25 January 2011

Mystery quotation: Who is a Christian? Open question? Or settled?

by Dan Phillips

I don't think it too likely that anyone can source this without cheating. I'll keep the identity of the writer a mystery for just a bit, to make it fun. But go ahead and discuss the content of the quotation. I will tell you in advance that the context of the quotation will be essential in understanding it. This will unfold, DV, in the meta.

As to the quotation's source, for now, no tricks
  1. Use your memory (or guessing) alone
  2. No electronic tools
  3. No Googling
So, without further eloquence:
Is it not offensive and intolerant to suppose that anyone can distinguish true Christians from others? Are there not, it is said, many kinds of followers of Christ and does not love demand that we regard them all as 'fellow Christians'?

This objection often proceeds on the basis of another argument — usually unstated — namely, that the New Testament itself does not give us enough light to be definite. And if Scripture does not resolve the question, 'What is a Christian?' then we must tolerate and justify a breadth of opinion on the subject. But if the New Testament does settle the question then we have no liberty to redefine 'Christian' in terms which neither Christ nor his apostles ever authorized. Evangelicalism has historically been distinguished by its conviction that Scripture speaks plainly on this fundamental issue; it gives us all the light we need to discern between the true and the false, between the nominal and the real.
Have at it.



UPDATE: after a few hours' discussion in the meta, I've decided to provide the answer and context in the post.

The source is Iain H. Murray, from Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth: 2000), 151. You may not know this Murray, but you really should. He's authored a number of really helpful, solid works. This one focuses on the changes within evangelicalism between the years 1950 and 2000.

I'm re-reading it, and a sad read it is. It put John Stott, J. I. Packer, and Billy Graham in lights of which I'd been previously unaware, and confirmed suspicions about F. F. Bruce.


You really should read the book rather than relying on my summary. HSAT, Murray's argument is that evangelical leaders became overly concerned with the wrong things, which led to a disastrous fragmentation, pollution, and derailing of the movement. Those concerns included:

  1. Academic respectability (in the eyes of the Gospel's enemies)
  2. Impressive numbers
  3. Ecumenical/denominational/ecclesiastical unity at any price
In the immediate context of the quotation above, Murray has just asked "What if the first need of the Church and the nation was not Christian unity but the recovery of Christianity itself? In that case the question, 'What is a Christian?' demanded a very different order of priority."

So the context of my quotation is not primarily the identification of individual Christians among orthodox professors, but the identification and separation of genuine Christian leaders from faux-Christian leaders. In the larger context of the book, can those who deny the truthfulness of the Gospels, the atonement, the bodly resurrection of Christ, and other fundamentals of the Gospel be identified as "Christian"? And if not, should they be embraced as leaders by evangelica;s? Should evangelicals form common-cause with them? Should evangelicals concern themselves with pleasing and being accepted by such men?

It's Murray's argument, developed convincingly with great specificity and documentation, that acceptance of these false criteria and goals has been ruinous. Our great need is for a return to the centrality of the Gospel, which can only come in the framework of the absolute authority of Scripture.

So you see, this is germane to a great deal of our discussions — including Frank's open letters.

Dan Phillips's signature

149 comments:

Earl said...

Good gravy - I just saw this quote a few days ago, but can't be sure who it was....I'm thinking Jonathan Edwards, but I can't remember for sure.

Regarding content....hmm. That's a difficult question. I think we will know them by their fruits and what they profess with their mouths. If it be the true gospel, we can be relatively certain they are true believers. If they appear to have fruit, but proclaim a false gospel (salvation by works, etc), then, their salvation should not be presumed.

Timothy Wonil Lee said...

Martin Lloyd Jones?

I don't know how clear we can decide who is a Christian and not...

Reformed and Renewed said...

Can only be Charles Finney, he is with out a doubt one of the most ambigious preachers whose writings I have read..I dont think he was sure of anything??

donsands said...

"...between the nominal and the real."

False disciples, as Paul says, "secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty), are very difficult to know at times.

Good quote, and I'll guess John Gresham Machen.

I would say that "for the most part", we will be able to note those who are none Chritians, and yet are within the Church.

But there wil be those who seem to love Christ, who don't, and there will be those rough charcaters, who may seem to be outside, but are the Lord's.

Robert said...

Many names come to mind. The thing is that I can't place the quote, but as you say the context is the key. I am going to guess that this was from a solid teacher and go with Spurgeon...although the wording seems a bit more modern.

If I was headed in the opposite direction...I'd go with the open letter candidate from last week.

Patience said...

Ahhh tantalisingly good!

From where the quote comes, I have no idea.

I was having a similar conversation with my Arminian flatmate this evening.

If a person is openly believing in a heresy, for example Modalism, then I will comfortably say that person is not saved. God may yet save them and it is up to Him.

If a person has repented and believed, apparently believes all the fundamentals and is living in a God-honouring way, it would be hypocritical for me to assume they are not saved.

I do think the Bible is clear on who a Christian is and how they will look. An animal skin will deteriorate and become useless in time. If a goat is dressing as a sheep it will become exposed eventually.

Robert said...

Good quote, Dan. I just wanted to throw into the conversation that we have to be somewhat aware that there will be wolves in sheep's clothing and that it is important for us to know the truth so that we can see them for who they are. We need to know the Bible (and yes, that means doctrine, too) well enough so that when somebody says/suggests/does something that is not in line with it, we will know it. May our churches never lose an emphasis on reading the Word and loving Jesus.

Tom Chantry said...

Well, I'd participate, but it would be only a tad unfair. Lloyd-Jones was not a bad guess - do we give Timothy an "assist" on that one?

Al said...

There are two levels to the question...

First, if someone is denying the faith once for all delivered to the saints, say the Trinity, then one might say they are in no sense Christian.

Second, as has been alluded here, if there is someone who appears to be a follower of Christ yet apostatizes through great sin, that person is a Christian (from what did he fall away if not Christ?).

A test might be, What did you call the man who was in your Church kneeling in prayer beside you, raising hands with you in praise, singing of the Deep Deep Love of Jesus in the midst of the people, while doing those things? What do you urge him to come back to when he falls into adultery?

Quote source? ummm... Machen?

al sends

DJP said...

Let me just say what I've said before: we are blessed with some really terrific readers, and I thank God for you. You've all gotten this meta off to a great start. All responses are thoughtful and constructive. I've "cheated" a bit in that the source is well-nigh unguessable and the context important, but you've started terrifically.

I plan to unveil before too long.

Chuck said...

Walter Chantry?

Tom Chantry said...

No, Chuck, but thank you on his behalf. He would agree with the quote.

Bike Bubba said...

Given that they use the word "evangelicalism" and the parsing out of phrases in a modern style, I'm guessing someone in the past 30 years. Since they use the word "evangelicalism" sympathetically, I'm guessing they're not in the fundamental camp--although I could imagine Kevin Bauder getting away with saying this.

Maybe Ryken?

Scooter said...

I was going to say DJP quoting himself, but he said no googling so that trail is a dead end. Unless he's trying to throw us off...

I'm going completely off the wall and saying Oral Roberts.

DJP said...

So Scooter says: either DJP, or Oral Roberts.

You're on my list, Scooter.

James Kubecki said...

Ryle?

DJP said...

I figure I'll let sluggardly West Coasters wake up, give it until 8-9am PT, then unveil what's missing.

justapilgrim said...

Wallis or Colson?

DJP said...

Dude, this post would have to have an IRONY tag if it were Colson after his Manhattan Declaration doojabingle.

Mr. Fosi said...

I have no idea who that might be but I think it clever the way it's presented.

It is impossible to tell from the text of the quote what opinion the author takes on the subject about which they are writing.

Eagerly awaiting fuller context and the unveiling.

David Regier said...

I'm saying Doug Wilson.

Mel said...

I'm going to have to guess Phil Johnson. It sounds like his style and he is known for his criticism of modern-day evangelicalism.

Respectabiggle said...

It sounds like something I read from C.S. Lewis.

TheBluesMan said...

You’re a crafty one, Reverend Dan. You cut that quotation out of its context with the skill of a micro-surgeon. You also removed the conclusion which would probably tip us off. I suspect this quotation is a build-up to a surprising ending, most likely by someone who holds scripture in very high regard.

The sentence structure is relatively formal and probably wasn’t written in the last half-century.

I’m going to guess a contemporary of Lloyd-Jones: C.S. Lewis

DJP said...

(Ooh, ouch: thanks, but between us friends, I don't answer to "Reverend." Dan, DJP, Phillips, pastor, all those are fine; please, not "reverend.")

DJP said...

(I mean, unless you want to see me wince.)

TheBluesMan said...

My apologies for causing you discomfort. Dunno why I used that particular appellation. Guess I was thinking of Forrest Gump.

"But you ain't got no legs, Reverend Dan!"

Duly noted for the future, Dan. :-)

-Dave

Alex Guggenheim said...

