I have a question for Schuyler–What is the relationship between the office of all believer and the special offices in the church?
If Schuyler gets a pseudonym, I’d like one, too. You can undersign it “Publius.”
The Relationship Between the Offices
An office is a position of authority in which a person has the right to function in a certain way. For example, a police officer has the right to enforce the law. Without the office, a person does not have the right to perform that work even if they think they have the gifts.
In the church there are four offices. There are three special offices: pastor (minister), elder, and deacon; and there is the office of believer. All believing members of the church, young and old, and male and female, occupy the office of believer. Some male members of the church occupy a second office: a pastor/elder/deacon has the office of believer and the special office. Of those four offices, the office of believer is fundamental. Without the office of believer a man cannot function as a pastor/elder/deacon: he might preach/rule/distribute alms, but he perishes in unbelief.
The office of believer is the gift of Christ. When God saves us, we receive the office of believer, which is a participation in Christ’s threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. This is the clear teaching of Heidelberg Catechism, LD 12, where the name “Christian” is explained: “I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am partaker of His anointing” (A 32). Christ is anointed (Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38), and we are anointed also. Christ is anointed with the oil of gladness (the Holy Spirit) above his fellows, and we (who are his fellows) are anointed too (Heb. 1:9). Aaron, a type of Christ, was anointed, and we (who are the skirts of Aaron’s garments) are anointed too (Ps. 133:1–3). The apostle John expresses it in these words: “But ye have an unction (anointing) from the Holy One, and ye know all things” (1 John 2:20), which he repeats in verse 27: “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye have no need that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.”
The office of believer is peculiar to the New Testament, for the Old Testament saints did not have the office of believer (they believed, but they did not have the freedom of the office. The reason for this is their lack of the Holy Spirit. Old Testament believers were regenerate; they did believe; they were justified; and they were sanctified. Therefore, there was some operation of the Spirit in them. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit worked in believers to a much lesser degree in the Old Testament. In fact, the Holy Spirit worked through the three special offices of prophet, priest, and king: only prophets, priests, and kings were anointed; the ordinary, pious, God-fearing, believing Israelite was not anointed. That changed in the New Testament, and that change was promised in the Old Testament. When we read of the increased activity of the Spirit in the New Testament age, we read of the future anointing of all saints into the office of believer: we read of our office of believer: “I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring” (Isa. 44:3); “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezek. 36:27); “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 2:28).
In the New Testament, therefore, these promises are fulfilled at and after Pentecost: the whole church is anointed; every child of God receives the office of believer; the church (which before was under tutors and governors) reaches maturity (see Galatians 4:1–7). In the New Testament, the barriers that separated the anointed office-bearers (prophets, priests, and kings) from the ordinary believers are torn down. We find it hard to understand how amazing that was: to know and receive God’s word, we no longer need a prophet; to approach God in worship, we no longer need a priest; and to fight God’s enemies, we no longer need a king. We have the chief Prophet, the only High Priest, and the eternal King Jesus (see Heidelberg Catechism, A 31), and we are little prophets (and prophetesses), little priests (and priestesses), and little kings (and queens) in him.
Therefore, believing young person, you are a prophet (or prophetess) with the right and the ability to read, understand, and confess the Word of God; you are a priest (or priestess) with the right and the ability to pray to God, to worship him, and to offer your life as a living sacrifice of thanksgiving to him; and you are a king (or queen) with the right and ability to fight against sin and Satan. This is true not only of your pastor, elders, and deacons, and of your parents, or of your older, confessing siblings: this is true of you! Do not abdicate your office to become the slavish, blind follower of any teacher (whether your pastor or anyone else); do not abdicate your office to follow someone who promises you access to God or who promises to worship for you (instead of you), so that you do not participate in worship; and do not abdicate your office to yield to your sinful urges and passions.
John writes about the Christian’s anointing (by which we have the office of believer) that “ye need not that any man teach you” (1 John 2:27). Is John denying the work of pastors? Is he saying, “Because you have the anointing and the office of prophet, you do not need to listen to sermons, or to learn your catechism, or to participate in family devotions?” That cannot be the meaning because John himself is teaching in his first epistle. Instead, John means that by virtue of the Spirit you can discern the truth and judge the teaching of every teacher.
Why, then, does God give special office-bearers? Why does God require that we listen to our pastors, and submit to our elders and deacons? The special offices serve the ordinary office of believer in various ways. Christ graciously gives special offices for the strengthening, development, and preservation of the ordinary believer in his or her office. It would be foolish to despise the special offices, therefore. In 1 Thessalonians 5:12 we are called to “know” and highly to “esteem” the elders; in 1 Timothy 5:17 we count them “worthy of double honor;” and in Hebrews 13:17 we “obey” and “submit” to the rulers of the church, for they “watch for your souls. Paul even says in 1 Timothy 4:16 that by the pastor’s preaching he saves “them that hear” him.
The clearest passage about the relationship between the pastor and the members is Ephesians 4, where the apostle explains that Christ ascended to give office bearers, especially “pastors and teachers” to his church (v. 11). Gifts of the ascended Christ are not to be despised. Paul then outlines the purposes for the gift of pastors and teachers: “for the perfecting of the saints” (v. 12); “for the work of the ministry” (or for the work of service); “for the edifying of the body of Christ” (v. 12). The result of the work of such office-bearers under the blessing of the Spirit is, first, unity in the faith; second, knowledge of Christ; third, protection from heretics and false teachers; fourth, the speaking of the truth in love by the members; and, fifth, growth of the members into Christ (see Ephesians 4:13–15).
Therefore, the office of believer and the special offices are not contrary to one another: the believer must not oppose or seek to undermine the special office bearers, which is the sin of rebellion and schism. The special office-bearer must not seek to usurp the believer’s office, which is the sin of lording it over the saints or authoritarianism (see 1 Peter 5:3). In a healthy church, the relationship between the elders, deacons, and pastor, and the members is one of mutual edification, “love” and “peace” (1 Thess. 5:13).
Remember, however, that the office bearers are weak, sinful men. Their faults, weaknesses, and sins should not be the reason for finding fault with them. Where members are always finding fault with the office-bearers’ work, they do not show love for them. Parents who do this in front of their children undermine the office-bearers’ authority and even contribute to their children becoming alienated from the church. Parents’ criticism of the pastor’s preaching will make the children despise their catechism teacher and minister: why should we listen to and obey the preaching when our parents are always tearing him down? Why should we honor the elders when they come for family visitation when our parents are always complaining about them? Do you pray for your elders, deacons, and pastor as fervently and as often as you criticize them?
It is true, of course, that there is a place for the members to judge the work of the office-bearers. As I wrote earlier, our possession of the office of believer does not permit us to follow any man blindly. We have the right and the responsibility carefully to evaluate the preaching in light of the truth of God’s Word: as prophets we can and must do that. In this connection, the men of Berea are our example: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). These godly men “received the word,” but they did not listen uncritically, for they tested everything by the Scriptures, which must be our practice also.
