"Ask the Pastor" is a place where your questions about theology, the Bible, and Christianity will be answered. As one of my teacher's said in elementary school, "the only dumb question is the one you didn't ask." If you would like to submit a question to be answered by Pastor Carl, you can send your question to email@example.com with "Ask the Pastor" in the subject line.
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Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • January 24, 2023
Question: Do woman still to this day have little value amongst the Jews?
Answer: This is an interesting question because I never really thought about it in these terms. Of course your questions assumes that the Jews historically have devalued or undervalued women, or that this is a trait of Jews only. Throughout human history, women have been mistreated by every “race” or “ethnicity.” It is not a Jewish thing, but rather a human thing. Even in today’s “enlightened” times, we mistreat woman. Think of Muslim women in extreme Islamic countries, or the dreaded Chinese “one child” policy that led to the abortion of whole generations of women. This is not a Jewish thing, it is a human thing. And it is a human thing for one reason and one reason only: SIN.
The so-called “battle of the sexes” is as old as time itself. Consider what God says in the aftermath of the fall to Eve: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). Here, quite plainly, we learn that the sin principle works itself out in women in their desire to usurp headship from their husbands and that the sin principle works itself out in men in their desire to dominate and subjugate women in an attempt to hold onto control. This has played itself out all throughout history, but no more so than it does today in what is typically called “third (or fourth) wave feminism.” The feminist movement went from “we want equality with men” to “women are equal in every way to men” to “who needs men, they are a cancer, down with the patriarchy and masculinity is toxic.” (Now you can add “what is a woman” to the mix). Not to be outdone, we’ve seen the horrors of abuse of women by men for quite some time. This is a problem (the battle of the sexes) that transcends time, race, gender, culture, religion, etc. It is, as I say, a human problem!
Now we need to also acknowledge that in the Bible, in particular in God’s Law, we see stipulations that saw to the care of women. If anything, the Mosaic Law was very pro-woman rather than devaluing of women. On many occasions, the Mosaic Law commanded that special care be given to the widow, the orphan, and the stranger; in other words, the outcasts of society, the forgotten ones. In that culture, one of the most dangerous positions for a woman to be in was outside of the care of father or husband (think of the story of Ruth). Jewish law also forbade polygamy (which does devalue women) and frivolous divorce (which endangers women). Now, that these things happened in Jewish culture is more a testament to human sin and not a knock against the Mosaic Law.
The commands in the NT are no different, in particular Paul’s commands in Ephesians and Colossians for husbands to love their wives and for wives to submit to their husbands. This is the exact opposite of the “battle of the sexes.” The women do not seek to usurp their husband’s headship and the husband does not seek to subjugate his wife. These commands would have been “counter cultural” in those days.
Let’s not forget that all of these problems are solved in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Far from obliterating gender or gender roles, this verse teaches that all of the things that divide sinful man are obliterated in the Gospel. We discriminate and subjugate based on race (Jew or Greek), status (slave or free), or gender (male or female). In Christ, we are all equal, we are all children of God through faith in Christ, and the petty things we divide on are meaningless at the foot of the cross.
I hope this helps!
~ Pastor Carl
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • January 18, 2023
Question: I have a question about the doctrine of limited atonement. I understand that by limited atonement we believe that Christ died for the elect. My question is how do I know if Christ died for me?
Answer: That's a great question, in fact it's one of the most important questions one can ask. However, I'm going to zoom out from limited atonement and look at all of the (so-called) Five Points of Calvinism. In response to the followers of Dutch theologian, Jacob Arminius, the Dutch Reformed Church in the Synod of Dort (1618-19) put forth what are commonly called The Canon of Dort in which they rejected the errors of the followers of Arminius and re-affirmed the Reformed Faith. The Canons were divided into five heads of doctrine, which later came to be known as the Five Points of Calvinism. They are: (1) Total Depravity; (2) Unconditional Election; (3) Limited Atonement; (4) Irresistible Grace; and (5) Perseverance of the Saints (TULIP for short). They all logically flow together and support one another, and more importantly, they are biblical. The Bible does describe us as being born in sin and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1-2). The Bible does teach that God has chosen us before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-5). The Bible does say that Christ died to make atonement for those whom God elected (John 10). The Bible does say that God draws us irresistibly by His grace (John 6:35-40). And the Bible teaches that we persevere in the faith because God's Holy Spirit preserves us firm in our faith (Ephesians 1:13-14; Philippians 1:6). All of this is true for the elect. So the question becomes "how do I know I'm one of the elect?"
