If you are interested in the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches (ARBCA) and their work, please take a look at the Fall 2012 Update. It includes a brief summary of the recent work in which I’ve been engaged. It has been a delight to receive the support of Reformed Baptist congregations this past year. I appreciate all of their prayers, letters, cards and e-mails. I am especially grateful for our home church, Miller Valley Baptist Church, in Prescott, Arizona. The elders and members of Miller Valley are a wonderful church family, and their support and encouragement is tremendous!
Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday is a personal presentation of the substance of Iain Murray’s May 19, 1995, address to the annual Grace Baptist Assembly in the United Kingdom. Mr. Murray addressed the subject of Charles H. Spurgeon’s contention with hyper-Calvinism during his ministry. The same year Murray gave this address, his book, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching, was published. In the address, he pointed out that popular Spurgeon biographies, such as those by W. Y. Fullerton (1919) and Lewis Drummond (1992), do not consider the issue worth attention. In his autobiography, however, Spurgeon considered the matter as one of vital importance. As Murray noted in 1995, the ascension of Calvinism in theological spheres has historically resulted in the eventual appearance of hyper-Calvinism. It is my hope that the appearance of hyper-Calvinism is limited and brief. It is with this hope in mind that I present to you my interpretation of Murray’s address.
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A Summary of the Conflict
Charles Water Banks was an English itinerant minister and the editor of three publications: the Earthen Vessel, Cheering Words, and the Christian Cabinet. The December 1854 issue of the Earthen Vessel contained an essay by Banks describing his visits to the New Park Street Chapel and the benefit he received from hearing the twenty-year-old preach. The following month, an article appeared from ‘JOB’. JOB was a pseudonym for James Wells, the pastor of the Surrey Tabernacle, Borough High Street. Known as the “Borough Gunner” because of the “artillery” which “flew” from his pulpit, he argued in the anonymous article that Spurgeon’s ministry was dangerous. He wrote:
“Beware of a mock and arrogant humility, of the soft raiment of refined and studied courtesy and fascinating smile. . . . Also I have—most solemnly have—my doubts as to the Divine reality of his conversion. . . . Concerning Mr. Spurgeon’s ministry, I believe that it is most awfully deceptive…”
The conflict does not appear to be one of personalities, with the old preacher castigating the young one or being jealous of the youth’s popularity. While this notion was promoted by several of the newspapers in London, the truth of the matter is that Wells believed the hyper-Calvinistic tradition he represented was the purest form of Christianity. Questioning this tradition was equivalent to heresy, in his estimation. This tradition stood against calling individuals to believe in Jesus Christ, and Wells felt obligated to “knock down duty faith.” He claimed that if the Earthen Vessel supported Spurgeon, it would be a “disastrous change of direction.” Banks responded to the article by declaring his belief that “God had put Spurgeon on the walls of Jerusalem for usefulness.” In subsequent reports of his visits to New Park Street, Banks continued to write favorably of Spurgeon. Banks’ positive declarations regarding Spurgeon helped to turn the tide against hyper-Calvinism. Another matter which turned the tide was the conversion of T. W. Medhurst. Medhurst was a young member of the Surrey Tabernacle. He visited the Maze Pond Chapel early in 1854 to hear Spurgeon preach, even though he had been instructed to consider the young pastor a “mere Arminian.” Medhurst entered a period of distressed soul-searching and was converted eventually under Spurgeon’s preaching. Not long after his conversion, he began a ministry of street preaching and ended up becoming the first student in Spurgeon’s pastors’ college. He entered the controversy by writing a brief article in the Earthen Vessel. He stated: “Duty faith? What is it? Examine it-‘Believe and be saved. Believe not and be damned.’ It is like Mark 16:16.”
Errors of hyper-Calvinism
Spurgeon delineated four fundamental errors found within hyper-Calvinism.
1) Hyper-Calvinism denies that gospel invitations are to be delivered to all people without exception. It limits the purpose of gospel preaching to gathering the elect, and claims only the elect are to be addressed with the commands, invitations and offers of Scripture. It asserts there is to be no pleading with an entire congregation of sinners. This attitude was totally rejected by Spurgeon, who on many occasions addressed every single hearer in the following manner: “’These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.’ Look to Him, blind eyes; look to Him, dead souls; look to Him. Say not that you cannot; He in whose power I speak will work a miracle while yet you hear the command, and blind eyes shall see, and dead hearts shall spring into eternal life by His Spirit’s effectual working” (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 40:502).
2) Hyper-Calvinism declares that the warrant a sinner has to come to Jesus Christ is found in his own experience of conviction and assurance.
This warrant, according to hyper-Calvinism, cannot be obtained until one receives an inward, spiritual exercise. Spurgeon, however, proclaimed that all humanity has a warrant to believe extended to them, giving them the right to place their trust in the Lord Jesus. That warrant is the universal command found in the Word of God for all to repent of their sins and believe upon the Lord Jesus. “Do not wait for your feelings to convince you that you can venture on Christ,” exhorted Spurgeon, “you have the right to come just as you are today because God is sincerely beseeching you to come to His Son for pardon.” In his 1863 sermon on the ‘Warrant of Faith’, Spurgeon tells people that if the warrant were not in the Word of God, but in the sinner’s own condition, the result will be individuals being driven to examine themselves and asking, “Have I sufficiently broken my heart?” rather than looking to an inviting Savior (MTP, 9:529).
3) Hyper-Calvinism declares that human inability prevents people from being exhorted to come to Jesus Christ.
A universal command presupposes a modicum of ability, according to Hyper-Calvinism. Spurgeon replied that he would not tone down humanity’s depravity and helplessness. He pointed out that the gospel is one of grace, and therefore it rests upon people despairing of their own resources and strength. It is only on the presupposition of total depravity that the full glory and power of the gospel can be declared, which Spurgeon claimed exalted God’s power to save. Spurgeon maintained that all people are responsible to turn to God, and that God is sovereign in salvation.
4) Hyper-Calvinism denies the universal love of God.
Hyper-Calvinism has a fearful caricature of God which presents Him as fierce and not easily induced to love sinners. Murray noted that if we fellowshipped more with Christ, then we would know and love Him more and then there would be no uncertainty that God desired the salvation of sinners. “How often would I have gathered you,” said
the Savior to recalcitrant Jerusalem.
In examining Spurgeon’s contention with hyper-Calvinism, Iain Murray came to four major conclusions:
1) Any true biblical theology is not exclusive.
The Bible’s teaching on the divine election of grace is not intended to divide Christian from Christian, but the Christian from the world. Spurgeon said he knew of many who were saved but who did not themselves believe in divine calling, and that many who persevered to the end who did not believe in the perseverance of the saints. They hold to such errors of judgment, yet we will meet with them and every believer around the cross. Spurgeon detested division in the Body of Christ.
2) There is a danger in not presenting biblical truths in the proper order.
In the final edition of John Calvin’s Institutes, justification precedes teaching on divine election. In evangelism, election is not placed in a position of priority. Rather, the doctrine of free justification through Jesus Christ is central.
3) When Calvinism ceases to be evangelistic it is a cerebral, chilling and unattractive religious system. In other words, hyper-Calvinism goes beyond the theological borders of historic Calvinism and is a different religious system than Calvinism. When William Carey went to India and Andrew Fuller led the missionary interest in England through historic evangelical Calvinism, in opposition to the existing hyper-Calvinism, change occurred in Baptist life and the Baptists began to grow.
4) It is a wonderful thing that Spurgeon, at age 20, did not succumb to hyper-Calvinism.
If he had, then the Grace Assembly would not have occurred and Spurgeon’s sermons would not be read all over the world, even as they are today.
Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday features a few quotes from the Emerald Isle’s patron saint. St. Patrick (c. 387—493) was a Romano-Briton who served as a Christian missionary to Ireland. Two letters he wrote still exist and detail parts of his life. At age 16, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and forced into slavery. After six years of subjugation, he escaped and returned home to Britain. Shortly thereafter, he entered ministry as a vocation and was ordained as a bishop. Patrick returned to the land of his captivity in order to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Irish.
Patrick’s love for the Irish stemmed from his sense of obeying Christ’s command to love one’s enemies. The Celtic culture in which he labored was entrenched in paganism, particularly the native earth-based Druid religion. After proclaiming the gospel throughout Ireland, despite antagonism from both religious and political leaders, a showdown occurred on March 26, 433 – Easter Sunday. The king, in concert with the agency of the Druids, commanded that all fires should be extinguished until a signal blaze was kindled at the royal residence. The purpose of the command was to defy the “God of Christianity.” Patrick refused to obey, and started a fire on Easter Sunday. Chieftans and Druids gathered, with pagan priests performing incantations for the land to be covered by darkness. Clouds filled the air and darkened the region. Patrick then challenged them to remove the clouds, which they were unable to do. After Patrick prayed to the Lord, the clouds lifted, and sunshine filled the land. The chieftans and people were filled with awe, and converted to Christianity.
Legend credits Patrick with banishing snakes from Ireland even though all evidence suggests the island was never home to any of the reptiles. However, the legend may be explained by the fact that the Druids utilized the symbol of the serpent quite frequently. Even coins minted in Gaul reflected this icon. Legend also credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the holy Trinity by showing the people a shamrock – a three-leaf clover. It is believed he did this immediately following the showdown with Druid priests. St. Patrick’s Day is observed on March 17, the date of his death.
Here are some declarations made by Patrick during his lifetime:
- I am Patrick, a sinner, must uncultivated and least of all the faithful and despised in the eyes of many.
- (Prayer) Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
- Before I was humiliated I was like a stone that lies in a deep mud, and he who is mighty came and in his compassion raised me up and exalted me very high and placed me on the top of the wall.
- The Lord opened the understanding of my unbelieving heart, so that I should recall my sins.
- If I be worthy, I live for my God to teach the heathen, even though they may despise me.
- That which I have set out in Latin is not my words but the words of God and of apostles and prophets, who of course have never lied. He who believes shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be damned. God has spoken.
