Friday, June 15, 2012

Response to A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation, Part 10

[Part 1 of this series]
[Part 2 of this series]
[Part 3 of this series]
Could W.A. Criswell have signed this statement?
[Part 4 of this series]
[Part 5 of this series]
[Part 6 of this series]
[Part 7 of this series]
[Part 8 of this series]
[Part 9 of this series]

Article Seven: The Sovereignty of God

We affirm God’s eternal knowledge of and sovereignty over every person’s salvation or condemnation.
We deny that God’s sovereignty and knowledge require Him to cause a person’s acceptance or rejection of faith in Christ.
Genesis 1:1; 6:5-8; 18:16-33; 22; 2 Samuel 24:13-14; 1 Chronicles 29:10-20; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Joel 2:32; Psalm 23; 51:4; 139:1-6; Proverbs 15:3; John 6:44; Romans 11:3; Titus 3:3-7; James 1:13-15; Hebrews 11:6, 12:28; 1 Peter 1:17
The affirmation acknowledges truths about God that are essential to biblical Christianity while the denial raises questions about the authors and signers understanding of those truths. Once again, I find the wording uncharacteristically awkward for a public theological statement.

God certainly has "eternal knowledge" and "sovereignty" that extend to  "every person's salvation or condemnation." The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states the same truth more clearly in Article II.
 There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future [which would include "every person's salvation or condemnation], including the future decisions of His free creatures.
 I am convinced that the Bible teaches both God's meticulous sovereignty and his exhaustive knowledge, including foreknowledge. Jesus encouraged his disciples by reminding them that God rules and overrules in even the most apparently insignificant events. "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father" (Matthew 11:29, NASB). The point is that if God is that meticulously involved in small events then he can be trusted to rule sovereingly in every aspect of our lives. Similarly, the Lord spoke through Isaiah saying, "Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it" (Isaiah 46:8-11). The ability to declare "the end from the beginning" necessitates unlimited knowledge, which God most certainly has.

The authors and signers may well believe all of this, too, but they did not affirm it. A theological affirmation that addresses God's sovereignty and knowledge should, like the BF&M does, include simple, clear statements about such matters.

The language used in the denial is even more problematic. The awkward wording seems to be governed more by a desire to protect human free will than to express doctrinal conviction in biblical categories. The two words that signal this are "require" and "cause." Left without qualification the reader must assume the natures of necessity and causality that the authors have in mind. But anyone who has tried to understand the Bible's use of these ideas knows that there are many pitfalls to be avoided.

For example, we could ask, "Who caused Jesus' death?" Various answers could be legitimately given. The soldiers who nailed him to the cross did. Judas did. The Jewish leaders did. Pilate did. All of these play causal roles in the death of Jesus. But Scripture also plainly teaches that God did. "The Lord was pleased to crush him, putting him to grief" (Isaiah 53:10, NASB).

At Pentecost Peter brings the divine and human causalities together in his sermon to the Jews. "This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men" (Acts 2:23). He attributes the death of Jesus both to his hearers' lawlessness and to God's sovereignty. This understanding of divine and human causality permeated the spirituality of New Testament believers, as evidenced by their prayer after early experiences of persecution for their faith. After Peter and John were released from imprisonment they met with fellow believers and prayed together saying this, "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them,...truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 4:24-28).

In recognition of this biblical perspective the Second London Confession of Faith (1689) wisely acknowledges that God uses secondary causes.
Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, Who is the First Cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that nothing happens to anyone by chance, or outside His providence, yet by His providence He orders events to occur according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently (chapter 5, paragraph 2).
Similar intricacies relate to the Bible's view of necessity. John 4:4 says that Jesus "had (edei) to pass through Samaria." It was necessary. Why? Because it was the shortest route? Jews regularly took the longer route because of the animosity between them and Samaritans. Because some force outside himself coerced him? Nothing in the text even hints at that. Rather, based on what happens next, this seems to have been a divine necessity for the fulfillment of God's saving purposes for many Samaritans.

The woman whom Jesus met at a well in Samaria had her life transformed by him. She trusted him. And as a result of her testimony so did many others (John 4:39). Did God's "sovereignty and knowledge require Him to cause" her "acceptance...of faith in Christ?" How can this question be answered with a simple "yes" or "no?" Yet, I think if you were to ask her if God caused her transformation she would have been unembarrassed to answer in the affirmative. That is certainly my testimony. I suspect it would be Paul's, as well. And if the question were put just that bluntly to them, I would hope that every Bible believing Christian would readily acknowledge that God is the one responsible for--or the one who caused--his or her salvation.

So while God uses all sorts of means in bringing about the salvation of sinners, He is the ultimate "cause" of that salvation. Other factors can certainly enter in (such as a faithful witness, a sermon, Bible study, prayer, kind deed, dramatic experience, etc.), but God is the One who effects it and thus, all glory belongs to Him.

Does God work in the same way to "cause" a person to reject Christ? Absolutely not. People are born rejecting Christ because they are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). God is no less sovereign over those who reject Christ than those who trust him savingly, but the only way a person stops rejecting Christ and begins to trust him is through the sovereign, gracious work of God in his or her life.


8 comments:

Russell Taylor said...

