There are several ways to teach a subject but the different approaches can be summarized as “tell them how” versus “show them how.” In Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life, Robert Smith relies heavily on the latter to instruct pastors in the importance of doctrinal preaching. His style of writing uses a lot of metaphors and pithy quotes to compare preaching to dancing and escorting. This brings an original approach to a book on preaching that when it succeeds, it hits a home run but when it doesn’t succeed it strikes out, leaving the reader unsure of what the metaphor really was meant to convey.
Robert Smith Jr. serves as Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity Beeson Divinity School where he teaches Christian Preaching. He formerly taught Christian preaching at The Theological Southern Baptist Seminary as well. He is obviously well versed in preaching and one gathers right away that the style of the book will be similar to a sermon. The reader can almost hear the writer preaching the material of the book in the way that he uses metaphors and pithy quotes and proverbs. Smith says that the book is about doctrinal preaching and handling the word of God in such a way as to bring joyous praise and glory to God. He works to drive home the importance of doctrinal preaching while at the same time providing various definitions of preaching from people through history before finally settling on his own definition. He summarizes his definition as “transformation through Christ.” Doctrinal preaching “is the escorting of the hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation.”
Smith employs two larger metaphors to define doctrinal preaching and to build the rest of the book upon, an exegetical escort and a doxological dancer. He hangs the major themes of the books on these two metaphors. First, the role of the exegetical escort is to embrace the text of Scripture in order to be able to escort the hearer into God’s presence for transformation. One of the major themes of Smith’s book is that the text must be first interpreted correctly by the preacher and then internalized by the preacher. The preacher must sit under his own preaching. After having done this, then the preacher can exegete his audience and bring the text to bear upon them so that they will be confronted with the truths of scripture.
Smith says that the exegetical escort must rightly divide the word of God. He says that the sermon must come from the text and not imposed upon it. He says that doctrinal preaching will keep three focuses in mind, apologetics, polemics, and catechism. The exegetical escort will work to establish what the correct teaching and doctrine by arguing from the scripture while fending off false teachings and nourishing the sheep.
The second big theme of Smith’s book is that preaching must be balanced between the intellect and the emotional, the mind and the heart. He drives this point home with the doxological dancer metaphor. He shifts from content to style of delivery and back with this theme. The doxological dancer “is to communicate the doctrinal message of the Bible with accuracy and ardor so that the exuberant hearer exults in the exalting of God.” The doxological dancer internalizes the message for himself. He exegetes his audience. He then he can now deliver the message in such a way that his audience is moved by the content and delivery of the sermon.
He uses analogies of songs and also speaks of the history of African Americans to help drive home the importance of making the sermon dance. He says that you “Begin low; Proceed slow; Rise higher; Take fire; When most impressed Be self-possessed; To Spirit wed form, and Sit down in a storm.” He reminds the preacher that the gospel of Jesus Christ should not be boring. The preacher is escorting the people into the presence of the Lord and this should cause us to rejoice. It should change us. The audience is concerned with the “what”, the “so what” and the “now what” so the preacher must be able to answer these questions in a way that causes the listener to exalt God.
Another big theme for Smith is preaching with the power of the Holy Spirit. Here he uses a metaphor of jazz improvisation. He argues that a preacher must have internalized the sermon so well that he is not glued to the manuscript but is free to go as the Spirit leads. He does not diminish the importance of preparation because he has already spent ample time speaking about sermon prep. However, he is very adamant that the preacher must trust God through his preparation and especially in the delivery of the sermon. Finally, Smith ends with reminding the reader that preaching God’s word faithfully will have an effect upon the preacher and his listeners. The preacher should preach so that his listeners will be motivated to take that message to their neighbors, communities, families, and friends.
Smith is obviously an accomplished preacher and is masterful at telling stories. He uses that to good effect in this book. As said in the introduction, he seems to lean on showing how rather than telling how. That is, he relies heavily on applications of his points from metaphors, pithy quotes and parables. For some readers, this style may take a little getting used to. He doesn’t give clear and delineated points as in other instructional books but instead seems to flow from thought to thought seamlessly. This approach provides a good example of how a sermon can flow however it left me wishing for him have been a little clearer. His two big metaphors are the linchpin of the entire book. So we will begin with looking critically at them.
The exegetical escort fits his style of showing and not just telling. An escort comes along side someone and ushers them to where they need to be. Smith drives home the point that the preacher must sit under his own preaching first. This is especially helpful for a young preacher. The preacher cannot lead his people where he has not first been. This means that the preacher must spend time in the study preparing for the sermon. But he must also spend time in prayer embracing the sermon as well. He says that “If the preacher exults in the Lord in the prayer room and study, the channels will be open for the preacher to motivate the hearers to mutually participate in the exaltation of God in the pulpit.” He says that the three lines of public ministry, preaching, teaching, and administration must be undergirded and propped up by the three lines of private ministry, prayer, reading Scripture, and spiritual direction.
