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Dear Dewey,

I write to you as editor of Beacon Lights with a concern over a statement made in the article on Christian friendship by Elijah Roberts. I have the utmost respect for Elijah and Beacon Lights, so I do not do this lightly.

The statement I have an issue with is this: “We are bound not only to regard belligerent atheists and all members of cults and false religions as unbelievers, but also many who even go by the name ‘Christian’ today in the modern church world. Arminians, Dispensationalists, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, free-will Baptists, and the like are, as an organic whole, unbelievers.” While I agree that friendships influence our lives and we need to use good judgment (by their fruits ye shall know them), I do not think it is right to say that all those who do not hold to our same doctrines are “as an organic whole, unbelievers.”

I think God has his people spread all over this earth, many who may not know all the doctrines we do. The Bible helps us identify believers. 1 John 4:1–3 says, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.” Or Romans 10:9, which says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Certainly there are those who do not confess Christ that we may rightly call unbelievers, but the Bible tells us that those who confess and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that he died for our sins and rose again, are saved. This is the gift of faith that God freely gives to his elect. While we have serious differences with many who call themselves “Christian,” and this may affect our friendships, let’s not become judges of salvation. Salvation is of the Lord, and he alone is Judge.

In Christian love,

Aric Bleyenberg

 

//

 

Dear Mr. Bleyenberg,

Thank you for your letter and concern with my statement. I also deeply respect you as a friend and as an elder in the church, hence I do not take this exchange lightly either.

Although I did not say that “all those who do not hold to our same doctrines” are to be viewed organically as unbelievers, I did say that “many who even go by the name ‘Christian’ today in the modern church world… are, as an organic whole, unbelievers.” Perhaps my statement may be rephrased: those in the church world who maintain doctrines or practices inconsistent with Scripture walk in unbelief and thus deny Christ.

My original statement is apparently making me a “judge of salvation.” I am not interested in such judgment, but I am interested in the judgment of God. Therefore, I will prove that my statement is confessional and biblical.

What the issue comes down to here is the doctrine of Christ. Scripture and the confessions teach one doctrine about Christ, not many. And since salvation is only in Christ, we must have the right Christ. Jesus says there are many “false Christ’s” (Matt. 24:24). And there are many who call themselves Christians who will soon find themselves at the judgment seat, and hear, “depart from me, ye workers of iniquity” (Matt. 7:23). The demons also believe that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He died for our sins and rose again”[1] (see James 2:19). If such a bare confession is all it takes to be saved then we must do away with the confessions and abandon the saints who valiantly fought for the pure truth in all ages.

With reference to Arminian, Roman Catholic, and Baptist doctrine the confessions judge a unanimous condemnation. Terms like “too gross a blasphemy,”[2] a detestable error,[3] a denial of Jesus,[4] “an accursed idolatry,”[5] the Pelagian error “out of hell,”[6] “a fancy of men’s minds,”[7] an “injurious error,”[8] and “the denial of all the efficiency of God’s grace,”[9] are used to describe the doctrines of these churches/denominations. Now, do we assure those who believe the doctrines condemned by Scripture and the confessions that they are believers in Christ and will be saved regardless of their impenitence in false doctrine? Shall we coddle, overlook, and slightly heal the wounds of the church world that rejects the true doctrine of Christ by saying “Peace, peace when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14)?

Mr. Bleyenberg makes appeal in his letter to 1 John 4:1–3. Let us suppose that a man says, “I believe that Jesus Christ came in the flesh and that he was married to Mary Magdalene and had eight children while he was on earth.” Would you agree and say that you believe in the same Jesus? Of course not. Why? Because the confession is not biblical. The believer who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh confesses the whole gospel of sovereign grace in Christ alone. He is therefore opposed to anyone that would diminish the glory of this confession and thereby agrees with the apostle that they (the false professors) are “not of God.” Trying the spirits is simple: (1) Doctrine. “If they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them” (Is. 8:20). (2) Life. St. Paul says concerning those who walk after the flesh impenitently that they “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21). God’s judgment is clear. In light of God’s word, we “judge them that are within” the sphere of the church world (1 Cor. 5:12).