A person who has believed on the Lord Jesus Christ is a Christian. The term "Lord Jesus Christ" is short-hard for the gospel which must be explained and believed. The moment one "believes the gospel" they are a Christian. After that there are many stages in which one may find a believer. It is preferred and intended that they mature, unfortunately some fail to mature or regress from maturity with some even suffering the "sin unto death" due to the severity of their case (and the sin unto death is for believers, read the context).

This does not exclude the reality of imitators or those that feign belief and operate as wolves in sheep's clothing. However, such people are never considered believers and are not in view with respect to believers that regress or fail miserably.

Judging with whom you may fellowship is appropriate, judging who is and is not a believer is inappropriate and God will do that judging. It is a misapplication of Scripture to attempt to justify human efforts to judge who and who is not a Christian.

John said...

Bishop.

Not Tertullian, MacArthur, or Phillips.

I'm thinking modern and someone you wouldn't normally quote. Who uses italics that way but you?

Grudem (at least closer to the mark).

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

President Obama?

DJP said...

All the best writers use italics.

Steve said...

Concerning Reverend, the correct appellation would be 'The Right Reverend Daniel J. Phillips' :)

I'm gonna take a wild guess and say Brian McLaren?

Alex Guggenheim said...

P.S. For the record, the quote gives me the impression of a secularist commenting on theology.

Scooter said...

Oh noes! Not the list!

Nothing but platonic blog love from the East Coast.

Lynn Dean said...

Tozer?

Wendy said...

This West Coaster got up at 7:30 and is definitely feeling sluggardly and silly this morning. I meant to get up at 5:30, but set the alarm for p.m., not a.m. :)

Trying to think of someone not mentioned yet....I'm going with Ian Murray!

Tom Chantry said...

I am fascinated by the fact that about half the readers have identified this quote as orthodox, while half have identified it as heterodox. Clearly the next words must either confirm or deny that the New Testament gives us "enough light to be definite."

In a sense, this very cleverly presented quotation demonstrates the danger of quotation: but for context, anyone's words can be twisted to mean anything.

Mark B. Hanson said...

No speculation on author, but my take: Since we can't read hearts, we cannot know for sure who is a true believer and who is not. After all, it's the angels who separate the wheat and tares in the end.

There are scriptural descriptions the fruits of unbelief ("...shall not inherit the kingdom of God." - Galatians 6:9-11). Notice that these are for the most part outward and visible. If a professed believer displays these, we have reason to call for his repentance, and ultimately to treat him as an unbeliever if he fails to repent.

And the descriptions of the fruit of the spirit in the same chapter refer mainly to inward things, which do not have an unmistakeably visible manifestation.

My principle is to accept someone's profession, and look for the fruit to back it up ("trust but verify"). Usually, if I treat an unbeliever as a believer, I will soon find out my mistake.

(by the way, I twice accidentally typed "umbeliever", which I think is a useful word for a certain type of mumbled profession.)

sbrogden said...

I'm gonna guess "Bishop" Spong.

Paula said...

Since we're derailing the meta with lofty titles (and since I have no guess)....yesterday I was watching the EWTN Network (March for Life)and they introduced "The Most High Bishop Melichizedek." I thought, if I were ever gonna "go Catholic" and got to choose a new name, I'd definitely choose a cool one like Melchizedek!

Wendy said...

I forgot to actually comment on the quotation.

I agree with it. The NT is very clear about about what a true Christian looks like. And it seems like this quote reiterates the problem with emerg*, post-modernism, etc....

another argument — usually unstated — namely, that the New Testament itself does not give us enough light to be definite

...a low view of Scripture.

DJP said...

I have now updated the post with the answer and the context. So Timothy was pretty close, right off the bat. And Chantry knew.

Burrito34 said...

I'm guessing C.S. Lewis. I don't know, it just seems to sound like his style.

BTW, if "Reverend Dan" is unacceptable (and I agree), is Brother Dan okay?

Ben said...

+1 on Bauder. Totally his rhetorical style.

DJP said...

Ooh! And Wendy NAILS it!

DJP said...

"Brother" is totally OK.

DJP said...

I've also had to answer to "Phil" a number of times, but pretty much only on this blog.

/c:

Tom Chantry said...

Dan also likes it when you call him "minister" but only with the definite article: "The Minister."

Mark B. Hanson said...

So the actual context of the question was true and false teachers rather than (to use the Puritan term) professors (i.e. those who profess Christ).

I agree with Murray on that. After all, how can elders protect the flock against wolves if the Scripture does not give us an adequate description of "wolfness"?

DJP said...

That's right, Mark.

That's wrong, Tom.

(c:

Dave .... said...

It's easy to be faux-evengelical when nobody knows the euangelion. The tares and goats don't care and the wheat and sheep are silent under threat of labeling as "critical" or "divisive". Rant, rant, rant.

The quote. I had the decade right, but I thought it was D.A. Carson. He has a series on "what is Evangelicalism" - the Gospel is at the heart of his criteria. It's well done and I recommend it all the time to mushy-thinking sheep and goats alike.

It makes me nervous that Murray calls out some folks I have respected (is Carson on his list?).

Tom Chantry said...

Mark,

It goes a touch further than that. Murray goes on to define Christianity (according to the New Testament) as follows: "to become a Christian is to experience the power of Christ in the forgiveness of sins and the receiving of a new life." He further asserts that "Scripture shows various ways in which an individual [not only a teacher] gives evidence of having been thus brought 'from death unto life'."

To say that the New Testament gives us a sufficient definition of Christianity that we may reasonably distinguish between Christians and non-Christians is not to say that we can infallibly read the heart. That is the argument of the false teacher: "You cannot read the heart; therefore you cannot identify who is a Christian. Anyone might therefore be a Christian." It is a specious argument. We can assert that the unrepentant philanderer, no matter what his verbal profession, is no Christian. The same may be asserted in regard to the unrepentant heretic.

Frank Turk said...

Ultimately, "Christian" means more than "English-speaking human". That is, we cannot assume that every English-speaking human is Christian.

However, there is an equally-disturbing fault which I think is a reaction to this realization: the willingness to divide so distinctly that we cannot see any Christians except for ourselves and, of course, our paper pastors who we make into something they themselves do not want to be.

The middle way is narrow. Great quote and commentary from DJP.

Jim Pemberton said...

There is a difference between being a Christian and exhibiting evidence of being a Christian.

1) A Christian is someone for whom Christ died to free from the penalty of sin.

2) We see only the evidence (fruits) and can ascertain a reasonable likelihood that someone is a Christian.

a) Given that Christians are undergoing sanctification, all Christians do not exhibit fruits perfectly and it is reasonable to wonder about some.

b) Given that fruits can be counterfeited behaviorally to a degree, many Christians are easily fooled by some who are not Christians into thinking that they are.

Tom Chantry said...

Jim,

No argument here, but one must ask, does that imply that we cannot utilize the word "Christian" in any meaningful way? I would suggest that a meaningful use of the word "Christian" would require us to apply the evidences we are supplied.

So for instance, I believe that I can fairly say "C.J. Mahaney is a Christian." (I'm picking someone a bit distant from my own theological backyard because Frank's last comment is clearly true.) When I say C.J. Mahaney is a Christian I mean that the truth which he teaches is that of the gospel. By the same token may I not say "Joseph Ratzinger is not a Christian"? I am simply applying the same test to him that I did to Mahaney.

I do not think that to use language in this sense is to imply infallibility. Of course Mahaney may prove to be a hypocrite who has fooled us all (no reason to think so, but he may). The fact that he may doesn't render my statement invalid given what we know today. Similarly, Ratzinger may be one for whom Christ died, in which case I am certain he will one day repent of having heinously assumed offices and titles which are the unique prerogative of the Lord Jesus. Our own fallibility in reading the heart should not render the proper application of the word "Christian" an impossibility.

And I believe the same applies to two Christian men who make a verbal profession of faith, yet one has been faithful to his wife and the other is living in open, unrepentant adultery. I should be able to say that one is a Christian and the other not. If I cannot, then language looses meaning, church discipline becomes impossible, and discernment is significantly curtailed.

Let us be clear that this is exactly what false teachers want as they slowly but certainly erode all distinction inherent in the word "Christian."

Terry Rayburn said...

Dan,

I love Murray's biographies, and looking forward to reading this book on your recommendation.

Although Stott is often criticized for his views on the lake of fire, and Packer for his confusion ecumenicism, I've long had a huge distrust of Anglicanism in general because of it's views on baptism.

We're talking about a lot of "respected" preachers and theologians over many years who have clung to the teaching that water baptism includes regeneration and entry into the Body of Christ.

While this error is far more ancient than Anglicanism, the heavy influence of Anglicanism has [no pun intended] spilled over into many Presbyterian, Christian Reformed, Reformed Church in America, etc. folks growing up with a hazy view that their infant baptism somehow "saved them" or "contributed to their salvation" in some way.

