Can You Be Gay and Christian?

Westboro Protest

Michael Chiavone is correct in his assertion that the ecclesiology of the 21st century looks much different than centuries of past, largely in part due to the success and increase of alternative church’s arrangements. Through the use of technology, specifically multi-site and streaming churches, it is now extremely challenging to offer an all-encompassing universal definition of the church. At the forefront of controversial topics regarding the church’s relationship to the state is homosexual marriage, which continues to be an area of much debate. This topic leaves many people with a poor perception of the church, and in many settings serves to demonstrate more what the church is against than what she is for. As the boundaries of religious freedom continue to be tested, Michael Brown offers perhaps the most appropriate response to the question, “Whether one can truly follow Jesus and practice homosexuality at one and the same time” (Brown 2014, xi).

In chapter ten, Brown attempts to balance grace with the truth of God’s Word, illustrating, for “gay Christians,” there is often an experiential claim associated with their argument, which attempts to justify the homosexual practice being perfectly acceptable because a committed relationship exists between two individuals. The biblical response recognizes it is possible to be a devoted follower of Christ, while also having same-sex attractions, as long as those thoughts and attractions are not affirmed. The problem arises when those attractions are acted upon making it then impossible to live a holy life.

To God, sin is sin, but humanity takes the process one step further and ranks various sins, much like crimes and classifies them as misdemeanors or felonies, with each having various degrees of offense and penalties or judgments. For many Christians, the very thought of being gay or acting upon those attractions would be equated to a crime of premeditated murder, but to God, homosexuality is no different than idolatry. Idolatry, by definition is anything placed before God in one’s life, and this can be a person, place, or thing that comes before God. In the Old Testament, certain sins required specific sacrifices and some sins affected the individual and/or the community. To advance this thought, a few of the texts that speak of homosexuality use the term תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה (tôʿēbâ) to mean abomination, which indicates, “That these sins are not simply something that God peevishly objects to, but that produces revulsion in Him” (Erickson 2013, 526). The result of any sin is separation from God, but Erickson furthers this thought and illuminates, “We are not simply sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners [and] sin is any lack of conformity, active or passive, to the moral law of God. This may be a matter of act, of thought, or of inner disposition or state. [Ultimately,] sin is failure to live up to what God expects of us in act, thought, and being” (Erickson 2013, 528-529). Jesus, in Matthew 5:28 clearly establishes the mere thought of a sinful act is the same as committing it, which demonstrates the effect desires have over the propensity to sin.

In recent years and through various human rights groups, the paradigm now perpetuated is God versus gays, meaning homosexuals must either be condemned or affirmed. Currently, as this assignment is being written, members of the Westboro Baptist Church are across the street waving “God hates fags” posters in the air as the people are gathering in the church for Sunday morning service. A much more accurate sign should read, “God hates sin.” Just as sinners should not be defined by his or her past/present sin, the universal church should not be defined by the actions of extremists like those outside telling homosexuals a fiery-hell awaits them. Brown demonstrates, “The problem is many gay-affirmative people will say their sexuality is ‘who they are’ and ‘essential to their being’ and ‘very core’” (Brown 2014, 205-206). Humanity’s fallen nature leads to one’s inclination to sin, so as Brown suggests, “Rather than saying, ‘I am gay, and Jesus died to help me fulfill my sexual identity,’ they should say, ‘I struggle with the sin of homosexuality, but by God’s grace I will not be defined by it or ruled by it’” (Brown 2014, 209).

Homosexuals should not be defined by their actions, nor should their desires enslave them to feeling as though change is impossible. Brown asserts, “You can [abstain from sex,] be single, but you cannot live without God” (Brown 2014, 221). Instead of focusing on one’s sexuality or allowing sin to define someone, the emphasis must always be trying to redirect the individual’s focus back to Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior. Some churches shun people for being gay, while others make it known gay people are not welcome, but acting on homosexual desires, in God’s eyes, is no different than gossipers who gossip or thieves who continue to steal. The right does not belong to humans to say homosexuals are not welcome in the house of God and it surely does not instruct followers of Christ to treat homosexuals with disdain and demoralizing insults. When God says something is wrong, and despite His warning and commandment, the individual still chooses to sin, the body of Christ should come alongside and stake themselves next to the lost sheep until Jesus Christ, through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit produces such a radical encounter, that the person repents and turns away from a life of sin. This “God, and by default the church versus homosexuals” rhetoric must stop. We all are children of the Most High God, and Jesus Christ gave His life for everyone, regardless of what sin someone struggles with.

Another major issue that must be addressed is whether homosexuals should be ordained or serve in a ministerial capacity. Millard Erickson asserts, “While a homosexual orientation combine with a celibate lifestyle, does not seem to be sinful, the consistent biblical proscriptions of homosexual practice (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:27-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10) seem to disqualify practicing homosexuals from holding such positions” (Erickson 2013, 1007-1008). Reading about Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, and home of the largest “gay Christian” denomination was bizarre. This lifestyle choice was very reminiscent of the book of Judges, where each person did what was right in his or her own eyes. Perry’s early homosexual childhood encounter was surely traumatizing, but as Brown proposes, “Could you imagine a heterosexual Christian leader describing his first youthful sexual encounter with a little girl as being an ‘innocent time of religious and sexual discovery’” (Brown 2014, 215). While the Bible does say, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” this does not justify homosexual relationships. God promises to neither leave nor forsake His children, just as He promises in Him one will find escape from the corruption of the world and everything needed to live a life of godliness. Brown rightly concludes, “[God] will either satisfy you with His presence, He will provide you with godly friends and companions, or He will help to bring change in your attractions, so you can marry a fitting, lifelong companion” (Brown 2014, 219). The message of the gospel must not be watered down, but the church needs to embrace people despite the presence of sin. If church were only for those without sin in their life, the chairs or pews would be empty, so to cast judgment on homosexuals, and not others living in sin is hypocritical and ungodly. So, can you be gay and be a Christian? In this writer’s opinion, yes, but only by recognizing those attractions being contrary to God’s design and resisting them as sinful” (Brown 2014, 213). Being a disciple of Christ begins with dying to oneself daily and denying sinful desires because being gay and a Christian does not work when those sinful attractions are acted upon. God loves us just the way we are, but He loves us too much to leave this way, regardless of what area of sin attempts to sever the relationship between God and His children. If we, the church, the body of Christ are not a part of the solution, then we are a part of the problem and this is not a place anyone wants to find themselves when he or she must give an account to God during final judgment. Love, acceptance, and forgiveness must be the motivation to reach those in need of God’s grace, mercy, and truth.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brown, Michael L. Can You Be Gay and Christian? Responding With LOVE & TRUTH to Questions About HOMOSEXUALITY. Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine Publishing, 2014.

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ – Book Critique

Believer's Baptism

Shawn D. Wright, professor of theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and member of the Evangelical Theological Society[1] teams up with Thomas R. Schreiner, Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary[2] to co-edit a compilation of scholarly and theological essays on the history and doctrine of baptism. Using exegesis of Scripture, a detailed history of the theology and practices of early church, and with the ultimate goal of restoring baptism to its rightful place as a central liturgical act of Christian worship, the authors set out to advocate credobaptism (the doctrine that Christian baptism should be reserved solely for believers in the Lord,) over the beliefs and practices of Reformed paedobaptists (those who practice infant baptism).[3] This critique will largely agree with the author’s conclusions that credobaptism is biblically supported and will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses behind the authors’ claims, which assert baptism must be reserved strictly for believers and how baptism remains relevant to the church today.

SUMMARY

The main premise of Believer’s Baptism is to clearly articulate the history and practice of baptism and to affirm: who should be baptized, when he or she should be baptized, and what the act of baptism actually accomplishes in the life of the believer. Schreiner and Wright set out, with the aid of an additional eight highly esteemed Baptist theologians and scholars to demonstrate baptism should only be reserved for those who have believed, repented, and maintained his or her faith. Each of the author’s conclusions and findings presented are rooted in rich biblical truth, and offer practical application for the believer today, while also presenting potential reasons for how and why paedobaptists came to believe infant baptism should be linked to the covenant relationship, specifically found in the Old Testament, and early church practices.

Schreiner and Wright further seek to show how paedobaptists associate the covenant of grace with the Abrahamic Covenant, in an attempt to reduce the Abrahamic Covenant to its most basic spiritual components. While this argument presents no middle ground, Schreiner and Wright successfully demonstrate baptism must be reserved for believers who have received Christ as his or her personal Savior, have turned away from a life of sin, and seek to make a public profession of faith, thus fulfilling the command found in Scripture. While the doctrine of baptism has increasingly become a topic of debate in denominational circles, the secondary objective of Schreiner and Wright is to provide pastors and leaders with a practical resource when faced with many of the questions surrounding the practice of baptism e.g., Does baptism save the believer? Does baptism forgive one’s sins? Does baptism have an age requirement? And how should one respond when challenged with any of the above questions?

A tertiary goal of Schreiner and Wright is to cultivate a greater sense of unity within the body of Christ. To many, how, when, or why someone should be baptized may seem like a minor issue but as Timothy George demonstrates, “Baptism is important precisely because it is tied to the gospel, and to the saving work that Christ accomplished in His death and resurrection.”[4] Within Christianity, there are doctrinal hills worth dying on and the practice of baptism is one of those hills, as Paul Jewett demonstrates, “To baptize infants apart from faith threatens the evangelical foundations of evangelicalism.”[5] Believer’s Baptism combines biblical exegesis, history and theology, and practical application to provide a powerful argument for credobaptism.

CRITICAL INTERACTION

Beginning with the Gospel accounts, Andreas Köstenberger provides concise historical context into the practice of credobaptism. While there are not a great deal of passages that deal with baptism, the ones which do clearly establish the rite of baptism: “Is designed for believers who have repented of their sin and have put their faith in God and in His Christ, is an essential part of Christian discipleship, most likely consisted of immersion in water, and presupposes spiritual regeneration as a prevenient and primary work of God in and through the Holy Spirit.”[6] The Gospels each clearly demonstrate the believer’s baptism is the intended teaching and A.T. Robertson further demonstrates, “the Gospels provide no evidence or support for the baptism of infants, the notion of baptismal regeneration, nor does the principle of believer’s baptism enunciated in the Gospels allow for such a practice.”[7]

Robert H. Stein then analyzes Luke and Acts, illustrating God’s intimate role in the process and counters claims of baptismal regeneration and belief that the act of baptism forgave sins. Despite household conversions and baptisms taking place, Stein answers the question, exactly who can be baptized, by asserting “Those baptized… have heard the gospel preached, as responding with repentance and/or faith, and proceeding on their own to the place of baptism.”[8] Robertson further illustrates, “Baptism, as taught in the New Testament, is the picture of death and burial to sin and resurrection to new life, a picture of what has already taken place in the heart, not the means by which spiritual change is wrought. It is a privilege and duty, not a necessity. It is a picture that is lost when something else is substituted in its place.”[9] Stein adequately advances the position for credobaptism, but in a climate where many congregations are seeking to go back to an early church model, some practical and modern-day application of the credobaptism principles would have been a nice companion to this chapter.

Next, Schreiner examines the epistles and reveals how, “Baptism relates to washing, to sealing, to redemptive history, and [answers] whether baptism should be confined to believers.”[10] Schreiner’s main emphasis is on the act of baptism only being for those who have confessed his or her sins and trusted in Christ for salvation. Paul, in Ephesians 4:5 asserts there is one baptism, which unifies all believers. Paul’s emphasis here is to bring balance to the rite of baptism, with his primary focus being on unity within the body of believers, while also making it known baptism is not restricted from any ethnic or social group. Galatians 3:27 is a prime example, illustrating, “Believers who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This verse denotes the close connection between one’s faith and the practice of baptism. Ronald Fung further demonstrates, “Baptism is here regarded as the rite of initiation into Christ, that is, into union with Christ, or, what amounts to the same thing, of incorporation into Christ as the Head of the new humanity.”[11] These passages counter the singular claim of paedobaptists regarding God’s grace and illuminates how God’s grace must be combined with the human response.

