Category Archives: Bible Study

Calvin’s Repudiation Of Personal Revelations

Discernment BibleIn writing about the Reformers each Tuesday, I’ve sought to emphasize their commitment to God’s Word. Present-day evangelicals, for reasons I don’t fully understand, have moved away from the idea of relying on Scripture as the sole means of hearing from the Lord, and instead pursue mystical experiences of direct communication with Him. The Reformers would have found such expectations puzzling.

John Calvin, as a matter of fact, directly refuted the concept of God speaking to anyone apart from His Word. Consider the following quotation of Calvin’s writing on the topic of Scripture’s authority:

Since no daily responses are given from heaven, and the Scriptures are the only record in which God has been pleased to consign His truth to perpetual remembrance, the full authority which they ought to possess with the faithful is not recognized unless they are believed to have come from heaven as directly as if God had been heard giving utterance to them.

As far as Calvin was concerned, the thought of God speaking in any way other than Scripture shouldn’t even be entertained. He insisted that the Lord had spoken with full authority in His Word, and therefore believers could trust that written record of His truth.

But Calvin didn’t stop there in his repudiation of personal revelations. With boldness that would make a modern discernment blogger blush, he unapologetically equated the practice with outright heresy!

The fanaticism which discards the Scripture, under the pretense of resorting to immediate revelations is subversive of every principle of Christianity. For when they boast extravagantly of the Spirit, the tendency is always to bury the Word of God so they may make room for their own falsehoods.

I doubt John Calvin would show much tolerance in a room full of 21st Century evangelical women off-handedly talking about things they believe God told them. But then, he lived in an age that cherished the Bible, having seen the Roman Catholic Church persecute (and often execute) men and women for simply owning a Bible in their own language. He valued Scripture too much to see its authority supplanted by claims of personal words from the Lord.

According to Calvin, such personal words “buried” the Word of God. Hadn’t the Reformers just excavated that same Word of God that had been buried under Roman Catholic tradition and papal authority for centuries leading up to Martin Luther’s 95 Theses? Why, in so short a time, would Calvin acquiesce to anyone allowing Scripture to then undergo a second burial? And wouldn’t a burial under something as subjective as personal mysticism (which might easily be attributed to too much wine or not enough sleep) be even worse?

Calvin’s words elevating Scripture over personal spiritual experience must echo through our minds today. Like so many aspects of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation, they must remind us to treasure the Bible as God’s Word — His only Word — to His people. They must remind us not to bury such a incomparable treasure under the filthy vestiges of subjective experience.

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Saturday Sampler: April 16 — April 22

Blend SamplerHave you been following Leslie A’s excellent series on developing discernment on her Growing 4 Life blog? Even if you haven’t, Learn to Discern: Preparing Your Heart and Mind is very much worth your time and attention. She lays a Biblical foundation for cultivating discernment.

Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day writes Jen Hatmaker, the ‘Christian Machine’, and Genuine Orthodox Christianity in response to Hatmaker’s Good Friday post comparing the backlash to her support of same sex marriage to Christ’s sufferings on the cross. Please,  Ms. Hatmaker,  grow up!

Michelle Lesley has a passion for teaching women how to study the Bible for themselves. Her article, Bible Book Backgrounds: Why You Need Them and Where to Find Them, provides an excellent resource for studying God’s Word.

I so appreciate Rebekah Womble of Wise In His Eyes for her balanced and Biblical perspective in Beware the Lies of Emotionalism. Our culture has wrongly influenced the visible church that feelings, rather than God’s Word, lead us into a right relationship with the Lord.

Writing for Parking Space 23, Allen Cagle encourages church music leaders to ask, Should We Sing That Song? Those of us in the pews might also benefit from these guidelines for evaluating worship music.

The newest trend in evangelical circles exalts “authenticity” and “brokenness.” As Joe Carter of The Gospel Coalition Blog says in his piece, Beware of Broken Wolves, false teachers often use these postures as a means of spreading deceit to the rest of Christ’s Body.

 

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Perspectives In Titus: Purity Polluted

Titus 1 15&16Fasten your seatbelts, ladies. Today we’ll finish Chapter 1 of Titus, so we’ll go a bit longer than we usually do. Verses 15 and 16 are really rich, though, so I want to take time to go over them carefully. Let’s begin by reading them in their immediate context.

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. ~~Titus 1:10-16 (ESV)

In verses 15 and 16, Paul continues his description of the false teachers in Crete by elaborating on their corrupt personalities. He begins by affirming that all created things are intrinsically pure. Remember that many of the false teachers in Crete tried to impose Old Testament Jewish law on the Gentile converts, and therefore most likely would have taught that certain food were unclean.

