Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Are Humans Totally Depraved from Birth?

     The Westminster Confession of Faith affirms: “[Adam and Eve] being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation…. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions” (6:3-4).1  

A Biblical Response:

     There is no question that all humans have been adversely affected by sin (Gen. 3:16-19; Rom. 5:12), but the guilt of sin is not hereditary. Otherwise Jesus Christ, a biological descendent of Adam (Luke 3:23-38), would have inherited the guilt of Adam’s sin through his mother; but Jesus was without sin (1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezek. 18:20; cf. 28:15). Accountable persons become sinners when they succumb to temptation and violate the divine will (Jas. 1:14-15; 1 John 3:4).2
     Often used as a proof-text by those with a Calvinistic perspective is Eph. 2:1-3, wherein the pre-Christian state is described as, “by nature children of wrath” (v. 3). However, the context shows that being spiritually dead is the consequence of “trespasses and sins, in which you once walked” [not inherited]. Accordingly, the Greek term phusis, rendered “nature” here, is not necessarily indicative of something innate but rather “a mode of feeling and acting which by long habit has become nature” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon 660). Prior to their conversion to Christ, the Ephesians were deserving of God’s wrath because of their habitual practice of sin.
     Psalm 51:5 is rendered in the NIV: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” But other standard English versions do not convey this Calvinistic slant: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me” (ESV, N/ASV, N/KJV, RSV, etc.). As with all poetic literature, dramatic language should not be literalized or stretched beyond its original intent. Whether this statement depicts the sinful environment in which David was born (cf. 14:1-4; 17:9-12; 73:12-14; etc.)3 or employs hyperbolic imagery (cf. 22:9-10; 58:3; 71:5-6; Job 31:18) as an expression of deep remorse for his overwhelming sinfulness, at least one thing is certain. Throughout Psalm 51 David consistently takes personal responsibility for his own transgressions (vv. 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 14). See also 38:18; 58:3; Isa. 53:6; etc.
     Since “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:10-12, 23; 5:12), would this not include infants and young children? The consistent focus of Romans is not a universal evaluation and indictment of each individual person, regardless of age, mental capacity, and culpability. The “all” (guilty of sin) is contextually qualified, and at the very least we know that Jesus is not included (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15). The overarching theme of Romans is that Jews and Gentiles stand before God on the same footing. Gentiles sin and are thus condemned (1:18-32), but they are not the only ones; Jews are also guilty before God (2:1-5). Whether Jew or Gentile, the obedient receive divine favor and the disobedient face God’s wrath (2:6-16); there is no partiality with God (2:11). All have sinned (3:10-12, 23; 5:12) = both Jews and Gentiles (3:9, 19), not just the one to the exclusion of the other. Moreover, “all” (both Jews and Gentiles) have equal access to God through Christ and are accepted by him on the same terms (3:29-30; 4:16, 24; 5:18; etc.).
     Death is the consequence of sin (Rom. 5:12), and seeing that infants are subject to death, does this not prove they are guilty of sin? It is important to note the fundamental difference between physical death, to which all mortals are amenable (1 Cor. 15:21-22; Heb. 9:27; Jas. 2:26), and spiritual death, which is the consequence of personal sin (Isa. 59:1-2; Rom. 6:23; Rev. 20:14). This distinction is crucial to understanding the otherwise perplexing words of Jesus in John 11:25-26 and of Paul in Romans 5:12-21. We all die physically because of Adam’s sin, but each accountable person is responsible for the sins he/she commits (cf. Rom. 14:12; 1 John 3:4) – leading to spiritual death – and is therefore in need of the spiritual life that only Jesus can provide (cf. Eph. 2:1-10).
     Infants and young children are not evil (Deut. 1:39; Matt. 18:1-5; 19:13-14; Luke 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 14:20). In Mark 9:33-37 Jesus teaches his disciples an important lesson about meekness and humility by taking a small child in his arms and saying, “Whoever receives one of these children in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, not only receives me but the one having sent me.” Then in Mark 10:13-16 the Lord seizes another opportunity to impart a similar object lesson. Upset by the disciples having rebuked certain ones for bringing young children to be blessed by him, Jesus says, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them, for of such is the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a child, by no means will enter into it.” The Lord obviously considers children to be the epitome of humility, eagerness to learn, receptivity, trust, innocence, and spiritual purity. 
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 The Confession of Faith: the Larger and Shorter Catechisms (London: Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, 1962): 39-40. The Westminster Confession of Faith was approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1646 and ratified by Parliament in 1649 and 1690. The ideas of original sin, total depravity, and predestination can be traced as far back as Augustine of Hippo (354-430), revived and popularized by John Calvin (1509-1564) and others during the early Protestant Reformation Movement. Today a number of Protestant denominations advocate a form of this view as a tenet of Reformed Theology.
     2 Age of accountability? See Deut. 1:39; Num. 8:2-3; 10:28; 14:29-31; Isa. 7:15-16; John 9:21, 23; cf. Ezek. 18:20; 28:15; Eccl. 7:29; 1 John 3:4; 1 Cor. 13:11; Luke 2:40-52.
     3 When foreign Jews on the Day of Pentecost made reference to “our own language in which we were born” (Acts 2:8), their cultural environment is clearly in view, and surely no one would interpret this as articulate babies!