One of the best passages in the Bible that comes to mind regarding this issue is Romans 8:28-30, which reads:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30 ESV)
This passage opens with the phrase "those who love God." Who are the ones who love God? Christians. Well, you might say to yourself, "I don't love God perfectly." You're right, you don't, no one loves God perfectly. You might say to yourself "I don't love God nearly as much as I ought to." You're right, you don't, no one loves God as much as they ought. Do you have any love for God? We should be able to say to ourselves, "yes I love God, not perfectly, not as much as I ought, but I do love Him." The very fact that you have love for God (sidenote: By love for God, I am not referring to some random, generic god of our own making, but the God who reveals Himself in the twin books of nature and the Bible) is evidence that you are elect. How can I say this? Because the Bible says this, "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19 ESV). We cannot, properly speaking, love God or love neighbors unless and until God first shed His love in our hearts through Jesus Christ our Lord. If you have any love for God, any affection for God it is because God has first loved you. The Apostle Paul says something similar in 1 Corinthians 12 when he says, "Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3 ESV). We cannot say "Jesus is Lord" (and mean it) except by the Holy Spirit and the new birth He works for us.
Going back to Romans 8:28-30, if you love God (and you only love God because He first loved you), then in all things you can rest and be assured that God is working together for good. And by "good," God means your glorification. That's the point of vv. 29-30. It shows the unbreakable "golden chain" that connects those whom God foreknew from predestination to glorification with "called" and "justified" as stops along the way. The way the verses are constructed in the original Greek of the NT, you can shorten them to say "Those whom God foreknew, He also glorified." And those whom God foreknew are those who love God, it's one and the same group of people. If you love God, you have been foreknown by God; or more properly stated, since God has foreknown you (i.e., set His love upon you), you are among those who love God, and thus your glorification is secure. That security is not based on how strong your love for God is or how strong your faith is, but rather is based on whom you love or in whom you have faith. A weak and anemic faith in our strong Savior is more than enough to save us. Conversely, a strong and solid faith in anything but Christ Jesus our Lord is more than enough to condemn us.
So how do you know you're one of the elect? You're one of the elect because God has foreknown you, God has loved you, Christ died for you, the Spirit preserves you, and the fruit or evidence that this is so is your faith and love for God and His Son, Jesus Christ. It's a faith that will wax and wane, but never fail. It's a love that will burn or cool down, but never be extinguished. Because it's not our faith or love that saves us, but Christ. Faith is the means by which we receive all that Christ gives us and love is the fruit of a heart loved by God.
I hope this helps!
~ Pastor Carl
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • January 03, 2023
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26)
In the movie, The Return of the King, there is a scene in the Battle of the Pelinnor Fields in which, after a dreadful and deadly night of battle between the overwhelming forces of Mordor and the outnumbered soldiers of Minas Tirith, day breaks to the sound of battle horns in the distance. The cavalry has literally arrived. The Riders of Rohan appear to save the day. It is a very moving scene in which hope shines forth in the darkness. Much like that dramatic rescue in The Lord of the Rings, Romans 3:21-31 similarly appears bringing light after darkness.
For nearly three chapters, the Apostle Paul has diagnosed the human condition with painstaking precision; penetrating our false notions of self-righteousness under the law, our faith in our own morality, and our trust in our own religiosity. The entire human race is guilty in the eyes of God. God’s righteous and holy character lays bare our wickedness and depravity. The law of God, rather than being a pathway to justification before God, is no more than a mirror showing us our inherent sinfulness and revealing how far we fall short of God’s perfect righteousness.
Just when it seems like there is no hope, Paul writes these words: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” Those two words, “but now,” are two of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture. All appeared as darkness and death, BUT NOW! All appeared as hopelessness and despair, BUT NOW! What is the source of this hope? The very fact that the righteousness of God has been made manifest apart from the law. This is not to say that the law is unrighteous (more on that in Romans 7), but rather that our attempt to attain righteousness through the law is futile. Instead the righteousness of God has been made available apart from the law, and that availability comes through faith in Jesus Christ.
Let’s examine this a little further. The law of God, though holy and righteous (due to the very fact that it is God’s law), cannot make us righteous before God. Why? The simple answer is “sin” (v. 23). Breaking that down even more, there is our inherent, or original sin and actual sin. The Apostle Paul will delve more into this in Romans 5, but original sin is that sin we have from being in Adam; i.e., it is the sin we inherit from Adam through ordinary generation (i.e., birth). When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden back in Genesis 3, his sin brought a curse to all mankind. We carry the guilt of Adam’s sin from birth, so that we are born sinful. This inherent sin nature leads to actual sins we commit during our lives (as Paul so expertly described in Romans 1 - 3). The sin nature that we, being human, possess makes it so that we cannot keep God’s holy and righteous law perfectly (as perfection is the standard that God’s holiness requires). Even if we could, for sake of argument, attain to a perfect obedience to the law, our inherent sin nature would disqualify us from eternal life with God in heaven.
