Purging the Church: Is the Rise in Religious Disaffiliation Necessarily a Bad Thing?

I read an old 2012 news article today which made me consider the secular situation the church finds herself in today.

According to this article, Protestant Christianity in America and Great Britain is decreasing, Catholicism has been flatlining, and “Nones” (those who indicate as having no religion at all) are on the increase.

This paragraph in particular stuck out at me, and I’d like to share it with you:

Those youngsters [the ‘Nones’] who once went to church out of obligation are now spending Sunday mornings in the supermarket or the gym (body worship is a flourishing faith). That means that the only young people in the pews are true believers who really want to be there.

Due to the rise of religious disaffiliation (the act of ceasing to identify oneself with and participate in a religious group), more and more people are leaving church who do not actually want to go to church This largely leaves the true believers remaining.

Now, on one level, this is clearly  bad thing, Of course it’s terrible that less young people are going to church.

But there seems to be something good about it as well. For when people leave church who do not actually want to be there, it seems that all you’re left with is the real deal. If a person visits a church, they can be more likely to expect real born-again believers indwelt and empowered by the Spirit of God.

There is nothing sadder in the world than Christian religious nominalism — being Christian in name only, and not in actuality. The nominally religious are spiritually dead reprobates with a false assurance that is leading them to hell.

Nominal church cultures breed fake Christians with false professions of faith. There’s probably nothing more harmful to a true believer than seeking holiness in a large, spiritually dead church full of nominal Christians.

I have a friend who lives in Houston, Texas, in the so-called Bible-belt. He finds it so frustrating to try and be truly holy and encouraged in a context where everyone just goes to church because that’s just what people do.

So maybe the secularisation of society has just drawn the battle-lines clearer. The church has always flourished the most under opposition. It’s only when she has become comfortable that she has become fat, lazy and unfruitful.

We can even see this in the history of Israel, in the Bible. Whenever Israel rested secure, she sinned, and drove the LORD away. But God was with his true believers like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Elijah in the midst of nation-wide backsliddenness.

Perhaps, then, an increase in religious disaffiliation within Christianity will wake us believers up to run the race with perseverance, prepare, and do the good Gospel work God has called us to do. Perhaps God will have compassion, and once again work this evil out for the good of his people.


Covenental Theology, Apostasy and Perseverance

So, here’s a point on covenantal theology in relation to apostasy and perseverance.

I was watching a debate between Douglas Wilson and James White on whether or not we Reformed Evangelicals should consider Roman Catholics our brethren. White spoke in favour of the Negative, and Wilson spoke in favour of the Affirmative. But Wilson spoke in the affirmative position from an interesting angle. Wilson maintained that for every person who is baptised with Trinitarian baptism (which, for the record, Wilson also takes to include infants), that person shares in a special covenantal relationship with Christ by virtue of that baptism which has been administrated unto them. And since this is the case, it can be said that a baptised Roman Catholic is a true, covenantal brother of a baptised Protestant, even if the Catholic Church is living in spiritual adultery and outside of regenerate salvation by virtue of its manifold abominations and perversions and errors.

Now what was so interesting about this was that Wilson, in his opening presentation, commented on the apostasy passages in Hebrews. If it is the case that a Roman Catholic counts as our brother in Christ by virtue of Trinitarian baptism, does it follow that they are part of the saved, elect people? And to this, Wilson answers: Not obviously. Wilson maintains that it is quite clear when one reads the Book of Hebrews that it is taken to be a very real possibility and danger for people who are members of the New Covenant community to forsake that new covenant with Christ and thus fall away from it. But does that imply that the elect can fall away from salvation? Well, no. Why? Because, on Wilson’s view, there is a distinction between people who are baptised members of the New Covenant Church and people who are born-again elect members of the New Covenant.

So it may be that in a discussion about apostasy and perseverance, there are very implicit underlying assumptions being made about fundamental covenantal theologies. For the person who thinks a distinctions such as that which is represented in Wilson’s view is correct or incorrect , that may alter the way you approach the question about apostasy and perseverance in the New Testament.

All I wanna do…

“I found myself in you, Jesus;
And I found myself in you, O Lord.
So take me to a place,
Where I can see you face to face.
‘Cause all I wanna do, all I wanna do,
Is worship you.”

