Posted in Apologetics, Doctrine, Logic/Philosophy, Nature of Man

God’s Fairness and Man’s Free Will

Historically, controversy has raged with regard to the nature of man and his relationship to God. In Christian Apologetics, one would have to find a way to defend both God and man as to (1) God’s justice or fairness in making man in the first place (2) with a human will put to a purpose that would evoke divine justice in the form of punishment in the second place. This short piece cannot survey the total scene of all relevant aspects of the complete picture (even if we were capable of such a survey). However, we can identify and explore briefly some elements involved in this complex matter.

First, God knowingly and lovingly made man in His image, having in mind an eternal purpose to save him from sin, even before the first sin by Adam had been committed (Gen. 1:26-27; 1 John 4:8; John 3:16; Eph. 3:10-11). God desired to bring many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10). Giving man existence and giving him nature in the image of God made heaven a possible destiny.

Second, man was free from the beginning to choose obedience or disobedience. This is the significance of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). This provided man an opportunity for definite pure positive law choice in the expression of his free will. The punishment for the violation of the prohibition regarding the tree shows us that God considered man responsible enough to understand the prohibition and accountable for the violation of it. The initial punishment for the man and the woman (Gen. 3:16-19) enacted for the violation was based on the fact that the violation of the prohibition entailed a will that was (1) independent, (2) free to exert itself, and (3) accountable before God for the consequences that would follow.

Third, there was nothing wrong or imperfect about the nature of man as God made him. He was innocent and mature from the beginning. Solomon tells us, “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Eccl. 7:29). Adam and Eve when made were certainly inexperienced, but they were not imperfect creatures. It is something essential to the creation of man. Of necessity a created man could have no past (experience). But he had to be mature by nature in order to be responsible from his initial moments of existence, and he had to come without experience if he was to come at all. While Adam was not deceived into sin, Eve was (1 Tim. 2:13-14), but neither one of them could sin without a good will that was his/hers to be expressed in the selection made.

Fourth, after sin entered the human domain, several things changed, one of which was that the human heart in every human being born (remember, Adam and Eve were not born) would be a heart that would choose evil early on in its personal history. This is what we learn in Genesis 9:21. After the flood, God said to Himself that He would never again curse the earth (cf. 3:17 and 4:12) or kill almost everything off as He had just done, because “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” The exception, historically speaking, consisted of Adam and Eve who never had a youth. But beginning with Cain and Abel, this truth that God later has Moses record in Genesis 9 represented the things that were in place regarding all who came after Adam and Eve. The flood became necessary because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). The “evil from youth” fact was cultivated by Noah’s contemporaries to the degree that they were no longer fit to live.

Now, while many people have over the years opted for the view that man is evil from his conception or birth, the Scriptures never declare that. They do say, however, that sin enters the heart of any given person during his youth. This was my experience and yours, too.

Fifth, this means that the universality of human sin following Adam was inevitable. Even now, none of us is waiting for an individual to arise who will never commit sin. One of the ways in which Jesus was and is so different from the rest of us is that by His divinity He kept His humanity under complete control. His sinlessness is a characteristic that proves His deity. When Paul wrote Romans around 57 or 58 A.D., the fact was then as it stands now: “for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Furthermore, he later affirmed that after Adam “all sinned” (5:12).

Sixth, given the point just discussed, there must be an inherent “weakness” involved when Holy Spirit is joined to flesh so as to produce a mere human being. God is the Father of our spirits (Heb. 12:9), so there is nothing inherently weak about our human spirit. Our spirit comes from Holy Spirit (Mal. 2:14-15). After all, we are in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). However, when combined with flesh, there is essentially a weakness that obtains because of the connection now initiated because spirit is now made vulnerable. The lust of the flesh is the spirit’s expressing desire via the flesh. So, the weakness of the flesh is because of the power of the flesh to weaken spirit. This sets up our freedom of will (Gal. 5:17). Consider: God cannot be tempted, but Jesus could be (Jas. 1:13; Heb. 4:15). We are not born in sin. But we are born with a nature that is now weak! This helps us to understand the “why” of Romans 3:23. Remember the Lord’s admonition to three apostles that they needed to watch and pray to avoid temptation, for “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Every person born from Cain and Abel forward has been born with this weakness. That’s how it could be truthfully declared that Jesus tasted death for every one of us (Heb. 2:9).

Seventh, since God knew that all men would sin, there had to be a plan whereby all could be saved. That is, the solution had to be as large as the problem. In fact, in the language of Scripture, the solution was much larger than the problem, and so we read of such things as grace abounding “more exceedingly” than sin did (Rom. 5:20-21) or of “the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). There has always been an “over supply” of divine blessing to deal with the sin of mankind.

Eighth, in Scripture we read of many sinners lost in sin and some who found salvation. The two categories rest on the free will of the men involved. Since God was always prepared to save any man from his sin, the finally lost condition of any individual bespoke what that man had decided in life to be on his own, and the salvation of any man bespoke the fact that he had decided to become what God would bless him to be. Man has never been finally lost because of his weakness; he has been finally lost because he has chosen weakness over strength. In other words, he chose flesh over spirit! And the spiritual law of kinds informs us that our crop can be no better than our seed (Gal. 6:7-8).

