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“Sexual Orientation” – a Lie

ImageChristians commonly forfeit to the philosophies of the modern age by accepting an erroneous premise. This pattern is fully on display in many of the responses to crusading homosexuality. Many make the mistake of accepting the premise of what the world calls “genetic sexual orientation” -often referred to as simply “ sexual orientation.”

A Reformed Baptist blog recently posed the question

Could a man, in this fallen state, have an inbred orientation to homosexuality?”

and did not answer the question in the negative.

But granting this primary tenet of homosexual orthodoxy is devastating to any idea of biblical truth on the subject. The idea of genetic “orientation” is one that arises out of an atheistic context that denies the biblical doctrines of God, the soul and sin, viewing human behavior rather in terms of genetic inevitability and necessity.

The mistake in some cases proceeds from a gross error - supposing an agreement of  the Christian doctrine of original sin with the homosexual establishment’s teaching of “sexual orientation.” Many evidently fail to realize that when the homosexual mainstream says that they are “born like that” they are definitely not talking about original sin. They are saying something radically different - that a person is hard-wired genetically to behave as a homosexual and cannot be changed and must not be judged. Sadly, when professing Christians agree with this notion of “orientation” they have completely left the context of Christian doctrine.

The audacity of man goes so far as to not only deny responsibility for his sin but even to suggest that he has had no say in the matter whatsoever. And this is precisely what the whole “orientation” position embodies. Their actions, they claim, are not a choice and so there can be no accountability and no judgment about it. But the scriptures say otherwise, man’s problems are ultimately spiritual not physiological in nature.

The 1689 Baptist confession says 9:1 that the will of man “is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil.” Behavior is not necessitated by nature (genetics), it is the willful result of the spiritual condition of the immaterial soul. Man is responsible for his sinful behavior.

New Jersey state governor Chris Christie stated his mainstream homosexual views in an 2011 interview “I’ve always believed that people are born with the predisposition to be homosexual” and since then has signed in effect a law that bans “the practice of seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation, including, but not limited to, efforts to change behaviors.” Can those professing believers adopting this mainstream view of a “physiological” basis of behavior not see its anti-christian nature - even when it makes homosexual conversion illegal? The lack of discernment borders, evidently, on blindness.

If homosexuality is just a genetic reality some people are born with, on par with blue eyes, then there is no basis for a change, we have no  gospel message suitable for changing genes. But the premise is wrong. Man is a free and responsible moral agent (no matter what his genes are), and who has a spiritual problem affecting his immaterial soul – original sin. He can be saved because in regeneration there is a renovation of the soul and a change in relationship to sin, his real problem.

LB

The Repentance of Judas – a Translational Quagmire

MC900297791The KJV, RSV, NRSV, ESV (early printings) and other versions read in Matthew 27:3 that Judas repented. The NASB, NIV, NKJV, Holman, Phillips and others cite him as experiencing only remorse or regret. So what is going on with the translations?

Actually, there is a historical translational error at just this point. The Greek New Testament has two important words in this regard, metanoia- a change of mind, and metamelomai- regret/remorse. The first word is usually translated “repent”, the second word should be translated “to feel remorse or sorrow” but is sometimes also translated “to repent”.

But this is where it begins to get sideways, due to the fact that the English word ‘repent’ is not actually a correct translation of metanoia (change of mind). This is because the English word repentance means to feel sorrow but the Greek word it translates, (metanoia), does not. The English word repentance should have been reserved to translate the Greek word metamelomai (to feel sorrow).

This situation parallels the earlier Latin Bible which has its own mistranslation of metanoia (change of mind) by the Latin word paenitentia (think penitence), and which underlies the Roman Catholic evolution of a formal sacrament of penance. So it is, in fact, a traditional translational ambiguity almost as old as the church itself.

As if this were not enough, the situation is even further compounded by the fact that the English language, oddly, does not have a word available to translate metanoia (change of mind). A. T. Robertson, the great Baptist Greek scholar, is brought to say that the Greek word metanoia has been “hopelessly mistranslated.” Quite right.

The result is that many think that repentance means sorrow, which is true only of the English (and Latin) word but not the Greek that it is supposed to translate. Wherever you look in church history you find manifold appearances of this down to the present day. Some will no doubt respond, “I have read this author and that one, and this confession and the other, and they all indicate that repentance means sorrow for sin.” Exactly. The word has been mistranslated early and most all of theology has followed in that continuously corroborated path.