In the second metaphor, Smith describes preaching as doxologically dancing. This metaphor is not as strong as the prior. This is partially because Smith wants to keep some things undefined. He says that the mystery of doctrinal preaching makes it hard to define. Because of that he speaks in a lot of metaphors and parables. While this at times can be his biggest strength it also can be the biggest weakness. There was an entire chapter on jazz improvisation that made things muddier. I was never quite able to grasp exactly what point the metaphor was supposed to be making. He spoke of call and response during the sermon but outside of African American churches, there may not be must experience of this kind of back and forth during the sermon.
The doxological dancer is one who presents the sermon in a way that matches the content. This is helpful in acknowledging that we must engage our audience with emotions and examples that match the content of the text. Our delivery cannot be boring. Smith is very critical of those would preach in an unattached way. He also seems to suggest that for the Spirit to move there must be spontaneity. He in particular was not fond of liturgical worship styles because he says they keep God at arm-length. Those of us who hold to a more liturgical worship style believe that God has commanded certain things and certain ways that worship must be done. I think we must be careful to not over associate the movement of the Holy Spirit with spontaneity lest we become impulsive and disorderly.
While disagreeing with Smith on liturgical worship, he makes an important point about trusting in Christ while delivering the sermon. We must not be so full of pride that we think we must have complete control of every single second. Sometimes God uses our pauses or forgotten thoughts to drive home a previous point to the audience. God may bring to mind something that had not been thought of during the preparation but would be appropriate during the delivery. We cannot be so beholden to a manuscript that we become glorified readers. The challenge is to trust God in the delivery.
Equally important is the fact that we cannot assume that our hearers know the biblical stories. Smith says that in a previous generation, you might have been able to assume that the listener could fill in some of the details or backgrounds in more familiar passages. But he says that it is important that preachers not assume and instead to go ahead and provide that context. Secondly, we cannot assume that our listeners understand theological terms such as justification and sanctification. We must work to drive home these terms by illustrating them in terms that our listeners understand. He points to the example of Christ using parables. We also see this in what he calls the “biographical snapshots.” That is the bible uses narrative to place us in the story alongside the characters where we learn the doctrine that God is teaching us through them.
One danger that Smith points out is that preaching cannot be devoid of grace. He said that Paul always taught theology of grace before the theology of works. The gospel gives us the power for the works. I think we must be equally careful not to miss the role of God’s law to act as a mirror driving us to Christ. The commands of God are meant to be obeyed and our disobedience has created the need for Christ’s sacrifice. The law drives us to Christ and Christ empowers us to obey the law. There are ditches on either side. To focus on duty without position is to miss the Gospel and leave people dead in their sins. To focus on position without duty neglects one of the purposes of the Gospel, our sancrification.
Smith strongly points out that preaching is to be both to the mind and the heart. God’s word is not something to be merely assented to but it must be loved and obeyed. The preacher cannot be happy to only appeal to the intellect but must engage the emotions as well. I do wish that Smith would have shown better how to engage the heart as well as the mind. I also wonder if this might be a false dichotomy. Does not the mind engage the heart? Are they really separable? Obviously Smith means that the preacher must engage the emotions through the use of illustrations and other tools that make the passage hit home. He says that the use of hymns and stories help drive the doctrine to the heart in a way that other language cannot.
Dr. Smith’s unique style showcases what he is trying to drive home. He uses stories, music, illustrations, and quotes very well. This is at times where the book shines. Not coming from a similar background as him, it was interesting to see how he drew from his heritage to drive home the points. It is good to engage with cultures and traditions that one is not normally familiar with. Smith’s stories from slaves and their adoption of music to showcase their struggles were very interesting. Smith’s background here adds to preaching books a viewpoint that is not often found in them. I found some of the sources of his quotes a little questionable, however. Not of all of them were from orthodox preachers or theologians. But never the less I appreciated this viewpoint.
Robert Smith gives a good reminder to preachers that their task must be to honor the text of God’s word and to connect it with his hearers. The preacher must let the scripture define the doctrine and then present it in such a way that it moves the listener. Doctrine ultimately must drive our living. Smith gives many examples of this throughout and even ends the book with two sample sermons putting into practice what he outlined in the rest of the book. The preacher must be an exegetical escort ushering his people into the presence of God. The preacher must worship God in preaching. The preacher in this case is a doxological dancer embracing the doctrine in praise. If the preacher can accomplish this he will ensure that the audience will turn around and preach the sermon in their homes, at their jobs, and in the barbershops.
It’s been suggested to me that I back down or refrain from preaching or teaching the doctrines of Grace i.e. Calvinism. I’d like to explain why these doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election/ predestination, limited atonement, effectual calling, and the perseverance of the saints are so treasured by me that I cannot back away from them even if it costs me my current job or a future job in an SBC church.