Ninth, this means that when Jesus spoke of the impossibility of people coming to Him unless the Father drew them to Him (John 6:44-45), He was referring to the two categories of people whom Paul later identified as (1) “vessels of honor” or “vessels of mercy” and (2) “vessels of dishonor” or “vessels of wrath” (Rom. 9:21-23). Furthermore, when Jesus referred to people who could not believe Him because they “were not of his sheep” and because of such could not hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:16-29), He was referring to those whom John would later identify as people who were characterized by the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (1 John 4:5-6). That is, the two classifications of people (regarding salvation and damnation) are: (1) those who are of the world, and (2) those who are of God. Christians and all those bound to become such today are in Scripture language “of God” (cf. 1 John 4:4; 5:19). They have an “honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15). Notice the possibilities and impossibilities just here:

T F 1. One can have an honest and good heart.
T F 2. One can have an honest and non-good heart.
T F 3. One can have a dishonest and good heart.
T F 4. One can have a dishonest and non-good heart.

The first statement is TRUE. In fact, this is the only class that can be saved or ever could be saved! The second statement might at first be considered “true” if picturing a man before he is willing to come to repentance and would seem to show the possibility of a man squarely facing sad facts about himself but yet unwilling to do the right thing about his sin (cf. Luke 15:17; 2 Cor. 7:10). But, on the other hand, if he is unwilling to do the “right” thing about his sin, he is not being honest about his sin. So, it would appear that this statement is itself FALSE. The third statement is FALSE. No one can be both dishonest and good at the same time. The fourth statement is TRUE. A person can have a non-good heart (evil heart) partly composed of his dishonesty.

Now regarding the third statement in the above list of True-False statements, consider again what Jesus said in John 6:44-45. No one can come to Jesus unless drawn by the Father, and he cannot be drawn by the Father unless he has an honest and good heart (Luke 8:15). Verse 45 shows that the “drawing” is done by Scripture. And those who are “drawn” are those who are taught of God, have heard from the Father, and have learned. These are the only ones that can come and do come to Jesus! The Father draws and the Father teaches, but all these students who are taught, who hear, who learn, are the ones who then come to Jesus.

So, all whom the Father draws to Jesus are those who are taught, who hear, who learn and who come. They all come! There is no class of those who learn, in this context, but who still do not come. My father used to refer to the word “learned” in verse 45 as a learning “in the sense of this passage.” What John said in 1 John 4:6 helps us with some clarification here. “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” Those who are “of God,” those characterized by “the spirit of truth,” those characterized by “an honest and good heart” upon hearing the truth are drawn by the truth. And they are the only ones drawn by it!

Tenth, if God wants all men to be saved, and He does (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), then whatever are the full complexities of features that contribute to a man’s damnation, they all rest on the rock bottom foundation of a man’s own free will which (1) was given as a blessing and which (2) turned out to be a curse because (3) the man himself failed to use it as it was designed to be used (Acts 17:27; Eccl. 12:13-14). He used his own will against himself! Jesus once said it like this: “If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself” (John 7:17). So, God can never be rightly criticized for the damnation of anyone or of everyone who is lost, but He can be and should be praised for the salvation that He has made possible (1 Tim. 4:10). And it is a wonderful thing that God is able and willing to use the evil purposed free will of men to His own glory and to the ultimate salvation of all those who love truth (Acts 2:23; 2 Thess. 2:10-12).

Posted in Church History, Doctrine, New Testament

We Have Overlooked the Transition Era

It is unfortunate and somewhat strange that we have as a people, generally speaking, overlooked the transition period that began with John (Luke 16:16) and ended when the gospel was made available to the whole world (Colossians 1:6, 23). We have studied the book of Acts as though the events were transpiring today.

When we look at the world today, we see sinners. And we see sinners that are amenable to the gospel of Christ. But we study the book of Acts as though the world of the first century was like our world today. And this is a colossal interpretive blunder that our brotherhood has made for years.

The world of the first century entailed four classes of people: righteous Jews, unrighteous Jews, righteous Gentiles, and unrighteous Gentiles none of whom were amenable to the gospel of Christ before Pentecost of Acts 2. When I was growing up, brethren usually believed that all Jews became amenable to the gospel on Pentecost and that all Gentiles became amenable to the gospel in Acts 10. This was another almost unbelievable error! It is certainly true that some Jews became amenable to the gospel on Pentecost. It is even true that some Jews became amenable to John’s baptism prior to Pentecost (Luke 16:16; Mark 1:4; Matthew 3:1-12). It is not true that all Gentiles became amenable to the gospel in Acts 10, even though it certainly is true that some of them did when Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius, his household, and his friends who lived near him.

God had a way for Jews and Gentiles to be saved prior to Acts 2! What we usually called “Patriarchy” (Gentile-ism) and Judaism were God’s divine arrangements for both classes of men whereby they could be saved prior to divine amenability change (Romans 2:14-15). That means that the book of Acts covers history when the gospel, for the first time, goes to Jews and Gentiles. Some of the Jews were good people, and some were not. Some of the Gentiles were good people, and some were not. If the good Jews and good Gentiles had died in the first century prior to the gospel’s being made available to them, they would have gone to paradise.

This explains Luke’s language in Acts. As the apostles took the gospel to the whole world, they found plenty of sinners for sure. In fact, more of the cases of kingdom entry recorded in Acts were of sinners. However, some cases of kingdom entry entail non-convert cases. That is, these cases were Jews and Gentiles already in a saved condition but who were required to become responsible to the gospel as it reached them. As the gospel reached each man, he was under divine obligation to submit to the truth and enter the kingdom, and every case of kingdom entry in Acts is in complete harmony with the Lord’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:3-5.

It took thirty years of preaching and teaching for all men to become amenable to the gospel of Christ, and no man became amenable to it without God’s making the gospel accessible to him! And that changing amenability required inspiration (1 Corinthians 2:12-13), miraculous signs (Mark 16:19-20), and miraculous providence (Acts 16:6-10; 21:10-14). The work of changing amenability began and continued for years prior to the first written New Testament book which appeared in the early 50’s. For about twenty years, the gospel was preached, congregations established, and these congregations were stabilized by miraculous gifts in the early church (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). The first century world was not like ours when it comes to amenability. The Jews and Gentiles were, as classes of people, amenable to a divinely arranged system of salvation prior to the preaching of the gospel. That is not true today since the gospel once and for all changed human amenability as it was preached to all the world in the first century.

