Monday, January 05, 2009

I WANT TO BE A RED LETTER CALVINIST
...let's make 2009 the year of spiritual discernment in the body of Christ

updated


the church needs to be the church again; 
preaching faithfully God's Word; proclaiming unashamedly the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ; and then loving our neighbor and helping those in need to His glory alone


You heard me right: I want to be a Red Letter Calvinist. Evangelical liberals have taken hostage the phrase "red letter Christian" to define a political agenda, not a biblical one. Their emphasis is a social gospel. IOW, truth does not govern their movement, but the cause you are fighting for. This is nothing new really. I have written on this for years here labeling such activity as evangelical co-belligerence. This ecumenical umbrella they have fashioned is wide in whom it includes. And that should not come as a surprise to any of us. For if you take away the centrality of the cross - the centrality of the gospel according to Jesus, you can attract all kinds of supporters to your cause. But proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ and Him crucified as the only way, the only truth, and the only life - and you will whittle down your constituency immediately, severely, and abruptly. 

That is why I did not call this article "Red Letter Christian"; for in the liberal world of apocryphal doctrine, Peter Pan theology, and political cultural correctness - Mormons, JW's, those that deny the Trinity, Word Faith, the Papacy, etc. all have a seat at the table under the banner of Christian. Some even wonder if President-Elect Obama's brand of faith could be considered "Red Letter Christian"? However (and though I don't like labels as a rule) the biblical truth contained in Calvinism as a whole represents the great truths of Scripture, the nature and character of the One Triune God, and the preeminence of the gospel of sola fide into focus more profoundly in today's vacillating evangelical climate than any other body of doctrine I know. 

And lets' not forget folks, it was the reformed camp that has led the way throughout redemptive history, beginning with the Apostles and then right through Spurgeon and beyond, in caring for the poor and championing mercy ministry efforts that were a practical witness of the gospel and loving their neighbor in their respective communities (i.e. Mueller, Edwards, Spurgeon, Newton, Calvin, Rutherford, etc.).

I cannot take credit for inventing this phrase. My dear friend, Dr. Tom Ascol of the Founders Ministry, coined it last week in the meta at his blog. 

But I really like what the term inherently says and here are a few of my reasons why:

1. Red Letter - it exalts the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as being preeminent in the life of the believer and in ministry as well.

2. Calvinist - because it represents the doctrines of grace and the five solas of the Reformation over and against the heresy of the Remonstrants and affirms all that The Synod of Dort affirmed.

3. It stands in direction opposition to the red letter liberals who have hijacked the term trying to turn Jesus into nothing more than a social worker for the poor or a community organizer for cultural injustices (Ghandi with a grin); while diminishing Him as God incarnate and distorting the very nature of the atonement.

4. It also calls those of us in the Reformed Faith to not abandon our duty to our neighbor and those in need. While we are dedicated to upholding a high view of God; the authority of God's Word; salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, to the glory and praise of God alone, through the regenerating ministry of the Holy Spirit alone we should also not forget what it means to be salt and light in this world as a witness of God's grace to our neighbor. We should be leading the charge in caring for the poor, ministering to those infected with HIV/AIDS, giving shelter to the homeless, championing life for the unborn, helping single parent families, etc. - but without His truth and the gospel being compromised.

5. And lastly, it means that we represent the whole counsel of God; not just those portions of Scripture that are politically correct by today's cultural definitions. But to proclaim faithfully the whole counsel of God - especially in representing the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. BTW, implicit in this affirmation is also all of the "black letters" as well (notice the dual tone of the logo above). The nonnegotiable belief of the veracity, sufficiency, and authority of God's Word for all matters of life and godliness is a watershed issue that separates the genuine from the counterfeit in evangelicalism today.

Will you be a Red Letter Calvinist with me this year? In capsule form it means two things: 1. to live out The Two Great Commandments; and 2. to fulfill The Great Commission.

Grace and peace,
Steve
2 Cor. 4:1-7


"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ."
-
1 Corinthians 2:14-16

by John Calvin
The following selection by John Calvin was taken from book 2, chapter 2 parts 18-21 of The Institutes of The Christian Religion, translated by by Henry Beveridge, Esq. A must read for all Christians who aspire to better understand the Bible's teaching on man's spiritual impotence prior to the regeneration of the Holy Spirit.