Moreover, it has, in a slightly different form, become the basis of the neo-legalist views of N.T. Wright, Norman Shepher, Doug Wilson, and many other "New Perspective on Paul" and "Federal Vision" types who undermine Justification by Faith.

In the context of your post about TEACHERS and THE TRUE GOSPEL (as opposed to judging the salvation of the individual), I'm not saying that J.C. Ryle, or J.I. Packer, or C.S. Lewis, etc. are not our brothers.

But it always amazes me that this long line of water-baptism-salvation guys routinely "get a pass" from Evangelicals, as though the Gospel can be:

Either...

1. Faith alone

Or...

2. Faith plus water baptism.

Take your choice. Either are fine.

It's not much farther to...

3. Faith plus water baptism plus sacraments plus good works.

Just ask the Evangelicals who have recently become Catholics. It's hard for an Anglican or a Neo-Legalist to criticize them without being illogical.

Sola Fide infans!

Terry Rayburn said...

By the way, for the same basic reasons, I'm always amazed when guys like John Gerstner and his student, R.C. Sproul, praise Thomas Aquinas!

Thomas Aquinas = Council of Trent = False Gospel of Works (plus faith, of course!)

I can't compute this kind of stuff.

(Word verification: soteroc)

Jim Pemberton said...

There are indeed those who intentionally try to empty the term "Christian" of meaning. Their subversive goal is to undermine the meaning of the atonement by focusing only on the evidential aspect of what it means to be a Christian. The meaning of "Christian" is rooted absolutely in the atonement, not subversively in the evidence.

The answer to addressing the evidence is given to us by God's design, I think. There is benefit in the fellowship of Christians for the propagation of the gospel by which the elect are realized temporally and also by which they are made sure evidentially. This is why I believe also that church membership should require a more stringent period of discipleship and spiritual testing than churches typically give here in the Western Church.

The benefit for all this is in the struggle to discern who is a Christian and who is not. We are forced to educate people to make their salvation sure. We are also faced with the testimony to the truth of dealing those who are not Christians who desire inclusion in our ranks. It is a dire and necessary struggle indeed that, accomplished successfully, only serves to strengthen the Church.

As for people like CJ Mahaney and the Pope, I don't go to church with either of them. I agree with CJ on most things according to the teachings he has put out, and am reasonably certain that he is my brother in Christ based on these things as well as the testimony of people who know him. I don't have a clue whether the Pope is truly a Christian. But my hope is not in the actions of either CJ or the Pope for their salvation, but the work of Christ.

Scooter said...

As I read another book on one of the large movements of evangelicalism, one of the many things that strike me is not just the desire for academic respect, but that desire for that respect in order to shape society. That seemed to take the shape of using political to pass laws to make America into a "Christian society."

I don't know if Murray touches on this, but his book will be bought with my free Amazon gift card.

Scooter said...

One more thing: One of saddest ironies of the evangelicalism is the militant ecumenicism, which left the movement fractured and parochial.

Tom Chantry said...

I don't have a clue whether the Pope is truly a Christian.

May I respectfully suggest that you very much need to read the book from which this quotation was excised?

Jim Pemberton said...

Thanks, Tom. So is there certain evidence one way or another on the Pope's salvation in there?

donsands said...

"JC Ryle...water-baptism-salvation guys"

Hard for me to believe JC Ryle believe in baptismal regeneration.

That's something I'll have to find out.

DJP said...

J. C. Ryle on baptism

Matt Aznoe said...

I know I caught a lot of flak a while back for my article about the Barna studies, but I think the questions they ask to identify an "evangelical Christian" are helpful because they measure how much someone really does trust the scriptures. If we believe that the Bible is God's Word as is therefore completely trustworthy, we will agree with those basic tenants of the faith. While their list may not go deep enough, it is sad that even still, very few so-called Christians in America actually pass that test -- and that the majority of pastors fail it as well.

Ultimately, it comes down to a couple key criteria:

"By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God."
(1Jn 4:2 ESV) (there is a lot we could unpack in that verse, and it weeds out a surprising large number of denominations and cults)

and

"By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments."
(1Jn 5:2 ESV)

To be a Christian, by the very meaning of the term, means that we act just like Christ. Does the Church in America resemble her savior?

This sounds like it could be an interesting book.

Daryl said...

Jim,

If belief and doctrine mean anything, no reasonable Christian can claim to believe that the Pope is a Christian.

Of course, as has been said, he could repent and we could be wrong. But it is unreasonable to claim that his life and teaching mean nothing.

To put the Pope and C.J. in the same category as "unknown" seems to me to make a mockery of the Bible. James in particular, but not only James.

So,in short, yes, there is certain evidence that the Pope has not, so far, repented and been saved.
There is no evidence, on the other hand, that he is not one of the elect, and will not repent one day.

Daryl said...

Matt,

While it may be true, that the majority of pastors don't believe that Scripture is completely trustworthy, that seems an awfully cynical statement to make without backing it up.

Where do you get that?

DJP said...

Trying to stay with the post, if we can't answer whether to regard the Pope as a Christian leader or not, then our answer to Murray must be that the NT is not clear on what constitutes being a Christian.

Matt Aznoe said...

Daryl,

Here is a link to a Barna study on pastors.

http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/133-only-half-of-protestant-pastors-have-a-biblical-worldview?q=pastors+worldview

In reviewing this article, I overstated my case -- at least for Protestant pastors -- but as the report shows, only 51% of protestant pastors have a Biblical worldview.

Jim Pemberton said...

Daryl,
To discuss the category of the knowledge of Christians, we have to talk about Christian epistemology, or revelation. There is no certain revelation that allows me to know absolutely the status of anyone except myself as a Christian.

That's why I mentioned Christian fellowship, the Body of Christ, as necessary for reasonable discernment.

I would think that because of the false doctrines of Rome and his own statements of the same, that the Pope has greater evidential challenge in my mind to being considered "Christian". I don't agree with everything CJ Mahaney says either, but I'd say we're at least on the same page soteriologically. It's quite reasonable to consider him my brother in Christ.

Daryl said...

So true that redefining "Christian" while at the same time claiming that the Bible doesn't sufficiently make clear what a Christian is, is a deadly combination.

How odd, though, that those that want to claim ambiguity on the part of Scripture, are no less quick to identify those who stick strictly to Scripture as either non-Christian or at least suspect.

It's hard to imagine that there is any authority other than Scripture useful for defining a Christian.

Kind of like claiming that the baseball rule book doesn't define baseball...

When you say "confirmed suspicions about F.F. Bruce" it sounds ominously like you're concluding that he wasn't a believer. That and the lights of which you were previously unaware, regarding Stott, Packer and Graham.

I don't think you're saying that, but what are you saying?

DJP said...

So you're wanting me to tell you on the cheap what I had to read the book to find out, so that you don't have to read the book?

:^P

Daryl said...

Well...uh...um...ahem.

Sure.

OK, you win. I'll see about buying the book.
But not just for that.

Word verification: fiestled

As in, you've severely fiestled me on this one.

Eric said...

Jim - You said: "There is no certain revelation that allows me to know absolutely the status of anyone except myself as a Christian."

Tom did an eloquent job of addressing that very statement in an earlier comment. In part, he said: "I do not think that to use language in this sense is to imply infallibility."

Jim Pemberton said...

"Trying to stay with the post, if we can't answer whether to regard the Pope as a Christian leader or not, then our answer to Murray must be that the NT is not clear on what constitutes being a Christian."

The Bible is clear on what a Christian is and gives us clear guidelines for recognizing true Christians. What it does not do is give us absolute certainty on the status of particular individuals (outside of those it specifically mentions).

Tom Chantry said...

Evangelicalism Divided was written while Ratzinger was yet an unknown (outside the Vatican) bishop. Of course Murray never addresses him.

Is it necessary? Ratzinger claims to be 1. the sole vicar of Christ, 2. a mediator between God and man, and 3. the head of the church.

If it is indeed your position that such a gross heretic could be a Christian while claiming offices belonging exclusively to the Lord, then you most certainly do imply that no evidence can ever overcome the impenetrable fog that shrouds our understanding of the word "Christian." Anyone could be a Christian by this logic - the Dali Lama, bin Laden, my pet cat...

Matt Aznoe said...

Jim,

You said "What it does not do is give us absolute certainty on the status of particular individuals", but it does give us definite grounds on which we can alter our behavior and relationship with that person. We need to treat the Pope as any other non-believer -- with love and the desire to see him repent and turn to Jesus Christ.

Daryl said...

Matt,

Your last line really gets to it.
If we can't identify with any degree of certainty whatsoever, how can I justify not praying for say, John MacArthur's salvation or John Piper's, or Dan's or my wife...you get the point.

We must treat believers and non-believers differently, and that demands that we understand what the Bible means by "you shall know them by their fruit".

Robert said...