That’s the predicament we're all in. However, a righteousness apart from the law has been revealed! It is “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:22). Translation: We get the very righteousness of God through faith in Christ. This is the essence of the Christian doctrine of Imputation. What is it about Jesus Christ that's so special that we receive God’s righteousness through faith in Him? First of all, His birth is special (cf. Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:26-38). Jesus Christ was born of a woman (cf. Genesis 3:15) and conceived by the Holy Spirit; thereby bypassing ordinary generation. Furthermore, Jesus Christ is God incarnate (cf. John 1:1-4, 14, 18), and is able to fully and completely comply with the righteous demands of God’s holy law. In other words, Jesus did what Adam (and us by extension) failed to do. Jesus’ perfect fulfillment of the law’s demands is a gracious gift from God to us that we appropriate (or rather is imputed to us) through faith.
Now, at this point, it is important to note that we don’t become righteous through faith in Christ. We are declared righteous through faith in Christ! We are justified (i.e., declared righteous) by grace through faith (v. 24). This distinction may seem trivial, but it’s the very heart of the gospel and the reason behind the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Roman Catholic doctrine on this topic teaches that justification is a synergistic work (i.e., a work of both God and man) in which man, through God’s grace and application of the sacraments, slowly over time, has righteous infused to him (i.e., he becomes righteous). The Reformers disagreed with this teaching and taught that righteousness is a work of God alone (i.e., monergistic) in which we are declared righteous by God’s grace through faith in Christ. What one believes on this is of utmost importance as it affects how the gospel is taught and proclaimed!
How is this justification accomplished? How is God able to declare the one who has faith in Christ justified? What about the debt our sin has incurred against God? Paul continues: “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (vv. 24-25). Two key words in this passage: Redemption and propitiation. Redemption carries with it the sense of being bought back or being released from bondage. This is exactly what has happened in our case. Christ, by his shed blood on the cross, has redeemed us (has bought us out of slavery to sin). Furthermore, by that shed blood, Christ has offered propitiation (i.e., appeased God’s wrath for our sin) to God on our behalf.
The work of Christ includes both his active obedience (his perfect fulfillment of God’s law) and his passive obedience (his death on the cross). Through our faith in Christ our sin debt has been imputed to Christ and thereby atoned for on the cross and his perfect righteousness has been imputed to us and thereby we are declared righteous in God’s sight. This is the gospel! This is good news! The glorious light of the gospel breaks through the darkness of our sin and shines the very righteousness of God into our hearts through faith in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and our Lord!
How does this teaching affect us? How now should we live? Look at what Paul writes in v. 28: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” If you’re trying to earn your salvation, stop; it cannot be done. No amount of law keeping will ever justify you (make you righteous in God’s sight). It is an impossibility! You’re only hope in this life is faith in Jesus Christ and his finished work. But even believers need to hear the gospel message. The gospel isn’t just for unbelievers and non-Christians. We are wired for law-keeping and we see the abundant grace of the gospel and, due to sin in our hearts, just cannot accept that grace is so gracious! We are always tempted to mix our works into the purity of God’s saving grace in Christ Jesus. This was the very thing the Galatians were guilty of doing (Galatians 3:3). Whenever we mix works of the law with the gospel, we create a different gospel, which is no gospel at all (JESUS + ANYTHING = NOTHING)!
Stop trying to earn your salvation! Stop trying to add to your salvation with works. Just rest in the saving gospel of God’s free grace in Christ Jesus. There is no other way that a man can be justified before God!
~ Pastor Carl
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • December 30, 2022
Question: What are the differences between the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed?
Answer: This is a great question, and thank you for asking it. From a theological standpoint, there is no difference in the doctrine taught in the Apostles’ Creed and the doctrine taught in the Nicene Creed. Both affirm that God the Father is the “Maker of heaven and earth.” Both affirm that Jesus Christ is the “only-begotten Son” of the Father who was “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary” (or “incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary”). Both affirm Jesus’ suffering under Pontus Pilate, His death, and His burial. Both affirm Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. Both affirm the glorious return of Jesus “to judge the living and the dead.” Finally, both affirm the Holy Spirit, the catholicity (i.e., “universality”) of the church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and life everlasting. So they both contain the same basic Trinitarian theology.
Now there are obvious differences in content. The Apostles’ Creed is much shorter than the Nicene Creed. The Apostles’ Creed contains the troublesome line “He descended into hell,” whereas the Nicene does not. The Nicene Creed seems to be an expansion of and a fleshing out of the Apostles’ Creed, and there’s a reason behind this, which we will get to in a moment. But let’s take a brief look at the history behind these two ancient creeds of the Christian church.
Much of the material I am about to present is derived from a book titled Creeds, Confessions, & Catechisms: A Reader’s Edition (edited by Chad Van Dixhoorn, published by Crossway Books). Now a “creed” is a statement, or summary, of belief. It’s derived from the Latin word credō, which means “I believe.” Creeds became a shorthand was to summarize the Christian faith. You have to remember, no one had printed Bibles until the 16th century, so a credal statement such as the Apostles’ Creed was a way to summarize what the Bible taught. Additionally, it’s fairly easy to commit to memory, so it also was a great tool for teaching the faith. Finally, creeds were a way to weed out false converts from true converts.