- No one should ever say that it was my ignorance if I did or showed forth anything however small according to God’s good pleasure; but let this be your conclusion and let it so be thought, that – as is the perfect truth – it was the gift of God.
The annual Desiring God Conference for Pastors will be hosted by Bethlehem Baptist Church this year from January 31 – February 2. This year’s topic is, “The Power Life of the Praying Pastor: In His Room, with the Family, Among the People of God”. Speakers include Bethlehem’s pastor, John Piper; Joel Beeke, president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and pastor, Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation; Paul Miller, Director of seeJesus.net; Francis Chan, chancellor, Eternity Bible College; and Jerry Rankin, President Emeritus of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Jerry Rankin, holds a BA from Mississippi College, an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Honorary Doctorates from Mississippi College and California Baptist University. He spent the last four decades serving as a missionary in Indonesia, Associate to the Area Director for South and Southeast Asia, Administrator for Southern Baptist work in India, Area Director for Southern Asia and Pacific, and President of the International Mission Board (1993-2010). He is the author of several books, including, The Challenge to Great Commission Obedience, Spiritual Warfare: The Battle for God’s Glory, and Spiritual Warfare and Missions: The Battle for God’s Glory Among the Nations.
Desiring God Ministries asked the IMB’s President Emeritus three main questions related to international missions. Here are the questions and his responses:
1. What do you think are the greatest challenges to the world Christian movement today? What do you think are the greatest signs of hope?
From the perspective of one who has a global overview of Christian missions today, it is evident God is moving in unprecedented ways to fulfill his mission. He is using warfare, ethnic violence, political disruption, social chaos, economic uncertainty and natural disasters to turn the hearts of people to a search for hope and security that can be found only in Jesus Christ. There is an apparent acceleration in engagement of unreached people groups and a global harvest.
The greatest challenge is not adversarial religious worldviews, hostility to a Christian witness, government restrictions and persecution of believers but indifference to God’s mission on the part of the Church. God’s people have become ingrown and self-centered. The spiritual vitality needed to extend an effective witness to the ends of the earth has been eroded by carnality and humanism among Christians.
2. You have written directly on the subject of spiritual warfare. What led you to focus so much on this important topic, especially for missionaries?
If God’s ultimate desire is to be worshipped and exalted among all peoples, it is evident the adversary, Satan, who is jealous for God’s glory, is actively seeking to deprive God of his glory among the nations.
Just as he robs God of his glory in our lives through temptation to sin, embracing of carnal values and self-centered gratification of the flesh, he is subtly imposing barriers to global evangelization. Scripture is prolific in alerting us to this spiritual warfare and the necessity of walking in faith and utilizing the weapons of victory we have been provided in Christ. Awareness of the enemy and understanding his tactics will enable us to avoid defeat, diversions and distractions in fulfilling our mission.
3. How important do you understand God’s sovereignty in salvation to be for the mission of the gospel? How are the doctrines of grace specifically helpful for the individual missionary? How do you envision the burgeoning Reformed movement in America impacting our work in missions?
It is evident that God loves all people, Jesus died for the sins of the world and God is acting in providence and power to draw men from every tribe, people, language and nation to salvation for his glory. To put salvation in the proper perspective of God’s divine grace alleviates a tremendous burden of having to discover the appropriate strategy or effective methodology as if results were dependent on human effort.
The doctrines of grace are liberating to the missionary. Because the message of the gospel is indwelt with the power of God, the task becomes one of boldly communicating the claims of Christ and communicating the gospel which is the power of God to draw all men to himself.
I see the growing Reformed movement in terms of encouraging prospects of fulfilling God’s mission. When the church discovers that bringing people to salvation is not a matter of counting numbers through human evangelistic efforts but of being an instrument of God’s grace and for his glory, motivation for missions will be greatly enhanced. It is amazing how the Reformed movement is misperceived as passive and anti-evangelistic rather than understanding the mission of God will only be compelled by the desire for him to be glorified in the salvation of the lost.
Here we are at the start of another year, still finding no unilateral evangelical resolution to the “free will” debate. In fact, a recent post found upon the Society of Evangelical Arminians website does very little to contribute to either ending the debate decisively or enhancing meaningful dialogue between “Arminians” and “Calvinists”. Messianic Drew attempts an application of Blaise Pascal’s Wager to the issue, claiming, “If Calvinism is true and our witness makes no difference in other people’s salvation, then our beliefs in Calvinism and Arminianism make no difference in the salvation of others.” He goes on to assert, based upon his assumption, that we “are obligated to live as though” we live in an “Arminian world,” and “give the free will position every benefit of the doubt.” Christians who do so, he contends, “have almost nothing to lose if we are wrong, and a lot to gain if we are right.”
The Synod of Dort, that august group of Reformed pastors and theologians who contended for Calvinist orthodoxy, declared the following under the first main point of doctrine:
Article 2: The Manifestation of God’s Love
But this is how God showed his love: he sent his only begotten Son into the world, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Article 3: The Preaching of the Gospel
In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends proclaimers of this very joyful message to the people he wishes and at the time he wishes. By this ministry people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. For how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without someone preaching? And how shall they preach unless they have been sent? (Rom. 10:14-15).
They added this under the second main point of doctrine:
Article 5: The Mandate to Proclaim the Gospel to All
Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.
In other words, “Calvinists” agree that our witness does make a difference in the salvation in others. Namely, drawing upon the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 10, “Calvinists” affirm the biblical teaching that people must hear the message of the gospel in order to believe, and that this gospel must be proclaimed to them. Anglican scholar J. I. Packer notes in his classic work, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God, that believing “God is sovereign in grace” does not affect either the necessity or urgency of evangelism, negate the genuineness of gospel invitations or the truth of gospel promises, or remove the responsibility of individuals to believe the gospel. In other words, believing “Arminianism” gains nothing which isn’t already affirmed by “Calvinism” in regard to this issue. Packer challenges his readers to test all evangelistic plans and practices with the following five questions:
1. Is this way of presenting Christ calculated to impress on people that the gospel is a word from God?
2. Is it calculated to promote the work of the word in men’s minds rather than their emotions?
3. Is it calculated to convey the whole doctrine of the gospel and not just part of it?
4. Is it calculated to convey the whole application of the gospel and not just part of it?
5. Is it calculated to convey gospel truth in a manner that is appropriately serious?
Packer’s work, along with numerous other Great Commission-minded writings produced by Reformed authors, not to mention the lives of many “Calvinists” who have labored faithfully in evangelistic endeavors (e.g., Whitefield, Carey, Spurgeon), demonstrate the fallacy of Messianic Drew’s bet. I encourage him and others (whether “Calvinist” or “Arminian”) to consider whether or not their doctrinal point of view leads them to theocentric evangelistic practice, and to labor in the fields which are “white unto harvest.”
During my days of study at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of my seminary buddies whom I sat next to in several classes was David Prince. David, who now serves as the pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, came to campus one day with a picture of his then eight-week-old son, Luke David, “enjoying” Calvin’s Institutes. Later that year, with David’s permission and much to his delight, the photo made its way onto the cover of The Founders Journal with the caption, “Are Calvinists Hyper?” Within the journal, Dr. Tom Nettles wrote an excellent article with that title.
In it Dr. Nettles notes, “Much of the attention given to ‘Calvinism’ in these days shows that significant lack of awareness has created both misunderstandings and an easy path for misrepresentations. The confusion which reigns in discussing these issues could be multiplied to embarrassing dimensions…” He points out two instances where the confusion exists. Both instances demonstrate claims equating Calvinism with hyper-Calvinism. The seminary professor then adds:
“Many continue to fail, even in the most appropriate historical context, to give a clear picture of the aggressive evangelical Calvinism that characterized the leaders of the mission movement among English Baptists, American Baptists, and Southern Baptists. Their missionary involvement becomes abstracted from a theological framework and seems to be purely the outcome of guts and zeal or of love for Christ unconnected to any clear views of doctrinal truth. That hyper-Calvinism really is a different theological system from Calvinism is rarely discussed. Hyper-Calvinism is seen as very serious Calvinism or ‘Five-point Calvinism’ or the defense of ‘limited atonement’ or ‘supralapsarianism.’”
Nearly 13 years later, it seems those who are either confused theologically or who desire to reinterpret the facts maliciously continue to equate Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism. In The New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1988) Peter Toon ably defines hyper-Calvinism this way:
1. [Hyper-Calvinism] is a system of theology framed to exalt the honour and glory of God and does so by acutely minimizing the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners . . . It emphasizes irresistible grace to such an extent that there appears to be no real need to evangelize; furthermore, Christ may be offered only to the elect….
2. It is that school of supralapsarian ‘five-point’ Calvinism [n.b.—a school of supralapsarianism, not supralapsarianism in general] which so stresses the sovereignty of God by over-emphasizing the secret over the revealed will of God and eternity over time, that it minimizes the responsibility of sinners, notably with respect to the denial of the use of the word “offer” in relation to the preaching of the gospel; thus it undermines the universal duty of sinners to believe savingly in the Lord Jesus with the assurance that Christ actually died for them; and it encourages introspection in the search to know whether or not one is elect.
Toon rightly points out hyper-Calvinism emphasizes the decretive (secret) will of God over His preceptive (revealed) will, and denies the universal offer of the gospel made by Jesus Christ to all. Historically, hyper-Calvinism emerged among the Particular Baptists in England during the 18th century under the influence of Joseph Hussey, John Skepp, John Brine, and others. Contemporary versions of hyper-Calvinism, while low in influence and numbers, may be found among the Primitive Baptist and Gospel Standard congregations. Some believe incorrectly that those who affirm the doctrines of grace (aka “Calvinism) necessarily deny human responsibility and the free offer of the gospel. Those who do so confuse Calvinism with hyper-Calvinism. They fail to take into account consistent orthodox Calvinists who affirmed both divine sovereignty and human responsibility and launched the modern missionary movement, men such as William Carey and Andrew Fuller.