Dan,

I think somebody pointed this out earlier, but you have provided a wonderful example of what Murray is talking about here. The guys who lead the teaching of heresies almost always take things out of context. I say almost because some people just discard parts of or all of the Bible.

Matt,

In light of your comments about the pope, my question is how would you go about showing him and his followers love? The reason I ask is that many people will take that comment out of context as well.

Matt Aznoe said...

Robert,

Good question. It is a little difficult to answer as I have no contact with the Pope, but I would treat him with respect and I would not slander his character. I would lovingly and firmly present the truth of scripture to him and confront him with his rebellion against God.

Perhaps the most tangible way with someone like the Pope comes to not slandering. Instead of ridiculing him or demeaning him in front of others, I would respectfully disagree and point people to the truth of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done. People who follow him I would encourage to read the scriptures for themselves and pray that the Holy Spirit reveal truth to them.

Really, it comes down to the golden rule -- treating him how I would want to be treated. I don't want someone making fun or belittling me, but I also would want someone to warn me away from certain doom. We need to be the watchman from Ezekiel (especially with those with whom we have direct contact), but if they will not listen, we truly leave them in the hands of God and, as the Spirit leads, pray for their salvation.

Does that make sense?

Alex Guggenheim said...

And I believe the same applies to two Christian men who make a verbal profession of faith, yet one has been faithful to his wife and the other is living in open, unrepentant adultery. I should be able to say that one is a Christian and the other not. If I cannot, then language looses meaning, church discipline becomes impossible, and discernment is significantly curtailed.
____________________

So tell me again, if the unrepentant man you judged not to be a Christian does at some point repent, he suddenly is a Christian again? This is precisely why your fallibility does not permit you to make such judgments.

What you are permitted to do, however, is judge with whom you will and will not fellowship.

TheBluesMan said...

Hopefully not to hijack the discussion, but I found it ironic that J.C. Ryle, whom we seem to hold in high regard, apparently had no trouble with the appellation THE RIGHT REV. JOHN CHARLES RYLE, LORD BISHOP OF LIVERPOOL.

Is acceptance of such grand titles evidence of an unregenerate heart? Is eschewing the same evidence of the opposite?

Another time, another post, perhaps.

-Dave Miller 7:^{>

Rachael Starke said...

"how would you go about showing him and his followers love?"

How about an Open Letter?

((Ducking and covering))

Frank Turk said...

The Pope is not a Christian.

Next.

Tom Chantry said...

Frank, was that your next open letter? If so, I didn't dislike it at all!

Alex, can anyone, ever, under any circumstances be called a Christian? And if so, can anyone, ever, under any circumstances be called a non-Christian? The insistence that our fallibility vis-a-vis the hearts of others forces us to avoid making judgments certainly appears to require a "no" answer - at least to the second of those questions.

Rachael Starke said...

"What you are permitted to do, however, is judge with whom you will and will not fellowship."

Joking aside, this is a question my husband and I have been wrestling with as we pray through some recent challenges at our church with the whole "missional community group" thing. To be blunt, there are a large chunk of folks at our church whom Ken Meyers in a recent Mars Hill Audio Journal would characterize as "Christian-ish". They have some of the language down, they show up on Sundays, some of them are involved in "community groups". But there seems to be no heartfelt love for Jesus or His gospel - little talk about it, less expression of it.

Perhaps we need to make a distinction between false teachers and false professors when it comes to fellowship though. Jesus had fellowship with Nicodemus, after all. But it was a very specific kind of fellowship - Jesus called him out on his error.

But I don't see the same thing being called out as a function of things like community groups. Ironically, I can picture a scenario where more genuine non-Christians might want to be involved, because lines were being drawn, but "pretenders" would leave in a huff, because the line that was being drawn put them on the wrong side of it.

Sorry if that's a little far afield....

ezekiel said...

Good post Tom Chantry. AW Pink agrees with you.

http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/Hebrews/hebrews_019.htm

"Romanists, and with them an increasing number of Anglicans (Episcopalians), virtually set aside the solitary grandeur of the Priesthood of Christ and the sufficiency of His Atonement, by bringing in human priests to act as mediators between God and sinful men."

Tom Chantry said...

Nicodemus is a great example of this subject matter. I don't think I would say Jesus had "fellowship" with him. Nicodemus remained a leading Pharisee throughout Jesus' ministry. So of whom was He speaking when He said, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves."

Methinks our Lord wasn't willing to call Nicodemus a "Christian" until He repudiated his hellish hypocrisy.

DJP said...

Nicodemus tried to be collegial and familiar with Jesus, but the Lord wasn't having any, was He? Jesus was not particularly warm, "loving," or oojie-goojie. "You need to be born again." "What, you call yourself a teacher, and you don't know what 'born again' means?"

Tom Chantry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Chantry said...

If I were to say, “President Obama is an American,” I would be speaking the truth. Now I admit that at least a possibility exists that the “birthers” are right and that he is in fact neither a born nor a naturalized citizen of this country. I do not know the truth of this infallibly. However, the government of the state in which he claims birth has certified his citizenship. Given our current knowledge of established facts, my statement is a true one. The evidence points in this direction.

Does the fact that I am not possessed of infallible personal knowledge of the President’s citizenship render me unfit to call him an American? In fact, do I really know that anyone is an American? At the end of the day, I suppose that my sons, to whose birth on American soil I may personally bear witness, are the only ones that I am quite certain are Americans. Must I abandon the use of the term, or use it only in the abstract sense? Or may I say that the President, myself, my next-door neighbor, and my grocer are all Americans while David Beckham is not?

To return to my initial example, I fail to see how it is any different for me to assert that C.J. Mahaney is a Christian while Joseph Ratzinger is not. I do not know this infallibly, but it is a legitimate and helpful statement. Similarly, while I cannot infallibly state the eternal destiny of the two unnamed professing believers in my second example, it is a legitimate and helpful thing - even biblical practice, for me to identify only one of them as a Christian.

Robert said...

Matt,

I see where you're coming from, but you must realize that it is not slandering the pope to call him a false teacher or heretic. Look at how Jesus confronted people in John 8 or Matthew 23. Does that mean that Jesus wasn't showing love towards them? I do agree with you that we must point people towards Scripture and we must follow the words of Paul in Ephesians 4:29 and use words that edify according to the needs of the moment, so that they give grace to those who hear. However, the leaders of the RCC should be called out for their heretical teachings because without that happening, scores of people have no clue what the RCC stands for/teaches and how that differs from what the Bible teaches.

I came out of Catholicism because a dear brother in Christ prayed for me and turned me to Scripture...this took about 4-5 years of his speaking to me in love. I am so thankful that God worked through him because I was so very lost in the mire of the RCC. And that is what frustrates me...so many people are lost like that because many believe we are beyond the Reformation. Chuck Colson would like us to unite with the RCC (he is one of the main people involved with ECT). How can we ever bring the Gospel to the lost in Catholicism if we aren't showing them the truth of the Bible and calling the leaders of the RCC to both define their beliefs/teachings to their congregations and defend them in light of what Scripture says?

DJP said...

< reads Chantry >

< chuckles weakly >

< buries head in hands >

Alex Guggenheim said...

Tom,

We can if we maintain the distinction between our judgments and that of God. Clearly God’s judgment is judicial, ours is practical. That is, when we see certain kinds of behavior that are incongruous with Christianity we may say practically such a person is not a Christian but judicially it may be quite the opposite. This is reflected in Matt 18:17, “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector”.

It does not say for us to attempt to determine the divine adjudication of the unrepentant but to practically treat them as though they are not. Nor is this imploring us to believe such treatment is an indication one way or the other of divine adjudication. Practically we are identifying them as an unbeliever without a claim toward their divine adjudication since we cannot know that. And the inverse of this is true in identifying fellow believers.

So if we imagine our practical judgments to be sufficient to function as revelations of divine adjudications or even implied adjudications, even in our own mind alone, we err. Therefore, in advising others on the use of language, because most people fail to attend to such distinctions and such questions often do not appreciatively maintain these kinds of critical nuances, I recommend avoid using phrases such as “judging who is and is not a believer”.

Robert said...

Alex,

What do you do with Matthew 7:15-20?

"'Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.'"

Can you honestly say that Jesus is not giving us some type of parameters for determining whether some teachers, pastors, etc., are saved or not? What are we supposed to say about the person who bears bad fruit?

Tom Chantry said...

Sorry, Dan, it seemed like a useful analogy.

Alex, whether or not one uses such language as "implied adjudications" I would agree that the church ought to be properly taught regarding the limits of our knowledge, particularly regarding the hearts of others. We talk about that in my church quite frequently.

Where I suppose I disagree with you is here: ...most people fail to attend to such distinctions and such questions often do not appreciatively maintain these kinds of critical nuances... I quite disagree.