Paul argues that God created all things pure. As a result, those who have been purified through the blood of Christ Jesus regard everything as pure. Such people feel perfect liberty to enjoy whatever the Lord places before them. 1 Timothy 4:1-5 expands on this point by saying that “doctrines of demons” lead false teachers to demand abstinence from certain foods and from marriage.

Barnes wisely cautions against using this verse as a license for sin, arguing that it primarily refers to food. He reminds us of Paul’s injunction in Colossians 2:16  not to let anyone judge  us in regard to rituals.

Paul goes on to explain that nothing is pure to them because their very minds and consciences are defiled.  To those defiled by the sin of false doctrine, everything is corrupted by their pride and self-indulgence. Their supposed devotion to God’s Law actually covers up their internal wickedness. Therefore, nothing is pure for them; they pollute everything by their evil natures.

Moving to verse 16, we see exactly why Paul declares false teachers to be impure, False teachers, though claiming to know the Lord, have a false testimony. In fact, as false teachers they often claim to have special revelation from God. But Paul insists that they actually deny Him by their works of self-indulgence (see verses 10-12) and their works of teaching legalistic salvation. Their conduct exposes them as false converts.

Paul makes a play on words by calling them detestable, since they teach Old Testament regulations of foods that were detestable under ceremonial law. Essentially, the Lord regards false teachers, rather than mere foods, detestable.

Furthermore, these false teachers were disobedient to God in both their sinful lifestyles and their spreading of perverse doctrine. Their disobedience made them unfit for any good work. In other words, worthless.

Barnes reminds us that the disobedient lifestyles of the Cretans,  coupled with the false teachers trying to add Mosaic law to the Gospel, motivated Paul’s concern that Titus appoint men of godly character to serve as elders. As we proceed to Chapter 2 next week, we’ll see Paul’s strategy of dealing with the problems in Crete.

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Perspectives In Titus: Harshness And Hope

Titus 1 13&14Last Monday we examined a quotation that the apostle Paul got from Epimenides, a poet from Crete. Epimenides didn’t exactly flatter the people of Crete in his words, as you’ll probably recall. Today, I’d like us to look at Paul’s reasons for quoting such a harsh indictment against the very people he wanted Titus to reach with the Gospel.

This explanation comes out of verses 13 and 14 of Titus 1, which I’ll quote in context.

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. ~~Titus 1:10-16 (ESV)

Paul uses Epimenides’ condemnation of the Cretans to demonstrate the degenerate condition of the false teachers who had infiltrated the churches of Crete. But simply applying the invective to these teachers did little to instruct Titus in dealing with them. Therefore Paul elaborates on the saying.

Notice, as verse 13 opens, that Paul affirms the saying of Epimenides regarding the character of the Cretans.  He wants Titus to appoint  godly elders precisely because the Cretans exhibited such a corrupt character.

The false teachers among the Cretans were so invested in their sinful lifestyles that only  sharp rebuke would penetrate their consciences. The Greek word here rendered “sharply” denotes severity, as if cutting them off. In other words, Paul did not want Titus to tolerate any part of their deviations from the truth.

Verse 13 goes on to reveal that Paul’s goal in sharply rebuking the Cretans was to restore them to sound faith. Barnes says, “That they may not allow the prevailing vices to corrupt their views of religion.”Believers Bible Commentary points out that rebuking the Cretans meant that there was actually hope for their  repentance. What an encouraging thought!

But even if the false teachers themselves resisted correction, rebuking them would have an impact on the other Christians in Crete. I think of similar instructions Paul issued to Timothy as Timothy established the church at Ephesus:

As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. ~~1 Timothy 5:20 (ESV)

Verse 14 continues Paul’s thought by showing exactly how Titus should rebuke the false teachers. His mention of Jewish myths brings us back to verse 10, where Paul alludes to “those of the circumcision party.” Paul had no patience for false teachers who tried to make salvation contingent on human performance.

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown take the view that  the Jewish myths, while at this point were  merely diversions that  didn’t advance godliness, opened the door to Gnosticism. The Judaizers in Crete evidently  imposed religious rituals to augment Christ’s work on the cross, suggesting that it wasn’t sufficient.  Colossians 2:23 cautions against turning to man-made rules and regulations that merely give an appearance of spirituality.

The Judaizers, by encouraging the Gentile Christians to observe Jewish customs, actually turned them away from the Gospel truth that Jesus met the demands of the Law through His death on the cross. Paul, as an apostle to the Gentiles, saw that such teachings would divert people from trusting Christ alone for salvation, thus nullifying the entire message of the Gospel.

At the same time, Paul appreciated true holiness. In denouncing the works  based righteousness of the Judaizers, he in no way intended to support the self-indulgence of the Cretans in general. Paul wanted to see Titus lead the churches of Crete into true holiness, as we’ll see in coming weeks.

