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Is the Pope the Antichrist?

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This is a guest post by J. V. Fesko. He is the author of The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context & Theological Insights.


Say What?

I can remember one of the members of my congregation asking me in a somewhat sheepish tone, “Do we still believe that the Pope is the antichrist?” He was referring to the original 1646 version of the Westminster Confession that states the following: “There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God” (25:6).

I informed this church member that when American Presbyterians adopted the Westminster Standards in 1789, they changed them in a few places and they deleted this reference to the Pope as the antichrist. He seemed greatly relieved because it appeared as an embarrassing gaffe on the part of the original framers of the Standards.

Whether or not the Pope is the antichrist is a question for another day. Though, I believe the proper way to frame the question is not whether the Pope is the antichrist, but whether he is an antichrist. In other words, anyone who leads people away from the gospel of Christ participates in the spirit of antichrist (1 John 2:18).

Nevertheless, why on earth would the theologians at Westminster make such a statement?

A Trip to the 17th Century

Answering this question requires us to enter into the seventeenth century, something that is probably, at many levels, like a foreign country to us. Presently, especially in this country, theology doesn’t impact foreign policy in a big way. People can sit down in a coffee shop and discuss theological differences and ideas over a half-caf latte without fear of danger, violence, or bloodshed.

In the seventeenth century, on the other hand, things were quite different. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were periods marked by theological conflict that often wrote checks cashed in blood. Theology was so ingrained into the life and culture of the time that there was no such thing as the separation between church and state. Cities and entire countries usually either aligned themselves with the Roman Catholic Church or with the Protestant Reformation.

Political Concerns

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, for example, the King of Spain launched an attack against the Protestant nation—his desire was to return England to the fold of Rome and under the supremacy of the Pope. Spain was defeated, of course, in the famous “Protestant wind,” which largely destroyed the Spanish Armada. The Pope even issued a decree that stated that loyal Roman Catholics need not render their allegiance to Elizabeth, whom he considered a bastard queen and one who had led an entire nation astray theologically.

In 1605, a Roman Catholic by the name of Guy Fawkes hatched a plot to plant explosives in the basement of Westminster Abbey so that when King James and Parliament first gathered for their opening session, he would literally blow the roof off the building. In the wake of the king’s death, Fawkes hoped to engineer a coup and install a Roman Catholic king upon England’s throne.

Spiritual Concerns

However, the concerns about Roman Catholicism were not simply political but also theological. Protestant theologians viewed the Reformation as a recovery of the gospel. Sinners were not saved by a combination of Christ’s work and the sinner’s obedience, the alchemy of grace and works to produce the gold of salvation. Rather, salvation was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-10).

The Council of Trent (1547), the official meeting and authoritative declaration of the Roman Catholic Church, condemned the idea of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone by God’s grace alone. In the minds of many, the far greater concern was that the Pope was leading millions of souls astray into the very gates of hell itself.

Compounded by the many wars on the continent, such as the Thirty Years War, rumored assassination plots against Protestant rulers, Protestant theologians believed they were engaged in the final battle of the ages—the battle of antichrist against the church of Christ. They sought, therefore, to protect the church from the perceived threat and declared that the Pope was the antichrist. This opinion was quite common and met with little dissent.

Theology Matters

As much as we might raise our eyebrows at such firm convictions about the identity of antichrist, we have something to learn from these past events. While we might not worry about theology becoming violent warfare and have the luxury of discussing and debating eternal matters without much fear, we should recognize that theology matters.

We may discuss weighty matters in a serene setting, but we should not forget that eternity is in the balance. True, God is sovereign and his plans will never be thwarted, but we should remember that, humanly speaking, when we discuss the gospel with someone heaven and hell are in the balance. In a word, our doctrine impacts our lives. Decisions and ideas we embrace now matter for eternity.


J. V. Fesko (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is academic dean and associate professor of systematic and historical theology at Westminster Seminary California. In addition to serving as an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, he is the author of a number of books related to the Reformation, including The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights (excerpt).

 


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10 Things You Should Know About Evangelism

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This is a guest post by Mack Stiles, author of Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, which is part of the 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series.


1. Our evangelistic efforts must stem from a biblical understanding of evangelism.

There are so many ways to go wrong in evangelism—impulses of fear on the one side, vain ambition on the other—that if we do not nail down a truly biblical understanding, we will quickly veer off course. So we start by understanding that biblical evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.