18. The limits of our understanding
We must now explain what the power of human reason is, in regard to the kingdom of God, and spiritual discernments which consists chiefly of three things - the knowledge of God, the knowledge of his paternal favour towards us, which constitutes our salvation, and the method of regulating of our conduct in accordance with the Divine Law. With regard to the former two, but more properly the second, men otherwise the most ingenious are blinder than moles. I deny not, indeed, that in the writings of philosophers we meet occasionally with shrewd and apposite remarks on the nature of God, though they invariably savour somewhat of giddy imagination. As observed above, the Lord has bestowed on them some slight perception of his Godhead that they might not plead ignorance as an excuse for their impiety, and has, at times, instigated them to deliver some truths, the confession of which should be their own condemnation. Still, though seeing, they saw not. Their discernment was not such as to direct them to the truth, far less to enable them to attain it, but resembled that of the bewildered traveller, who sees the flash of lightning glance far and wide for a moment, and then vanish into the darkness of the night, before he can advance a single step. So far is such assistance from enabling him to find the right path. Besides, how many monstrous falsehoods intermingle with those minute particles of truth scattered up and down in their writings as if by chance. In short, not one of them even made the least approach to that assurance of the divine favour, without which the mind of man must ever remain a mere chaos of confusion. To the great truths, What God is in himself, and what he is in relation to us, human reason makes not the least approach. (See Book 3 c. 2 sec. 14, 15, 16.)

19. Man's spiritual blindness shown from John 1:4-5
But since we are intoxicated with a false opinion of our own discernment, and can scarcely be persuaded that in divine things it is altogether stupid and blind, I believe the best course will be to establish the fact, not by argument, but by Scripture. Most admirable to this effect is the passage which I lately quoted from John, when he says, "In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not," (John 1: 4, 5.) He intimates that the human soul is indeed irradiated with a beam of divine light, so that it is never left utterly devoid of some small flame, or rather spark, though not such as to enable it to comprehend God. And why so? Because its acuteness is, in reference to the knowledge of God, mere blindness. When the Spirit describes men under the term "darkness" he declares them void of all power of spiritual intelligence. For this reason, it is said that believers, in embracing Christ, are "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God," (John 1: 13;) in other words, that the flesh has no capacity for such sublime wisdom as to apprehend God, and the things of God, unless illumined by His Spirit. In like manner our Saviour, when he was acknowledged by Peter, declared that it was by special revelation from the Father, (Matth. 16: 17.)

20. Man's knowledge of God is God's own work
If we were persuaded of a truth which ought to be beyond dispute, viz., that human nature possesses none of the gifts which the elect receive from their heavenly Father through the Spirit of regeneration, there would be no room here for hesitation. For thus speaks the congregation of the faithful, by the mouth of the prophet: "With thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light," (Ps. 36: 9.) To the same effect is the testimony of the Apostle Paul, when he declares, that "no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost," (1 Cor. 12: 3.) And John Baptist, on seeing the dullness of his disciples, exclaims, "A man can receive nothing, unless it be given him from heaven," (John 3: 27.) That the gift to which he here refers must be understood not of ordinary natural gifts, but of special illumination, appears from this - that he was complaining how little his disciples had profited by all that he had said to them in commendation of Christ. "I see," says he, "that my words are of no effect in imbuing the minds of men with divine things, unless the Lord enlighten their understandings by His Spirit." Nay, Moses also, while upbraiding the people for their forgetfulness, at the same time observes, that they could not become wise in the mysteries of God without his assistance. "Ye have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land; the great temptations which thine eyes have seen, the signs, and these great miracles: yet the Lord has not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this, day," (Deut. 29: 2, 3, 4.) Would the expression have been stronger had he called us mere blocks in regard to the contemplation of divine things? Hence the Lord, by the mouth of the Prophet, promises to the Israelites as a singular favour, "I will give them an heart to know me," (Jer. 24: 7;) intimating, that in spiritual things the human mind is wise only in so far as he enlightens it.

This was also clearly confirmed by our Saviour when he said, "No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him," (John 6: 44.) Nay, is not he himself the living image of his Father, in which the full brightness of his glory is manifested to us? Therefore, how far our faculty of knowing God extends could not be better shown than when it is declared, that though his image is so plainly exhibited, we have not eyes to perceive it. What? Did not Christ descend into the world that he might make the will of his Father manifest to men, and did he not faithfully perform the office? True! He did; but nothing is accomplished by his preaching unless the inner teacher, the Spirit, open the way into our minds. Only those, therefore, come to him who have heard and learned of the Father. And in what is the method of this hearing and learning? It is when the Spirit, with a wondrous and special energy, forms the ear to hear and the mind to understand. Lest this should seem new, our Saviour refers to the prophecy of Isaiah, which contains a promise of the renovation of the Church. "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee," (Is. 54: 7.) If the Lord here predicts some special blessing to his elect, it is plain that the teaching to which he refers is not that which is common to them with the ungodly and profane.