Posted in Expository, Old Testament

My Thoughts Are Not Your Thoughts

It is so very easy to repeat what we have heard without ever looking into what we have heard for ourselves. And a lot of the time, it really doesn’t matter all that much. But sometimes it might.

How many times have passages been quoted and then given a meaning that was readily accepted and never challenged. Of course, at the time the passage is quoted in our hearing, if we don’t look it up ourselves and read the context in which it appears, we likely tend to accept whatever meaning was assigned to it by the one we heard quote it.

In Isaiah 55:8-9 Isaiah long ago wrote, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I’m quite sure that most of us recognize that passage and likely grew up hearing it quoted over and over again. And those of us who became preachers have quoted it often as suggestive of the idea that we can’t always know what the Lord wants or wills, and some things are beyond our comprehension because the Lord thinks on a higher plane than do we. In fact, it is a comforting thought to think that the Lord knows what is right and best even if in difficult circumstances wherein we find it impossible to know why something has occurred.

To be sure, there are passages that inform us of the truth that we do not always and cannot always know certain things because God has not revealed everything that is reveal-able (Deut. 29:29). He has only chosen to reveal certain things in His word and to make certain knowledge possible by means of his creation or world. God, in His word has revealed His expressed will. In providence, according to Scripture, is where God’s unexpressed will is located. We pray constantly for God’s unexpressed will in our lives to be done.

Romans 11:33-36 is a fascinating passage that, in its context, shows that in the historical development of the scheme of redemption, and His marvelous use of both Jew and Gentile, God demonstrated “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!” Furthermore, He evidenced “how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!” Indeed, we do have passages that teach us the extraordinary elevation of the thoughts and ways of God in His providence.

But, what is being discussed in Isaiah 55 is that the lofty thoughts and ways of God were the very thoughts and ways that God’s people were supposed to have themselves! Isaiah in this passage is not discussing the fact of God’s thoughts and ways being so far above mankind that mankind just cannot understand the thoughts and ways of God. In this passage that is NOT what is being affirmed.

Look at the verse just before: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (v. 7). God’s people had become wicked and unrighteous. They had refused to make God’s thoughts their own thoughts, and they had replaced God’s ways with their own ways! They had a revealed law from God, but they had neglected it. They had prophets sent from God, but these they rejected. Instead of allowing God’s ways and thoughts to continue to be their own, they had substituted their own thoughts and ways for His, and now they were bound for captivity.

Obviously, not a lot of harm is done in misconstruing the meaning of Isaiah 55:8-9 because the usual but errant interpretation of it is a truth found elsewhere. But the text would, in its context, be of greater value in making the point divinely intended if we would allow the context to speak for itself. And as people who now are under the last will and testament of Jesus Christ, we had best be those people who make God’s thoughts our thoughts and God’s ways our ways.

Posted in Announcements, Debates

Deaver-Till Debate Now Available Online

Thanks to many hours by Cheri Deaver digitizing a stack of decades-old audiotapes, this four-night debate from 1991 is now available for free listening here.

Mac Deaver affirmed (and Farrell Till denied): “The alleged moral atrocities ascribed to the God of the Bible are not actual moral atrocities and, therefore, constitute no proof that the Bible is not inspired of God.”

Farrell Till affirmed (and Mac Deaver denied): “The alleged moral atrocities ascribed to the God of the Bible are actual moral atrocities and, therefore, constitute proof that the Bible is not inspired of God.”

If you want to prepare yourself for the kinds of things skeptics use to attack the Bible, this is a good introduction to that field. If you prefer to read this debate, it is available for purchase here.

In the future, we hope to make more old debate recordings available. If you’ve not already, take a look at the archives where we have hundreds of sermons you can listen to on a morning walk, while driving to work, mowing the yard, etc. Please do share our content on social media and encourage your friends to subscribe. Thanks!

Posted in Books, General

A Preacher’s Library

Recently, a young minister asked for recommendations on “must have” books. My reply was more explanation of my philosophy of books than a list of particular titles to get. After sending it, I thought it might be good to work into a post. Libraries have seen a seismic shift since I was in school, with many preachers now preferring digital volumes on a tablet to hard copies on a wooden shelf. I haven’t gone that route, but perhaps these ideas could apply to both digital and paper book libraries.

My library is in sections. One is comprised of religious debates. I like as many of those as I can get that involve gospel preachers. You never know when you’ll have to deal with a particular thorny issue, and debates are a good way to bone up on controversial subjects. Plus, debates are historic (some, more than others) and you ought to know some church history.

Which brings us to the church history section. Get Earl I. West’s four-volume Search for the Ancient Order. Collect biographies of preachers from the Restoration era (1800’s) in American history. Many a self-taught, or formal education-deprived preacher of days gone by, somehow managed to learn far more Bible than too many present day college and preaching school graduates. Today’s church has preachers trying to pull us into the dark pit of error that preachers in the 1800’s were crawling out of and exposing with the gospel’s light. That saying about those failing to appreciate history being doomed to repeat it is more than a platitude. The church’s immediate future—at least in America—seems precarious. What will motivate us to fight for her uniqueness now if we’re ignorant of the ground gained in hard fought battles of the past, through the debating and preaching of men who could discern truth from error? Get some good books that cover church history in its early centuries, medieval times, and the Reformation. But, remember, God’s true church has always been a minority, and history is written largely about those who made the biggest splash. That means the history of the church after New Testament days is mostly a study of apostasy in its many forms.

