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.

Should a Christian be baptized a second time?

Every so often a Christian asks this Baptist pastor about being rebaptized. At times the desire for a second baptism is in response to a time of backsliding. A believer may have repented after a period of living in sin and desires to be baptized as a show of their renewed commitment to the Lord. The desire to show their return to the Lord is praiseworthy, but this kind of baptism misunderstands the purpose of baptism.

Jesus gave two ordinances to the church: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The command to observe the Lord’s Supper included the need to do so “often.” “For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) The record of Acts and 1 Corinthians indicates the church observed the Lord’s Supper as part of their Sunday gatherings. (1 Corinthians 11:21-26) The Lord’s Supper was repeatedly observed by all Christians.

Jesus commanded the twelve disciples to baptize every one who believes. “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 28:19) The book of Acts shows how the apostles obeyed this command. Those who believed the gospel of Jesus were baptized and added to the church. The New Testament church treated baptism as the initial sign of faith in Christ. Baptism was the way new believers told the church and their neighbors that they were followers of Jesus. Because salvation is received once and baptism is a testimony of salvation received, baptism was not repeated over and over again. There is “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Ephesians 4:5)

However, some situations require the rebaptism of a believer. Because baptism is the public testimony which proclaims a new believers salvation, any baptism that took place before conversion is not Christian baptism. A person baptized as an infant is unable to believe Jesus, receive His salvation or confess Him as Lord. Those baptized as infants should be baptized after salvation. A person who professes salvation, is baptized, but later becomes convinced his earlier profession of faith was not genuine should be baptized again. Anyone baptized before salvation should be baptized again following his conversion.

One danger of multiple baptisms is they may encourage the beliefs that baptism provides some special grace, washes away sin or gives the person a spiritual power boost. Baptism does none of those things. Baptism is the loving response of the Christian to his Savior. No act of obedience, however important, gains for the Christian a special measure of grace or additional spiritual power. The only grace in obedience is the grace of God which enables the believer to obey. A Christian who has made a public profession of faith through baptism gains no benefit from a second baptism. A sinning believer who desires to show the genuineness of his change can do so by a public confession of sin and acknowledgment of repentance. No other baptism is needed.

Isn’t meditation emptying your mind?

Meditation for many Americans is a relaxation technique. The common understanding of meditation is that it is emptying mind and thinking about nothing. The Bible speaks often of meditation, encouraging and commanding believers to meditate. Does the Bible teach that Christian’s should empty their minds?

Scripture uses the word meditation in contexts that provide additional and essential information about how the Biblical writers understood meditation. The Word of God describes meditation as the opposite of emptying the mind. Biblical meditation is not repeating a word, phrase or sound over and over again. Biblical meditation is filling the mind with deep consideration of truth.

The Hebrew word translated into the English word “meditate” can also be translated “mutter” or “speak under the breath.” Sometimes when concentrating on a difficult problem people will talk to themselves. They will murmur, whisper, or even talk the problem through with a friend. Meditation is not necessarily a silent activity. In the Psalms David said, “And my tongue shall speak (the word speak is translated elsewhere in the Bible as meditate) of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.” (Psalm 35:28)

The Bible always describes meditation as being attentive to specific information. The Psalms repeatedly speak of meditating on the Word of God. Biblical meditation is not mindless, but is focused upon Divine truth. “My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:48)

Scripture also describes meditation as considering the work of God and the character of God. David meditated on God’s working in days gone by. He may have thought on God’s creation of the world, His deliverance of the Israelites or the blessing of God in his own life. David meditated on what God had done. “I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.” (Psalm 77:12) David meditated upon the character of God. In Psalm 66 he spake of God’s power, glory and lovingkindness. David then said, “I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.”

Meditation is not only an internal process, nor is it only a private process. Meditation involves speaking the truths of God. Praise to God is a form of meditation. “My tongue also shall talk (meditate) of thy righteousness all the day long.” (Psalm 71:24) Speaking the truths of God to others is also form of meditation. “The mouth of the righteous speaketh (meditates) wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment.” (Psalm 37:30)

Though the popular understanding of meditation is of a passive activity in which the person seeks to quiet his mind, the Bible describes it as an active process. Biblical meditation does not attempt to still the mind, but to fill it. Biblical meditation actively works to understand God’s Word. Biblical meditation involves teaching God’s truths to others, praising God for who He is and what He has done. Biblical meditation can be done quietly in the mind, it can be done vigorously with a pen and paper, it can be done conversationally with others and it can be done prayerfully in praise to God. But Biblical meditation cannot be done without active thought.

Can only an ordained minister baptize?