First, they are precious doctrines because they are biblical. That should be all the grounding that any believer needs. God has saw fit to reveal in his Word these teachings for us to study and to treasure. His word is the standard for all of our beliefs and practices. Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Second, these doctrines exalt God and humble men. Salvation is 100% God’s working. We contribute absolutely nothing to our salvation except the sin that makes it necessary. God will share his glory with no one. It is humbling to know that if not for the sovereign grace of God, I would take myself straight to hell. Yet it causes me to shout in praise of God that he took a dead sinner like myself and made me alive. He has lavished his grace upon one who hated him and could not and would not choose him of his own will.
Thirdly, these doctrines are exquisite because they reveal the love that God has for his elect. That in eternity past, God the Father chose a people for himself. He chose to reveal his love to his people by sending God the Son to the cross and dying to save them. He died not just to make salvation possible in generalities but to actually save his specific sheep. And because God is the one who saves then those who are saved can never be lost. Those he predestines he calls, justifies and will glorify. What great comfort and assurance is found in Christ.
Fourthly, these doctrines fuel our evangelism and zeal good works. Because God prepared our salvation beforehand, he also prepared our good works as well. He has chosen to use saved and sanctified sinners to take the glory of the gospel into the world to reach his children. Whether I preach in the pulpit or in the street, I can be confident that my job is just to be faithful to his word and that He is the one who is responsible for the results. I can be confident that God has chosen that the power of the gospel can overwhelm the enslaved and dead will of a sinner and cause them to be born again so that they will now freely chose to obey him. I can pray with confidence for God to save my friends and family, knowing that God actually has the power to save them if he so chooses.
Fifthly, and related to the last, because I trust in the sovereignty of God, I do not have to resort to merely pragmatic and worse yet emotionally manipulative means in order to try and get a decision while sharing the gospel. I can faithfully preach the commands of God without being embarrassed by things that our culture finds antiquated. I don’t have to rely on half-truths or the nuancing of things to death so as not to offend. I can trust that God is sovereign and that he has determined to use the proclamation of his word to either save his sheep or to drive away the goats. Consequently, I am free to be faithful to share the gospel with my neighbor without fear that if I mess something up or if I am not the greatest communicator that my neighbor won’t be saved because something I said. Salvation is of the Lord and not of the will of man.
There are plenty of other reasons I can think of for why these doctrines are so amazing and precious. Hitting home for me is that God has used the preaching of these beliefs to bring me to repentance and faith in him. And because of that there is no way that I can ever refrain from believing, teaching, preaching, and celebrating the doctrines of Grace.
A Defense of Calvinism by Charles Spurgeon
(This is the second article in a series responding to Yahweh’s Restoration Ministries and other Sacred Name/Hebrew Roots Movement cults. You can check out the first article here.)
“The doctrine of the Trinity is both central and necessary for the Christian faith to be what it is. Remove the Trinity, and the whole Christian faith disintegrates. “ [i] – Dr. Bruce Ware
Denying the biblical doctrine of the trinity is a fatal flaw. As I wrote in yesterday’s article, to deny the Triune God is to create a false god who has no power to save. Yet this is exactly what cults like Yahweh’s Restoration Ministries do. Specifically these cults attack the deity of Christ making him out to be a created being. They also deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Paul Washer says “You mark my words: Whenever a cult attacks Christianity, the first place they’re going to go is they’re going to attack the deity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; is that not true? They are going to attack His deity.” By denying the deity of Christ they have undone the work of the atonement. Because humans have sinned against an eternal God they owe an eternal penalty. Therefore, “it is necessary that a God-Man should pay” for sin, since, “no one can pay except God, and no one ought to pay except man.”[ii] To deny the full deity and humanity of Christ results in a savior who cannot satisfy the full wrath of God on the cross.
In this article, I will begin examining scriptural evidence for the trinity. There is no way that in a short article here I can even begin to scratch the surface on this glorious doctrine. There have been many works written by authors far more capable than I on this topic. I would encourage curious readers to research the issue further knowing that ultimately we will be spending eternity growing in knowledge of God yet we’ll never fully plumb the depths of glorious richness of God. We are but finite creatures attempting to explore the infinite, transcendent but personal Triune God. We will in this article attempt to look at two aspects of the trinity: 1. The absolute commitment to Monotheism in the scripture. 2. The evidence for the Deity of Christ.
Those who teach heresies such as Arianism (The belief that Christ is a created lesser being), Pelagianism (the denial of the inherited sinful nature of humans), and those who fall into other errors such as antinomianism often neglect to do the work of systematic theology. That is they fail to take into account all that scripture says on a particular topic. The work of systematic theology is as Doug Wilson says is to” remember while reading one text what you learned while reading the others. The best kind of systematic thought brings all of the Bible into every text.”[iii] Cults seem to have an aversion to taking all that scripture has to say about a particular topic and synthesizing it into a thought out and reasoned doctrine. Instead they narrowly focus on one particular verse(s) and misuse it as the foundation of their belief. The doctrine of the Trinity takes into account all that the scriptures say about God. Thus it will be important to see what scripture says about both the unified oneness and diversity of God.