Given the importance of the word, the implications are profound. Nothing generally is considered more indicative of spiritual change than a few penitential tears. But Judas had that.

There has been, and remains, an intuitive tendency in most believers to conceive of the great transformational issues of the faith in emotional terms rather than intellectual, a change of feeling instead of a change of mind. And in a greater way yet, of course, all error springs from the evil one who is constantly substituting counterfeit concepts as a means of undermining the truth, smiling contentedly as confusion reigns in the minds of men.

So what are we to say about Judas? Paradoxically, it is in one sense correct to say Judas repented, since the English word lexically means to feel sorrow and the Greek word with respect to Judas is not metanoia (change of mind) but simply metamelomai (sorrow/remorse). On the other hand, given the existing translational tradition in which the English word repentance is used to translate the Greek word metanoia (change of mind), all that is created by attributing repentance to Judas is confusion.

Given this, it should probably be translated Judas felt sorrow or remorse as the NKJV, NASB and NIV correctly state.

Nevertheless, the translational ambiguity related to the subject of repentance has created a pervasive theological misconception. The evil one must be well contented with the situation and I am afraid that Robertson is right when he says the Greek word metanoia has been “hopelessly mistranslated.”

LB

Saving Repentance?

??????????????????????????????????????What is meant by the phrase “saving repentance” used in the 1689 Confession chapter 15 paragraph 3? Is this terminology legitimate? We are accustomed, of course, to speak of “saving faith” and properly so. But should the idea of a grace being “saving” be reserved exclusively for faith, or extended to also include repentance, or perhaps be stretched to include all the graces of the Christian life?

Doubtless we should not be too absolute in answering the question, we may use the word “saving” in different ways provided we make sufficiently clear what we mean and that we reflect biblical truth.

In Acts 11:18 we read “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to (or unto) life.” The Greek preposition eis used, however, does not indicate that there is a causal relationship between repentance and life; but only (in this case) that repentance accompanies, or is associated with life. In reality, regeneration (life) precedes and causes repentance not vice versa. But as a result of this translation, there has been a widespread tendency to interpret the passage as suggesting that repentance precedes and brings about life and salvation.

If that is not the thought, as appears evident, is it possible that the 1689 writers meant that repentance was “saving” only in the sense of a general association with salvation- a necessary and constituent element of a genuine saving experience? In 11:2 the confession indicates that faith is “is ever accompanied with all other saving graces.” Is repentance simply among these all-inclusive saving graces, all constituent parts of a valid experience?

Then why do we not see the prefix “saving” affixed to the other graces such as for example “saving good works,” “saving love” etc.? Only faith and repentance are described specifically and pointedly as “saving.” Clearly, it seems, there is a distinction being made that repentance is “saving” in a way that love, good works and other graces are not.

Can it be said, that because of the prominence given to repentance and faith in apostolic gospel preaching, these two graces are preeminent in the context of the immediate gospel response and experience? Yes, and in this sense the writers of the 1689 (following the Westminster confession) call repentance and faith “evangelical graces.” Well enough.

But, it is a large further step and problematic when repentance is then elevated to the status of a “saving grace” with faith, and above all other graces not so particularly denominated. What then becomes of the uniqueness of “saving faith”? Is it not obscured and trampled by “saving repentance”?

Faith, as the confession states (11:2), is the “alone instrument of justification” and by it the elect “believe to the saving of their souls” (14:1) Thus, there is to be a very real and important sense in which we speak of faith as uniquely “saving” in a way not true of any other grace. Repentance is not saving in the way that faith is. And when we equate them at this point we convey, at best, ambiguity – if not, in fact, error.

There is not a cogent case to be made for speaking about “saving repentance” alongside “saving faith” and in distinction from other graces. Repentance is not any more “saving” than hope, love, patience, or any other grace. And the real and present danger is the inevitable watering down and obscuring of the unique place of saving faith – a consequence to be tenaciously avoided.

LB

Prison Elders?

MH900400654This was the question addressed not long ago in a Texas association of churches. Can a Christian, justly incarcerated for crime, become a biblically called elder of a church meeting inside a prison? This is an odd question to be sure but the discussion was real and, to me at least, interesting. Regrettably I believe the association came to the wrong decision. Let me explain.