A Calvinist who carried the vision of Carey and Fuller forward under the Southern Baptist banner was Charles Dutton Mallary. It is unlikely many modern Southern Baptists know his name, but he was well known during his lifetime. Mallary served as a pastor in Georgia prior to becoming a fund-raiser for Mercer University. Afterwards, he was selected by Southern Baptists as the first corresponding secretary of the Foreign Mission Board (later renamed the International Mission Board). His responsibilities included communicating instructions and providing encouragement to missionaries in the field, as well as mobilizing congregations to provide candidates for missionary service. Though he was eventually offered an annual salary of $1,200 to retain his post, he refused due to failing health and a desire to devote himself fully to pastoral and evangelistic labors in Georgia.
Southern Baptists who assail Calvinists as anti-missionary and fatalistic neglect not only to distinguish Calvinism from hyper-Calvinism, but also their own history. Despite historical examples provided in the lives of Carey, Fuller, and Mallary, not to mention the likes of Spurgeon, many within the SBC are determined to wage a campaign against “Five-Point Calvinists.” They utilize the pejorative terms of “hyper-Calvinism,” “hyper-Calvinist,” and “Primitive Baptist” to denigrate them, denounce them as other than “traditional Baptists,” and seek to oust them from Southern Baptist life. Historic Calvinists in the Baptist tradition detest the theology of hyper-Calvinism and seek to dismantle its inroads through pastoral counseling, the publication of articles, the distribution of literature, and preaching. I encourage Southern Baptists and other evangelicals who are touched by the ‘Calvinism’ debate – regardless of their position on the issue – to study the issue more thoroughly, communicate more accurately, and act more graciously.
This past week Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma, posted a bit about Christian civility and love. The text for the post came from Dr. Molly Marshall, a former professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the current president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. While it was off topic, I commented, “Too bad Dr. Marshall believes, ‘One can be saved without knowing of, or believing in, Jesus Christ.’ At least, that is, if she still holds to the same theology she did when she wrote her dissertation.” Pastor Burleson responded, “Rev, Why don’t you call Dr. Marshall and ask her? Or, place the relevant quotes in her public dissertation here. The truth is, you believe the same thing. Infants who die in infancy have no knowledge of, or faith in, Jesus Christ — but surely you believe they are in heaven, right? My point is, one must be careful in making assertions of what others believe without placing those beliefs in proper context.”
The reason I made the statement, and to which I explained to Pastor Burleson, is that to my knowledge, Dr. Marshall has never renounced her long-standing view that adherents of non-Christian religions do not need to place explicit faith in Jesus Christ in order to be justified. Her book, No Salvation Outside the Church? A Critical Inquiry, is based upon her doctoral dissertation. It articulates her pluralistic viewpoints quite clearly. I informed the pastor I saw no point in calling her “since there have been no public retractions and since she criticizes those like me who approach a Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu as someone who is condemned apart from Christ.” In addition to this, I explained the assertion that I “believe the same thing,” is really quite ludicrous.
I believe, as the Baptist Confession (1689) declares, “Infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, Who works when, where, and how He pleases. So also are all elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.” But I believe, and what the 2LBC is pointing out, is that these are extraordinary cases, not ordinary ones. This is much different than the “anonymous Christian” type theology expounded by Karl Rahner and which Dr. Marshall advocates.
As a minister, I’ve often been asked, “What happens to the poor innocent native in Africa who has never heard the gospel? Will he or she go to Hell when he or she dies?” I generally reply with a question of my own. “Are there any innocent natives in Africa?” In fact, Anna A, a commenter, inquired, “Some of this conversation seems to be about Dr. Marshall’s theology, and I have a related question. Thank you, in advance. Do you believe that God has a way for those people, who through no fault of their own have never heard anything about Jesus the Christ, to be with Him after death?” I answered, “You have asked a very important question. The Apostle Paul makes it plain in Romans 1-3 that the entire world, without exception, is guilty before God. All have sinned, that is, everyone has rebelled against God’s commands. The penalty for this rebellion is death and condemnation. The remedy provided by God to overcome this breach in the relationship between God and humanity is the work of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Gospel. The Apostle Paul discusses this remedy in Romans 4-5. Later in this epistle (Rom 10), St. Paul makes it plain that individuals must hear the gospel in order to respond to God’s invitation. Those who do not hear the gospel are guilty before God and worthy of condemnation, not because they have not heard, but because they have rejected the revelation God has given to them in creation (Rom 1).”
What I’ve found interesting in the comment thread is that my contention of upholding historic Christian orthodoxy on this position is branded as the “shallowness and arrogance of the reformed” which is “downright silly and illogical.” Fortunately, Pastor Burleson stated, “Were your assessments of Molly Marshall’s doctrinal position found to be accurate, I would unequicovally disagree with her view.” It seems that many who read the pastor’s blog, however, do not.
Robert Letham (M.A.R., Th.M, Ph.D.) is senior minister of Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware, and an adjunct professor of systematic theology at both Westminster Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary (Washington/Baltimore). He is the author of The Work of Christ, Reformed Dogmatics 1523-1619, The Lord’s Supper, and The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship. Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday comes from the section of his work on the Holy Trinity dealing with missions and Islam:
Islam’s doctrine of God leaves room neither for diversity, diversity in unity, nor a personal grounding of creation, for Allah is a solitary monad with unity only. The Islamic doctrine of God is centered on power and will. There is virtually no room for love. The kind of love the Qur’an attributes to Allah—and it does so rarely—is a love for those who are just, who purify themselves and fight for his cause. It has no conception of a prevenient love for sinners, or of the supreme being himself providing the way self-sacrificially for sinners to return to him.
Islam began with a rejection of the Trinity as repugnant to reason. Jesus Christ, according to Mohammed, was simply a human prophet. Allah is one and has no need of a son. It is not befitting to the majesty of Allah that he should beget a son. The doctrine of the Trinity is blasphemous. Mohammed had been raised in an area where heretical Christian groups lived. Possibly he learned about both Judaism and Christianity from merchants on the trade routes from Arabia to Syria. This may explain his extremely limited grasp of both. He had a smattering of knowledge of the OT and NT, of a most rudimentary and distorted kind. It is clear he had no contact with orthodox Christianity. For example, the Qu’ran refutes the notion that Mary was part of the Trinity. With his explicit repudiation of the Trinity, Mohammed denies that Jesus died on the cross. The Qur’an scoffs at the idea that God would let a prophet die by crucifixion—according to the common belief of the Arab world at the time of Mohammed, God’s favor is evidenced by success.
The Trinity is a crucial element in outreach to Islamic people. It is often avoided because objections immediately arise. However, the implications of the Islamic view of Allah are far-reaching. Because of it, Islam has no way to explain or even to maintain human person-hood. Relationality among human beings cannot be founded on man being the image of God, since God himself is not and cannot be a relational being. Moreover, love cannot exist in God. . . .
From its doctrine of Allah, consequences have flowed in the history of Islam. A unitary, monadic god produced unitary community of his followers, the ummah. The followers of the Prophet are a single community “justly balanced,” a brotherhood, “a single brotherhood.” The one nation of Islam is a unitary entity. This may help to explain why, from time to time, there have been attempts to unite existing political unities. . . . In turn, the monolith requires dhimmitude, a form of tolerance for, but servitude of, the People of the Book (Jews and Christians). It also calls for the extermination of outright infidels. As a corollary, political systems in Islamic countries do not recognize diversity. Uniformly they are authoritarian dictatorships, “tyranny tempered by assassination,” with an increasing trend to impose Islamic law on society. This is seen in particular in the place given to women, over which it may be best to draw a discreet veil. The only predominantly Islamic country that does not fit this picture is Turkey, which was secularized in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal (Kemal Ataturk). There is a similar lack of differentiation between church and state in Islam. . . .
At the outset of Islamic history, Mohammed conquered territories and became their ruler. The state and the church were and are identical, with Allah being the head and the Prophet his earthly representative. As such, the law is given. There is no debate about it. It is simply to be administered. In turn, submission (islam) is required. It is only in countries influenced by Christianity that there exists a separation between these two spheres. . . .
Its doctrine of God is the major weakness of Islam. It is the root of all other problems. It is here that the Christian apologete and evangelist can probe, with sensitivity and wisdom. While the Trinity is one of the major stumbling blocks to Muslims turning to Christ, it must be presented with intelligence and skill. Here the love paradigm of Richard St. Victor, rediscovered in modern Russian Orthodox theology and developed in differing ways by Moltmann and Staniloae, offers help. Only a God who is triune can be personal. Only the Holy Trinity can be love. Human love cannot possibly reflect the nature of God unless God is a Trinity of persons in union and communion. A solitary monad cannot love and, since it cannot love, neither can it be a person. And if God is not personal, neither can we be—and if we are not persons, we cannot love.
A few weeks ago Dr. Fisher Humphreys wrote an article for Associated Baptist Press entitled, “Are there consequences of resurgent Baptist Calvinism?” It was one of four essays written by Baptist historians dealing with the theme, “History Speaks to Hard Questions Baptists Ask.” The essays were reprinted from a series of 24 articles written for the Baptist History and Heritage Society to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Baptist tradition. ABP invited a panel to select the top four essays from the series.
Humphreys, who co-wrote God So Loved the World: Traditional Baptist and Calvinism (Insight Press, 2001) with Paul Robertson, notes 2009 “marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of the man who gave us Calvinism. The word refers to the vision of the Christian faith of John Calvin, a 16th-century Protestant reformer.” Humphreys defines Calvinists in this way: “If you think that in eternity God sovereignly predestined some people for salvation and not others, then you are a Calvinist; if you do not think this, you are not a Calvinist.” He adds, quite erroneously, “Some people assume that the difference between Calvinists and other Christians is that Calvinists emphasize God’s sovereignty while non-Calvinists emphasize human freedom. This is inaccurate. Non-Calvinists emphasize both divine sovereignty and human freedom; they just do not believe that God decided to save some while passing over others.” Calvinists emphasize human responsibility, a fact which often gets overlooked in the matter.