While most lay Christians do not use exactly the words you used, I believe they do acknowledge the distinction. I attended a funeral a few weeks ago in which the pastor spoke of the deceased as "a Christian man." I do not believe that anyone present in that very Presbyterian congregation was confused about the nature of faith or the fallibility of the pastor. They all knew quite well that God is the ultimate judge, not the Pastor.

I think the Pastor was in the right when he called that man "a Christian." I'd also bet he doesn't say that in every funeral he preaches. Is he in error?

Alex Guggenheim said...

Tom,

Thanks and may it be that you are right, that more people to attend to the necessary distinctions.

Alex Guggenheim said...

Robert,

The passage there is specifically concerning our responsibility to determine who is and is not a false teacher and does not prescribe any mechanism by which we may claim insight into the divine adjudication of their salvation.

Tom Chantry said...

One last comment today, and I post this at the risk of irritating Dan further than I already have, since he doesn’t want to give away the whole of Evangelicalism Divided for free. But Iain Murray’s name is out here in print, and someone got the idea (not from anything written, I assure you) that he questioned in his book the salvation of a bunch of prominent people, and I feel that requires a response.

If Murray questioned Graham’s or Bruce’s salvation, I don’t recall it. He certainly did not question Packer’s or Stott’s, both men whom he knows well. What he did was decry the abominable effect of the teachers who cannot bring themselves to recognize that the gospel must define “Christianity,” not a person’s self-reference as a “Christian.”

Frank Turk wrote in this thread, “The Pope is not a Christian. - Next.”

Graham won’t say that. Neither will Packer or Stott. That is a catastrophe to the Evangelical movement as a whole. Evangelicalism Divided is the story of how this sad state of affairs developed, and it is, together with Revival and Revivalism, some of the most important modern church history you can get your hands on.

DJP said...

Not only will Packer, Stott and Graham NOT say that, but they will accept as Christian men who deny just about every cardinal Christian doctrine you can name — as long as they're "churchmen" in good standing (in the first two's case, anyway).

Matt Aznoe said...

Robert,

No real argument here. We do need to call out false doctrine when we see it and in no uncertain terms.

What we need to watch out for, though, is that the honor and glory of God -- His reputation -- is paramount. We point out false doctrines to steer people from destruction and to ensure a clear conscience before God -- not to make ourselves look or feel better.

I guess what bothers me sometimes (and I think the "tone police" as well) is when we revel in the fun derived from tearing someone down and picking their doctrine apart rather than loving God by truly standing up for the truth. Our goal should always and ever be restoration. When we start to enjoy our attacks and so diminish our actual love for the individual in question, we stray from the path of God.

As an example, I remember hearing a sermon in which MacArthur quipped that Joel Osteen is going to get what he asked for -- his best life now. The congregation laughed and John seemed to enjoy the reaction. Now, it was a clever point, and I can understand the temptation to enjoy the fellowship in the understanding. But beyond the cleverness, this is a tragic statement. For most people in this country, they will be living their best life now (think James 5). Rather than laughing at Joel Osteen, we should be weeping for his eternal soul. He is a wretched man who is heading directly for hell. He desperately needs the blood of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to change the course in his life.

What disturbed me about this incident was not the quip that John made. Jesus was not afraid to make such statements to make a point. The problem was that he seemed to seek the approval of the audience more than using this opportunity to drive a point home: how many of us want our best life now? Is there not lacking in ourselves an eternity minded focus that makes us willing and eager to "share his [Christ's] sufferings, becoming like him in his death"?

We should feel a righteous anger over the millions he is leading astray, but we shouldn't be enjoying his demise. We should be confronting the sin and the false doctrine but never forgetting the seriousness of their offense and the terrible danger they find themselves in -- and the example that is to us all.

"Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted."
(Gal 6:1 ESV)

donsands said...

Thanks Dan for the link.

"They seem to me, and to many others, to degrade a holy ordinance appointed by Christ into a mere charm, which is to act mechanically, like a medicine acting on the body, without any movement of a man s heart or soul. Surely this is dangerous!" JC Ryle

Terry was wrong.
But that's for another post methinks.

I like what Ryle says here as well:

"Once for all, let me entreat every reader of this paper to hold no doctrine about baptism which is not plainly taught in God's Word. Let him beware of maintaining any theory, however plausible, which cannot be supported by Scripture. In religion, it matters nothing who says a thing, or how beautifully he says it. The only question we ought to ask is this, " Is it written in the Bible ? what saith the Lord?"

A true and genuine man of the Word.

Alex Guggenheim said...

Tom,

On the other hand from reading many of the comments and the judicial assumptions many have made about the divine adjudication of others, I am not so sure the distinction between divine adjudication and human practical adjudication is maintained by all that many. Particularly in light of the kind of theological training and exposure those commenting here have had that make such s failure without excuse, yet here it is, repeatedly.

donsands said...

"..he [John Mac]seemed to seek the approval of the audience more than using this opportunity to drive a point home" -Matt

I doubt that Matt. I admit that even the most seasoned pastor has to deal with his flesh, the world and the devil, but I would have to wonder if Pastor MacArthur didn't long to drive his point home more than anything else in this sermon.

There was a brief lapse of laughter, but I don't see the tragedy as you see it Matt.

Sure we all get carried away at times. Everyone of us. Evene those who say they never do.

I'm sure John cares about Joel's soul. But he cares more about the truth, that's for sure.

I remember John MacArthur preaching on hebrews where it says "Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers."
John said, "There are many times I feel ashamed."

he's a humble servant, and a greate xample to us all.

Tom Chantry said...

Alex,

Example?

No, wait a minute: I assume that we are in agreement that by "Divine Adjudication" we mean the decision to cast a soul into hell, as the Lord will do on the last day. So that a mere person aspiring to make a "divine adjudication" would state that a particular individual is irredeemable, cannot repent, and is in essence already damned.

OK, example?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

DJP: "Trying to stay with the post, if we can't answer whether to regard the Pope as a Christian leader or not, then our answer to Murray must be that the NT is not clear on what constitutes being a Christian."

Jim Pemberton: "The Bible is clear on what a Christian is and gives us clear guidelines for recognizing true Christians. What it does not do is give us absolute certainty on the status of particular individuals (outside of those it specifically mentions)."

In regards to the discussion about the Pope, I find Jim Pemberton's remarks helpful.

We do not know with "absolute certainty" the eternal destiny of the Pope. He may very well be Heaven bound.

Suppose he is. I have no problem with that. And I imagine that Jim Pemberton has no problem with that either.

Alex Guggenheim said...

Tom

By divine adjudication I mean the exclusive right of God to determine who is and is not a believer, saved, one of his...whatever synonym you wish to use. A human being has no right or license to engage in such activity. They are limited, as I said, to practical adjudications that should never assume to reflect divine adjudications.

What example were you asking for? I believe you mean those failing to make the appropriate distinction but I want to be sure.

naturgesetz said...

Tom Chantry says "Ratzinger claims to be 1. the sole vicar of Christ, 2. a mediator between God and man, and 3. the head of the church. "

1. But the Cathechism of the Catholic Church says, directly quoting the Second Vatican Council, "The bishops, as vicars and legates of Christ …"
2. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, directly quoting the Second Vatican Council, "The one mediator, Christ, …"
3. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the Pope as "head" of the college of bishops. Speaking of his role position with respect to the whole Church, it calls him "shepherd," "pastor and teacher," and "visible {to distinguish from the invisible] source and foundation of … unity…" But I don't see it calling him "head" of the Church; and certainly no informed Catholic, of whom the Pope is surely one, would claim that Christ is no longer head of the Church.

Tom Chantry said...

I'm afraid that by that definition, you are in fact saying that one can never say (no matter how clear his theology on the ultimate judgeship of Christ or our fallibility with matters of the human heart), "That person is not a Christian."

Does Frank's statement regarding Mr. Ratzinger ("The Pope is not a Christian.") qualify in your mind as an example of taking upon ourselves the task of "divine adjudication"?

trogdor said...

I would not have imagined this would be nearly so controversial. I could see controversy if, say, the topic was "is Celebrity X a true Christian or not?". But the question of whether we can ever say someone is not a Christian? I would have thought this would be kinda obvious. Oh well.

Let's start with an easy one - if someone does not even profess to have faith in Christ, can we deduce that he is not a Christian? The answer should be a resounding "Duh!", although I'm starting to think that reaching such an obviously true conclusion would get me accused of playing God.

But let's assume that everyone's on board with that one - that claiming to have faith in Christ is a necessary requirement to be a Christian. Is it fair to say it's a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one? That is, anyone who does not claim faith is clearly not a Christian, but that the claim in itself is not sufficient proof? That there are other evidences which lend credence to, or cast serious doubt upon, the reality of the claim? I would think this would be obvious as well.

That's what so much of the NT is devoted to. There are explanations of the gospel and what's true of the faithful in relation to God, and there are descriptions of behavior that confirm or expose the reality of that faith (or lack thereof). How many of Paul's letters are divided along those lines? This is what's true of God/Christ/the church/you, and if this is actually true of you, this then is how you will live.