Now despite its name, the Apostles’ Creed was not written by the Apostles of Jesus Christ. It is called The Apostles’ Creed because the doctrine is contains is the apostolic doctrine that was taught during the apostolic era of the church. No one knows who (even if it was a single “who”) wrote the creed or when the creed was written. Best guesses was the Apostles’ Creed originated from early credal statements dating back to the late 2nd century (ca 180AD).
The Nicene Creed is a lot easier to trace historically. We know who wrote it, when it was written, and when, how, and why it was modified. Though we call it the Nicene Creed, its technical name is the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (though we just call it the “Nicene” Creed). The history of the creed comes out of doctrinal problems in the early church during the 4th century. As is often the case in church history, a heresy pops up and the church meets to condemn the heresy and affirm the true faith once for all delivered to the saints. That was the case behind the Nicene Creed. In the early 4th century, an Alexandrian bishop named Arius began teaching that Christ was not divine, but was God’s highest creation, and thus subordinate to God. After much controversy, a church council was called and held in Nicaea in the year 325AD. The council condemned Arius and his teachings as heretical and developed the Nicene Creed as a statement of the pure doctrine.
Now as noted earlier, the Nicene Creed expands and fleshes out the doctrine of the Apostles’ Creed. For example, instead of simply saying, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, our Lord,” the Nicene Creed reads, “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” Notice how the Nicene Creed fleshes out the doctrine of Christ by emphasizing the eternal deity of the Son of God. He was not God’s first and highest creation, but is Himself very God of very God. The Nicene Creed was a direct response to the Arian heresy and it in no uncertain terms, declares the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now I highlighted a phrase in the creed (“one substance”). This was of particular importance at Nicaea. In the Greek, the phrase is a single word homoousios, which literally means “of same being, same substance.” There was a semi-Arian “halfway” house position that put forth the phrase homoiousios, or “of similar, like substance.” This was rejected for “one substance.”
Now I also mentioned that the Nicene Creed underwent some revisions. In the year 381AD there was another church council called the Council of Constantinople, and they provided some revisions to the Nicene Creed in regards to the Holy Spirit. Then at an even later date (ca 6th century), a single line was changed which sparked a controversy in the church. The western church (think Roman Catholic) added a single phrase to the line “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” That phrase, “and the Son,” is known as the Filioque, which is Latin for “from the Son.” The eastern church (think Eastern Orthodox) did not approve of the change, and this was a major cause of what became the Great Schism of 1054AD when the eastern church broke away from the western church. Anyway, the Nicene Creed of 381AD with the addition of the Filioque is the same Nicene Creed we affirm and use in our church today.
I hope this helps!
~ Pastor Carl
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • December 26, 2022
Question: When did denominationalism start?
Answer: I think before we answer this question, we need to define what we mean by denominationalism. The word denomination can be formally defined as a name or designation given to something in order to classify it. We use the word in reference to our currency. For example, a bank teller may ask you if you want your $100 withdrawal in smaller denominations (e.g., a fifty, two twenties, and a ten). But by far the most common usage of the term is to describe a distinct branch of the Christian church. Skeptics will point out that there are over 30,000 Christian denominations in existence in order to bolster their arguments against the faith. We can certainly reduce that number to the three major denominational groupings such as Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestantism. Within Protestantism you can further subdivide into groups such as Presbyterian, Reformed, Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist. Then of course each of those sub groups can be divided even more.
Why so many denominations? If we go with our earlier definition of denominationalism, then we can see denominations of Christianity are formed as a way to classify different strands of the Christian faith. They probably weren’t called denominations back then, but idea still holds. Denominations begin, or are formed, when there are theological differences between groups of Christians. This usually causes splits or divisions within Christianity as some favor one side and others favor the other side.
So one basic answer to your question is denominationalism has been around ever since Christians could argue and split over their theological differences. From the earliest days of the church, there have been “denominations.” Think of what we see in the pages of Scripture concerning a group of people referred to as the Judaizers. It is the name given to a group of people we see mentioned who want to affirm that in order to become a Christian, one must first become a Jew. This would be a theological difference that caused splits and divisions within the church. You also see in 1 John mention of people who deny Jesus came in the flesh. Historically, this teaching was referred to as Docetism (derived from the Greek word dokeō, which means “to seem, to appear”). To be sure, many of these “denominations” involved teaching which was considered heresy by the early church. My point is to show how as soon as you see differences in doctrine or practice among Christians, you begin to see “denominations” form. So it’s hard to give a precise date.
You can make an argument that the first major denomination was formed as a result of what church historians call the Great Schism of 1054AD. What would eventually be called the Eastern Orthodox Church split from what would be called the Roman Catholic Church over the issue of ultimate authority in the church. The western church contended that ultimate authority in the church was centered in Rome and its bishop. The eastern church denied that and felt that authority was evenly split among the major bishoprics of the church (Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, etc).