The historian points out the implications of Calvinism making a comeback in Baptist life. A positive implication, according to Humphreys, is that “Calvinism has made massive contributions to Christian theology. Resurgent Calvinism may help restore a sense of the value of theology to sectors of Baptist life where that sense is weak. One of the great temptations we all face is narcissism. Calvinism is effective at helping people turn their attention away from themselves and toward God. And Calvinists have a long record of taking worship seriously. This could prove helpful to Baptist churches, many of which have become so focused on helping people that they need to place more emphasis on worshiping God.” I applaud him for this point. Calvinists take worship seriously because we take God seriously. Much contemporary worship within local congregations has become nothing more than a dog-and-pony show overlooking the centrality of the cross.
Humphreys then address the “bad-news side of the equation,” noting “significant conflicts” involving disputes over Calvinism. He states many Baptists are concerned the resurgence of Calvinism “will undercut our commitment to evangelism and missions.” Such Baptists come to the conclusion that if predestination is true, then evangelistic efforts are extraneous. He notes, “Obviously, Calvinists don’t believe that such human effort can make a difference in who God chooses to save.” Much to his credit, he notes Calvinists are motivated to “evangelize because Christ commanded it, because it brings glory to God, and because they enjoy doing it.” Humphreys believes unless Calvinists “are able to replace the motive they take away (‘we can make a difference!’) with other motives, [they] could undermine Baptists’ evangelism and missions.”
According to Humphreys, I am indeed a “Calvinist” – I believe God chose/elected/predestined His people to salvation. This “Calvinist” (a label I prefer not to wear) believes Humphreys’ warning regarding motives for evangelism should be heeded. When an individual asks me, “If God has predestined people to salvation, why evangelize?”, I answer without hesitation, “Because He commanded it. Because God uses means to accomplish His purposes.” That is more than sufficient as a motive. Individuals will not come to faith in Jesus Christ unless the gospel is proclaimed to them (Romans 10:8-17). This proclamation has a cost. It brings suffering. The Apostle Paul declared he was “suffering” for the sake of gospel (2 Timothy 2:9). Nonetheless, he maintained he was willing to “endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). A theology which comprehends the absolute sovereignty of God is able to undergird such a biblical evangelistic perspective.
Dr. Humphreys concludes, “We Baptists — Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike — are brothers and sisters in Christ. We likely will continue to disagree about whether God predestined some for salvation and passed over others, so we need to treat each other with what the New Testament calls ‘forbearance.’” I concur wholeheartedly.
Morris Chapman, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, gave his report this morning (June 23). The report, entitled, “The Great Commission Resurgence”, contained two great pearls of wisdom which were unstrung by a rant denouncing Calvinism (and in highly ignorant fashion). The pair of powerful points made by Chapman, in my opinion, were these:
- “We must NEVER subvert the changeless Gospel to an inordinate fascination with changing cultural forms and sociological trends. To hide the lamp of the Gospel under the bushel of cultural compromise is a grievous sin against the Spirit. Some of the church-growth methodologies that masquerade under the guise of Bible exposition are increasingly known for the crude themes and the vulgar language of their strongest advocates. The sacred desk is no place for the carnal, the sensual, and the sensational.”
- “Too often, we are jealous of how the Lord is blessing one of the brethren. We look at the enrollment of the other seminary, the endowment of the other institution, the building or the budget of the other church. We count the numbers and we wonder why God is doing more for them than He is for us. To those of us who are always pressing for a higher profile in convention life or climbing the ladder of ambition, the LORD would tell us that the greatest place is the place of service. It is the lowly floor of the basin and the towel, not the throne of power and authority. We must prefer to kneel at another’s feet in service, than to stand in the synagogues and street corners. And when God chooses to bless one of His servants for their faithfulness, we must avoid watching with benign interest – and often a critical spirit. We must follow the example of Christ himself, and seek to be the servant of all.”
It is unfortunate that Rev. Chapman, who has long been a voice of reason within denominational life, made the following comments:
“The Southern Baptist Convention is experiencing a resurgence in the belief that divine sovereignty alone is at work in salvation without a faith response on the part of man. Some are given to explain away the ‘whosoever will’ of John 3:16. How can a Christian come to such a place when Ephesians says, ‘For by grace are you saved through faith’ (Eph. 2:8)? I do not rise to become argumentative, or to change minds already convinced of one perspective or the other. But I do rise to state the obvious. Man is often tempted to design a theological theory in light of a biblical antinomy in order to clarify what God is trying to say. Man’s system will be inferior to God’s system now and forever. Why is it so difficult to accept from God what we cannot fully explain? After all, He didn’t begin to tell us everything He knows, but what we need to know to be redeemed and live righteously. The belief that sovereignty alone is at work in salvation is not what has emboldened our witness and elevated our concern for evangelism and missions through the ages. This is not the doctrine that Southern Baptists have embraced in their desire to reach the world for Christ. If there is any doctrine of grace that drives men to argue and debate more than it drives them to pursue lost souls and persuade ALL MEN to be reconciled to God – then it is no doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ. The sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man both are taught in the Bible. Both are necessary elements in the salvation experience. A healthy tension (an antinomy) exists in the Bible with regard to these two important biblical truths. Both are present in the salvation experience.”
To claim that ‘Calvinists’ teach that no faith is required to receive salvation is simply ludicrous. ‘Calvinists’ maintain that the gospel is to be proclaimed indiscriminately to all, that all are commanded to repent and believe (exercise faith), and that God will (and must) act decisively to bring about salvation in the heart of rebellious sinners. Chapman is entirely correct – Scripture teaches both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. No ‘Calvinist’ denies this whatsoever. Chapman went on to declare that when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Church on the Day of Pentecost, believers did not “engage in idle arguments about the extent of the atonement, or the nature of election.” He added:
“When the early church was baptized with God’s Spirit, they instead hurled themselves to the farthest corners of the earth to preach the soul-saving name of Jesus. From day one, they were steadfast in prayer, praise, and proclamation. They were a missionary people before anything else. We would do well to remember this. Sure, there were struggles and hardships from the very beginning. But they refused to lose their focus in the midst of the difficulties.”
This statement is absolutely true, yet what undergirded the Church as they went forward was faith in the absolute sovereignty of God. Simply look at their prayer from Acts 4:24-29:
“And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, Your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against His Anointed’ — for truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to Your servants to continue to speak Your word with all boldness.”
There was no need for those early Christians to argue about what Scripture clearly teaches about predestination, particularly in relation to evangelism. The Apostle Paul understood this as well when he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). Divine sovereignty (predestination and election) is inextricably intertwined with evangelism. Chapman’s poor choice in stating such things led Dr. Danny Akin to denounce the presentation as “shameful,” and Dr. Albert Mohler claiming he wanted to start a recovery group for those who had to sit through the address. Nonetheless, I have no doubt Drs. Akin and Mohler wholeheartedly affirmed Rev. Chapman’s affirmation that the SBC must not be deterred from carrying forward with the Great Commission. I certainly affirm that, as do all ‘Calvinists’ within the SBC. May we join hands as brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, going forward for His sake to take the gospel to the nations.
John R. W. Stott is an insightful scholar, passionate preacher, gifted evangelist, and Christian statesman from Great Britain. He served as the rector of All Souls Church in London for many years, and was one of the framers of the Lausanne Covenant in 1974. Some of his most well-known works are the best-selling Basic Christianity; The Spirit, the Church and the World; and Christian Mission in the Modern World. His most significant work may be The Cross of Christ (InterVarsity Press, 1986), featured in today’s edition of Theology on Thursday. Consider his words as he discusses the cross – the focal point of the Gospel, and its relevance to suffering and evangelism:
The early post-apostolic church…had a firm double base – in the teaching of Christ and his apostles – for making a cross the sign and symbol of Christianity. Church tradition proved in this to be a faithful reflection of Scripture.
Moreover, we must not overlook their remarkable tenacity. They knew that those who had crucified the Son of God had subjected him to ‘public disgrace’ and that in order to endure the cross Jesus had to humble himself to it and to ‘scorn its shame’. Nevertheless, what was shameful, even odious, to the critics of Christ, was in the eyes of his followers most glorious. They had learnt that the servant was not greater than the master, and that for them as for him suffering was the means of glory. More than that, suffering was glory, and whenever they were ‘insulted because of the name of Christ’, then ‘the Spirit of glory’ rested upon them.
Yet the enemies of the gospel neither did nor do share this perspective. There is no greater cleavage between faith and unbelief than in their respective attitudes to the cross. Where faith sees glory, unbelief sees only disgrace. What was foolishness to Greeks, and continues to be to modern intellectuals who trust in their own wisdom, is nevertheless the wisdom of God. And what remains a stumbling-block to those who trust in their own righteousness, like the Jews of the first century, proves to be the saving power of God (1 Cor. 1:18-25).
One of the saddest features of Islam is that it rejects the cross, declaring it inappropriate that a major prophet of God should come to such an ignominious end. The Koran sees no need for the sin-bearing sin of a Saviour. At least five times it declares categorically that ‘no soul shall bear another’s burden’. . . . Denying the need for the cross, the Koran goes on to deny the fact. . . .
But Christian messengers of the good news cannot be silent about the cross. Here is the testimony of the American missionary Samuel M. Zwemer (1867-1952), who laboured in Arabia, edited The Muslim World for forty years, and is sometimes called ‘The Apostle to Islam’:
The missionary among Moslems (to whom the Cross of Christ is a stumbling-block and the atonement foolishness) is driven daily to deeper meditation on this mystery of redemption, and to a stronger conviction that here is the very heart of our message and our mission. . . .
If the Cross of Christ is anything to the mind, it is surely everything – the most profound reality and the sublimest mystery. One comes to realize that literally all the wealth and glory of the gospel centres here. The Cross is the pivot as well as the centre of New Testament thought. It is the exclusive mark of the Christian faith, the symbol of Christianity and its cynosure. The more unbelievers deny its crucial character, the more do believers find in it the key to the mysteries of sin and suffering. We rediscover the apostolic emphasis on the Cross when we read the gospel with Moslems. We find that, although the offence of the Cross remains, its magnetic power is irresistible.