Mr. Bleyenberg also quoted Romans 10:9. The child of God confesses the “Lord Jesus” by faith. His confession is that God raised him from the dead. In other words, the believer confesses Christ alone and nothing else. The unbeliever adds something to Christ. In the case of the Arminian, he adds his faith making it a work. For the Roman Catholic, Christ is not enough, he must add his works. For the Baptist and Pentecostal, Christ is not sufficient, he must baptize himself and activate God’s blessing of the Spirit. Anyone who attempts to add to Christ’s perfect work is “fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).

In conclusion, viewed organically (not head for head), those who maintain doctrines or practices inconsistent with the true doctrine of Christ walk in unbelief toward their condemnation. We therefore may not have fellowship with them or view them as partakers of the common faith once delivered to the saints. Rather our calling is to live antithetically; kindly, respectfully, and charitably to point them to the truth of word of God and call them to “turn from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9).

 

Originally published October 2020, Vol 79 No 9

 

[1] Quote from Mr. Bleyenberg’s letter. Although the demons do not believe that Jesus died for their sins personally, the point still holds true, for the demons undoubtedly believe that Christ died for the sins of the elect.

[2] Belgic Confession 22.

[3] Belgic Confession 34.

[4] Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 30. This same Lord’s Day asks “Do such then believe in Jesus who seek their salvation and welfare of saints, of themselves or anywhere else? A: “They do not.” The Catechism says that although they say they are believers, in reality their walk and doctrine discount their confession and hence the Catechism identifies them as unbelievers.

[5] Heidelberg Catechisma, Q&A 80.

[6] Canons of Dort 2. error 3

[7] Canons of Dort 1, error 2.

[8] Canons of Dort 1, error 3.

[9] Canons of Dort 3–4 3–4. error 8

The title of the present article ought to incite a certain reaction in the heart of the regenerated believer. Friendship with unbelievers? God forbid! Indeed, there is no such thing as friendship with unbelievers. Why is this so? In this article, I call your attention to three points related to the topic of the title. First, what is friendship? Second, who are unbelievers? And third, what is our positive calling?

Friendship in scripture is defined as a spiritual bond that consists of the qualities of love and affection. The noun philia[1] in the New Testament is used in James 4:4 and carries the idea of being intimately acquainted with and spiritually involved in the object of the friendship. The Old Testament noun for friendship is even more rich. Proverbs 22:24 uses this noun, depicting the concept of getting involved with, being mixed up with, and joining oneself to the other object. Friendship is a spiritual reality. James speaks of friendship with the world as spiritual adultery. What does he mean by this? To be a friend of the world is not only to adopt the lusts and affections of the world, but also to get involved with and render oneself a companion of the people of that world. Just as a believer is one who is “not of the world” (see John 17:14), so also the unbeliever is “of the world.” Therefore, James concludes that there is no friendship between the two. The two can never become one. Even to attempt to make friendship with the unbeliever is to set oneself up as the enemy of God.[2]

An unbeliever is one who is without faith or trust in Jesus Christ. In the world, there are only two kinds of people: believers and unbelievers. The unbeliever does not “hold for truth all that God has revealed…in his word”[3] but rather suppresses the knowledge of God and holds the truth in unrighteousness. One who does not hold for truth all that God has revealed in his word is an unbeliever. We are bound not only to regard belligerent atheists and all members of cults and false religions as unbelievers, but also many who even go by the name “Christian” today in the modern church world. Arminians, Dispensationalists, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, free-will Baptists, and the like are, as an organic whole, unbelievers. In unbelief, these groups oppose Christ and commend free will, thereby rendering themselves unbelieving with respect to the truth of the gospel of sovereign grace. Can we get ourselves involved with and join ourselves together in love and affection with those whom God does not? If Jehovah God is not the friend of the unbeliever, then how can his people be?

