30 November 2009

Nineteen questions for signers of "The Manhattan Declaration"

by Dan Phillips

Like many of you, I am absolutely slack-jawedly baffled at some of the names on "The Manhattan Declaration." I have already briefly expressed my own thoughts on that document.

Were I able to get their ear and interview them, these are the questions I would ask of the genuinely evangelical brothers and sisters who signed that thing:
  1. Is the Bible your sole, sufficient, ultimate source and authority for faith and practice?
  2. Do you believe that the Biblical Gospel is the good news that lost, sinful man can be reconciled to God by grace alone, through faith alone, in and because of Christ's person and work alone, to the glory of God alone, as seen with final authority in Scripture alone?
  3. Do you see — note well my wording — Scriptural warrant for applying the word "Christian" to anyone other than one who is yoked as a student to the words of Christ and His apostles (Acts 11:26), who affirms the Gospel as described in #2 above (Acts 26:28), and who has been spiritually regenerated by grace alone through faith alone (1 Peter 4:16; cf. 1:3-5)?
  4. Do you see — again, note well my wording — Scriptural warrant for applying the word "Christian" to anyone who would distort and oppose that Gospel, either personally or by aligning himself directly as a supporter (let alone promoter) of such institutional distortion and opposition?
  5. Do you believe that "distortion" of that Gospel is a damning heresy, such as falls under the thundering apostolic condemnation of Galatians 1:6-9?
  6. Do you believe that Roman Catholicism's official formulation of the gospel is such a damning heresy?
  7. Can a church be a Christian church if it has the Gospel wrong?
  8. What do you believe the Reformation was about?
  9. Do you believe the Reformation was vital and necessary, or a mistake?
  10. Do you agree with the document you signed, that the Popes of the 16th and 17th centuries were Christians (remembering ##1-6, above)?
  11. As to the central themes of the Reformation, has anything fundamental changed today, so that the Reformation is no longer relevant?
  12. Do you believe that persuading people to assent to a vaguely-Biblical opinion about homosexuality, marriage, or abortion is more critical than clearly presenting the Gospel, as described in #2 above?
  13. Do you admit that "The Manhattan Declaration" identifies as Christians men and women who are members of — indeed, leaders within — sects which (A) formally and officially oppose the Gospel as described in #2, above; and which (B) make a great deal of the fact that all adherents of those institutions must walk in lockstep conformity with their formal and official positions?
  14. If your son or daughter were to tell you that he or she wants to join the Orthodox or Roman Catholic church, "Because anyway, you said they were Christians just like you are, except for 'ecclesial difference'" — how would you respond?
  15. Can  your fellow-signatories rely on the "Gospel" that their sects officially proclaim — which "Gospel" contradicts the Gospel as defined in #2 above — and still go to Heaven?
  16. Which is more important and more critical in our day: to define marriage, life, and civil liberty; or to define the Gospel?
  17. How can it be helpful to join hands in defining the former, with those who cannot define the latter?
  18. Can any civic gains that this document achieves for the issues of abortion or marriage offset the spiritual damage it causes in blurring the line between a true, Biblical, saving Gospel, and a false, un-Biblical, damning distortion?
  19. If you have answered all of the preceding questions, can you explain why you would not ask that your name be removed from "The Manhattan Declaration," which over and over again identifies both you and adherents of Gospel-distorting sects as alike Christians, which says that you and they alike "are compelled by our Christian faith," and which repeatedly suggest that you and they alike proclaim "the Gospel"?
The co-signatories made a public statement by endorsing this document. It seems fitting to convey these questions in the same arena.

What I would ask of those who have signed, I would press all the more urgently on anyone tempted to sign.

Now, nobody has to read all of those questions.

EXCEPT: if you want to comment on this post, you do. If you don't seem to have read them all, you will be asked to do so. And if you refuse, your comments will be deleted.

Therefore, if you comment, you will know that it is all about the Gospel.

That means that —
  • We will not have any comments by anyone attempt to derail this into a discussion of homosexuality, abortion, or "co-belligerent" social involvement.
  • We won't have anyone attempt to derail this into a discussion of the relative value of minimalist creeds.
  • We won't have anyone attempt to derail this into a discussion of sociological definitions of "Christian."
  • We won't have anyone attempt to derail this into a discussion of whether non-leaders who attend bad churches without accepting their damnable heresies can individually be saved.
  • We won't have anyone attempt to derail this into a discussion of the spiritual condition of long-dead men or women.
UPDATE: follow-up posts HERE, HERE, and HERE.

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28 November 2009

The Evil of Uncertain Preaching

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "A Sermon for the Time Present," preached at the height of the Down-Grade Controvery, on 30 October 1887.

he brilliance of the gospel light is dimmed by error. The clearness of the testimony is spoiled when doubtful voices are scattered among the people, and those who ought to preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, are telling out for doctrines the imaginations of men, and the inventions of the age.

Instead of revelation, we have philosophy, falsely so-called; instead of divine infallibility, we have surmises and larger hopes. The gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, is taught as the production of progress, a growth, a thing to be amended and corrected year by year. It is an ill day, both for the church and the world, when the trumpet does not give a certain sound; for who shall prepare himself for the battle?

C. H. Spurgeon

27 November 2009

Gambling: The Moral Antithesis of Charity

by Phil Johnson

Here is a list of all the posts in the series:

1. Is Gambling OK? Don't Bet on It
2. Gambling: Some Definitions and Distinctions
3. Answering a couple of objections
4. Oh, and one more thing . . .
5. Gambling vs. Faithful Stewardship
6. Does 'Mutual Consent' Eliminate the Evil in Gambling?
7. A good question
8. The Sin of Putting God to the Test
9. Gambling: The Moral Antithesis of Charity

o review one more time, these are the characteristics that define "gambling":

1. Something valuable is placed at risk
2. Something belonging to someone else is staked as a prize
3. An element of chance supposedly determines the outcome

And finally—

4. In all gambling, wealth is either lost or changes hands; no new wealth or other benefit is created. Gambling violates every biblical principle of economics.