‘Irresistible’ is the very word an Iranian student used when telling me of his conversion to Christ. Brought up to read the Koran, say his prayers and lead a good life, he nevertheless knew that he was separated from God by his sins. When Christian friends brought him to church and encouraged him to read the Bible, he learnt that Jesus Christ had died for his forgiveness. ‘For me the offer was irresistible and heaven-sent,’ he said, and he cried to God to have mercy on him through Christ. Almost immediately ‘the burden of my past life was lifted. I felt as if a huge weight…had gone. With the relief and sense of lightness came incredible joy. At last it had happened. I was free of my past. I knew that God had forgiven me, and I felt clean. I wanted to shout, and tell everybody.’ It was through the cross that the character of God came clearly into focus for him, and that he found Islam’s missing dimension, ‘the intimate fatherhood of God and the deep assurance of sins forgiven’.
Muslims are not by any means the only people, however, who repudiate the gospel of the cross. Hindus also, though they can accept its historicity, reject its saving significance. Gandhi, for example, the founder of modern India, who while working in South Africa as a young lawyer was attracted to Christianity, yet wrote of himself while there in 1894:
I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it, my heart could not accept.
Turning to the West, perhaps the most scornful rejection of the cross has come from the pen of the German philosopher and philologist, Friedrich Nietzsche (died 1900). Near the beginning of The Anti-Christ (1895) he defined the good as ‘the will to power’, the bad as ‘all the proceeds from weakness’, and happiness as ‘the feeling that power increases…’, while ‘what is more harmful than any vice’ is ‘active sympathy for the ill-constituted and weak – Christianity’. Admiring Darwin’s emphasis on the survival of the fittest, he despised all forms of weakness, and in their place dreamt of the emergence of a ‘superman’ and a ‘daring ruler race’. To him ‘depravity’ meant ‘decadence’, and nothing was more decadent than Christianity which ‘has taken the side of everything weak, base, ill-constituted’. Being ‘the religion of pity’, it ‘preserves what is ripe for destruction’ and so ‘thwarts the law of evolution’ (pp. 115-118). Nietzsche reserved his bitterest invective for ‘the Christian conception of God’ as ‘God of the sick, God as spider, God as spirit’, and for the Christian Messiah whom he dismissed contemptuously as ‘God on the cross’ (pp. 128, 168).
If Nietzsche rejected Christianity for its ‘weakness’, others have done so for its supposedly ‘barbarbic’ teachings. Professor Sir Alfred Ayer, for example, the Oxford philosopher who is well known for his antipathy to Christianity, wrote…that, among religions of historical importance, there was quite a strong case for considering Christianity the worst. Why so? Because it rests ‘on the allied doctrines of original sin and vicarious atonement, which are intellectually contemptible and morally outrageous’.
How is it that Christians can face such ridicule without shifting their ground? Why do we ‘cling to the old rugged cross’…and insist on its centrality, refusing to let it be pushed to the circumference of our message? Why must we proclaim the scandalous, and glory in the shameful? The answer lies in the single word ‘integrity’. Christian integrity consists partly in a resolve to unmask the caricatures, but mostly in personal loyalty to Jesus, in whose mind the saving cross was central.
A Turkish court received approval from the Ministry of Justice to try two Christian missionaries under a revised version of a controversial law forbidding “insulting Turkishness.” Article 301 has been criticized severely by free speech proponents. Writers, journalists, attorneys and activists have all been tried under the law. The law also restricts freedom of religion, as the case with the two Christians – Turan Topal and Hakan Tastan – demonstrates.
The decision from the Ministry of Justice surprised the pair and their attorney, Haydar Polat, because missionary activity is not illegal in Turkey. Polat stated, “The trial will continue from where it left off. To be honest, we thought they wouldn’t give permission [for the case to continue] because there was no persuasive evidence of ‘degrading Turkishness and Islam’ in the case file.” A Ministry of Justice statement claimed approval to try the case came in response from the original statement by three men – Fatih Kose, Alper Eksi, and Oguz Yilmaz – asserting that Topal and Tastan were conducting evangelistic activities in a manner depicting Islam as a primitive, fictitious religion which results in terrorism, and the Turks as a “cursed people.” No evidence has been produced by prosecutors demonstrating Topal and Tastan depicted Islam or Turkey in these ways.
Polat added, “This is the point that really needs to be understood. In Turkey, constitutionally speaking, it is not a crime to be a Christian or to disseminate the Christian faith. However, in reality there have been problems.” The attorney contends prosecutors have politicized the case. “From their point of view, missionary activity carried out by missionaries of imperialistic countries is harmful for Turkish culture and the country overall,” Polat asserted.
Tastan responded to the accusation of “insulting Turkishness” by stating, “I love this country so much, this country’s people, that as a loving Turk who is a Christian to be tried for insulting Turkey has really cut me up. Because I love this nation, I’ve never said anything against it. That I’m a Christian, yes, I say that and I will continue to do so. But I think they are trying to paint the image that we insult, dislike and hate Turks. This really makes me sad and heartsick.” He added, “A government that talks the European Union talk, claims to respect freedom, democracy and accept everyone, yet rejects me even though I’m a Turkish citizen who is officially a Christian on his ID card, has made me sad.”
Tastan hopes the notion of being “Turkish” means being Muslim is changing. Media coverage of the murder trial of three Christians in Malatya, who were tortured and killed on April 18, 2007, has made Turks aware that there are fellow citizens dying for the Christian faith. Tastan declared, “This makes me happy, because it means freedom for the Turkish Christians that come after us. At least they won’t experience these injustices. I believe we will accomplish this.” At this point, however, Tastan and Topal being tried under Article 301 contributes to the notion that promulgating a non-Muslim faith in Turkey is a form of treason.
Polat said this case demonstrates human rights violations remain a “serious problem” in Turkey, though the nation’s desire to enter the European Union has resulted in serious efforts to improve democratic processes. He believes the case should come to a close during the next hearing, to be held May 28, since no evidence has been presented. Despite a court summons sent to police headquarters requesting six officers to testify for the prosecution, not one has done so. At a hearing last year in June, two witnesses for the prosecution maintained they had never even seen the defendants before seeing them in court. Several witnesses, including one of the original accusers, have not shown up for court dates.
The best book I’ve ever read on missiology (the theology of missions), bar none, is John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions. Dr. Piper, senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, earned a doctorate in theology from the University of Munich. In Let the Nations Be Glad!, Dr. Piper draws on key biblical texts and the lives of missionary heroes to demonstrate that worship is the ultimate goal of the Church, and that true worship fuels the Great Commission. He also addresses subjects interrelated to missions, such as the role of prayer, universalism (the belief that all will ultimately be saved), and annihilationism (the belief that Hell is not eternal). I recommend the work highly, and hope today’s edition of Theology on Thursday will whet your appetite. Dr. Piper writes in the first chapter, “The Supremacy of God in Missions Through Worship”:
Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.
Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. . . . The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. “The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Psalm 97:1). “Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” (Psalm 67:3-4).
But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. . . . Missions begins and ends in worship. If the pursuit of God’s glory is not ordered above the pursuit of man’s good in the affections of the heart and the priorities of the church, man will not be well served and God will not be duly honored. . . . Where passion for God is weak, zeal for missions will be weak. . . .
God is central and supreme in his own affections. There are no rivals for the supremacy of God’s glory in his own heart. God is not an idolater. He does not disobey the first and great commandment. With all his heart and soul and strength and mind he delights in the glory of his manifold perfections. . . .
God is calling us above all else to be the kind of people whose theme and passion is the supremacy of God in all of life. No one will be able to rise to the magnificence of the missionary cause who does not feel the magnificence of Christ. There will be no big world vision without a big God. There will be no passion to draw others into our worship where there is no passion for worship.
God is pursuing with omnipotent passion a worldwide purpose of gathering joyful worshipers for himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. He has an inexhaustible enthusiasm for the supremacy of his name among the nations. Therefore let us bring our affections into line with his, and, for the sake of his name, let us renounce the quest for worldly comforts, and join his global purpose.
While serving in a Baptist pastorate in Oklahoma, an influential couple visited me in the study over concerns with my theological convictions. They said something to the effect, “You’re a ‘chosen before the foundation of the world’ person, but we’re ‘whosoever will’ people.” I replied, “You don’t understand. It’s not an either-or, but a both-and. I’m a both-and type of person. I believe in election and evangelism, in predestination and ‘whosoever will’.” Unfortunately, they still didn’t understand. Part of the problem was that they heard many high profile leaders within the denomination denounce the doctrines of grace and those who affirm them as being unconcerned with the lost and with the task of evangelism. Though the couple had often heard from the pulpit that we must work for the advance of the gospel, though they witnessed the first adult missions team sent out from the church in nearly three decades, and though their pastor replaced the outdated, sun-bleached tracts in the foyer and encouraged members to utilize them weekly, they were unconvinced. The influence of high-profile personalities proved too steep for them. Vociferous pleas from such leaders as Adrian Rogers, Johnny Hunt, Jack Graham, Steve Gaines, Elmer Towns, Ergun Caner, and others, added with the vocal opposition of local associations and colleges , has proven too steep for many average laymen. Nonetheless, it is my hope that the internet, with its vast amount of information available at an individual’s fingertips, will be utilized by laymen and others to know what “Calvinism” actually asserts and what “Calvinists” actually believe and practice. It is with this hope that I provide an excerpt from J. I. Packer’s classic, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God (InterVarsity Press, 1961). Dr. Packer writes about what the belief that God is sovereign in grace does not affect. I hope, even if you don’t embrace the doctrines of grace, that you will read with open eyes and an open heart. Dr. Packer, himself a “Calvinist”, asserts on behalf of historic Reformed theology:
The belief that God is sovereign in grace does not affect the necessity of evangelism. Whatever we may believe about election, the fact remains that evangelism is necessary, because no man can be saved without the gospel. . . . They must be told of Christ before they can trust Him, and they must trust Him before they can be saved by Him. Salvation depends on faith, and faith on knowing the gospel. God’s way of saving sinners is to bring them to faith through bringing them into contact with the gospel. In God’s ordering of things, therefore, evangelism is a necessity if anyone is to be saved at all. . . .