Nevertheless, we must do this charitably, not seeking heresy in every sermon, not coming to the preaching with the express purpose of finding fault, not tearing the preacher to pieces because he does not emphasize the point that we think he should, and not faulting the sermon’s applications, illustrations, and delivery. We do not come to judge the preaching: the preaching judges us. Only if the sermon is clearly contrary to the teaching of Scripture do we raise an objection, preferably by consulting the pastor. Only if the elders make a decision that is clearly contrary to Scripture do we protest to the consistory. In all other cases, we “patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand” (Heidelberg Catechism, A 104).
What is the meaning of the unpardonable sin, or the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12, Mark 3, Luke 12)? How does the unpardonable sin relate to the exhortation of Ephesians 4:30 not to grieve the Holy Spirit, and the exhortation of 1 Thessalonians 5:19 not to quench the Spirit?
The question of the unpardonable sin has puzzled and troubled Christians for some time. With the biblical emphasis on the greatness of God’s mercy to penitent sinners, it seems out of place to speak of a sin that God will not forgive. For example, in Isaiah 55:7 we read, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” In the Old Testament God forgives his people of dreadful sins: David is perhaps the most famous example, for he was forgiven of adultery and murder (Psalms 32 and 51). In the New Testament Jesus prays for, and obtains, pardon for those who crucified him (Luke 23:34), he pardons the dying thief (v. 43), and some 3,000 souls are pardoned at Pentecost (Acts 2:38, 41). In Corinth there were some who were “washed, sanctified, and justified” from a whole litany of sins: adultery, fornication, homosexuality, theft, drunkenness, and the like (1 Cor. 6:9-11). John writes that the blood of Christ cleanseth us from “all sin” and that God will cleanse us from “all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7, 9).
And yet Jesus speaks of a certain sin that “shall not be forgiven…neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matt. 12:32). In this life, God will not forgive this sin; and on the Last Day this sin will be the ground of everlasting condemnation for the one who has committed it. From this sin, therefore, there is no possibility of repentance, and no possibility of pardon. (Incidentally, this text does not even hint at the foolish heresy of purgatory, as if certain sins could be pardoned in the world to come. Jesus states it this way in order to emphasize the impossibility of forgiveness for this sin).
This sin is mentioned in Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-29; and Luke 12:10. Matthew gives the fullest treatment: therefore, we will concentrate our explanation on that passage. The first thing to do with a difficult passage is to consider the context. In this passage, Jesus is contending with the Pharisees. In verse 22 Jesus heals a blind and dumb demon-possessed man with the result that the people are amazed: “Is not this the son of David?” they ask (v. 23). The Pharisees, moved with malicious envy, retort, “This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils” (v. 24). In response to that accusation, that Jesus is in league with Satan in his saving work, Jesus warns about the “unpardonable sin,” calling it “the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost” (v. 31).
We should notice a few things about this sin. First, Jesus does not say that the Pharisees had actually committed it: he warns them that by their conduct they are coming perilously close to it. They are “in danger of eternal damnation” (Mark 3:29). Second, this sin is a transgression of the tongue, for it involves wicked speech. In verse 31 Jesus speaks of “all manner of sin and blasphemy,” which he then defines in verse 32: “but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost.” Therefore, blasphemy is to speak against, or to speak contemptuously or disparagingly of, the Holy Spirit. Third, this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not unrelated to Jesus, for the context shows that the Pharisees were in danger of committing this sin by their wicked attribution of the miracles of Jesus to the operation of the devil, rather than to the workings of the Spirit. In verse 28 Jesus challenges their unbelief, “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.”
But we need to say more about this sin. Jesus seems to make a difference between the three persons of the Trinity: blasphemy against God (the Father) and against the Son is pardonable (v. 32), but blasphemy against the Spirit is unpardonable? And what kind of blasphemy does Jesus have in mind? What of the former cult member, such as a Jehovah’s Witness, who denied the deity and personality of the Spirit? If he comes to faith in the triune God, is he not pardoned of his former transgressions?
This is where a second principle of Bible interpretation is useful. We have examined the context, and now we compare Scripture with Scripture. Are there any other passages that speak of unpardonable sins or sins from which a person cannot repent? The reader suggests Ephesians 4:30 (“Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God”) and 1 Thessalonians 5:19 (“Quench not the Spirit”), but I would suggest a couple of passages from Hebrews: “For it is impossible for those who… were made partakers of the Holy Ghost… if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance” (6:4-6) and “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath… done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (10:29). In the Hebrews passages we have clear references to people who partook of spiritual privileges, but they despised them. We have a fearful description of people who came very, very close to the kingdom of God, but who perish. Such people blaspheme the Holy Spirit and commit the unpardonable sin, that is, the sin from which there is no repentance, a sin in which God hardens them and destroys them.
Arminians appeal to these two passages in support of their heresy of the falling away of true saints. In so doing, they teach that the people in Hebrews 6 and 10 are true believers. According to the Arminian these people were regenerate, justified, and sanctified, but they did not persevere in faith and good works. Therefore, they perished. But that is not what the two passages say: the writer carefully avoids the language of regeneration, justification, and salvation. Instead, he speaks of enlightenment, tasting the heavenly gift, tasting the good word of God, tasting the powers of the world to come, and partaking of the Holy Spirit (6:4-5), from which they “fall away” (6:6). In Hebrews 10:29 he speaks of being “sanctified” (but not washed or redeemed) by the blood of the covenant. These expressions fall short of actual, spiritual salvation, God’s grace, the forgiveness of sins, and everlasting life. In addition, the context of Hebrews 6 helpfully contrasts what the apostates had with what true believers enjoy: “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak” (v. 9).
Therefore, we understand what the writer to the Hebrews writes about: he writes of church members, who enjoy very elevated spiritual experiences in the church, who come very close to the work of the Spirit in the church, but who are not truly converted, and who never believe. Such people make an external profession of faith for a time: they are baptized, they partake of the Supper, they hear the preaching and it even moves them, they occupy ecclesiastical office, and they even exercise some of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit: they perform miracles, or miracles are performed on them; they prophesy; and they speak in tongues.
Nevertheless, they fall away. For despite all of their vaunted experiences, they merely “tasted” these things. And having tasted them, they reject them. And having departed from the church, where the Spirit works, they speak evil against the Spirit: they tread Christ’s blood underfoot and they do despite to the Spirit (10:29); they crucify to themselves (to their own hurt) the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame (6:6). They blaspheme by their life and lip the Spirit of God: they mock their earlier Christian profession and became avowed enemies of the gospel and of the church. Now we understand that Jesus does not make the Spirit more glorious than the Father or the Son (as if blaspheming him were more serious than blaspheming the other two persons of the Trinity): he speaks of the Spirit because the Spirit works salvation in God’s children. To blaspheme the Spirit’s work is to blaspheme the work of the Father and the Son, whose work it is. And that is exactly what the people in Hebrews 6 and 10 do; and that is exactly what the Pharisees were in danger of doing.