2. Evangelism is often the label given to things that are not evangelism.

Is sharing your testimony evangelism? Is defending the Christian faith evangelism? How about doing good deeds for the oppressed? Certainly those are good things that serve and support evangelism. But they are not evangelism itself. We must not confuse the gospel with the fruit of the gospel.

3. Evangelism entails teaching the gospel first and foremost.

God teaches us the gospel through his Word; we can’t just  ”figure it out” on our own. So it stands to reason that we must speak and teach the gospel to others: the truth about who God is, why we’re in the mess we’re in, what Jesus came to do, and how we are to respond to him. It’s no wonder that Paul often described his evangelistic ministry as a teaching ministry.

4. Evangelism aims to persuade.

We want to see people move from darkness to light. Having that aim helps us know what things to talk about and what things to lay aside. Evangelism isn’t just data transfer; we must listen to people, hear their objections, and model gentleness because we know that souls are at stake. And we know what it means to truly convert: a true Christian has put his complete faith and trust in Jesus, so much so that he has repented of a lifestyle of unbelief and sin. Understanding this guards us from false conversions, which are the assisted suicide of the church.

5. Evangelism flourishes in a culture of evangelism.

Much instruction is given about personal evangelism. And that’s right and good since we’re each called to testify to our own personal encounter with Jesus. But when people are pulling together to share the gospel, when there is less emphasis on getting “a decision,” when the people of God are pitching in to teach the gospel together, a culture forms that leads us to ask “Are we all helping our non-Christian friends understand the gospel?” rather than “Who has led the most people to Jesus?”

6. Evangelistic programs will kill evangelism.

We need to replace evangelistic programs with a culture of evangelism. Programs are to evangelism what sugar is to nutrition: a strict diet of evangelistic programs produces malnourished evangelism. So, we should feel a healthy unease with regard to evangelistic programs. We must use them strategically and in moderation, if at all.

7. Evangelism is designed for the church and the church is designed for evangelism.

A healthy church with a culture of evangelism is the key to great evangelism. Jesus did not forget the gospel when he built his church; in fact, a healthy church is meant to display the gospel. Think of the ways that the gathered church displays the gospel: we sing the gospel, we see the gospel in the sacraments, and we hear the gospel when we preach and pray. A healthy culture of evangelism does not aim at remaking the church for the sake of evangelism. Instead, we must highlight the way God designed the church to display and proclaim the gospel simply by being the church.

8. Evangelism is undergirded by love and unity.

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). In that same discourse, he prayed that his disciples would be unified “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20–21). Jesus says the love we have for one another in the church is evidence that we are truly converted. And when we are unified in the church, we show the world that Jesus is the Son of God. Love confirms our discipleship, and unity confirms Christ’s deity. What a powerful witness!

9. A culture of evangelism is strengthened by right practices and right attitudes.

We need to make sure that we see evangelism as a spiritual discipline. Just as we pray for our non-Christian friends, we must be intentional about sharing our faith with them. Furthermore, we must never assume the gospel in conversations with non-Christians lest we lose it. We need to view the gospel as the center of how we align our lives to God as well as come to God in salvation.

10. Evangelism must be modeled.

One of the greatest needs in our churches today is for church leaders to boldly model what it means to be an ambassador of the gospel. Pastors and elders must lead the way in sharing their faith, teaching others how to be ambassadors for Christ, and calling their congregations to do the same.


J. Mack Stiles is CEO of Gulf Digital Solutions and general secretary for the Fellowship of Christian UAE Students (FOCUS) in the United Arab Emirates. He has worked for many years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the United States. He is the author of Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus.

 

 


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7 Reasons to Study the Book of Job

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This is a guest post by Christopher Ash. His new book is Job: The Wisdom of the Cross, a recent addition to Crossway’s Preaching the Word commentary series.


Why study the book of Job?

More specifically, why should a Christian make a careful and thoughtful study of the whole of the book of Job, rather than being satisfied with a rough idea of the storyline and a few of the highlights? Why read the whole book rather than just “watch the movie highlights” through a short and often minimalist sermon series?

It’s a good question.

After all, Job is a long and demanding book. Parts of it are pretty hard to fathom, and plenty of it is dark and distressing. You and I need good reasons to plunge right in to the detail.

Well, I’d like to offer you 7.

Studying the book of Job will help you . . .

