“Why Arminianism?” by Pastor Brian Chilton

Why Arminianism?

 Pastor Brian Chilton

Theologians ask big questions concerning big issues.  One of the great questions in theology is based around the issue of the sovereignty of God and the free will of humanity.  In this brief exposition, we will list abbreviated summaries on why Arminianism is a biblical concept.  We will look at the basics of Arminian theology.  While we examine the basics of Arminianism, we will also examine the misconceptions of Arminianism.  The core tenets of Arminianism are: Depravity of Man, Enlightened by God, Election by Foreknowledge, Unlimited Atonement, Resistible Grace, and Falling from Grace.

The five core beliefs are antagonistic to the “TULIP” beliefs of Calvinism.  But, it is not as extremely different as some may be inclined to think.

 Depravity of Man, Enlightened by God

Arminians believe that man[1] is depraved.  As Paul writes, “There is none righteous, no, not one; 11There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.” [2]  Some would ask, “Doesn’t that mean that no one has the capacity to choose?”  Not really.  Isaiah writes, “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.”[3]  The act of “seeking” is a personal thing.  It is part of the human equation.  So, this depravity means that we are morally corrupt, but does not necessarily mean that this depravity has completely deadened one’s theological senses entirely.  For, every person has an inclination to worship God.  This is an inclination given to us by God.  As Paul writes, For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”[4]

The Arminian would agree with the concept that man cannot know anything about God without it being first revealed.  Arminians and Wesleyans call this “Prevenient Grace.”  This means that God calls us by His Spirit and reveals His truths to us from whence man has a free will to choose or reject His grace.

 

Election by Foreknowledge

The Arminian does not reject the sovereignty of God.  Arminians have a high view of God’s power.  However, just because God is omnipotent, does it require that He use all of His power all the time?  Could God not limit Himself in some ways?  Well, the Bible seems to indicate that He can and in fact did.  Consider the ancient hymn listed in Philippians 2.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”[5]  Christ limited Himself to come to earth.  Could God not do the same to allow for human freewill?  Could God force people to accept Him?  Of course He could.  But does He, I don’t think so.

The Bible indicates that God desires for every person to come to faith.  Peter writes, The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”[6]  The Greek word “panta”” (pantas) means “each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything.”[7]  So, this writer sees no other exegetical possibility but to accept that God desires every person to be saved.  So if God has the power to save everyone and desires to save everyone, why doesn’t He?  I feel that it is due to the power of reciprocated love.

Take for instance a time when God revealed truth to a person that He really loved and the person rejected the truth.  This case involved the Rich Young Ruler.  “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him,  “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” 22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”[8]

So how does one deal with election?  Well, the answer is foreknowledge.  God is not restrained by time as we are.  God created time.  So, God is non-linear whereas we are linear.  Therefore, God can foresee and know what a person’s free decision will be before the person makes the decision.  This best defines the dichotomy.  The Scripture gives an indication of this very thing.  “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”[9]  The Greek term for “foreknew” is the term “proginwskw.”  It is from this term that we get our word “prognosis.”  It literally means to “know beforehand.”[10]  So, Arminians believe in election, too.  But, Arminians believe that election goes hand-in-hand with reciprocated love; love extended from the hand of God and love received by the heart of man.

 

Unlimited Atonement

Arminius did not believe that Christ died for just a few people.  He believed that Christ died for all people.  This seems to be the indication of the gospels.  Take the famous verse John 3:16; For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”[11]  The word used for “world” is “kosmon” (kosmon, or kosmos).  This word is defined as “the world, the world’s inhabitants, or the human race.”[12]  Take this in addition to the words of Paul, For there is no partiality with God.”[13]  How can it be that God is impartial if God only chooses some to save without giving others a chance to be saved?  With Calvinism, there exists a logical inconsistency with God’s omnipotence and God’s holiness for the Calvinist precept of double predestination causes God to be the author of sin and evil which goes against the holiness of God.  This is something that has yet to be explained in a logically consistent way by the Calvinist.  If there is a good explanation, this author would love to hear its explanation.  This is predominantly the core reason why I cannot accept Calvinism as it has been described.

 

Resistible Grace

The fourth tenet of Arminianism is “resistible grace.”  This indicates that a person can accept or reject the grace that God reveals and grants a person.  Some postulate that Arminians believe that humans have the absolute freedom to choose God or reject God.  That is not the case.  As we mentioned earlier, Arminians believe in “prevenient grace” which means that God reveals Himself to a person before the person is able to freely choose or freely reject.  Take the words of Christ for instance,For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”[14]

In the former passage, we see that the word “believe” is used.  The Greek word is “pisteuwn” (pisteuon).  It means to “trust, have confidence in something.”[15]  The usage in this text seems to indicate that people choose to accept or reject the light of God once exposed.  This seems to strengthen the case for Arminianist theology.

 Fall From Grace       

This is the only element of Arminianism in which I struggle to accept.  I believe that salvation can be “locked in” by God.  But to be fair, let’s look at the Arminian belief in falling from grace.  Many Arminius’ believes to mean that salvation becomes a doctrine of works.  Unfortunately, many Pentecostal advocates do seem to make salvation that way.  However, Jacob Arminius simply showed that it was possible for one to reject the faith that saved him.  So, “falling from grace” meant to Arminius that one could come to a point in which a person rejected the faith and not that a person committed a sin that denied them salvation.  If the latter is true, then Arminius would have been promoting a work-based salvation.

Despite this possibility, Arminius believed in an assurance of salvation.  However, he also believed that if one fell from grace, that person could not be “re-saved.”  This is where the great evangelist John Wesley differed from Arminius.  He believed that one could be “re-saved” multiple times.

As I said earlier, this is one area that I have to agree with Calvin.  I do believe that when God saves, He saves thoroughly and completely.  But this does not necessitate that a person has no say in the process.  If love is forced, the act no longer becomes an act of love.  The moment it is forced, it is not love.

 Conclusion:

This debate will not be solved on this side of eternity.  From the paper of Mr. Drew Payne, you have read the strengths of Calvinism.  In my paper, you have read the strengths of Arminianism.  Now it is up to you to research and decide for yourself what the Bible teaches.  In some strange way, it could be that the truth is found somewhere between the two theological doctrines.  I heard a preacher quote the great Charles Spurgeon once, who said that salvation may be like a doorway.  Above the entrance to the doorway reads the words “Whosoever will, let him come.”  After the person passes through the doorway, he looks back to the door and sees these words over the back of the doorframe, “Only the elect of God shall pass this way.”  It could be that in the great schemes of things that this could be the end result.  Such are the difficulties for us finite beings struggling to understand the infinite Creator.


[1] The use of “man,” unless explicitly used otherwise, refers to all of humanity.

[2] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ro 3:10–11.

[3] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Is 55:6.

[4] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ro 1:20–23.

[5] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Php 2:5–8.

[6] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 2 Pe 3:9.

[7] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).

[8] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Mk 10:21–22.

[9] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ro 8:28–30.

[10] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).

[11] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jn 3:16.

[12] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).

[13] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Romans 2:11.

[14] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jn 3:16–21.

[15] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).

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“The Ideas of John Calvin” by J. Andrew Payne

 NOTE: The following is a transcript by Mr. Andrew Payne.  Mr. Payne’s transcript lists out the rationale behind Calvinism and gives a detailed exposition of the thoughts and beliefs of Calvinism.  I will offer a rebuttal and offer an exposition behind Arminianism to which Mr. Payne will offer a rebuttal next week.  This is done for two reasons: to allow the reader to digest the information and form their own opinion, and also to show that as Christians we should actively engage our theology and remember that as the Body of Christ, we do not have to always agree.  That is part of the freedom that we have in Christ.  God bless and enjoy Mr. Payne’s research.  -BC

Drew Payne

The Ideas of John Calvin
by J. Andrew Payne

John Calvin is one of the more controversial figures throughout the history of the Christian Church. In many circles merely mentioning his name is enough to start an argument. But why is this? Are his ideas really that radical? Some have even gone so far as to call his teachings heretical.

The following essay will consist of a brief outlining of some of the major points of Calvin as well as presenting reasons for believing it. It is the hope of this author to demonstrate that Calvin’s views, though potentially unsettling to some at first, presents a view of Scripture that is at the very least worthy of consideration by all who consider themselves to be Christians. This essay is also written in the hope that it may lay to rest some of the misunderstandings that have so dogged this approach so much that it has almost become a mockery of its roots.

TULIP and Calvinism

            All those who hold to a Calvinistic persuasion are familiar with what are known as the “Five Points of Calvin.” Though these points themselves are not explicitly laid out as such within the writings of Calvin themselves, they do faithfully capture the essence of Calvin’s teachings. The acronym TULIP has been created to help us remember the Five Points, and stands for: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. Each of them are intimately linked and build upon each other so that the system usually demands that it is either wholly accepted or wholly denied.

Total Depravity: This beginning point lays the very foundation for the rest of TULIP. It is also, much like the rest of TULIP, often misconstrued to say something wholly anathema to the point that it is trying to get across. Total depravity is the teaching that man is by his very nature depraved and utterly incapable of doing a good work by his own means.

This point is often misrepresented to say that all men are as desperately wicked as they can be at all times. Such an understanding of total depravity just simply is not accurate. However, it cannot be summed up in one pithy sentence either.