Such people commit the unpardonable sin: “It is impossible… if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance” (Heb. 6:4, 6). They cannot repent because they are hardened in sin; no one can persuade them to repent, not even the elders who work with them before they depart from the church; and God himself does not grant them repentance. For them “there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26-27).
You see, of course, that the texts in Hebrews prove too much for the Arminian: he needs a text where a saint falls away, perhaps multiple times in a lifetime, but is restored time and time again. Here we have a text that teaches irreversible, irrevocable apostasy, for the apostate is not a saint, but a hypocrite.
Therefore, blasphemy against the Spirit is never an accidental sin, a slip of the tongue as it were. Nobody who commits this sin calls the pastor worried about his soul, for such a person is hardened in sin: he does not want to repent; he mocks the very idea of repentance. Sensitive souls sometimes think that they might be guilty of this sin, but if you think you have committed this sin, and the thought troubles you, know of a certainty that you have not committed this sin. God will keep you, beloved Christian, from this sin! Therefore, do not despair, but believe. He that believes will be forgiven, no matter what sins he has committed, even if he thinks (wrongly) that he has committed this sin.
To commit this sin requires knowledge, which is why Jesus warns the Pharisees: they had seen his miracles; they had even experienced something of his own power “up close and personal,” as it were. Their contemptuous words and thoughts brought them very close to this sin. They must repent! One today in the church who despises the work of Christ, which is the work of the Spirit, needs to be warned against this sin: do not continue along that road, lest you reach the point of no return, when you fall away from the good things that you have tasted in his church. God will use such warnings to keep his people from that sin. The reprobate in the church will despise such warnings to their eternal ruin.
Therefore, the unpardonable sin is not the “grieving” or the “quenching” of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30 and 1 Thess. 5:19). While these are sins against the Holy Spirit, they are not unpardonable sins against the Holy Spirit, nor do they constitute blasphemy against him. In both cases, Paul warns against sins that the saints in those churches were already committing (the Greek uses the present tense). If they were committing the unpardonable sin, he would not address them as saints, not would they have any interest in reading his letter. The context of Ephesians 4 shows that “corrupt communication,” “bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, and malice” grieve the Holy Spirit. In Canons 5:5 we learn that by our “enormous sins” we “grieve the Holy Spirit,” yet the next article promises deliverance from such sins (Canons 5:6). Quenching the Holy Spirit is related to the despising of prophesyings (1 Thess. 5:20), which in our modern context is the despising of the faithful preaching of the gospel. We despise the preaching by refusing to listen to and obey the preaching. We despise the preaching by criticizing and judging it instead of humbling ourselves under it and seeking to learn from it.
Grieving and quenching the Spirit are serious sins from which we must repent (from which we can and do repent by the grace of God), but they are not the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Could you clarify the biblical position on capital punishment? Specifically, when is the state permitted to carry out the death penalty? Should it only be used for murder, or may it be used for other serious crimes as well, such as rape? Also, how should we respond to Christians who oppose the death penalty on the grounds that God calls us to forgive those who have wronged us?
The Bible is full of death, for death is God’s judgment upon sin. Therefore, God is the one who originally inflicted the “death penalty.” Our reader’s question concerns man’s right or responsibility to administer the death penalty. The sixth commandment forbids the unlawful killing of another human being, but there are obvious exceptions: killing in self-defense, killing in war, and capital punishment are the three clearest exceptions.
God commands capital punishment in Genesis 9:6: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” This command predates the nation of Israel and applies universally to all nations, peoples, and cultures. God requires the death penalty for murderers, for “whomever sheds man’s blood.” To shed man’s blood is to murder him. Throughout the Old Testament law, the death penalty is inflicted for a number of offenses, such as murder, rape, adultery, idolatry, etc. Since the Old Testament civil law does not carry over into the New Testament, we must wisely apply the principles set forth in the Mosaic dispensation to the modern context.
In the New Testament, the state bears the sword, which is an instrument of justice: “But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom. 13:4). The New Testament does not stipulate which crimes require the death penalty, so that the state can determine its own laws, but the death penalty is required for violent crimes. The Bible does not advocate imprisonment as a penalty (there are very few references to prisons in Scripture), and I believe that society would be better served if violent offenders (such as murderers, rapists, and others) were put to death, rather than kept in a cage, protected by armed guards, for decades at the expense of the taxpayer. Paul writes that “rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil” (Rom. 13:3). A system in which lawbreakers laugh at the law is not a system that the Bible envisages. Criminals should fear the law: what greater fear than the fear of death! The criminal justice system is not for rehabilitation, but for punishment, so that the state acts as a “revenger to execute [God’s] wrath,” as Paul expresses it in Romans 13:4.
In Paul’s day, the sword was routinely used in the Roman Empire. The Romans put to death all kinds of criminals. In our liberal age, the sword is increasingly neglected. Nevertheless, God still requires the death penalty, especially for murderers, and when a murderer kills an innocent victim, God will require the blood of that person at the hand of the judge who did not, through the death penalty, prevent him killing again.
I read recently the horrifying story of Fred Harris, a pastor in Detroit, MI, who lobbied for the release of convicted murderer, Gregory Green, who had murdered his wife and unborn child in 1991. Green had been a member of Harris’s church, so that Harris thought it appropriate to lobby the parole board on Green’s behalf. On his release in 2008, Green married Harris’s daughter, whereupon on September 21, 2016, he murdered his new wife and their four children. He was resentenced to 102 years in prison! Had Green been executed in 1991 (and the death penalty should be inflicted early, if not immediately, after conviction, not dragged out for years through endless appeals), five people would be alive today. Pastor Harris’s misplaced compassion cost him the lives of his daughter and his four grandchildren!
The reader is right: God calls us to forgive. When the murderer asks our forgiveness, we must forgive him. If a church member, God forbid, were guilty of murder, and he repented, the church would owe him a duty of care. However, God does not call the state or the judge to forgive. The judge has no right to forgive: he must administer justice, which for murderers requires the death penalty. A judge who forgives criminals is guilty of dereliction of duty and is a danger to the society that he is called to serve, for he allows dangerous criminals to go unpunished.
It is, however, unlikely that this question will be anything other than theoretical, for there is a tendency not to inflict the death penalty, but to delay it, and even to neglect it altogether. One more thing must be added: we as individual Christians do not have the right to take the law into our own hands. If we killed someone who is a murderer, we would become murderers ourselves, for God has not made us the ministers of his wrath. That power, even if it is neglected, remains the power of the state. And the officials of the state will answer to God as to how they used the sword given to them.
