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I use this newsletter to send Bible studies as much as once per week, sometimes less, but never more. See back issues.

Rebuilding from the Ground Up: Introduction

Orthodox; Catholic; Protestant. The various types of Orthodoxy and Catholicism and the many denominations of Protestantism. How does one choose in this present age? If the Church is the pillar and support of the truth as the Bible tells us (1 Tim. 3:15), which church is it?

This book is meant to give you the tools you need to even understand the question.

Here are the principles that have guided me to draw the conclusions that I have and to dare to believe that those conclusions are both valid and preferable to our traditions.

Say What the Bible Says

There is a positive and a negative to this principle.

The positive side is that we ought to say what the Bible says. We ought to speak the way the Bible speaks. We ought to emphasize the things the Bible emphasizes.

We don't. Not by a long shot.

When was the last time you heard someone tell you, "We are justified by works and not by faith alone"?

Surely the answer to that question, for most evangelicals, is "Never." If someone points references James 2:24 so that we know the sentence is a Scripture quote, we immediately begin to explain it away. "James didn't mean that! He meant, 'We are justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.'"

Really? Then why didn't he say that instead? Why did he write a sentence that if repeated today requires an explanation and reinterpretation?

I get it. We prefer Paul's similarly worded statement, "We are justified by faith apart from the works of the Law" (Rom. 3:28). It's difficult to work out how both those statements could be true. It's much easier just to choose one over the other and never repeat James' statement unless we are forced to because we ran across it in a study of the Epistle of James.

The problem is that ignoring one verse almost always leads to ignoring others. "Be diligent to make your calling and election sure," Peter tells us, "because if you do these things you will never stumble, for so an entrance will be abundantly supplied to you into the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1:9-11).

We have to do something to enter the everlasting Kingdom of Jesus?

Why not? Paul says we have to not do some other things to enter his Kingdom. He specifically lists uncleanness, immorality, and greed (Eph. 5:5). He makes an even longer list in Galatians 5:19-21. If we have to avoid some actions to inherit Jesus' Kingdom, then is it any surprise that we must perform some actions as well?

Question What the Bible Does Not Say

Because the Scriptures call Jesus God and Creator a number of times and, by implication, refer to the Holy Spirit as God a couple times, we are certain that our belief in "God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit" is Scriptural. The Bible may not use the word "Trinity," but it definitely teaches the doctrine.

Or does it?

I did a search for everything I could think of that would bring up the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit together in one verse. There are less than ten such places. Let's look at a couple:

The grace of the Lord Jesus the Anointed, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)
Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, to obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus the Anointed. (1 Pet. 1:2a)

Take a second look at those verses. In light our modern usage—"God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit"—what is odd about them?

All three persons of the Trinity are referenced here, but only one is called God. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 13:14, Paul does not even bother to use "God the Father" like he does in so many other passages. He simply references the Father as God, as though we all know to whom the term "God" refers.

Even more telling is Ephesians 1:17. Again all three persons of the Trinity are referenced, but not only is the Father the only one called "God," but he is said to be the "God of our Lord Jesus the Anointed."

I can guess that some evangelicals are now ready to close this book. How dare I point out that there are no references to "God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit." How dare I suggest that our terminology is wrong? How dare I suggest that if our terminology is wrong, maybe our understanding is wrong, too.

If it helps, I want to point out that I have written an extensive, thoroughly researched book about the Trinity, defending the Trinity as taught at the Council of Nicea, from where we get the Nicene Creed, often hailed as the standard of orthodoxy for the Church throughout history.

The problem is, the Nicene Creed, like the Bible, doesn't say what we say. Instead, it says, "We believe in one God, the Father ... and in one Lord, Jesus the Anointed, the Son of God." The Apostles Creed, repeated in Roman Catholic churches and many liturgical Protestant churches every week, reads exactly the same way.

There is good reason that the creeds should read that way. They are quoting the apostle Paul from 1 Corinthians 8:6:

But to us? One God, the Father, from whom are all things and we for him, and one Lord, Jesus the Anointed, through whom are all things and we through him.

If the Father is the one God, then why does the New Testament call Jesus "God" on an occasional basis. I hope you find this answer, written 1800 years ago, as interesting as I do.