Stock your library with good apologetics books. Have at hand major arguments for the existence of God, the deity of Christ, and inspiration of the Bible. Get a book or two on issues raised by skeptics, and on harmonizing alleged Bible contradictions. If you’ve never taken a class on logic, buy a good textbook and familiarize yourself. Preachers who are not good thinkers easily become misleaders of others.

Depending on your level of interest and ability, have at least a few Greek reference works. At minimum, know your way around an interlinear New Testament, Thayer’s lexicon, Vine’s dictionary of Bible words. If you can do more with the original languages, great.

I’ve got a number of brotherhood lectureship books, old and newer. Lectureships themselves seem a dying phenomenon (like public debates and gospel meetings), at least in comparison to the number that used to be held. The books published from such events are of uneven quality, by nature, since not all preachers are equally adept at thinking, researching, writing—skills requisite for composing a great chapter (and a great book needs multiple great chapters). Few brotherhood lectureship books, in my estimation, are towering contributions to the subject covered. That said, they can be helpful, and a book may be worth having for a single chapter by a certain author. After you’ve preached long enough, glancing through the writers in an old lectureship volume is a trip down memory lane.

Good commentaries are vital. My approach is eclectic, rather than monolithic. That is, I’ll buy a single volume from a particular set of commentaries because of who wrote it, and another volume from a different set, and so on. Thus, my Old and New Testament shelves are a hodgepodge from here and there, with many series represented, but very few series complete. An entire set, composed of an impressive row of identically clad volumes, looks nice on a shelf, but aesthetics is not the goal. Plus, that approach does not comport with my preferred method of arranging commentaries. I put commentaries on the shelf in Bible book order. I have a couple on Leviticus, and nearly a dozen on Revelation, but I can go right to them because, for example, the Revelation commentaries are all next to each other at the end of my New Testament section, and the Leviticus commentaries are right after the ones on Exodus.

A word on commentaries: never let your guard down. If you can find a scholarly commentary by a member of the Lord’s church, consider it. Denominational scholars will always outnumber those of the Lord’s church. Precious few are our brethren, such as J. W. McGarvey in his day, who are known and respected outside the church of Christ. If you limit yourself to books by brethren, you’ll cut yourself off from a great deal of conservative scholarship. At the same time, books by brethren can be just as wrong on a given point as something from an academic at a Baptist seminary (in fact, many books from our own professors these days may as well have been penned by denominational writers, given their ecumenical outlook and disregard for the uniqueness of the Lord’s church). If I know an author rejects the verbal inspiration of Scripture, that’s a non-starter for me: why spend time and money on that? For any given book in the Bible, there are commentaries which, at least, respect the Bible’s origin and nature.

The lion’s share of my commentaries are by denominational scholars. Before letting yourself be overly influenced by the learning, reputation, or seeming erudition of such a writer, remind yourself that he likely wouldn’t have the right answer to the most basic question: “What must I do to be saved?” Read denominational writers with that in back of your mind, and it should foster a healthy perspective. I think of a late denominational academic who has very helpful things to say in his Old Testament commentaries. Yet, he compromises with theistic evolution. The works of man are often a mixed bag, so keep a weather eye. Never believe everything anyone says just because of who wrote it. Likewise, don’t discount something simply because the author is not a member of the Lord’s church. Always, if it comes to it, let Scripture be correct, and every commentator a liar.

I’m not a fan of broad, general commentaries (such as a one-volume treatment of the Bible, or a two-volume set covering the New Testament). These may help those without a background in preaching school, but more depth is called for if you’re preparing to teach an adult Bible class. Matthew may take up less than 40 pages in your Bible, but you should read hundreds of pages during class prep. Get the best commentary you can find that’s just on Matthew. Make it a habit to read at least one good commentary (if not two) when teaching through a Bible book (if you don’t know more than the rest of the class on the subject at hand, why are you teaching?).

Decades ago, in preaching school, I wanted as many books as I could get hands on. Age and experience reversed that thinking. Now, I don’t want as many books as money or space allow. I have a lot of shelving in my office, and a lot of that is empty, by choice. After decades having them in possession, not long ago I threw away dozens of books I never use (and didn’t want others to have, for example, due to error they taught). Dozens more, I donated to the church’s library. These days, basically, I want as few books as will give what I need for preaching and teaching. Whatever books you include in your own library, in the end, as my grandfather would say, there is no substitute for being familiar with the actual text of Scripture.

[Note: This article was first published by Tennessee Bible College on Sept. 8, 2020]

Posted in Epistemology, Logic/Philosophy

The Truth Is

All serious Bible students of the New Testament know that the concept of “truth” is of extremely high priority. Even in the Old Testament, Solomon once expressed that thought when he compared truth to something material that could be bought. He said, “Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding” (Prov. 23:23). It remains something we all must have and must never discard. But in the history of mankind, many strange things have been uttered in conscious or unconscious attacks on the very idea of truth. In its defense, let us offer a few thoughts descriptive of truth as it is.

First, the truth is that truth is something thought or declared as a declaration. We can think in images or pictures. I can think of a flower. There are truths about flowers thought and/or stated, but flowers do not partake of truth. If there is an eternal Mind, however, then truth has always existed. Some things we cannot know but not because they have not been revealed, but because we cannot comprehend them (Psa. 139:6). God’s thoughts are precious and many (Psa. 139:17).

Second, the truth is that if truth exists, then no category of information is exempt from it as a characterization. If science or history or geometry or religion or philosophy, etc. are actual legitimate categories of inquiry, then any real findings in each one must be described, if at all, by truth. We cannot make mental progress and cultural progress unless such is so. When Adam and Eve were told to have dominion, the implications were multitudinous (Gen. 1:28). The world was flung wide open for exploration of truth.