Hallelujah and Amen. You know, I love the Lord Jesus. He took me out of sin and darkness and placed me into the Kingdom of Light to know and love his own God and Father, the LORD, the God of all Creation, as my own God and Father. Furthermore, He has filled me with his Holy Spirit to be the Counsellor, who daily abides in me, intercedes with great striving and profound groaning that words cannot express.

For my God is a mighty flame, a solid fortress; a very sound foundation in times of trouble: I shall not be shaken. When He comes to judge both the heavens and the earth, the living and the dead, his Name will be vindicated, his people will be avenged, and justice will be met out on all who have not obeyed the Son, who is the Lord Jesus.

My God, the LORD, rules above all. He stands high and lifted up, and lofty, worshipped as holy by the angelic armies. My God is a great king. He rules the nations forever and ever. He does as he pleases, dispensing judgement on the earth. But he also delights in mercy, and eagerly works his mercies over all creation. My God is above all, and I will boast in Him; yes, I will sing praise unto Him: I will both fear Him and delight in Him, and I will forever tell of His wonders.

At my going out and my coming in; my rising and my sleeping, the LORD alone will sustain my life. He will go before me, and rise behind me: He will be the vanguard and the rear guard. And so I will be confident in Him, and I will trust in Him, and I will glorify Him, and marvel at Him.

For I know all the earth will see Him, and all the nations will mourn on account of Him. And this is the one thing I ask of Him on that great and final day: that I may see Him as He is, and dwell with Him forever and ever.

Written with tears. To the tune of Hillsong’s “Found.”

Falling Away and Carrying On

Tonight, after church, a whole bunch of young believers got together at a believer’s house just to hang out. (I love that about true Christian life — we the family of God are the best friends there could be!)

But as we were having a great time chatting, eating, drinking, laughing, and playing games, I could not help but to notice the notable absence of two people.

You see, in my church, two believers fell away from Christ and became unbelievers. Both are very good friends, and each decided, together, to leave the faith. How devastating.

Incidentally, another person whom I know also just gave it up. No explanation whatsoever. He just seems to have lost sight of the meaning and point of it all. Bizarre!

So this got me thinking. We believers share in the joy of the Lord. And so we should! It is right and just to express our joy. But shouldn’t we also share in sorrow for the fallen?

Think of what it means to fall. It means to be cut off from Christ. To leave one’s family. It means that after having been washed from one’s filth — having removed one’s ripped rags, having been clothed with pure garments — to jump back into the slime-filled mud-pit full of stinking feces that God dragged you out off originally. It is moving from a state of peace with and life in God, back into an original state of death and condemnation before Him.

In other words, to fall away is to be is danger of the fires of eternal hell.

So I find it quite distressing when somebody falls. They have left their love of and inheritance in the Eternal God of glory for what is foolish, fleshly, and fleeting.

Apostasy is offensive and grievous to us as Christians. Of course it is. It is so much so that we shy away from it. Surely not, O Lord! Some people even resort to a false doctrine of “eternal security” or “once saved always saved” asserting that we cannot fall, or that if we do that God will most assuredly bring us back in his timing. God is faithful to us, after all. Well of course. But that is to miss the point. When a man casts Christ from himself, Christ has not been unfaithful to him; he has been unfaithful to Christ. Eternal security or once saved always saved is a false doctrine with false security and false assurance. It denies the reality of the dangers of turning back to the world and perishing, like the Bible warns us about. And our just shielding our eyes from it simply will not equip us to deal with it properly when it comes to our doorstep and someone we know decisively walks away from a vibrant faith they once had.

The proper response to apostasy should be a deep-seated grief and mourning on behalf of us all. Cutting oneself off from Christ is literally spiritual suicide. We would be crazy not to prepare ourselves to respond to it in the right way.

Furthermore, I think we need to be watching out especially for those in our churches who put on a façade of going well but are actually slowly slipping away.

I am just so impressed by so many young men and women in my church — late teens and early 20s and such. But in light of those their age who have fallen away, whom I thought were going strong, I want to commit myself to their service all the more, and enact a ministry of prayer and more purposeful engagement and encouragement of them. I want to be a big brother to those in my church. I want to lead them into everlasting life. To this end I want to lead by example, and to be holy and Spirit-filled. I want to be peaceful, patient, kind, faithful, loving, gentle and all other virtues of the Lord. I want to be wise for their sake. I want to live so as to make Christ beautiful to them, and to fan into a roaring flame the spark the Holy Spirit has placed in their hearts!