Another major split occurred within the western church, which we lovingly refer to as the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. This split was over the matters of doctrine and authority, or Faith Alone and Scripture Alone. The Protestants, as they later came to be called, held that the Bible alone is the sole infallible authority for faith and practice within the church, and they sought to reform Rome’s practices, which they felt to be out of line with Scripture. Obviously Rome disagreed, and thus you had the second major schism within the church.
Now the Protestant Reformers didn’t agree on every point of doctrine, so if you want to know when our modern day denominations began, they began as a result of the theological differences between the various strands of the Reformation. Lutherans began to differ with the Reformed on the nature of the sacraments. Baptists began to differ with Lutherans and the Reformed on the nature and proper recipients of baptism. Presbyterians began to differ with Anglicans (Episcopalians in the USA) and Congregationalists over the structure of church government. Most of these differences started to come to the fore in the late 16th and throughout the 17th century.
You can go on as each of these larger subgroups divided even further over more subtle differences. Each new subgroup in essence becomes its own denomination with its own start date. Obviously if you continue this trend, you will eventually end up with a denomination for each individual because no two people believe exactly the same thing on all points of doctrine. In my opinion, some denominations make sense while others do not. Certain issues of secondary importance can be valid reasons for separate denominations (e.g., baptism and the proper recipients). Others seem to be more trivial. For example, why do the various confessional Presbyterian denominations exist? They all share a common confessional standard, so it would seem their differences fall outside mere confessional subscription. Bottom line because of our fallen nature combined with human pride and the simple fact that we’re not going to have perfect knowledge on all points of theology, has led and will continue to lead to denominationalism. Ideally though, Christians, despite their denominational differences, ought to be able to agree on the basics of the Christian faith and work together for the building of Christ’s kingdom.
~ Pastor Carl
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • December 13, 2022
Question: What is the difference between Zachariah questioning Gabriel in Luke 1:18 and Mary questioning him in Luke 1:34?
Answer: Thank you for your question. Here we have two people, two righteous people (Zachariah is called “righteous” in v. 6, and Mary is called “favored one” in v. 28), both of whom are presented with some unbelievably good news, both of them respond with a sense of incredulity, and Zachariah is struck dumb, but Mary is not. What’s going on here?
Let’s begin with Zachariah. He is a priest and he’s serving in the temple when the angel Gabriel appears before him. After feeling troubled at the appearance of an angel, Gabriel comforts him and reveals that his prayers have been answered and that his wife, Elizabeth, will bear them a son, whose name will be John. Upon hearing this wondrous news, Zachariah asks Gabriel how this can be so. The reason for his question is that he and his wife are both old, and presumably past prime child-bearing years. In fact, back in v. 6, we learn that Elizabeth was barren. It is interesting how many times we see in the Bible how redemptive-history is advanced through barrenness.
Now what Zachariah is really trying to say when he says “how can this be,” is “can you give us a sign that these things will come to pass?” Obviously Zachariah and Elizabeth want children because we’re told that they have been praying for children. So upon news that their prayer had been heard and that Elizabeth would bear a son, poor Zachariah responds with some doubt; this seems too good to be true. Thus Zachariah asks Gabriel for a sign to confirm the truth of his statement. Gabriel’s response is both gracious and a rebuke. He agrees to give Zechariah a sign, but the sign is that he will be mute until John’s birth. This, as Gabriel says, is “because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” An obvious lesson here is don’t be surprised when God answers your prayers!
Now let’s jump to Gabriel’s visit with Mary. Gabriel greets her with an amazing greeting, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” Mary, like Zachariah, is troubled at the appearance of Gabriel. After comforting her, Gabriel reveals to Mary that she will be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. She responds in much the same way as Zachariah when she says, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Now I said, “in much the same way.” Mary’s response differs from Zachariah’s response in that Zachariah responds with doubt when Gabriel says his prayers have been answered. Mary, as far as we can tell, is not barren. She’s not even fully married, but only betrothed. She was not praying for a child or anything of the sort. Her response seems to be more from a point of amazement rather than unbelief. She is a virgin, she has not had sexual relations with a man, so she cannot fathom how she will bear a child. Gabriel, after telling her how she will become pregnant, says to Mary, “nothing is impossible with God.” Mary then responds by humbling submitting to the will of God; no doubt, no unbelief, just “let the Lord’s will be done.” I hope this helps!
~ Pastor Carl
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • December 08, 2022
Question: What do you have to believe (what is the minimum) in order to be a Christian? Put another way, at what point does someone believe something that puts them outside of Christianity?
Answer: At the most basic level, in order to be a Christian, one must believe in Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). That is essentially what the thief on the cross did in Luke 23:42 when he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replies to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). How much did the thief on the cross know? We’re not told, but he knew enough. He knew that Jesus was his only hope for salvation and that Jesus was King.