I shall follow the apostle [Paul] , so that if the Father and the Son are alike to be invoked, I shall call the Father "God" and invoke Jesus Christ as "Lord." But when Christ alone [is invoked], I shall be able to call him "God." As the same apostle says, "Of whom is Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever" [Rom. 9:5]. (Tertullian. Against Praxeas 13. c. AD 200.)

Tertullian said he was following the apostle Paul when he referred to Jesus as God only when the Father was not also being referenced. When both are referenced, proper scriptural terminology is "God the Father and Jesus our Lord."

I challenge you to examine whether this is really the apostle Paul's consistent manner of writing. In fact, it is the consistent usage of all the apostles.

We will look at why this is so in our chapter on the Trinity, but to give you a teaser, this too is from Tertullian:

We ... believe that there is one only God—but under the following dispensation, ... that this one only God has also a Son, his Word, who proceeded from himself, by whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made. ... this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the Gospel. (Tertullian. ibid. 2.)

I am accused often of quoting Tertullian and other early Christians as though they were the Bible. I am not. Instead, I am asking you to look at the things we say and see if they are in the Bible, rather than just in our church's statement of faith. I was very careful to use the Bible to show you a pattern and only then appeal to Tertullian for an explanation of biblical terminology.

How many other things do we say over and over that the Bible never says or even explicitly denies? We are going to look at them throughout this book, based on the Bible alone. For your comfort, I am also going to show you from the earliest writings of Christian churches that the things I am writing in this book were believed—and considered normal and orthodox—by the churches started by the apostles themselves.

Eliminate Difficult Verses

Years ago I was listening to the Bible Answer Man radio program. Hank Hanegraaff had taken over for Walter Martin. I used to really like reading Walter Martin's books, so I hope he wouldn't do what Hank did.

Someone called to ask about 2 Peter 2:20-21, which says:

If, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Anointed, they are again entangled in them and overcome, their latter end is worse for them than the beginning. It would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.

Hank had a simple answer for the caller. "This is a difficult passage. You should interpret it in the light of clear verses like John 10:28."

A difficult passage? What is difficult about these verses?

If it wasn't clear enough that returning to the worldly ways after knowing Jesus would turn out so badly that the end would be worse than the beginning, Peter repeats himself from a different perspective. It would be better never to have known the way of righteousness than to turn away from it after you did know it.

What's so difficult about that?

What's difficult about it is that Hank Hanegraaff doesn't believe it. He, like many other evangelicals, believes in eternal security, "once saved, always saved." If a person has been saved, knowing Jesus, and being delivered from the world, then they cannot fall away.

Yet here is Peter, not only saying that people can fall away, but describing very unpleasant result that sound nothing like "They are going to heaven anyway."

Hank stated that he prefers the "clear" verse, John 10:28, which tells us:

I [Jesus] give [the sheep] eternal life, and they will not perish, nor shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

This verse does seem pretty clear. Jesus gives his sheep eternal life, and they will never perish. The last part is easy to reconcile with 2 Peter 2:20-21. Just because no one can snatch us out of Jesus' hand does not mean that we can't willingly leave. The first part, though, is very hard to reconcile with 2 Peter 2.

So what are we going to do with issues like this?

A favorite method is to pick one or the other. Pentecostals reject eternal security, as do a few other denominations. They pick 2 Peter 2:20-21 as the clear passage, and they call John 10:27-29 difficult. Then the Pentecostals and Methodists, who reject eternal security, argue with the Baptists and Presbyterians, who accept it.

I have heard the arguments over and over again, literally hundreds of times across more than thirty years of being a Christian. To my shame, I used to participate in them. Both sides throw verses at one another, hoping to show that they have more verses than their opponents. That way, at the end of the argument, they can claim that their fifteen—or thirty or eight—verses are the clear ones, while their opponents' lesser amount of verses are the difficult ones.

I was still a young man when I realized that by arguing in this manner, I was basically saying that the Bible contradicted itself. Even if I had fifteen or twenty verses to an opponent's three or four, I was nevertheless implying by my argument that those three or four verses were contradictory to my fifteen or twenty.

At that point. I quit. I decided that if I hold to a doctrine and there are more than one or two "difficult" verses, then I would drop my doctrine and wait for an explanation that left no difficult verses.