Despite there being no record or command of infant baptism in the canon of Scripture, Stephen J. Wellum explains, “At the heart of the doctrine of infant baptism is the argument it is an implication drawn from the comprehensive theological category of the covenant of grace.”[12] To address this claim, Wellum looks at the relationship between the covenants and explains, “[Only] if the interpretation of the covenant of grace, along with its understanding of the continuity between Israel and the church can be maintained do we have a strong case for infant baptism.”[13] Despite paedobaptists’ argument for infant baptism, Wellum verifies the key problem is rooted in a, “Failure to understand correctly the proper relationship between the biblical covenants, [since] a truly covenantal approach to Scripture… demands an affirmation of believer’s baptism.”[14] Another important contribution is Wellum’s response to paedobaptist assertion that, “Circumcision and baptism carry essentially the same spiritual meaning and that in the new covenant era baptism is the replacement of circumcision as a covenant sign.”[15] Ultimately, baptism and circumcision carry two very different meanings and Paul could not be clearer that circumcision was no longer a covenant sign. Wellum rightly concludes, “[Baptism] signifies a believer’s union with Christ, by grace through faith, and all the benefits that result from that union.”[16] Wellum’s contribution for the defense of credobaptism was a key component.

Steven A. McKinion looks to the early church fathers and patristic writings to conclude, “Baptism had less to do with the age of the baptized person than with the role of repentance, profession of faith, and entrance into the full life of the church.”[17] The main issues facing those in the third and fourth century were the high infant mortality rate and debate over whether infants needed forgiveness of sins. Despite these issues, McKinion demonstrates why early church fathers like Tertullian rejected the defense of infant baptism on two counts: “First, infants are innocent, guiltless, and not in need of forgiveness; second, faith alone is sufficient for salvation. [Thus,] baptism should follow faith, and since young children do not need forgiveness and cannot possess faith, baptism is unnecessary.” Despite few supporters, the early centuries of the church are often cited in defense of paedobaptist belief, predominantly since it was the practice of some churches, but it was never universally practiced and those in favor of paedobaptism seemed to have a more refined view on the doctrine of original sin.

With the rise of Anabaptists, Jonathan Rainbow contrasts Ulrich Zwingli and Balthasar Hubmaier’s views explaining, “For Zwingli, baptism was a mere sign, [while] for Hubmaier it was more than a sign. [Ultimately,] Baptists consider, on the basis of an open and personal confession, that the person coming to the water believes in Jesus Christ, and that there is an inner reality to which baptism corresponds… This was the heart of Reformation Anabaptists…”[18] Rainbow offers profound insight between Zwingli and Hubmaier’s viewpoints by illustrating, “There is a fear of allowing water baptism to come too close to the work of grace in the sinner’s heart; there are raised eyebrows and puzzled looks at the New Testament texts that closely associate baptism with salvation; and many would rather not baptize at all than leave room for the impression that baptism is an integral part of the conversion experience.”[19] This assertion is exactly what paedobaptists have done in their departure from biblical doctrine. Making too much or too little of baptism are both dangerous roads to travel, so Rainbow is correct in his word of caution. With this word of warning, Timothy George highlights, “It is important to [remember] and recognize that in the Reformation tradition of believers, baptism was forged in the context of persecution and martyrdom.”[20] Looking back in time at the formation of doctrine and tradition, it can be easy to forget exactly what was going on at that time to warrant the beliefs and practices, which resulted. Rainbow does a great job advancing the credobaptism position in this section.

Shawn D. Wright presents the logic of Reformed paedobaptists in an attempt to examine and understand their logic. Calvin, Murray, and Marcel all hold to the covenant of grace, but as Wright demonstrates, “Their biblical exposition is oriented toward the Old Testament with a lack of attention to the New Testament’s teaching. [Further,] by using the Westminster Confession of Faith as evidence for infant baptism… it is neither ‘good’ nor a ‘necessary’ deduction.”[21] Each of these Reformed paedobaptists seemed to believe God regenerates the infant at baptism, but without faith, this process cannot begin. Another doctrinal error in this vein of theology occurs by paralleling circumcision with baptism, which Wellum has previously covered in depth.

Duane A. Garrett then looks at the Israelite traditions and shows Meredith Kline’s “Error is in taking Old Testament events that are retrospectively and metaphorically called ‘baptism’ and enlisting them as guides to the ritual mode of actual baptism. [Ultimately,] by interpreting baptism under the rubric of a suzerainty treaty means that a Christian must require all persons under his authority to be baptized, [which] validates the Constantinian vision of Christianity.”[22] In Cornelis Bennema’s critique of Believer’s Baptism, he cites, “Kline’s defense of paedobaptism being closely connected with the idiosyncratic theology of the covenant and whenever historic divergences exist within the church, it is best to engage the arguments that have historically been most influential and decisive; this can hardly be said to hold true for Kline’s formulations.”[23]

Baptism was a source of division amongst early Christians, as Ardel B. Caneday explains, by using Paul’s letters to the churches at Corinth and Galatia to show, “All who have put on Christ with all who are baptized into Christ, as though the two are fused into one. To be baptized into Christ by submission to the symbolic foot washing called for by the gospel is to be clothed with Christ Jesus.”[24] Paul seems to be equating those who are baptized into Christ Jesus share in part with the redeeming effects of His death. Caneday further demonstrates, “While Paul warns the Galatians that submission to the ritual act of circumcision would be to sever oneself with Christ (5:2-6), he identifies Christian baptism as the ritual act that marks one as clothed with Christ.”[25] This is a significant contribution to the difference between the ritual acts.

In the context of the local church, Mark E. Dever illustrates, “Only forty percent of baptisms in cooperating churches are ‘first time’ baptisms of converts, [attributing this trend to:] confusion, ignorance, prejudice, and a misplaced and distorting cultural conservatism that besets most churches today in their practice of baptism.”[26] Dever successfully brings together the culmination of previous chapters to answer questions like: Who should baptize? How is baptism to be done? Who is to be baptized? When are baptisms to be done? And should unbaptized individuals be excluded from: the Lord’s Supper, church membership, and should baptisms from other churches be accepted. Bennema adds, “Though it may well be that many Reformed churches have not lived up to their covenant theology, it is hardly the case that this theology diminishes the obligations of faith and repentance in respect to the children of believers. On this point, the claims of several authors in this volume seem to be overstated.”[27] Overall, the predominant Baptist background of the authors limits the scope of this work. Had other denominations of faith been included, the book would become more relevant to a larger number of people, but Schreiner and Wright are quite clear their goal was simply to promote credobaptism over paedobaptism, and this goal was adequately accomplished.

CONCLUSION

Schreiner and Wright have also clearly established baptism requires the public profession of faith, which acknowledges one’s salvation and honors Christ’s atoning sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection. In a time where the world seems to know more what the church is against than what she is for, Believer’s Baptism is a treasure-trove of wisdom and practical application, which has the ability to bridge the gap and produce unity and love within the body of Christ. Baptism plays a pivotal role in the fulfillment of the Great Commission and is vital in advancing the kingdom of God. Ultimately, God wants His followers to live in unity and love, but as Timothy George demonstrates, “Unity in love must also be unity in truth, else it is not genuine unity at all.”[28] Upon this premise, Schreiner and Wright are to be commended for producing a work that brings clarity to the practice of credobaptism over paedobaptism and this work would be well suited for anyone interested in understanding not only the history of baptism but also how this practice should be applied to the church today.

 Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ. Edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, Series Edited by E. Ray Clendenen, B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2006, 364 pp. $29.99 (Hardcover).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bennema, Cornelis P. A Review of Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ., by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, ed. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52, no. 3 (September 2009): 655-61, (accessed June 12, 2017).

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Fung, Ronald Y. K. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Galatians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

George, Timothy. “The Reformed doctrine of believers’ baptism.” Interpretation 47, no. 3 (July 1993): 242+. Academic OneFile (accessed June 12, 2017).

Jewett, Paul K. Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978.

Robertson, A. T. “Baptism, Baptist View,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Edited by James Orr (Chicago: IL, Howard-Severance Co., 1915), 1:416-417.

Schreiner, Thomas R. and Shawn D. Wright, ed. Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ. Series Edited by E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2006.

[1] The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Website, http://www.sbts.edu/academics/faculty/shawn-d-wright/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[2] The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Website, http://www.sbts.edu/academics/faculty/thomas-r-schreiner/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, ed. Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, Series ed. by E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2006), 6.

[4] Timothy George, Believer’s Baptism, 1.

[5] Paul K. Jewett, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace, ed. James Orr (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), 162.

[6] Andreas Köstenberger, Believer’s Baptism, 32-33.

[7] A. T. Robertson, “Baptism, Baptist View,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Chicago: IL, Howard-Severance Co., 1915), 1:416-417.

[8] Robert H. Stein, Believer’s Baptism, 65.

[9] Robertson, “Baptism, Baptist View,” 417.

[10] Thomas R. Schreiner, Believer’s Baptism, 68.

[11] Ronald Y. K. Fung, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 172.

[12] Stephen J. Wellum, Believer’s Baptism, 68.

[13] Ibid., 124.

[14] Ibid., 160.

[15] Ibid., 153.

[16] Ibid., 159.

[17] Steven A. McKinion, Believer’s Baptism, 186-187.

[18] Jonathan H. Rainbow, Believer’s Baptism, 206.

[19] Ibid., 205.

[20] Timothy George, “The Reformed doctrine of believers’ baptism,” Interpretation 47, no. 3 (July 1993): 242. Academic OneFile (accessed June 12, 2017).

[21] Shawn D. Wright, Believer’s Baptism, 254.

[22] Duane A. Garrett, Believer’s Baptism, 281.

[23] Cornelis P. Bennema, Review of Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, ed. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52, no. 3 (September 2009): 660, (accessed June 12, 2017).

[24] Ardel B. Caneday, Believer’s Baptism, 285.

[25] Ibid., 286.

[26] Mark E. Dever, Believer’s Baptism, 329.

[27] Bennema, “Believer’s Baptism,” 661.

[28] Timothy George, Believer’s Baptism, XIX.

Role of Christ and Spirit in Salvation and Security of Believer

salvation_is_found

The distinctive work of the Son of God and the Spirit of God in the procurement of salvation begins with an understanding of the oneness and unity, achieved between Christ and the new believer. Millard Erickson demonstrates, “All that the believer has spiritually is based on Christ’s being within. Our hope of glory is Christ in us [and] our spiritual vitality is drawn from His indwelling presence” (Erickson 2013, 878). Christ Himself came into the world and took on human nature (John 1:1, 1:14). He then paid the ultimate sacrificial price for all of humanity, with His life, and through His vicarious atoning death on the cross. Christ’s sinless life, His suffering, and His death satisfied the demands of God’s divine justice (1 Peter 3:18) and restored the severed relationship between God and His children (Romans 5:10). Humanity’s problem was, “Our sinful acts have alienated us from your God; and our sins have caused Him to reject us and not listen to our prayers” (Isaiah 59:2). However, “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ’s death ultimately provided salvation and as Erickson shows, “Christ: (1) gave us a perfect example of the type of dedication God desires of us, (2) demonstrated the great extent of God’s love, (3) underscored the seriousness of sin and the severity of God’s righteousness, (4) triumphed over the forces of sin and death, liberating us from their power, and (5) rendered satisfaction to the Father for our sins” (Erickson 2013, 729). The satisfaction theory or atonement as compensation to the Father best encapsulates the role Christ played in procuring humanity’s salvation.