As a spiritual reality, friendship is exclusive. The apostle says, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14). From this we derive our positive calling, to be equally united with believers. God has made a covenant of friendship in Jesus Christ with those who believe. David writes, “The secret[4] of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant” (Ps. 25:14). The “secret” and the “covenant” are synonymously identified with one another, indicating that the essence of God’s covenant is friendship. Not only does God have friendship with himself in his own triune life, but he also “shews” or reveals it unto us so that we taste and see that he is good. Not with the unbeliever, who has no fear of God before his eyes, but with the believer in a true church of Christ is our friendship. “To the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight,” the sweet psalmist sings (Ps. 16:3). This calling is very practical for us young people. Soberly, we should reflect on our own lives and ask, “Are we seeking out friendship with those who do not show themselves to be friends of God, whether in doctrine or practice?” This reflection also applies to the kinds of music, media, and entertainment that the unbelieving world promotes (see John 2:15–17). Positively, we young brothers and sisters in the church must be encouraged in the truth that we are God’s friends, and if God’s friends then enemies of the world.

Although we cannot have friendship with unbelievers, we surely can and must call our unbelieving neighbors to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. We do this not by becoming their friends, for then we would become God’s enemies, but rather “by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.”[5] As God’s friends, we live out of the principle of election by grace, and we are no better than the unbelieving world which perishes. In gratitude we give praise to God that he has made us his friends “while we were yet sinners” (Rom. 5:8) and now calls us to oppose all that is wicked and ungodly until he shall come again to judge all the secrets of men according to the blessed gospel.

 

Originally published August 2020, Vol 79 No 8

[1] The noun is related to the Greek word philadelphia, which signifies brotherly love.

[2] Common grace and all that it promotes goes against the grain of the teaching of scripture in the matter of friendship with the world. Common grace must needs cut James 4:4 out of the Bible in order to maintain its “Christianizing the world” agenda by making common cause with the unbelieving world.

[3] Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 21.

[4] This noun speaks of confidential conversation and intimate fellowship. Some translations render “secret” as “friendship” (see ESV).

[5] Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 86.

Phinehas: Standing for the Truth Amid Evil in the Church

Elijah Roberts

 

We sing in our Psalter, “The Lord approved the righteous act Of him whom sin abhorred, And honored him forevermore With just and great reward.”[1] The “him” of whom the Psalter speaks is a young man by the name of Phinehas, a most important saint in the unfolding of God’s covenant. In this brief profile of the godly man Phinehas, we would like to call your attention to who Phinehas was, what he stood for, and why he is an example to us.

Who was Phinehas? Of priestly descent, Phinehas was a grandson of Aaron (Ex. 6:25). As a ruler of the tabernacle (1 Chr. 9:20), Phinehas was devoted to keeping the purity of worship and consecrating the people to Jehovah. In this connection, we observe the “righteous act” of Phinehas when he stood for the truth as the children of Israel apostatized from the Lord, as this story is told in Numbers 25:1–7.[2]

We read that while “Israel abode in Shittim … [they] began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab” (v. 1). Idolatrous fellowship was the chief sin of the people, wherein they did join themselves to Baal-peor.[3] The rotten fruit of this sin was that “the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel” (v. 3). God then commanded Moses that “all the heads of the people” be hanged and that all who were joined unto Baal-peor be slain (vv. 4–5).

Amidst this awful situation, Zimri, a leader in the tribe of Simeon, boldly defied God before Moses and the people by illicitly consorting with Cozbi, who was a Midianitish woman. A belligerent trampling underfoot of God’s law had taken place. Who would stand for the truth? Beholding the sins of the people, the children of God weeping before the tabernacle, and the overthrow of the law of God, Phinehas rose up. Filled with love and holy zeal for God’s house, the godly man Phinehas thrust both Zimri and Cozbi through with a javelin (v. 7–8). And thus, the plague was stayed.

What specifically did Phinehas stand for? Was Phinehas simply a radical who enjoyed a good fight? God forbid. Phinehas stood for the truth of God’s covenant. Positively, he stood for the mighty God of the covenant who brings his people out of the bondage of sin and causes them to enjoy the fellowship of his friendship. Negatively, wherever the truth of that covenant is denied or opposed, there must be a radical and sharp condemnation of anything that offends. Be not deceived, it is not they of the world that chiefly deny God’s truth; but in the church, the carnal seed always defy God’s covenant. For it was a fellow kinsman, even an Israelite, that Phinehas killed with a javelin. And he did not hesitate to do so.