Third, the truth is that truth can be distinguished from fact. Fact has to do with existing conditions, circumstances, states of affairs, etc. We observe facts such as a tree that is falling. It is a fact that it is falling. It is a truth stated when I, observing the fact, declare the truth of the fact, “The tree is falling.” Truth is sometimes told of past facts, present facts, and future facts. God’s word is salvation truth in proposition form (John 17:17). Jesus was the personification of that salvation truth in human form (John 14:6).

Fourth, the truth is that truth is, as a concept, ontologically prior to falsity. A false statement cannot at all be made unless it is in conflict with an already existent truth. To say that I am not human cannot be false unless it is true to say that I am human. This is a very fundamental feature of reality of tremendous implication in the discussion of the existence of God and human ethics. The idea of “good” is ontologically prior to the idea of “evil.” There can be no objective evil unless already there is an objective Good. This means that the existence of God cannot be attacked on moral grounds (using the so-called “problem of evil”) without invoking the very existence of God in the first place! The so-called “problem of evil” is a little late in arriving for the discussion!

Fifth, the truth is that truth is in conflict with falsity. John said that “no lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21). This is a matter of definition. The “law of identity” would dictate in this regard that if something is true, then by definition, it cannot be false. If something is false, then by definition it cannot be true. At times because people do not know or do not want to bow to truth, they begin to play concept games with truth in an attempt to show that truth is not “fixed” as a characteristic of declarations. But it is!

Sixth, the truth is that truth fits facts as facts are. As non-facts become facts, the declaration of truth regarding those facts accurately depicts those facts. If I was not sick yesterday, then if someone says that I was sick yesterday, then he would be declaring a falsehood. However, if today I become sick, then the truth (if thought or spoken of my current condition) would state that I am sick. The facts “changed” in the sense that what was once not a fact now is one. Truth in describing the situation does not change. The facts may change, but truth correctly describing facts as facts remains the same. Truth is a constant whereas the facts are variables. Truth is consistently and permanently in harmony with the facts. Given the illustration, I can truthfully say that I was not sick yesterday. I can also truthfully say that I am sick today. The two statements could both be affirmed as truth because of the change in my condition. This is why I can say that while I was not sick yesterday, I am sick today without being at odds with myself. This would be a truthful declaration of a changed condition or circumstance. But it is not an admission that truth changed.

Seventh, the truth is that truth cannot be simply invented or imagined or “made up” so as now to exist. Truth must correspond to reality. If it does not, it attacks itself in concept because truth to be truth must be accurate. To be accurate is for it to have a relationship with what it attempts to represent. If I say that God exists, and if God exists, then my affirmation is true, but not because I invent the truth. The truth accurately or correctly represents the fact of God’s existence. Truth is the same for everyone. It is impossible for humans to have different “kinds” of truth that are in conflict with one another. If something is true, it is true for all humans. To say that something is true for every one is not a view that has always been popular, but when anyone attempts to defend the view of “partial” application of truth to humans, he is bound to go down in self-defeat since he must attempt to bolster his “partial” theory with a universal principle. In other words, when someone says that such and such may be “true” for you, but certainly is not “true” for me, the only way he can attempt to rationally justify his conclusion is to reach for a universal principle that what he just declared is true for ALL of us!

Eighth, the truth is that truth is information. This is so simple. It is so fundamental, and yet at times men fall over this truth. If God’s word is truth, then it is so because the information that God provides is correct. It is correct or accurate information, but it is information. Some brethren need to give further thought to this tremendous point. It is interesting that in 1 Corinthians 13, when Paul discussed the coming departure of the miraculous and the permanent arrival of “that which is perfect,” each of the three illustrations that he gave in verse 8 of the departing miraculous element had to do with information. God’s book is information (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Ninth, the truth is susceptible to knowledge. Jesus declared that it is possible for us to know the truth (John 8:31-32). This is so because of the very nature of truth and because of the very nature of knowledge. Knowledge is not something floating around in the atmosphere. Knowledge exists, if it exists at all, in a mind.

Tenth, the truth is then that to deny truth as existent or as susceptible to knowledge is to engage in self-contradiction. The “law of contradiction” would govern this mistake. For someone to declare, “Truth does not exist,” is unintentionally affirming what he is seeking to deny. In effect, he is saying, “It is the truth that truth does not exist.” So, he is affirming explicitly that truth does not exist while implicitly affirming that it does. This is not rational behavior.

Eleventh, the truth is that truth is not abolished or eliminated by imprecise statements. Years ago brother Thomas Warren told of an experience he had once had in being invited to speak at a college. He was discussing “the laws of thought,” and particularly the “law of excluded middle.” He affirmed “Every precisely stated proposition is either true or false.” A professor objected, saying that such was not true. Brother Warren suggested that the professor give a proposition for consideration. The professor said that it would be easy to provide the illustration. He said, “What if I say that it is raining, when it is only sprinkling?” Brother Warren answered, “If it is raining when it is only sprinkling, your proposition is true. If it is not raining when it is only sprinkling, your proposition is false.” It is a matter of definition. The definition of “raining” would govern whether the statement was true or false. This is how extraordinarily fundamental the matter of “definition” is. This account also shows the absolute necessity of our being precise in our declarations. It is possible for a person to say, “It is raining,” when it is only sprinkling WITHOUT knowing how far the definition of “raining” extends. This is why we need to work on being precise in our own statements. The “law of excluded middle” as applied to propositions applies to “precisely stated” propositions and to none other!

Twelfth, the truth is that if anything exists, ultimately there is truth about that condition because for anything to exist, God must exist, and God is eternal Mind. And a mind thinks thoughts.