The accurately understand total depravity, one must first recognize that all good things come from God and God alone. But man, before salvation, exists apart from God. Because of this, man exists apart from that which is good, and is also incapable of acting in a manner that is strictly speaking good. The idea is that God alone is the measurement of what is good, and man can never aspire to the level set by God. He is thus in need of God’s loving hand coming down to scoop him up and carry him across the goal line.

Unconditional Election: Building upon total depravity, it makes sense then, that man cannot earn his salvation. Goodness exists outside of man’s natural ability. It is no longer something resigned to the realm of free choice, but of being. Man either is good or he isn’t, there is no choice in the matter. If this is the case, then salvation is also not a choice. Man cannot choose to be something that is beyond his ability. It must be given to him. Seeing that salvation is a gift, richly lavished on the elect, man must realize that he cannot earn salvation but can only accept it with a humble heart, realizing his own inadequacy. God’s election to salvation is unconditional; it has nothing to do with man’s actions, and everything to do with God’s.

Limited Atonement: The doctrine of limited atonement is a highly controversial doctrine even among Calvinists. This is not surprising to those who are acquainted with Calvinists as it will become readily apparent that even no two Calvinists will agree on everything. The view of limited atonement presented here will thus be the least presumptuous interpretation of this teaching.

Limited atonement it its core affirms the truth that Christ’s salvific work on the cross did not extend salvation to all of humanity instantly. Simply put, Christianity is not universalism or inclusivism or anything of the like. The salvation of God is only meant for the elect – those whom have been chosen for salvation.

Building upon unconditional election, limited atonement recognizes that God reigns supreme over all events that take place on earth. Nothing can happen outside of God, for outside of God, there is nothing. But since salvation is not a volitional act of the will, contingent upon the actions of man, it must then be that God chooses some for salvation and others for perdition.

Some might object by bringing up 2 Peter 3:9, which says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” This verse can be read in a number of different ways, and when read by itself, apart from its context, seems quite clear. However, there is a strong case that such a verse is actually referring specifically to the elect even still. In this rather lengthy quote, James White reminds us of the importance of context and how it will transform the meaning of the statement:

When speaking of the mockers (speaking of the broader context of 2 Peter 3) he refers to them in the third person, as “them.” But everywhere else he speaks directly to his audience as the “beloved” and “you.” He speaks of how his audience should behave “in holy conduct and godliness,” and says that they look for the day of the Lord. He includes himself in this group in verse 13, where “we are looking for a new heavens and a new earth.” This is vitally important, for the assumption made by the Arminian is that when verse 9 says the Lord is “patient towards you” that this “you” refers to everyone. Likewise, then, when it says “not wishing for any to perish” but “all to come to repentance,” it is assumed that the “any” and “all” refers to anyone at all of the human race. Yet, the context indicates that the audience is quite specific.[1]

From that exegetical insight, the all must then be understood as speaking directly of the elect. Now, I am not so naïve as to assume that this is the only passage to be quarreled over, but my purpose in citing that example was to take a well known rebuttal and demonstrate that it is not as straight forward as it may initially seem.

Regardless of the debate, the minimum of limited atonement is the belief that God’s salvation is only granted to the elect. When studied in its proper context within TULIP, one also comes to realize that God also must have elected some and not others for salvation. While initially unsettling, this belief is not blithely assumed, but rather believed after carefully studying the scriptures. Such subjects merit patiently being studied. Consider the words of Calvin on the perils of considering the issues regarding predestination:

When men hear anything of what Scripture teaches respecting predestination, they are especially entangled with very many impediments. The predestination of God is indeed in reality a labyrinth, from which the mind of man can by no means extricate itself: but so unreasonable is the curiosity of man, that the more perilous the examination of a subject is, the more boldly he proceeds; so that when predestination is discussed, as he cannot restrain himself within due limits, he immediately, through his rashness, plunges himself, as it were, into the depth of the sea.[2]

This inquiry is without doubt one of the most important inquiries man can undergo. Its conclusions do nothing short of determine how we are to approach God Himself. As a result, whether affirming or denying Calvin’s greater teachings, it is essential that one makes sure that they proceed cautiously, recognizing the gravity of their endeavor.

Irresistible Grace: As it has already been pointed out in the previous points, salvation is not something that is contingent upon man, just as man’s very existence is not subject to his will, neither is his state of existence in regard to salvation. Salvation is not an act of the will that is chosen, but an act of God in creating – or recreating, as is the case with salvation. As such, just as a man cannot resist his very own creation that first brought him into being, he cannot resist the recreative work that God does in him again, bringing him to salvation.

Man, by nature, is in a state of being “dead in his trespasses and sins.” As a dead man is unable to respond, neither is man able to respond to the call of God that resides in his heart. It takes the act of God, and not the will of man. Due to this, the grace of God must be recognized as such a thing that it cannot be rejected or resisted.

Perseverance of the Saints: The simple explanation of what is meant by this final point is what is thought of in the phrase, “once saved, always saved.” It is impossible for man to lose his salvation. After all, if the gaining of salvation has nothing to do with the actions of man, then, by implication, losing his salvation is also outside of his prerogative. We needn’t worry about the ability to retain our salvation, for its very existence is not something that we in fact hold on to. Rather, it rests within the firm, competent, and trustworthy grasp of our savior, Jesus Christ.

Some Final Questions

            Now that the basic premise of the teachings of Calvin has been established, it is time to apply them. Admittedly, some of these issues can be a little hard to grasp at first, but after seeing them applied, they become more elucidated to the reader.

Freewill

Calvinism has almost become synonymous with the issue of freewill. In fact this very issue, along with the issue of predestination, makes up virtually 90% of the debate that is actively argued. However, such an issue does not merit such attention. If Calvin were really denying the freedom of the will, then he would certainly be rightfully incurring such a debate. But this is not his goal, nor is it his teaching.

Freewill concerns, unsurprisingly, the free exercise of the will in choosing between potentials. Illustrated simply, the agent is free to choose either A or B. By extension, all of his actions exist in like form. Man acts because he chooses to. If this is what is meant by freewill, Calvin would not disagree. In fact, he says as much in one of his lesser known works, entitled, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will. In this book he elaborates on what is meant when he uses the phrase, “bondage of the will.” He writes,

Now as far as the term (‘freedom’) is concerned I still maintain what I declared in my Institutes, that I am not so excessively concerned about words as to want to start an argument for that cause, provided that a sound understanding of reality is retained. If freedom is opposed to coercion, I both acknowledge and consistently maintain that choice is free, and I hold anyone who thinks otherwise to be a heretic. If, I say, it were called free in the sense of not being coerced nor forcibly moved by an external impulse, but moved of its own accord, I have no objection. The reason I find this epithet unsatisfactory is that people commonly think of something quite different when they hear or read it being applied to the human will. Since in fact they take it to imply ability and power, one cannot prevent from entering the minds of most people, as soon as the will is called free, the illusion that it therefore has both good and evil within its power, so that it can by its own strength choose either one of them.[3]

Put simply, man is free to choose between ordinary everyday things. What Calvin is proposing might better be grasped in the term “meta-will”; that is, the nature of the sum total of all the choices of the will. Such a term as will is in all honesty wrongly even used here, as it is not so much concerned with the will, as much as it is concerned with the individuals very being in relation to God.

Why Pray to an Immutable God?

If God is in control is all things are already predetermined, why pray? And even more critically, why pursue the Great Commission to spread the gospel message to the farthest corners of the earth? The answer, though shockingly simple once grasped, is not as obvious as it would seem. One first envisions that, no matter what they might say to God in offering their petitions to Him, that it does not matter, the same thing will happen in the end regardless. But in saying this, one oversimplifies the nature of a predestined future.

Consider that a question is not answered unless it is first raised. Then consider that it is the same with prayer. When one prays, it is only because God has decreed from eternity past that he should do so. And once that prayer has been prayed, and answer is given. But just as it was the will of God that man should pray, it is the will of God that He should answer. If nothing is prayed, then nothing is answered, but if a prayer is prayed, then a prayer will be answered. Consider that when one asks a question about mathematics, the answer is predetermined. It exists as the same truth no matter how the questioner decides to go about asking their question. But the question itself will never be answered unless it is first asked. Prayer is like this.

Turn now to the call to be a light to the world to win others to Christ. It is God’s providence that we should do so as all events rest within the omnipotent hands of God. But if one never witnesses to a lost soul, then it should be impossible for the lost to hear of Christ and to learn of their salvation in Him. Thus, like with prayer, the Great Commission must be answered.

Conclusion

            Though this essay has been in no way exhaustive of the doctrines of Calvin, it is the hope of this author that its readers will have been brought to a deeper understanding of these most important issues to the Christian faith. Regardless of whether or not someone agrees with the teachings of Calvin, it must be recognized that they are at the very least worthy of deeper study, if for no other reason than because of the impact that they have had upon Christendom.

I urge the reader, however, to proceed in prayer, seeking the will of God and the truth of God, with the firm recognition and conviction that it exists apart from what we may want it to be. But we must also persist in the knowledge that, though we may not fully understand or even grasp how it is so, God remains good, no matter what things may seem to us, because man is not the measure of goodness. Only God is.

Bibliography

Calvin, John. Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Grand Rapids:           Baker Books, 2009

Helm, Paul. John Calvin’s Ideas. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007

White, James. The Potter’s Freedom. Amityville: Calvary Press Publishing, 2000

Further Reading Considerations

Providence, by Reginald Garrigou-Legrange

The Confessions of St. Augustine, by St. Augustine

On Christian Doctrine, by St. Augustine

Spurgeon’s Sermons, 10 Volumes, by Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Systematic Theology, Vol. 3: Sin & Salvation, by Norman Geisler

Death of Death in the Death of Christ, by John Owen

Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin

No One Like Him, by Paul Feinberg

Knowing God, by J.I. Packer


[1] James White, The Potter’s Freedom (Amityville, Calvary Press Publishing, 2000), 146.