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Saturday Sampler: April 2 — April 8

Three BeautiesLeslie A., who blogs at Growing 4 Life, writes Learn to Discern: Living in the Light to instruct and encourage those of us who are labeled as negative for our interest in discernment.

In her latest blog post for Biblical Woman, Candi Finch answers the question, Did I Educate Myself Out Of Marriage? She gently takes us back to the Word of God to correct worldly ideas about attracting a man as well as about marriage in general.

Although Denny Burk’s article, Why the Church Needs More Gray Hair, specifically addresses men, we “women of a certain age” can also benefit from his comments.

I love it when other bloggers address my pet peeves. In His Name is Yahweh, Jesse Johnson of The Cripplegate addresses the superstitious avoidance of using God’s Name — even in English Bible translations.

What does it mean to teach by allegorizing the scriptures? asks Elizabeth Prata of The End Time. Elizabeth helps us understand appropriate rules of interpreting and applying the Word of God.

KrizSummer artfully contrasts the world’s view of love with the Biblical definition of it in her post, Love is NOT Like That. Besides reminding us of basic points,  she adds thoughts that few people (including Christians) consider.

 

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What You Win Them With

Love and truthOn a recent episode of The Dividing Line, James White quoted the maxim, “What you win them with is what you win them to.” His, point was that churches using entertainment as a means of evangelism would necessarily then have to continually provide entertainment in order to satisfy their new converts. Otherwise they’d be rightfully accused of bait-and-switch tactics.

Youth ministry, sadly, has become dependent on entertaining young people, rationalizing that teenagers won’t come to meetings that consist solely of Bible Study and singing. Bible Studies must be kept short, youth leaders insist, because teenagers have short attention spans.

Yet these same kids are expected to sit attentively through five periods of classroom instruction each day. Granted, some of their teachers feel obligated to crack jokes constantly to hold their interest, but most teachers don’t. The kids go to school to learn math, literature, history and science, not to play. Their school experience proves that they are perfectly capable of participating in a Bible Study without requiring additional incentives.

Let me say this clearly.  If they’re not interested in the Bible without fun and games, they’re not interested in the Bible. You can have the most outrageous activities you want, but please realize that a steady diet of entertainment does absolutely nothing to attract them to the Lord. Kids, like anybody else, come to Christ by hearing His Word.

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. ~~Romans 10:14-17 (ESV)

Look, I’m not against an occasional pizza party or movie night. I like having fun as much as the next gal. But let’s give adolescents the benefit of the doubt by treating them as young adults who can, by the grace of God, sit through a Bible Study without needing some auxiliary method to lure them in. As James White said, “What you win them with is what you win them to.”

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Perspectives In Titus: An Embarrassing Emblem

Titus 1 12I really  wanted to get through Titus 1:12-14 today,  understanding that most blog readers prefer a faster pace than I’ve been giving you. Alas, all weekend and today I’ve struggled physically with my typing,  so I managed only to make it through verse 12. I pray that the Holy Spirit will use my meager offering to deepen your understanding of  the need for Titus to build up the churches throughout Crete.

Let’s look at verse 12 in context before we begin analyzing it, just to keep ourselves from losing perspective.

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. ~~Titus 1:10-16 (ESV)

You’ll recall, hopefully, that Paul gave Titus rather explicit instructions on the type of men Titus should appoint to govern the  churches in Crete. Last Monday we started discussing the problem of false teachers infiltrating the island. Now Paul adds the corrupt condition of Crete’s inhabitants as a whole.

Barnes points out that Paul found problems with native Cretans as well as the Jewish false teachers. Possibly, the negative characteristics of the Cretans had rubbed off on the Jews.

The Cretans acknowledged their own reputation for lying. According to Jamieson, Fausset and Brown,  Paul here quotes “Epimenides of Phaestus, or Gnossus, in Crete, about 600. He was sent for to purify Athens from its pollution occasioned by Cylon. He was regarded as a diviner and prophet. ” First Century culture often regarded poets as prophets, so Epimenides may have been considered a prophet for that reason.

Epimenides accused the Cretans of being “always liars.” Vincent’s Word Studies  says that the Greek  word here translated “always ” means habitually. Their lying was so chronic that it became emblematic of their region, just as sexual immorality was emblematic of Corinth. Not exactly the best reputation. Barnes suggests that their moral deficiency went deeper than lying, as exemplified by the remainder of the quotation.

Crete didn’t have wild animals, so Epimenides used irony in calling the Cretans wild beasts  to illustrate their greed and savagery. Apparently, they seldom controlled their passions,  but instead used brute force to obtain whatever they wanted.

The term “lazy gluttons” referred to their self-indulgence. Paul used this idea in Romans 16:18 and Philippians 3:19. But their self-indulgence was made even worse by their laziness.  Clearly, the  selfish, undisclosed people of Crete needed godly elders who could pull them out of the sin that was so emblematic of their culture.

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