So what did I do with eternal security and the conflict between John 10:27-29 and 2 Peter 2:20-22? You'll have to wait for the chapter on faith and works to find that out.

Reject Silly Explanations

It is very tempting in the midst of a doctrinal controversy to appeal to ludicrous explanations in order to dismiss your opponent's verses.

Of course, ludicrous is in the eye of the beholder. I am not asking you to accept my definition of ludicrous, but I am asking you to be honest with yourself. I have learned from long experience that it is okay to wonder about how to reconcile a set of verses for years. The chapter on faith and works is the result of six years of gathering verses and saying "I don't know" a lot.

As an example, we'll use 2 Peter 2:20-22 again. Those who believe in eternal security do have an explanation for that verse. The people discussed in 2 Peter 2:20-22 were never saved. They knew Jesus, and through the knowledge of him they had escaped the corruptions of this world, but they were still never saved.

Explanations like this embarrass me.

On the other side, the traditional argument against eternal security in regard to John 10:27-29 is that although nothing and no one can pluck us from Jesus' hand, we can walk out. This ignores the fact that Jesus also said that he gives his sheep eternal life and they will never perish.

Explanations like that embarrass me, although having been on the anti-eternal-security side in the 1980's I have used it repeatedly.

I'll give you another example. In Acts 2:38 Peter tells Jews, cut to the heart that they had killed their Messiah, that they should repent and "be baptized in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of sins.

Most evangelicals don't believe that baptism is administered for the forgiveness of sins. So some clever scholars have presented the idea that the Greek word eis can meant "because of" the forgiveness of sins rather than for the purpose of forgiveness.

The problem is, it's just not true. I've done a lot of study on the word eis because of this embarrassing attempt to avoid what the Scripture says, but I am not going to appeal to my study. I am going to appeal to three things:

  1. Every Bible translation, old or modern, translates eis as "for."
  2. For the first 1600 years of the Church, every church and every group of churches understood Acts 2:38 to mean "for the remission of sins," including the revered Protestant Reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin.
  3. According to Acts 22:16, Paul washed away his sins in baptism, too.

Okay, I'll give you one more example.

In Galatians 6:8, a verse all evangelicals are familiar with and have no problem with, Paul tells us that we will reap eternal life if we sow to the Spirit. That doesn't really cause much difficult for those that believe in salvation by faith alone. Most of them believe that we must walk by the Spirit as Christians, but it happens somewhat automatically. In any case, all really saved people will automatically walk by the Spirit enough to reap the eternal life they were promised.

The problem is the next verse, Galatians 6:9. There Paul tells the Galatians not to "grow weary in doing good." Why not? Because if they do not faint—if they do not grow weary—they will reap in due time.

Reap what? In accordance with the non-negotiable idea of salvation by faith alone, all evangelicals that I know believe that we will reap rewards or the lack of rewards to the judgment.

But look at the context. The last thing Paul said was that by sowing to the Spirit we would "reap" eternal life. He follows that immediately by telling us we are going to "reap" some unspecified thing for not growing weary in doing good.

What can that unspecified thing be but eternal life?

That interpretation is obvious. In a situation where the topic is something evangelicals agree with, they will cry, "Context, context, context. A text without a context is a pretext."

Not here. I have never had an evangelical agree to the obvious, that eternal life, according to Galatians 6:9, is reaped by not growing weary in doing good. This is despite that fact that Romans 2:5-6 says exactly the same thing.

Again, you'll have to wait for the chapter on faith and works for an explanation that ties all these verses together leaving no difficult verses at all.

The Importance of Honesty

Surely you can look around and see how badly we have things wrong. Yes, we have some things right, and maybe that is good enough for you. Of course, if that is so, why are you bothering to read my book?

As an example, Jesus pinned his credibility on the unity of the Church in John 17:20-23. Is the church, especially in America, known for unity or is it famous for division? He pinned our credibility on our love for one another. Are we known for love or for conflict and condemnation?

While I am convinced that it is a diligent pursuit and maintenance of unity of Spirit that leads to unity in doctrine (Eph. 4:3,13), we are not going to have either as long as we diligently cling to our traditions, meeting separately from those who do not hold them, and happily defending our traditions with embarrassing explanations.

Other Completed Chapters