[2] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2009), 353-354.

[3] Paul Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas (New York, Oxford University Press, 2007), 159.

Sovereignty Theologies (Part 1): Calvinism

***Check out “Ep#17: Sovereignty versus Free Will Theologies–Calvinism” on Redeeming Truth Radio at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton

Since the beginning of the human race, humanity has tried to decipher how God’s sovereignty blends with human free will.  Sovereignty is defined as the “rule of God.”  Merriam-Webster defines “sovereign” as:

“2 a : possessed of supreme power 〈a sovereign ruler〉

b : unlimited in extent : ABSOLUTE  (Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary., Eleventh ed. (Spr
ingfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003)).”

So, theologically speaking, sovereignty depicts the rule of God over the universe.  Some would hold that God controls every detail.  Since we are in the set that God would control, then human actions are thus determined by God.  However, juxtaposed to this belief is the belief in human free will.  Free will is the ability for a human being to make a consciously rational decision.  One could choose or reject a certain premise.  This is in accord with free will.  How do the two correspond?

Well, people have been debating this issue for centuries.  Even before the time of Jesus, this was a hot debate.  In ancient Judaism, three groups, or sects, existed: the Essenes (not mentioned in the New Testament, but are known through the Dead Sea Scrolls and the works of Josephus), the Pharisees, and the Sadducees.  In the debate on sovereignty versus free will, the Essenes were fatalists.  They believed that everything was due to fate and humans could do nothing about it.  In other words, the Essenes believed that God controlled every event and that humans actually held no free will but acted according to God’s direction.  The Sadducees (although conservative in ancient times, held more to modern liberalism theology) were the complete antagonists to the Essenes.  The Sadducees believed completely in free will and did not hold that God intervened in humanity.  The Sadducees, in my opinion, resembled more of a deist than necessarily a theist, although some would argue that point.  Finally, the Pharisees (the group to which Jesus most closely identified) were in the middle.  The Pharisees believed in a blend of God’s sovereignty and in human free will.

Calvin  Fast forward to the time of the Reformation and we find another great division in the controversy.  Galli and Olsen gives us an introduction to Calvin.

“Calvin was born in 1509 in Noyon, France. His father, a lawyer, planned a career in the church for his son, and by the mid-1520s, Calvin had become a fine scholar. He spoke proficient Latin, excelled at philosophy, and qualified to take up the intensive study of theology in Paris” (Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 38.)

Calvin is most famously, or infamously depending on your perspective, known for his doctrine of election.  The beliefs can be summarized by the following acronym: TULIP.

T= “Total Depravity.”  Total depravity means that a person is completely fallen and hold no way of knowing God by his or herself.

U= “Unconditional Election.”  This doctrine is the most controversial of Calvinist doctrines.  The doctrine of “unconditional election” holds that God chooses whom God will save.  That doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that the opposite is also true if that is the case, meaning that God would choose those whom God would condemn.  I’ll address this later.

L= “Limited Atonement.”  This doctrine holds that Christ did not die for everyone, but only died for a few.  Therefore, many Calvinists do not view John 3:16 as indicating the entire world, but only a few.  I’ll address this later, too.

I= “Irresistible Grace.”  This doctrine holds that if God calls, no one has a choice but to respond.  There is not an ability to choose or reject.  If God calls, the person will truly respond because they were elected to do so.  This is the second most controversial doctrine of Calvinism.

P= “Perseverance of the Saints.”  This doctrine is more popularly known to the laity as “once saved, always saved.”  This doctrine holds that if one is called by God and has no choice but to respond, then that person cannot lose his or her salvation since it is a work of God.

Drew PayneDrew Payne, a graduate student at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina (working on his Masters of Philosophy), joined us in our recent show on “Redeeming Truth Radio”.  Payne leans towards Calvinist doctrine, whereas I lean more towards Remonstrant or Arminian theology.  Arminianism will be dealt with in next week’s blog and show.  In the next few weeks, by Payne’s permission, we will post some of his thoughts on Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism, and Open Theism (more on the latter two in future posts).  Unlike many, Payne (Calvinist) and I (Arminian) are able to appreciate the beauty of both theologies and do not impose on Christianity the necessity to be either a Calvinist or an Arminian.  I like what Augustine said that “In essentials, unity; in differences, liberty; but in all things, charity.”  It is our hope that you will review our posts in the upcoming weeks and decide for yourself to which camp you belong.  But remember, regardless of which camp you find yourself, remember that both camps are still in the same arena.  We are brothers and sisters of Christ.  We have freedom to be united in truth and the freedom to differ in opinions.  That is what makes being a Christian so great…the freedom we have in Christ.

Blessings,

Pastor Brian Chilton

PS: Be on the watch for my posts “My Problems with Calvinism,” “Why I Hold to Remonstrant Theology,” and for the posts by Drew Payne coming very soon.

Near Death Experiences and the Bible

NDE

“Redeeming Truth” Show on NDEs

Near Death Experiences (NDEs), what do we need to think about them?  Are they real?  Do they conflict with evangelical Christian thinking?  Ironically, great debate exists in Christianity concerning NDEs, a religion based upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  One of the great factors behind this debate is some of the testimonials that seems to contradict biblical teaching.  Therefore, many feel that this leads to one of two problems: 1) the NDEs are real and the Bible is not, or 2) the Bible is real and the experiences are not.  However, I feel that a third option is viable.  That option is that both the Bible and the NDEs are true, but maybe there is a reason behind the discrepancies.  Maybe the experiences did happen, but there is a flaw in the output of information in some testimonies.  Before we look into this possibility, let’s answer some basic questions about NDEs.

What are Near Death Experiences (NDEs)?

Near Death Experiences are one of two events.  They can be events where a person dies, consciously experiences something beyond the body, and comes back to tell about the events.  Or, they can be events where a person remains living but experiences the heavenly realm, otherwise known as a “vision” or sometimes as an “out-of-body experience.”  Predominantly, NDEs are known for the former rather than the latter.

Do Near Death Experiences (NDEs) Conflict with the Bible?                                                                        

In this question, we are simply going to deal with the event itself and not the information presented.  We’ll deal with that question later.  For now, we are examining the NDE event.  It is troubling that some Christians go to such an extreme to combat the information presented by the witness that they essentially “throw out the baby with the bathwater.”  I heard a preacher, that will remained unnamed, state that “No one has ever died and come back on this earth.”  Really?  He really went there.  Now, this is a good, godly preacher who presented that statement.  Did he really mean that or was he not thinking?  I don’t think he was thinking about what he said because Christianity itself is based upon one critical event in history: the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Granted, some would say, “Well, He’s the Son of God.  I mean that no mere human has been raised from the dead!”  Really?  Have you read John chapter 11?

“Now when He has said these things, He (Jesus) cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”  And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go'” (John 11:43-44, NKJV).

Furthermore, in verse 39, Martha indicates that Lazarus had been dead for four days.  I read once that a pastor sought out to see how Jesus performed eulogies.  He found no evidence of a single eulogy that Jesus delivered.  Why?  It was because that Jesus wrecked every funeral He attended.  Instead of mourning the dead, He raised them to life.

“Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her.  13 When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.”  14 And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!”   15 The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.  16 Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!” 17 This report concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district” (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Lk 7:12–17).

Could it not be that Jesus is doing the same thing now in NDEs that He did when He walked the earth?  I think this is indeed the case.  But, what of those visions of heaven that some people report?  Should this really surprise us either?  Listen to the words of the Prophet Joel:

28 “It will come about after this 
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
29 “Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Joe 2:28–29…underline mine).

Isaiah saw a vision of God as reported in Isaiah 6.  What of John the Revelator who saw and recorded the visions that he had in the Book of Revelation?  Is this really a surprise especially in light of the prophecy of Joel?  It really shouldn’t be.

Does Evidence Suggest These Experiences are Real or Just Hallucinations?

There exists a wealth of information that suggests that these experiences are in fact real.  For over 20 years, Dr. Gary Habermas of Liberty University has studied NDEs.  He and Michael Licona wrote in their book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus the following:

“During the past few decades, however, dozens of more credible reports have been documented of individuals who returned to consciousness after being comatose or at the point of clinical death…Some have described details of medical procedures performed on them.  Some of them have related conversations that others had during their medical emergencies or even described the jewelry and clothing worn by those around them.  Some accounts have given verified details about what happened outside their immediate room, down the hallway, or even miles away.  The amount of verification is staggering.  People blind from birth have correctly recalled visual details of things around them and outside their presence.  Many of these near-death details were of events occurring when the individual had no heartbeat or brain wave activity, as indicated by “flat” EKG and EEG readings, sometimes over lengthy periods of time.

A nine-year old girl had a swimming accident and was under water for nineteen minutes.  She was given very little chance of surviving.  Hooked up to machines to keep her alive, she surprised everyone by regaining consciousness three days later.  She took almost one hour to describe her experiences during that time.  Even though Melvin Morse, the pediatrician who resuscitated her in the emergency room, reported that she was “profoundly comatose” with “fixed and dilated pupils” and without brain activity, she accurately described several details from the emergency room.  Then she said that she visited heaven with an angel and had spoken with her deceased grandfather.  She said that she also looked in on her family at home, and accurately described what her father, brother, and sister were doing, as well as their clothing.  She knew that her mother had cooked roast chicken and rice for dinner.  Since she claimed that these conditions had occurred only a couple of days before, Morse was able to verify these details with the family” (Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004) 146-147).