In an earlier post I cited Ephesians 4:28: "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth."

There's far more in that commandment than merely a prohibition against stealing. It also suggests that the proper way to earn wealth is by some form of work. It furthermore reminds us that a wonderful use of surplus wealth is charity towards the poor. Gambling subverts all those principles.

Gambling is economic fraud. It produces nothing. It adds nothing to the larger economy. When you invest money in the stock market, that money goes to work in the economy. It is not like a gambling stake, which just sits there in the jackpot, waiting to be won by one of the players.

Whatever taxes and commissions are skimmed from government-regulated lotteries and actually put back into the economy are more than offset by the losses of people who purchase tickets and do not win. Statistics show clearly that the most profoundly negative economic effects of gambling are felt in the sectors of society where the poverty level is already high. So gambling's worst impact hurts the very same segments of society where charity would have done the most good.

The corollary of this is that the apparent prosperity of casinos in places like Las Vegas is gained at the direct expense of other communities, industries, and individuals. Gambling is always a zero-sum game.

Gambling simply transfers money from the hands of many to the hands of the few through frivolous means fraught with questionable motives—just the opposite of all sound economic principles.

The Bible does spell out some clear principles regarding economics and the exchange of money, goods, and services.

Of course, property and possessions were normally passed on within one's own family (or to one's legal heirs) by inheritance.

Beyond that, however, there are three legitimate means of exchanging wealth and transferring property to others. One is through labor, where money is earned by effort expended (Ephesians 4:28; 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12; Luke 10:7). Another is through commerce (including buying, selling, and otherwise investing—Matthew 25:14-29). The third is through giving—including gifts of charity (Luke 19:8; Ephesians 4:28).

Gambling has none of the elements that make those enterprises good. It involves no work. It contributes nothing of value to the economy. And it is the moral antithesis of charity.

Speaking of gambling's macro effects on the economy, much more could be said about the evil that surrounds the gambling industry. It breeds crime and corruption; it undermines character; it does not promote godliness; it violates private industry; it undermines the good of society; it exploits the poor; and it promotes false values.

Furthermore, when government sanctions and even participates in sponsoring gambling, it departs from (and even works against) the God-ordained role of government, which is to seek the public welfare by punishing crime, keeping order, and defending against foreign attacks. State-sanctioned gambling makes the government the oppressor of the poor and the promoter of activities that spawn all kinds of corruption and evil.

Again, every argument I have made suggests that gambling is wrong in principle.

As Christians, we are commanded to be content with what we have, and to trust God as our Provider. We are forbidden to covet what belongs to our neighbor, and we are commanded to love that neighbor as ourselves. We are commanded to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We are commanded to shun that which is evil—abstaining from every form of evil.

That's why, although I have acknowledged that penny-ante games are often trivial (and by no means any major concern of mine), my counsel to believers who ask about the issue would be this: it's naive and potentially dangerous to toy with any kind of gambling as a form of "recreation." If gambling is indeed wrong in principle (as I believe the weight of all the biblical arguments demonstrates) then it is surely wise to avoid the practice no matter the amount or the frequency.

In closing, let me say . . .

Some readers asked me to address the question of whether raffles, door prizes, and carnival-style contests as fund-raising devices are morally equivalent to gambling. My short answer is that it depends on the circumstances. The definition of gambling I gave at the outset is my best answer to that. If the raffle prize is a donated item given to charity and not a "stake" paid for by entry fees, it wouldn't be gambling by most legal definitions.

I'm not fond of such gimmicks for fund-raising anyway—especially for churches and Christian organizations. But I would not suggest that it's always a "sin" to participate in them, especially if the bulk of the funds collected really do go to some legitimate charity. Such cases, however, wouldn't fit likely my definition of gambling, so the point is really moot, I think.

I'll leave the intricate dissection of countless hypothetical cases and counter-examples to people who love that sort of casuistry.

Speaking of which, I've gotten some messages from a few people who have claimed my biblical arguments prove nothing about whether gambling per se is wrong, because (in the words of one correspondent): "You don't know people's hearts, so you can't prove that everyone who gambles is really coveting his neighbor's possessions."

Well, it certainly seems obvious that the gambler is trying to win his neighbor's possessions, and I honestly can't think of many righteous motives for doing that. But the argument about reading another person's heart is true in exactly the same sense that I can't prove every man who fills his spare time looking at pornography on the internet is sinfully lusting. I still tell men they should not do that under any circumstances. In any case, the guy who gets caught doing it is probably going to have a hard sell convincing his own wife it was all so innocent. In a case like that, I'm happy to let the man answer to God and his own wife.

Similarly, to those who are so keen to justify penny-ante and "recreational" gambling, I'm quite happy to leave the issue between you, your conscience, and the Lord, who judges righteously. Don't feel obliged to try to convince me that what you're doing isn't tainted with covetousness or presumption or any of the other bad motives I have associated with the act of gambling.

To be perfectly clear: the evil motives are what I say is sin, not the gaming aspects of gambling. I'm not trying to establish a legalistic rule on issues where the Bible doesn't spell out a rule. I'm trying to give a little pastoral counsel and shed some biblical light on the complex of evils that surround gambling, so that you can give a fuller answer to the question of whether gambling is OK than the bare (and foolish) assertion that since there's no proof text that says gambling's "sin," Christians shouldn't say anything against it.

On the contrary, it is a plague on our culture (and every culture where it has been legalized) and Christians should not be silent or neutral about it.

Talk amongst yourselves.