So let’s go back to the basic truth that one must “believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” What does it mean to “believe?” In the history of the Christian church, the notion of faith has been broken down into three elements: (1) You must believe in something, your faith must contain content; (2) You must assent to the truth of the content of your faith; (3) You must trust in the object of your faith, your faith must alter your behavior. So when Paul says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus,” there is some content behind those words. The basic content of our faith is aptly summarized in the Apostles’ Creed:
“[I believe] in Jesus Christ [God the Father’s] only-begotten Son, our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father Almighty; from there He shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
This is the content of our faith regarding Jesus Christ. Second, you must believe this to be true. An atheist may know the content of the Christian faith (maybe better than some Christians), but he/she does not believe it to be true. Third, you must trust. The Heidelberg Catechism, in Q22, calls this a “hearty trust.” This hearty trust motivates us into action. Now that you know and believe the truth of Jesus Christ, what now shall you do? A hearty trust springs into action.
One thing we need to keep in mind is that our faith in Christ isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a static thing. By that I mean, our faith, what we know and believe regarding Jesus, isn’t frozen in time, but rather it grows as we attend church and read our Bibles. A new Christian may not know all of the intricacies of the atonement or be able to state clearly the doctrine of the Trinity or be able to articulate what is meant by the hypostatic union (the union between the human and divine natures of Jesus). But a new Christian will certainly know that Jesus died for their sins and that if they believe in Jesus they will not perish, but have eternal life. As with any human child, it is the duty of their parents to instruct and train their child as they grow up. That’s why the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) says it’s the mission of the church to make disciples (i.e., “learners”) by baptizing and teaching them all that Jesus commanded.
So because we need to grow in our knowledge of the faith (i.e., the content of the Christian faith), we may not believe correct things or we may not articulate what we believe correctly. Let’s use the example of the Trinity because this is one that trips up even experienced Christians. The doctrine of the Trinity states that God exists as One Being, in essence, manifested in three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. The Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the Holy Spirit, nor is the Holy Spirit the Father. Now if you ask the average Christian to explain how this can be so, invariably you get analogies like this: The Trinity is like water, just as the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, water can exist as solid, liquid, or gas. The problem with that analogy is that water cannot exist as solid, liquid, or gas at the same time under the same conditions. Theologically speaking, this would be am ancient heresy called modalism, which teaches that God exists as one God, but sometimes He manifests Himself as the Father, sometimes as the Son, and sometimes as the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that the average Christian who explains the Trinity this way is guilty of heresy. More than likely they’re just guilty of an erroneous understanding of the Trinity.
What I’m trying to say is given that we each progress in the Christian faith at different rates, it’s hard to determine if someone is guilty of heresy or simply misinformed. However, if someone persists in error to the point of teaching the error and calling the truth heresy, then you have someone who has ventured outside the Christian faith. This is precisely what has happened throughout church history. The first 400 years of church history was marked by several theological debates that ended up being resolved by church councils. The first major theological debate was over the teaching of a man named Arius who taught that Jesus wasn’t divine, but rather He was just the highest created being. When this teaching started becoming popular, others in the church (in particular a bishop named Athanasius) said this was serious error. The council of Nicaea ( AD 325) was convened and the Arian heresy was condemned. In the Bible, we see something similar happening. There were some who were denying that Jesus came “in the flesh.” The Apostle John wrote, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 1:7).
So to wrap this up, if you want to know what one has to believe to be a Christian (beyond the basic truth “believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved), I would look to the ancient creeds and confessions of the church. We would be fools to ignore the rich history and tradition of our Christian forefathers. The ancient creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian) are widely accepted by all orthodox Christians as faithful summaries of the Christian faith. In addition to the creeds, I would add the confessions that arose out of the Protestant Reformation. In the continental reformed tradition, those would be the Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort). For the English reformed those would be either the Westminster Confession (for Presbyterians), the Savoy Declaration (for Congregationalists), or the London Baptist Confession (for Baptists).
I hope this helps!
~ Pastor Carl
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • December 01, 2022
Question: How does faith fulfill the law?
Answer: Thank you for your question. This is a great question because it gets at the heart of an issue that has confused Christians throughout the ages, and that is the relationship between faith and works, or between the gospel and the law. The Bible teaches, and Christians have confessed, that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The means by which we are saved is the grace of God. The means through which we are saved is faith. Faith, as John Calvin says, is the open hand that freely receives what God graciously gives to us.
The law is a reflection of God’s holy and righteous character. It is the law that is “written on our hearts” (Romans 2:15) at creation. It is the law that was again given in written form in the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20. So we have the law written on our hearts and written on tablets of stone, and as such, we are “hard-wired” for law-keeping. It’s part of our nature being created in God’s image. But due to the fall of mankind (recorded in Genesis 3), we are no longer able to obey the law. This was something our Lord, Jesus Christ, taught in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). He taught that obedience to the law is much more than an outward obedience, but is also a matter of the hearts, and no one has the necessary inward obedience to keep the law. Our “law-keeping,” such as it is, is always tainted with sin.