Eben Alexander had a vivid near-death experience when his brain was severely damaged. (Stephanie Lam/The Epoch Times)Dr. Eben Alexander presents some additional evidence for the validity of these NDE accounts.  In his book Proof of Heaven, he recounts the conscious experiences of heaven while being medically confirmed as brain dead.  The staff of Lynchburg Hospital monitored his brain waves the entire time of his severe comatose condition as bacterial meningitis had taken away the functionability of his cerebral cortex.  It is in the cerebral cortex that hallucinations and dreams are made possible.  With this section of his brain flatlining, there is no medically known way for him to have had conscious experiences of anything.  In other words, it would be impossible for him to have hallucinations with this part of his brain being shut down.  This adds to the already incredible mix of evidence for the validity of conscious experiences beyond the body.

What About Some Reports That Present Information Contrary to Biblical Teachings?

This is the million dollar question.  Why is it that there are differences in experience?  I would argue that there are great overall similarities in most of the NDE experiences (light, feeling of weightlessness, seeing loved ones, seeing God, feeling of peace, overwhelming feeling of love).  But why is it that some pose a theology of works?  Why is it that some bring forth an universalist message that everyone will go to heaven?  What of the more controversial elements to the Burpo story in Heaven is For Real?  Why do Hindus claim to see Vishnu and Christians see Jesus?  If these events are legit, do they undermine the integrity of the Biblical message?

Not really.  Dr. Eben Alexander offers a clue to why there are differences in these experiences.  In the end, it may not be a difference in experience, but a difference in interpretation.

“Over and over, in the modern NDE accounts and in spiritual writings from earlier times, I’d feel the narrator struggling with the limitations of earthly language, trying to get the entirety of the fish they had hooked on board the boat of human language and ideas…and always, to one degree or another, failing” (Eben Alexander, M.D., Proof of Heaven (New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2012), 132.)

This would explain why it seems that the Christian is best prepared for events such as these.  It    also describes why the Burpo story seems childish…because it came from the interpretation of a 3-year old boy.  This would describe why the Hindu thought they saw Vishnu, because they never heard of Christ and interpreted the image according to what they knew.  So, this explains why there are differences.  The brain trying to fathom what the spirit witnessed.  The brain, like a filter, tries to interpret on a linear scale what is on a non-linear scale.  The brain tries to illustrate in finite terms what is infinite.  I think that is the underlying answer.

What about atheists who experience heaven?  Why did God allow them to see heaven and does this mean that everyone goes to heaven?  Not really.  We have to remember that atheists experienced heaven and came back to tell about it.  God knows all.  What if the atheist died and was not slated to return?  I think the eternal result would be far different.  I believe that God Himself is using apologetics to show the skeptic and to show the atheist that heaven is real.  The experiences also serve as a warning that if they do not change, they will not be back.  By the way, those who experience the bliss of heaven and the presence of God rarely, if ever, choose not to live differently after they return.

Could This Not Be the Work of the Devil who Poses as an Angel of Light?

From time to time, I hear about some who claim that all of this is a work of the Devil who is posing as an Angel of Light.  There are two problems with this theory.  One, we may be ascribing more power to the Devil than he deserves.  Yes, he is a very deceptive being.  But, can the Devil raise the dead?  Is it in his power to do this?  I am not entirely sure.

Secondly and perhaps more importantly, why would the Devil do this?  You are taking individuals who are skeptics and already do not believe in God and putting them in circumstances where they place their faith and trust in God!  Many of whom will submit to the Lordship of Christ.  Does this seem logical for the Devil?  If the Devil is doing this, he is using very poor strategy.

A Word of Caution

There is a word of caution that must be given.  We must take great care to the level of emphasis we place on theology from NDE events. Remember, these are the interpretations of individuals who have come back from eternity.  Did they have the experience?  Yes, I think so.  But, are their brains accurately interpreting every event and detail that occurred?  Probably not.  You must weigh everything through the lens of Scripture.  The Bible is God’s revelation to humanity.  The Spirit of God preserved truth in the writings of the Bible so you will not be led astray and could be grounded in God.

These NDEs give great hope because they are real events.  NDEs prove the naturalist assumption that the material world is all that exists to be false.  NDEs give evidence to the fact that God is very real and very loving and that there is a heavenly home awaiting God’s children.  NDEs give us hope.  But, NDEs must be consumed like eating fish: “eat the meat and spit out the bones.”  It is absolutely essential to weight these experiences, and in fact everything for that matter, by the lens of Scripture.  The great thing that we can take away from NDEs is that not only are God’s children engaged in apologetics (defense of the faith), God Himself may be engaged in apologetics by proving to skeptics the world over that God is very real, and heaven is too.

 

Bibliography:

New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982).

Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004).

Eben Alexander, M.D., Proof of Heaven (New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2012).

Suggestions for Spiritual Resolutions for 2013 (Part 2)

As we were discussing in the previous post, there are many spiritual resolutions that one can make for the upcoming New Year.  I am not saying that one should not make physical resolutions such as weight loss, promotions, and getting a better education.  I am simply stating that we should seek to make spiritual resolutions for the upcoming year, as well.  In this post, let’s look at four more spiritual resolutions that we could make for the upcoming year.

4.     Become More Faithful to Your Local Church

Mary Neal reported about the experience she had in heaven in her book To Heaven and Back.  One of the interesting things she states in the book is not related to her experience, but the result of what the experience did to her.  In other word, the experience set her in a new mode of thinking and a new mode of living.  She speaks about attending church in the latter part of her book.  She writes:

“I regularly attend church services and have served on the board of elders, but I believe that loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength is of the greatest importance.   I live in a beautiful and mountainous area and many people claim the mountains as their church and believe they can worship God there instead of within a building.  That can be certainly true but the question, as is often posed by my pastor, is not can a person worship God while in the mountains, but will that person worship God while in the mountains? …Churches provide a place of gathering for people who share common beliefs, support and encouragement for each other in faith, a place to find insight into and teaching about God’s Word, and they provide a time and place where people can leave the world behind and focus only on their spiritual relationship with God.” (Mary Neal, To Heaven and Back, 214).

The writer of Hebrews records,

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23–25, NKJV).  The writer of Hebrews is telling us something very similar to what Mary Neal wrote.  Church is incredibly important.  Christians are met with obstacles every day.  Our faith is not helped by increasing attacks from secular humanists, naturalists, and socialists who desire to rid the world of religious belief (that is, belief that does not promote the integrity of human life and of the individual).  Although there is a clash in this mantra due to the fact that there is a religion being promoted by the anti-religious…the religion of anti-religion.  Church brings believers together.  Church SHOULD be a place where we feel comfort.  Church SHOULD be a place of comrodry and fellowship.  Church SHOULD be a place to hear God’s word and to worship God freely.  No, there is no perfect church.  But, we need to seek to fellowship with fellow believers as often as possible.  If you are not being fed, seek a church where you will be.  But, you need to be in church.  The Christian life is not meant to be a solo project.  It is a community project.  Remember this: we Christians SHOULD be an example of unity and strength because we will be spending a LOOONG time together.

5.     Tithe To Your Church and Give to Trusted Charities

It is surprising to me how many people are stating that tithing is no longer important.  Tithing is important for the operation of the church.  Without funds, the church would not be able to afford to run ministries to help others, pay the power bills, and to pay the pastor.  Should the church pay the pastor?  Absolutely, it is biblical.  Paul wrote, Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14, NKJV).  The pastor has to eat and pay his bills, too.  In order for the pastor to be available to you, he must be paid.

God has also commanded us to tithe.  The word “tithe” or “ma’aser” means literally “ten percent.”  The first recorded instance of one tithing came from Abram when he gave a tithe of his income to the priest of God, Melchizedek in Genesis 14.  The prophet Malachi wrote, “Will a man rob God?  Yet you have robbed Me!   But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’  In tithes and offerings” (Malachi 3:8, NKJV).

Maybe you haven’t been tithing the way you should.  Well, it’s not too late to start.  Why not help out your local church in 2013?  Also, if God has blessed you with extra funds, why not help out some worthy charities in 2013, as well?  St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and many other great dependable charities need your help.  Why not start the New Year off by helping others who are in need?  That would be fulfilling the Second Great Commandment in helping your neighbor.  Be sure to check out watchdog websites dedicated to seeking out dependable charities before giving.

6.     Fast

Normally when we think of fasting, we think about going without food.  However, fasts can be a variety of things.  Some have taken a Facebook fast.  Others have taken a television fast.  This is especially good to try around Holy Week leading into Easter.  I spoke to someone recently who was asking about hearing the voice of God.  I thought about it and it seems that we may very well miss the voice of God because we become too busy.  Our world is bombarded with information all the time.  Why not take some time off to spend with God.  Whatever you choose to abstain from, the key is replacing the time doing that activity with time spent with God.  In other words, if you choose to fast from television, use the time you would normally watch television with time spent in prayer and mediation with God.  That’s the key for fasting.

7.     Seek to Start a New Ministry (Seek ways to help)

Finally, seek new ways to help.  It may be that God is desiring for you to help out in some way.  Maybe you need to help a charity.  Maybe you can start a new ministry at your church.  Try to seek some way in which you can help others and serve God this New Year.  You may be surprised at the blessings that could come your way and to other in 2013 if you are willing to step out on faith.