The belief that God is sovereign in grace does not affect the urgency of evangelism. . . . The world is full of people who are unaware that they stand under the wrath of God: is it not similarly a matter of urgency that we should go to them, and try to arouse them, and show them the way of escape? . . . The non-elect in this world are faceless men as far as we are concerned. We know that they exist, but we do not and cannot know who they are, and it is as futile as it is impious for us to try and guess. . . . Our calling as Christians is not to love God’s elect, and them only, but to love our neighbour, irrespective of whether he is elect or not.
The belief that God is sovereign in grace does not affect the genuineness of the gospel invitations, or the truth of the gospel promises. . . . The fact remains that God in the gospel really does offer Christ and promise justification and life to ‘whosoever will’. ‘Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ As God commands all men everywhere to repent, so God invites all men everywhere to come to Christ and find mercy. . . .
The fact that the gospel invitation is free and unlimited—‘sinners Jesus will receive’—‘come and welcome to Jesus Christ’—is the glory of the gospel as a revelation of divine grace. . . . Some fear that a doctrine of eternal election and reprobation involves the possibility that Christ will not receive some of those who desire to receive Him, because they are not elect. The ‘comfortable words’ of the gospel promises, however, absolutely exclude this possibility. As our Lord elsewhere affirmed, in emphatic and categorical terms: ‘Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.’ . . .
The belief that God is sovereign in grace does not affect the responsibility of the sinner for his reaction to the gospel. . . . A man who rejects Christ thereby becomes the cause of his own condemnation. . . . The unbeliever was really offered life in the gospel, and could have had it if he would; he, and no-one but he, is responsible for the fact that he rejected it, and must now endure the consequences of rejecting it. . . . The Bible never says that sinners miss heaven because they are not elect, but because they “neglect the great salvation”, and because they will not repent and believe.
Today’s edition of Theology on Thursday focuses on the area of missiology – the theology of missions. The modern missions movement began with William Carey, a shoe cobbler from rural England. Driven by a compulsion to see the lost in India won to Christ, Carey translated the Scriptures into local languages, established a school, administered a school, helped banish inhuman practices such as wife burning and child sacrifice, and preached the Gospel to thousands. He inspired others to follow him to the mission field – Adoniram Judson, Lottie Moon, and many others.
One of the finest biographies written about Carey is Timothy George’s Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey (New Hope: Birmingham, AL, 1991). Dr. George, Dean of the Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, is a noted Baptist historian and theologian. He earned a doctorate in theology from Harvard University, served for ten years as professor of church history and theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has also served as a pastor and interim pastor of congregations in Georgia, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Indiana, and Alabama. Faithful Witness is written with the heart of a pastor and the insight of a theologian. Chapter 11, “Carey Today”, notes several things we can learn from the missiology of William Carey:
1. The sovereignty of God. Carey knew that Christian missions was rooted in the gracious, eternal purpose of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to call unto Himself a redeemed people out of the fallen race of lost humankind. As a young pastor in England he confronted and overcame the resistance of those Hyper-Calvinistic theologians who used the sovereignty of God as a pretext for their do-nothing attitude toward missions. It was not in spite of, but rather because of, his belief in the greatness of God and His divine purpose in election that Carey was willing ‘to venture all’ to proclaim the gospel in the far corners of the world. . . . Today, more than a new program of missionary training or another strategy for world evangelization, the Church of Jesus Christ needs a fresh vision of a full-sized God—eternal, transcendent, holy, filled with compassion, sovereignly working by His Holy Spirit to call unto Himself a people out of every nation, kindred, tribe, and language group on earth. Only such a vision, born of repentance, prayer, and self-denial, can inspire a Carey-like faith in a new generation of Christian heralds.”
2. The finality of Jesus Christ. William Carey and generations of missionaries who followed in his wake shared a common conviction concerning the message they had been commissioned to proclaim: Personal faith in Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation for all peoples everywhere, and those who die without this saving knowledge face eternal damnation.
3. The authority of the Holy Scriptures. Nowhere is Carey’s kinship with the Reformation tradition more clearly seen than in his role as translator, publisher, and distributor of the Bible. Like Wycliffe, Luther, and Tyndale before him, Carey believed that everyone should be able to read the Scriptures in their own native language. . . . There were bases in Carey’s plan to evangelize India: Preach the gospel, translate the Bible, and establish schools. Proclamation, translation, education. This three-pronged strategy was itself an expression of Carey’s confidence in the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura. . . . Why was Carey so committed to a Bible-centered approach to missions? Because he knew that the Word of God was full of living power. Time and again he witnessed the transforming effect of the simple reading of the Scriptures on the people of India, steeped as they were in the fables and false theologies of their culture. Today, no less than then, missionary preaching must be true to the whole scope of the biblical revelation. Like Paul, we are charged to declare all the counsel of God, including the scriptural warnings about divine judgment and the reality of hell as well as the glad tidings of full Redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
4. Contextualization. Carey may be best described as a horizontal figure in the history of Christianity. Like Augustine in the early church, Francis in the Middle Ages, and Luther in the Reformation, Carey lived at the intersection of two epochs. He witnessed the death throes of one age and the birth pangs of another. In three important missions trends, Carey anticipated by a century and more subsequent developments and still remains an important catalyst for contemporary thinking and mission strategy. These are contextualization, a holistic approach to missions, and the quest for Christian unity.
Contextualization refers to the need to communicate the gospel in such a way that it speaks to the total context of the people to whom it is addressed. . . . The very act of engaging the vernacular languages as a vehicle for God’s Word was itself a major departure from a kind of cultural imperialism which has shackled many efforts at world evangelization. . . . Carey believed that the miracle of Pentecost meant that the gospel was not limited to any one cultural or linguistic expression. . . . Carey was a pioneer in what we have come to call cross-cultural communication. He was willing to experiment with new methods and to use hitherto untried approaches in reaching for Christ the people to whom he had been sent. The establishment of indigenous churches and the training of native pastors were two key elements in his plan for permeating India with the gospel. . . . Carey’s ability to contextualize the gospel without compromising the nonnegotiable essentials of Christian doctrine provides a balanced model for a truly evangelical missiology which seeks to be faithful in an age of social upheaval and cultural dissolution.
5. Holistic missions. Declaring the good news “in word and deed,” points to the dual necessity of both a propositional and an incarnational dimension to the life and mission of the Church. . . . Carey never shrank from understanding his mission to include both a social and an evangelistic responsibility. . . . He refused to divorce conversion from discipleship. He knew that Jesus had given food to hungry people on the same occasion that He presented Himself to them as the Bread of Life. . . . While Carey never lost sight of the individual, he saw clearly that the Christian message also applied to the sinful social structure of his day.
6. Christian unity. The modern quest for Christian unity was born on the missions field. Here again Carey pointed the way by working closely with non-Baptist evangelicals in India and by calling for an international conference on missionaries from various denominations around the world. . . . While Carey was intensely loyal to his Baptist identity, to the point of advocating a policy of closed communion, he also knew how to distinguish minor and secondary matters of doctrine from evangelical essentials to which all Bible-believing Christians are committed.
The burden of Christian unity in his day, as in ours, was not denominational differences among Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, and others; but rather the great divide between those committed to the great principles of historic Christian orthodoxy and others whose accommodation to the reigning ideologies of the contemporary world has resulted in “a God without wrath who brings men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministration of a Christ without a cross.” Carey is a corrective to this kind of ecumenism by dilution, even as he is a model for another approach to cooperation among Christian believers, one rooted in the Reformation maxim: In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.
7. Faithfulness. Carey’s mission to India was a catalyst for a great missionary awakening throughout the Church. . . . Carey knew that he was no Lone Ranger. He had been called, commissioned, and sent forth by a company of believers who vowed to pray faithfully and give sacrificially that the work of the mission would go forward.
The Christian Post reported last fall that Christian leaders from across the globe – Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America – met in Dallas to discuss how the American Church is viewed by believers elsewhere (notably in the Global South). Over 100 pastors who gathered for the “The Changing Role of the American Church in World Evangelization” declared support of Christians in the U.S. is still needed and that American believers need to understand the necessity of fostering indigenous work rather than importing foreign models overseas.
The Rev. Reuben Ezemadu of Nigeria, continental director of the Movement of African National Initiatives, said over the past 15-20 years Americans were trying to force their own structures on the Global South, but quite unsuccessfully. He called upon Americans to recognize the maturity and intelligence of other cultures by playing a supporting role while permitting Africans to take leadership of their own congregations.
David Ruiz of Guatemala, associate director of the World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission, noted that Latin American Christians have felt ignored or overlooked by Christians in the West. He said Hispanics would like to see more humility form their Western counterparts and hope they will recognize the potential the Latin American Church has to impact Christianity across the globe. Dr. Patrick Fung, of OMF International, recalled the story of missions in China following the expulsion of all missionaries in 1949. Despite the absence of missionaries, the Church grew and thrived, and the Chinese Church is now the largest church in the world. After each presentation, the pastors held roundtable discussions, concluding the role of Christians in the West in the “glocal” world is changing dramatically. They believe partnership is the key to establishing stronger, mutually supportive links.
Similar meetings will be held around the world leading up to the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, Africa, on October 15-16, 2010. 4,000 participants from around the globe are expected to attend. The original Lausanne Congress was held in 1974 and the second congress met in 1989. Baptists in America would do well to understand that they are not the only Great Commission Christians, and that the Church (not a denomination) has been commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ to “make disciples of all the nations.”