“Is I John 5:7 a sufficient source in defending the Trinity?”
There is more to this question than meets the eye. First, one text is sufficient proof to teach any doctrine. The question is, “Does 1 John 5:7 teach the Trinity, and does it do so sufficiently and clearly to be used as a proof text of that doctrine?” Second, the question is, “Does 1 John 5:7 belong in the New Testament?”
The first question concerns exegesis or the interpretation of Scripture. The second question concerns textual criticism or the study of the manuscripts in order to determine the actual words of Scripture.
The more controversial question on textual criticism should be answered first.
The KJV reads thus:
(6) This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. (7) For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. (8) And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one (1 John 5:6-8).
The vast majority of modern versions produced after the KJV have a shorter reading, omitting verse 7 almost entirely from the text.
The shorter reading, represented, for example, in the NIV, is as follows:
(6) This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. (7) For there are three that testify: (8) the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement (1 John 5:6-8).
In the NIV, the “heavenly witnesses” (“the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost”) vanish from the Bible, while the “earthly witnesses” (“the Spirit, the water and the blood”) remain, although even the words “in earth” (v. 8) are omitted in the NIV.
Modern Bible versions omit other passages as well, or question their authenticity and authority in misleading footnotes. Examples of these are John 5:4 (the stirring of the water of the pool of Bethesda), John 8:1–11 (the adulteress whom Jesus pardoned), and Mark 16:9–20 (the so-called “longer ending of Mark”). Many modern Bible versions make these passages with footnotes, “The best and earliest manuscripts do not contain these words” or “Many ancient witnesses omit these words,” or “The most reliable and accurate manuscripts have a different reading,” and the like.
When you see such footnotes, recognize the bias behind them: certain manuscripts are supposedly the best, the most reliable, or the most accurate because they are the oldest or most ancient. The age of a manuscript is a fact (as far as they can be dated accurately). The quality, reliability, or accuracy of a manuscript is an opinion.
Textual criticism is an issue because we no longer possess the autographs, that is, the actual pages or parchments on which John, Peter or Paul wrote the words of scripture. We only have copies, or copies of copies of the original. This does not mean, however, that we do not have the text of scripture. Any misuse of textual criticism in order to undermine the authority of scripture must be vigorously rejected. We have the very words that the Holy Spirit moved holy men to write (2 Peter 1:21). A plethora of modern Bible versions with their misleading footnotes has eroded the confidence of God’s children in God’s word and has confused many of the saints. This is not only regrettable; it is indefensible and deplorable.
During the copying process, mistakes occurred, most of which were very minor: variations of spelling, the inclusion/omission of conjunctions (“and,” “but,” “for,” etc.), slight differences in word order (“Christ Jesus” vs. “Jesus Christ,” for example). In cases where scribes miscopied a text, the original text can still be determined. It is important to note that no doctrine of the word of God is affected by these textual variants. Moreover, there is more manuscript evidence for the Bible than for any ancient text. There are some 5,000 manuscripts of the New Testament, although only about 200 contain the whole New Testament. Besides the many manuscripts, we have huge numbers of quotations from the New Testament from the early church fathers, as well as from ancient translations of the Scriptures (Syriac, Coptic, Latin, etc.), which enable us to “reconstruct” the original Greek words of the New Testament.
Textual critics identify different kinds or families of manuscripts. A very rough division is as follows. The first is the Majority Text (MT), which is the basis for the Textus Receptus, or the Received Text, which underlies the KJV. The second is the NU Text (The Nestle Aland or United Bible Societies Text), or critical text, which relies heavily upon the Alexandrian texts, which are favored by many textual critics because of their supposed greater antiquity. Some of these ancient and favored texts are Aleph (Codex Sinaiticus, discovered in a monastery in the 1800’s), B (Codex Vaticanus, discovered in the Vatican library in 1480), A (Codex Alexandrinus), D (Codex Bezae) and C (Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus or Ephraim).
For centuries the church used a Bible containing 1 John 5:7 (and the other disputed texts). Certain manuscripts, many of them discovered later, omit such verses. Because these manuscripts are supposedly more ancient and superior, modern Bible versions began to be published without the verses.
But the question is, “Why do these ancient manuscripts not contain these verses?” Why, for example, does the text received by the church (the Textus Receptus) differ from the text favored by scholars? Why is the MT set aside in favor of Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and other “ancient witnesses”? One plausible answer is this: the church did not use these ancient manuscripts because it did not favor them. The manuscripts which the church did use and which were circulated in the church wore out and were replaced by “newer” copies, while the unapproved (and even corrupted) manuscripts lay unused until scholars discovered them. You may have several Bibles (I certainly do). Which Bible wears out more quickly? The one you use. Which Bible is still in pristine condition on your bookshelf? The one you do not use.
One thing many textual critics ignore (and this is certainly true of the unbelieving critics) is the doctrine of scripture’s preservation. God not only inspired men to write his word (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20–21), but he also preserved the text of scripture in his providence so that in all ages the church has the word of God. God’s word does not belong to critics and scholars; it belongs to God’s people, the church. That is where the Bible is used, read, studied, propagated, and preserved.
Consider the Westminster Confession of Faith:
The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old) and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them but because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God who have right unto and interest in the Scriptures and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope (The Westminster Confession of Faith, Article 1, paragraph 8, italics added).
I John 5:7 is the most difficult textual variant to explain, mainly because there is no record of it in any Greek manuscript dated before the fourteenth century. It is also very difficult to prove with any certainty that the early church fathers quoted it. It is possible that the text dropped out of the Greek manuscripts very early in a scribal error where the phrase translated “there are three that bear record” (v. 7) and “there are three that bear witness” (v. 8) is the same in the Greek. Such a scribal error was not corrected in later copies. However, it is also possible that the text was preserved in the church through Latin translations. This is the view of Edward Hills:
On the basis of the external evidence, it is at least possible that the Johannine comma is a reading that somehow dropped out of the Greek New Testament, but was preserved in the Latin text through the usage of the Latin-speaking Church, and this possibility grows more and more toward probability as we consider the internal evidence.
I apologize for the overly technical nature of this response. For further information, the reader is advised to consult the material of the Trinitarian Bible Society.
Although we might like to have one text to prove the Trinity, no such text exists. The Bible teaches the Trinity, of course, but it does not do so by means of one proof text. Certain texts such as Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14 come close to teaching the Trinity, but we believe the Trinity on the basis of the testimony of the entirety of God’s word.