All this is saying, if someone gives no evidence for the reality of his faith, and plenty of evidence against it, it is far from playing God to question the genuineness of his conversion. In fact, it may well be the most loving thing you can do for him (see James 5:19-20).

There you go. Have at it.

trogdor said...

"We do not know with "absolute certainty" the eternal destiny of the Pope. He may very well be Heaven bound."

If by that you mean, he may one day repent of his heresies, stop leading people astray from the truth, and turn to Jesus Christ in faith, then by all means he would be heavenbound, and I would lead the rejoicing.

If you mean that, as he is now, he may be going to heaven, let's just say I vehemently disagree.

donsands said...

"Is it fair to say it's a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one?" _trog

Unless you're Zane Hodges.

Alex Guggenheim said...

Tom,

I will say emphatically we can only adjudicate practically so no matter if it is the Pope or anyone elses' divine adjudication, we are not divine therefore we do not get to engage in such an exercise.

Clearly under the responsibility and freedom God grants us to adjudicate practically there are many classifications we may assign but ultimately none of those classifications may reflect language and classification reserved only for divine adjudication which clearly is for God and God alone.

InAwe said...

Mr. Reyburn wrote:
"I'm always amazed when guys like John Gerstner and his student, R.C. Sproul, praise Thomas Aquinas!
Thomas Aquinas = Council of Trent = False Gospel of Works (plus faith, of course!)"

1-Thomas Aquinas lived 1225-1274, whereas The Council of Trent occurred: December 1545.
2-Sproul and Gerstner praise some aspects of Aquinas' apologetic method, but are also very critical of other aspects of his theology --completely reject his soteriology.
3-Certainly of all contemporary theologians there is none who defends SolaFide more ardently than R.C. Sproul. Have you read or listened to any of his work?

We should be more careful to seek to understand another person's position before critically lambasting them.

Dave .... said...

Oh, for goodness sake. The Pope gives no distinct evidence of salvation and at the same time holds to several anti-biblical, heretical, and blasphemous positions. Christ may have well called him and graciously redeemed him, however, his (alleged) conduct disqualifies him from ministry leadership and should put him in peril of biblical discipline.

Wait ... NO, he's not a Christian. (I was feeling a weasely there for a minute.) A real church leader would want to PROTECT you from the Pope. (Acts 20 re- savage wolves not sparing the flock, yaddah, yaddah.)

Is this still on topic?

Tom Chantry said...

Alex,

After reading the excessive verbosity of your recent post, I find myself in a quantitatively significant analytical quandary regarding the status of your reply. Was it your considered intent to answer my query in the affirmative or contrariwise?

Or, as normal people talk: was that a yes or a no?

donsands said...

"Certainly of all contemporary theologians there is none who defends SolaFide more ardently than R.C. Sproul. Have you read or listened to any of his work?" -InAwe

Well said my friend.

Dave .... said...

Hey, Dan. Does this out do Frank's "I got nothin'" meta?

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

@ InAwe:

Thank you, InAwe for defending R.C. Sproul's position. R.C. is one of the very few men of courage who denounced many of the signers of the Manhattan Declaration.

Most of his books also denounce Roman Catholic theology.

Alex Guggenheim said...

Tom,

If you are unable to understand my last post then you do have a quandary indeed. I will rephrase what I said in order to help you. BTW, the use of ridicule is inappropriate. We can have a challenging exchange without it so please save that for those around you willing to tolerate it.

"I will say emphatically we can only adjudicate practically so no matter if it is the Pope or the divine adjudication of anyone else, we are not divine therefore we are not permitted by God to engage in such an exercise."

This not only answers the question about the Pope but includes but all other human beings.

Specifically to Frank's statement, if it is a practical adjudication regarding the Pope it is acceptable according to Scripture but he has made it with the belief he has the ability to determine the adjudication of the divine, he is in error.

Alex Guggenheim said...

that should say:

but "if" he has made it with the belief he has the ability to determine the adjudication of the divine, he is in error.

Tom Chantry said...

OK, so Frank's comment may or may not have been appropriate. That still leaves us without an example, of which you implied there are several on this thread, of people usurping the divine prerogative of judgment. But you haven't given an example yet.

Here's what you said: On the other hand from reading many of the comments and the judicial assumptions many have made about the divine adjudication of other...

Which, you know, is really quite strange if a statement like Turk's might in fact be a usurpation - or then again it might not.

Again, you said: if it is a practical adjudication regarding the Pope it is acceptable according to Scripture but he has made it with the belief he has the ability to determine the adjudication of the divine, he is in error.

What I'm hearing.

1. It is possible to say that someone is not a Christian and to do so in a way that is Scripturally acceptable.

2. It is possible to say the exact same words, but to do so in a way which is erroneous.

3. The difference between 1 and 2 is not in the words spoken, but in the speaker's belief that he may usurp God's adjudication.

4. Alex Guggenheim has discerned just such an erroneous assumption in "many" of the comments here.

Am I the only one who finds this ironic?

trogdor said...

"Specifically to Frank's statement, if it is a practical adjudication regarding the Pope it is acceptable according to Scripture but he has made it with the belief he has the ability to determine the adjudication of the divine, he is in error."

Is it error to believe what God has clearly said about what separates the sheep from the goats?

Is it error to say that an unrepentant, gospel-denying heretical teacher is under condemnation?

Alex Guggenheim said...

Specifically to which passages are you referring?

trogdor said...

Here, I'll make it simple. Take an atheist who has never even claimed to be in Christ. Alex, can we say that if he dies in that state, he is condemned?

If your answer is anything other than a resounding yes...

Daryl said...

Alex,

Is a muslim cleric a Christian?

Or better, an apostle of the Mormon church?


Why then the difficulty in flaty saying that, as far as Scripture defines what it is to be a Christian, Ratzinger is not one.

Could Scripture be wrong? No.
Could our understanding of Scripture be so wrong? Well only if the Roman church us right, so no.

Ergo, we can say unequivocally that the sitting Pope is not a believer (nor any previous I wouldn't think).

I am beginning to think that this all hinges on whether one is willing to say that the Roman church is a false church and to hold to her teachings is to be an unrepentant unbeliever. Is that it?

Alex Guggenheim said...

Tom,

Here is one of the examples I had in mind. Matt Aznoe stated:

"Rather than laughing at Joel Osteen, we should be weeping for his eternal soul. He is a wretched man who is heading directly for hell."

This is a divine adjudication. He has taken the posture that more than practically but judicially he may determine the status of Joel Osteen's salvation before God. This is an exercise reserved for the divine.
_______________________
What I'm hearing.

1. It is possible to say that someone is not a Christian and to do so in a way that is Scripturally acceptable.

2. It is possible to say the exact same words, but to do so in a way which is erroneous.

3. The difference between 1 and 2 is not in the words spoken, but in the speaker's belief that he may usurp God's adjudication.

4. Alex Guggenheim has discerned just such an erroneous assumption in "many" of the comments here.
_____________

I have assumed nothing, I have found a number of attempts to reflect one is able to make or ascertain divine adjudication and proclaim it as such. They may not. I gave an example above.

Now to your difference between the two which is rightly identified as context. Earlier I presented the teaching of Matt in response to your issue of the unrepentant adulterer which you felt safe to proclaim they were not a believer.

I clearly presented the difference between practical and divine adjudication. And yes, the same words may be used but with different contexts. A practical adjudication is limited to the practical (or practice if this word is giving you issues) and the divine adjudication pertains to the judicial, that which only God can and may do.

So when we say, "he is not a Christian" we only may say this practically (or with respect to our practice) but not with respect to divine adjudication or with the posture that our practical adjudication reflects divine adjudication, it may or may not. However, that is merely anecdotal or coincidental and is not designed by God to have any input or reflection of divine adjudication nor may we assume such practical adjudications are sufficient for us to claim they are equal to divine adjudications.

Tom Chantry said...

Thank you, that is both the example we were seeking and a plausible explanation.

I had trouble with the Osteen moment in this thread, more because I think that MacArthur may have been misquoted. Mind you I never heard his direct quote, but the way I had heard it related was something like, "If people persevere in following Joel Osteen's teaching, they'll get exactly what he promises: their best life now." If that is what he said, it certainly steers clear of any divine condemnation of any individual.

I do think, though, that your point might be a bit overstated here. Might be. If Matt had stated that Osteen "will be in hell one day," I would probably agree with you. My guess is that in his mind, "heading for hell" may have another nuance: namely that he is on that road now, it is a road ending in hell, and he would do best to move off of it and to accept the gospel. I hope I'm not putting words in his mouth, but it seems charitable to understand him in this way.