At the moment of salvation, there is a union the new believer attains with Christ, one made up of several parts, and one in which can never fully be comprehended, due to the union being a profound mystery (Ephesians 5:32). Erickson defines the act of salvation as, “The application of the work of Christ to the lives of humans” (Erickson 2013, 826). The first part of this union is of a judicial nature and recognizes believers as being righteous because Christ dwells within. Erickson illustrates, “God does not say, ‘Jesus is righteous but the human is unrighteous.’ [Instead,] He sees the two as one and says in effect, ‘They are righteous’” (Erickson 2013, 881). As the parable of the vine and branches demonstrates, one’s union with Christ is also vital (John 15:4). Leon Morris explains, “The two ‘abidings’ cannot be separated, and ‘abiding’ is the necessary prerequisite of fruitfulness. No branch bears fruit in isolation. Every fruitful branch has vital connection with the vine. So to abide in Christ is the necessary prerequisite of fruitfulness for the Christian” (Morris 1995, 595). In this union, the life of Christ flows into the life of the believer providing both spiritual strength and renewing the believer’s inner nature. The final union is spiritual in nature and in large brought on by the Spirit of God, as Erickson reveals, “Not only is our union with Christ brought about by the Holy Spirit; it is a union of spirits” (Erickson 2013, 881). The union with Christ, as a result of salvation, seems to have the most impact with regards to justification or how God views sinners as now being righteous in His sight. While justification is a single act, occurring at salvation, sanctification and regeneration are an ongoing exercise of faith, with the ultimate goal of becoming more like Christ in one’s thoughts and actions.

The Spirit of God or Holy Spirit plays a major role with conviction of sin, which leads to repentance (John 16:8-11). This divine call or prompting that leads to salvation is an act of God, and is called efficacious grace since it is an effective operation of grace. Charles Hodge explains:

There are three classes into which all events of which we have any knowledge may be arranged. First, those, which are produced by the ordinary operations of second causes as, guided and controlled by the providential agency of God. Secondly, those events in the external world, which are produced by the simple volition, or immediate agency of God, without the cooperation of, second causes. To this class all miracles, properly so called, belong. Thirdly, those effects produced on the mind, heart, and soul, by the volition, or immediate agency of the omnipotence of God. To this class belong, inward revelation, inspiration, miraculous powers, as the gift of tongues, gift of healing, and regeneration” (Hodge 2011, 683).

To this third class belongs the work of efficacious grace, so while the Spirit of God plays a major part in pre-conversion, the Spirit is also the driving force behind regeneration. Erickson describes this process as, “God’s transformation of individual believers, His giving a new spiritual vitality, and direction to their lives when they accept Christ” (Erickson 2013, 872). The Spirit of God facilitates God’s renewing work in the life of the believer and this is a never-ending process. After conversion, the Spirit of God continually works to sanctify the believer (Galatians 5) and Erickson describes this process as, “The Holy Spirit’s applying to the life of the believer the work done by Jesus Christ” (Erickson 2013, 897).

When looking at the assurance, evidence, and security of believers, there are several key components to each of these terms. The assurance of salvation refers to the question, “How do I know I am saved/rescued from my sin.” This is rooted in God’s ability to see the heart of His children and there is no middle ground; He is either Lord of one’s life or He is not. 1 John 5:11 says, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” This is a propositional truth, meaning we are saved by grace, through faith, based upon on our own beliefs/faith. I. H. Marshall explains, “The question whether we accept God’s testimony or not is not a merely academic one. On our answer too it changes the question whether or not we participate in eternal life. For what God’s testimony means is that he has given us eternal life; but this life is given only in His Son” (Howard 1978, 241). Assurance also is reflected in one’s behavior, meaning, “Do we look like and act like out Father?” One’s faith must be rooted in the blessed assurance of salvation and no amount of good works will ever satisfy.

When referring to evidences of salvation, the key difference between this and the assurance is now the focus is placed on whether someone else is saved. The book of James, specifically 2:17 establishes faith must be expressed and lived, by walking the talk. Frank Gaebelein explains, “James states the proposition he intends to demonstrate in the following verses: ‘Faith… not accompanied by action is dead. Action is the proper fruit of living faith. Because life is dynamic and productive, faith that lives will surely produce the fruit of good deeds. Therefore, if no deeds are forthcoming, it is proof that the professed faith is dead” (Gaebelein 1981, 183). The distinction James is making is not to deny faith; rather, he is indicating it is not the right kind of living faith, which does not possess the power to save. Only by inspecting the fruit in other peoples’ lives can the evidence of salvation be determined, but one must be careful not to solely base the assurance of salvation on what he or she does, but instead on what Christ Jesus has already done in their lives.

The security of the believer answers the question, “How secure is one in his or her salvation?” This is a highly debated subject matter amongst theologians and has become dogma and/or doctrine for many denominations of faith. In this writer’s opinion, an adopted child of God cannot be disowned. Paul, in chapter 5 of his letter to the Romans says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Douglas Moo explains, “By believing in Jesus Christ, the divine agent in God’s climactic act of deliverance, Paul and the Christians of all ages and places, have been declared innocent of all charges justly brought against those who sin and fall short of God’s glory. Paul presents this declaration of justification as a past act, which brings to the believer a new and permanent status and acquits the sinner” (Moo 1996, 298). A more reformed theology views justification as God’s declaration of one’s righteousness on the merits of Jesus Christ. Proponents of Arminianism warn falling away from Christ is possible citing passages such as: Hebrews 6, 10, Matthew 24, and 1 Corinthians 10. Ultimately, as Erickson illustrates, “It is possible to fall away and by relying on our own strength we surely will. However, if we are secure in Christ it is because of the work of the Holy Spirit, and the work of God in our lives that keeps us from falling” (Erickson 2013, 919-922). Essentially, this means a true follower of Christ we will not fall away despite the warnings that a believer can fall away. The warnings in Scripture serve in many ways like a fence, to keep believers committed to serving the Lord, without removing their free will to choose.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Gaebelein, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 12: Hebrews through Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981.

Marshall, I. Howard. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Morris, Leon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995.

Christology, Person and Work of Christ, & Atonement

jesus-paid-it-all-wallpaper-from-sofie-scott

The doctrine of salvation and the study of exactly how Christ’s death secures the salvation of those who believe remains a highly debated topic amongst theologians. Ultimately, one’s view of Christology and biblical understanding of Soteriology sets Christianity apart from any other religion, in that Christianity is the only religion that bases one’s salvation on faith alone, by grace alone, and through Christ alone. Millard Erickson emphasizes, “In the history of the church, the most heated debate in Christology has been over the understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ” (Erickson 2013, 603). In the early history of the church, the person and work of Christ were viewed as one and the same, but during the medieval period, there arose a shift in scholastic theology, which began to separate the doctrine of the person of Christ: (His divinity, humanity, and the unity of the two) from the offices and work of Christ (Erickson 2013, 617). This quickly led to disputes over the deity of Jesus and ultimately estranged the average Christian from having an impactful or experiential relationship with Christ, because the theological questions caused Christology to no longer be relevant to the average follower of Christ. An opposing view and the second shift in the view of the person and work of Christ would occur during the nineteenth and twentieth century, defined by Philipp Melanchthon’s statement: “To know Christ is to know His benefits” (Pauck 1969, 21-22). Luther further emphasized Christ’s saving activity for the believer, while Friedrich Schleiermacher stressed the importance of the experience of what Christ does in the believer. Paul Tillich would synthesize these views and assert, “Christology is a function of Soteriology. The problem of Soteriology creates the Christological question and gives direction to the Christological answer” (Tillich 1957, 2:150). Erickson illustrates how in this theory, “The theological answer is correlated with the existential question. Accordingly, we should concentrate upon the symbolism of the biblical materials, since it stresses the universal significance of the Christ event” (Erickson 2013, 617). By approaching the person of Christ through the work of Christ, it creates a greater unity between Christology and Soteriology and demonstrates the significance of the doctrine of Christ. Regardless of which view is taken, it is virtually impossible to separate the work and person of Christ and any effort to do so has the potential to lead to heresy. Erickson does demonstrate there is an acceptable way of beginning Christology with Christ’s work. However, he cautions, “While it must not be allowed to set the agenda, it can be used as a point of contact for more elaborate discussions of His nature” (Erickson 2013, 618).

Through a proper understanding of Christ’s work, it aids the believer in understanding exactly how Christ fulfilled the offices of: prophet, priest, and king, which leads to the three major functions of Christ being: revealing, ruling, and reconciling. The life and ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ then provide the framework for the doctrine of atonement, which Erickson explains, “Is the transition point from the objective doctrines of God, humanity, sin, and the person of Christ to the subjective doctrines. This transition point is the key element in balancing Christian theology to make it relevant to the believer” (Erickson 2013, 713). Just as there are multiple views pertaining to the person and work of Christ, the doctrine of atonement is no different and over the years, many inadequate theories have been presented. Ultimately, as Erickson emphasizes, “The example of Christ, the demonstration of the extent of God’s love, the severity of God’s righteousness and the seriousness of sin, the victory over sin and death, and the satisfaction for our sins are all truths, and should all be included in the explanation of the atonement” (Erickson 2013, 713). Thus, when looking at the atonement, there is an immediate shift from Christ’s nature to His work on the behalf of all sinners.

The Socinian Theory and the Moral-Influence Theory both emphasize the primary effect of Christ’s death is on humans. Both theories fail to recognize retributive justice and minimize God’s justice, holiness, and righteousness. The Governmental Theory or atonement as a demonstration of divine justice views that God does not inflict punishment as a matter of strict retribution. Sin is not punished simply because it deserves to be, but because of the demands of moral government. This view theorizes the sufferings of Christ are an atonement for sin. In stark contrast, the Satisfaction Theory, popularized by Anselm, reasoned the death of Christ was an actual penalty inflicted on Him as a substitute for the penalty that should have attached to the breaking of the law by sinners (Erickson 2013, 721). Anselm argued that it was necessary the atonement took place, in order to satisfy the justice of God. This view recognized the atonement was not primarily directed at humans, nor did it involve any sort of payment to Satan (Erickson 2013, 727). The only other theory that maintained a large following was the Ransom Theory, which viewed the atonement as victory over the forces of sin and evil. Origin and Gregory of Nyssa popularized this view, but the main problem arises as Origen viewed Satan, rather than God, being the one who demanded Christ’s blood as atonement. Another major problem with this view is that the direct effects of Christ’s atoning death were neither on God nor on humans; instead, it was directed towards Satan, making Christ’s work in relationship to God secondary (Erickson 2013, 727).

Christ, being both God and sinless human did not deserve death and it seems clear Anselm’s view of atonement, being the compensation to the Father, best encapsulates that Christ’s death: “(1) gave us a perfect example of the type of dedication God desires of us, (2) demonstrated the great extent of God’s love, (3) underscored the seriousness of sin and the severity of God’s righteousness, (4) triumphed over the forces of sin and death, liberating us from their power, and (5) rendered satisfaction to the Father for our sins” (Erickson 2013, 729). Anselm’s view of atonement also grew out of his understanding of the doctrine of sin, which is failing to render God His due. By failing to give God his due, “We take from God what is rightfully His and we dishonor Him. As sinners, we must restore to God what we have taken, but it is not sufficient merely to restore to God what we have taken away. For in taking away from God what is His, we have injured Him; and even after what we have taken has been returned, there must be some additional compensation or reparation for the injury that has been done” (Anselm 1098, 1.7). Only Christ could satisfy these requirements, and only through His atoning sacrifice could reparation be made between God and His children. Paul goes as far as to describe Christ’s work of atonement as propitiation or the appeasement of God’s wrath for the sins of humanity, so as Erickson suggests, “We must understand how the atonement involves sacrifice, propitiation, substitution, and reconciliation in the relationship of God to humanity and why it is the penal substitution theory that best describes this relationship of atonement” (Erickson 2013, 732). To fully understand atonement, one must also understand the nature of God, the status of God’s moral and spiritual law, the fallen nature of humanity, and the Old Testament sacrificial system, which demanded the blood from a sin offering for the remission of sins. The animals to be sacrificed had to spotless, without any imperfection, to atone or to cover one’s sin. Jesus’s humanity and sinless life made His vicarious atoning sacrifice applicable to all people, and as Erickson explains, “The iniquity of sinners is transferred to the suffering servant, just as in the Old Testament rites the sins were transferred to the sacrificial animal. The laying on of hands was an anticipation of the believer’s active acceptance of Christ’s atoning work” (Erickson 2013, 736). Christ’s atoning death was substitutionary, as He took our place, and took the weight of world’s sin and curses on His shoulders.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anselm of Canterbury. Cur Deus homo, “Why God Became a Man?” 1098.

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Pauck, Wilhelm ed. Melanchthon and Bucer. Library of Christian Classics 19. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1969.

Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Doctrine of Sin: Where Did it Come From & Why Does it Exist?

what-is-sin

Sin, in its very essence, is contradictory to the nature of God, creating separation in the intimacy between God and man; however, it is allowed and even used by God in the provision of man’s free will, but is ultimately conquered by God’s grace, in the ultimate redemptive plan, through Jesus Christ. However, several questions still remain: “Why did God allow sin to enter the world,” and “why does He continue to allow it, especially considering, ‘The wages of sin is death’” (Romans 6:23). The problem or doctrine of sin continues to be a highly debated topic amongst scholars, because to fully understand the grace of God; one must first comprehend the depth of despair rooted in sin and its origin. Furthermore, one must also comprehend the nature of God, in order to offer a proper apologetic response to theological questions like: “If God made everything in creation good, how did evil and sin enter the world? If God is good, why does He allow evil and sin to exist? Why, if humans are created in the image of God, is there an inherent propensity to sin? And what purpose could evil and sin serve in accomplishing the will of God?” Ultimately, the sovereignty of God is on trial when people question the mystery of how and why evil and sin entered the world, so one must know sin’s origin and purpose to defend the faith. The thesis of this paper will show God allows sin in order to establish the freedom of mankind to freely choose Him.

By examining the introduction of sin into the world, it will be established sin was first found in Satan because of his desire to seek something contrary to what God intended. While God is sovereign in and over all things, He did not create sin, so it will then be revealed how evil originated in the created and not the Creator. The rejection of God’s will leads to spiritual death and this was played out in the lives of Adam and Eve, leading to the fall of mankind and all future generations. Working from the Old Testament to the New Testament, it will be displayed, God was not surprised or caught off guard by anything that has happened or will happen. In Old Testament times, animal sacrifices were continually offered at the Temple. These sacrifices showed the Israelites the seriousness of sin because: “Blood had to be shed before sins could be pardoned” (Leviticus 17:11). But the blood of animals could not fully remove sins (Hebrews 10:4). The sacrifices could only point to Jesus’ future sacrifice, which paid the final penalty for all sins. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, asserts the law failed only because “It was weakened by the flesh.” Douglas Moo illustrates, “In light of this criticism of the law in Romans, and the focus on liberation from sin and death in, ‘what the law could not do’ is not to condemn sin, but to break sin’s power—or, to put it positively, to secure eschatological life. It is God Himself who has done what the Law could not do, and He has done it through the sending of His own Son.”[1] When sin corrupted the world, God first provided the law as a means for sinners to know just how sinful they were and how far they had deviated from God’s standards. Before the law was given, sin existed (Romans 5:13). However, after the law was given, sin could be quantified and each act and could then be identified as an offense of a specific commandment found within law.

In the New Testament, God then provides a way for mankind to restore communion with the Father, which came through Jesus Christ. Ultimately, sin stands in the way of God’s best, and modern-day culture has become numb to its very presence, leading many to just do what feels good. However, the ripple effect of “original sin” still carries immense consequences. Lastly, it will be shown how Satan uses sin to isolate and condemn people, while God uses it to redeem and make His children whole. Sin has corrupted the world; so only by understanding how to counter Satan’s strategy will followers of Christ be able to use what the enemy meant for harm, for ultimate good (Genesis 50:15-21).

ORIGIN OF SIN

When most people think of sin’s origin, Adam and Eve’s choice to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is often what is stated. However, while this was mankind’s first sin, it was actually Satan’s prideful fall from grace, which would set events in motion, ultimately leading to Adam and Even’s banishment from Eden and mankind’s separation from God. When the serpent in the garden tempted Eve, this created a death sentence for all future generations, because God had previously told both Adam and Eve, “For when you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). Millard Erickson explains, “One of sin’s obvious results is death and this death we have deserved has several different aspects: physical death, spiritual death, and eternal death.”[2] Paul, in Romans 5:12 says; “Yet while death entered the world through Adam’s sin, it spread to all humans because all sinned.” Here, Paul is alluding to physical death, while spiritual death relates to the separation created between God and man. Because sin is contrary to the very nature of God, it acts as a barrier and condemns man to face both condemnation and judgment. Erickson, then further illustrates the final component in death: “Eternal death is the extension and finalization of spiritual death. If one comes to physical death still spiritually dead, separated from God, that condition becomes permanent. As eternal life is both qualitatively different from our present life and unending, so eternal death is separation from God that is both qualitatively different from physical death and everlasting in context.”[3]

Pride was the root of Satan’s sin and he would be consumed by it, causing him to desire both God’s authority and dominion. Satan no longer wanted to serve and worship; he wanted to be worshipped like God. These same desires and schemes can be seen played out in Satan’s attempt to have Eve first question God’s command and then make her think by eating the fruit she would be like God. While the serpent deceived Eve, Adam made a choice, which led to mankind’s curse, estrangement from God, guilt, and shame (Genesis 3:1-7, 12-13). Because of the fall, John Frame explains sin is not only a disruption in the personal relationship with God, but that it is also disruptive in authority. “In God’s order, He is the ultimate authority. Adam is a subordinate authority, to whom Eve is to be submissive (Ephesians 5:22). Together, Adam and Eve are to have dominion over all the animals, but in the story of the fall, the woman submits to an animal, the man submits to his wife, and both claim to be judges of God’s behavior.”[4] Anything God stands for or has created, Satan attempts to pervert, counterfeit, or destroy. While the Bible does not fully explain the fall of Satan and his angels, both Isaiah 14:3-21 and Ezekiel 28:2-19 contrast the defeat and fall of the kings of Babylon and Tyre. The imagery used in both passages portrays the ramifications of pride. In Isaiah, John Oswalt illustrates how pride was:

Seen in the fact that it would prefer the world to be a desert in its own hands than a garden in the hands of someone else. In fact, the capacity to destroy and oppress becomes a source of pride. This is perversion at its plainest. But again the poet has turned the boast back upon the boaster. He who had exiled hundreds of thousands from their homes and would not let them return now is himself homeless, and in a much more profound sense. This man is a spiritual exile. His pride has driven him from the home, which the Father has given in trust to all his children. Because pride denies God it must deny us what God has given, ultimately life itself.[5]

The passage in Ezekiel similarly depicts the king proclaiming himself to be divine in nature, authority, and intelligence. As a result of these proclamations, Daniel Block shows:

The assault on the prince involves three actions, which, while directed at a human monarch, reflect the treatment that images of a deity in the temple would receive from an attacking army. If the king of Tyre would claim the status of a god, then let him put up with the treatment of a god at the hands of invaders. First, the nations will attack the source of the prince’s pride, the symbols of his wealth and glory. Second, the invaders will desecrate and profane the prince’s radiant splendor. Third, the strangers will send the prince down to the Pit and the prince will exchange his falsely secure position “in the heart of the seas” for the world of the dead. The one who dares to claim the status of deity and demands to live among the gods must join the dead in Sheol. For this man the way up led down.[6]

Some scholars have viewed this text as being related with the fall of humanity, while others have chosen to interpret the text strictly as being mythological, due to Mesopotamian influences in the text. Block maintains the imagery of these oracles point to Eden, the Garden of God and, “Like the king of Tyre, the first man (1) was created by God, (2) was divinely authorized to rule over the garden as king, (3) not being satisfied with the status sought or claimed divinity, and (4) was punished for this hubris by humiliation and death.”[7] William Harrison believes, while this passage may be addressed to the king of Tyre, it in no way describes any human king, or other man. Instead, Harrison asserts, “The great angel was originally the sum of wisdom and perfect in all his ways until he sinned. This sin resulted from the fact that his mind was set on his own beauty rather than on the glory of the Creator. The ensuing pride led him to determine to follow his own will rather than submit to God.”[8] Oliver Crisp further explains, “There is no single, agreed-upon definition of original sin in the Christian tradition – no hamartiological analogue to the person of Christ given in the canons of the Council of Chalcedon. Instead, there are various versions of doctrine that attend to a common set of theological themes, which differ about dogmatic shape of original sin.”[9]

NATURE OF SIN

Sin is caused by ignorance, error, inattention, and pride. It is then characterized by missing the mark, irreligion, transgression, rebellion, treachery, perversion, abomination, and lack of integrity.[10] These causes and characteristics of sin have detrimental results and consequences, which lead to guilt, wickedness, and evil. In Psalm 51, David becomes convicted of his sin with Bathsheba after his confrontation with the prophet Nathan making both this confession of sin and pleading for forgiveness a prime example of what all sinners should do. In v. 2, David laments, “Cleanse me from my sin.” David uses several different forms for the word sin and here חַטָּאת or ḥaṭṭāʾt is used, which literally means missing the mark deliberately and purposefully disobeying God’s Word. In v. 3, David calls upon the Lord to blot out his transgressions, wickedness and rebellion. Here, David uses ‏פֶּשַׁע or pešaʿ, which essentially means forgiveness for knowing what God’s Words says, but choosing to revolt or rebel against His commands. In v. 9, David asks God to, “Blot out all my iniquities.” In this verse, David chooses the word עָוֹן‎ or ʿāwon to signify the crooked thinking and living that results when one acts against God’s Word. In each of these examples, David assumes responsibility for his sins and he knew that only repentance and forgiveness would cleanse his perverted inner state.[11]

A similar model can be found in Paul’s letter to the Romans in chapter five. In v. 12, Paul is dealing with the topic of sin coming into the world through one man: Adam, but through the obedience and sacrifice of Christ, all believers might know the righteousness of God. Paul uses the word hamartia or ἁμαρτία, which is synonymous with the Old Testament חַטָּאת or ḥaṭṭāʾt, meaning a purposeful missing of the mark and of God’s standards, His holiness, and His Word. In v. 14, parabaseōs or παράβασις is used to describe sinning as going beyond or over and disregarding or overstepping God’s Word. As humans, it is part of one’s fallen nature to test limits and boundaries of what is acceptable and allowed, but here the sin is to put one’s foot over the line to test what the consequences are and this is exactly what Adam and Eve did. In v. 19, parakoēs or παρακοή is used to define disobedience or the willful choice not to hear. Selective listening never fares well, especially when people hear what he or she wants to hear. In vv. 15, 17, and 18 paraptōma or παράπτωμα is used to describe the offense or trespass. Another deviation of this word means falling sideways or false stepping, which means instead of doing what is necessary or right, one chooses to go around. In this particular passage, Paul is addressing not only the problem of sin, but also the issue of continuing to sin. Before Paul could teach about the new life believers had in Christ, his listeners had to know the definition of sin.[12]

L. Thomas then demonstrates, “The biblical understanding of sin is not only an act of wrongdoing, but a state of alienation from God. [While] the origin of sin is indeed a mystery and is tied in with the problem of evil; the sin is personal and social, individual and collective. The effects of sin are also moral and spiritual bondage, guilt, death, and hell.”[13] The Bible has multiple words relative to sin, all of which convey its causes, its nature, and its consequences. As Robert Eagan illustrates, “Sin – that is, alienation from self-transcendence due to failure to be attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible – results in faulty apprehensions of value, and subsequent false judgments of value, and ultimately in poor decisions and wrong actions. This notion of sin takes into account the role of feelings in the apprehension and judgment of value.”[14] Crisp asserts, “Original sin is a real moral corruption or deformity of soul that affects all human beings with the exception of Christ.”[15] This view is rooted in the bedrock of Anglicanism, and Article 9, which states, “Original Sin is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit and in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.”[16]

PURPOSE OF SIN

Temptation exists when something or someone attempts to influence another person to sin. Jesus Himself was tempted, so the act of being tempted is not sin, but acting on those thoughts is. God does not tempt His children, (James 1:13-15) but Satan does. In an attempt to corrupt the world, Satan wants everyone to live in total depravity, but as Frame demonstrates, “The corruption of sin remains until death, but it grows weaker and weaker, through the continual strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ. Scripture promises victory in Jesus, so the final word about the believer is not corruption, but overcoming. Paul said, ‘For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace’” (Romans 6:14).[17]

The doctrine of sin reveals man’s fallen nature and often can be difficult to identify. Frame shows, “Many people are unable to grasp the concept of sin as a inner force, an inherent condition, a controlling power. People today think more in terms of sins as wrongful acts. Sins are something external and concrete, logically separable from the person. On this basis, one who has not done anything wrong [generally conceived of as an external act] is considered good.”[18] In today’s society, sins are often ranked by a variety of manmade circumstances. In the judicial system, there are felonies and misdemeanors and each crime will carry with it a sentence or judgment. In a like manner, Christians often do the same thing with sin, but in God’s eyes all sin is still sin. While there can be some argument that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was considered an unpardonable sin, a proper understanding of the historical context and environment Jesus was speaking in reveals His authority came from the Spirit of the Father.