Addendum: What about Job 14:4, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one”? In this section of the book, in his extreme misery, Job speaks of the way things appear to him, comparable to the observations of his friends Eliphaz (15:14) and Bildad (25:4). Note how very negative and despondent Job is throughout this section; his hazy perception even sees a tree as better off than a human (vv. 7-10)! But Job’s perspective is comparatively limited in contrast to how God views things (38:1–41:34). If Job’s observation in v. 4 were a divine affirmation of inherent sin, then Jesus, who was also “born of woman,” would necessarily be included. But Jesus was without sin (1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). The “no one” of v. 4 is simply Job’s reference to his fellow human beings, but God can certainly bring what is clean from the unclean (31:15). Job recognized that his view of the world was incomplete, while God’s view is perfect (25:14; 28:12-13, 20-28; 42:1-6), and Job later confessed, “I have uttered what I did not understand” (42:3a).    

Related Posts: One of the Worst Things About Hell, Limited Atonement  

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Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Frequency of the Lord's Supper

     They should have known better. Only a few years after the Lord's church had been established in Corinth, their assemblies had regressed into something the Lord never intended. Thus Paul issues a stern reprimand: “But in these instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse …. Therefore coming together in one place [epi to auto], it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11:17, 20).1 The ESV renders v. 20, “When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat.” While communion was meant to be a recurrent reminder of Christ’s atoning death (vv. 23-29), their abuses and misbehavior had rendered it unrecognizable.
     The implication of this rebuke and the accompanying directives for restoring the Lord’s Supper is that the sacred memorial was to be kept on a regular basis (hosakis [“as often”] vv. 25, 26). But how often? These Christians were to keep it as often as they gathered for worship. So how often did the Corinth church assemble?

A Uniform Practice of First-Century Churches

     Later in the same epistle Paul writes: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I ordered the churches of Galatia, so you do also. On the first day of every week [katá mían sabbátou], let each of you by himself store up whatever he is prospered, that there be no collections when I come” (16:1-2).2 Since the perí dé (“now concerning”) formula in 1 Corinthians draws attention to the apostle’s answers to their questions (7:1),3 the current response presupposes their previous knowledge of this collection. 
     These same directives had been communicated to the churches of Galatia (16:1c),4 and the Macedonian churches were also involved (v. 5).5 Paul goes on to reference the churches of Asia (v. 19), who apparently participated as well (Acts 20:4), plus all the churches in the province of Achaia (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 1:1; 9:2).6 Throughout 1 Corinthians the readers have been consistently reminded of what is taught and practiced everywhere in all the churches (1:2; 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:33).7
     “On the first day of every week” (katá mían sabbátou) indicates a regular occurrence on a specific day each week (16:2a). The implication is that the Corinth church and her sister congregations in various places were assembling weekly on this particular day.8 If the Corinthians were to observe the Lord’s Supper as often as they gathered for worship (11:20-29), and they were assembling each first day of the week (Sunday), the Lord’s Supper was to be observed every Sunday.9
     About a year after these instructions were penned, the apostle was passing through the Roman province of Asia (Acts 20:5 ff.). Although he was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem (v. 16), for some reason he stopped for a whole week in Troas (v. 6). Why? “But on the first day of the week [tē mia tōn sabbatōn], having come together to break bread [klasai arton], Paul spoke to them, ready to depart on the next day; and he continued the speech until midnight” (v. 7).10
     The expression “to break bread” is a customary idiom, used in two different senses in the NT. Sometimes it refers to a common meal (Matt. 14:19; 15:36; Mark 8:6, 19; Acts 2:46; 20:11; 27:35), whereas at other times it applies to the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:24). Either way, seeing that both involve more than just literal bread breaking, the phrase is obviously idiomatic. The question is, how is it used in Acts 20:7? As a general rule of thumb, whenever a modifier such as “food” or “eating” is included, a normal meal is in view (cf. Acts 2:46; 20:11). When the expression occurs in conjunction with spiritual activities, the Lord’s Supper is in view (cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7). There is a clear distinction between these two actions (one common and the other sacred), and they are not to be commingled and confused (1 Cor. 11:17-34).
     It is highly unlikely that Paul would have postponed his journey to Jerusalem for seven days just to eat an ordinary meal with the Troas brethren. But if the church assembled each Sunday, like other first-century Christians (noted above), and if Paul and his traveling companions arrived on Monday, it would have been necessary to stay there a week in order to assemble with these saints to observe communion with them. The expressed purpose of this assembly was “to break bread,” and the specified day was “the first day of the week.” Immediately after this worship service, Paul ate food and resumed his hastened voyage (v. 11).