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26 November 2009

Grateful for the goodness of creation (Thanks from Genesis 1:1, part four)

by Dan Phillips

[Sorry, the RefTagger program messes up the title. In this fourth and final post in the Valerie-inspired series on thankfulness, we glean yet a bit more from Genesis 1:1.]
Genesis 1:1 has shown us that God first produced the universe out of nothing.  Next we focused on the Creator/creature distinction; and then the fundamental revelation of this one Creator-God.

Finally we step back and look at the whole. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" means the universe, including all things "in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities" (Colossians 1:16). Matter was a direct and immediate creation of God.

If that simple statement itself is not plain and emphatic enough, we have the additional repetition of the narrative, to this effect: "And God saw that [the material arrangement He had just made] was good." This occurs every day (—except Monday!), and the whole is crowned in 1:32 by "very good!" Matter mattered, and the matter God created was good.

Many of us read this without raising an eyebrow, but (A) it was not always thus, and (B) it is not everywhere thus, even now. Philosophies and religions have always existed that get quivery when it comes to matter, as if material universe per se were either evil or inconsequential. "Matter doesn't matter," or "Matter is badder," would be their bumper-stickers.

Whether it is the Platonist jawing on about the Ideal, or the Christian Scientist insisting that matter is an illusion of mortal mind (even as she munches her cookie and tugs at her sweater), or whether it is the Gnostic straining with all his might to distance the Deity from creation, it is all shattered by this simple revelation: "God created the heavens and the earth."

God did not simply create a study or a La-Z-Boy, and bid Adam sit down and contemplate. He made a glorious and endlessly multiform creation, bid Adam subdue and rule it (Genesis 1:26-28), and urged him to eat to his heart's content of its fruits (2:16) — with only one exception (2:17). However, Adam ate of that one exception (3:6), which in turn changed creation. Adam's turf was tarnished by Adam's turpitude (3:17-19), and subjected to futility and the bondage of corruption (Romans 8:20-21), from which it will one day be rescued.

So, you see, how Adam interacted with matter, with created things, mattered. It mattered immediately, and it mattered eternally. His interaction with creation was a thing for the courtroom. He was to subdue it; he was to rule it; he was to enjoy it — and he was to keep his paws off of one part of it. These were God's words, and that fact gave moral and spiritual significance to the whole. His sin, committed by violating God's law as it touched on one created item, brought corruption and decay and chaos into the whole created theater.

In the meanwhile, man does not live by bread alone (Deuteronomy 8:3) — but he does live by bread, and can ask God to keep it coming (Matthew 6:11), and thank Him for all of His good gifts, material as well as spiritual (cf. Deuteronomy 26:10-11; Ephesians 1:3ff.).

So don't feel bad about thanking God for delicious turkey, bread, family, or whichever of His good created gifts you enjoy today. In fact, feel bad if you don't (cf. Romans 1:21).

Just make very sure that you heartily value yet more the bread of life, who is our Lord Jesus (John 6:35ff.). Through Him "let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15 NAS), and let us look with thankfulness to that kingdom which cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:26-29).
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him;
bless his name!
(Psalm 100:4)
Thank God!

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25 November 2009

The Sin of Putting God to the Test

by Phil Johnson

ere's a third characteristic of gambling. Remember, Gambling involves 1) Something valuable that is placed at risk; 2) Something belonging to someone else that is staked as a prize; and:

3. Gambling involves an element of chance that supposedly determines the outcome. This is a practical denial of the doctrine of divine providence.

God is sovereign over our prosperity. Deuteronomy 8:18 says, "It is [the Lord] that giveth thee power to get wealth."

Hope in sheer fortune is misplaced hope. Faith in "Good Luck" is misplaced faith. It is a kind of idolatry. We are not supposed to hope in such things.

In fact, there is no such thing as sheer, random chance. God is sovereign over all the details of life. The Bible says He even determines every roll of the dice: "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD" (Proverbs 16:33, NKJV).

There is nothing random in gambling. There is no such thing as Lady Luck, or the goddess of fortune, or Chance as a determinative force. God is sovereign even over the roll of the dice; He is the one who sovereignly determines everything that appears to be random.

That is why in the Old Testament, many decisions were made by drawing lots. And even early in the book of Acts, a replacement for Judas was chosen by lots. That was one way people had of getting guidance from God before canon of Scripture was complete and the Spirit given. (I don't believe it's a legitimate way for you and me to determine the will of God, but that is a totally different matter.)

The drawing of lots in such cases was not "gambling," because there was no transfer of any assets from the loser to the winner.

Someone will surely ask, "If God is the one who determines the roll of the dice, then what's wrong with trusting the Lord for the outcome of a gambling contest? Why not put my money on the spin of a roulette wheel and trust God for the ball to fall in the right place?"

Think about that question seriously. If that were a legitmate means of gaining wealth at all—if such an attitude were a true and warranted expression of authentic "faith" in any real sense—it would actually be better to bet your whole livelihood, your church's assets, and everything you could possibly get your hands on, on a single roll of the dice. Why squander an opportunity to make the most of an act of faith?

But we all know that's a ridiculous question, on the face of it. In fact, the question is not functionally different from the one with which Satan tempted Jesus: "Why don't you jump off the pinnacle of the Temple? You know the Bible says, "He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up."

Remember Jesus' answer? Matthew 4:7: "Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." That's a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:16: "Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God."

Although we know God determines everything, including every roll of the dice, we are strictly forbidden to put Him to the test.

And furthermore, you cannot pretend to "trust" God for something He has not promised. To speak of trusting God in such circumstances is to twist the meaning of faith. God has never promised to allow you to prosper at a game of chance, so to think that He will is not to "trust" Him, but to presume on Him, and that is sin.

In fact, I don't believe God would ever reward someone by letting that person prosper in an evil activity. When God permits someone to prosper in an evil pursuit, it is actually a prelude to judgment. So if you are a Christian who gambles and you have been winning, that might not be a good thing at all.