1 John 5:7 (“and these three are one”) must be explained. What is the meaning of “one”? Is “one” oneness of being, of person, or of will? If oneness of being is the meaning, 1 John 5:7 teaches the Trinity, that the Father, the Word (the Son), and the Spirit are one God. If oneness of person is the meaning, 1 John 5:7 could be appealed to in favor of Sabellianism or Modalism, a heresy that asserts that the Father, the Son and the Spirit are modes or faces of one person, but not distinct persons. Therefore, the Father, according to Sabellianism, is the same person as the Son. (Sabellianism was as great a threat to the early church, as was Arianism, and the danger of Sabellianism may explain the reluctance of the fathers to appeal to 1 John 5:7 as evidence for the Trinity). If oneness of will is the meaning, the text teaches that the Father, the Son (Word), and the Spirit agree in their testimony without addressing the question of the relationship between the persons. That is the meaning of oneness in verse 8, “and these three agree in one.” Whatever the precise meaning of 1 John 5:7, it clearly does not teach heresy (such as Sabellianism), and it must be compared with other passages of the word of God.
The short answer is that 1 John 5:7 does not unambiguously teach the Trinity and as a stand-alone text is not a sufficient source for the defense of that doctrine. Nevertheless, the Lord has wonderfully preserved his word, including this text in 1 John 5:7, and the Bible abundantly teaches the Trinity throughout.
 The New King James Version includes the words in the text, but adds this footnote, “NU-Text and M-Text omit the words from in heaven (verse 7) through on earth (verse 8). Only four or five very late manuscripts contain these words in Greek.”
 The New International Footnote reads, “Late manuscripts of the Vulgate testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 8 And there are three that testify on earth: the (not found in any Greek manuscript before the fourteenth century).”
 Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended (The Christian Research Press: DeMoines, IA, repr. 2000), p. 210.
 Why I John 5:7-8 Is In The Bible (G.W. and D.E. Anderson), Trinitarian Bible Socety (TBS), http://www.tbsbibles.org/pdf_information/40-1.pdf . Another useful article, although not from TBS, is http://www.studytoanswer.net/bibleversions/1john5n7.html . Moreover, Matthew Henry comments extensively on I John 5:7 in his commentary, which the reader is advised to read carefully.
How would you respond to those who like to have fellowship with unbelievers? They argue that we are called to be the light, and in order to do so we must send our children to public school and fellowship with unbelievers.
It seems to me that there is confusion here. There is a difference between “fellowship” and “witnessing.” In the Bible, the word fellowship presupposes that we have something spiritual in common with another person. The word can be translated “participation,” “sharing,” or “communion.” 2 Corinthians 6:14–16 could not be clearer: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Notice how forcefully Paul sets forth the antithesis, which is a word we all should know. He forbids “fellowship,” “communion,” “concord,” “part,” and “agreement.” Christians are “light,” while unbelievers are darkness. Christians belong to Christ, while unbelievers belong to Belial. Christians are believers, while unbelievers are infidels. Christians are the temple of God, while unbelievers worship idols.
Therefore, the statement, “[They] like to have fellowship with unbelievers,” is deeply troubling to me. A Christian may not and cannot have fellowship with unbelievers. A believer who tries to have fellowship with unbelievers will invariably become corrupted through such attempted fellowship. The prime example of this in the Bible is Jehoshaphat, whose fellowship with wicked Ahab almost ruined him and certainly sowed the seeds of destruction in his own family. (He married his son Jehoram to the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, Athaliah. God cut off almost all of Jehoshaphat’s seed, sparing only Joash. But for God’s covenant faithfulness to David, the line of Christ would have been wiped out!).
However, I am not convinced that “fellowship” is the appropriate word here, for the questioner goes on to explain his friend’s position. First, the friend argues that God’s people are called to be light (Matt. 5:14–16), which is true. Second, the friend argues that to be light means that Christians may (or even should) send their children to public schools, which is false. To be the light of the world does not mean to have fellowship with the world, and there is where the confusion seems to lie. To be light means to shine in holiness before the world, so that the world sees our good works and glorifies our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16; 1 Peter 2:15). To shine is to be a witness, not to have fellowship. Light shines in darkness and against the darkness. Light does not fellowship with the darkness. Light does not seek some point of commonality with the darkness. “Be not ye therefore partakers with them” (Eph. 5:7). “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:11).
If we may not have fellowship with unbelievers, does that mean that we cut off all contact and social interaction with them? That is to turn to the opposite extreme. We must live with unbelievers in this world. Many of us work with unbelievers. Social interaction with unbelievers is necessary and unavoidable. We must not treat unbelievers with haughty scorn as if we are better than they are. We must not refuse to speak to our unbelieving neighbor, or (if we are at a secular university) our unbelieving fellow student or professor. We must not refuse to help them when they are in need. We must not refuse to eat with them. We must witness to them, both in words and by deeds. Paul warns against cutting ourselves off from society in 1 Corinthians 5:9–11. Nevertheless, social interaction with unbelievers is limited. We do not share a spiritual bond, so we cannot do certain things together. Therefore we cannot enjoy true friendship, which is a sharing of life. Our relationship with unbelievers can never reach that spiritual closeness and oneness that we enjoy with our fellow saints in the church.
The last issue is education as an example of fellowship. Our children are not called to fellowship with the children of the ungodly in the public schools. In fact, they may not and they cannot do so. The lambs of the flock of Christ have no fellowship with the little vipers of Satan! Public schools might be an option for some parents in the absence of a good Christian school and where homeschooling is impossible. (However, few Protestant Reformed parents are in that position, and we do not make rules out of exceptions). Nevertheless, if with a heavy heart, Christian parents have no option but to send their little ones to a public school, they do not send their children there to fellowship. In fact, in many ways, they send their little ones to the front line of the battle, and they do so with many, many prayers, beseeching God to clothe them with the full armor of God (Eph. 6:10–18). There are Christian parents who are compelled to do this, but the reason is the unavailability of good alternatives. It is not because such parents deem Christian education too expensive. (If Christian parents in our churches struggle with the cost of Christian school tuition, let them contact the deacons. They stand ready to give advice and help as the representatives of the merciful Christ).
Foolish beyond measure, then, is the parent who, despising the good Christian schools, sends his children into the public schools with such a cavalier attitude! Extraordinary is the grace necessary to preserve the lambs of Christ’s flock among the wolves of public school teachers and the vipers of public school students in a godless, antichristian atmosphere! That grace was given to Daniel during his schooling in Babylon, but neither Daniel nor his parents chose Babylonian education. It was forced upon them.
It is not the calling of our little lambs to witness, at least not in the same way as adult saints. It is the calling of parents to protect the little lambs until they are mature enough to witness fully in the world. And it is the calling of all Christians, young and old, to maintain the antithesis, which is the spiritual separation (and not fellowship) between believers and unbelievers. Witness to unbelievers, live a holy life before them, but do not fellowship with them.