Conclusion:

There may be a multiplicity of other spiritual resolutions that you can make for 2013.  The key is to try to seek a new way that you can grow in your faith, serve God, and to help others.  These are things that we as Christians should seek already.

God bless and have a very blessed New Year’s,

Pastor Brian Chilton

Bibliography:

All Scripture unless otherwise noted comes from The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982).

Neal, Mary, M.D., To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again (Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBrook Press, 2012), 214.

Suggestions for Spiritual Resolutions for 2013 (Part 1)

Since we made it through 2012, much to the chagrin of the Mayans, we look towards the beginning of a new year.  It is difficult to believe that it will be 2013.  I remember my grandmother telling me, “Son, time will really seem to fly by once you receive your driver’s license.”  She was not joking.  It does seem that time flies quicker the older I get.

As Christmas is now over, many will seek to make resolutions for 2013.  A resolution is a promise to do something the next year.  Before we look to the resolutions for next year, perhaps we need to examine the resolutions that we have made for 2012.  Did we do the things that we sought to do this time last year?

Most resolutions deal with weight loss, financial security, furthering one’s education, or perhaps receiving that much needed promotion.  While there is nothing wrong with making the afore mentioned resolutions, how many of us seek to make spiritual resolutions for the year ahead?  For me, I too need to lose weight and seek financial security.  God has blessed me to begin on my Master of Divinity degree in Theological Studies at Liberty University.  This has been a life long dream, especially since entering the ministry.  So, I will be making those physical resolutions.  But, what of the spiritual resolutions?  How would we go about making spiritual resolutions?  In this post, I would like to make some suggestions for spiritual resolutions that you could make.  I would like to offer seven possible spiritual resolutions to make for the upcoming new year.

1.     A Stronger Prayer Life

How long would any relationship last if there was no communication?  I thoroughly enjoy listening to Greg Koukl.  He has a great show that comes on Sunday afternoons called “Stand to Reason.”  He offers good sound advice.  However, I occasionally find that I have strong disagreements with some of his beliefs.  For one, he is a strong Calvinist, whereas I am more in line with Remonstrant or Arminian theology.  For another, he stated on the Sunday, December 23rd show that he did not feel that God communicated with a person everyday.  While I understand what he was saying, I find that I disagree with him.  He claimed that you do not find this in Scripture.  However, I feel that is not the case.  I am reminded of what Paul stated when he said, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NKJV).  Prayer is not one-dimensional.  It is conversational.  So, a strong prayer life is essential for a strong relationship with God.  

By the way, even though I do have disagreements with Koukl on some issues, he is a great, steadfast theologian overall and I highly recommend his show and his ministry.

Prayer is also very healthy.  Studies have shown that meditation and prayer are vitally important for health and wellness.  Everyone is overwhelmed with technology and media.  This may seem hypocritical since this is a media outlet using technology to get the word out.  Nonetheless, a strong prayer life gives us the break we need from the world.  I feel that we can find ourselves in the very presence of God if we allow ourselves to get away and spend time with God in prayer.  If Jesus needed time to get away with His Father in prayer, how much more do we need to do so?  A Saturday get away or a prayer retreat may do well.  Also, check out Gary Hansen’s book “Kneeling with Giants” for more tips on how to pray.

2.     Spend More Time in the Word

Biblical knowledge is at an all-time low.  Many do not know Moses from David or Peter from Samson.  This is especially evident when you read the comments from the New Atheists or anyone who is antagonistic to the faith.  You begin to see real quickly that there is a great lack of biblical understanding.  Many blogs and websites present verses from the Bible in such a way that the truth is warped or in such a way that the content is taken out of context.  Unfortunately, the same is true for those who are in the church.  The health and wellness gospel, a modern doctrine that posits that one’s financial and health status is in direct association to one’s faith, is just one example of a distortion of truth.

It is critical for the Christian to have a good, core knowledge of Scripture.  The days of the uneducated pastor and uneducated Christian are over.  Many claim that the pastor does not need an education.  Just depend on the Holy Spirit.  I think there is one thing being promoted in that philosophy and it is not faith; it is laziness.  “The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil” (Proverbs 15:28, NKJV).  False doctrines have sunk into the depths of the church and many have lost confidence in evangelical Christianity because many church leaders have been ill-prepared to defend the case for Christianity and to preserve truth.

It may surprise some, but I would not suggest a one-year Bible reading.  Many attempt to read through the Bible in one year, but most fail because they get bogged down in Numbers, especially around the “begots.”  I would suggest a Bible reading plan that evenly distributes the Old Testament with the New Testament.  One of the greatest Bible readings that I have found is in the “Book of Common Prayer.”  You can pick up a copy from Amazon.com or look it up online.  The plan is called “The Daily Office.”  The Daily Office gives a daily reading in one of the Psalms, a reading from the Old Testament, a reading from New Testament, and a reading from the Gospels.  This gives a great balance.  I always look forward to the next day’s reading.  Go to www.missionstclare.com for a monthly listing of the Daily Office.  Even though the Episcopal Church puts out the Daily Office, Christians from all denominations can appreciate the Bible readings.

3.     Build Stronger Relationships

Christ’s two great commandments are based upon two common denominators–love and relationships.

“Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”  29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. 30 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28–31, NKJV).

Notice that “love” is the core word used in both commands.  The English term “love” has four Greek words associated with it.  There is the word “eros” which indicates a sensual, or erotic, form of love.  There is the term “storge'” which refers to a family form of love.  The word “phileo” refers to “brotherly love.”  But, in both commands, the highest form of the word “love” is used.  The word “ἀγαπάω” (agape’) is used by Jesus to refer to the type of love that He expects us to use towards God and towards one another.  “ἀγαπάω” represents “unconditional love.”  It is a love of choice and not a love of emotion.

Suppose for a moment that everyone who claimed to be a Christian showed the love commanded by Jesus.  Suppose everyone loved God in 2013 with all their heart unconditionally.  What would happen?  Suppose that we loved God with all our mind and allowed God to direct our paths.  What would happen?  God is love.  Can you imagine if the true love of God filled every heart?

Now, let’s take this mental exercise in a different direction.  Suppose for a moment that every person who claimed to be a Christian showed unconditional love for their fellow-man.  What would happen?  Would the poor go without food?  Would the homeless be without shelter?  Would we spend our time pointing fingers or more time sharing the gospel?  Would we spend our time criticizing the illness or finding a cure?  What would our society look like if everyone just kept the two great commandments?  I think this is a resolution that we all should strive to keep.

These are the first three spiritual resolutions that I am suggesting for all to make.  Stay tuned because I will four more suggestions for spiritual resolutions to make for the New Year.

God bless and we’ll see you on the next post,

Pastor Brian Chilton

Why I Still Believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ

Nativity Story Big

RT: Why I Still Believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ

It’s been a troublesome week.  I admittedly write this to you after shedding many tears over the tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut.  We could focus on the questions of “why” and “how.”  But, now, I feel we should focus on the hope of Christmas.  Why?  Because, Jesus was born into a dark world.  The world, since the inception of sin, has always been a dark place to live.  This recent tragedy reminded us of the depravity of humankind.  My wife even said, “Just when you think that it can not get any worse, it does.”

Jesus came to bring light into a world that is depraved.  As John wrote,

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jn 1:1–5).

It is especially important that we remember the light of Christ in this ever-darkening world.  So, it is with this in mind, that I bring to you today seven reasons why I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ.  The fact that I, skeptically minded as I have been, came to trust the Scriptures should give you reason to believe, as well.  It is in the belief of Christ’s reality that we are brought ultimate hope.

1.     I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ because…of the Presence of the Birth Narrative (in Lieu of the Absence of Stories of Christ’s Early Life).

Ancient biographies were not like modern biographies.  Ancient biographers mainly focused on the main details of the “biographee’s” life.  This may explain why there is almost a complete absence of information concerning the early life of Jesus.  The gospel biographers, or “evangelists,” were mainly concerned about the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  In lieu of the absence of stories concerning Christ, we have the birth narrative positioned towards the beginning of Matthew and Luke’s gospels.

Some will argue that other great leaders of antiquity had grand birth stories concerning those leaders.  While this is a good argument, several differences exist in Christ’s birth narrative.  Many legends concerning other birth stories show a physical linkage between a god and a human woman.  This is not the case in the birth story of Christ.  No physical experience exists in the essence of physical relations.  It is a supernatural, spiritual event.  It seems that God created Mary with a fertilized egg from birth.  In the story of Jesus, you have real historical events surrounding the birth of Christ.  This adds to the validity of the story.

2.    I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ because…of the Personal Testimony of Mary.

Luke is an ancient historian par excellence.  Luke writes in the prologue to his gospel,

1 “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”  (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Lk 1:1–4….underscore and italics mine).

Luke tells us in the prologue that he “investigated everything carefully” from “eyewitnesses and servants of the word.”  With this in mind, we find an interesting statement towards the end of the annunciation in chapter 2.  Luke writes, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Lk 2:19).  Literally, “συμβάλλουσα ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῆς” (The Greek New Testament: Logos Bible Software) or “debate seriously (or think intensely) in the heart of hers.”  How would Luke know this if it were not for the very testimony of Mary?  Of course, Mary could have lied.  But, if so, wouldn’t she have a character that would show otherwise?  Upright and honest people normally do not make up these kind of things.