It thus appears that none can enter the kingdom of God save those whose minds have been renewed by the enlightening of the Holy Spirit. On this subject the clearest exposition is given by Paul, who, when expressly handling it, after condemning the whole wisdom of the world as foolishness and vanity, and thereby declaring man's utter destitution, thus concludes, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned," (1 Cor. 2: 14.) Whom does he mean by the "natural man"? The man who trusts to the light of nature. Such a man has no understanding in the spiritual mysteries of God. Why so? Is it because through sloth he neglects them? Nay, though he exert himself, it is of no avail; they are "spiritually discerned." And what does this mean? That altogether hidden from human discernment, they are made known only by the revelation of the Spirit; so that they are accounted foolishness wherever the Spirit does not give light. The Apostle had previously declared, that "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him;" nay, that the wisdom of the world is a kind of veil by which the mind is prevented from beholding God, (1 Cor. 2: 9.) What would we more? The Apostle declares that God has "made foolish the wisdom of this world," (1 Cor. 1: 20;) and shall we attribute to it an acuteness capable of penetrating to God, and the hidden mysteries of his kingdom? Far from us be such presumption!

21. Without the light of the Spirit, all is darkness
What the Apostle here denies to man, he, in another place, ascribes to God alone, when he prays, "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation," (Eph. 1: 17.) You now hear that all wisdom and revelation is the gift of God. What follows? "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened." Surely, if they require a new enlightening, they must in themselves be blind. The next words are, "that ye may know what is the hope of his calling," (Eph. 1: 18.) In other words, the minds of men have not capacity enough to know their calling.

Let no prating Pelagian here allege that God obviates this rudeness or stupidity, when, by the doctrine of his word, he directs us to a path which we could not have found without a guide. David had the law, comprehending in it all the wisdom that could be desired, and yet not contented with this, he prays, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law," (Ps. 119: 18.) By this expression, he certainly intimates, that it is like sunrise to the earth when the word of God shines forth; but that men do not derive much benefit from it until he himself, who is for this reason called the Father of lights (James 1: 17,) either gives eyes or opens them; because, whatever is not illuminated by his Spirit is wholly darkness. The Apostles had been duly and amply instructed by the best of teachers. Still, as they wanted the Spirit of truth to complete their education in the very doctrine which they had previously heard, they were ordered to wait for him, (John 14: 26.) If we confess that what we ask of God is lacking to us, and He by the very thing promised intimates our want, no man can hesitate to acknowledge that he is able to understand the mysteries of God, only in so far as illuminated by his grace. He who ascribes to himself more understanding than this, is the blinder for not acknowledging his blindness.

18 comments:

Darrin said...

Steve, thanks - a great example of Calvin's gift for articulation of doctrine. And I appreciate the pleasant adornment of his portrait: It's more typical today to see it surrounded by flames - guess someone didn't like something he said.
Discernment and truth - Yes, may God grant us to embrace these in 2009. How desperately we require His Word and Spirit for success in this, and the putting off of our darkened world's views and our own fleshly-minded inclinations.

SJ Camp said...

Darrin
I agree with you brother.

These days saying that you believe in the doctrines of grace can be fighting words rather than unifying Christ-exalting ones. But holding fast to the truth we must... Amen?

Thanks for your kind words. May this year be of speaking the truth in love; but speak the truth we must!

Steve

winslowlady said...

The most difficult chapters of a believer's life are those where our gracious God begins to illumine our terribly dark, blind spots. It is His doing and His gracious patience with us that He doesn't illumine all of them at the same time. We are desperate to walk in the light, and yet, He leaves blind spots until He decides when to turn the spotlight on...I thank Him that He doesn't show them all to me in one day or I'd be completely undone. Yet, every fiber of my being wants them all gone in one day... winslowlady

Tak178 said...

Hello Campi...it's been a few months since I have responded to one of you posts, so here we go.

How about we be Red Letter Christians? I'm not a Calvinist, nor can I be, as I am a student of all of the great leaders of our faith. There is a problem in our belief if we continue to separate based upon the teachings of one mortal man, and not the words and life of Jesus Christ.

You are a brother in Christ, not in Calvin or Wesley. We are united under the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and his efficacious sacrifice for all men and women of our faith.

I am not trying to stir the pot, but just trying to give you a little think about, as there are people who are not Reformed who appreciate your scholarship.

SJ Camp said...

I do agree with you - Red Letter Christians. I meant this in the same vein that Spurgeon did when he said when you are preaching Calvinism, you are preaching the gospel. Biblical Christianity in regards to soteriology cannot be found in the Arminius line of theology, but in the Calvin line of theology. That was my intent.

But I do affirm wholeheartedly your words here. Sadly, in the current evangelical climate the name Christian needs more definition considering Romanism, Mormonism, JW's, and even those who deny the Trinity are all called Christian today. That is why the doctrinal umbrella of Calvinism brings the meaning of Christian to a more defined biblical focus.