Every Christian church celebrates baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Some also observe other sacraments, but baptism and communion are familiar to any who have been a part of a Christian church. Most churches also have ordained clergy administrate the two ordinances. Some churches teach that only ordained members of the clergy allowed to officiate baptism and communion.

The New Testament is silent about who is permitted to baptize or administer the Lord’s Supper. The apostle Paul even said he was glad he only baptized a handful of people in Corinth. The rest of those baptized in Corinth were baptized by unnamed individuals. The Bible teaches how the ordinances are to observed and the motives necessary for those participating, but it does not address who should give the ordinances. The one receiving the ordinance must receive it rightly, recognizing it as a testimony of God’s grace. While the New Testament says much about the importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper it does not give any requirements for who can officiate those ordinances. The one administering an ordinance ought to be a believer and should have the right attitude and motives. Those officiating the ordinances should recognize and reflect their proper importance.

This does not mean anyone can baptize anyone they want in the family pool. A dad may desire to baptize his newly saved child, but baptism is a public event. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of the local church. They are not private events to be observed in isolation. They are public testimonies of the grace of God proclaimed to the church and the unsaved world. None can simply administer the ordinance in their home or to themselves. The dad may be permitted to baptize his child at the church, or the church may come to the family’s house to for a baptismal service, but the performance of the ordinances should be under the leadership of the church and with the gathered assembly of believers.

Some may wonder about the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. Only Philip and the eunuch are mentioned, so does that mean it was a private ceremony involving only those two? The account of Acts 8 makes clear the eunuch was not traveling alone. He was sitting in his chariot reading while they traveled and he ordered the chariot to be stopped. Obviously someone else was driving the chariot. We don’t know how many people were there, but others were present. The baptism of the eunuch was a public confession of his faith.

The use of the ordinances should be solemn and serious. None should allow personal convenience or personal preference to determine their use. These things are commands of God and the Word of God must guide the Christian’s obedience in them. As public testimonies given to the church, the ordinances should be performed in public under the authority of a local church.

Is everyone a Christian who says they are?

A recent survey in Great Britain determined over half of Christian’s surveyed do not believe or are not sure that Jesus died on the cross to forgive sin. Seventeen percent said they disagreed with the statement, “Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected at Easter so that you can be forgiven for your sins.”

Many evangelical Christians consider belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus to forgive sin is essential to Christianity. Outside of Catholicism, no Christian group recognizes any human authority to determine who is or is not Christian. There is no membership fee or initiation process. Someone can claim to be a McDonald’s employee, but unless he is actively working for and receiving pay from McDonald’s corporation, the claim is obviously false. The same cannot be said of Christianity. One can go to church and have all the appearance of being a Christian without actually being one. Likewise, a genuine Christian can observe none of the outward trappings of Christianity and still be one.

The Bible defines who is a Christian. This is not determined by a committee decision, a council’s resolution, a church edict or a papal decree. The Bible defines what makes a person a Christian and describes the visible evidences of genuine Christianity. While no one has the authority to declare who is and is not a Christian, all believers have the ability- based upon the authority of Scripture- to declare that some who profess Christianity are not actually Christian.

Christianity is not determined by a strong feeling of being a Christian, nor even by doing Christian things. Jesus warned there would be some who preached and did miracles in His name that would be cast into hell. In the day of judgment Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you.” Personal feelings, religiousness or devotion are not what makes a person a Christian. What makes a person a Christian is proper belief personally applied.

Proper belief is belief in the gospel. The substance of the gospel is defined in Corinthians 15. The truths of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection for our sin must be believed to be saved. Likewise, the Bible declares if a person denies certain key doctrines, then that person is not a Christian, no matter what they may call themselves. These undeniable doctrines include salvation by grace through faith alone (Galatians 1:7-8) and the deity of Jesus (1 John 4:2-3).

The New Testament gives a clear definition of who is and is not truly a Christian. A Christian is a person which believes Jesus is God who died on the cross for sin and rose again. A Christian is one who then abandons all attempts at securing salvation for himself and places his full trust in Jesus to forgive his sin. This definition has not changed in the two thousand years since Jesus’ life. No one is a Christian merely because they identify as a Christian. Self-identification as a Christian does not make a person a child of God any more than self-identification as a walrus makes a person a grumpy pinniped. Only faith in Christ makes one a Christian.

What is the Difference Between Catholicism and Protestantism?

Like a single tree trunk separates into various large branches, Christianity can be divided into several large family groups. The largest are Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism. Most Americans have at least a passing familiarity with Catholic and Protestant churches. Very few churches identify themselves outwardly as Protestant, but many stem from the Protestant branch of Christianity. The Protestant faiths include Presbyterianism, Episcopalianism, Lutheranism, Methodism and a number of other denominations. All churches which trace their beginnings to the Protestant Reformation are Protestant churches.