I would probably not have put it as he did. I would say that Osteen's message is not the gospel, and that based upon his consistent presentation of that message I do not believe he is a Christian. I think it takes a certain degree of antagonism to read into that statement any intent to usurp God's prerogative of ultimate judgment.

Alex Guggenheim said...

trogdor,

I would still like to see the passages you claim state what you asserted they state.

But to your recent question.

"Take an atheist who has never even claimed to be in Christ. Alex, can we say that if he dies in that state, he is condemned?

If your answer is anything other than a resounding yes..."
______

First, the attempt to appeal to fear with words like..."if you answer is anything other than a resounding yes" is a fallacious form of argument. I understand its use but it is irrelevant to me since it is not an actual argument for anything.

As to the atheist, his claim of unbelief and your knowledge of this is irrelevant to the active and binding principle. The Bible does not provide exceptions where we may claim to have knowledge of a thing for which we are not given knowledge, namely the exercise of divine adjudication.

So no, you do not have permission from God to do that. You may not claim to know only what God knows. Now you may say that if this man genuinely did not know Christ then he is lost. But that is not an adjudication, it is a general subjunctive statement that may or may not be true about the person. The best you can do is make limited observations and take him at his word for whatever it was worth. That is not enough to produce a divine adjudication or claim to have personal knowledge of such. You must have divine capacity to perform divine exercises.

Tom Chantry said...

Alex, every time I think I understand you, your next post undoes it all. Please answer a simple yes or no: did you understand that Trogodor's question included the words "if he dies in that state" and did you take those words into account in framing your answer?

James S said...

Interesting reading peoples thoughts on Nicodemus. I am of the belief we cannot be certain what he ended up being, but I think it points to his becoming born again.

He met with Jesus more than once, and Jesus respected him enough to continue teaching him as He could see that Nicodemus was, unlike the others, willing and desirous of learning more of what Jesus had to say. Jesus knew his heart, and I don't think He would have wasted time teaching him if he was not serious.

He also addressed Jesus with great respect it seemed, especially when one takes into account that he had to openly forsake what his fellow pharisees thought of him to do so.

And lastly, In John 19, we find Nicodemus helping to bury Jesus and bringing myrrh & aloes, and he is hanging out with Joseph of Arimathea, disciple of Jesus.

I think he had become a follower.

Alex Guggenheim said...

Tom,

I endeavor to be a careful reader, he is the scenario that was described:

"Here, I'll make it simple. Take an atheist who has never even claimed to be in Christ. Alex, can we say that if he dies in that state, he is condemned?

If your answer is anything other than a resounding yes..."
_______
The state in which the person described as an atheist dies is in the state of never even "claiming" to be in Christ.

Now the fact is there really is insufficient information to answer fully because when he says, "never even claimed" my questions is "never even claimed" to whom? To humans?

I was left with assuming this is what he meant since we are talking about humans making a determination whether he was saved or not.

The Bible never says, "claim to humans you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved". Or "if you do not claim to humans to have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ you will not be saved".

The atheist does not answer to humans with regard to divine adjudication. So what he described is someone who claims to be an atheist and that died having never claimed to another human that he believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sorry that isn't enough information for anyone to make a divine adjudication. In fact nothing is.

Now if he described someone that died without ever having believed on Christ as Savior (something he cannot really know, the best he could do is accept this man's word that he does not believe but even with that, this is not an exception to the binding principle that forbids us claiming knowledge of or capacity to exercise divine adjudication) then the bible states such people die being judged according to their own righteousness and are emphatically lost. But as I said to describe someone as having died without ever having believed on the Lord Jesus Christ is to claim we know their heart and can make divine adjudications. We cannot.

So in reality he described with the limits of Scripture what we can only know which is whether a man or woman has claimed or not to believe but not whether they have actually done so or not.

Are the odds likely that he was not saved? I wouldn't argue but we are discussing odds and divine adjudication isn't based on odds nor are we permitted to use odds to claim to know divine adjudications.

Tom Chantry said...

Alex, I wish you well, but honestly, it is impossible to converse with you. I think I've tried. Maybe not well. You qualify everything to such a degree that it is impossible to know what you are saying. I hope the blessing of Christ will abound in you.

naturgesetz said...

"Is it error to believe what God has clearly said about what separates the sheep from the goats?" — trogdor

"Specifically to which passages are you referring?" — Alex Guggenheim

The clear passage about the separation of the sheep from the goats is Matthew 25:31-46.

Alex Guggenheim said...

Tom,
Best wishes but do know appeals to pity and confusion are contradicted by our numerous exchanges.

As to qualifying issues being viewed as a detriment, I am rather surprised that aggressive pursuit of the details of a matter and their implications is something you would rather avoid in your theological development. I do sympathize with the tedious and sometimes exhausting nature of details but details, particularly critical details, may not be excused simply because of the unpleasantness which may accompany their handling.

In every science I know of, examining from a distance does not allow one to properly identify critical and special elements and only leads to generalizations which inhibits further discovery and advancement in understanding.

James S said...

Additionally, it's not as if Nicodemus died right after Jesus's burial and the last we hear of him. Obviously the Bible is meant to tell of Jesus and God's plan for mankind. It's not Nicodemus' life story, so we arent given anymore information on him.

So he had the rest of his life to think about all that he had witnessed. I can't imagine that he would have hardened his heart after all that.

And Jesus may have spoken harshly to Nicodemus earlier, but Jesus spoke "harshly" to everyone, if you take harshly at it's modern connotation, which is really just "honestly" and "without any pretense".
He didn't beat around the bush with anyone. I think everybody knew that if they were going to hang out with Jesus, they were at risk of being openly admonished.

Jesus openly rebuked lots of people. And anytime someone came grilling and asking questions of Jesus, He always ended up turning it around and becoming the one asking the questions. (And people quickly stopped asking him questions if they werent honestly seeking answers).

But just because He openly rebuked Nicodemus, it doesn't mean Jesus condemned him.

And Nicodemus had the rest of his life to deal with all he'd learned and witnessed, and we can see that he was an honest man who really was seeking answers.
So I have to conclude that any honest person who had witnessed all that Nicodemus witnessed would more than likely become a christian, if he was to remain honest to himself.
So if he wasn't yet a follower before Jesus' death (which I think he was), the chances are pretty good that he would have become one afterward.

Alex Guggenheim said...

naturgesetz,

Thank you for your response to my request from trogdor for one of the passages. Here is the relevant portion of the passage:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left."

Clearly the one doing the divine adjudication with respect to sheep and goats is a divine person and not us.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Jim Pemberton: "The Bible is clear on what a Christian is and gives us clear guidelines for recognizing true Christians. What it does not do is give us absolute certainty on the status of particular individuals (outside of those it specifically mentions)."

Me: "In regards to the discussion about the Pope, I find Jim Pemberton's remarks helpful.

We do not know with "absolute certainty" the eternal destiny of the Pope. He may very well be Heaven bound."

Trogdor: "If you mean that, as he is now, he may be going to heaven, let's just say I vehemently disagree."

Operative key word: "May".

FWIW I'm okay with vehement disagreement.

I'm also okay with your absolute certainty that the Pope is NOT Heaven-bound if he retains the same theological beliefs that he has now.

Pax.

Terry Rayburn said...

Donsands wrote:

"They seem to me, and to many others, to degrade a holy ordinance appointed by Christ into a mere charm, which is to act mechanically, like a medicine acting on the body, without any movement of a man s heart or soul. Surely this is dangerous!" JC Ryle

Terry was wrong.
But that's for another post methinks.


Don, Don, Don. That quote exactly illustrates my point. Ryle (and other "evangelical" Anglicans) always add Faith to the baptism. Ryle affirms the 25th Article which clearly says that water baptism is "effective" if combined with faith, even the faith of parents bringing their infant!

Among other things it's "effective" for is "quickening" (that mean being "born again").

Not sure what the beef is. This has always been a clear teaching of the Anglican Church.

C.S. Lewis himself in Mere Christianity speaks of those things that ALL Christians believe, with a sidenote pointing out that HE has the extra belief of baptism being required for salvation (but "tut tut", YOU don't need to believe that -- a kind of absurdity if it were true).

Don, at least admit that if Ryle did not believe that baptism had ANY "effective" power, that he was in a wrong and false denomination.

I'm not really even picking on him per se. He was apparently a fine man, and a product of his theological environment.

I'm picking on those who give baptismal regeneration a theological "pass" as though it's just as valid as true Justification by Faith ALONE.

Just because someone writes something true in one context, doesn't mean they are not in serious error in other contexts.

For example, many Catholic Bishops and other Catholic prelates and theologians signed the following:

"We affirm together that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ. Living faith is active in love that is nothing less than the love of Christ, for we together say with Paul: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2) All who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ."

Not bad, heh?

Except the next line (from "Evangelicals And Catholics Together -- The Christian Mission In The Third Millennium") is as follows:

"Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ."

Any problem with that?

Robert said...