Betting on chance events when you know God is the One who determines the outcome is no better than jumping off a building because He has promised to provide you with angelic protection against calamity. To bet money on some kind of game is the moral equivalent of asking God to preserve you when you deliberately put your hand in the fire. Both are ways of putting the Lord your God to the test. And that is a sin. It's also one more reason why gambling is wrong in principle.

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24 November 2009

Grateful for the revelation of the one Creator God (Thanks from Genesis 1:1, part three)

by Dan Phillips

[Sorry, the RefTagger program messes up the title. In this third Valerie-inspired series on thankfulness, we dig further in Genesis 1:1.]

In our first reflection on Genesis 1:1, we saw that the words "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" teach us that God first produced the universe out of nothing.

Then we focused on the impact of the revealed truth of the Creator/creature distinction, the fact that God is other than and apart from His creation.

Now we pause to focus on what is perhaps a more fundamental fact, as expressed in the second and third words of the (Hebrew) Bible: "God created." Though the word translated "God" in Hebrew ('elōhîm) is plural in form, the verb (bārā') is not. One God created.

This was nothing to be taken for granted in Moses' day. Polytheism was the rule, and creation-myths were very different from Moses' account in every important way. The earlier Babylonian Enuma Elish depicted a great battle, with Marduk killing the evil Tiamat, and forming earth and heavens from her corpse.

None of that can be found in Genesis 1:1ff. One lone God creates everything out of nothing by mere fiat. The Bible stresses this fact over and over. Job speaks of God "who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea" (Job 9:8).

Again, Isaiah 44:24 declares, "Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: 'I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.'" God creates unaided, and unopposed.

Thus Paul can cry out without exaggeration, "For from him and through him and to him are all things" (Romans 11:36a).

We would not know these truths from musing on creation itself alone. Creation attests that there is a Creator, and that the Creator is powerful (Romans 1:19-20), but not a lot more. It falls to Scripture to tell us of the nature, essence, character, attributes, and will of this Creator God.

So it does. We must recognize that Genesis 1:1 is but the beginning of one long, long revelatory sentence that goes on and on and on, not finishing until the final words of Revelation 22:21.

When we read Genesis 1:1 in that light, we know that behind the mysterious 'elōhîm indeed lies a plurality-in-unity, as the Father created all things through the Son (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16). We know that this one God already had made a plan for the ages in Christ (Ephesians 3:11), an eternal plan providing for the redemption (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4-5) of those whom He had already selected and predestined (Ephesians 1:3-5).

We creatures need not wander in trackless darkness, wondering what we are, and what or who made us. This God made us; He defined us; He defines our universe. In the end, we shall give account to this one God, and face His judgment. Our great need — every one of us — is to know God our Creator, on His terms.

Nothing that we need to know has been held back. All has been revealed, including the mind and heart of this one infinite, personal Creator. By that revelation, we can know who He is, and we can know Him.

Thank God!

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23 November 2009

A good question

by Phil Johnson

A reader sent me this excellent question:

Do you think your principle ["if you merely participate in a gambling contest with a desire to win, you are guilty of coveting that which belongs to your neighbor"] applies exclusively to gambling, or does it apply to any and all forms of competitive activity? For example, if I enter a boxing match, or any other competitive activity, I am entering it to win. Does this mean that I am guilty of violating the tenth commandment by coveting my opponents title, belt, or even reputation? It seems to me that it does, but I'm not sure.

Possibly but not necessarily. There's nothing wrong with competing in a contest to win. The apostle Paul clearly commended that desire in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

There are undoubtedly times, however, when an athlete's motives might be tainted with sinful pride and even sinful ill-will toward the opponent. (I think that's been a pervasive problem in modern professional sports at least since the time of Cassius Clay.) But I don't think that's always necessarily a part of athletic competition, or Scripture would condemn athletics altogether.

What makes gambling different, and always wrong in my estimation, is that there's no way to win without actually hurting other competitors. Your victory costs them something real (not just their own pride or title), and what you win is something to which you have no legitimate entitlement. Therefore, I have suggested it's tantamount to stealing.

Winning someone else's title isn't nearly the same thing, because you are entitled (by definition) to compete for that. It isn't really the other person's personal and private possession—except for a stint between contests.

I made note of this obliquely in my description of why gambling is tantamount to stealing: "It is the taking of that which belongs to your neighbor and to which you have no right."

You couldn't say that about the title in a sporting contest. You have a right, if you have the ability, to be champion of the US Open. But if you win, that title is rightfully yours for only one year, unless you legitimately win it again.

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Does 'Mutual Consent' Eliminate the Evil in Gambling?

by Phil Johnson

e are looking at four essential characteristics in a standard definition of gambling. I have argued that each of the four characteristics involves a violation of one or more vital biblical principles.

In other words, gambling is sinful for more than one reason. It's wrong on several counts. When you gamble, whether you win or lose, you violate God's moral law—quite possibly on multiple levels.

My previous post began this argument by pointing out that if you merely participate in a gambling contest with a desire to win, you are guilty of coveting that which belongs to your neighbor. The tenth commandment expressly forbids that.

Now consider the second of gambling's four distinguishing features. Here is, I believe, the most significant evil inherent in the practice of gambling:

2. In a gambling contest, something that belongs to someone else is placed at stake as the prize. The person who collects that prize violates the eighth commandment: "Thou shalt not steal" (Exodus 20:15).

I began this series of posts by recounting an incident where a college student challenged my views on gambling. He argued that winning a wager is not really the same as stealing, because the winnings are put up as a stake by mutual consent.

But when someone commits an act that causes hurt to another person, even if he does it with the victim's full permission, the mere fact of prior consent does not necessarily absolve either party from guilt. Lots of crimes are carried out and sins are committed by mutual consent that are nonetheless immoral or illegal. In such cases, mutual consent usually means that the moral culpability in the wrongdoing is shared jointly by both parties. It does not eliminate the guilt of the perpetrator.