Young people, do you stand for God’s truth when it is denied, in the classroom, out with your friends, or perhaps even in your own home? Surely it is easy to identify moral sins, which we might all easily condemn, but what about doctrinal sin? Do not forget that the sin of Baal-peor was not simply a moral transgression, but a spiritual and religious departure (see Rev. 2:14). In love for the neighbor, we must rebuke the free-willer, the divorced and remarried, the worldly, the federal visionist, the conditional covenanter, and the like. These sins do not belong in God’s covenant! And they who have the spirit of Phinehas, which was that of Christ, will not be afraid or ashamed to wield the javelin of God’s word.

Phinehas was a godly man who stood for the truth amid evil in the church. Like Phinehas, we will stand for the truth of God’s covenant. Even if we must stand alone, as Phinehas did, we place our confidence in the truth that “Israel then shall dwell in safety alone” (Deut. 33:28). In opposition to those who war against God’s covenant, we have a “covenant of peace” (Num. 25:12) which assures us of victory in Christ. May the prayer of the psalmist ever be on our lips: “Save us, O Lord, our gracious God, From alien lands reclaim, That we may triumph in Thy praise And bless Thy holy Name.”[4]

 

Elijah Roberts is a member of Southwest PRC in Wyoming, MI and serves as contributing writer correspondent on the Beacon Lights staff.

 

Originally published March 2020, Vol 79 No 3

 

[1] Psalter 291, stanza 4.

[2] For an awesome sermon on this history, listen to “In the Matter of Baal-peor” by the venerable Reverend Marinus Schipper. http://www.prca.org/resources/sermons/audio/message/in-the-matter-of-baal-peor

Also read George M. Ophoff’s Standard Bearer articles, https://standardbearer.rfpa.org/articles/israel%E2%80%99s-sins?keyword[]=phinehas and https://standardbearer.rfpa.org/articles/avenging-march-against-midianites?keyword[]=phinehas

[3] This is not an isolated event in Scripture. See Psalm 106:28–31; Hosea 9:10; Micah 6:5; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14. The import of these passages indicates that the sin of Baal-peor is the principle sin at work when the church departs from Jehovah.

[4] Psalter 291, stanza 11.

The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1–3 says that the tongues of men and of angels, gifts of prophecy, understanding into the mysteries of God, all knowledge, faith enough to move mountains, constant care for the poor, selling of possessions, and martyrdom count for nothing if the virtue of charity is not present in him. A Christian man, a minister of the gospel, may have all of these good works abounding, but without love, it is a grand exercise in futility. Along with the apostle, this short treatise will argue that the virtue of love and of charity supersedes all qualities and works that may be exercised by the professing Christian. Moreover, in relation to myself as an aspiring minister of the gospel, this paper will demonstrate how I intend to live by this rule of love as a servant in the church.

Before one can live out charity, he must first understand what charity is. First, with 1 Corinthians 13 in view, it will be necessary to consider the proceeding chapters and the historical context of the church of Corinth. Throughout the epistle, the apostle addresses several matters in this consistent pattern: “Now concerning…” (1 Cor. 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1). Indeed, each chapter of 1 Corinthians addresses a different problem that was present in this particular congregation. Early in the epistle, Paul writes, “For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you” (1 Cor. 1:11). Contentions and division are the issue. In light of 1 Corinthians 12, where the apostle addresses spiritual gifts and their various operations within the body of Christ, we understand that Paul is giving a correction and exposing plainly that there are many members in the body with different functions to serve God’s purpose. The gifts that God poured out abundantly upon the Corinthian congregation were bein taken advantage of in a negative fashion by the members. Instead of communal edification and charity, factions and individualism were promoted.