Thirteenth, the truth is that truth as obligation may be limited in time as to its application, but time itself cannot alter truth. This is why God can change his pure positive laws as contrasted in the Old and New Testaments. What some men were once obligated to do that we are not to do today shows the truth of what is here being affirmed. The fact that men today must do some things not earlier required of men again illustrates while (1) truth as accuracy does not change, (2) truth as obligation can and has. God doesn’t change (Mal. 3:6; Jas. 1:17). This is why moral law as such cannot change and remains constant throughout Scripture, but God’s pure positive law has changed (Col. 2:14; Heb. 10:9).

Fourteenth, the truth is that truth as statement of fact corresponds to fact (in accuracy), and if facts cease being facts, the statement declaring new facts is truth governing or applied to those new facts, but that statement declaring new facts is not falsification of the truth in its relationship to former facts. For instance, if a man told me yesterday that he lives at 222 Wildwood Street, and he tells me sometime later that he lives at 555 Brownwood Street, if he told me the truth both times, it was because, as earlier explained, the facts changed. The truth that he later declared regarding his new address does not attack or cancel or falsify what he earlier told me. Truth is incapable of attacking itself. Truth cannot be correctly used against itself. Truth is coherent in all its parts. No tension exists between any two truths—ever!

Posted in Christian Living

When All Is Said And Done

The title of this piece is familiar to the reader. He and I have heard it, used it, and perhaps reflected on it from time to time. Let us surgically see what we can find within that expression. Perhaps there is something to learn from an expression so briefly declared and so popularly received.

When all is said and done, there is usually more said than done. We have all heard this as well, and within the scope of our own personal experiences, it seems to have wide application. Much of the time as plans are made, plans are formed and stated, but the execution of plans is not always accomplished. Talk is cheap. Ahab was a rotten individual, and yet on one occasion he said something brilliant. When threatened by Benhadad, he responded, “Let not him that girdeth on armor, boast himself as he that putteth it off” (2 Sam. 20:11). At least once he stated something that was pure gold!

When all is said and done, all is rarely said. We do not know all, and so we cannot say all. And we do not have time to say all even if the interest of others allowed us to do so. It is interesting to observe that in court, when one promises to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, by selective questions, he is disallowed to say anything other than what is asked. The attorney at the moment does not necessarily want all known to be presently said! We recall that in Scripture the queen of Sheba had received a glowing report of Solomon’s court. She did not believe it. But after seeing Solomon’s situation for herself, she said “the half was not told me” (1 Kings 10:7; cf. Matt. 12:42).

When all is said and done, all is rarely done. There is not enough time and energy to get everything done that we might like to see finished. Furthermore, we would not be happy if we did not have something to do. We humans need something significant to occupy our time on this earth. Solomon long ago pointed out the human need for expended effort in work and also in doing good (Eccl. 2:24; 3:12, 13; 5:12).

When all is said and done, some things are done without much being said. At times there is not much talk that precedes the doing of deeds. There is a time for action. It should not be without thought, but it can be without talk. When the sinking Peter cried for help, Jesus immediately grabbed him, and words followed (Matt. 14:31). There are many times in life when immediate action is required. There is a time to think, there is a time to speak, and there is a time to act.

When all is said and done, some things that are said shouldn’t be. We can all identify, and we likely all regret several things said in the past. It is a sad fact that at times we have simply spoken without much preceding thought, and the words selected were not well chosen. It is also the case, that we at times have spoken, and we did think beforehand, but our thinking was in error. Job was like that. He once said, “…I have uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.”

When all is said and done, some things that are done shouldn’t be. Of course, this includes all sin. John said that he was writing so that his readers would not sin (1 John 2:1). It also includes many mistakes in judgment carried out in practice. We all regret bad decisions carried into effect.

When all is said and done, regarding Christianity, saying is not enough. John also wrote, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18). Jesus said that the Pharisees, as a group, were those who said and did not (Matt. 23:3). He had earlier affirmed that unless a person’s righteousness exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees, he could not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20).

When all is said and done, in some situations saying is an urgent matter. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus warned his fellow Jews to settle difficulties among themselves immediately. The failure to do this could lead to the escalation of tension and to increased complications. “Agree with thine adversary quickly,” he said (Matt. 5:25).

When all is said and done, in God’s case, there are two levels of things said. Sacred history records the fact that on some occasions God says things that are intended to evoke human response. He has used questions (Gen. 3:9, 11, 13). He has used declarations (Num. 14:11-20). The declaration made to Moses was a threat intended to be carried out only if there was a failure on Moses’ part to plead for the people. So, we can say that on this level, God declared something he would do, if the desired response was not effected, while knowing that the desired response would, in fact, come. So, on the first level, we could describe some of God’s sayings not as settled sayings or unconditioned statements, but as temporary causes to produce permanent effects. On the other hand, the second level of God’s speech involves his definite, settled declarations without the divine intention of simply effecting a response (Psalm 19:7; Heb. 6:17; Titus 1:2; Isa. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:25). These are unconditioned statements, and they are set.

When all is said and done, God does what he wants to do. Whatever he does is perfect (Eccl. 3:14). And what he wants to do is carried out in heaven and on earth (Psalm 135:6). What others do may not always please him, but what he does pleases himself fully. God is never dissatisfied with himself or his actions.

When all is said and done, Jesus both said and did. In beginning his second book, Luke reminds Theophilus that in his first book he had written “concerning all that Jesus began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1). John the baptizer spoke, but performed no miracles (Mark 1:4; John 10:41), but Jesus spoke and performed miracles as well. After witnessing a miracle that the Lord performed, some said, “He hath done all things well; he maketh even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak” (Mark 7:37). Peter would later in Caesarea say that Jesus went about doing good (Acts 10:38).