A duel, for example, is a contest where one opponent kills another by mutual consent. The fact of the victim's consent does not absolve the victor from the guilt of murder, either in the eyes of God or in the eyes of the state. (I realize, of course, that certain societies have sometimes permitted dueling. That does not alter the immorality of the practice. It is certainly not justifiable by any biblical standard.) Kill someone in a duel in a just and civilized society, and you probably will be charged with murder.

Gambling is to theft what dueling is to murder.

Gambling is stealing by mutual consent. But it is still stealing. It is the taking of that which belongs to your neighbor and to which you have no right. It is not like a gift, which is given willingly and gratuitously. It is a loss he sustains to his hurt, even though he gives his consent to the contest before the die is cast.

Gambling is therefore morally tantamount to stealing. As such, it is a violation of every biblical principle regarding the gaining and sharing of our possessions.

Ephesians 4:28 says, "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth." That is the spirit of Christianity, and it is the polar opposite of the various sentiments that drive gambling.

Is there no place for a "friendly bet?"

The question of whether penny-ante gambling is a petty sin is quite different from the question of whether it's a sin at all. If it's a matter of principle that makes gambling wrong, and not a particular amount, we ought to recognize that fact and acknowledge it. I'm expressly arguing that gambling is wrong in principle.

But to be clear: I'm not arguing that all forms of gambling are equally egregious. I'm not suggesting that church discipline should be carried out against Christians who play penny-ante poker. It should be fairly obvious that the size and seriousness of the wrong in a gambling contest is proportional to the amount gambled (among other factors).

Just in case that is not clear to someone, however, let me state plainly that I am not trying to portray the guy who plays Texas Holdem for spare nickels as a miscreant on the same level as the guy who foolishly bets the family farm on the spin of a roulette wheel. Gambling, like any sin, is wrong by degrees.

So I will gladly stipulate that the wrong in betting spare change is ordinarily quite trivial. We could probably list a whole lot of similarly trivial sins. I would argue, however, that in no case is it ever wise or even morally justifiable for Christians to practice any sin (even at a level we might all agree is "trivial")—especially for entertainment purposes, or with the express purpose of perfecting one's technique.

Trivial sins are, after all, still sins.

The problem with trivial sins is that when they are tolerated—especially when they are nurtured and defended—they tend to become big and bold. They also breed other sins. A £5-per-week addiction to playing the lottery will feed an awful lot of covetous fantasies.

It's really no wonder crime statistics are always higher wherever gambling is freely indulged in. In a society that caters to people's covetousness by sanctioning a form of larceny, we should not be surprised when other kinds of crime increase as well.

Feed the sins of "trivial" covetousness and thievery, and they will beget more evil. That's why Paul instructed the Ephesians to get as far from the sin of covetousness as they could. Notice that he ranked it along with fornication as the kind of sin that should never be dabbled in at any level: "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints" (Ephesians 5:3).

Some people think all kinds of covetousness are "trivial," but the apostle often listed covetousness right alongside the most heinous of sins: "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: for which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience" (Colossians 3:5-6).

So the sin of covetousness, which lies behind every form of gambling, is in the same category of wickedness as the sin of fornication. What do you think of gambling as a form of "entertainment" now?

Scripture says, "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have" (Hebrews 13:5). Gambling violates that commandment. And if you should happen to win, you have to add stealing to the list of sins you have committed by your gambling.

Remember, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and according to 1 Timothy 6:10, and those who love money tend to stray from the faith and pierce themselves through with many sorrows. The wreckage of many lives destroyed by gambling provides ample proof of that.

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20 November 2009

God's Perfect Law

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "The Law's Failure and Fulfillment," a sermon originally preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on Sunday evening, 1 March 1891.

HE law of God is perfect. You cannot add anything to it, nor take anything from it, without spoiling it. If you will read the Ten Commands and understand them in their spiritual meaning, you will find that they are far-reaching, and that they deal with every sin.

I noticed, some time ago, that a learned prelate said that he could not find any commandment against gambling. Where were his eyes? Is it not plainly written, "Thou shalt not covet"? What is gambling but covetousness in action? Most manifestly, the gambler desires his neighbour's goods, and this desire gives zest to the vice, which the law of God quite plainly condemns.

Depend upon it, there is nothing wrong but the law condemns it, and there is nothing right but the law approves it. The Decalogue is an absolutely perfect law.

C. H. Spurgeon

Gambling vs. Faithful Stewardship

by Phil Johnson

     closed Wednesday's post with a list of four distinguishing marks drawn from a standard definition of "gambling." All four of these are true of every variety of gambling:

One, something valuable is put at risk. Two, something belonging to someone else is at stake as a prize. Three, an element of chance is involved in determining the outcome. And four, no new wealth is created in the process.

Now, let's devote a few posts to considering each of those features of gambling, one at a time. It is my contention that there's something in each one of them that conflicts with biblical principles. We'll take them in order, starting with the first:

Gambling places something valuable at risk for an illegitimate purpose. That violates the most basic biblical principles of wise and faithful stewardship.

Let me point out first of all that one of the fundamental principles of all biblical stewardship is given to us in the Tenth Commandment, Exodus 20:17: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's." It's is a sin to covet anything that belongs to your neighbor. This is not a gray area.

Gambling is covetousness distilled to its very essence

I know people—and in all likelihood you do, too—who claim that they gamble only for entertainment or recreation; not out of greed or covetousness.

But if it's mere entertainment they seek, why not play a game without staking any money on the outcome? Every gambler to whom I have ever posed that question has given me the same answer: "To play a game with nothing at stake is not as much fun." The stake makes the game more "fun" or more "interesting."