In addition to this, the gospel writers did not have to add a birth narrative.  They could have written as Mark and John did and started the biography of Jesus with John the Baptist’s preaching and with Christ’s own baptism.  Why record the birth narrative of Jesus, and especially the Virgin Conception, if there was no truth involved in the story?  For those who were trying to show the truthfulness of the life of Christ, recording an event that was not true would not seem to help their case.

3.    I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ because…of the Proof of Biological Occurrences.

Some skeptics will claim, “It is impossible for a person to conceive a child while remaining a virgin.”  Not so fast Tonto!  A biological phenomena exists called “parthenogenesis.”  “Parthenos” means “virgin” and “genesis” (yes, like the first book of the Bible) means “beginnings.”  This phenomenon has been documented, although extremely rare, in sharks, monitor lizards, and supposedly even in rabbits.  According to some researchers, it has been shown to be possible for parthenogenesis to occur in humans due to the research on stem cells by Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk of South Korea. (See Wikipedia article given at the end of the article.)

280px-Cnemidophorus-ThreeSpecies

Some will claim that the offspring will almost always be a female.  However, those same critics would have earlier claimed that parthenogenesis was impossible.  The fact is that we are continuously learning more about how God works and creates.  So, it would be no impossible task for God to have changed an “X-chromosome” to a “Y-chromosome” to make a male parthenogenic offspring.  A simple mutation in one of the “X-chromosomes” would do the trick.  The fact that biology is opening up to show the possibility of such an event adds to the validity of the Virgin Birth story.

Note: Some skeptics will also use the same mentality towards the resurrection of Christ.  Many, using Humean philosophical logic, will claim that dead people just do not rise.  However, what do you do with the 100 plus medically confirmed cases where men, women, and children have died, experienced heaven, and came back to life?  Like the resurrection, one can no longer hold that the Virgin Birth is impossible.  You may say that it’s highly improbable, but not impossible.

4.    I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ because…of the Providential Creation “Ex Nihilo.”

Moses writes in Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ge 1:1).  John the apostle writes, ”

1″In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jn 1:1–3).

Dr. William Lane Craig has popularized what is called the “Kalaam Cosmological Argument.”

“1.     Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

2.     The universe began to exist.

3.     Therefore, the universe has a cause” (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-new-atheism-and-five-arguments-for-god).

Scientific evidence as well as mathematical theorems prove that the universe came from nothing…not no one.  God is the reason for the universe, physics, and the laws of nature’s existence.  So, what does this do with the Virgin Conception of Christ?  If God can create everything that exists (molecules, laws of nature, logic, and the billions of information that constructs your very own DNA), why would it be such an impossibility for God to allow for a Virgin Conception?

5.   I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ because…of the Proclamation of Early Biblical Writers.

Matthew was most likely written by the apostle who was a tax-collector.  It was common in Jesus’ day for rabbis to have individuals record their teachings.  Especially since Jesus was an evangelist, He would have preached many of His messages on multiple occasions.  It is of no surprise that perhaps Matthew and others recorded the words of Christ.  According to external and internal evidence, Matthew was the author of the first gospel.  Matthew records the birth of Christ.

Luke, although not an eyewitness, was a historian who was a companion of the Apostle Paul.  Luke reports that he used eyewitness testimony to construct his gospel.  Luke could have been written no later than AD 64.  Why?  Well, Luke ends the book of Acts, the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, with these words,

“When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. 17 After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans” (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ac 28:16–17).

“And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him,
31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered” (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ac 28:30–31).

Luke records the house arrest of Paul in AD 64.  Paul was executed in AD 67.  So, from this information we can know the general dating of Luke and Matthew, as well as Mark.  Since Acts is the sequel to Luke’s gospel and Acts was written in AD 64, then Luke must have been written around AD 60.  If Luke used information from Matthew, Matthew must have been written in the late 50s.  If Matthew used Mark’s gospel for the completed version of his gospel, then Mark must have been written at least by the mid-50s.  Some have even postulated a dating for Mark in the 40s.

So what we have in Matthew and Luke is early testimony concerning the life of Jesus.  This adds evidence to the story, as amazing as it is, that Jesus may have indeed been born by a Virgin.

6.   I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ because…of the Presentation of Extra-Biblical Writers.

Extra-biblical writers also record the Virgin Birth of Christ.  According to Caner and Hindson, Ignatius writes about the Virgin Birth of Christ.  Ignatius wrote this around AD 110 and refers to the Virgin birth as a “well established fact.”  The Apostle’s Creed is based upon a baptismal confession of AD 117.  The creed refers to the Virgin Birth of Christ.  Aristides (AD 125), Justin Martyr (AD 150), Irenaeus (AD 170), Tatian (AD 170), Clement of Alexandria (AD 190), and Tertullian (AD 200) all refer to the Virgin Birth of Christ (Ergun Caner and Ed Hindson,”The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics” (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008), 142).  It appears that the Virgin Birth of Christ was a well-established fact.  As occurs with modern history, serious speculation does not occur until modern times due to an unnatural attachment to naturalism.

7.   I still believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ because…of the Prophecy of Isaiah.

Isaiah gives a prophecy that could very well refer to the Messiah’ virgin birth.  Isaiah writes in Isaiah 7:14,“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Is 7:14).  Some versions translate the term “almah” with “young woman” instead of “virgin.”  However, even if this is the case, the word points to a woman who is most likely prior to the age of marriage (Ergun Caner, Ed Hindson, “The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics” (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008) 143).  The age for marriage was around 13 years of age in Jesus’ day.  Mary was most likely around 12 to 13 years of age when she conceived Jesus.  Therefore, Isaiah still indicates a supernatural intervention in the birth of Jesus our Messiah.

Conclusion:

As Dr. Frank Turek implies in his blockbuster book, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.”  I don’t have enough faith to deny the Virgin Birth of Christ.  As I stated in the beginning, Jesus is the light of the world.  He came so that we could live with God eternally.  He brought light to a dark, dreary world.  This Christmas, despite the tragedies world-wide, let us celebrate the victory of Christ.  Let us celebrate that death is not the ending, but the beginning of a new, wonderful life with our God.  This should bring comfort to those who are hurting…comfort in knowing that those children who died are now safely in the loving arms of the God who can work wonders; the God of love; the God of creation.  Let us celebrate life this Christmas; the life of Christ and the life that we can have in Him.

God bless and have a very, Merry Christmas,

Pastor Brian Chilton

Taking it Deeper:

Check out the Wikipedia entry on “parthenogenesis.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parthenogenesis

Caner, Ergun, PhD, and Ed Hindson, PhD, “The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics” (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 2008).

“The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel.

“The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell.

“Reasonable Faith” by William Lane Craig.

Lea, Thomas D., Ph.D. and David Alan Black, Ph.D., “The New Testament: It’s Background and Message, 2nd ed.” (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman and Holman Academic, 2003).

Where Is God During Evil Events?

Hello everyone.

I write this to you while admittedly numb.  I am numb from the horrors that occurred today in Newtown, Connecticut.  Nearly 20 young Kindergartners lost their lives due to the sheer evil acts of one Adam Lanza.  Like you, I have many questions.  How could someone be so evil?  How could someone be so filled with rage that they take the lives from young, innocent children?  Many will ask, admittedly, where was God in all of this?

I do not attempt to offer you quick answers.  I do not claim to know all the answers.  I admittedly find myself asking God why He didn’t stop this horror from happening.  Some will turn on God due to these questions.  Others may seek to give up belief in God entirely.  But, taking such roads do not bring answers, they simply bring escape.  These means only lead to bad ends.  Those pathways lead to bitterness, unforgiveness, depression, and hatred.  The last thing we need now is more hate.

For the seekers out there, I offer some insights that I obtained after the Aurora, Colorado shootings, while recognizing that these insights do not answer all the questions we may have.  Many questions will not be answered until we get on the other side of eternity.  I simply give this as a starting point for the one who is desperately needing answers.

Where is God During Evil Events?

Pastor Brian Chilton

“Greetings in the name of our Risen Lord!

We have had a wonderful summer thus far and we pray that you have as well.  However, in recent weeks, we have been reminded of the evil of humanity.  We learned this firsthand by the testimony of Siv Sov Ashley.  Mrs. Ashley asked me at the beginning of the service if she could have some tissues.  I understood why she needed them after hearing her testimony.  It is absolutely amazing what some people have had to endure.

We have been reminded again by the brutality and depravity of humanity by the recent shootings at the Century Cinemas in Aurora, Colorado.  A group of young people between the ages of 3 months old to 25 years of age assembled at midnight in the cinema to view the new critically-acclaimed Batman movie named The Dark Knight Rises.  That is when disaster struck. Thirty minutes in the movie James Eagan Holmes, a PhD dropout from the University of Colorado and originally from San Diego, California, entered the theater shooting and killing 12 individuals (as of 7/21/12) and injuring at least 58 people.  After encountering the evil in humanity, one is left wondering where is God in all of this?

One thing we have to understand is that God has given us all free will. This is one thing we have a choice.  We cannot choose our genetics and we cannot choose many of the conditions we are faced with, but we can choose God or reject God.  Jesus indicates this in the 3rd chapter of John.  He tells Nicodemus,

18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jn 3:18-21.).

In this powerful text, Jesus both shows the choice to receive and reject, but He also shows the origin of evil deeds.  Some would argue that salvation is a God act and that would be correct.  We could not know God without God sending forth His Spirit to bring understanding.  But, God does not force Himself on us. As Christ states in the Book of Revelation, 20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Re 3:20.).