Joseph Haven provides two logically possible suppositions on the existence of sin in the world: “(1) That God cannot entirely prevent sin and (2) That for some reason, He does not choose to prevent it. Each of these propositions supposes what the other denies; and, as such, by the laws of contradiction, and of excluded middle, while they cannot both be true, one or the other must be true.”[19] It is the view of this writer that God chooses not to prevent sin based on four principles highlighted by Haven: (1) Because its existence is in itself desirable; (2) because, though not in itself desirable, it is still the necessary means of the greatest good; (3) because, thought not in itself tending to good, it may be overruled to that result; or (4) because, in general terms, its permission will involve less evil that its absolute prevention. The most valid response is the permission of sin serves the greater good and that God allow its presence, under specific restrictions. Haven then asserts, “It is not sin, but the purpose on the part of God not to do more than He is doing to prevent sin, that is for the best. [This view] puts the existence of sin, not in the light of a greater good, but only of a lesser evil.”[20] Harrison further demonstrates how, “The consequences of sin are so terrible that in permitting it the righteous and just God must see it as essential to the achievement of a purpose who benefits are of supreme importance to Himself.”[21] Upon this premise, Harrison claims sin entered the creation for three primary reasons: (1) God desired His creature to know Him and receive His blessings; (2) The freedom to choose exercised without any influence by God was the direct cause of sin; and (3) Sin and all of its consequences were necessary to show His love and holiness, and the inability of man and angel apart from God, not only to be redeemed, but so every creature would understand.[22]

EFFECTS OF SIN

Sin always leads to more sin, and ultimately suffering, but even in this state, God uses suffering, according to His good purposes to: transform and to save the sinner. Kenneth Himma, when dealing with the continuing-sin response, illustrates this premise claiming, “There is no wrong any person can do in this life that merits an infinite punishment and hence that punishment would be disproportionate to his or her worldly wrongdoing.”[23] [24] King David and his sin with Bathsheba is a prime example (Psalm 51 & 2 Samuel 11). To cover up the sin of adultery, David ultimately ends up committing murder by sending Uriah to the front lines to die at the hands of his enemies in battle. Himma then explains, “The most likely response by traditionalists is to deny that punishment in hell is disproportionate to the sum of one’s worldly sins and to embrace some form of the controversial thesis that sin against an infinite being is infinite.”[25] Mattias Gockel illustrates four claims which shows evil and suffering to be essentially two sides to the same coin: “(1) Evil is defined by events in which someone experiences ills, not by an act of the will or an evil intention; (2) One must distinguish carefully between suffering and various forms of evil; (3) Suffering is not always and in every case evil; and (4) From a Christian perspective, evil is something God has overcome through good.”[26] According to Friedrich Schleiermacher, “The existence of sin with and besides grace is ordered for us by God, since a consciousness of sin continues to exist besides a consciousness of grace.”[27] However, due to the consequences of sin and the effects of the fall, guilt, punishment, and corruption are the results. Erickson adds, “The impact of sin has several dimensions. There are effects on the sinner’s relationships with God and fellow humans, as well as oneself.”[28] Sins against God lead to guilt, punishment, and death; sins against oneself cause denial, strongholds, enslavement, and selfishness; and sins against community cause rejection, isolation, and inability to care about the needs of others. Octavio Esqueda demonstrates how, “Sin permeates our entire being and alienates us from ourselves, other people, our world, and most importantly from our Creator.”[29] The more people look to the world for answers; Esqueda explains the more culture continues to play a dominant role in determining what is right and wrong. Esqueda then explains sin’s primary role is to diminish God’s plan for His creation, leading to lives being corrupted, isolated, and prideful. These traits are detrimental because each is contrary to God’s nature. Esqueda explains because, “We are communal beings as our triune God is, our sinful pride makes us focus only on our self-interest and [this causes one to] neglect God and others. The more we pursue our own happiness by our own efforts and for our own benefits, the more lonely and isolated we become. This is the fallacy of sin!”[30]

Everyone is born into the world as sinners because of Adam’s sin. David Wilcox explains, “Adam’s sin is and was therefore indeed our sin – for Adam’s sin is embedded in those who make us human, and they can only make us after their image. Adam’s rebellion has come down to us generation after generation – culturally transmitted, and neurologically inevitable.”[31] Ian Boyd, when dealing with the issue of self-destroying sin, demonstrates how the problem of sin and evil is often contested when it affects the unwilling suffering of innocents. Boyd explains, “The problem of self-destroying sin can lead a Christian to doubt God’s power or God’s goodness toward the one who sins self-destructively. God appears to betray and be unable to save and redeem, which calls Christianity itself into question because of the central promise of redemption from sin.”[32] Despite this view, the justice and love of God work in conformity.

DEFEAT OF SIN

The law was ultimately incapable of providing life to those who adhered to it, as Dirk Venter explains, “All sin was collectively condemned by God in the flesh of Jesus Christ, and He bore that condemnation out in the destruction of His flesh. Those who partake of this reality through their participation or inclusion ‘in Christ’ by faith can boldly proclaim with Paul that ‘there is now no condemnation for me’” (Romans 8:1).[33] Thomas further explains the mission of Christ and how, “Christian faith teaches that sin cannot be overcome through human ingenuity or effort. The solution to the problem lies in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The penalty for sin is death, judgment, and hell, but the gospel is that God has chosen to pay this penalty Himself in the sacrificial life and death of His Son, Jesus Christ.”[34] The vicarious atonement Christ provided at Calvary made a way not only to restore fellowship with the Father, but also to provide payment in full for all past, present, and future sin. Only an infinite God could cover the multitude of sin found within mankind’s fallen nature.

In 1 Corinthians 15:55-56, Paul wrote, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Here, Gordon Fee shows, “The law not only makes sin observable as sin, but also, and more significantly, shows that one’s actions are finally over against God, and thus leads to condemnation. The law, which is good, functions as the agent of sin because it either leads to pride of achievement, or reveals the depth of one’s depravity and rebellion against God, becoming either death-dealing or life-giving.”[35] Ultimately, Jesus conquered and defeated sin, through his death, burial, and resurrection. The fashion in which He did it bears mention. 1 Peter 2:24 declares, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” Peter Davids illustrates, “Because of its use in Deuteronomy 21:22, the idea that the one so hung was cursed by God cannot be far from the author’s mind, but without explicitly mentioning this he points out that this death was vicarious, for it was “our sins” that he bore.”[36] This curse is reminiscent of the curse that fell upon mankind as the result of “original sin” in the Garden of Eden. In 1 John 2:2, Jesus is referred to as, “The atoning sacrifice or the propitiation for our sins.” These two translations represent an atonement made for sin and a sacrifice made to God. Howard Marshall explains Jesus was acting as our advocate before God, and, “Jesus is pleading the case of guilty sinners before a judge who is being petitioned to pardon their acknowledged guilt. He is not being asked to declare them innocent, i.e. to say that there is no evidence that they have sinned, but rather to grant them pardon for their acknowledged sins.”[37]

CONCLUSION

The existence of sin and the mystery of why a good God would allow its presence in a creation in which He declared as being good is a direct result of mankind’s free will. While sin did not originate with man, its effects and curse are still felt throughout time. As a result of the fall, sin has plagued humanity, leaving many to question God’s motives. While the problem of evil is a moral problem,[38] the problem of sin is the process of death at work in the lives of God’s children. C. S. Lewis suggests, God in His omniscience “Saw that from a world of free creatures, even though they fell, He could work out… a deeper happiness and a fuller splendor than any world of automata would admit.”[39] Norman Geisler advances this theory by suggesting, “The ultimate goal of a perfect world with free creatures will have been achieved, but the way to get there requires that those who abuse their freedom be cast out.”[40] Lewis then adds, “The freedom of a creature must mean freedom to choose: and choice implies the existence of things to choose between.”[41] While free will makes it possible to choose wrong, Geisler emphasizes, “Forced love is rape; and God is not a divine rapist.”[42] God desires everyone to be saved, but He will never do anything to coerce one’s decision. Lewis put it best, “The door of hell is locked on the inside. [All who go there choose to] because there are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”[43] When Christ died for all of humanity’s sins, Ravi Zacharias articulates how, “God’s justice demands that sin be punished, but His love compels Him to save sinners, [so] surely justice and mercy kissed on the cross at Calvary.”[44]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Betenson, Toby. “Evaluative Claims within the Problem of Evil.” Religious Studies 51, no. 3 (09, 2015): 361-77, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1703895888?accountid=12085 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Boyd, Ian T. E. “The problem of self-destroying sin in John Milton’s Samson Agonistes.” Faith and Philosophy 13, no. 4 (October, 1996): 487-507. (accessed May 10, 2017).

Block, Daniel I. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Crisp, Oliver D. “On Original Sin.” International Journal of Systematic Theology, 17, (June 2015): 252–266. doi: 10.1111/ijst.12107 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Davids, Peter H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.

Durden, John. “The Doctrine of Sin.” Filmed [2015], Liberty University Website, THEO 525, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation. 12:48. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_351169_1&content_id=_16910176_1 (accessed May 11, 2017).

Egan, Robert. “Epistemological Foundations for A Theology of Sin.” The Heythrop Journal, 57, (May 2016): 553–567. doi: 10.1111/heyj.12318 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Esqueda, Octavio Javier. “Sin and Christian Teaching.” Christian Education Journal 8, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 164-176. General OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA254754469&sid=summon&asid=7cd444ab8fa87f29079655e13d84de39 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Fee, Gordon D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987.

Frame, John M. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013.

Geisler, Norman L. The Problem of Evil, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 1999.

Geisler, Norman L. and Ronald M. Brooks. When Skeptics Ask. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 1995.

Gockel, Matthias. “‘Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’: an orientational approach to suffering and evil.” Modern Theology 25, no. 1 (January 2009): 97-105. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017).

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Harrison, William K. (William Kelly). “Origin of Sin.” Bibliotheca Sacra 130, no. 517 (January 1973): 58-61. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017).

Haven, Joseph. “Sin, As Related To Human Nature And To The Divine Purpose.” Bibliotheca Sacra 020, no. 79 (July 1863): 445-488. (accessed May 10, 2017).

Himma, Kenneth Einar. “Eternally Incorrigible: The Continuing-Sin Response to the Proportionality Problem of Hell.” Religious Studies 39, no. 1 (2003): 61-78. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20008447 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Lewis, C. S. The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics: The Problem of Pain. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002.

Marshall, I. Howard. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Oswalt, John N. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Der christliche Glaube, nach den Grundsätzen der Evangelischen Kirche im Zusammenhange dargestellt. Zweite Auflage 1830/31 (Kritische Gesamtausgabe 1/13), ed. Rolf Schäfer (Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 2003), vol. 1     (§ 80).

The Church of England Website, “Article IX Of Original or Birth-sin.” https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/book-of-common-prayer/articles-of-religion.aspx#IX (accessed May 11, 2017).

Venter, Dirk J. “Romans 8:3-4 and God’s resolution of the threefold problems of sin, the incapability of the law and the weakness of the flesh.” In die Skriflig 48, no. 1 (2014). Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA406163579&asid=6a1e0a7a5321bc7b9c4c11a1a02b29d6 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Wilcox, David L. “A proposed model for the evolutionary creation of human beings: From the image of God to the origin of sin.” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 68, no. 1 (2016): 22-43. Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA486164679&sid=summon&asid=e80c6aa2b9a2eae051ab74327ee96e56 (accessed May 10, 2017).

Zacharias, Ravi and Norman Geisler. Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Questions of Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

[1] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 477-478.

[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013), 557.

[3] Ibid., 560.

[4] John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 852.

[5] John N. Oswalt, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 323.