When all is said and done, we will be judged on what we say and what we do. Jesus said, “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by they words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:37). He had already stated that a person’s words indicate the condition of his heart (v. 34). And regarding resurrection and judgment, he declared that all the resurrected would be judged based on whether they had done good or had done evil (John 5:28-29).

Posted in Baptism, Doctrine, New Testament

Abusing Cornelius

Members of the Lord’s church have in Bible class abused Cornelius time and time again. And, too, he undergoes false accusation as well in sermons. How many times have you listened to someone trying to explain (1) how Cornelius received the Holy Spirit while (2) being a sinner? Imagine, the Holy Spirit entering the heart of someone presently practicing sin and thus bound for hell!

It is absurd. Cornelius was no sinner. How many times does Luke have to describe Cornelius for us until we finally admit his righteousness? See Acts 10: 2, 4, 15, 22, 28, 31, 35. Luke made seven attempts to describe Cornelius for us so that we would see that he was a righteous Gentile when the gospel reached him. How could he be? He was answerable to God through “Gentile-ism” or “Patriarchy” or “moral law-ism” (Romans 2:14-15). Remember the then Bible (law of Moses) had been given to Jews only (Psalm 147:19-20). The Gentiles up into the first century were answerable to God through moral law only. Had Cornelius died the day before Peter came to his house, he would have been bound for glory. Cornelius was a righteous Gentile just as much as Abraham in his own day had been.

Yes, but an objector replies that I am forgetting that Peter preached to him words whereby he would be saved (Acts 11:14). Indeed, but the salvation he received is not what most of us have taken it to be. He was saved in that he was delivered from “Patriarchy” which no longer for him would be operative as the divinely arranged system of religion for his people. Brother A. J. Freed, like most of us in the past, did not understand Holy Spirit baptism, but he did understand Cornelius’ condition. He correctly denied that Cornelius was an alien sinner, and he wrote, “He is told words by which he is saved from the sinking ship of patriarchy” (Sermons, Chapel Talks, and Debates). Amen! When the apostles, following Peter’s explanation of what happened at the house of Cornelius, concluded, “Then to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18), that was a summation statement regarding the general condition of the Gentile camp which was usually one of sin (cf. Acts 17:30-31). It was not a description of Cornelius, his household, nor his friends. This is proved by Luke’s description of Cornelius and by the fact that Cornelius and the other Gentiles with him were baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15; 15:8). The first Gentiles to enter the kingdom were already living up to their spiritual obligations before the gospel reached them. Therefore, they were in a clean spiritual condition which allowed the Holy Spirit to enter them. After that they submitted to water baptism (Acts 10:47-48), but it was not for remission of sins in their case. It was, however, as per the words of Jesus in John 3:3-5, an absolute requirement (as was Holy Spirit baptism) to kingdom entry!

If, dear reader, you think I am abusing the word “saved” as applied to Cornelius (Acts 11:14), remember that we have to consider biblical words in their contextual use. Noah’s family was also “saved,” and it was even a salvation through water, but it was not salvation from sin (1 Peter 3:20). According to Paul, the unbelieving mate is “sanctified” in the believing mate, but the sanctification has nothing to do with the unbeliever’s salvation (1 Corinthians 7:15). We cannot impose a presupposed definition gleaned from other contexts onto a word in its own context that forbids the application of the presupposed definition. We have sadly done this in Acts 11:14, and abused Cornelius unmercifully!

Posted in Christianity and Culture, Church and State

What are we to do?

Several months ago I wrote an article entitled “Can A Church Cancel Services During A National Emergency?” (available here). I discussed at that time ten points:

  • Each of us is under obligation to preserve his own life.
  • While a person’s own self-preservation is inherent in nature and obligated in Scripture, it has never been the ultimate obligation.
  • God has established the implementation of authority within three realms of responsibility: the home, the state, and the church.
  • If government requires what God disallows, or if government prohibits what God demands, all men should obey God rather than man.
  • Human government is to be viewed as a minister of God.
  • Just as personal and domestic conditions may vary, just so in the state conditions may vary, too.
  • God does not view all situations in the same way.
  • God treats disruption differently than He treats routine.
  • God manages His world including the use of disease that has entered it.
  • The nature of emergency may obscure the clarity of one’s obligation.

I supported my conclusion by two arguments that I won’t repeat here. What I want to do here is to respond to two points that some writers have made in their criticism that religious services ought to be closed for a while. Remember that my article was written to establish the point that in an emergency such as we have found ourselves in with the Coronavirus, that government has a right and obligation to protect its citizens, and that Christians have the obligation to submit to civil authority.

Objection One:

It has been suggested that we should just go ahead with our services as usual and let the sick stay at home from services as has been our normal policy. Furthermore, the idea has been presented that we should not cancel services because spiritual welfare is more important than physical welfare. But I suggest that to argue in such fashion is self-contradictory. Why? It is because the spiritual welfare of any sick person who stays home from services with our approval is also equally more important than is his own physical welfare. In other words, the truth that one’s spiritual welfare is more important than is his physical welfare applies with equal application to the sick who already stays at home as normal policy. So, (1) to approve one sick person’s staying at home (as normal policy would dictate) with the approval of the rest of the congregation, and (2) to disapprove the rest of us staying at home (closing the services) for health purposes on the basis that the spiritual is more important than the physical makes no sense. The principle that the spiritual is more important than the physical applies equally to a sick person staying home already with approval or the rest of us staying home with disapproval. If there is legitimate criticism of the right of an eldership to suspend services temporarily for health reasons, it has to be based on some other route of argumentation.