However, the Israelites (the recipients of the law) confused this function of the law and thought the law was a vehicle for obtaining a righteous standing before God. The Apostle Paul (particularly in Romans and Galatians) writes to show us that there is no way we can be righteous before a holy God by (or through) works of the law. Paul, when he gives his resumé in Philippians 3:4-6, mentions how “concerning the righteousness which is in the law, [he was] blameless.” Not that Paul was sinlessly perfect, but rather he did everything the law required of him, and as a result, before his conversion, he thought he was blameless before God. But Paul found out what Jesus taught in the Gospels, namely that the law cannot make one righteous because no one born in Adam can perfectly fulfill what the law demands. The law is simply a mirror that shows us our sin, it itself has no power to make one righteous.
So how does faith fulfill the law? Faith looks to the One who did perfectly fulfill the law in all its facets, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, was born without sin, and thus born without a fallen nature (like the rest of us). His life was one of perfect righteousness under the law. Jesus Himself said to the crowd in Matthew 5 that He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). He did what we, being born in Adam, are unable to do, and that is achieve righteousness before God by works of the law. It is that righteousness that is then imputed to us (applied to us, granted to us) through our faith. That’s what Paul means when he says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NKJV).
No place is this concept of fulfilling the law through faith more explicit than in Romans 3:21-26, which I will quote at length:
Romans 3:21-26 (NKJV) 21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
That’s why Paul concludes Romans 3 by saying, “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). The law is established through faith, in other words, we became law-keepers through faith. It is not our law-keeping that God sees when He looks upon us, but the law-keeping of His Son, Jesus Christ, which is received through faith. So faith fulfills the law by imputing Christ’s perfect righteousness before the law to us. That’s the gospel!
I hope this helps!
~ Pastor Carl
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • November 07, 2022
Question: Why do some English Bible translations, including the Roman Catholic Bible, not include “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” at the end of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6?
Answer: This is a great question, thanks for asking! The answer is going to get a little bit into the weeds of the subject of Textual Criticism. Textual Criticism is a scholarly discipline that attempts to examine all of the existing manuscript evidence for a literary work and determine (or perhaps “reconstruct”) what the original document said. Usually when we speak of Textual Criticism, it’s in reference to the Bible (and in particular the NT).
Now when some people hear the phrase “textual criticism” and the Bible in the same sentence, there is a reflexive negative reaction against it. For some, “textual criticism” is something carried out by unbelieving scholars who are attempting to undermine the authority of the Bible. To be sure, there are some in the field who are unbelieving and perhaps they want to discredit the Bible, but the vast majority of them are simply scholars attempting to do scholarly work. In fact, there are a good number who are Bible-believing Christians whose main desire is to make sure what we hold in our hands is, in fact, the actual inspired words of the Bible.
The reason you need the discipline of textual criticism is because we do not have the original writings of the Bible and the NT. Instead what we have are many, many manuscripts, or copies, of the NT writings. At the time of writing, there are some 5,000+ NT manuscripts in the original Greek, and 25,000+ manuscripts in Greek and other languages. Scholars, when they study these manuscripts, notice “family resemblances” among them. These “family resemblances” are noted as a “text type.” Text types usually refer to the geographical region where the manuscripts were found. Text types will have certain characteristics in common with one another. For example, the Alexandrian text type (so noted because this tradition originated in the ancient city of Alexandria in Egypt) tends to contain some of the older manuscripts and the readings tend to be shorter in length.
When scholars engage in examining the manuscript evidence, they employ some basic rules of textual criticism. First rule is the older the manuscript, the more likely it is to be original. This would seem to stand to reason. If you have a document and it is copied many, many times, errors begin to creep in. Once an error is in a copy, then that error gets copied and more errors creep in. So the older a manuscript is, the closer it is to the original writing, and thus the more likely to be original. The second rule is the shorter reading is to be preferred to a longer reading. This would apply to our question regarding the Lord’s Prayer. The KJV/NKJV have the longer ending, while other English translations (ESV, NIV, etc.) have a shorter ending. The reasoning behind the shorter reading being preferred is that scribes and copyists are more likely to add to a verse than subtract from a verse when making a copyist error. The third rule is the more difficult reading is to be preferred over a smoother reading. The logic behind this rule is that a scribe is more likely to correct apparent discrepancies in the text, thus if there is a reading that is “difficult,” it is to be preferred.
Why do I mention all of this? Because all of this work is being done behind the scenes by scholars as they study the ancient biblical texts. Their labors are collected into what is referred to as The Critical Text of the Greek New Testament. This Critical Text is currently found in two popular Greek New Testaments that form the basis for nearly all modern English translations of the NT. The first is the Novum Testamentum Graece (currently in its 28th edition by Nestle-Aland), and the Greek New Testament (currently in its 5th edition by United Bible Society). These Greek NT’s will have the Greek text “above the line” and in the footnotes they will have shorthand notes that defend the readings “above the line” and other variations from the text.
