Q – Greetings!
Jim – And, greetings right back atcha.
Q – Pastor Jim, it was such a gift to be able to visit your beautiful church last Sunday. My spirit is very much fulfilled by your teaching. Thank you.
Jim – You are too kind. The building is attractive because of all the work our little troupe put into it, especially while I was recovering from my surgery. They wanted to surprise me when I returned, and they did! And, I’m glad you’re being blessed by the teaching. That’s the whole point. It makes the effort worthwhile.
Q – If you will allow [and forgive J] this barrage of questions, I would really appreciate your thoughts.
Jim – Groovy. Fire away.
Q – WHY, WHY, WHY doesn’t God enlighten all of His elect to the truth of His sovereign grace? That predestination to salvation is of His choosing and not by man’s will? I don’t think that you have to understand doctrine in order to be saved, but the insistent denial to this election truth overwhelms me. I am coming to the conclusion that discussing this with Christian family/friends is only producing hostility. So, my question is, should we just keep quiet and not preach to the unenlightened choir?
Jim – Well, if I weren’t willing to preach to the unenlightened, I wouldn’t have much of a congregation. I don’t mean that they are unenlightened. I mean that we all start out ignorant of God’s truth until we are taught.
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10: 13-15)
But, if you don’t want to personally engage your friends and loved ones in a doctrinal discussion for fear of hurt feelings, rejection or hostility, feel free to use our tapes, books, etc. That way, they are arguing with me, not you. At some point, however, they will be arguing with Scripture. That’s why I point people back to the Bible. They have to wrestle with God and come to their own realizations. I don’t expect anyone to believe anything just because I say it. I want them to be convinced that the doctrines of grace are not just in the Bible, but that they permeate the Bible.
The biggest obstacle to proper doctrine and sound theology is the traditions of men. Jesus said that manmade traditions make the word of God “of none effect” (Mat. 15:6, Mark 7:13). The Greek word translated “of none effect” is equally translated “to invalidate.” In other words, the validity of the Word is undermined when people prefer their traditional beliefs to what the Bible actually says. And, no sooner did Paul preach his doctrine than it rubbed up against the traditions of the day. His stand, his teaching, his insistence on sound doctrine made him very unpopular.
“Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.” (2 Cor 11:22-33)
All those things happened to Paul because he stood against their traditions. If he had just agreed to “go along,” he could have saved himself a great deal of suffering. But, the Word of God was too precious and the truth of God was too important for Paul to bend. He counted his own life a loss for Christ’s sake. That’s pretty amazing. But, we really shouldn’t expect much better treatment than Paul got. The truth just isn’t very popular, even if the Bible declares it.
And, that’s been the core purpose of this ministry, to expose people to what the Bible actually says. Most people just don’t know what goes on between the covers of that book. And, much to most folk’s surprise, the Bible only teaches one truth, one doctrine.
God did not provide optional teachings that we can mix-and-match at will – despite the fact that His Word is often treated that way. And, the only churches I’ve ever been in that had any real unity understood that truth and rallied around the historic Pauline doctrines. If you don’t use the Bible as the standard, you end up with confusion, cliques, backbiting and people struggling with each other.
“Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Eph. 4:3-6)
So, even though I have had plenty of people disagree with the message I teach, the simple fact is that the Bible also teaches it. And, every individual has to come to grips with the Gospel – and the “one faith” – between them and God.
Now, why God doesn’t reveal that to everyone the same way is a hard question to answer. But, I think much of the fault lays at the feet of pastors and congregations that have wandered away from serious study of His Word and have happily replaced it with dance, drama, puppets, mime, sticks, etc. and called them “ministries.” Where can you find faith in that morass?
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17)
Faith does not come via puppets, drama, dance, etc. And, for heaven’s sake, you cannot “preach the word” through pantomime! That’s a trend that’s sweeping the modern “entertainment” church. It’s unbelievable. So, why are people ignorant of God’s proper doctrine? Well, because no one seems to be teaching it.
Calvinistic men established the leading universities in America, Yale and Harvard. And, there was a time when your education was not considered complete until you were versed in the historic doctrines. Of course, just the opposite is true, now. You are considered intellectually incompetent if you defend the Bible.
Meanwhile, I agree in essence that knowing proper doctrine is not essential to salvation. The thief on the cross knew nothing of doctrine. He just knew whom to look to. But, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Christianity is defined by its doctrine. It is the most unique, spiritually fulfilling and intellectually stimulating doctrine in recorded religion. What makes Christianity unique from all other established religions is its doctrine. And, when you take your doctrine straight from Scripture (as we strive to do), then it is very discouraging when people reject it.
Finally, don’t let anyone dissuade you from the proper, historic, Pauline faith. Remember that Jesus died alone. Paul said at the end of his life “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me.” (2 Tim. 1:15) In order to follow Christ, we must realize that He suffered outside the camp. He was rejected by the religious people of His day. Likewise, we are called to live “outside the camp, bearing His reproach.” (Heb. 13:13) It won’t always be easy. It won’t always be fun. But, it will always be worth it.
Lastly (which is only slightly different from “finally”), we must remember that God works His sovereign purposes in ways that are mysterious and often frustrating to us. But, that’s because He is higher than us.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8-9)
I have lots of question when we reach Heaven, and why He didn’t make His elect more obvious is one of them. It would be easier if He made their hair stand up on one side, or something. But, as it is, we are called to preach to everyone who will listen, giving a reason for our faith, and then allow God to work in their hearts as He deems appropriate.
You know, Paul wrestled with a version of your question. He knew that people would argue against God’s sovereignty by saying, “Well then, why does God condemn people? How can He hold them responsible if nobody has resisted His will?” Paul took refuge in the same place we do. He acquiesced to God’s sovereignty –
“Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doeth he het find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” (Rom.9:19-21)
We know the truth. It’s not the truth because we know it, and it’s not the truth because we declare it to be so. It is true because it is the only doctrine ever taught in Scripture. God is in control. He gives no answers for His actions. And, He has the right to save some men for His own honor, and He has the right to punish some men for His own honor. His holiness will be served both ways. That’s the truth, and it is the only truth. There is only one God and He has only revealed Himself to be this way.
So, pray for those who contend with the Truth. They won’t know anything that God does not reveal to them. God revealed it to you. God revealed it to me. Perhaps He will be gracious to reveal to your loved ones. But, no amount of talking, arguing, cajoling or foot stomping will make them see what they cannot see. Only God can do that. And, maybe He will. It’s just not up to us.
Q – Thank you so much. You pointed me back to the truth and I realized, yet again, that it’s not about me. It’s all about the Father. I think the frustration was there because I was losing sight of the fact that it is our job to preach and it’s God’s decision to enlighten if He so chooses.
I eagerly await your next e-mail. Blessings on your day.
Jim – Good. Thanks for writing and we’ll continue to work through your questions, one by one, giving Him all the glory and praise.
Yours for His sake,