Before we dig into much further let’s provide a definition of what is meant by the trinity. Matt Perman gives a succinct definition:
“The doctrine of the Trinity means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Stated differently, God is one in essence and three in person. These definitions express three crucial truths: (1) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, (2) each Person is fully God, (3) there is only one God. “[iv]
The doctrine of the trinity does not teach that there is more than one God or that God changes forms to become a different person. There are three eternally distinct persons who are the one true God; one God in three persons. This doctrine is not a contradiction but might best be called a paradox or an antinomy. JI Packer says an “antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable.” In this case the principle that there is one God and yet there are three persons is an antinomy. Packer again explains that in an antinomy both principles must be accepted. He says “What should one do, then, with an antinomy? Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it.”[v] Ultimately, we must remember that we are finite and will never be able to get our heads fully around the nature of God, yet we must believe what God has revealed about himself in his word.
With these concepts in mind let’s look at the scriptural evidence for the trinity. First, we will look to the scriptures and find the principle that there is only one God. Deuteronomy 6: 4 famously says “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This verse is called the Shema Israel taken from the first two words in Hebrew. There a couple of important things to notice about this verse. First of all, we notice that the verse makes it clear that the LORD (Yahweh in the original language) is one. There is a complete commitment to monotheism in the scriptures. Yet secondly, in this verse there is also a clue to the trinity. In the Hebrew language, the word translated as God is Elohim. John J. Parsons explains
“The name Elohim is unique to Hebraic thinking…The masculine plural ending does not mean “gods” when referring to the true God of Israel, since the name is mainly used with singular verb forms and with adjectives and pronouns in the singular (e.g., see Gen. 1:26). However, considering the Hashalush HaKadosh (Trinity), the form indeed allows for the plurality within the Godhead.”[vi]
There have been some who however have argued that the plural ending of Elohim should be taken as a plurality in majesty and thus should not be taken to mean any more than that. Either way, the crux of the argument for the trinity is not limited to an element of Hebrew language. The main reason I am highlighting this word is to show that the idea of a plurality within the Godhead is not foreign to the Hebrew language.
Let’s return to looking at the argument for the belief in one God. Isaiah 43:10 says
““You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.
Notice that in this verse that God declares that there are no other gods formed before or after him. Contrary to Mormonism[vii], the Lord is the only God who has ever existed or will exist. This eliminates polytheism. If one reads through Isaiah or any of the prophets,you see how God rejects any notion of equal or lesser gods. Isaiah 44:6 makes this clear “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” God is the creator of all things. Notice also that the Lord is called Redeemer. God is savior of his people. Again, Isaiah 45:18 “For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!):“I am the Lord, and there is no other.” God alone made everything. Unlike Gnosticism which had God creating angelic beings who then formed the earth, Isaiah teaches that God formed the earth and made it.
The New Testament continues this theme of one God. 1 Corinthians 8:6a says “yet for us athere is but one God”. Ephesians 4: 4-7 again speaks of one God:” There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Just as the prophets dismiss the existence of idols and false gods, Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:4 says “Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. “
The scriptures are clear that there is only one God. This one God is the creator and sustainer of all things. There are no idols or lesser gods who exist. There are none who were God before Him and none who will be after. God has always exists and will always exist. God is the redeemer and savior of His people. Finally, let’s look at one more thing that God says about himself:
Isaiah 42: 8 I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.
Isaiah 48:11 “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.”
Notice what God says here: He defends his name and says clearly that He will not give His glory to another. He will not allow another to be worshiped or praised. There is only one God and to him belongs all worship, praise, and glory. The 1st commandment is that we shall have no other God’s before him. And the 2nd commandment is that we shall not worship idols or anyone other than God. In Isaiah, God again makes it clear he will not share his worship or name with another.
So to quickly recap: There is one God who created all things and who is savior and redeemer alone. This one God is to be worshiped alone and He does not share his glory with another. There are no other gods before after him. To worship any other than the one true God is to commit blasphemy and to break God’s law. God is a jealous God for his name and glory.
Now we will turn quickly to Jesus. Let’s look first at the Old Testament to see what it says about the Messiah. In light of the discussion above about God not giving his name or worship to another, this should raise our eyebrows and cause us to consider what the scripture is saying about the Messiah. Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah and he had this to say in Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Wait a minute, this son whose shoulders the government will rest upon shall be called … Mighty God. But it doesn’t stop there. We see in Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The name Immanuel means “God with us.” Matthew 1:23 tells us that the birth of Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. We see then that the Messiah was to be called “Mighty God” and “God with us.”