1. Understand God for who He is

Above all, the book of Job will force you to think deeply about God the Father and about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2. Grapple with God’s sovereignty

Job will press you to think carefully, with doctrinal thoughtfulness and depth, about how the universe is governed. Many Christians default either to a monistic understanding of God’s sovereignty that is more Islamic than Christian, or to a practical dualism in which God and Satan are independent powers. Neither is biblical.

Job sets before us a universe in which God is completely sovereign, and yet in which he governs the world partly through the paradoxical agency of evil powers.

3. Reject false gospels

Job is God’s antidote to the prosperity gospel and the therapeutic gospel, both of which are rampant in the worldwide church.

The prosperity gospel teaches that it is God’s purpose that you have plenty of money, a house, a family, and health. If you already have these things (as many of us do in developed countries) then the prosperity gospel metamorphoses into the therapeutic gospel. This adds that it is God’s purpose that you feel fulfilled and happy. Neither is true in this age. Job shows us why.

4. Identify with those who suffer

By immersing you in suffering, Job shows you both how to feel something of the sufferings of Christ (in a way that the gospels do not) and how to feel the depths of the sufferings of Christ’s people. This will help you identify with the persecuted church.

5. Find hope in the midst of pain

Job is finally full of hope and comfort, for its message rests in the end on the comprehensive sovereignty of God over all creation, and specifically on how his sovereignty encompasses all the powers of evil. To understand something of the majesty and logic of redemptive suffering gives hope to the suffering believer.

6. Develop your emotional pallet

Because so much of Job is poetry, a deep immersion in the book will help you develop your emotional and affectional ‘pallet’ (to use a painting metaphor), so that you will learn to feel, to desire, and to grow more sensitive to all manner of experiences in life.

Few of us habitually read poetry. And yet God has chosen to give us much of scripture in poetry. Job will sensitize you to poetry and how it communicates. By immersing yourself in Job you will—as a valuable side effect—learn how to better read, for example, the Psalms.

7. Encounter the living God

God will deal with you as you grapple with the book of Job. I have found that studying the Job over the past several years has been a life-changing and life-shaping experience. As I have grappled with this amazing book, God has been grappling with me.

If you will plunge int the book of Job, I’m confident God will deal deeply and graciously with you as well.


Christopher Ash is director of the Proclamation Trust’s Cornhill Training Course. In addition to serving on the council of Tyndale House in Cambridge, he is the author of several books, including Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (excerpt).

The Final Days of Jesus: Sunday, April 5, AD 33

Final_Days_header08In this week’s video series, well-known New Testament scholars explore the background and significance of the history-shaping events that occurred during Jesus’s last week on earth. Designed as a supplement to The Final Days of Jesus, our prayer is that these videos will help deepen your understanding and experience of Holy Week.



The Final Days of Jesus: Resurrection Sunday
from Crossway on Vimeo.

 

9-Final-Days-of-Jesus_Holy-Week-Sunday-2

 

Previous Videos:


The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived
Andreas J. Köstenberger and Justin Taylor, with Alexander Stewart

Combining a chronological arrangement of the biblical text with insightful commentary, this book serves as a day-by-day guide to Jesus’s final week on earth, complete with a quick-reference glossary and color maps.

Free Downloads:
Excerpt / Study Guide / 40-Day Reading Guide

 

April 20, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Biblical Studies,Jesus Christ,Life / Doctrine,New Testament,The Gospel,Theology,Video | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:30 am | 0 Comments »

The Final Days of Jesus: Saturday, April 4, AD 33

Final_Days_header07In this week’s video series, well-known New Testament scholars explore the background and significance of the history-shaping events that occurred during Jesus’s last week on earth. Designed as a supplement to The Final Days of Jesus, our prayer is that these videos will help deepen your understanding and experience of Holy Week.



The Final Days of Jesus: Saturday
from Crossway on Vimeo.

 

8-Final-Days-of-Jesus_Holy-Week-Saturday

 

Previous Videos:


The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived
Andreas J. Köstenberger and Justin Taylor, with Alexander Stewart

Combining a chronological arrangement of the biblical text with insightful commentary, this book serves as a day-by-day guide to Jesus’s final week on earth, complete with a quick-reference glossary and color maps.

Free Downloads:
Excerpt / Study Guide / 40-Day Reading Guide

 

April 19, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Biblical Studies,Jesus Christ,Life / Doctrine,New Testament,The Gospel,Theology,Video | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:30 am | 0 Comments »