First of all, it’s obvious that there can be an assembling of Christians in a prison. To what degree such an assembly could function as a biblically ordered church would depend on the exact circumstances of the particular case. But let’s say that such a church does, in some places, exist. Then the question at hand, can there be a biblically qualified elder called from within their number to lead such a church? To this question the association answered yes. Their reasoning was essentially that there should not be any higher or different standard for those imprisoned than for those who are not. While I agree there is only one standard, I believe they did not sufficiently discern the extraordinary circumstances of the case which prohibit that standard being met.

The exact nature of the situation is critical. We are not talking about a believer with a previous known testimony of life who was arrested unjustly, say, for being a Christian. What we are talking about is a genuine criminal, sentenced justly, but who is either a believer (with a now scandalized testimony) or has become a Christian while in prison. Such a man, I say, can never meet the qualification for elder while he is in prison. Why? Because the qualifications for elder, being tests and requirements of character, cannot be measured in prison. The qualifications presuppose the observation of a man at liberty to live as he chooses to rather than one having a lifestyle forced upon him. It is impossible to know with certainty how an incarcerated man would live until he is free and can be observed. He may not be a drunkard, for example, in prison but he may be one indeed if allowed to live free. This and the other tests of character cannot be measured and therefore he cannot be biblically qualified.

There are, to be sure, many instances of perceived prison conversions which are immediately forgotten once the individual is given freedom. One such person stands out in my experience. He wrote long letters from prison to the church I attended, in which he spoke eloquently of his great desire for holiness and so on. Someone remarked that once he was released from prison he might become an elder in our church. An amazing conversion and a holy man- or so it seemed. The granting of freedom however revealed something quite different. The man immediately plunged into all his previous sins of drunkenness, immorality and violence. In a very short space of time he was re-arrested and returned to prison. This is my basic objection; a man who is not free cannot be evaluated as to his character in the way that is necessary for being biblically qualified as an elder.

If there is an assembly calling itself a church meeting in a prison, it may not be able to have regular biblical church order and it may not be able to call an elder. This does not necessarily mean it is not a church, it just means that there are extraordinary circumstances that have to be recognized and accepted.

LB

Literal Translation and the NASB

BibleA strong argument can be made that the 1901 ASV is the most literal and accurate English translation ever. The degree to which it consistently translates a given Greek word by a consistent English word is unequalled and helpful, as is the fact that it follows the often important Greek word order in the New Testament more than any other translation. But among the Bibles in print and more widely available, the editions of the NASB, following in the tradition of ASV, carry forward its accuracy and general linguistic virtues with some modernization of language and improvements. Like every translation it has its shortcomings but on the whole it is more accurate than the rest of those currently in print.

Regrettably, few have the level of expertise in the original text to make evaluation of a translation’s relative merits. Too often judgments are made on the basis of subjective readability or popularity rather than the technical quality of the translation. It’s hard to take seriously those who would say a literal translation like the NASB is hard to read. If someone can’t read the NASB they need to go back to school. Their dislike is really against the original text not its literal translation. But such is the consumer mindedness of our day even in direct relation to God’s Word. There must be “simplified” Bibles, we are told, for those who are intellectually challenged. With little thought they impugn the wisdom of God in giving his Word as He did.

Those furthermore who argue for the so-called “received text” theory of the “KJV only” school are off base to say the least- a subject we will not delve into here.

Those who argue for more periphrastic and interpretive translations along the lines of the NIV are putting linguistic theory against the fact that the original text is inspired in its actual words and grammar. Literalness therefore is the preeminent virtue in a translation.

Although many may balk at the statement, the fact is that exegesis, properly speaking, cannot be done on a translation since its words and grammar are not the ones that were inspired. Greek grammar and the semantic range of individual words simply do not equate to the English. Only to a degree therefore does an English Bible communicate God’s Word. Given that fact, the literalness, again, of a translation is far and away its most important attribute.

Recognizing each believer’s individual choice and responsibility in these things, we do urge the use of a literal translation, and among that select group of several in print we recommend the NASB.

LB

Oversight or Overreach?

The increasingly accepted idea among Reformed Baptist churches of a “mother church” controlling a church plant rests on several unsound notions; but particularly the extension of church authority beyond one local assembly to another in formation and not a part of itself.