[6] Daniel I. Block, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 98.

[7] Block, TNICOT, The Book of Ezekiel, 117.

[8] William K. Harrison, “Origin of Sin,” Bibliotheca Sacra 130, no. 517 (January 1973): 60. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017).

[9] Oliver D. Crisp, “On Original Sin,” International Journal of Systematic Theology, 17, (June 2015): 256. doi: 10.1111/ijst.12107 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[10] Erickson, Christian Theology, 517-529.

[11] John Durden, “The Doctrine of Sin,” Filmed [2015], Liberty University Website, THEO 525, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation, 12:48. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_351169_1&content_id=_16910176_1 (accessed May 11, 2017).

[12] Durden, “The Doctrine of Sin.”

[13] R. L. Thomas, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001), 1103-1104.

[14] Robert Egan, “Epistemological Foundations for A Theology of Sin,” The Heythrop Journal, 57, (May 2016): 553–567. doi: 10.1111/heyj.12318 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[15] Crisp, “On Original Sin,” 258.

[16] The Church of England Website, “Article IX Of Original or Birth-sin,” https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/book-of-common-prayer/articles-of-religion.aspx#IX (accessed May 11, 2017).

[17] Frame, Systematic Theology, 870.

[18] Erickson, Christian Theology, 516.

[19] Joseph Haven, “Sin, As Related To Human Nature And To The Divine Purpose,” Bibliotheca Sacra 020, no. 79 (July 1863): 472. (accessed May 10, 2017).

[20] Haven, “Sin, As Related To Human Nature And To The Divine Purpose,” 481 & 483.

[21] Harrison, “Origin of Sin,” 60.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Kenneth Einar Himma, “Eternally Incorrigible: The Continuing-Sin Response to the Proportionality Problem of Hell,” Religious Studies 39, no. 1 (2003): 69. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20008447 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[24] See also William Wainwright, “Original Sin,” in Thomas V. Morris (ed.) Philosophy and the Christian Faith (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 34-35.

[25] Himma, “Eternally Incorrigible,” 77.

[26] Mattias Gockel, “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good: an orientational approach to suffering and evil.” Modern Theology 25, no. 1 (January 2009): 97. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017)

[27] Friedrich Schleiermacher, Der christliche Glaube, nach den Grundsätzen der Evangelischen Kirche im Zusammenhange dargestellt. Zweite Auflage 1830/31 (Kritische Gesamtausgabe 1/13), ed. Rolf Schäfer (Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 2003), vol. 1, p. 488 (§ 80).

[28] Erickson, Christian Theology, 548.

[29] Octavio Javier Esqueda, “Sin and Christian Teaching,” Christian Education Journal 8, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 164. General OneFile. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA254754469&sid=summon&asid=7cd444ab8fa87f29079655e13d84de39 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[30] Esqueda, “Sin and Christian Teaching,” 166.

[31] David L. Wilcox, “A proposed model for the evolutionary creation of human beings: From the image of God to the origin of sin.” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 68, no. 1 (2016): 22-43. Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA486164679&sid=summon&asid=e80c6aa2b9a2eae051ab74327ee96e56 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[32] Ian T. E. Boyd, “The problem of self-destroying sin in John Milton’s Samson Agonistes,” Faith and Philosophy 13, no. 4 (October, 1996): 489. (accessed May 10, 2017).

[33] Dirk J. Venter, “Romans 8:3-4 and God’s resolution of the threefold problems of sin, the incapability of the law and the weakness of the flesh,” In die Skriflig 48, no. 1 (2014). Academic OneFile http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA406163579&asid=6a1e0a7a5321bc7b9c4c11a1a02b29d6 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[34] Thomas, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1106.

[35] Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 806.

[36] Peter H. Davids, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 112.

[37] I. Howard Marshall, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), 118.

[38] Toby Betenson, “Evaluative Claims within the Problem of Evil.” Religious Studies 51, no. 3 (09, 2015): 361. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1703895888?accountid=12085 (accessed May 10, 2017).

[39] C. S. Lewis, The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics: The Problem of Pain (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002), 561.

[40] Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 1995), 73.

[41] Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 562.

[42] Geisler and Brooks, When Skeptics Ask, 73.

[43] Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 120.

[44] Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 31.

 

Charles Spurgeon’s Ministry and Role in the “Down Grade” Controversy

Charles Spurgeon

Throughout the history of the church, God has called and equipped individuals to stand opposed to apostasy and indifference, which attempts to cause moral and doctrinal decay. During the late nineteenth century, such an occasion arose as many so-called English Baptist pastors became so infatuated with worldly pursuits that many churches stopped engaging in prayer meetings and some even went as far as hosting dramas in the house of God. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was the man God called and equipped to shine the light of truth on the moral and doctrinal decay of the nineteenth century, which sought not only to “downgrade” the Baptist denomination, but also the life-saving gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Spurgeon was a man of humble beginnings, but someone who the Lord used greatly to preserve and spread the Word of God. This paradigm is seen throughout Scripture, which always leads one to the conclusion that it could only have been God working through the individual to accomplish what had been done. By looking back to Spurgeon’s upbringing, influences, and calling to ministry, the aim of this paper will detail how Spurgeon developed his faith, which led to his strong convictions and captivating preaching style. In addition to the many contributions Spurgeon made to Baptists, this paper will also look at the climate of Darwinism and Liberalism and how these theories and philosophies impacted the church. Lastly, this paper will highlight the long-lasting impacts of the “Down Grade” controversy and the legacy Spurgeon has left behind. The commitment, exhibited by Spurgeon, to moral and doctrinal purity is just as relevant to the church today as it was during the nineteenth century. Just as there was a multiplicity of factors attempting to oppose or water down the message of the gospel, the climate of the present-day church is much the same, if not worse. It will take men and women with the zeal and commitment of Spurgeon to combat these forces, in an effort, to transform the world, instead of being conformed by it. There are some hills worth dying on and for Spurgeon this was evident in everything he practiced, preached, and his resolve in the “Down Grade” controversy.

HIS CALLING

Born into an Anglican household in Kelvedon, Essex, in 1834, Spurgeon would experience a life-changing conversion at a young age. God would use general revelation, in the form of a snowstorm to force Spurgeon to take shelter in Newtown, Colchester and it would be in a Methodist chapel that God illuminated the special revelation of His word, thus opening Spurgeon’s heart to the life-saving message of salvation. John Pitt further enlightens how, “Spurgeon’s conversion was as dramatic as any found in the history of Christian centuries and was entirely true to the evangelical tradition. Although only sixteen when the great transaction took place, young Spurgeon was under very deep conviction of sin – much like John Bunyan’s conversion experience, it was an emotional crisis of the most severe kind.”[1] Spurgeon believed salvation required a radical change and, “This change is a thorough and sweeping one, and operates upon the heart, and life of the convert… [And] the Bible is meant for mankind, and our text refers to any man, of any country, and any age.”[2] An early Scripture which captivated Spurgeon was Isaiah 45:22: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” Spurgeon and John Oswalt reveal how this passage illustrates, “There is a call to experience the same salvation that the Israelites have experienced. To be sure, that experience is predicated on a turning around and looking to the Lord in trust.”[3] As a show of trust in God’s plan, Spurgeon moved to Cambridge, England where he engaged in teaching Sunday school. Not knowing what the future held for Spurgeon, his first sermon actually occurred by filling in for a friend and it was given in a small cottage in Teversham. Shortly after, Spurgeon would become the pastor of a small Baptist church in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, which is where his first published gospel tract was produced in 1853. Early in his ministry, his preaching style and ability stood him apart from his contemporaries and by the age of nineteen, Spurgeon would become the pastor of London’s largest Baptist congregation, the New Park Street Chapel. Over the course of his life, it is estimated Spurgeon preached close to four thousand sermons and has close to fifty published works ranging from commentaries to sermons and devotionals. Spurgeon’s style of preaching attracted crowds of up to ten thousand people at the young age of twenty-two. Each week, he would write out his sermons and at the pulpit he would simply use an outline of the message, while stenographers transcribed the sermon, which would later be sold for a penny. To this day, these publications remain one of the most widely circulated and best selling publications.

CONTRIBUTION TO BAPTISTS

Spurgeon practiced what he preached and he taught believers how to find instruction everywhere and even how to gather lessons from unpleasant circumstances. Spurgeon illustrates, “Many are stung by nettles, but few are taught by them. Some men are hurt by briers, but Solomon was improved by them, so do not begin stinging yourself with nettles, grip them firmly, and then use them for your soul’s health. Trials and troubles, worries and turmoils, little frets and little disappointments, may all help you if you will look upon them and receive instruction.”[4] During his ministry, Spurgeon came under fire when he challenged the Church of England on the matter of baptismal regeneration, but due to his resolve, he never backed down. Craig Skinner reveals, “Theologically, Spurgeon’s greatest facility was his ability to declare the paradox of God’s will working in conjunction with man’s… reaching into heights and depths of argument and illustration well beyond many of his contemporaries.”[5] He had an overly compassionate heart and believed firmly in the missional responsibility of the local church and Spurgeon was very good friends with James Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. He was also very active in opposing slavery, which was a major issue facing America, which ultimately caused him to lose the support of the Southern Baptist Convention. Spurgeon believed:

Not so very long ago our nation tolerated slavery in our colonies. Philanthropists endeavored to destroy slavery; bat when was it utterly abolished? It was when Wilberforce roused the church of God, and when the church of God addressed herself to the conflict, then she tore the evil thing to pieces. I have been amused with what Wilberforce said the day after they passed the Act of Emancipation. He merrily said to a friend when it was all done, ‘Is there not something else we can abolish?’ That was said playfully, but it shows the spirit of the church of God. She lives in conflict and victory; her mission is to destroy everything that is bad in the land.[6]

Just because something was popular or just because the majority was of the opinion the action was justified did not mean it was so in God’s eye and the debate over slavery was such an instance. Gregory Wills illuminates how Spurgeon’s ecclesiology rested squarely on the experience of regeneration. Wills explains, “[Spurgeon’s] commitment to the centrality of regeneration (new birth) shaped his ecclesiology from local polity to evangelical union. [Additionally,] Spurgeon’s church polity included three commitments: regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism, and congregational church polity.”[7] These three pillars of the church were fundamental in Spurgeon’s organizational methods and he believed each of these was revealed in Scripture. Regeneration was where Spurgeon’s Baptist identity grew out from, but because of his stand for orthodoxy, he would eventually withdraw from the Baptist Union in 1887. This was in part due to the Baptist Union allowing modernist ministers in its membership, which Spurgeon believed weakened regeneration. Wills further demonstrates, “As modernism grew more popular, American Baptists based their ecclesiology increasingly on evangelical essentials, [so] when Spurgeon withdrew, the hailed him as a great Baptist Champion.”[8]

Spurgeon believed Christ established the church according to a pattern, which made the polity of the church a matter of revelation and not one of expediency. This led to a Tabernacle process, which examined the life, character, and testimony of applicants before membership was granted. Spurgeon also held to the notion that Christ required congregational church government or independency. This would allow a certain level of autonomy, thus allowing churches the capability of exercising all the functions of a church of Christ. Spurgeon also believed each church should be able to appoint a minister instead of the common ordination process. He also believed in the distinction between elders and deacons of the church. Elders, he believed, should counsel others and help those searching for the way to salvation and also care for the sick and needy. Deacons, then, should be responsible for the finances, logistics of the service, and the maintaining of church discipline. Pitts adds, “Spurgeon’s ministry was Christo-centric, [because] for him, every road led to Christ. However he dealt with a text – and he was a master of the art of homiletics – it was always full of the gospel; and no sermon ended without bringing the hearers face-to-face with the claims and challenge of the Lord of all Good Life.”[9] Interestingly, Spurgeon would not offer a traditional altar call at the conclusion of his services; instead, he would invite them to come back on Monday to visit him in his office. However, he would invite those down who had already made a commitment to following and serving the Lord.