Some of these churches, like many Baptist churches, look and act nothing like the Catholic church. Some, like many Lutheran churches, bear an outward resemblance to the Catholic church. Is there any real difference between the Catholic church and Protestant churches?

This question is complicated by the many variations of beliefs in individual churches, even within the same denomination. These differences are almost beyond counting and vary from congregation to congregation. Some of the differences are very significant and some are unimportant. To keep things short, this answer will focus on the official doctrines that have traditionally separated Catholics from Protestants.

One further complication is the many Protestant groups who downplay, deny or ignore the official church doctrines. This branch of Protestantism, called theological liberalism, gives little concern to the doctrinal creeds of the churches. Liberalism emphasizes social issues and holds very different opinions from the Catholic church on matters of sexuality, abortion and the role of women in the church.

Traditional Protestants and Catholics have many important beliefs in common. They all believe there is only one God who is a Trinity. They believe Jesus is God the Son who became man to die for the sins of humanity. They believe the Bible is the Word of God given by the Holy Spirit through the apostles and prophets. They believe people are sinners in need of a Savior. Despite these very important beliefs in common, the differences that separate the two groups are equally as important.

The Protestant reformation began with the statement, “Now the just shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11) The doctrine of salvation by faith alone is the biggest and most important difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. The Catholic church teaches that through faith the person is enabled by Christ to accomplish salvation. Protestant churches teach that salvation is fully accomplished by Christ and given to the one who receives Him by faith. These two beliefs are not compatible with one another. The one says works are essential to salvation, the other says any one attempt to work for salvation are not saved.

There are many, many other differences between Protestantism and Catholicism. However, what truly sets these two groups apart is their different teachings on salvation. How a person receives forgiveness of sin and salvation is a matter of the greatest importance. As long as the churches teach a different way of salvation there will always be a divide between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Did the early church meet in people’s homes?

Recent years have shown a renewed interest in the habits of the apostolic church. Many are asking what the church did in the first decades after Jesus’ resurrection. Much of this interest comes from a desire to answer the always important question of what it means to be a church. One specific question that is being asked is where the early church gathered. Did the early church meet in individual’s homes?

The Bible is not silent about where the church met. Scripture makes specific statements that some churches met in homes. Colossians 4:15 says, “Salute . . . Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.” In Romans 16 Paul greets the church meeting in Aquilla and Priscilla’s house. Paul wrote the epistle of Philemon to Philemon and the church in his house. Without a doubt early churches met in homes. 

However, the early church did not meet exclusively in people’s homes. The Bible also makes specific statements that some churches met in public areas and large facilities. Acts 5 tells of the church in Jerusalem gathering in the temple courtyard. In Acts 19 the Ephesian believers are said to have met in the “school of Tyrannus” and continued meeting in this facility for two years. These two examples are sufficient to show that the church meeting place was not restricted to homes or that home meetings were seen as superior to meeting in other locations. The New Testament gives many commands about how the church should gather. The New Testament describes when the church should gather. The New Testament does not give any instructions about where the church should gather.

Proponents of house churches sometimes imply and sometimes state that the house church is better because it has less formal structure than a more traditional church. The New Testament shows a development and increase in the organization of the church, but there is nothing to indicate that the basic formal structures of the modern church were not in existence during the apostolic era. The New Testament discusses a number of formal structures in the church. These include a known membership, a select group of deacons, lists of widows, the giving and distribution of gifts, a known and understood body of doctrine, the appointment of special ministers to act on behalf of the church, the ability of the congregation to welcome and remove people from the church, a clearly defined pastorate, men specially appointed as pastors, an accepted body of doctrine and vigorous defense against false doctrines.

The early churches met in homes. These early house churches were not a gathering of the family on Sunday morning. Nor were they an informal gathering of neighbors to discuss the Bible. From the very beginning every church was an official gathering of believers who held to orthodox doctrine, who had a defined membership, who appointed officers to oversee their affairs, who were submitted to pastoral authority and who made binding decisions for themselves. The location of meeting does not define a church. The gathering of believers with the active intention of fulfilling all the responsibilities given by Jesus to His church is what makes a group of people a church.

Does God hate religion?

Alex Himaya wrote a book entitled, “Jesus hates religion.” He said that, “Jesus is about love and relationship, not rules and religion.” A quick search online turns up dozens of reasons why God hates religion. “Religion has started wars.” “Religion builds huge churches but fails to feed the poor.” “Religion sees people as the enemy, but Jesus sees sin as the enemy.” “Religion keeps people from God.” “Religion is a replacement for a relationship with Him.” This popular notion sets up a conflict between religious institutions and Jesus. With the problems in many churches, the failure of organized religion to address injustice and the sheer hypocrisy of many religious adherents it is tempting to believe that God really does hate religion.