As a matter of fact, one commenter made that very point: "Poker simply doesn't work without some money at stake . . . the money at stake adds to the enjoyment of the game." He said he plays for small amounts—so that "the financial losses are not enough to be any more than entertainment money, and the prize not enough to create greed."

Analyze that for a moment. Why would the element of gambling make a game more "fun?" There is only one reason: because the "fun" is derived not from the game itself but from the possibility of winning something that belongs to your neighbor. In other words, what makes gambling "fun" is pure covetousness.

Sorry to be blunt about it, but that is sin.

Note carefully: it's the principle of covetousness that makes that sort of "fun" sin, not the size of the stake. A Christian who thinks it's safe to cultivate covetous desires as long as the sum at stake is small has completely missed Paul's point in 1 Timothy 6:9-11:
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.

Gambling involves an inordinate desire to get something from one's neighbor without a legitimate exchange. So it is a sin on those grounds, even if we said nothing further.

But There's More . . .

Gambling can be a sinful dereliction of the steward's duty for several other reasons as well. Note: I'm not arguing here that every act of gambling is necessarily tainted by all the following sins. But these are all major factors in the complex of evils that commonly accompany gambling. Anyone who practices gambling as a pattern of life is systematically tolerating and even cultivating the sin of covetousness in his or her heart. That person will of course be especially susceptible to many of the corresponding temptations, too:
  • Slothfulness. Get-rick-quick schemes are practically all foolish and immoral. Solomon wrote this in Proverbs 28:22: "A man with an evil eye hastens after riches, and does not consider that poverty will come upon him."
         The promise of easy wealth is an overt appeal to slothful desire. Yet most gamblers freely acknowledge that the promise of gaining money quickly and with little effort is one of the major factors that adds to the "fun" of gaming. In other words, gambling fuels both covetousness and sloth.
  • Foolishness. Listen to Proverbs 22:16: "He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want." That's an interesting verse. Most of us will instinctively understand that it is sinful to oppress the poor in order to increase our riches. But the verse also says that you shouldn't just give your money to the rich. Who would give their money away to rich people? People who gamble in casinos are doing it all the time.
         Numerous studies have shown that poor people tend to spend a much larger proportion of their income on gambling than people in middle—or upper-income brackets. Gambling is a particular plague on lower-income people, primarily because of its illegitimate promise of getting rich quick. More than one study has demonstrated that the poor bet more than three times the amount wagered by persons in middle-income and upper-income brackets.
         Meanwhile, those who are licensed to sponsor lotteries and casino games never lose—they gain enormous wealth by taking money off the top, and by skewing the odds overwhelmingly in their favor.
         In other words, money won in state lotteries and other forms of gambling is money taken from the poor. And money lost in such wagers is money given to the rich. So both of the evils condemned in Proverbs 22:16 are fostered by the machinery of gambling. If you want to oppress the poor and give your money to the rich, there is no more systematic way to do it than through gambling.
  • Profligacy. Gambling is an expensive business. In 1974, statistics showed Americans were betting about $17 billion per year through legal channels. That was an astronomical sum, but it ballooned to $330 billion by 1992. By most estimates, Americans now wager more than $600 billion each year. That's more than we spend on food. It's seriously wasteful by any standard.
  • A lack of self-control. Furthermore, as the above statistics (and many others) indicate, gambling is seriously addictive. Research suggests that one in every ten gamblers does so compulsively. There are an estimated ten million gambling addicts in the United States alone. And the average compulsive gambler has debts exceeding $80,000. It is a bigger problem than alcoholism. And in areas where gambling is widespread—such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City—the suicide rate is three times higher than the national average.
  • Miscellaneous concerns. There is the stewardship of time. Gambling consumes people's leisure time with activities that are neither relaxing nor healthy for the body.
         We could also talk about gambling's negative impact on philanthropy and charity for the poor.
         And there's gambling's destructive consequences for marriage and the family; its detrimental effect on society, the crime rate, and the spiritual climate wherever gambling flourishes. Gambling has been shown to contribute to turmoil and physical abuse in the home, crime and violence in society, and all kinds of personal and psychological disorders in the person who is addicted to gambling.
The effects of gambling are virtually all bad. And no wonder. It is contrary to everything Scripture teaches about wise stewardship.

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19 November 2009

Grateful for the revealed Creator/creation distinction (Thanks from Genesis 1:1, part two)

by Dan Phillips

[Sorry, the RefTagger program messes up the title. In this second Valerie-inspired series on thankfulness, we stay with Genesis 1:1.]

As I observed last time, when Moses writes "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," he is asserting that God's first creative act was producing the universe out of nothing. This truth is jam-packed with meaning. We shouldn't rush past it too hastily.

We know for a fact, then, that everything was created from nothing by Someone. That Someone — the infinite-personal God revealed in Scripture — thus stands apart from, above and beyond every created thing. Genesis 1:1 is Genesis 1:1; it is not 1:1b. It is not preceded by a verse detailing the origin of God.

Why not? Because it is the nature of God to be without origin. God alone is the Uncaused Cause. Think of it this way: there are two orders of things in the universe — caused, and uncaused. In the former column stretches a vast, almost endless list detailing every created thing. In the latter column, one entry alone: God.  As Moses himself would later sing,
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Psalm 90:2)
That teaches us something vital, then, about all creation. It is all contingent. It all depends on something else for its origin. Nor is it surprising that it all continues to be contingent, depending on something else for its continued existence (cf. Colossians 1:17; I develop this theme more in this conference session). It is temporal, passing, evanescent (Psalm 102:25-26; Isaiah 34:4; 40:6-8).

But all those facts teach us corollary truths about the Creator. Unlike creation, He is unconditioned and non-contingent, depending on nothing for His being nor continuance (Exodus 3:14; Psalm 90:2; 102:27; John 8:58; Hebrews 13:8). He is supreme above all, in every sense.