DOWN GRADE CONTROVERSY

William Estep illuminates how, “Spurgeon lived in an age conditioned by an intellectual and a religious climate quite different from our own.”[10] With his tremendous fame and the high-demand for his sermons, he encountered some harsh criticism, especially in the climate and landscape of Darwinism and Liberalism. Spurgeon saw through the facade and recognized how these theories and philosophies were attempting to weaken the Baptist faith. These were hills worth dying on and Spurgeon believed, “Assuredly the New Theology can do no good towards God or man; it, has no adaption for it. If it were preached for a thousand years by all the most earnest men of the school, it would never renew a soul, nor overcome pride in a single human heart.”[11] Leon McBeth cites the “Down Grade” as being the most serious controversy faced by the English Baptists in the late nineteenth century. McBeth then reveals how, “The controversy broke out in London and swirled around two outstanding Baptist leaders, Charles Haddon Spurgeon and John Clifford. Historians reckon that the controversy ended with the death of Spurgeon in 1892, but its consequences have still continued.”[12] The controversy led to a split from the Union, resulting in Spurgeon’s church being the largest self-standing church. Against this backdrop, Dennis Swanson explains, “At the height of the Down-Grade Controversy Spurgeon and others created and signed a statement of faith stating the doctrines that distinguished them from those in the Baptist Union who were on the “down grade.” In 1891, The Sword and Trowel published the statement, which dealt with the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures.”[13] Swanson then expounds how the “Down Grade” Controversy might have begun with the publication of two articles in Spurgeon’s widely distributed monthly journal, The Sword and Trowel, but were actually the product of Spurgeon’s close friend Robert Shindler. It was in this publication that Spurgeon, “Inserted a footnote on the first page of each of the “Down Grade” articles where he called for ‘earnest attention’ on the part of the readers, with the urgent warning that ‘we are going down hill at break-neck speed.’”[14] The first article addressed the issue of nonconformist churches falling prey to theological error and despite the churches being established as Calvinistic in faith, rarely would any last past two to three generations. Swanson then shows how, “The second article continued the discussion of theological “Down Grade” concentrating on the Baptist churches [pointing out] earlier church leaders, although themselves sound in doctrine, had not been sufficiently bold to confront error.”[15] Spurgeon and Shindler believed, “The first step astray is a want of adequate faith in the divine inspiration of the sacred Scriptures. All the while a man bows to the authority of God’s Word, he will not entertain any sentiment contrary to its teaching.”[16] On the last point of a departure from Calvinistic doctrine, Shindler and Spurgeon seem more concerned about adhering to core evangelical truths and biblical inspiration than adhering to Calvinism. It also seems clear that Spurgeon had no aim in reopening old wounds over the Calvinist-Arminian debates. In fact, Spurgeon actually wrote, “The present struggle is not a debate upon the question of Calvinism or Arminianism, but of the truth of God versus the inventions of men. All who believe the gospel should unite against that ‘modern thought’ which is its deadly enemy.”[17] During the entire controversy, Spurgeon is consistently seen striving for unity, but not at the expense of compromising the gospel message or core doctrinal beliefs. Even when he withdrew from the Union, it was done in an endeavor to maintain unity. The Union did not feel the same and issued a vote of censure against Spurgeon as a final blow in the controversy, leading many to revere him as a martyr to the faith.

Throughout the Down Grade controversy, Swanson explains how the charge was made that “Spurgeon was motivated by his desire to force conformity within the Union to his Calvinistic theology.”[18] At this point in the controversy, Spurgeon was surprised by the reaction his articles had received and in many ways by the lack of any reaction. Spurgeon grieved, “A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese.”[19] However, Spurgeon steadfastly refuted this charge, declaring: “Certain antagonists have tried to represent the ‘Down-Grade’ controversy as a revival of the old feud between Calvinists and Arminians. It is nothing of the kind. Many evangelical Arminians are as earnestly on our side as men can be.”[20] Even when other Separatist Baptists tried to convince him to start a new denomination, he declined saying, “There are denominations enough. A new denomination would not be any safer than the old – heretics could enter a new one as well as an old.”[21] Battling the moral and doctrinal decay within the denomination took a toll on Spurgeon, as Estep further explains how, “The Down Grade Controversy took a greater toll on Spurgeon’s life and ministry than any other similar experience, [yet] when the Baptist leaders asked for documentation [proving Spurgeon’s claims,] he promised to protect the anonymity of his informer, Samuel Harris Booth, Secretary of the Union.”[22] Sworn to confidentiality, Spurgeon was a man of his word and never named names. McBeth believes, “Spurgeon’s refusal to name those who had embraced heresy may have grown out of Spurgeon’s belief if he named them, it would have introduced personalities into the discussion. Further, he pointed out that the Baptist Union had no doctrinal standard except a belief in immersion. [Ultimately,] Spurgeon wanted the Union to adopt a doctrinal statement.” This would have ended the controversy, united the Union, and quite possible extended the life of Spurgeon who died in 1892 at the age of fifty-seven.

In the second article, Spurgeon gave specific examples of how tolerance had led to disaster, writing that the, “Tadpole of Darwinism was hatched in a pew of the old chapel in High Street, Shrewsbury, where Charles Darwin had received his religious training and was first introduced to skepticism by a pastor who was enthralled with Socinianism.”[23] Shindler and Spurgeon attributed the common denominator for those caught up in the “Down Grade” being:

The first step astray is a want of adequate faith in the divine inspiration of the sacred Scriptures. All the while a man bows to the authority of God’s Word, he will not entertain any sentiment contrary to its teaching. ‘To the law and to the testimony,’ is his appeal concerning every doctrine. He esteems that holy Book, concerning all things, to be right, and therefore he hates every false way. But let a man question, or entertain low views of the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and he is without chart to guide him, and without anchor to hold him.[24]

Swanson explains, “During the years of the Down Grade Controversy, Spurgeon repeatedly warned of six areas of “down grade” in evangelical doctrine:

(1) The denial of the verbal inspiration (that is, the inerrancy) of Scripture. (2) The denial of eternal punishment and the affirmation of universalism. (3) The denial of the Trinity, mainly in terms of the rejection of the personality of the Holy Spirit. (4) The movement toward Socinianism or the denial of the deity of Christ and original sin. (5) The denial of the creation account in Genesis in favor of evolution. (6) The unhealthy influence of higher criticism on biblical scholarship, particularly as it relates to the Old Testament.[25]

Spurgeon then summarized his position on the theological trends of his day, stating:

Look at the church of the present day; the advanced school, I mean. In its midst we see preachers who have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof. They talk of the Lord Jesus, but deny his Godhead, which is His power; they speak of the Holy Spirit, but deny His personality, wherein lies His very existence. They take away the substance and power from all the doctrines of revelation, though they pretend still to believe them. They talk of redemption, but they deny substitution, which is the essence of it; they extol the Scriptures, but deny their infallibility, wherein lies its value; they use the phrases of orthodoxy, and believe nothing in common with the orthodox.[26]

In the third article, the tone took on a sense of urgency, as Shindler continued firing volleys against those engaged in apostasy and Spurgeon warned how this new religion had turned the church into a playhouse, as many were being used for dramas and entertainment purposes. There was plenty of blame to go around; however, Spurgeon placed it firmly on the preachers and modernists, who he believed were destroying the church. MacArthur explains how the focus of the controversy changes because now Spurgeon was suggesting that true believers might have reason to sever ties with those who were propagating the new theology. “In [Spurgeon’s] estimation, the truth of the Word had been so seriously compromised that true Christians needed to consider the command of 2 Corinthians 6:17: ‘Come out of their midst and be separate; and do not touch what is unclean.’”[27] After this, Spurgeon had become utterly obsessed and consumed by the controversy, leading to a decline in his physical health, which the Union used to attack Spurgeon, claiming his rants were that of a desperate and sick man. These personal attacks only fueled Spurgeon’s tenacity, especially considering, an answer or response to the allegations had still not been given by the Union. Spurgeon, a master of illustrations equated what was going on to, “The house is being robbed, its very walls are being dug down, but the good people who are in bed are too fond of the warmth, and too much afraid of getting broken heads, to go downstairs and meet the burglars; they are even half vexed that a certain noisy fellow will spring his rattle, or cry, ‘Thieves!’”[28] The final compromise would revolve around the Union Council adopting a creed. The once popular “no creed but Christ” was no longer enough because as Spurgeon highlighted, “The objection to a creed is a very pleasant way of concealing objection to discipline, and a desire for latitudinarianism. What is wished for is a Union which will, like Noah’s Ark, afford shelter both for the clean and for the unclean, for creeping things and winged fowls.”[29] However, even when a doctrinal statement was adopted, it was vague and bland, due to last minute modifications. MacArthur further demonstrates how, “Just as Spurgeon had warned all along, nothing was to be gained by compromising with the enemies of the gospel. The Baptist Union’s decline was, if anything, accelerated and those who embraced the ‘New Theology’ were emboldened after the Union Assembly, as they now held the reins of the Union.”[30] The ripple effects of this controversy have lasting impacts to this day.

HIS LEGACY

The prince of preachers has left a rich legacy behind. Spurgeon never sugarcoated any message and he always spoke to the heart of the matter. He wanted his listeners to understand, “There is a disease upon you which has already brought you down to spiritual death, and will bring you down to hell. The most moral of you, the most amiable of you, unless Jesus shall look upon you in love, is carrying about within himself a plague of the heart which will be your eternal ruin; Jesus must save you, or you are lost. Man’s only home is to come from Him.”[31] In many of his sermons, illustrations were used to allow light to shine upon the biblical truth being conveyed. Spurgeon said, “There exists no reason why the preaching of gospel should be a miserable task either to the speaker or the hearer. Pleasantly profitable let all our sermons be. A house must not have thick walls without openings, neither must a discourse be all made up of solid slabs of doctrine without a window of comparison or lattice of poetry.”[32] Out of Spurgeon’s immense devotion to God arose a charitable heart towards social concerns. Rooted in this construct, David Duke demonstrates, “The three pillars of Spurgeon’s social concern rest upon: his call for absolute devotion to God in Christ; his concern for the salvation of individual souls; and his emphasis on Christian character which develops from the new nature found in Christ.”[33] Duke reveals how Spurgeon’s life was lived so deeply in Scripture that, “He could not escape the powerful calls for justice and peace, [and] while his primary concern was for individual souls, his compassion for all souls in every dimension of their lives compelled him to speak fervently for radical changes in the attitudes of his society and Union.”[34] Spurgeon always sought the moral high ground in this fight against modernism, but the Baptist Union would never be the same. Spurgeon’s cost in this fight was great, as his friends turned against him, his health declined, and the church he loved was corrupted. While some questioned Spurgeon’s departure from the Union, MacArthur equates Spurgeon staying in the Union to Abraham staying in Ur, in the hope of converting the entire household out of which he was called. Following Spurgeon’s passing, Shindler brilliantly encapsulates the heart and desire of Spurgeon when he wrote, “May the Lord graciously purge His Church of all false doctrine, all false teachers, and all who are traitors in the camp of Israel! And may the Spirit from on high be poured out upon all flesh, that all the ends of the earth may see, and own, and rejoice in, the salvation of our God!”[35]

CONCLUSION

During the late nineteenth century, as many so-called English Baptist pastors became so infatuated with worldly pursuits that many churches stopped engaging in prayer meetings and some even went as far as hosting dramas in the house of God, Charles Haddon Spurgeon arose as the man of God who was called and equipped to shine the light of truth on the moral and doctrinal decay. The “downgrade” of the Baptist denomination, was a hard fought war, one in which ultimately took years off the life of the protagonist. Spurgeon himself warned everyone, “There is truth and there is error and these are opposite the one to the other. Do not indulge yourselves in the folly with which so many are duped-that truth may be error, and error may be truth, that black is white, and white is black, and that there is a whitey-brown that goes in between, which is, perhaps, the best of the whole lot.”[36] Following Spurgeon’s passing, Estep illuminates how “Thomas Spurgeon was reported to have remarked to a Baptist leader that the Union had killed his father, whereupon, the leader replied, ‘and your father almost killed the Union.’”[37] This controversy serves as a stark reminder that if one fails to stand for doctrinal purity, he or she will fall for anything. In today’s climate, tolerance and compromise have become the weapons being used to downgrade the moral and doctrinal purity of the gospel message.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Crocker, Lionel. “CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON’S THEORY OF PREACHING.” Quarterly Journal Of Speech 25, no. 2 (April 1939): 214. Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

Duke, David Nelson. “Charles Haddon Spurgeon: social concern exceeding an individualistic, self-help ideology.” Baptist History And Heritage 22, no. 4 (October 1987): 47-56. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 5, 2017).