What is the answer to such a conflict? The apostle shows us the “more excellent way” in chapter 13, namely, that of love. The noun ἀγάπη (agapē) is quite ambiguous and may apply in a variety of situations. Interestingly, the apostle was inspired by the Holy Ghost to employ ἀγάπη rather than φιλαδελφία, which refers directly to brotherly love, that kind affectionate love that is toward a fellow believer (1 Pet. 1:22). Thus, to understand this Christian virtue more fully, we must have an example. The charity Paul commends is the kind of charity that is directed first towards God because God himself is the example of charity. Without God’s love, 1 Corinthians 13 would not exist. In what chief way did God display his love? God loved a wretched, vile, and sinful world, sending and giving his Son to that world so that those same sinners in the world who believe on him are granted everlasting life as a result of God’s love toward them (Lenski 547). The world to which God gave his Son was filthy and drenched in sinfulness. Did this prevent him from sending his Son who died for the sins of those who believe? No, for if this were the case, the words written by the apostle Paul in Romans 5:8 would not be true, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” And thus, our example of charity is Christ himself, for indeed he possessed the qualities of 1 Corinthians 13 in righteousness, all of which were done and accomplished in love for his people.

Truly, charity is the “first and last word in Christian theology and ethics” (White 1357). This essential virtue is the capstone of the Christian faith. John Calvin, with respect to charity in 1 Corinthians 13 says, “The main truth in the passage is this—that as love is the only rule of our actions, and the only means of regulating the right use of the gifts of God, nothing, in the absence of it, is approved of by God, however magnificent it may be in the estimation of men” (Calvin 421). All things that God gives for the edification of the body are to be applied with fervent charity, for without such charity Christ is not honored.

We have seen in the previous section what charity is and what it looks like, but yet another question remains, what does charity do? The apostle gives us this answer in verses four through six of chapter thirteen. He writes,

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, endureth all things (vv. 4–7).

As a pastor, many things are required, many duties are to be accomplished. Being in the position of an aspiring minister in the PRC, temptations to slack in forbearance, to be unkind, to envy other ministers, to boast in one’s spiritual gifts, to self-seek, to be easily provoked to anger at disobedience and to think evil are besetting sins that could certainly corrupt the office that God might be pleased to place me in. Also, it may be possible to be commended for eloquent speech, great wisdom and knowledge, suffering for Christ’s sake and the like, but what does the apostle say to such a one that has all these things, but has not charity? His works and gifts are useless, a vain show and an abomination in the sight of God (cf. Luke 16:15). This quality, as John Calvin said earlier, is the only virtue that God commends as it is joined with all good works. The Belgic Confession corroborates well with this in regards to sanctification, “…we do not speak of vain faith, but of such a faith which is called in Scripture a faith that worketh by love, which excites a man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in his Word” (Belgic Confession Art. 24). To this standard, according to the word written in 1 Timothy 1:5, “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” I will seek to apply in the ministry—the keeping of God’s commandments by love.

To be a true minister of the gospel, I must resolve to apply what is taught here in 1 Corinthians 13, to live according to the virtue of charity. The qualities of charity may not be easily applied, but are set forth in clear and unmistakable terms. Charity makes no room for laziness, cold-heartedness, envy, boasting, arrogance, selfishness, and resentment. On the contrary, love rejoices in truth, is longsuffering, hopes until the end and believes the precious promises of God. John Owen, preaching on the duty of a pastor once said, “There is required love of the truth. We shall never contend earnestly for the truth, we shall never “buy it and not sell it,” whatever we know of it, unless our love and value of it arise from a sense and experience of it in our own souls” (Owen 459). I intend to live by this rule of love in all things, for charity is not reserved for a special office in the church but is to be lived out by all true believers in Christ. The only way I may truly apply what is taught concerning love in 1 Corinthians 13 is by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, “for I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor” (Heidelberg Cat. LD 2), and therefore because I cannot conjure up this divine charity of myself, I must first acknowledge the truth that, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us…” (1 John 4:8). From believing that God loves me for his Son’s sake, and learning from Christ as my Lord and example, then may I be enabled to live out of charity in my future calling, may God so graciously grant. Amen.

 

Works Cited:

Calvin, John, and John Pringle. Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the

Corinthians. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010. Print.

The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Grandville:

Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005. Print.

Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistle to the Corinthians.

Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1963. Print.

Owen, John. The Works of John Owen Vol. IX: Sermons to the Church. Great Britain: Banner of

Truth Trust, 1965. Print.

White, R.E.O. “Love.” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Baker Book House Company, 1988.

Print.

 

*Elijah Roberts is a member of Covenant of Grace PRC in Spokane, WA. He is a junior in college and aspires to the gospel ministry.

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