All these "theological" truths bear very practical fruit. They tell me verities I desperately need to know, or I literally do not know the first thing necessary to make sense of Life, the Universe, much less All That.
  1. I should not live for any created thing. All things are on the same plane, with a few variations: money, pleasure-in-things/experiences, fame, influence. All things are just things, and all things are temporary, contingent, secondary (at best). No created thing is sufficiently weighty, stable, significant, nor worthy to give ultimate meaning nor purpose. All will pass away, as will all who live for them (1 John 2:16-17a).
  2. I should live for the Creator. Meaning and significance are not to be located in the effects, but in the Cause; not in the tributaries, but in the fountainhead. I should hold Him chief in my mind from my youth (Ecclesiastes 12:1), because I will only learn my design from my Designer. Neglect that, and I will live a meaningless, trivial, wasted life, no matter what I do.
  3. I should not live in fear of any created thing. None is ultimate. No matter how fierce, powerful, nor forceful, there is One who transcends them. Like me, they are contingent. Like me, they are limited. Like me, they can be bested. What's more, the worst they can do to me is kill me.
  4. I should live in fear of the Creator. The worst a creature can do is kill me, but the Creator can do far worse to me (Matthew 10:28). Unlike creatures, the Creator is unconditioned, relentless, unlimited, incapable of being bested. The buck always stops with Him. (Besides, whether a creature kills me or not is the Creator's call, anyway.)
  5. In sum, the center of my life must be the knowledge, worship and service of the Creator, not the creature. Miss that, and I miss life, period: I am fatally off-target as to the meaning of myself, of my world, and of others. I'm like someone who thinks The Lord of the Rings is all about this forgetful innkeeper named Butterbur, or that A Christmas Carol centers around the tale of a woman named Fezziwig, married to a generous business owner. These are minor, peripheral characters — focus on them, and I've missed the whole story. Focus on creation rather than Creator, and I've missed the whole story, and far more beside.

To this day, vast millions and even billions have "exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever" (Romans 1:25). Of course I mean the animists, of course I mean the polytheists and the idolaters — but no less do I mean the youth-worshipers, the health-worshipers, the trend-worshipers, the image-worshipers, and the sex-worshipers; the Greens, the Reds; the eco-fascists and the evo-fascists.

And so, from Genesis 1:1, I thank God for the stark and clear revelation of the Creator/creature distinction. In that light alone can I make sense of life, and find my place by finding His face.

Thus we can —
Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 100:3)

Thank God!

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18 November 2009

Oh, and one more thing . . .

by Phil Johnson

he following is adapted from comments I originally posted in other forums, but since what I have to say below is germane to the large subject under discussion, I've distilled it here and am posting it so that it will be permanently attached to this thread. Like my remarks in the immediately preceding post, this one answers several e-mails that have been sent to me directly, and a few posts that have appeared other forums:

The distinctions I made in the "definitions" post are not ideas I made up. And they are not as ambiguous as a few argumentative souls seem to want to pretend. What I have attempted to give is essentially a simple summary of the legal definition of gambling.

Please allow me first of all to try to cut through a lot of niggling questions that have been put to me about whether investing in the stock market is really any different from "gambling": The distinction I have made between gambling and investing in stocks is recognized by the laws of every state in the union. Investing in stocks is not a form of "gambling." That's what the law says, not merely how I "feel" about the question. In the preceding post I gave several sources that explain in careful detail why this is a valid distinction. Notice that the articles at the links I gave all expand on pretty much the very same arguments I made in the post itself. I'm not inventing these arguments as I go.

Unfortunately, I simply can't take time to respond individually to every dissenting "well, it seems to me . . ."-style argument. So if someone wants to try to make a cogent argument that investing in stocks is really exactly the same thing as gambling after all, please link to a credible source where someone who is knowledgeable about economics and the law agrees with and supports that position.

As John Calvin would say, Good luck.

Incidentally, the argument (made by more than one person who e-mailed me) that there are always losers whose losses correspond to the gains of every winner in the stock market is essentially a jejune argument based on the long-discredited dogma of popular socialism. It simply is not true, and the economic growth in the United States since World War II seems rather convincing proof that the socialist argument holds no water whatsoever.

The comments in my in-box today make it clear that there are a lot of people who have never really thought through the issue of gambling but have strong feelings about "legalism" and whatnot. In many cases, it seems, they are prepared to offer a kneejerk denial to any suggestion that this or that questionable vice or popular "leisure" activity is inherently sinful. One of my more prolific critics basically admitted that he was making up arguments on the fly, but he wanted me to help him think out loud. Sorry. That's not what we are doing here.

My plea is simple: If you're just spoiling for a fight about some argument you think I am going to make—or if you have already made up your mind (no matter what) that gambling is OK and you are going to try to deconstruct any and every argument against it—please at least let me finish my whole argument first. I would also encourage you to read carefully and seriously think through what I'm saying before you react.

Finally, (for those who predictably demand that every argument START with biblical proof-texts) please notice that I'm making a rather systematic argument, and it's not nearly finished yet.

I'm sorry there is no easy biblical proof-text about gambling. Often the question of whether something is sinful or not has to be thoroughly considered as a matter of biblical principle rather than instantly dismissed with a Scripture reference. In such cases, it is usually necessary to be even more careful in defining and thinking through the foundational questions step by step.

But I acknowledged all of that at the very outset, and I have already said where I am going in the discussion (i.e., "Each of the essential characteristics of gambling violates one or more biblical principles. In the next post in this series, we'll begin to see why"). So comments e-mailed to me from lurkers who say things like "You haven't really given us anything biblical yet"—frankly are not particularly helpful.

The definitions I have given are essential groundwork for showing why gambling violates certain biblical principles. I actually said so in the post itself.

After I'm done, you can scold me if you think my argument isn't biblical. But to throw out that objection when I've barely finished defining terms isn't really a helpful approach to an issue like this one.