“What do you believe is the proper way to deal with brothers or sisters who have left our Protestant Reformed churches for another, and in our view lesser Reformed church? I believe that they have sinned by going to a lesser church, but if they are still attending church faithfully and seem to walk a holy life, how must we associate with them? From what I have seen of this, there have been mostly two reactions. 1. We have little or no fellowship with such a one, or 2. We act like nothing is wrong and still continue the same friendship as before. We all know that scripture calls us to cut off those who walk impenitently in sin, but what about this situation?”
Some believe that the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRCA) encourage shunning, and that the Protestant Reformed (PR) people practice shunning. Shunning is a practice common among cults. When a person leaves a cult, the members of that cult cut off all contact or fellowship with the former member, which leads to emotional hardship, especially if the former member was so wrapped up in the life of the cult before his departure from the cult that he has no family members or friends outside of the cult.
The PRCA do not practice shunning.
To answer the reader’s question, we should distinguish between different kinds of people who leave a church.
Some people leave the PRCA (or another true church. We do not believe that the PRCA and her sister churches are the only true churches in the world) because they love the world. Perhaps they leave so that they can marry an unbeliever, a divorced person, or simply to fornicate outside of marriage. Perhaps they leave to pursue a life of drunkenness, pleasure seeking, or worldliness. Perhaps they leave because they hate the preaching of the truth of God’s word. “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). “They went out from us, but they were not of us” (1 John 2:19).
Some people leave the PRCA (or other true churches) through Christian discipline. Either they are excommunicated, or they effectively excommunicate themselves by leaving while under discipline. One who despises the admonition of the elders, asks for his membership papers while under discipline, and leaves the congregation commits a serious sin. In addition, if another congregation receives such a person, the elders commit a serious sin, for they should have inquired about the reasons for his departure from the former congregation). “If he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matt. 18:17.
There is also a difference between the departure of a baptized member and the departure of a confessing member. Both cases are serious, but the latter is worse because the confessing member breaks his membership vows when he departs, and he sins against greater knowledge. He was thoroughly instructed in the truths of God’s word, the obligations of holy living, and the implications of church membership before he left. “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it, for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed” (Eccl. 5:4). By the way, the PRCA are not the only churches that practice Christian discipline or the only churches that take church membership seriously.
Having said all that, our reader’s question is different. He does not ask about a member who leaves to join the Roman Catholic Church, or to become an atheist, or simply to live as a godless worldling, an Esau who despises his birthright (Heb. 12:16). He does not ask about a member who leaves under the cloud of church discipline. He asks about a person who, for whatever reason (he has a romantic interest outside of the PRCA, he finds another church or congregation more attractive, he moves to a location where there is no PRCA congregation, etc.), leaves the PRCA, and joins another true church, or another Reformed denomination, but one that has significant weaknesses in its confession of the truth. Some Reformed denominations in America and Canada, for example, compromise on evolution, marriage, common grace, the covenant, and some even harbor defenders of the Federal Vision. Many of these things are well known. Synodical decisions are on public record, and they are reported in church magazines. Moreover, such a person is still “attending church faithfully and seems to walk a holy life.”
There is a world of difference between a PRCA member who becomes a Roman Catholic, an atheist or a godless heathen, and a PRCA member who joins a weaker Reformed church. There is a world of difference between a PRCA member who renounces the godly life required by Christ and lives like the world, and a PRCA member who continues to lead a godly life outside the PRCA in another true church. And, yes, it is possible to be a Christian, to lead a godly life, and confess the truth in another church than the PRCA.
Do we view and treat godly ex-PRCA members in weaker Reformed churches as “heathens and publicans” (Matt. 18:17)? Do we apply 1 Corinthians 5:11 to godly ex-PRCA members in weaker Reformed churches so that we refuse even “to eat” with them? About godly ex-PRCA members in weaker Reformed churches do we say, “Note that man, and have no company with him” (2 Thess. 3:14)? Notice that by “godly ex-PRCA members in weaker Reformed churches” I do not mean those who have left the PRCA to commit adultery or to live in the world or to commit idolatry in the false church. Such are not godly ex-PRCA members, but ungodly, impenitent apostates. There is a huge difference between the two. I cannot stress that enough.
The answer is: “Of course not!” That would be to make a major category error. If they are our friends or family, we should continue to interact socially with them. We should continue to invite them to family weddings, celebrations, meals, and other social functions. We should still love them, even if we strongly disapprove of their actions in leaving the PRCA. Certainly, love includes admonishment and rebuke, but not only that. We must not spend every moment with them in rebuking them. (They will know that we disapprove, but we do not need to enforce our disapproval at every opportunity). We do not misapply 1 Corinthians 5 here, which is about excommunicated members, with whom we do not fellowship. “If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one no not to eat” (v. 11). Eating, which is fellowship, is inappropriate because it gives the excommunicated person the impression that his sin has not affected the relationship between him and the other members of the church. The issue is not the act of eating, but the symbolism of eating (fellowship). As Christians we do eat with unbelievers (although we do not fellowship with them, because we do not have Christ in common with them), and with saints from other churches (even saints in other churches who left the PRCA), but we refuse to fellowship with excommunicated members, those who walk impenitently in sin. Paul warns that, if we do not apply this rule properly, we will have to leave the world and human society altogether (v. 10).
Having said that, when a person leaves the PRCA, there are consequences. Fellowship for all kinds of reasons is more difficult. If you normally see a member at church or at church functions, his absence will make opportunities for fellowship more difficult. You will have less in common, and conversations, social occasions, and even meals might be more awkward than before. In addition, an ex-PRCA member exposes himself (and, crucially, his children) to weak preaching, false doctrine, and other influences in a different denomination. Given the corporate responsibility involved in church membership, this is serious: if the church that the ex-PRCA member joins compromises on Genesis 1-11, divorce/remarriage, common grace and the well-meant offer, and the covenant, he makes himself responsible for supporting (by his presence and offerings) such errors. In addition, although he might remain uninfluenced by such errors, his children will most likely not escape unscathed. God cuts off negligent parents in their generations, even when he graciously saves the parents themselves.
The issue is never “perfect” versus “imperfect” churches. (All churches, including the PRCA, are imperfect). The issue is this: “Where is the truth of God’s word most purely and consistently preached and confessed? Where are the sacraments most faithfully administered? Where is Christian discipline most faithfully exercised?” Perhaps even more crucially, the issue is this: “What is the general trend in the denomination in which I am, or in which I contemplate becoming a member? Is there a slide toward compromise of the truth of God’s word and the Reformed confessions, or is, by God’s grace, the church holding fast to the truth?”
Where in good conscience I can say, “This church most faithfully and consistently displays the three marks of the true church (as outlined in Belgic Confession, Article 29),” is the church where my family and I should be.