A Special Day

     Sunday marks the historical juncture when our Lord Jesus conquered death (Mark 16:9), providing the cornerstone of the Christian faith (Rom. 1:4; 6:4-11; 1 Cor. 15:1-4, 12-22; 1 Pet. 3:21). Thereafter it was this day of the week on which the Lord’s church was established (Acts 2:1; cf. Lev. 23:15-16; John 19:31) and early Christians assembled together to commemorate Christ’s atoning sacrifice (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-26; 16:1-2).11
     While Jesus instituted this sacred memorial on a Thursday evening (Matt. 26:26-29), the NT gives no special meaning to the fifth day of the week. It was another couple of days before the enormous significance of Sunday became a reality (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:9). Even though baptism was an integral part of the ministries of John the baptizer and Jesus and his disciples (John 3:22-23), it wasn’t until Christ’s resurrection that its full connotation was established (Rom. 6:3-11). The day of the Lord’s resurrection was to be the day his church was built and his spiritual kingdom realized (Matt. 16:18-19; Acts 1:3-8; 2:1-47),12 and ultimately the memorial day of his death (cf. Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:16, 18; Acts 2:42; 20:7).

Conclusion

     For all who are committed to restoring the NT church, we have clear directives concerning the Lord’s Supper with respect to what, how, and when. If the early Christians assembled every Sunday to observe communion in remembrance of the Lord’s sacrificial death, what should we be doing?

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 See The Sunday Collection <Link>.
     3 See also 1 Cor. 7:25; 8:1, 4; 12:1; 16:1, 12.
     4 Cf. Acts 16:6; 18:23; Gal. 1:2. These are probably the churches in the southern region of the Roman province of Galatia, including Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Derbe, and Iconium (Acts 13, 14, 16). Note that Gaius of Derbe and Timothy of Lystra were part of the delegation that carried the funds to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4). 
     5 Cf. Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:1–9:7. Macedonian cities where churches had been planted were Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea (Acts 16:9–17:14). Representatives of the Thessalonica and Berea congregations helped deliver the funds (Acts 20:4), and Luke may have represented the church at Philippi (Acts 16:12; 20:6).
     6 The province of Achaia included Corinth, Cenchrea, and Athens (Acts 17:24; 18:18, 27; 19:21; Rom. 16:1).
     7 While the churches of Jerusalem and Judea were on the receiving end of this benevolent aid, they too participated in funding the Lord’s work through free-will offerings collected in a common treasury (cf. Acts 2:42, 44, 45; 4:32, 34-37; 5:1-2; 6:1-4). Consider also the generosity of the Syrian Antioch congregation (Acts 11:29-30). Providing for the physical needs of destitute brethren is not the only work first-century churches supported (cf. 1 Cor. 9:11-14; 16:6; 2 Cor. 11:7-9; 12:13; Gal. 6:6; Phil. 4:15-20).
     8 These verses constitute an apostolic command issued to multiple congregations in various locations to be regularly observed on a specified day each week. While “each of you by himself” (v. 2b) describes a personal responsibility, the expression “let him store up” (thēsaurízōn) (v. 2c) means to treasure up or store up in a common treasury (= the single “gift” of v. 3). Just as the contribution involves both individual and collective components, so too does the observance of the Lord’s Supper (11:20, 26, 28).
     9 What if the church also met on Wednesdays or other days of the week? The bottom line is, Paul is addressing what the church in mid-first-century Corinth was actually doing (assembling every Sunday), not other possible scenarios that would have required qualifying directives.
     10 The term mesonúktion (“midnight”) applies to the second of four watches of the night (Mark 13:35; cf. 6:48), equivalent to 9 pm–12 am.
     11 John’s allusion to “the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10) employs the adjective kuriakos, and the only other occurrence of this word in the NT is in reference to “the Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11:20), commemorated as regularly as these Christians assembled together (vv. 20-34), viz. every Sunday (16:2).
     12 Cf. Mark 9:1; John 3:5; Acts 1:3; 2:30-38, 47; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31; Col. 1:13. See The Kingdom of God Part 3 <Link>.