While I'm at it, here's a special note for some particularly mischievous first-time commenters: Please try to be serious if you comment. I'm really not looking for off-the-cuff arguments from every penny-ante poker aficionado who might be lurking. These are meant to be serious posts about a serious problem with serious ramifications in our society, and the feedback I'm most interested in is from church leaders who are serious about considering a tough subject carefully.

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Answering a couple of objections

by Phil Johnson

et me respond to some feedback that appeared in a different forum. I don't participate in the other forum, but the person who wrote this e-mailed it to me and invited me to respond. I'm posting my response here, because it might clear up some confusion other people have, too.

He writes,

I would disagree with him on this one [no losers in stock trading] to a certain extent. If I buy a stock at $10/share, and the value goes up to $20/share, ON PAPER it appears that ALL investors have earned money . . .BUT, that's only on paper.

That's simply untrue. It completely misrepresents how the stock market works. (See the links below.) Buying stock is an actual investment in a company. When stock value goes up, real jobs are created, company assets increase, and the potential for future profits is also increased. The increased wealth is not merely "on paper."

He further says,

If I decide to sell that stock, SOMEBODY has to fork out that extra money in order to purchase for $20 what I bought for $10. So, I am not sure if his attempt to show that the stock market has NO losers is air-tight. I seem to recall at the end of each stock trading day, there is always a report of the winners and LOSERS."

You are turning language on its head and unnecessarily clouding the whole issue. The suggestion that someone who invests in stock at a higher price has "lost" money is absurd. Apply that claim to the buying and selling of real estate and you'll see why it simply doesn't work.

And the "winners" and "losers" in the stock market report are stocks whose value rose (winners) or fell (losers). What I said was not an "attempt to show that the stock market has NO losers." And nowhere did I say there are "no losers in stock trading."

What I said was, "There are no losers when a stock gains value." The point is that in the stock market, the winners' gains do not come at the losers' expense. It's not really a complex point, but it is a significant one. In fact, it touches on the central point of my whole argument, so please don't let it get buried under a mass of unnecessary confusion.

Anyone tempted to comment further in this vein ought to do a little reading about the stock market and how it works. Many fine articles are easily available on line that show why investing in stocks is not a form of "gambling." See for example:

And here's an article that graphically illustrates the difference between investing in stocks and betting on the stock market: Just Plain Crazy, by Charles Jaffe, The Investor Direct

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A Glutton's gratitude

by Frank Turk

I think I'm ashamed to tell you that I am grateful that I struggle with my weight problem rather than whether or not my children will eat well each day. [Deu 6:10-12] I'm grateful for my moral dilemmas rather than the fundamental dilemma of subsistance.

Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we receive from thy Bounty, in Christ's name. Amen.

Gambling: Some Definitions and Distinctions

by Phil Johnson

This is part 2 of a series that started here. Bear in mind that all of this series was written more than 4 years before any of these comments. (You guys are so predictable!)

To gamble is to wager on a contest or to play at a game of chance for stakes. When you gamble, you are risking money (or something else of value) on the outcome of something that involves an element of chance, uncertainty, or hazard—for the possibility of winning something someone else has put at stake.

A stake is a prize one person stands to gain through the loss of others.

Simple contest prizes, such as free sweepstakes and door prizes, do not involve gambling if no fee is charged for entry into the contest. Sweepstakes contests sponsored for advertising purposes are paid for by the sponsor. The winner's prize is not financed by the loss of other contestants. Therefore it is not gambling. Nothing is put at stake by the contestants in such events.

Likewise, investing in the stock market is not "gambling," regardless of how much risk is involved. If a stock gains value, all investors earn money. The gains of one investor are not financed by the losses of others. In other words, there are no losers when a stock gains value. When the stock value increases, the economic "pie" grows.

By contrast the size of the economic pie in a gambling contest is fixed. The prize is a pool of money contributed by the players. A casino may take a percentage of that pie off the top, but otherwise, the size of the pie is fixed by the aggregate total of the players' contributions.

Similarly, a farmer who plants seed hoping to yield a crop takes a calculated risk. (If weather or disease destroys the crop, he could lose all he has invested in the crop.) That risk is not, technically, a "gamble," because if the investment pays off, no one loses. Real wealth has been created, unlike in gambling, where no wealth is ever actually created.

In gambling, existing wealth merely changes hands. In other words, one person's gain always comes at the price of hurt caused to others. That is the reason an immoral principle underlies all gambling. (We'll probe this point more carefully before the end of this series.)

One more misconception is worth trying to clear up: You'll often hear someone compare the insurance business to gambling. But although buying and selling insurance involves risk, it is not the moral equivalent of gambling. Assuming risk per se is not gambling. As we know, life is full of risk, and if the act of taking a risk were inherently the same as gambling, you could say that we all gamble every day.

In fact, that is precisely what some who advocate gambling do say. They point out that you take a risk every time you get in an airplane or ride in a car—or walk across the street. You would also face some risk even if all you did was stay in bed trying to avoid risk. Therefore, they say, life itself is a gamble.

But all of that is based on a faulty understanding of what gambling is. Look again at our definitions: To gamble is to play a game of chance for stakes. And a stake is a prize that is obtained at another gambler's expense. Remember: in gambling, whatever one person wins is lost by another.

Furthermore, in gambling, the risk is artificial. It is risk that is created by a game of chance. And the sole purpose for assuming this risk is to try to gain something at someone else's expense.

Now, notice this: all gambling involves four elements: One, something valuable is put at risk. Two, something belonging to someone else is at stake as a prize. Three, an element of chance is involved in determining the outcome. And four, no new wealth is created in the process.

And those four characteristics of gambling are the very reasons gambling is wrong. Each of the essential characteristics of gambling, when combined with the other three, violates one or more biblical principles. In the next post in this series, we'll begin to see why.

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