Hope this helps... Thank you again. Good to have comment here. Your voice is always appreciated.

Steve
John 3:3-18

Rick Frueh said...

Steve - you are sooo emergent. :) After arriving in 2009, and being saved in 1975, I remain convinced that my journey to mirror either the words in black or red is a monumental task that I have yet to come close to achieving.

I must completely trust the Spirit to give me the power to press toward that mark. Perhaps God will use me to impact just a few lost sinners for the gospel's sake, and encourage believers in the divine worth of serving Christ.

Reform said...

I got a good laugh over the title of this post. I had just read Campolo's definition of what a Red Letter Christian is.

Is that why you chose not to call it Red Letter Christian? The whole guilt by association thing?

Anyway, thanks for unpacking this for us and the Calvin article was great.

RR

SJ Camp said...

Rick
"soooo emergent." Now that made my day brother! I deserved that one. :-).

One point of clarification: I don't like red letter Bibles as a rule of thumb. For all of Scripture is written by God and should be honored - not just the red letters...

But I did a parity on this title to drive home the point, that if evangelical social liberals really believed ALL of the red letters, they would be orthodox and not defined by being politically correct.

So yes, the black letters are just as important :-).

Good to always have you post here.

Steve

Randy Furco said...

I want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. :)

Calvin was just a man..he had some great revelation..but The WORD made alive by His Spirit can reveal more in one sentence than 100's of any theologins writings.


Anyway I agree we need the message of The Blood,The Cross and salvation in Jesus and Jesus alone!

SJ Camp said...

Randy
Amen! I agree and that is the thrust of this post. It's not about the man Calvin, but the substance of biblical truth on the gospel, the glory of God, the exaltation of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit that throughout history has now become known as Calvinism.

I only use the label as a point of focus. But I as well am Sola Scriptura from beginning to end. To paraphrase: "Calvin withers and Luther fades away; but the Word of God shall stand forever."

Thanks for posting.
Campius

SJ Camp said...

winslowlady
A very good word. This is the work of the Spirit in the life of every believer. Thank the Lord we are "still under construction" and He is conforming us all to Jesus each day.

He is able... Amen?
Campi

Randy Furco said...

Amen....

Great..as you can probably tell, theology that gets to heady gives me a cramp in my brain..lol

God Bless

Tak178 said...

In responce to your eloquent words, you are absolutely correct about the over-reaching aspect of the current definition of the word "Christian".

Christian - by definition, means "Christ-like". I don't see anything Christ-like with our misguided friends in the LDS, other than their approach of morality.

Catholics have so long forgotten the scriptures that they have replaced eternal glory with a terrestrial one. The splendour of their buildings only hide what Christ said about sepulcures:

"filled with dead mens bones and all corruption."

Don't get me started on the "witnesses"...having a conversation is like having a conversation with a brick wall.

That said, as a Christian who follows the Bible, not just the flavour of the week evangelist, we as men and women under the blood must stand together as much as possible. :)

Patrick said...

Not to be the pseudocynic here, but is it just coincidence that this post shows up the day after red letter liberal Tony Campolo shows up in Franklin?

Just wondering....

SJ Camp said...

Tak178
Bingo!

Patrick
I didn't know Tony was in Franklin. What's he doing here and if he is speaking - at what venue? Though I disagree with Tony on some of these issues, I still consider him a friend and appreciate his love for those disenfranchised by the church. However, in his zeal may he not be silent nor abandon sound biblical theology on the essentials of the faith.

Let me know what you know.
Campi

Tak178 said...

Patrick

Actually, it is coincidence.

I believe he is the author of "Red Letter Christian", no? I saw an interview on a Canadian show with him about his book. Interesting man, even if he is quite liberal.

randy said...

After explaining that Jesus is called the Christ, or the Anointed One, because He was ordained by the Father and given the Holy Spirit to fulfill the threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King, the Heidelberg Catechism asks quite bluntly:

Q32. But why are you called a Christian?
A32. Because through faith I share in Christ and thus in his anointing, so that I may confess his name, offer myself a living sacrifice of gratitude to him, and fight against sin and the devil with a free and good conscience throughout this life and hereafter rule with him in eternity over all creatures.

There is a sense here that we are called Christians for the same reason that Jesus is called the Christ.

If 'red letter Calvinist' matches this description of Christian, then I pray that God in his mercy would make me a 'red letter Calvinist.'

Patrick said...

Steve,

He was at the church that meets at the theater in Cool Springs last Sunday morning. I was out of town or I might have gone there just to hear what he was saying. Would have been interesting at least.