Wow...I leave to go to a Bible study and it is like the comment thread exploded. I guess I wonder why Jude felt it necessary to warn the church about people creeping in "unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." (Jude 4) Condemnation? Jude is saying he knows people who have already been marked out for condemnation? Tisk, tisk. That Jude...trying to take on the task of divine adjudication. I mean, seriously people...the Bible does give us some guidance here. What about when John talks about those who left us because they were not of us? Do you think he was toying around with the idea that maybe they would become Christians? I think it is clear that at the last moment that any of us heard the pope speak and not repent of his heretical teachings, that at that moment he was not a Christian. Of course, the fact that he is still alive and has not recanted/repented publicly says a lot for his state at this moment, too.

trogdor said...

You know Alex, I could spend a lot of time listing and explaining passages for you, as if that were actually necessary. No doubt you're literate, which means you can read the New Testament, which is so packed full of such verses the biggest problem is deciding where to start. Seriously, pick a book and we'll almost certainly find something there.

We could go as simple as John 3:18 or Romans 10:9-10 or Luke 9:26/Mark 8:38. We could look at passages like Galatians 5:19-21 or Revelation 22:14-15. We could dwell on Acts 4:12 or Hebrews 3:14 or Titus 2:11-14 or Titus 3:10-11 or 2 Thessalonians 2:12 or the entire book of 1 John or a whole bunch of others.

But it really comes down to this: you have said that we cannot know whether or not an unrepentant atheist is condemned. I was truly hoping I had been misreading your previous arguments, but no, you actually came out and said it. I can genuinely say I was not expecting that, and I'm truly saddened. I cannot imagine having such a miserable understanding of the gospel that the fate of an atheist is even the slightest bit in doubt.

And what's truly troubling is, you take your refusal to take God's Word seriously, and you promote it as if it's something to be proud of. You act as though you're somehow holy because you remain noncommittal about the fate of those who deny the gospel, while those of us who believe the Word regarding the fate of the wicked are making ourselves out to be God or some such nonsense.

And with that, I'll be signing out of this conversation. I'm guessing comments will be closed before I have time to get back here (it just seems like one of those threads), and really, I don't know what good it will do anyway. I mean, you won't even say that an unrepentant atheist is condemned. Wow dude. Just, wow.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Trogdor: "I mean, you won't even say that an unrepentant atheist is condemned. Wow dude. Just, wow."

FWIW, I have no problem saying that an unrepentant atheist (like Christopher Hitchens) is condemned to Hell.

donsands said...

I think you are wrong about Ryle Terry. But I shall have to read more from his writings and teachings.

What do you think about his second quote? JC Ryle is a man of Scripture first and foremost.

""Once for all, let me entreat every reader of this paper to hold no doctrine about baptism which is not plainly taught in God's Word. Let him beware of maintaining any theory, however plausible, which cannot be supported by Scripture. In religion, it matters nothing who says a thing, or how beautifully he says it. The only question we ought to ask is this, " Is it written in the Bible ? what saith the Lord?"

Here's another one commenting on Matt. 28:19:

"IT is very difficult to conceive when we read this last command of our Lord's, how men can avoid the conclusion that baptism is necessary, when it may be had. It seems impossible to explain the word that we have here of any but an outward ordinance, to be administered to all who join His Church.--That outward baptism is not absolutely necessary to salvation, the case of the penitent thief plainly shews. He went to paradise unbaptized.--That outward baptism alone often confers no benefit, the case of Simon Magus plainly shews. Although baptized, he remained "in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity." (Acts iii.23.)--But that baptism is a matter of entire indifference, and need not be used at all, is an assertion which seems at variance with our Lord's words in this place." -Bishop John Charles Ryle

"

naturgesetz said...

"Clearly the one doing the divine adjudication with respect to sheep and goats is a divine person and not us." — Alex Guggenheim

Clearly that is true, as far as it goes. I'd add that verses 35-45 tell us clearly the basis on which he makes the division.

Terry Rayburn said...

InAwe wrote:

1-Thomas Aquinas lived 1225-1274, whereas The Council of Trent occurred: December 1545.
2-Sproul and Gerstner praise some aspects of Aquinas' apologetic method, but are also very critical of other aspects of his theology --completely reject his soteriology.
3-Certainly of all contemporary theologians there is none who defends SolaFide more ardently than R.C. Sproul. Have you read or listened to any of his work?

We should be more careful to seek to understand another person's position before critically lambasting them."

===============================
First, I'm not saying Aquinas attended the Council. I'm saying he was in lockstep agreement with it's basic teachings on how to be saved (more on that later).
===============================
In Ligonier's Tabletalk magazine, May 1994, Gerstner wrote the following in the article entitled "Aquinas Was A Protestant":

Aquinas "was a medieval Protestant teaching the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone"

Aquinas "taught the biblical doctrine of justification"

Aquinas was "one of Protestantism's greatest theologians"

Aquinas "with Augustine taught the biblical doctrine of justification so that if the Roman church had followed Aquinas the Reformation would not have been absolutely necessary"

Although Gerstner does acknowledge that Aquinas falls short in some areas, still Aquinas' teaching of justification was "essentially the biblical (and Reformation) doctrine"
=================================
R.C., in "Regeneration Precedes Faith" wrote,

"...the great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas taught this doctrine [regeneration precedes faith]....Aquinas insisted that regenerating grace is operative grace, not cooperative grace. Aquinas spoke of prevenient grace, but he spoke of a grace that comes before faith, which is regeneration."

My question is, "So what? He was a work-salvation heretic! Not a Protestant!"
================================
Lets look at some foundations of Thomas Aquinas' theology, from his own Summa Theologica:

a. "Hence it is clear that by [water] Baptism man dies unto the oldness of sin, and begins to live unto the newness of grace. But every sin belongs to the primitive oldness. Consequently every sin is taken away by Baptism."

b. "Sacraments are necessary unto man's salvation for three reasons..."

c. "in order to live righteously a man needs a twofold help of God--first, a habitual gift whereby corrupted human nature is healed, and after being healed is lifted up so as to work deeds meritoriously of everlasting life [emphasis Terry's], which exceed the capability of nature..."

These clearly teach that man's "deeds" or "works" are instrumental to salvation, contrary to the Scriptures, which say that if you add works to grace, it's no longer grace (Rom. 11:6).
===============================

I don't deny that Sproul (and Gerstner) have vigorously defended Sola Fide.

That's why I don't get their long-standing fascination with Aquinas.
===============================
BTW, I couldn't find anything to support your contention that they praised Aquinas' apologetics (I would be interested in reading it if you can cite a source).

But if they did, they are wrong. His apologetics is only tenuously based on Scripture. Like other RCC teachers, it is largely based on Church/Papal dogma/tradition, with a little "reason" thrown in.

Terry Rayburn said...

Donsands wrote:

"What do you think about his second quote? JC Ryle is a man of Scripture first and foremost."

I think any "conservative evangelical" Anglican (in fact any "conservative evangelical" baby baptizer) would SAY and MEAN that they are going by Scripture.

But I disagree, both with any "efficacy" attached to baptism, and baby baptism in general. They are NOT from Scripture IMHO.

thomas4881 said...

I would say a Christian is someone who has God given faith by the word of God that has given them eternal God given salvation that has given them God given righteousness that has given them God given truth so they can stand on the God given prepration of the Gospel of peace.

sonofthunder7 said...

Wow, I was not expecting to see 147 comments here. Just coming in to say that I greatly enjoy Murray's books and biographies and I need to pick this one up, apparently. Thanks for the quote, Dan!

Also, one more piece of wood to throw into the fire...did not Paul "pass judgement" on a number of individuals himself? And most assuredly, he also sought after their repentance, but even more so, he sought to protect the integrity and holiness of the catholic church.

DJP said...

Yeah, it probably is time to close the doors, in favor of Frank's great post.

So I'd remind you all of (hel-lo?) the post itself, and what it was about.

Murray poses the question: is the NT clear enough on what it means to be a Christian? The answer to that is "Yes."

Murray has argued for scores of pages that part of the reason for evangelicalism's collapse was its unwillingness to draw those lines loudly and clearly and consistently, its sick need for approbation and acceptance by those who do not fall within those lines. He was right about that.

Formally affirming those lines and then saying "God will judge" IN THIS CONTEXT is about 13% right and 87% harmful gasbaggery.

I can unambiguously affirm that someone who professes no faith in Christ gives me no reason to hope that he is saved.

I can unambiguously affirm that someone who professes some kind of faith in Christ, while denying cardinal Biblical doctrines, gives me no reason to hope that he is saved, and no excuse for affirming him as a Christian leader in good standing.

I can unambiguously affirm that it is treachery for my to ally myself with someone denying or perverting fundamental doctrines in any way that suggests that I and he are in fundamental accord.

Clear enough? I sure thought so. Certainly it is that clear in Scripture, or books like Galatians and Colossians and Jude pretty much fall to the floor.