One of the most common titles for Jesus in the New Testament is Lord. 1 Corinthians 8:6 which said that there is one God also says that there is one Lord, Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:9-11 says this about Jesus: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
Jon Bloom explains that this passage speaks very clearly about the deity of Christ.:
To see just how breathtaking this statement really is, we must understand what Paul has in mind here. He is quoting the LORD speaking through the Prophet Isaiah:
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him. In the LORD all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.
Whenever the name LORD is printed in small caps in this English translation, it means the NAME: YAHWEH. For ancient Jews (and conservative modern ones), YAHWEH was the Name of names; so sacred that they would not speak it nor would they write it in full (they left out the vowels: YHWH). YAHWEH was the Holy One of Israel.
As a Pharisee, Paul knew this text very well. He knew exactly what he was saying: Jesus of Nazareth is YAHWEH. Pause and feel the weight of that statement. Paul once approved of the execution of those who claimed such things. He would one day die for proclaiming it.[viii]
Jesus receives the name of God. He is worshiped as Lord. He is called the redeemer and savior. Furthermore, we learn that Jesus created all things. Colossians 1:16-17 says” For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” The scriptures teach that God alone created all things and yet they also teach that Jesus created all things. Lastly, in Revelation 22:13, Jesus says “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
To summarize, we have seen that the scriptures teach that there is one God who is uncreated yet who created everything. This one God is redeemer, savior, and Lord. Every knee will bow to Him. This one God does not share his glory and worship with another. We have also seen that Jesus receives worship and glory. Jesus is called Lord, Redeemer, savior, creator, and eternal. The scriptures are clear that there is one God and that Jesus is God.
There is much more that can be said about Christ Jesus. While we have focused on the divinity of Jesus we must not neglect that in the incarnation, God the Son took on human nature. Jesus is fully God and yet fully human. Joel McDurmon writes:
Since Christ is both fully man and fully God, a correct understanding of His Incarnation corrects errors on two fronts: those who would diminish His deity and those who would deny his true humanity. The former run into the error of seeing Christ as only a man: a special man, perhaps, but only a man, nonetheless, and therefore, unable to save man from depravity. The opposite error is the subject of my book: the denial of Christ’s humanity. This scenario reduces Christ to a phantom of human imagination. He may be a “god,” but since this god has no historical manifestation, then he suffers the fate of all the gods of human history: he is relegated to mythology. More importantly, since this alleged god cannot reveal himself in history, then it is left to man—each individual man—to define this god as they like.[ix]
Christians believe that there is one God and three persons. We have uncovered the identity of one of those persons in this article. In the next article, we will take a look at the other two persons of the trinity. We will look at the personhood of the Holy Spirit and of the Father. We will see that each person is equal and fully God and yet there is a hierarchy in role among each of the persons.
[i] Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2005).
[ii] Scott Horrell et al., Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Intermediate Christology, ed. Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler (Nashville, Tenn: B&H Academic, 2007).
[iii] “Joy to the World,” Blog & Mablog, accessed December 8, 2015, https://dougwils.com/s8-expository/joy-to-the-world-2.html.
[iv] “What Is the Doctrine of the Trinity?,” Desiring God, accessed December 9, 2015, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-the-doctrine-of-the-trinity.
[v] J. I. Packer and Mark Dever, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Americanized edition (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2012).
[vi] “The Hebrew Name for God – Elohim,” accessed December 10, 2015, http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Names_of_G-d/Elohim/elohim.html.
[vii] Mormonism teaches that God used to be a man who obeyed the gods before him and that we can become a god ourselves one day.
[viii] “Jesus Christ Is YAHWEH,” Desiring God, accessed December 11, 2015, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/jesus-christ-is-yahweh.
[ix] “Baby Jesus and Freedom: Implications of the Incarnation,” The American Vision, accessed December 11, 2015, http://americanvision.org/3858/baby-jesus-and-freedom-implications-of-the-incarnation/.
Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, once wrote “False teachings emerge anew in every generation it seems, but inventing a new heresy is quite a challenge. After all, once every doctrine vital to Christianity has been denied, all that remains is a change in packaging.”[i] Old heresies once declared anathema by Christians, every so often are brought out, dusted off, and repackaged into some new cult. Doing street evangelism and abortion ministry, I’ve recently come into contact with some of these various cults. A couple of things that most if not all cults have in common is a redefinition of God and a works-based salvation.
A New Old Heresy
One such cult that I’ve recently come into contact with is a group that calls themselves “Yahweh’s Restoration Movement (YRM).” They are a small sect of what is often called “The Sacred Name Movement” which in turn is an offshoot of the “Hebrew Roots Movement” which developed from the Church of God (Seventh Day) in the 1930s. The movement was influenced by Joseph Franklin Rutherford who named the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult which has a long line of false prophesies including the false prediction that Christ would return in 1925.[ii] The Sacred Name Movement is essentially a cross between 7th Day Adventism and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
They advocate for the use of the sacred named of God (Yahweh) and the use of Christ’s name in Hebrew. They put such an emphasis on pronouncing these names “correctly” that salvation is dependent in part upon getting this correct. This is humorous when one realizes that there are several different sects arguing over the correct pronunciation which disagree with each other. You can find some that say that Christ’s name must be written and pronounced as Yahshua while others may say Yeshua , Yehoshua, Yahushua, Yahoshua, Yaohushua, Y’shua or Yahshuah.