God created religion. After man sinned, God began to teach sinful man how he could come to God in worship and fellowship. This way of coming to God is religion. Man immediately began to devise his own way to approach God. Cain’s failure in worship is the earliest example of human religion. Man’s attempt to come to God in his own way is also religion. If “God hates religion” means that God hates man’s own efforts to approach him, then yes, that statement is true. The Old Testament shows time and time again that God rejects all attempts to come to Him except according to the way He prescribed. “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) If religion is defined, as one author said, as “a man made path to God”, then God hates religion. But if you mean God hates the religion He gave to humanity, then that’s just nonsense. Not only does God not hate His religion, He requires men to follow it.

The argument cannot be made that God liked religion in the Old Testament but not in the New. Jesus established New Testament religion that includes rules, rituals and doctrine. Jesus established the church (Matthew 16:18), appointed its leaders (Ephesians 4:11-12), defined its practices (Matthew 18:15-17, 28:19-20; Luke 22:19-20; Colossians 3:16; 1 Timothy 4:13) and established its doctrines. (Galatians 1:11-12) No one can argue that Jesus is all about relationship but not rules. He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) and “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (John 15:14) Jesus does not hate the religion He gave to humanity.

Many religious institutions have abused the teachings of Jesus. Religion has divided people and has been a major factor in a number of wars. Religion has been used to cloak the worst kind of abuse and depravity. God hates man-centered, self-righteous and man-devised religions. God gave religion to man as a good thing enabling the sinner to come to Him. Man has misused and perverted God’s good gift, but God still loves the religion He instituted when it is followed according to His instructions. There is such a thing as pure religion which all who seek to follow Christ must participate in. None can truly say they love Christ but not His religion. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27)

What is theological liberalism?

On the Everlasting Trusth website and radio broadcasts we have made periodic references to theological liberalism. The category theological liberal is important, but often neglected, distinction. Theological liberalism has nothing to do with American politics. Liberal politics are usually associated with the democratic party, but liberal theology is a category that refers to what someone believes about God and the Bible.

Liberal theology began to gain ground in America during the late 1800’s. Soon there was conflict in the major denominations between liberal and conservative groups. Those early battles were fought over the inspiration of the Bible, the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Jesus and the genuineness of miracles in the Bible. The liberals denied all these. The theological conservatives strongly defended them.

A theological liberal elevates the authority of science and reason to be equal or greater than the authority of the Bible. In the 1800’s when reason declared miracles were not possible, the liberal agreed. When science concluded the world evolved over a long period of time, the liberal began to explain Genesis in ways that accommodated millions of years of evolution. The meaning of Scripture is shaped for the liberal by science, experience, modern philosophy, psychiatry and contemporary morals.

Sometimes the liberal theologian denies outright the truth of the Bible, but often he is more subtle. Many liberal theologians reinterpret a passage by manipulating the historical context. For example, since Paul was writing into a culture that did not value women’s rights, therefore his statements about a wife’s role in marriage have to be understood through the cultural grid of Paul’s day. The liberal theologian believes that if Paul were writing today he would agree with the progressive view of gender roles.

Liberal theology is frequently shaped by a single ethical ideal that is elevated over the rest of Scripture. This ethic becomes the interpretative grid through which everything else in the Bible is understood. For example, in liberal theology the truth that God is love reinterprets the Biblical commands regarding marriage and sexual purity. A loving God would never condemn loving relationships, no matter who were involved. Modern ethical concerns seem to dominate the focus of liberal churches. Usually the ethical standards of theological liberalism are closely aligned with the ideals of political liberalism. The liberal theologian is often concerned with promoting racial justice, economic equality, environmentalism, access to abortion and acceptance of homosexuality. These ethical concerns outweigh doctrinal concerns. Dealing with social injustice is far more important than preaching the Biblical truths of Jesus and salvation.

The great danger of liberalism is its denial of the authority of the Bible. By denying the truth of Scripture, the liberal effectively denies the gospel. Those who deny that Jesus is God, that Jesus was a perfect man and that Jesus rose from the dead deny key truths that must be believed to be saved. A message that ignores these core truths of the gospel is not a Christian message. Theological liberalism is not just a different viewpoint about certain difficult or minor doctrines. Theological liberalism rejects historic Christian doctrine and it rejects Biblical doctrine. Though it claims the name of Christian, theological liberalism is not Christian.