly shepherds in Bethlehem swaddled sacrificial lambs, but it seems very unlikely to this author.

The story is interesting and compelling. All its little details fit together nicely with the Christmas story to give a marvelous image of the Lamb of God being readied for His sacrifice. But the Bible never mentions lambs being swaddled. The law of Moses did not command sacrifical lambs to be wrapped in cloth or laid in a manger. If sacrificial lambs were swaddled at birth, it was an extra-Biblical custom of the Jews.

While this particular story is probably harmless, the danger of such stories is their tendency to undermine the sufficiency of the Bible. Everything the world needs to know about the birth of Jesus is found in the pages of Scripture. Archeology and history help bridge the gap between events that happened thousands of years ago and our understanding of those events, but the Bible is sufficient in itself to teach everything we need to know about God the Son and the salvation of men. The Bible does not need the help of 20th century discoveries or modern day Rabbies to communicate Divine truth and transform lives.

Happy Thanksgiving

Every year America sets aside the fourth Thursday of November as a day to give thanks to God. On that day many gather together with friends and family to express their thankfulness for the many blessings recieved during the previous year.

The pattern of Thanksgiving in the United States was set by the pilgrim fathers. They endured great hardship, suffered much loss of life and faced many difficulties. Yet they did not fail to pour out thanks to God for His provision. They model obedience to the command, “Giving thanks always for all things.” (Ephesians 5:20)

Christians today are still required by God to give thanks in the midst of difficult and sorrowful times. Many may consider their lives right now and say, “What do I have to give thanks for?” Some may look at the challenges facing the nation and wonder what cause America has for thanksgiving. With a little thought it soon becomes apparent that we have many things for which to be thankful. We have more than the daily provision of all needs and an of abundance physical blessings. (Philippians 4:19; James 1:17) We live in relative peace. Grocery stores overflow with an extravagant assortment of food. We have homes and warmth. We have our choice of clothing. We have a vehicle to quickly transport us long distances, often more than one. Many have a wide variety of toys and entertainment. We have the ability to read, count and think. We have the freedom to speak, assemble, pray, worship, protest and give thanks however we desire. We have much for which to be thankful.

Christians have the ultimate cause for thanksgiving. Every sin has been forgiven. Guilt and condemnation under the wrath of God has been removed. Our iniquities have been taken away by Christ and we are made righteous in Him. No matter how bad your life is, if you are a Christian, your rotten life is temporary, is still far better than the eternal suffering of hell you deserve and it will be replaced with eternal joy. Give thanks for your salvation!

The wonderful salvation of the Christian is abundant cause for rejoicing, but it is not the only reason to give thanks. Christians can give thanks because of the great promise that the abundant grace of God will be continually at work them. His grace abounds far more than sin (Romans 5:20) but also far more than need. (Ephesians 3:20) The grace of God is sufficient for all times and seasons. The grace of God is always working to do far beyond what we ask or even imagine. We can give thanks because God’s abundant grace is still overflowing.

The Bible also reveals a vast array of blessings and promises from God which are the Christian’s daily benefits. (Psalm 103:2) Your bank account may be empty and your future health may be doubtful, but God’s abundance is not diminished. For that we should always give thanks. Give thanks to God because He gives you many physical benefits and He gives you an infinite treatsure of spiritual blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Should Ministers Deny Communion to Congregants?

A few weeks ago former vice-president Joe Biden was denied communion at a Catholic church in South Carolina. The priest’s decision immediately made the headlines, prompting the usual range of reactions. Communion is a familiar ceremony repeated thousands of times a week in churches all across the world. Anyone who has regularly attended church has probably observed or particpated in communion.

Protestants and Catholics are not in agreement about the nature and purpose of communion. The Catholic church teaches communion is a necessary part of being saved and during the communion service the bread and wine are transformed to become the physical body and blood of Jesus. Protestant churches teach that communion is an important part of Christian obedience. The elements do not undergo a physical transformation, but spiritually a great transaction takes place during the Lord’s Supper. Despite these significant differences in teachings about communion, most Christian denominations treat the Lord’s Supper as a serious event which makes significant demands on the individual.

Because communion is a sober memorial of the suffering of Jesus many pastors take a few minutes before administering the elements to warn the church of seriousness of what is happening. Careful pastors exhort Christians to be serious and holy in their observance of the Lord’s Supper. Most protestant pastors do not refuse to serve the communion elements to any individual, but they do ask Christian’s to voluntarily not participate if they are living in sin.

The reason for these warnings is found in the warnings given in 1 Corinthians 11. The apostle Paul rebuked the church in Corinth for their abuse of the Lord’s Supper. Some people, before taking part in communion, were selfishly stuffing their faces causing the truly needy to do without. Some in the church were fighting with one another over which preacher was best. Some in the church were openly supporting immorality. Some in the church were treating the church gathering as a show time for their own self-aggrandizement. Some in the church were participating in idol worship during the week and participating in the worship of God on the weekend. The Bible commanded these believers to repent of their various sins before participating in communion.

The Bible does more than command repentance. In 1 Corinthians 11:29-30 It warns, “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” Communion is the memorial of the death of God the Son for the salvation of the world. A failure to treat the ritual with the respect and reverence it deserves brings the chastening of God. In Corinth people were sick and some had died because of their sinful participation in the Lord’s Supper.

Joe Biden was refused communion because of his open, willful and continued advocation of murder. None should be surprised a Catholic church, which teaches that every unborn child is a living human being, would withhold communion from one who supports killing babies. What should surprise people is the church doesn’t do this more often.

Warning people away from communion or denying them the elements is not a judgmental act of hypocritical meanness. It is the response of a compassionate minister who understands the gravity of the Lord’s Supper and is concerned for the spiritual well-being of his parishioners.

We Are All Going to Die

In May the pastor’s roundtable began to discuss the book of Ecclesiastes. We will be recording a total of six conversations about this book. The roundtable discussion airs the last Sunday of the month on WRUP 92.7 FM. As part of the discussion of Ecclesiastes, Pastor Chambers’ sermon on the same part of Ecclesiastes will air the following Sunday. You can listen to both broadcasts below.

October 27 Pastor’s Roundtable

Pastor Dave Chambers
Pastor Joe Herr
Pastor Tom Schierkolk
Pastor Dave Sexton

November 3 Radio Show
We are All Going to Die

Pastor Dave Chambers