John Calvin is maligned not only for his predestinarian theology (although overtly orthodox), but also for a supposed lack of concern for carrying out the Great Commission. A. Mitchell Hunter asserts Calvin “displayed no trace of missionary enthusiasm.” [The Teaching of John Calvin, A Modern Interpretation] The Roman Catholic, Pighius, in disputing with Calvin over predestination, argues he cannot believe in the doctrine of election because Christ commanded the gospel to preached to all. [Treatise on Eternal Predestination]
Even some Evangelicals take this approach, supposing the historic Protestant teaching on predestination necessarily negate evangelistic endeavor. Ruth Tucker is illustrative of this, stating that Calvinists have made a common claim that the Great Commission was binding only on the New Testament Apostles and added “the doctrine of election” to this excuse, which “made missions appear extraneous if God had already chosen those he would save.” After making this statement, she confesses that Calvin himself “was at least outwardly the most missionary-minded of all the Reformers,” but she sees no need for detailing his concern for the Great Commission. [From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya]
Speaking of the Reformers, Gustav Warneck declares their “fundamental theological views hindered them from giving their activity, and even their thoughts, a missionary direction.” This declaration, like Tucker’s, is duplicitous. The missiologist elsewhere states that it was through the Reformation that “the Christianising of a large part of Europe was first completed” and in this respect it may be said that it “carried on a mission work at home on an extensive scale.” [Outline of a History of Protestant Missions from the Reformation to the Present Time] It has been noted correctly that revivals contributed significantly to the Protestant Reformation, which in turn provided the atmosphere for subsequent revivals. It must not be overlooked that the Reformation itself was a tremendous revival where “the message of Scripture was unleashed upon human hearts” and “the fires from heaven fell.” [Malcolm McDow and Alvin Reid, Firefall] It was a “wave of spiritual awakening” that “swept across Europe.” [James Burns, Revivals: Their Laws and Leaders]
Just as the Apostles began their evangelism in Jerusalem before going to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, so the Reformers viewed Europe as their first mission field, their “Jerusalem.” The gospel advanced through the pulpit, printing press, and personal encounter. Michael Horton contends that if such a movement had taken place on another continent during another period, with the same results, it would be considered the most significant evangelistic enterprise since that of the Apostles.
Calvin’s evangelistic concern is evident in his works, such as his “Prefatory Address to King Francis I” in the first edition of The Institutes of Christian Religion, as well as his commentaries and sermons. It is more evident in his action. Under his leadership Geneva became a training center for evangelists, church planters and missionaries. Its evangelistic thrust was so great that Francis de Sales, an ardent Roman Catholic, urged political suppression against the Swiss city. He charged, “There is not a city in Europe which offers more facilities for the encouragement of heresy,” because it is “the gate” of Europe and was filled with refugees from all over the world. He added, “Everyone knows the great numbers of ministers bred there. Last year it furnished twenty to France. Even England obtains ministers from Geneva.” Then, with great exasperation, he declared, “What shall I say of its magnificent printing establishments, by means of which the city floods the world with its wicked books…?” [Vie de ste. Francois de Sales, par son neveu] The pamphlet, or tract, became one of the most effective evangelistic tools employed by Calvin. His gospel writings, printed in Latin, German, French, English, Spanish, Dutch and Greek, were distributed throughout Europe.
Calvin, who envisioned evangelizing Europe, trained evangelists personally. Those whom he sent out spread the evangelical faith throughout the Continent and the British Isles. The Venerable Company of Pastors was established as a Protestant missionary agency. The register of the group records the names of eighty-eight men sent out for service between 1555-1562. Because of unbridled persecution against Evangelicals in Europe, the utmost secrecy was observed to protect their identities. It was not considered safe to do so until 1555 to do so, though even at that point some were listed with pseudonyms and many others were not listed at all. The practice of recording names ceased in 1562 when the wars of religion commenced in France. The peak year of missionary activity seems to have been the previous year, when no less than 142 individuals were sent out from Geneva for the sake of the gospel.
These missionaries had tremendous results with their church planting efforts in France. In 1555 there were only five organized Evangelical churches in the nation (in Paris, Meaux, Angers, Poitiers, and Loudon). Nearly four years later, in May 1559, when the first National Synod of Reformed Churches in France secretly convened in Paris, there were 100 churches. In 1562 there were 2,150 congregations and it is estimated that Evangelicals in France numbered well over 100,000.
Other church planting and evangelistic ventures took place in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, and several other European countries. Evangelistic opportunities outside of Europe were shut down in the sixteenth century. The boundaries to the east and south were closed by Islamic forces and the navies of Spain and Portugal denied access to overseas ventures. Despite such opposition, missionaries from Geneva were sent to Guanabara (Rio de Janiero) in 1556. Hans Kansdorf notes that although most of these missionaries were murdered, “This has become the classical example of active Protestant mission work of the Reformation era.” [“The Reformation and Mission: A Bibliographical Survey of Secondary Literature”]
It has been my privilege to serve as the pastor of many wonderful people over the years. Two such wonderful people, spotlighted previously on 2WC, are James and Linda Redeker. After retiring, this couple – who had long served as educators in the US – left the comforts of home to spend their twilight years in Thailand. Just a few days ago I received a newsletter from James and asked if I could publish it here. With his permission, I invite you to consider ‘The Fisherman’ and whether or not you might leave the comfort of home to serve our Lord overseas.
Linda and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary by going to Hua Hin, a city on the beach about two and a half hours south of Bangkok. It’s my favorite place in Thailand. The first morning we were there, we went to the beach at 5:30 a.m. to watch the sun come up. It’s the second time in my life that I’ve done that. I love to sit for two or more hours and watched the light change as the sun makes its way to the horizon. It’s a magnificent sight at Hua Hin.
I love to take pictures while watching the sun come up, so I took my tripod and set it up in front of the beach chair that I was sitting in. Then I watched. A Buddhist monk made his way along the beach, ready to make his morning rounds to get food for the day. Other people walked along the beach. Some were exercising. Some were just enjoying nature. Soon, a man appeared with a small fishing net. He walked down the beach and looked out at the sea and then stopped. Then he walked some more and looked and stopped again. Again and again he did the same thing. Finally, he eased into the water and cast his net. Quickly, he drew it in and removed two or three small fish, about five or six inches long, and put them in a basket that was strapped around his waist. Then he began the process again, all in the dark.
I was fascinated. I walked down to the beach and followed the man as he walked along. When he walked, I walked. When he stopped, I stopped. When he looked, I looked. I walked for a hundred yards or so and I never saw ANYTHING. Several times, the fisherman waded into the water, and every time came back to the shore with two or three fish. I began to think about the fisherman. There was a spiritual lesson there.
Like many of the people walking on the beach, many Christians walk through life, just enjoying their surroundings, without any concern for others. They’re not looking for anything in particular, they’re just enjoying life. Other Christians walk into situations without the eyes to see. Some people just cast the net over and over, hoping that something will happen. They’re not observing. They’re just busy doing something… anything.
Some Christians have concern and are able to see what it takes to win others…to be fishers of men. They are willing to observe, understand, and act to win others to Christ. They are intentional about it. They pray and follow God’s guidance. I’m convinced this can be taught. If I could have communicated with the fisherman, I’m sure he could have told me how to catch fish like he did.
At Baptist Student Center, we are intentional. There are literally hundreds of language schools in Bangkok, but we’re the only Christian school. We’ve been here since 1953, and we wouldn’t be here without our desire to reach Thai students for Christ. When they enroll, we explain to them that we are a Christian school and that they will hear things about God, Jesus, and Christianity from their teachers. If that offends them, it’s the wrong school for them. With that being said, last term we had 3,252 students at BSC. We have a steady stream of new Christians, numbering several hundred each year. It’s an exciting place to be.
Consider coming to teach at Baptist Student Center this year!
During each of my pastorates I held Q & A sessions once per month, usually on a Sunday or Wednesday evening. I encouraged church members to ask any questions they had related to biblical, theological or historical matters. These sessions proved to be beneficial to the members for their spiritual growth. Some individuals were helped because their individual questions were answered, and others were helped by listening to the answers given to the questions raised by others. For an extended time, I also answered questions as an online “expert” related to religious questions. One of the benefits of online answers is that anyone may view what is posted. Over the years, I’ve replied to questions ranging from, “Will my dog be in heaven?” to “Are Baptists Protestant?”
Wanting this blog to serve as a useful tool for the sake of Christ Jesus, I’ve decided to bring the Q & A format here. Here are the “qualifications” I bring to the table:
Ordained to the Gospel Ministry
Licensed to the Gospel Ministry
PhD in Theology
Master of Divinity with Biblical Languages
Masterof Arts in Theology
Bachelor of Arts in Religion
Associate of Arts in Religion
- Over 20 years in ministry
If you would like to pose a question, please do so via the “comment” option. It is likely that your question, along with the corresponding answer, may end up as a post on 2 Worlds Collide.
While two conferences being held within the next month to denounce the doctrines of grace as anti-evangelistic have received press, I’m not sure the two “Calvinist” conferences being held in the same time frame will get much fanfare. Nonetheless, Heritage Baptist Church is hosting a conference discussing, ‘Growing the Local Church.’ Rev. Larry Vincent will address “The Pastoral Office & Church Growth,” Rev. Jason Montgomery will touch upon “Evangelism & Church Growth,” and Rev. Steve Garrick will preach from 1 Corinthians 3. The keynote speaker, Dr. Tom Ascol will, speak to the issues of “The Emgergent Church,” “Biblical Church Membership,” and “Church Discipline & Church Growth.”
Elsewhere, my very good friend, the Rev. J. W. Glidewell, who serves as the pastor of the First Baptist Church of St. Francis, Kansas, has offered an open invitation for everyone to attend the “Calvinism and Missions” conference being hosted by the church October 31-November 2. The featured speaker for the conference will be Dr. David Sills, Professor of Christian Missions and Cultural Anthroplogy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Pastor Glidewell stated Dr. Sills “will show from God’s Word in each session how Calvinism and missions are in perfect harmony and in fact depend on each other.” Dr. Sills also directs the Doctor of Missiology program, the International Church Planting program, and the Great Commission Ministries. Prior to joining the faculty at Southern, Dr. Sills was an IMB missionary in Ecuador. While in Ecuador, Dr. Sills was a church planter and general evangelist among the Quichua in the Andes. He has planted churches in both Ecuador and the U.S. He also taught at the Ecuadorian Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Sills’ latest book is The Missionary Call: Find Your Place in God’s Plan for the World (2008).