Objection Two:

It has been stated that religious services should not be closed because the government does not run the church. Yes, it is true that the government does not run the church, but we Christians do submit to it in other ways anyway! The government does not run marriage. God does. And yet we must go to the government to get a marriage license. We do submit to government requirement regarding marriage because the New Testament obligates us to do so. And yet, as we do this, we still clearly understand that God rules marriage—not the state. So, to argue against service closure on the basis that the state does not rule the church is a misguided effort.

Remember that our former article and this one have to do with a temporary and emergency situation. It is not a discussion of submission to governmental decree to close services either as (1) a permanently required condition or as (2) a punitive measure. If the government requires permanent closure of public religious services and enforces such, then we will all of necessity become worshipers “underground” (or prisoners who will be unable to congregate as usual in governmental custody) or in private. If government forces the shutdown of public religious services as punishment, we will be forced to congregate in private so as to continue our services. I know that we have brethren right now in a Muslim controlled area of the world who have to worship in secret. May God help them, and may God help Christians everywhere to be faithful in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Posted in Church History, Doctrine, Instrumental Music, Worship

Three New Arguments (on the Instrumental Music Question)

The churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ have been formally recognized as two groups of people at least since 1906. The division occurred over the formation of the American Christian Missionary Society and the introduction of mechanical instruments of music into public worship. D. S. Burnett played a prominent role in the establishment of the society, and L. L. Pinkerton of Midway, Kentucky was involved in the innovation regarding music. Pinkerton, in a letter to Ben Franklin, said, “So far as known to me, or, I presume to you, I am the only ‘preacher’ in Kentucky of our brotherhood who has publicly advocated the propriety of employing instrumental music in some churches, and that the church of God in Midway is the only church that has yet made a decided effort to introduce it” (Earl West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. I, p. 311).

In passing years as more and more brethren demanded the change in worship, much discussion, disagreement, aggravation, tension, and separation followed. It was a sad time for the church.

Over the years many debates have been held on the music question. One of the greatest debates on the issue of scriptural music in worship was between N. B. Hardeman and Ira M. Boswell held in 1923 in Nashville, Tennessee. Boswell contended that the Greek word, “psallo,” used by Paul in Ephesians 5:19 and translated in our ASV as “making melody,” permitted the use of a mechanical instrument in worship. In his first affirmative speech he declared that he was attempting to prove that “To sing with or without instrumental music is scriptural” (Hardeman-Boswell Debate, p. 29). Neither Boswell nor any other disputant of whom I am aware ever committed himself to the position that the New Testament obligates worshipers to worship with a mechanical instrument of music in the song service.

Hardeman admitted that some instrument inhered in the word “psallo.” He took the tack that “psallo” did demand some kind of instrument. But in the passage, the particular instrument that Paul named is “the heart.” Boswell resorted to much lexical evidence for the Greek word which indicated that some instrument of some kind inhered in the word, but then he would not draw the conclusion that Christians today must use that instrument, whatever it was. In his second speech, Hardeman said, “It seems to me that Brother Boswell is in this kind of a predicament: First, God demands it. The word means it, and you cannot do what ‘psallo’ means without the use of the musical instrument. That is Brother Boswell’s contention, as from the lexicons to which he has referred; and then the next part is, notwithstanding the word means that and notwithstanding that idea inheres in it, yet I can leave it out” (Hardeman-Boswell Debate, p. 56). This was a fantastic moment in the history of the discussion!

In the debate Boswell’s weak position was completely routed, and Hardeman took the correct position on the music issue including proper handling of the word “psallo.” Hardeman’s effort was masterful. And when he took the position that the Greek word, “psallo,” did, in fact, demand an instrument, his approach was a complete surprise to Boswell. Boswell did not expect it!

In Hardeman’s biography we learn that Hardeman viewed his debate with Boswell as his best (James Marvin Powell and Mary Nelle Hardeman Powers, N. B. H., p. 195). We also learn the following:

Some twenty years after the debate, Hardeman met Boswell in Louisville, Kentucky. He told Boswell that he had heard that Dr. Carey Morgan, who at the time of the debate was pastor of Nashville’s Vine Street Christian Church, and J. J. Walker had stayed up nearly all night after the first session of the debate, trying to answer Hardeman’s argument, and revamp their own arguments. Boswell said that was true. Hardeman and Boswell remained friends through the years, though their paths did not often meet. There was mutual respect though their views were poles apart” (N. B. H., pp. 195, 196).

The issue has been debated much, and the history of the debates has revealed that on the polemic platform, mechanical instrumental music in worship has never been proved to be authorized by the New Testament, while singing without the accompaniment of any mechanical instrument of music in worship has been conclusively proved to be authorized.

Our preachers have defended the truth on the issue for years. Sadly, too many brethren now alive have become ignorant of history and are completely out of touch with Bible authority and, therefore, find mechanical instruments in worship harmless, appealing, and acceptable. How tragic!

Finally, let me by way of three new arguments, add to the history of the defense of the truth regarding scriptural music in worship. Consider the following:

First Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament authorized both singing and playing, then the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing.
  2. The Old Testament authorized both singing and playing (Psalm 149:1; Psalm 87:7).
  3. Then, the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing.

Second Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing, then the authorization to sing by itself did not authorize playing anymore than the authorization to play by itself authorized dancing.
  2. The Old Testament distinguished singing from playing (Psalm 87:7; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 150).
  3. Then, the authorization to sing by itself did not authorize playing anymore than the authorization to play by itself authorized dancing.

Third Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament authorization to sing did not by itself authorize playing or dancing, then the New Testament authorization to sing cannot by itself authorize playing or dancing.
  2. The Old Testament authorization to sing did not by itself authorize playing or dancing (Psalm 87:7; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 150; Ezekiel 33:32).
  3. Then, the New Testament authorization to sing cannot by itself authorize playing or dancing.