While it may seem harmless enough to debate over how to properly pronounce the name of Christ in Hebrew even though the New Testament was written in Greek, these cults have other more dangerous beliefs. They reject the Christian and Biblical doctrine of the Trinity while claiming that the Trinity is an invention of the 4th Century. They reject the eternal divinity of Christ rehashing the Arian heresy that Christians decidedly dealt with in the Nicene Creed. According to the website of the “Yahweh Restoration Movement” they believe that “The Son was created by the Father.”[iii] They believe that Jesus is a lesser being than God though they would claim that he is the Messiah. To deny the eternal divinity of Christ by making him into a created being thus denying the trinity is to fundamentally get wrong the revealed nature of God. To get this wrong is to get God wrong. It ultimately results in a created false god leaving those who hold these views to be relying on a god who does not have the power to save. Ironically, while these cults are so intent on getting the name of God right they completely get wrong the nature of the one whose name they are so worried about.
So how can we respond to these cults? I will be writing a series of articles on this blog looking at the scriptural evidence for the eternal deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. Of course, Christians for almost two thousand years have been writing on the doctrine of the Trinity and yet this glorious doctrine still provides rich blessings for us to explore as we will never plumb the depths of the knowledge of who God is even in eternity. For the remainder of this article, I will provide a brief response to two challenges that these cults make towards Christianity regarding the trinity.
Those who hold to the views of YRM claim that the doctrine of the trinity is a pagan invention that the Church plagiarized into its beliefs during the 4th century. Again from the YRM website, “Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it… From Egypt came the ideas of a divine Trinity.”[iv] In a recent conversation I had with a YRM follower, I was told that it was not until 381 AD that the doctrine of the trinity was created because the early church fathers never taught the teaching of the trinity. There are two basic accusations being made here: 1. Christians stole ideas from Pagans and 2. The Ante-Nicene (Pre-Nicene) Church Fathers did not teach the Trinity. We will deal quickly with each below.
Christianity Stole from Pagans?
It is quite the internet fad today to argue that Christianity plagiarized from Pagans. The story usually goes that there were ancient Roman, Egyptian, or Middle Eastern Cults that all had gods who were born of virgins, were crucified, died, and were resurrected. Some usual candidates identified to have been copycatted by Christians are Mithra and Iris. Tektonics has an in depth article detailing the fallacies in this accusation regarding Mithra and Christ.[v] To summarize, the comparisons between these ancient mystery religions and Christianity are not even close. For example, the claim that Mithra was born of a virgin are false. Mithra was believed however to have been born out of a rock. Mithra was not crucified but was believed to have killed a bull. The more one studies these pagan religions the quicker one finds that any similarities are completely superficial.
In his “A Ready Defense”, Josh McDowell outlines four basic fallacies that people often commit when linking Christian accounts with mystery religions:
- Combinationism or universalism – This fallacy basically takes all the different mystery sects from 1500B.C. to 500 A.D., amalgamating them together, and saying that they are a coherent belief system from which Christianity borrowed. Many of these religions evolved greatly over that 2000 year time span. To say that Christianity stole this belief or that one when those beliefs weren’t necessarily even regarded as part of that system any longer (or had yet to be developed) is ridiculous.
- Coloring the Evidence – Basically, this error occurs when a critic distorts the teaching of the mystery religion by using Christian-type language to describe a belief – and then claiming that Christianity stole from it because the beliefs read similarly. In reality the mystery practice is usually something completely different in intent or symbolism that the Christian “counterpart”.
- Oversimplification – Many critics will find thing such as a resurrection story and then try to demonstrate how Christianity borrowed from this type of belief. Usually, this is at the expense of many crucial details that really differentiate the myth from the historic Christian account. Also, many of these stories aggrandize the myth more than is necessary.