As I've grown in my understanding of grace over the years, I've also grown in my understanding of my pastoral responsibility to communicate God's word for the purpose of sanctification of God's people. What is often overlooked in our statements of faith are the implications our beliefs have on the spiritual welfare of the sheep. Over the years I've tried to help people understand the security and liberation that comes from a biblical understanding of sovereign grace apart from just understanding it in an abstract manner. To be able fully embrace the wonderful truth that nothing can "... separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:39, requires a calvinistic/accurate interpretation of the context of that promise. The context that teaches that everything from our predestination to our glorification is based on God's faithfulness and not our own. Therefore, our security in God's love is unbreakable because God's character is the basis of our hope. When our people learn to embrace this truth, they find another motive for serving God besides the merit earning motive that subconsciously leads most Christians. They learn to serve in the security of God's love and we love him because he first loved us.
One of my deep concerns with the faulty view of grace that is too often taught from "the other side" is that it robs the saints of the sanctifying benefits that are meant to be imparted when God communicates the truth of His sovereign grace to us. In short Arminian theology in all its forms is cruel to the Saints. It leaves them either without security or in a faulty security.
When you met your wife you didn't walk into a room filled with women and pledge your love to all of them and offer to marry any who were willing. You saw your bride to be and you wooed her to you. God loves His bride with a special, caring, secure and singular love like any faithful husband does. We as pastors are called to lead our people into the joy and security of God's sovereign grace and love, so that they benefit from this truth.

DoGLover said...

Curious, all the verses to which the statement refers support the affirmation of God's sovereignty, but none of the verses support their denials. They even refer to John 6:44, where Jesus plainly says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." Is that not a cause?

B Nettles said...

The document denial says:cause a person’s acceptance or rejection of faith in Christ.

It seems to me the writer is attempting to answer Eph 2:9's reference to the gift of faith and postulating that it can either be accepted or rejected. If that is the intent, it is a poor attempt.

I believe the whole concept of "accepting faith" or "rejecting faith" is problematic, if not totally bogus. We don't "accept faith in Christ," we "believe." We are never presented with the invitation to accept faith, we are presented with the person and work of Christ, and TOLD to repent and believe. We "accept" Christ, not faith. Similarly, we don't "reject faith," we reject Christ.

If I were grading a written paper, I would flag this statement as ridiculous.

Robert Warren said...

Is it not fascinating that a statement on God's Sovereignty omits Is 46 in the passage list?

I find the word "declaring" in that passage very comforting. I wonder if everybody does?

Mike Logsdon said...

Hey Tom am loving the posts and I have been relaying Spurgeon quotes as they relate. Here I would caution such optimism about the Samaritan woman. Clearly the people's response is from her curious witness about Jesus but if you check the particle used in her seemingly affirmation about Jesus being Messiah it expects a negative response--mhti. At the very least she is in doubt. This however does not change the necessity of this scene in redemption history and the extension of the Gospel outside of the social standard set by Israel. In fact this heightens God's sovereignty over our will like the scoffers outside of Whitefield's preaching events who were converted by their mimicking of Whitefield's sermons.

Robert Warren said...

...her seemingly affirmation about Jesus being Messiah it expects a negative response...

Or, because she's a woman, she expects to be disbelieved?

Andrew said...

Thank you brother. I was saved out of the pure dark of Roman Catholicism...the Lord graciously yanked me out of there by His call into the word, the deep conviction of my sin revealed in that word and the glorious gospel...He placed deep on my heart the wrath of God...He then led me to Romans where I studied chapter 1-5 and fell on my face in repentance, this was my night of becoming that "new creation." I thank the Lord that almost immediately His providence dropped my into a small, loving, missions minded, evangelizing bible church...it was after being there a while I began to hear the words reformed and Calvin and the tension presented in their article. I am deeply convinced that if a person was exposed to no tradition and placed on an island with a bible and the Holy Spirit, he would without a doubt come out understanding the Doctrines of Grace.

My great concern for these brothers, who collective, as part of the bride of our Lord, need our prayers rest in a few areas:

It is fearful to see how precisely this man centered stance squares with Roman Catholicism and particular the battle of the reformers who exposed it (see Luther's bondage of the will, and any commentary Calvin makes regarding salvation by grace)

It is fearful to see that these brothers, and their approach to soteriology will make a significant contribution to the false church that falls away because it was always about man and not Gods true work.

It is fearful to think how these errors and rejection of clear, hard to comprehend, but not hard to understand truths will shape a completely distorted and ignored eschatology. How can one begin to understand Gods purpose withIsrael, His work in the building and stumping of Babylon, and His working in bringing the tribulation together against His bride and Him...

And the message of sin that this article suggest is one of some sinners are not as bad as other sinners because some sought after God, the better sinners, and some didn't, the bad sinner...let's be clear, in no uncertain terms, this is simply a cover for a man centered view of self righteousness that is held deep in the hearts of these men...but why?

I believe it is because they have countless souls in their churches, in their homes, and in their families who have made a decision for Christ but reveal no life, no true regeneration, no true love for the Lord and His word...these are very personal, fearful concerns their souls see at the heart of their families, loved ones and the work they believe they have done for the Lord...fearful brothers...please pray for them. This draws so very near to the pain and sorrow I have for my Catholic loved ones and the countless souls deceived by false religion, all of which is a consequence of their own unbelief.

Thank you and sorry for the long note to my brothers in Christ by Him and I'm alone....

June 9, 2012 7:53 AM

Andrew said...

A couple of factual points that express my concern regarding those historically most faithful to the truth, and the need for prayer in the Lords church:

2010-2011 Lifeway Survery of the SBC

5 Straight years of declining baptisms with a 2% increase in churches built and most startling, only 37% could be found in attendance corporate (this number is likely lower in that it appears to includes non-baptized attendee's)

Additionally, another brother observed this "in a convocation of church delegates from around the world meeting in Evanston, Illinois under the direction of the World Council of Churches, they surveyed them and found that only ten percent of the American Protestant clergymen found any significance at all in the doctrine of the Second Coming. Ninety percent of them said it's not significant."

This is the ground upon which the false, falling away man centered church will be built.

Pray brothers, pary for truth and wisdom!