Estep, William Roscoe. “The making of a prophet: an introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1984): 3-15. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

Hixson, Elijah. “NEW TESTAMENT TEXTUAL CRITICISM IN THE MINISTRY OF CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 57, no. 3 (09, 2014): 555-70, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/1565535207?accountid=12085. (accessed May 4, 2017).

MacArthur Jr., John F. “Spurgeon and the Down Grade Controversy,” The Spurgeon Archive Website, http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/downgrd.htm#16 (accessed May 5, 2017).

May, Lynn E. “The impact of one life: Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Baptist History and Heritage 19 no. 4(1984): 2.

McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987.

Oswalt, John N. Oswalt. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Pitts, John. “Genius of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Theology Today 6, no. 4 (January 1950): 524-530. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

Shindler, Robert. From the Usher’s Desk to the Tabernacle Pulpit: The Life and Labors of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. New York, NY: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1892.

Skinner, Craig. “The preaching of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1984): 16-26. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. “A powerful reason for coming to Christ.” Bibliotheca Sacra 99, no. 393 (January 1942): 68-86. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

________. Art of Illustration. Auckland, NZ: The Floating Press, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. (accessed May 4,, 2017).

________. Is Conversion Necessary? Pensacola, FL: Generic NL Freebook Publisher, n.d., 1874 eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), (accessed May 4, 2017).

________. Talks To Farmers. Auckland, NZ: The Floating Press, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. (accessed May 4, 2017).

 

________. The Best War Cry. March 4, 1883. (accessed May 5, 2017).

________. The “Down Grade” Controversy. Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 2009.

________. The “Down Grade” Controversy: Collected Materials Which Reveal the Viewpoint of the Late Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

________. The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon: Selected Books, Sermons, and Other Writings, Edited by Daniel Partner. Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2009.

________. “The Form of Godliness without the Power,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon in the Year 1889, repr. ed. Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1975.

________. “A Fragment on the “Down Grade” Controversy.” The Sword and Trowel 23 (1887): 560-565.

________. “Notes,” The Sword and Trowel (April 1887): 190-196

Swanson, Dennis. “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries: Some Lessons from Spurgeon’s Battle for Evangelical Orthodoxy.” Faith and Mission 20, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 20-33.

_________. “The Millennial Position of Spurgeon.” Master’s Seminary Journal 07, no. 2 (Fall, 1996): 200-211.

Wills, Gregory A. “The ecclesiology of Charles H. Spurgeon: unity, orthodoxy, and denominational identity.” Baptist History and Heritage 34, no. 3 (1999): 67-79. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA94161024&sid=summon&asid=f18c26f68eff860fdfd2b2c98d45a42e (accessed May 5, 2017).

            [1] John Pitts, “Genius of Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” Theology Today 6, no. 4 (January 1950): 524. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

[2] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Is Conversion Necessary? (Pensacola, FL: Generic NL Freebook Publisher, n.d. eBook Collection, 1874), 4. EBSCOhost, (accessed May 4, 2017).

[3] John N. Oswalt, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 223.

[4] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Talks To Farmers (Auckland, NZ: The Floating Press, 2013), 5. ProQuest ebrary. (accessed May 4, 2017).

[5] Craig Skinner, “The preaching of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1984): 22. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

[6] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Best War Cry, March 4, 1883. (accessed May 5, 2017).

[7] Gregory A Wills, “The ecclesiology of Charles H. Spurgeon: unity, orthodoxy, and denominational identity,” Baptist History and Heritage 34, no. 3 (1999): 67. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA94161024&sid=summon&asid=f18c26f68eff860fdfd2b2c98d45a42e (accessed May 5, 2017).

[8] Wills, “The ecclesiology of Charles H. Spurgeon,” 68-69.

[9] Pitts, “Genius of Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” 529.

[10] William Roscoe Estep, “The making of a prophet: an introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” Baptist History And Heritage 19, no. 4 (October 1984): 3. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

[11] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The “Down Grade” Controversy (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 2009), 2.

[12] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing, 1987), 302.

[13] Dennis Swanson, “The Millennial Position of Spurgeon,” Master’s Seminary Journal 07, no. 2 (Fall 1996): 200.

[14] Dennis Swanson, “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries: Some Lessons from Spurgeon’s Battle for Evangelical Orthodoxy,” Faith and Mission 20, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 20.

[15] Swanson, “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries,” 22.

[16] Robert Shindler, ‘The Down Grade,” The Sword and Trowel (March 1887): 122.

[17] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Notes,” The Sword and Trowel (April 1887): 196.

[18] Swanson, “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries,” 22.

[19] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The “Down Grade” Controversy: Collected Materials, Which Reveal the Viewpoint of the Late Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 513-514.

[20] Swanson, “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries,” 22.

[21] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “A Fragment on the “Down Grade” Controversy,” The Sword and Trowel 23 (1887): 560.

[22] Estep, “The making of a prophet: an introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” 13.

[23] Christian George, The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon Volume I: His Earliest Outlines and Sermons Between 1851 and 1854 (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2017), 332.

[24] John F. MacArthur Jr., “Spurgeon and the Down Grade Controversy,” The Spurgeon Archive Website, http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/downgrd.htm#16 (accessed May 5, 2017).

[25] Swanson, “The Down Grade Controversy and Evangelical Boundaries,” 29.

[26] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Form of Godliness without the Power,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon in the Year 1889, repr. ed. (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1975), 308.

[27] MacArthur Jr., “Spurgeon and the Down Grade Controversy, the final compromise.”

[28] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Our Reply to Sundry Critics and Enquirers,” The Sword and the Trowel (September 1887), 461.

[29] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Baptist Union Censure,” The Sword and the Trowel (Feb. 1888), 83.

[30] MacArthur Jr., “Spurgeon and the Down Grade Controversy, the aftermath.”

[31] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “A powerful reason for coming to Christ,” Bibliotheca Sacra 99, no. 393 (January 1942): 73. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 4, 2017).

[32] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Art of Illustration (Auckland, NZ: The Floating Press, 2013), 7. ProQuest ebrary. (accessed May 4,, 2017).

[33] David Nelson Duke, “Charles Haddon Spurgeon: social concern exceeding an individualistic, self-help ideology.” Baptist History And Heritage 22, no. 4 (October 1987): 47. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 5, 2017).

[34] Duke, “Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” 55.

[35] Robert Shindler, From the Usher’s Desk to the Tabernacle Pulpit: The Life and Labors of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (New York, NY: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1892), 274.

[36] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Three Sights Worth Seeing,” in the MTP 1887, 476.

[37] Estep, “The making of a prophet: an introduction to Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” 13.

Psalms of Lament

psalm-13-lament

Fifty or one-third of the Psalms are classified as laments. Gary Yates further explains, “Laments are times when the psalmist prays to God in times of trouble, distress, sadness, and in life-threatening situations.”[1] Walter Brueggemann classifies laments as psalms of disorientation as the relationship between the psalmist and God is conducted in an honest engagement, and where pain and hurt are acknowledged rather than denied and avoided.[2] The basic elements of the laments consist of: (1) an opening address or an introductory cry out to God in a very personal way; (2) a lament where the psalmist gives a description of present troubles, often in a very figurative, extreme, and over the top way, to make God aware of the dire circumstances; (3) a petition or prayer, which consists of what the psalmist is actually asking God to do; (4) a confession of trust and faith that God will act; and (5) a vow of praise where thanksgiving and sacrifice are offered when the Lord delivers the psalmist from his trouble.  Logan Jones describes the depth of pain in laments, “was the characteristic way of expressing and voicing the hurt, [but] the distinctive movement from plea to praise [demonstrated] an act of boldness. This movement does not stay stuck in the plea of brokenness and grief; [it] moves beyond to praise and unparalleled transformation with joy, wisdom and hope.”[3] This transformation did not deny the reality of brokenness or grief. Instead, the lament provided trust, confidence, and gratitude towards God.

Yates also illustrates, “The Bible does not command us to fake joy; it promises us a deep and real joy that is so satisfying because we know God is with us, regardless of what we are facing in life, [enabling us to] come to Him with complete honesty, especially in times of desperation.”[4] Jones adds, “By praying the laments, Israel had a way of directly facing the hurtful dimensions of human life. Israel did not try to explain them away, deny them, or avoid them. Instead, Israel held to the premise that all of life – even the hurtful dimensions – was embraced by it covenantal relationship with God.”[5] The psalmist’s relationship with God is deep, personal, and authentic. In Psalm 13, Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. explain:

The prayer is spoken from a situation of severe crisis… The original crisis may have been a physical, emotional, social, or economic crisis. But two things are clear. First, the psalmist definitely understands the crisis as a spiritual and theological crisis — the relationship with God. Second, the psalm is now available to any believer for reuse in a variety of life situations.[6]

Craig Broyles further demonstrates, “This psalm allows believers to voice the mixed emotions often felt toward God while in the midst of hardship, namely complaint and trust.”[7] In Psalm 79, the lament depicts a community crying out for help and most likely refers to the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. Everything the nation of Israel had believed and trusted in was gone and the people had no hope. However, in every lament, there is a wonderful transformation that occurs, where heartache, pain, and misery turn into joy, thanksgiving, and praise.

Laments are cries for help and Yates makes a valid point that “Part of dealing with pain is being able to express it.”[8] As Roland Murphy demonstrates, “The psalms are about honest dialogue where nothing is held back. The words of the psalms speak to the very core of human experience in ways other language cannot begin to approach. In this way, the psalms teach us how to pray, how to stand faithfully before God, asking and even demanding response, action, and answers.”[9] The psalms also teach us to bring our hopes, praise, and joy to God and they call us to bring our fear, pain, and sorrow before God. In desperate times, Jones illustrates “the psalmist gives voice to the anguished part of our human experience, [where] questions are asked that have no answers: How long will God forget? How long will God be hidden? How long must pain be born? How long will the enemy be exalted?”[10] These are valid questions, which every believer has wrestled with. Jones suggests some of the greatest reasons for the laments are to help believers make it through seasons where there is no hope and a cry for deliverance, for healing, for life, for mercy, for forgiveness, for help, for vengeance, for relief, for hope, for attention, for presence, and for strength.[11]

Jones then explains, “bad things happen, circumstances change, loss occurs, and grief and sorrow break the heart, [which] leads to the first movement [as] the cry of lament speaks of the terrible truth of disorientation.”[12] However, when the pleas and petitions reach God, Jones illustrates disorientation does not last forever. Instead, the laments petition God to be true to His character and as a new orientation emerges, blessings and breakthroughs in life are witnessed and praise and worship are given for all God has done. However, spiritual growth does not happen over night; it is a life-long pursuit of trusting and praising God, despite the circumstances.

By praying the laments, individuals will be able to face any hurt, betrayal, or anxiety, by looking to God and embracing the covenant relationship he or she has with Him. Jones explains, “The movement from orientation to disorientation to new orientation… is a way to move deeper into a faith which is transformative, where God indeed makes a difference.”[13] Laments illustrate why it is important to lift one’s petitions before God because as Jones explains, “Our pain can be spoken and named, our hurt can be lifted up and heard, our cries can come from our heart, and we can rest assured nothing, nothing at all can separate us from the love of God.”[14] The believer must simply understand and trust that God hears every prayer and He is continually working in the lives of His children, according to His perfect plan.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Jones, Logan C. “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow.” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47-58. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

Murphy, Roland. “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235-238.

Yates, Gary. “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

________. “The Lament Psalms: Part 2.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

 


[1] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[2] Logan C. Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

[3] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 48-49.

[4] Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.”

[5] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 49.

[6] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 158.

[7] Craig C. Broyles, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999), 87.

[8] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 2,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[9] Roland Murphy, “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235.

[10] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 52.

[11] Ibid., 52.

[12] Ibid., 51.

[13] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 50.

[14] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 54.