- Who’s Influencing Whom? – This error happens quite often. It consists of assuming that because there is an element in an Eastern religion as well as in Christianity, the Christians must have borrowed from the Eastern tradition since that religion’s founder lived first. The problem is that Christianity was so aggressive in its spread over the Roman Empire and Asia, many of these religions adopted Christian symbology and practice in order to make their religion look more appealing to stop losing converts to Christians. This can usually be discovered by looking into the various practices of those religions and noting that a feature similar to Christianity wasn’t recorded or mentioned in any writing until after the Christian era had proliferated.[vi]
These claims then that Christianity aped pagan beliefs are ridiculous and unfounded in history. Any similarities have been grossly exaggerated. In particular there are no ancient religions that have one God in three persons. Let us supposed for a moment however that there were closer similarities than what we already find. What would that mean? Walter Martin wrote in “The New Cults: “In order to find out if the doctrine of the Trinity is true, we do not look to see if it resembles paganism, but to the bible, to see if God teaches it in his word. Pagans also believe in the concept of God. Does this mean that God must not be true? Pagans sleep. Does that mean sleeping is wrong ? We must not dismiss an idea merely because it is held in common with those whom we may not approve.”[vii]
Church Fathers and the Trinity
Scripture is our authority and to it we must look for our beliefs because it is the very word of God. It is in the scriptures where we will find the doctrine of the Trinity. I plan to write a follow up article to this one where I will show from the scriptures the doctrine of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ. However, I will finish this article by addressing the second accusation that the doctrine of the Trinity was not taught by the early church fathers prior to the 4th century.
I will provide some quotes from a few of the church fathers. There are plenty more quotes to be found and read but these few will surely put to bed the notion that the trinity was a 4th century invention. You will notice that these early church fathers spoke of the deity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit using language reserved for God. The use of Trinitarian language is evident from the beginning of Christianity. Here are just a sample of quotes:
Mathetes 130 AD – “the holy and incomprehensible Word the very Creator and Fashioner of all things. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Savior He sent Him the immortal One for them that are mortal” Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, ANTE Vol.1 pp.63,65
Polycarp 150 AD “Wherefore also I praise Thee [the ever-truthful God] for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen” – Epistle of the church at Smyrna Ch.14 ANTE Vol 1 p.92
Ignatius of Antioch 117 AD “We have also as a Physician the Lord our God Jesus the Christ the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For ‘the Word was made flesh.’ Being incorporeal, He was in the body; being impassible, He was in a passable body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts,” -Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The ante-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975 rpt., Vol. 1, p. 52, Ephesians 7
Notice how this next quote refutes those who deny the divinity of Christ and those who would say that Christians borrowed from the Greeks and their idle tales:
Tatian the Syrian 170 AD “We do not act as fools, O Greeks, nor utter idle tales, when we announce that God was born in the form of a man.” – Address to the Greeks, ch. 21 ANTE Vol 2 p.149
Melito of Sardis 170-177 AD “The activities of Christ after his baptism, and especially his miracles, gave indication and assurance to the world of the deity hidden in his flesh. Being God and likewise perfect man, he gave positive indications of his two natures: of his deity, by the miracles during the three years following after his baptism, of his humanity, in the thirty years which came before his baptism, during which, by reason of his condition according to the flesh, he concealed the signs of his deity, although he was the true God existing before the ages.” Anastasius of Sinai’s The Guide 13
Clement of Alexandria 190 AD “I understand nothing else than the Holy Trinity to be meant; for the third is the Holy Spirit, and the Son is the second, by whom all things were made according to the will of the Father.” – Stromata, Book V ch. 14 ANTE Vol.2 p.970
Tertullian 205 AD “”The connection of Father and Son, of Son and the Paraclete [Holy Spirit] makes three who cohere in a dependent series. And these three are one thing; not one person.” – Against Praxeas ch.25
“The Son of God is identical with God. The Spirit of God is God.” – Against Praxeas ch.26
“We define that there are two, the Father and the Son, and three with the Holy Spirit, and this number is made by the pattern of salvation . . . [which] brings about unity in trinity, interrelating the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are three, not in dignity, but in degree, not in substance but in form, not in power but in kind. They are of one substance and power, because there is one God from whom these degrees, forms and kinds devolve in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” (Adv. Prax. 23, PL 2.156-7).
To deny the trinity is to deny the very character of God. It is to deny who God is and thus to make an idol for oneself. It is an old heresy repackaged in a new cult. Yahweh’s Restoration Movement and its sister sects ultimately reject the real Christ and diminish the glory due the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have briefly looked at two fallacious arguments put forth by these heretical groups. The doctrine of the trinity was taught and believed by the early church. Because of the Arian controversy, the church convened a council to deal with this heresy in the 4th century but the teaching of the doctrine predates that council. Not only does this teaching predate that council it can be found in both the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible. In the next article in this series, we will examine the scriptures to see what they say in regards to the Trinitarian nature of God.
[i] . “There Are No New Heresies — New Thought Isn’t New | AlbertMohler.com,” accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.albertmohler.com/2007/03/30/there-are-no-new-heresies-new-thought-isnt-new/.
[ii] “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Many False Prophecies,” CARM – The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, accessed December 7, 2015, https://carm.org/jehovahs-witnesses-and-their-many-false-prophecies.
[vi] “Are There Pagan Origins of Christianity?,” accessed December 8, 2015, http://www.comereason.org/pagan-origins-of-christianity.asp.
[vii] Walter Martin, The New Cults (Santa Ana, Calif: Vision House Pub, 1980).