Blessed be the name of the Lord. I pray the Church would stand against the Gates of Hell by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us, that by Her example many would continue on in Christ, and perhaps those who have fallen may return.

εἰς τὸ ὄνομα … Should we use “Yahweh” in Baptism?

Here’s what Matthew 28:19 says:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…”

This passage has been used to support Trinitarian orthodoxy for millennia. And rightly so. For it implies that there is a single Name shared by three divine Persons, namely, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

What is “the Name”? Well, surely, the Name is “Yahweh”, the name of the God of Israel (Exo. 3:13-15). Jews today refer to God sometimes as Ha’Shem (“the Name”) as a way of avoiding accidental blasphemy when referring to God. English Bibles use “the LORD” to refer to the tetragrammaton YHWH or Yahweh (although one recent translation has largely dropped this trend). And for us Christians, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all share that one Name of Yahweh. For Yahweh is one God who is tripersonal, as Trinitarianism states.

But so far as I am aware, nobody uses the Name “Yahweh” explicitly in a baptismal service. I’ve been to baptisms in Baptist, Anglican, and Catholic churches. No one uses the Name explicitly.

I wonder why this is? I’m not saying we should have some kind of revolution. But I feel there is a solidified tradition of simply baptism “in the Name of…” rather than “Yahweh.” But I imagine that early Judaism would have used “Yahweh” in the baptismal ritual, and Jesus simply makes the Trinitarian nature of this Name more explicit later in Matthew after his resurrection from the dead.

Another reason I think it is important to at least remember “Yahweh” as the Name of Matt. 28:19 is that, in the Book of Acts, baptism is only done solely “in the Name of the Lord Jesus” and not of the Father and the Holy Spirit also (Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:448, 19:5). According to one friend of mine, this has been used by textual critics as a reason to think that the very Trinitarian formula in Matt. 28:19 was probably not an authentic saying of Jesus written by Matthew himself but was inserted later. But if we understand Jesus to be included in what “Yahweh” properly signifies as the eternal Son, then that is logically compatible with what Matthew 28:19 says, and I simply see no reason why we should have to form a textual-critical thesis such as these secular textual critics have done.

So I reckon it would be cool if we started to baptise people explicitly into the Name of “Yahweh, the God of Israel” (who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit). It makes more sense, and seems more authentic.

Divine Sovereignty and Determinism: Response Series Part 6

In our previous discussion, we talked about the profoundly philosophical nature of Calvinistic determinism as a way of understanding divine sovereignty and control. We also talked about how libertarian free will is similarly philosophical. See here for that discussion. Now, we will talk about a sixth objection to the original argument.

A. Complaint. Here’s Blake’s sixth issue:

6. God is so Powerful and Humble that He Makes Himself Powerless

“Why not rather think that divine sovereignty does not require metaphysical predeterminism, and simply say that God has the freedom, the power, the right, the wisdom and (dare I say) the humility to create free creatures to reflect his own image and likeness? That is my inclination.”

Calvinist theology holds that God’s sovereignty is based upon divine determinism because Calvinists believe the Bible teaches it. Once again, if Brendan wants his argument to be compelling he ought to provide a positive case for his Arminian position from scripture while also refuting common texts that are quoted in support of Calvinism.

As for God possessing “freedom” and “humility” to create creatures that thwart his will, these are weasel words designed to conceal a contradiction. The Arminians [sic] position is that God has eternally purposed that his purposes will be thwarted by the free decisions of his creatures, or, rather, his supposed antecedent will is thwarted. Such a position is a glaring contradiction. Unfortunately, saying that God possessed “humility” in creation is another way of saying that God has eternally submitted to the purposes of his creation and not the other way around. It is my opinion that this borders on blasphemy. As Gisbertus Voetius once stated, “We do not go for such a concord which subjects God to man, creator to creation.”

B. Response. For starters, I’d just like to point out (from Blake subtitle in bold) that I never said God “makes himself powerless” to allow for libertarian free will. So let’s ignore that (mis)characterisation of my suggestion. What I am suggesting (quoted accurately in italics) is that it is at least possible for God to create libertarian free agents. Whether that be according to God’s own sovereign “freedom” to create as he likes, his “power” as omnipotent creator, his “right” as creating authority, his intelligent “wisdom” in being able to design a being who is free, or in his simple “humility” in choosing to limit himself for some other purpose (such as love and real relationship) it doesn’t matter. I just mean to say that it is possible for God if he wants to to create free beings.