When it comes to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, the last line (“For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen”) is not included in what would be considered the “oldest” manuscripts of the NT textual tradition. Moreover, that last line is also not included in what would be considered the “Western Text Type.” This is the text type that would have been prevalent in the old Roman Empire, or the western half of the Roman Empire (the eastern half being centered in Byzantium, or Constantinople). The Western text type forms the basis for much of the Roman Catholic translations (including the Vulgate, or the primary Latin translation of the Bible). In many of our modern English translations, that last line is omitted and you will see footnotes that say something like: (1) “Some manuscripts add…” (ESV); (2) “Some late manuscripts…” (NIV); (3) “Some later manuscripts add…” (CSB). Some other translations include the last line of the Lord’s Prayer in brackets and include a footnote that reads “This clause is not found in early manuscripts” (NASB).
So in short, when scholars are working on an English Bible translation, they refer to the Critical Text and they weigh the textual evidence themselves to determine what gets included into the English translation and what gets included in the footnotes. Regarding the longer ending to the Lord’s Prayer, the scholars in charge of creating most of the popular English translations on the market (the ESV, the NIV, the CSB, the NASB, the NLT, etc.) have decided to not include the longer ending based on the belief it is not part of the original NT, but rather an addition added by some scribe, and worked its way into various textual traditions.
A somewhat related question might be “why is the longer ending included in the KJV and NKJV?” That would require another article to answer, but in short, it’s because the KJV/NKJV follow a different “test type” of the NT than the other English translations. Most English Bibles contain a preface that gets into their translation philosophy and the main textual basis for their translation.
I hope this helps!
~ Pastor Carl
Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • October 09, 2022
Question: Why should I honor my pastor?
Answer: Thank you for your question. Rather than simply give you a “yes or no” answer, I want to take a little time to lay a foundation for my answer. The overall story of the Bible is one of creation, corruption, redemption, and consummation. Before the fall of mankind in Genesis 3, we see the creation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Based on the creation story and how other biblical writers speak of the creation story, from the very beginning, man was created to be the glory of God and woman was created to be the glory of man (see 1 Corinthians 11:2-7). Creation has within it authority and submission roles; these are “baked in the cake.” Man submits to God, the woman submits to her husband, and children submit to their parents.
After the fall, this is still the case, but because we are now living “east of Eden” in a sin-cursed world, we need other institutions besides the family to help bring order to society. In Genesis 9:1-7, we see in God’s establishing a covenant with Noah, a provision for civil government:
“Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man. And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; Bring forth abundantly in the earth And multiply in it.” (Genesis 9:6-7 NKJV)
To curb sin in the world as sinful man multiplied over the face of the earth, God institutes capital punishment. This would evolve over time to the institution of the state, or the civil magistrate. As the Apostle Paul will say in Romans 13, “For [the magistrate] is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:4 NKJV).
So you have the institution of the family as the smallest social unit in society, the civil government as another institution to govern collections of family units in the common kingdom, and finally you have the institution of the church, which Jesus Christ establishes to govern affairs in the redemptive kingdom. With the coming of Jesus Christ, see the church established as the fulfillment of God’s redemptive work in the OT. The church is a multi-national institution made up of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Jesus Christ is the Head of His body, the church.
Now while Christ is the Head of the church, He has delegated authority in the church certain individuals who have been called and ordained to serve as officers within the local church. The NT establishes two ordained offices in the church: Elder and Deacon. The qualifications for elder and deacon can be found in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 (see also Titus 1:5-9). Generally speaking, elders serve by caring for and overseeing the spiritual matters within the church and deacons serve by caring for and overseeing the material matters within the church (under the oversight of the elders). A church is to be governed by a plurality of elders, there is no biblical warrant for a church being governed by a single pastor/elder, nor is there biblical warrant for a hierarchical structure such as you see in the Anglican Church or the Roman Catholic Church. Within the elders of the church, there is usually one who labors in the preaching and teaching of the word; this would be the pastor-teacher.
Now in Ephesians 4: 11-13, Paul speaks of spiritual gifts and says that Christ has gifted the church with gifted men to equip the saints and edify the body of Christ:
And [Christ] Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; (Ephesians 4:11-13 NKJV)
Pastors and teachers are Christ’s gift to the church. They are men who themselves are gifted to serve in the church and labor in the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, and along with other elders, serve in the governing of the church.
So, with that out of the way, why honor your pastor? First, pastors are God’s gift to the church. Second, pastors are called to serve the church in this capacity. Third, pastors serve as Christ’s “under-shepherds” in the church governing the church by His authority. Fourth, because the Bible commands us to honor our pastors:
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17 NKJV)
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, (1 Peter 5:5-6 NKJV)
Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. (Hebrews 13:7 NKJV)
One final comment about this. While we are to honor and submit to the God-ordained leadership in the church, we don’t submit to them blindly. The pastors and elders are themselves to submit to the authority of the Word of God, and if they go astray, they are to be disciplined like any other believer in the church.
~ Pastor Carl