In addition to the choice of decision, Jesus also showed us that evil comes from one who does not truly know God.  They do not have a relationship with God.  Evil has been defined by many as the absence of God.  That seems to be what Jesus is saying, too.  Folks like Holmes, the shooter at Virginia Tech, and those at Columbine hide behind the power of their guns.  But if you took the gun away, you would find a scared, lonely, and hopeless person.  Evil is the absence of God because God is good.  But, why does God allow bad things to occur?  Why doesn’t God just interject and stop these things from transpiring?  These are valid questions and the answers do not come quickly.  But, we see that if God gives the freedom to receive His presence and do good, He has to also give the freedom to reject His presence and do evil.  If God forces us to accept Him in our lives, that is not love.  We become nothing more than robots or automatons.

There is a story I read that told the story of a young child who was being hung at the gallows of Auschwitz.  His body was too small and too starved to instantly break his neck when he dropped, so he writhed in pain for several minutes before dying.  Someone cried out, “Where is God?”  A wise man of faith who was also a prisoner pointed to the child and said, “There He is.  He is there on the noose.”  He was saying is that God was there.  God was in the gas chambers with the victims who gasped for air.  God was in the gallows with every person being hung.  God was on the shooting lines with every person being shot. The fact is that in the end, God will even the score.  Jesus gives an example of this in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.  20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.  22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man also died and was buried.  23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.24 “Then he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”  25 But Abraham said, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.  26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.”  Then he said, “I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.”  29 Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”  30 And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”  31 But he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”

 CHAPTER 17             Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come!  2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.  3 Take heed to yourselves.  If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, “I repent,” you shall forgive him.  (The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Lk 16:19-17:4.)

The fact is that God is taking record of things.  But God is also actively working to bring good even out of the most evil of things.  Look at the cross: through the most torturous death of Christ, God brought about salvation.  God can bring good things out of the most horrific of circumstances if we keep the faith.  Admittedly, this does not answer all the questions one may have.

For further reading on this issue, I would recommend Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Faith.  A DVD by the same name is also available.  Philip Yancey also has a book titled Where is God When It Hurts?  Dr. Viktor Frankl has also written a book on the subject from the perspective of a survivor from the concentration camps in Germany in his blockbuster Man’s Search for Meaning.  For deeper research on the issue, check out Dr. William Lane Craig’s videos at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/the-problem-of-suffering-and-evil-aalborg-university.  If you need more resources, please contact me and let me know.

I leave you with one final Scripture.  Paul writes, 21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ro 12:21.)   Those are words we can all use during these days.  May God bless you and don’t forget to say a prayer for those who are hurting, mourning, and recovering in Aurora, Colorado.”

ADDITIONAL NOTE: One great comfort that I have found during this horrific time is the reminder of Christ’s love for children.  I believe that those young, beautiful children are safely in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus.  We will see them again, one day.  There in that place where there is no more death, no more pain, no more hatred, no more bitterness.  That place where the grass is greener than any field in Ireland and the sky is bluer than the clearest Rocky Mountain sky.  That place where there is no pollution or global warming.  That place where tears are replaced with exuberant happiness, where death is replaced with unending life, and where hatred gives way to unconditional love.  That place is heaven, the abode of God.

Without a God and without a glorious heaven awaiting us, life would not be worth living.  Life would be pointless and these dark, dreary days would not have a silver lining.  But, the fact that Jesus came, He died for our sins, and gloriously arose gives us hope beyond measure, and a joy that those who had no chance on this earth will be given limitless chances in that great land of unclouded skies.  That place is filled with the love of God, for God is love.  Despite our flaws and fears, God still loves us.  Remember, God loves you.  May we learn to love as Christ loves.  May we learn to love Him and each other.  If we could do that, maybe…just maybe…we would learn to live together in peace.

God bless and remember the families of Newtown, Connecticut,

Pastor Brian Chilton

The Real Saint Nicholas (Parental Warning: The Truth is Revealed)

RT: Episode 13–The Real St. Nick

Images of six St Nicholas faces

(Picture from http://www.stnicholascenter.org.  The picture in the upper center is a computer generated image taken from the actual skull of Saint Nicholas.  The designers regenerated the image of Nicholas using 3D techonology.)

Is Santa Claus real?  Certainly no rational person would ever ask that question would they?  Well actually, yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus.  What?  Some may ask if I have been smoking Colorado’s new tobacco.  No, but Santa Claus is a real person.  Let me explain.

Santa Claus is a dutch title meaning St. Nicholas.  “Santa” = “Saint.”  “Claus” is short for “Nicholas.”  Although traditions and legends originate from Saint Nick, there are reasons for believing that Saint Nicholas was a person of history.  Being a person of faith in Christ, we can even legitimately believe that Nick is in heaven with Christ.  Early testimony as early as the fourth century recognizes St. Nick as a person of history also being the Bishop of Myra.  Let’s take a brief look at the life of Saint Nicholas.

Saint Nicholas was born in the 3rd century AD in a village named Patara which is on the southern coast of Turkey.  Although an Islamic nation now, ancient Turkey was a Christianized nation.  As a matter of fact, I believe a treasure cove of early Christian writings may still exist in many locations of Turkey.

Unfortunately, Nicholas lost both his parents at an early age due to an epidemic in his area.  Nonetheless, Nicholas’ parents taught him to be a devoted Christian during their brief time with him.  Nicholas’ parents  were fairly wealthy and left him with a substantial inheritance.  However, Nicholas read the words of Jesus addressing the Rich Young Ruler in Mark (See Mark 10:17ff) and felt God speaking to him through this Scripture.  Nicholas decided to sell all that he had and give it to those in need.  The church took note of this and arranged for Nicholas to become one of the youngest bishops ever.  Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra.

One tradition states that Nicholas helped a man and his three daughters.  In Nicholas’ day, fathers would pay a dowry to prospective husbands in order to provide their daughters a good future.  The better the dowry resulted in a better prospective husband.  Unfortunately, not only did the father not have enough to issue a dowry for his three daughters, he barely had enough to support himself.  The father was facing bankruptcy and would be forced to sell his daughters into slavery as was the result of ancient bankruptcy.  Nicholas noticed an open window.  Nicholas, knowing that the family was in need, walked by and threw a bag of gold through the open window into a shoe drying by the fireplace.  The father used the dowry to arrange a wedding for his eldest daughter.  Later, Nicholas threw a second bag of gold through the open window.  The father used the gold to arrange a wedding for his second daughter.  The third time, the father caught Bishop Nicholas and said, “So, you’re the one who’s been supplying us with gold.  Thank you.”   Embarrassed, Nicholas said, “Thank God.  Don’t thank me.” (http://www.stnicholascenter.org).

Saint Nicholas was known throughout the land for his love and charity.  But, he was also known for his devout faith.  Emperor Diocletian was a great persecutor of Christians.  As Diocletian (or Nero depending on the dating of Revelation) exiled John the apostle to Patmos, so Diocletian exiled Saint Nicholas for his faith in Jesus Christ.  It is said that in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD there was no room for murderers, theives, and robbers because so many bishops and deacons were imprisoned (http://www.stnicholascenter.org).

Nicholas was released and was one of many who attended the famed Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  Contrary to popular (or shall we say “liberal”) belief, Christianity arose from apostolic teachings which came from Jesus Christ.  There was not a competition for belief.  There was orthodox belief and heresies that arose from synthesizing Christian beliefs with Greek philosophies (such as “Gnosticism”).  The Council of Nicaea sought to unite the church and preserve truth.  It was during this Council that the New Testament canon was established.  Three main canons existed.  They took and canonized books that were known to have come from an apostle in direct contact with Jesus or one who was associated with such an apostle.  The only book that did not make the cut was the Didache.  The Didache, a book that lists church procedures, could not be clearly linked to an apostle or an apostolic influence.  Therefore, the Didache was not included in the New Testament canon, although it was in of one of the three canons used to form the final New Testament canon.

Nicholas was so devoted to the Lord that he once lost his temper due to a heresy.  Arius was in attendance at the Nicaean Council.  Arius tried to present a teaching that Jesus was not on the same ground as God.  He was not as the Apostle John showed in his gospel the one and same as God, but less than God.  Nicholas was so outraged that we went over and slapped Arius on the face.  Everyone was astonished at this action and withdrew the bishop status from Nicholas.  Nicholas later repented and the Bishops accepted Nicholas back on the Council and back as Bishop of Myra (http://www.stnicholascenter.org).

Known for his protection of children, help for the needy, and devotion to the Lord, Nicholas is remembered as a loving, charitable man of God.  Nicholas entered heaven on December 6th, 343 AD.  His cause of death is not certain.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, Saint Nicholas was given mythological characteristics such as riding on a sleigh driven by flying reindeer and living in the North Pole.  The more commercialized Christmas has become, the more mythology has been added to the character of St. Nicholas.  If Saint Nicholas knew how much attention he was receiving and how little attention his Lord was receiving, he would probably tell us the same thing he told the poor father, “Don’t thank me.  Thank God.”

However, we can learn a lot from the real Saint Nicholas.  We can learn a lot about giving to the poor.  We can learn about helping others without judging them for the cause of their impoverishment.  We can learn about taking a strong stand for truth as Nicholas did, although he slapped Arius the heretic.  We can also learn a lot about devotion as Nicholas worshiped God and the Lord Jesus Christ with his whole being.