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Thursday, 18 June 2015

Biblical Principles Relating to Choral Singing

1. Worship is intentional. In Acts 24:11 Paul said that he had gone up to Jerusalem “to worship” [proskuneō]. We see that (a) not everything one does in life is worship;1 (b) worship is done intentionally/on purpose; and (c) one cannot worship unintentionally or by accident.2

2. Something that is often done as “worship” in a worship setting might be done in another setting where it does not necessarily constitute worship. For example, prayer is a worshipful act (Acts 2:42; 3:1), but when Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray and shared with them a “model” for praying (Luke 11:1-4), he does not appear to have been worshiping in this particular context. When Paul was on a ship with a large number of unbelievers and he “gave thanks to God in the presence of them all” (Acts 27:35-36), he may have been engaging in worship on this occasion, but those who heard him and were encouraged by what he did were not necessarily participating in worship themselves.

3. While the singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is generally directed to God as vertical worship, a secondary purpose is for horizontally teaching, edifying, and admonishing (Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16-17; Hebrews 2:12). In fact, worship to God is not the only biblically-sanctioned reason to sing spiritual songs. “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms” (James 5:13b).


4. One or more persons singing spiritual songs while others listen without singing is not inherently wrong. “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25).

5. In a “worship setting,” i.e. an assembly of Christians who have gathered for the express purpose of worshiping, everyone should be participating in worship as a collective activity in accordance with biblical guidelines (1 Corinthians 11:17-29; 14:12-19; 16:1-2; etc.).

6. In an environment that is not intended as congregational worship, would it be appropriate and not inconsistent with Bible teaching for a Christian to receive edification from something another Christian offers to God, whether a heart-felt expression of thanksgiving and praise in a beautifully worded prayer or scripture reading, or a heart-felt expression of thanksgiving and praise in a beautifully worded song?

7. From a practical standpoint, if one deems it acceptable to listen to a recording of Christians singing gospel songs, in what way would it be unacceptable to listen to the same Christians singing the same gospel songs in person (perhaps while the recording is being made)?

8. Based on the above principles, I do not view a cappella choral singing as mere “entertainment” or something that replaces congregational (reciprocal) praise in a worship setting but, in my judgment, as an opportunity for spiritual edification outside the appointed boundaries of a corporate assembly without violating biblical teaching.

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 What about Romans 12:1? “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your …” (a) “reasonable service” (NKJV); (b) “spiritual worship” (ESV); (c) “spiritual service of worship” (NASB); (d) “spiritual act of worship” (NIV)? The Greek adj. logikos means reasonable, rational, or spiritual. The noun latreia is “service or worship” (BAGD 467), with emphasis on divine service (cf. Rom. 9:4; John 16:2; Heb. 12:28); the verb form latreuō means to “serve” [esp. the carrying out of religious duties] (BAGD 467). This is not the same concept as what is conveyed by the verb proskuneō, which means to “worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to …” (BAGD 716).
     2 Scriptural worship [proskuneō] is something that is done purposefully, involving concentration, consideration, and reverence (John 4:20-24; 12:20; Acts 8:27; 24:11). Not everything one does in life, therefore, constitutes worship (e.g. reading the newspaper, sleeping, watching a movie, et al.).

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