Now since any two propositions (A) and (B) are logically incompatible or contradictory if and only if there is not even one scenario in which both are be true at the same time, it follows that if there is even one possible scenario in which both (A) and (B) are true, then it follows that (A) and (B) are not, in fact, logically contradictory. And what I am suggesting is that there is a possible world where it is true that both “God is sovereign” and “man is free” is true, and this proves that divine sovereignty and libertarian human freedom are mutually compatible, and are not contradictory.

Now this is philosophically undermines Calvinism in that it shows how an assumption that many Calvinists hold is false; namely, that divine sovereignty and libertarian human freedom are logically incompatible. For Calvinism holds that sovereignty implies predeterminism, and predeterminism implies humans are not possibly free in a libertarian sense. But if it is possible that human beings are free in a libertarian sense, then that implies that divine sovereignty does not necessarily imply predeterminism. Why, then, think that predeterminism is true after all?

Now, Blake seems tacitly to admit this in his first paragraph. He seems to have the intuition that libertarian free will and divine sovereignty are at least logically compatible. All he asserts is that determinism is scriptural and free will is not. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that free will is logically possible. In that case, my argument will still follow that it is perfectly logical that a sovereign God creates and coexists with beings who are free in a libertarian sense. In that case, I feel perfectly rational and responsible in believing in libertarian free will and divine sovereignty. Now of course I know there are scriptural issues. But I was not dealing with that so we shall leave them aside for now. All we want is logical compatibility. Once we have that, we can move away from distractions such as assertions of logical incompatibility and on to more pressing matters of interest, such as analysis of scripture, church history and philosophical theology.

So we already have what we want. Good! But Blake also decides (freely) to blindside us with a weighty accusations of near-blasphemy in his second paragraph!

What is this accusation? Well, it’s not quite clear. Blake seems to think that God’s own decision to allowing for free will on part of his creatures implies some sort of “glaring contradiction” about God’s will. Just what is this “glaring contradiction”? Well, he never explains it. I think what he means to talk about universal salvation; the idea that God could will something, but then will this his will is not fulfilled. For although God, according to his antecedent will, wills universal salvation, his consequent will implies not everyone is saved, since not everyone believes, and only he who believes is saved. Bake seems to think this means God has eternally willed that God’s own will be “thwarted.”

But that clearly doesn’t follow. All that follows in the decree of creation (with creaturely freedom) is that it is possible for God’s antecedent will to be “thwarted.” But it does not follow from this that the divine will simpliciter be possibly thwarted. Blake clearly equivocates on at least three terms: “will”, “antecedent will” and “purposes”. Just because creation with freedom makes it possible that the antecedent will is not fulfilled does not make it possible that the will of God itself not come to fruition. For the will of God includes as differentiated parts the antecedent and the consequent aspects such that the divine will itself counts as having been fulfilled only if either one or the other is fulfilled, and there is always at least one part of the will, antecedent or consequent, such that is is fulfilled. (Jeremiah 18:7-10 serves as one illustration of this distinction: one will in two antecedent an consequent conditional parts.) What follows is that God’s will is always perfectly done even when creatures disobey what is really his fundamental antecedent will and intention for their lives. In fact, under a classical understanding of the conditional nature of God’s purposes and will on the whole as it is related individually to every creature, it always turns out that God’s will is perfectly fulfilled, even given human freedom to resist and reject God’s purpose for themselves in individual instances. For if it is the will of God that creatures (such as the Pharisees — Luke 7:30) can do some things contrary to God’s purpose for their lives and then suffer the consequences (or reap the rewards). And certainly it is God who makes it possible that creatures behave in ways that displease him. And yet this accords with his own sovereign freedom to create the possibility that this occur, and, when it actually occurs t allow it for his own purposes and ends — even to work through it for an ultimately good outcome in every case.

So I am not impressed by this accusation. It equivocates terms and confuses issues. It’s not that “God has eternally submitted to the purposes of his creation” but that God submits to his own purposes and plan for human freedom in his creation which he will work (and is working!) for the ultimate good. And, as we saw, this is not illogical.

Next time, we will talk about Blake’s seventh objection to the original.

* * *

Original article.

Original response. 

Beginning of response series.