There seems to be this unwritten rule that if you disagree with someone theologically, be it on minor or major issues, it is now fair game to use whatever tactics you like to take that person down. You can take comments or quotes out of context, rely on hearsay or anonymous “sources”, look for any innocent mistake, and impugn motives or positions that the person doesn’t hold to as long as it makes your “opponent” look bad. A whole cottage industry of “discernment” bloggers has risen looking for controversies to stir up and people to take down. They find heretics under every rock and a “downgrade” daily[i]. It is the ultimate in Monday morning quarterbacking and the online equivalent of the bitter old lady in church who has nothing good to say about anything that happens in her church.
I would remind us all that the Holy Scriptures command us to be loving and just (1 Corinthians 13:1). Discernment is meant to be done for the sake of abounding in love as Philippians 1:9-10 says : “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,” There is nothing loving about nitpicking and causing division among brothers. There is nothing loving about stirring up foolish controversies. There is nothing loving about looking for “gotcha” quotes or taking your opponent’s quotes out of context (1 Peter 2:1). We are to judge righteously. There is nothing righteous about making judgements without knowledge of the facts. There is nothing righteous about using misquotes or only hearing one side of the story (Proverbs 18:17).
We should seek to be unified in Christ. We should give brothers the benefit of the doubt and assume that their motives are pure even when they slip up. We must guard against a knee jerk reaction to respond to something that someone said in a sermon, on a podcast, or online without doing due diligence of first checking the context, secondly asking the person for clarification and thirdly being willing to overlook minor errors or disagreements. Sometimes true Christian discernment means overlooking a brother’s faults.
None of what I am writing is meant to excuse dealing with error, gross sin, or heresy. We must be discerning to guard our doctrine and practice. Yet even to those who are in sin, error, or heresy we must deal fairly and represent them accurately. This does not mean that there won’t ever be times to break out the serrated edge by using satire, humor, and even tough language. But in all things the believer should grow in love with discernment so that they may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.
[i] I would like to remind everyone that while Charles Spurgeon faithfully stood strong against what he called “the downgrade” among the Baptist Union, he ,however, did so with sober thought, reluctantly dividing only when he saw no way forward. This is a far cry from some who have appropriated the “downgrade” term today.
Today, the United States Supreme Court followed up its past few days of foolish rulings with another tyrannical and unconstitutional order declaring that homosexuals have a “right” to “marry.” . The Court since its beginning increasingly has given itself more and more power. They have in the past ruled that a black person was a piece of property and that there is a right to murder children in the womb. In the past few years, they have usurped the legislative branch by rewriting laws to uphold the immoral and unconstitutional Obama Care. Today, they have attempted to usurp the marriage foundation. The Justices that make up this Court are illegitimate claimants to the magistracy. But they are not alone in their complacency. They are just another piece in the puzzle of a bloated federal leviathan. This is all, of course, reflects a nation of greedy, selfish, and immoral people. John Adams once said, “W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
The United States of America is a crumbling empire bent on self-destruction. Its government is in crippling debt. It promotes the destruction of life in the womb, killing its future. It celebrates sexual perversions that cannot create life and will only bring lasting ruin. This can seem like a despairing and heart wrenching time for Christians. No doubt many will be tempted to turn to predictions of the rapture for solace.
(These predictions never pan out of course.)
The Bible ,however, can provide us with greater hope than failed predictions of a getaway car even in the face of a rebellious and tyrannical government. Daniel 2 speaks of a kingdom that has come which will outlast all empires and nations. America may linger on for a few years. God may grant us repentance and full restoration. Or America may ultimately collapse. But, Daniel tells us while interpreting a dream that ” And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure. (Daniel 2:44-45)”
In Daniel’s time, this was a future prediction speaking of the coming of Christ. With the coming of Christ in the manger, this vision became reality. In Luke 11:20 Jesus says,” But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Jesus was clear, the Kingdom of God has come. And it will break into pieces all kingdoms and bring to an end those who oppose Christ and his Lordship. If the United States continues on in its rebellion, it too will be broken into pieces but Christ’s kingdom will remain. Daniel inspired by the Holy Spirit tells us that this is certain and true. That is to be our hope in this time. Our response in this time needs to be one of repentance and obedience. Jesus told us in Matthew 28 that “all authority in heaven and ON EARTH” is his. We are to go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS (Matthew 28:19). Our hope is not found in courts, governments, or the Red, White, and Blue. We need to be in the streets, in our neighborhoods, in our cities and towns proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. We need to put all of life under the sure authority of God’s law-word. The Gospel is the good news of forgiveness of sins for sure. However, it is much more. It is the good news of the Kingdom of Jesus. This King brings forgiveness and transformation to those who repent and put their trust in him. This King has his good and perfect law for all aspects of our life, including civil government. We have one King and He is Jesus (Revelation 19:16, Isaiah 9:6). We proclaim him and pledge allegiance to Him alone.