The clear biblical principle that Baptists have historically understood is that each assembly has authority over its own affairs only, rejecting the idea of a third office of “bishop” having authority over more than one assembly.

And a strange scenario therefore it is in light of these principles for some Reformed Baptist pastors to claim to have “oversight” over another forming assembly, supervising the establishment of new churches much like Paul himself -never mind of course, the trifling distinction that he was an apostle and they are not!

But wait, they interject, a church plant is not a fully established church so may they not legitimately exercise authority there? And besides they say, look what a helpful service this is to an immature work without perhaps its own leadership. Pragmatic arguments aside, it must be asked what the basis for this proposed authority is.

If a church does not have authority outside the number of those that make up its own assembly then whatever it is and whatever its “overseers” are they are most definitely not in authority over those meeting elsewhere and not a part of their own assembly. This is simple and irrefutable and no amount of pragmatism can change it.

But let’s take for a moment the idea of a “mother church” exercising oversight over a church plant as a given for the sake of argument. May we ask its defenders is this “oversight” biblical in nature? Yes, of course they answer.

Very well then, if it is biblical “oversight” over a church plant then what would prevent the “overseers” from initiating church discipline on someone in the church plant if necessary (for that is an integral part of biblical oversight.) Nothing, except for the little fact that the people are not members of a church from which they can be excommunicated, and the men who are their “overseers” are not their elders/pastors, and the discipline cannot, for these reasons, be church discipline! By a gentle breath of wind the whole house of cards collapses for what it is - incoherent, poorly reasoned and arbitrary. Their “oversight” is plainly not the one spoken of in the New Testament.

And the outworking of this error is not hypothetical, in that, although having no real biblical authority these “overseers” do, nevertheless, exert authority to rule even in matters as serious as either defining or disbanding a church plant. It is ultimately nothing less than the power to nullify a fledgling assembly of Christ’s people that they exercise.

Is it nothing that such “overseers” make themselves authorities where Christ has not? Surely not! And He will try the nature of each man’s work as to what kind it is. He is a real overseer even if they are not.

LB

Moral Law Gymnastics and Theonomy

The position that the Ten Commandments are the moral law is an inarguable tenant of Reformed Theology. In the 1689 2nd London Baptist confession it refers to the Ten Commandments as “this law, commonly called moral” (19:3) and declares that in contrast to it the Jewish “judicial law” has “expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution”(19:4). The reformed consensus about the moral law as being the Ten Commandments and not the judicial law of the Old Testament is based on irrefutable biblical truth.

In a simple but telling way we are told that Peter being a Jew lived as a Gentile (Gal 2:14). And that while there were those in the early church who made the claim about believers that it was “necessary to direct them to observe the Law of Moses” (Acts 15:5), it was a claim rejected by the Jerusalem counsel and throughout apostolic writing and example. Paul argues for the liberty of meat sacrificed to idols (arguably a capital crime under Jewish law) and exhorts believers to let no one act as their judge in regard to “food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (Col 2:16). Nor can be overlooked his manifesto in Galatians in which among other things, he points out that Abraham himself did not even have the Mosaic law which came 430 years later (Gal 3:17).

Then there is the position of Theonomy. No fourteen year old Russian girl gymnast ever held a position as contorted as theirs on the moral law. From an Olga Korbut like vantage point they claim that what Reformed Theology calls the judicial (or civil) law and views as “expired” is in fact, in its entirety, the moral law -and still binding. Those who hold the Ten Commandments alone to be the moral law are, they say,  “antinomian.”

The death penalty they claim should today be imposed on children who rebel against their parents, anyone who worships a false god, adulterers, sabbath breakers etc. The mixing of seeds in the vineyard, the combining textiles in garments and much more are all moral violations by which the land is defiled. When we object to any of this as no longer applicable in the age of the church they allege that we are endorsing everything forbidden in Jewish civil law. The irrationality of such a statement is obvious.

The idea that the apostles were seeking to see capital punishment inflicted on idolaters and adulterers is laughable and absurd. The apostolic mindset was one of operating in a society of religious pluralism not a state church theocracy patterned on the Mosaic economy.

We can hardly be surprised that certain elements of the paedo-baptist churches move in this direction but what can be said of some who call themselves Reformed Baptists and yet hold these views? It is sad how the truth is being attacked in our day even under the false flag of Reformed Baptist self identification.

LB

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