The London Missionary Society was a trans-denominational missionary society formed in England in 1795 by Nonconformists (largely Congregational in outlook) and evangelical Anglicans. Proposals for such a society began a year earlier when Particular Baptist minister, John Ryland, Jr., received correspondence from his fellow Particular Baptist, William Carey, “The Father of Modern Missions.” Carey suggested Ryland join with other Christians along the lines of the trans-denominational Anti-Slavery Society, but for the purpose of advancing the gospel. He believed a trans-denominational society would prove more efficient than missionaries being financed by their own small denominations or a handful of churches. The labors of missionaries proved difficult to sustain and tended to reach only small groups. Ryland showed Carey’s letter to H.O. Wills and began gaining great support shortly thereafter. The London Missionary Society was soon formed “to spread the knowledge of Christ among heathen and other unenlightened nations.”
The most famous missionary sent out by the London Missionary Society was Eric Liddell (1902-1945). Liddell was born in Tianjin (formerly Tientsin), China, to LMS missionaries, the Rev. & Mrs. James Liddell. The family returned to Scotland when Eric was five. Liddell, nicknamed “the Flying Scotsman,” was slated to run the 100 m. race at the Paris Olympics in 1924. Upon hearing the heats were to be run on Sunday, he refused to break the Fourth Commandment. Despite a great deal of pressure placed upon him to run on the Lord’s Day, he adamantly refused and preached in a local church that day. He ended up running in the 400 m. race instead and winning the gold medal. The 1981 film, Chariots of Fire, which won four Oscars, centers upon the 1924 Olympics and has Liddell as one of its two primary characters (Harold Abrahams the other).
After the Olympics, Liddell returned to China, serving as a missionary from 1925-1943. He married Florence Mackenzie (the daughter of Canadian missionaries) in 1934, and the couple had three daughters: Patricia, Heather and Maureen. The 1930s were dangerous in China, especially for foreigners, yet Eric served in Siaochang with his older brother, Rob. In 1941 the British government advised its citizens to evacuate the nation. Florence and the girls departed for Canada, but Liddell remained in Tientsin between 1941-1943. He was forced to enter a prison camp in Weishien. He lived out his faith courageously at the camp, caring for the sick and elderly, teaching the youth Bible studies and other subjects, boosting morale through arranging sporting events, and feeding the enemy by preparing meals for the Japanese guards. Liddell died in the camp in 1945, just months prior to the end of the war, from a brain tumor. His last words were, “It’s complete surrender.” After his death his remains were later interred in the Mausoleum of Martyrs in Shijazhuang, a great honor for a non-Chinese individual. His passing was mourned deeply not only by those at the internment camp in Weihsien, but by all of Scotland.
While in the camp, Liddell wrote a small work intended to teach others basic doctrine and the importance of personal devotional – The Disciplines of the Christian Life. Within the pages of this small work, Liddell wrote his “personal” creed. It didn’t supplant his affirmation of the historic Christian creeds, by any means, but was intended to demonstrate verbally the importance of living for God with every fiber of one’s being. Eric Liddell, whose life demonstrates the reality and importance of living out one’s theology, confessed:
I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Creator,
infinitely holy and loving,
who has a plan for the world, a plan for my life,
and some daily work for me to do.
I believe in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God,
as Example, Lord, and Savior.
I believe in the Holy Spirit who is able to guide my life
so that I may know God’s will;
and I am prepared to allow him to guide and control my life.
I believe in God’s law that I should love the Lord my God
with all my heart, and with all my soul,
and with all my mind, and with all my strength;
and my neighbor as myself.
I believe it is God’s will that the whole world
should be without any barriers of race, color, class,
or anything else that breaks the spirit of fellowship.
To believe means to believe with the mind and heart,
to accept, and to act accordingly on that basis.
May has been quite a month for Franklin Graham, the president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The US Embassy in Beijing noted, “Franklin Graham’s May 11 sermon at Hangzhou Chong-Yi Christian Church is very significant. It highlights the strong possibility for cooperation that exists between United States and Chinese religious institutions and marks a positive path forward.” Graham preached an evangelistic sermon on the cross and asked those present to stand if they wanted to become followers of Jesus Christ. Approximately 1,250 responded and received Bibles. During the sermon, the evangelist said he has always cherished China because it is the land where his mother was born. He also confessed to having doubts as to whether or not he would ever “see this much change and progress” in the Communist nation, noting his ability to visit and openly preach has given him “great hope” for religious expression in the country.
Just days following Graham’s sermon, China was hit with an earthquake registering 7.9 on the Richter Scale, killing thousands in Sichuan Province. Graham and his international Christian relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse, responded immediately. The evangelist met with Elder Fu Xian-Wei, chairman of the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), and the Rev. Gao Feng, president of the China Christian Council, in Shanghai. The organization committed $150,000 to assist with immediate disaster response. Gao stated, “This donation is very important to the people in China because it shows the love of God for all people. This will encourage more Chinese people to do the same, and to reach out to their neighbors in need. Franklin Graham’s visit is bringing us much more understanding and encouragement to each other.”
In part, I appreciate deeply two aspects of Franklin Graham’s visit to China. The first is the fact that he openly proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ to thousands of Chinese. It is my sincere hope and desire the 1,250 who responded did so in faith. The second is his immediate response and aid given to those who suffered horribly due to the earthquake. Graham and Samaritan’s Purse are to be commended for their aid. Despite these two wonderful aspects, I’m also troubled by Graham’s recent visit. During an interview with Chinese reporters, the evangelist stated he was against any evangelistic activity by foreigners during the Olympics because Chinese law prohibits it. “I would not support any illegal activity at all,” he said. Many have lambasted him for this, but I’m not sure that is fair. For one, Graham was doing evangelism himself. For another, he did not deny or approve the fact that Chinese Christians are being persecuted. The problem is, he also stated that Chinese Christians are obligated to obey the nation’s laws while cooperating with authorities to “resolve these areas of misunderstanding or where there is tension.” He added, “I think the government of China is recognizing that more and more and seeing the value of a personal faith that people can have and so I’m here to encourage that. I’m not here to condemn, I’m here to work with them and help to build better bridges of understanding between Christians and government.”
In China, the Christian population is divided into two sectors – those worshiping in the state-sanctioned churches under the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), and those attending unregistered house churches. The TSPM leaders have stated publicly that evangelistic efforts by foreigners during the Olympics are unwelcome. While the Evangelical Church has grown at a rapid rate in recent years, the Communist Party has a choke-hold on the official church (TSPM), individual congregations and seminaries. Christians who meet in “unauthorized” congregations, usually the house church groups, are harassed and often arrested. Just one week prior to Graham’s sermon, the Chengdu Qiuyu Blessings Church was raided by police during a worship service. The members were informed by government officials they were “suspected of being involved in illegal religious practices,” then detained for several hours. Their Bibles, study materials and hymnals were confiscated. In another incident this month, three leaders of “unauthorized” churches in Shandong Province were detained. One of them was a pastor from Taiwan. He was expelled from the nation and banned from returning for five years. In December, 270 Protestant house church pastors were arrested. Last summer over 100 foreign missionaries were expelled. The expulsion of missionaries was the largest event of its kind since 1954.
Bob Fu responded to Graham’s remarks, “[Christians] cannot and will not [concede] to a ‘faith moratorium’ in order to please an atheistic government during the Olympic Games, even if that means enduring imprisonment and torture.” Fu, the recent recipient of a presidential honor for advocating religious freedom in China, denounced China’s laws unjust because they require Christians to deny the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. He said Graham’s comment about Christians submitting to the ban on Olympic evangelism was a “deep offense” to the hundreds of house church prisoners and their families. Whereas the TSPM congregations have declared all evangelistic activity during the Olympics as unwelcome, the house churches view the matter as “an issue of the lordship of Christ to the church,” according to Fu. He adds, “…If the church ceases to do evangelism, is it the true church? It’s a big question.”
Since making his initial comments and receiving a great deal of critical response, Graham released the following statement:
In my work with both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, I want to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of those that are suffering and hurting. This year we will work in more than 100 countries and in each one we are always open and honest about our ministry, that we are Christians and that we want to help their citizens in the name of Jesus Christ.
I support Christian groups that want to do ministry in China during the Olympics. However, I believe we must be sensitive to and respectful of the local church and the impact we as outsiders could have on them. We are guests in China and anything we do or say has a lasting effect on Chinese Christians that will be there long after the Olympics when we are gone. If we intentionally or inadvertently engage in any illegal activity we could jeopardize the well being of these Christians and the church in China. For anyone that wants to review the current laws of China regarding religious activity we have posted this information on http://www.billygraham.org.
During my visit to China I have been very impressed and surprised by the incredible growth the church has experienced over the past 20 years. Personal evangelism and discipleship is alive and vibrant in China. The church is growing so fast that the greatest need right now is for more theologically trained faculty to prepare the next generation of pastors and clergy. There is still progress that can be made in the area of religious expression in China, but I am encouraged by the current direction. My prayer is that the church in China will continue to be strengthened and grow. Let us do everything we can to encourage and help the church in China as the world’s eyes will be on their nation this summer.
Unlike Graham, I am not encouraged by the current direction in which China is going in relation to religious liberty. Earlier this year, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended the State Department blacklist China as a “Country of Particular Concern.” (2008), the worst label given for a religious freedom violator. Persecution of Christians has increased in recent months as the Olympics draw nearer, not lessened.
Graham and other Christians should ask themselves, “Am I being used as a public relations tool in the hands of an atheistic government?” This question is especially relevant just prior to the Olympics. Graham’s point of foreigners not engaging in evangelism may be quite valid, but asking Chinese Christians to refrain from evangelizing on their home soil is simply wrong. Christians should also inquire, “What is the biblical response to the Chinese law forbidding evangelism?” One is reminded of the Apostles when they were threatened by the Jewish authorities “to speak no more to anyone in this name” of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:17). St. Peter and St. John responded simply and firmly, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). A further response from the Apostles and the Early Church was to pray for boldness (Acts 24-31):
And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, Your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’ —for truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to Your servants to continue to speak Your word with all boldness, while You stretch out Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
Let us pray for our Christians brothers and sisters in China to continue to proclaim the precious name of Jesus Christ with all boldness.