A  word of caution should be given to parents, as well.  If you put Santa above the level of Jesus, don’t be surprised if your kids have a difficult time believing in Jesus after you tell them the mythology of Santa is not true.  The most important thing at Christmas time is to focus on Jesus.  That is what Santa Claus would want you to do.

God bless and have a Christ-centered Christmas,

Pastor Brian Chilton

Is Christmas Celebrated on the Correct Day? Arguments for December 25th as the Birthdate for Jesus

RT_Is Christmas Celebrated on the Correct Day?

Nativity

In my studies of the Bible, I have noticed many traditions that have entered the church scene that do not correspond with biblical facts.  Some of these traditions include the elevation of the King James Version to the level of being the only Bible.  I have heard some people state that they believed that Paul wrote the King James Version.  Are you kidding me?  No wonder some skeptics think that Christians are Fruit Loops.  My apologies to Toucan Sam.  Other traditions include the ostracizing of remarried individuals.  You would think that divorce was the unpardonable sin according to some Christians.  Yet, if Jesus could save a woman who was divorced 5 times and was currently living with a man and set her on the right path, why should we Christians stand in the way?

With the ever-increasing intellectual and, sometimes, physical persecution upon modern Christianity, there seems to be an increasing dogmatism on many traditions.  Some would even have you believe that Southern Gospel music is the only acceptable form of gospel music.  While I appreciate the King James Version of the Bible and enjoy Southern Gospel music, I understand that these are personal preferences and not biblical mandates based upon facts. With this in mind, I was certain that I would find that December 25th was not the correct day of Jesus’ birth.  However, I was greatly surprised when I began to research this topic for our radio show “Redeeming Truth.” Before we look into this subject, let’s read Luke’s historical account of Jesus’ birth:

1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” 15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.  (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Lk 2:1–20.)

Opponents of the December 25th birth of Jesus classically bring three arguments to the table: 1) Sheep would not be in the fields in the winter, 2) there are no early reports of a December 25th birthday of Jesus, 3) and the census would not have been taken during Channukah, it would have been more likely taken around Sukkot (the Festival of Booths). The three arguments against a December 25th date is compelling.  According to many who hold that Jesus was born around Sukkot, the date of September 11th is held as the actual birthdate of Jesus.  While this is intriguing, especially with the 9-11 tragedy, the main question is based around its’ authenticity.  Could one prove that September 11th is the actual date of Jesus’ birth instead of December 25th?  And if you could, would it be worth moving the Christmas holiday to September?  Well, first we need to look at the other side of the argument.  There are many good reasons for holding December 25th as the actual birthday of Jesus.  Upon my research, mainly using IVP’s The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, I found 6 arguments for a December 25th birthdate for Jesus.  Some of these arguments are based more on the year of Jesus’ birth.  However, knowing the year of Jesus’ birth helps us determine the day of Jesus’ birth for reasons you shall see in the following argument.  The six arguments for December 25th being the legitimate birthday of Jesus are: 1) Dating of Herod the Great’s Death, 2) Census, 3) The Start of John the Baptist’s ministry, 4) Astral Phenomena, 5) Shepherd and Sheep, and 6) Early Reports.

1. Dating of Herod the Great’s Death

One of the first things we need to do is to find the year of Jesus’ birth.  We know from Matthew’s gospel that Jesus was born under the reign of Herod the Great.  “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king” (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mt 2:1.)  Dr. Ben Witherington III writes,

“Josephus tells us that Herod the Great was proclaimed King of Judea by the Romans when Calvinus and Pollio were proconsuls, or in late 40 B.C. (Ant. 14.381-85; JW. 1.282-85; Tacitus Hist. 5.9).  He then adds that Herod reigned for thirty-seven years from the time of that proclamation (Ant. 17.191; J.W. 1.665)… Most scholars are still persuaded by the work of E. Schurer that Josephus is correct about the time of Herod’s accession and the length of his reign.  This would place the death of Herod at about 3 B.C….Thus, it is likely Herod died between March 12 and April 11, 4 B.C. (Witherington III, “Birth of Jesus,” The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press) 66-67.  

With this in mind, this pushes Jesus’ birth to at least a winter birth.

2.  Census Under Quirinius

A lot of complex issues surround the census which would require great exposition.  Therefore, we will skip the exhaustive problems surrounding the census but will tell the reader that Herod’s power was coming to an end well before his death occurred.  Quirinius could easily planned a census to check the land before taking power.  We will have to leave that issue there for this post. However, adversaries of a December 25th birth would have you to believe that the Romans would not issue a census during a small festival like Channukah, but would rather schedule it around Sukkot or another festival.  This could be the case.  However, there are a couple of problems with the argument.  First, the census could have been Jewish in nature.  If the census was Jewish in nature, then major holidays would have been avoided for the chaos that would ensue.  Second, if the Romans did issue the census, then there may have been sinister motives behind issuing a census during the time of Channukah.  Channukah is a national holiday as opposed to a religious holiday.  It celebrates the victory of Judas and the Maccabee brothers who took Israel back from the Macedonians.  Having the census during the time of Channukah may have been Rome’s way of reminding the Jews that the Romans were in power.  This sound very Romanesque to me.  Therefore, there is no reason to believe that Channukah would not have been chosen to issue a census.  So, December 25th is still a possibility for the birth date of Jesus.

3. The Beginning of John the Baptist’s Ministry

Witherington III helps us out with two key important facts:

“Luke also tells us that John the Baptist began his ministry during the fifteenth year of Tiberius’ reign.  Since Augustus died in the summer of AD 14 and Tiberius assumed the throne later that year, this would place John’s ministry about AD 29, though possibly it might be reckoned as early as AD 27 (Hoehner)….Luke then tells us that Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.  The Greek word ‘hosei’ indicates an approximation or round number which would allow for a few years on either side…  If Jesus did begin his ministry by working with our at the same time as the Baptist, as the Johannine tradition suggests (cf. Jn 3:22-30), and if rabbinic tradition is correct in saying that Jesus was age 33-34 when he began his ministry (b. Sanh. 106b), Jesus’ ministry may have begun as early as AD 29, if not shortly before then.  This would mean that Jesus was born about 4 B.C. or perhaps a little earlier” (Witherington III, “Birth of Jesus,” The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press) 68.

So this again confirms that Jesus was probably born around BC 4 or 5.

4. Astral Phenomena

There were some strange cosmological phenomena going on around the birth of Jesus.  The Star of Bethlehem, if it was a star, is such an example.  Some have postulated that the Star of Bethlehem was a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter.  However, astronomers have shown that such an event was not possible due to the fact that the two planets would not have been close enough to appear as one star. Others have postulated that a supernova could have occurred.  A supernova is a massive star explosion.  It would appear as a large object in the sky.

Such an event is recorded…around December.  Witherington tells us that a supernova was seen in France at the turn of the year of 5 going into 4 BC.  Additionally, Jupiter would have been positioned over Bethlehem two years after Jesus’ birth.  It may have been that Jupiter was what guided the wise men to the town of Jesus’ birth.  Jupiter was over Bethlehem December 25th, 2 BC.  Remember, the wise men came to visit Jesus 2 years after Jesus was born.  Contrary to popular belief, the Maji were not in the Nativity scene.

5. The Shepherd and Sheep

Okay, what about the sheep?  Opponents of a December 25th birth claim that the sheep would not have been in the fields in the winter time.  This is one argument that led me to believe earlier that December 25th could not have been the birthday of Jesus.  But, were sheep found in the fields in December in ancient times?  One thing we must remember is that Israel has a dry, arid environment.  So, Israel may not get as cold as many parts of the United States.  However, there is evidence that shepherds did indeed allow their sheep out in the fields during winter months.  “The Mishnah (m. seqal. 7.4) suggests that sheep around Bethlehem might also be outside during winter months (Hoehner).  Therefore, though there is no certainty, it appears that Jesus was born somewhere between 4-6 BC, perhaps in mid-winter.  Both the traditional Western date (Dec. 25) and the date observed by the Armenian Church (Jan. 6) are equally possible” (Witherington III, “Birth of Jesus,” The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press) 69.

6. Early Reports

Although there are no first-century Christians who spoke of the birth date of Jesus, there are early Christians who record the date of Jesus’ birth.  Second-century Christian Hippolytus (AD 165-235) and fourth-century Christian John Chrysostom (AD 345-407) both record December 25th as the date of Jesus’ birth (Witherington, 69).  We must remember that these Christians would have had earlier resources than we do today.  Therefore, their testimony of this date is pretty good evidence for a December 25th birth date of Jesus.

Conclusion:

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I would never have guessed that I would be saying this, but I do believe that December 25th is indeed the date of Jesus’ birth.  The Christmas tradition is indeed based upon good support to be claimed to be the actual birthday of Jesus.  With all the information in hand, it appears that Jesus was born on December 25th, 5 BC.  According to the best evidence available, it seems that Jesus died on Friday, April 7th, 30 AD and resurrected on Sunday, April 9th, 30 AD.

However, we must remember that Jesus did not originate on December 25th.  As John tells us in the first chapter of his gospel, Christ was in the beginning with God and was God.  Christmas represents the ultimate personal relationship that God had with His creation.  God put on flesh, bore the penalty of our sins, showed us how to truly love, and defeated death to give us life eternal.  If that is not something worth celebrating this Christmas season, I don’t know what is.

God bless and remember that Christ is the reason for the season.  Merry Christmas!!!

Pastor Brian Chilton

December, 2012