It is not true that to leave the PRCA is to place yourself on the path to hell. We must never tell a godly ex-PRCA member that, and we must never by our attitude to such a godly ex-PRCA member communicate that we think he is on the path to hell. The path to heaven does not run exclusively through the PRCA. The PRCA have never taught that, and, if there are some members who think that and who show that they think that, they must know that their attitude gives the enemies of the PRCA occasion to slander the churches.
Nevertheless, truth is important. The Bible does not say, “Believe as little of the truth as is possible, just enough to get you to heaven.” The Bible urges us to “buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23). The Bible commands us to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). While leaving the PRCA to join another less faithful, yet true, Reformed church does not damn the soul, it does constitute the selling of some truth, such as the truth of God’s particular, sovereign grace, and the truth of God’s unconditional covenant with believers and their elect seed, truths that we surely hold dear in the PRCA.
Let us love our neighbor, and above all, let us love the truth!
“In the Roman Catholic Church, there have been some recent scandals regarding priests who were caught sexually abusing children. The Roman Catholic Church handles these in its own way, but this made me wonder what would happen if this situation were to arise in one of our churches. If a minister were caught abusing a child (and may God graciously forbid that this ever happens), what would be the consequences? Since this is a crime, would the church contact the authorities? Although church and state should not mix, the minister should not be above the law. Would the church simply strip him of his ministerial status and put him through counseling, or must legal action be involved?”
Let me echo the reader’s sentiment: “May God graciously forbid!” Abuse of a child is so abominable a sin that even the ungodly world punishes it with heavy penalties. The ungodly tolerate all kinds of perversions and abominations, but (for now) they abhor the abuse, especially the sexual abuse, of children. Abuse of a child is so destructive that the victim is left scarred physical, emotionally, and spiritually for life. Let the words of Jesus ring in our ears: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).
We have heard of the scandal in the Church of Rome. Although Rome is a false church, Rome’s sins have tarnished the reputation of all churches, since the world lumps all forms of Christianity together. Basically, Rome has been guilty of a widespread cover-up of abuse. Deviant priests were shuffled from parish to parish, where they were free to abuse more children. Not only did Rome fail to report the crimes of her priests to the civil magistrate, she failed to discipline her own clergy, with the result that the sin spread until it blew up in a massive scandal.
One of the marks of a true church is the faithful exercise of Christian discipline. A member (or even a minister) who abuses a child has committed a gross sin, and must be restored to repentance through Christian discipline. Sin may not be ignored in the church. We have a church order, which we use when a minister falls into a gross public sin. “When ministers of the divine Word, elders, or deacons have committed any public, gross sin which is a disgrace to the church or worthy of punishment by the authorities …” (Article 79).
If a minister were caught abusing a child, he would be immediately suspended from office, and Classis would, in consultation with the consistory, recommend his deposition. In addition, that man would have to be reported to the police. In the USA and in most Western nations, there is a mandatory reporting law. This means that if the church officers know or have reasonable suspicion that a member of the church has abused a child, they must report it to the authorities. Failure to do so is in itself a crime punishable by the authorities. Should the consistory fail to report the sexual abuse of a child by the minister to the police, they would be violating the law. There is, of course, the temptation to spare the minister and the reputation of the church, but make no mistake: a man who has sexually abused a child is a danger to children. His crime must be reported to the police, even if he is genuinely sorry for his sin.
Therefore, assuming the minister is guilty, and is tried and convicted, he would (presumably) go to prison. (And if he is guilty, he should plead guilty to spare his victim the trauma of a lengthy trial). He would no longer be a pastor, for he would be deposed. However, he would still be a member of the church, and if he repented, he would be forgiven. His repentance would not enable him to escape the legal consequences of his sin. In prison, he would be a member of the church, and the church would have a duty of care toward him. Upon his release, he would be free to enjoy the rights of church membership. However, a prudent consistory would have to place restrictions on him for the sake of the safety of the children in the church. No doubt, the parents and other church members would be wary in receiving him back into fellowship.
One final thing should be mentioned. Sexual predators, sadly, target churches because churches teach the grace of God, and they believe that if they are caught abusing children and express sorrow, the church will forgive them and they will get away with it. Please do not misunderstand me: the church does preach grace, and there is forgiveness for the vilest offender, but the church does not preach grace without consequences.
To avoid such an appalling situation, not only must we pray that God keep us from such vile sin, but every congregation should have a child protection policy. In many jurisdictions, such a policy is also mandated by law.
“Should I be an organ donor? I feel as if I am not an organ donor, it’s almost selfish to deny my healthy organs to someone who needs them. In addition, if one of our church members needed a life-saving organ donation, we would not refuse it, would we? On the other hand, I feel as if I am an organ donor, it’s as if I am denying the bodily resurrection. I am saying that I don’t believe that my body will be reunited of the Day of Judgment. I feel as if my body needs to be whole on that day, and it won’t be whole if I am an organ donor.”
Like many ethical questions, the Bible does not give a direct answer: “Thou shalt be an organ donor” or “Thou shalt not be an organ donor.” Therefore, we must apply biblical principles.
If one of your family members or friends required a kidney, which you can donate while you are still alive (for you can live with only one), would you refuse him/her? You might even know of people who have received life-saving organs. If it were morally wrong to donate an organ, would it not be morally wrong also to receive an organ? Why should we receive the benefit of another person’s organs, but refuse to countenance the possibility of giving our own if they were needed? Organ donation, as well as blood donation, falls into the general category of doing good to one’s neighbor, even seeking to save the neighbor’s life. Medical technology has enabled us to do things unheard of in past generations. Medical ethics is a complicated subject, and it will only become more complicated as medicine develops. Do we love our neighbor enough to give him/her our blood, or our kidney, or, after our death, some other organ? That is one compelling argument.
Obviously, organ donation must be voluntary. Christians must condemn the “harvesting” of organs either from non-consenting adults or worse, from aborted (murdered) children, as well as from the black-market of the sale of organs from Third World countries, for example.
I can understand the reticence. If I give my kidney, liver, lungs, heart, corneas, etc. for organ donation, is my body not maimed in the resurrection? I think that is the wrong way to think of the bodily resurrection. While the resurrection is a mystery, Paul does explain it in 1 Corinthians 15. Two facts stand out. My resurrection body will be the same body that Jesus redeemed. It will not be a brand-new body without any resemblance to this body. Nevertheless, it will be a glorified and spiritually transformed body, a body like Christ’s (see Phil. 3:21).
Paul uses the illustration of a seed. When you sow a pinecone, for example, the pine tree tree that grows from the pinecone looks nothing like the original pinecone. Yet the pinecone is essentially the same as the pine tree. When you plant a pinecone, you do not expect a maple tree to grow from it. A pine tree is more glorious than a pinecone, but it is the same species, the tree being a development of the pinecone. Paul writes, “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42–44). A spiritual body is not an immaterial, non-physical body, as if we will be floating ghosts. It means a body governed by and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and a body fit for the glory of the new creation.
We do not know to what extent we will have the same bodily organs in the resurrection. Will we need kidneys, which filter the blood, for example, in the resurrection? Will we need a heart to pump blood? Will we even have blood? Should we even speculate about such matters? The point that scripture makes is, whatever happens to our body after death (whether it is eaten by wild animals, or vaporized in a nuclear explosion, or lost in the depths of the sea), God will be able to resurrect it. God will even be able to resurrect it if we donate our organs to someone who needs them.
But does Jesus not speak about entering into heaven without eyes or limbs in Matthew 5:29–30? Jesus is not speaking literally there. He is simply underlining the seriousness of sin. So serious is sin that it would be (hypothetically) better to pluck our eye out or cut our hand off so that we enter maimed into heaven, rather than enter hell with one’s body intact. If a Christian did (foolishly) cut off his hand, he would not actually get rid of sin. If a Christian did cut off his hand, he would no more enter the new creation maimed than a Christian would who lost a hand in a tragic accident. Our bodies will be glorified in the new creation. The blind will see. The deaf will hear. The lame will leap for joy. The organ donor will have no lack.
This is a sensitive issue. Each person must be persuaded in his/her own mind, and if you do plan to be an organ donor, you should discuss your wishes with your family so that they know what to do in the event of your death.
Recently I received a note from Mr. Ray Kikkert, member of the Protestant Reformed congregation in Wingham, Ontario, Canada. Beacon Lights thanks him for his interest and his comments.
He begins with two questions: “Who is Schuyler?” And: “Is it Mark Hoeksema, the editor?” My answer is also two-fold.
First, Schuyler’s identity is a deep, dark secret. There is a tiny handful of people who know who Schuyler is, but they are sworn to secrecy; not even all members of the staff know his identity, and we intend to keep it that way to protect the anonymity and objectivity of both the questioners and of Schuyler (who does not know who submits questions, and who therefore cannot tailor his replies to the person or the situation). Only one or two people know who sends in questions, one of whom is the editor, and he’s not talking.
Second, I have received multiple guesses as to his identity, none of which are even close. In this connection our readers require a little sense of humor (which they have exhibited), though the reasons for anonymity are serious, not frivolous. Allow me to assure Mr. Kikkert that Mark Hoeksema is not Schuyler, as many have supposed. This assertion reduces the number of possibilities by one. I hope this is helpful. More guesses are welcome, although they will likely be wrong. Hint: Schuyler is a scholar, as his name indicates.
Now to the essence of Mr. Kikkert’s missive.
He refers to the May 2016 Schuyler rubric of Beacon Lights, the subject of which was cremation. He writes the following: “The May 2016 installment of Ask Schuyler regarding cremation seemed to me to be a weak response from a conservative and Reformed Christian magazine to the question. For Christians under normal circumstances, burial ought to be the only answer to the question. Cremation seems to be the quick, easy, me/myself way of skirting what the Lord has to say favorably in 1 Corinthians 15:35–44. Christianity from its inception has always advocated burial, while pagan use cremation. While I agree with the other points presented, we ought to take a firm stance here. Too much of what calls itself Christian takes a neutered position on issues under the guise of Christian liberty. This brings me back to my first question; anonymous responses are weak on accountability. It’s the little things that get eaten away in our churches that lead to bigger problems.”
Mr. Kikkert concludes: “Thank you to those who write for Beacon Lights and provide thought-provoking articles for our children and for us as parents.”
Schuyler answers Mr. Kikkert’s comments as follows:
I thank Mr Kikkert for his interest in Beacon Lights and his follow up question. Please note that I answer the questions as they are asked. In this case, I was asked “How do we respond to a relative who has decided on cremation?” My answer was not, “I would tell that person that burial is one hundred percent non-negotiable, that cremation is sinful and pagan, and I would absolutely forbid my relative to do such a wicked and ungodly thing.” I cannot respond that way, although I share Mr Kikkert’s conviction that burial is the preferred option over cremation. Certainly, I would seek to explain that to my relative, and perhaps find out why he/she is contemplating cremation. I am sorry that some might find the response “weak” or “neutered.” I simply do not make a law where the scriptures give none. The scriptures give principles on the proper disposal of the dead, and it is indeed true that Christians have always advocated burial over cremation, which is what I stated in my response. It is, as Mr Kikkert indicates, an important testimony to our Christian hope in the resurrection of the body. I hope that the young readers of the BL (and their parents) continue to profit from this rubric and all the articles of the magazine.
“How do we respond to a relative who has decided on cremation?”
Two arguments have been used against cremation.
First, we are told that it is pagan. While it is true that pagans have cremated their dead for pagan reasons, that in itself does not make the practice pagan. Pagans such as the Greeks cremated their dead because they denied the resurrection of the body, confessing only the immortality of the soul. The Greeks believed that the body is a contemptible prison for a noble soul. Therefore, death was release from that prison, and the Greeks saw no need to honor the body by burying it. We must maintain the belief of the resurrection the body. How we apply that belief in funeral practices is a different matter. Incidentally, it is also pagan to attempt to contact the dead, or to pray to them or for them. The Bible strictly forbids necromancy (Lev. 19:31, Deut. 18:11; Isaiah 8:19–20), and departed saints do not have contact with the living. They are not “looking down on us,” or involved in our lives on earth at all (Eccl. 9:5–6). They are in heaven, enjoying the glory of that wondrous place. Our hope is that they sleep in Jesus and will be resurrected on the last day. More than that, our hope is that we will be with Jesus too. Being with our loved ones again is strictly secondary to being with Jesus.
Second, it is argued that it is a sign of God’s judgment. While you could argue that in the case of Achan (Joshua 7:25) and Saul (I Sam. 31:12), that is not true in every case. Certainly, Saul was an ungodly man, but his godly son Jonathan was also cremated.
Generally speaking, Christians have preferred burial to cremation. Certainly, that is the practice of the godly in Scripture (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, etc.). However, the Bible never prohibits cremation. The issue, of course, is the proper disposal of and honor for the body after death. Since Jews in the Old Testament and Christians in the New Testament believe in the resurrection of the body, they dispose of the bodies of their dead honorably and in accordance with that hope. In that connection, we do not believe that, if a Christian is cremated, he will not be resurrected on the last day. Countless saints were burned alive, torn to pieces by wild beasts, destroyed in explosions, and lost at sea. God will resurrect all of them (Rev. 20:13).
Whether our bodies are incinerated in a crematorium or decompose in the earth, what God said is true, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:19).
So, what should you say to your relative? (I assume that we are speaking of a Christian relative). You explain to him the biblical principle of the resurrection of the body, you encourage him to organize a funeral in accordance with that principle, and you leave the details to Christian liberty.
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