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Chapter 2 - One Of The Blights Of Bigness!
Do you remember the Athenians, the men who invited Paul to speak to them at Mars Hill about Jesus and the resurrection because “he seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods”? The Scripture says of them, “For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21).
One of the marks of a cultist is that he must always have some "new light” to present every time his disciples gather. When doing research on the Herbert W./Garner Ted Armstrong cult, the ex-followers we contacted emphasized that the leadership boasted it always had something new to reveal whenever they gathered at the festivals.
Apparently this form of egotism has been spilling over into Fundamentalism and we are alarmed at the results. We will use one man as an illustration and hope what is going on is confined to him, but we have no assurance that it is. This man has long been a leading light on the Fundamentalist conference circuit. He is the pastor of a Fundamentalist superchurch. He founded and heads a prominent school. While we have not been associated with him for a number of years and have heard him speak only once in half a decade, some concerned individuals have been sharing tapes of his messages with us that are shocking, indeed.
One brother sent us a tape of his sermon on Samson, saying he was alarmed at what he heard. So were we! Purporting to answer the question of why God gives some Christians who fall into sin a second chance and does not give one to others, he said that David, for example, committed adultery and murder, but was used again, while others committed the same sins and weren’t used again. He wondered why Samson got by with his sin and others in the Bible didn’t, concluding that the secret was Samson’s “consecration.” (We surely wouldn’t want to preach a sermon, offering Samson’s life as the pattern for a life of consecration!) He put it like this: “God used Samson when He did not use others, who did the same things Samson did, because of one word – consecration. Samson was totally sold out to the plan of God for his life.”
One of many amazing statements he made – which sounded like one Jimmy Swaggart used in explaining how his ministry would collapse without him – was, “Samson was valuable to God. Samson was so dedicated to God that when he made some stupid mistake, God said, ‘I need the fellah too much to put him on the shelf. He’s doing too much good for one little bad thing to cause him to forfeit his chance to serve me'." But be assured, no individual, no matter how important he may seem in the eyes of his fellow men (or himself), is indispensable to God and God's ministry.
What this preacher proceeded to develop from the story of Samson was a merit/demerit system for Christian service, one that determines whether God will give someone another chance if that one falls into grievous sin. Perhaps he didn’t intend it to be so, but his message came across as saying, “II you set out to do what God’s will is for your life, and work hard enough at it, you can do anything you want to do and get away with it! In fact, you can gel away with adultery and murder, just like David did!”
His first point was, “God’s degree of patience with you when you stumble is determined by how fast you were running.” His next point was, “Your chance at a second chance will depend on what you did with your first chance.” In short, if you were gung-ho in your labors, always on visitation, always tithing, always witnessing, going day and night in service, God will give you a second chance when you fall. If not, He won’t. He said flatly, “God’s degree of patience when you stumble will be totally dependent or how fast you were running.”
In other words, God operates on a system of merits and demerits. This preacher actually called it “stumbling insurance,” concluding, “You’d better be worth enough to God, [have] enough merits built up, so when you stumble the demerits will not overbalance the merits.” Referring to Samson, he said, “Samson was so dedicated to God that God gave him so many merits that when the demerits came he had a bonus of merits left over and God used him again.”
To illustrate, he referred to a man whose preaching he called “R-rated,” but gets by with it because, “God looks down and says, ‘It is sort of strange, but, Gabriel, go check his invitation on Sunday morning and see how it’s going. Go check his soul winning; see how hard he works. Go check his Bible study.’ And God looks down and says, ‘The fellah is doing so much good, I’ll overlook a few of the blunders he makes'.” And he spoke of another preacher whose language is so bad God looks down and says, “Oh, my soul, I think I’ll kill him,” but about that time the offending minister gets up and preaches a sermon on Hell, has 200 people saved, and God says, “Hold it a minute. Wait a minute. Let him finish that sermon first.” And he opined, “Folks, you’d do the same thing.” (Whether we would or not isn’t the point, obviously; we are dealing here with a God of absolute holiness and what He would do!)
Such teaching is utter nonsense, of course. Actually, it is a warmed over, remodeled version of the old “indulgences” philosophy practiced in Roman Catholicism. It has no more scriptural substance behind it than Rome has for its teaching. The primary difference is that the “earned” merit in one is after the fact and in the other it is before the fact. That’s all.
He said, “In my church a fellow stumbles, and is immoral – and I am not for immorality; I hate it with a passion, I am against it – but if you are not tithing, shut your mouth about the adultery.” (As if there were any resemblance whatsoever between failing to tithe and committing adultery!) And he said a preacher who is busy for God is more likely to fall into sin than one who isn’t. (The exact opposite is true, of course, since the one closest to God has the most strength to resist temptation.)
It goes without saying – and it is usually true in this man’s sermonizing any way, one much more devoted to whoop and holler than substance – this message was almost totally devoid of Scripture. God does not operate on a principle which allows His servants to store up “brownie points” for use in emergencies. Yet the secret, according to this preacher, is to have more merits than demerits when a showdown comes. You know, sort of a Buddhism/ Hinduism karma on a Fundamentalist level!
Nonsense! “Running” has nothing to do with it. If someone falls out of a rocking chair, he can still get up. Contrary to what the brother said, the secret for a fresh start in service does not depend upon merits stored up in reserve; THE KEY IS REPENTANCE! Yet he did not even mention repentance one time in his entire sermon!
We were still in shock after listening to that tape when a Christian leader, talking to us on the phone about another matter, asked if we had heard this man’s sermon on the eternal humanity of Christ. He said, “You must hear it.”
When we received it, we could hardly believe our ears. Here are some verbatim quotes from the message:
“There has always been a member of the Godhead who was human and God.”
“[Jesus] is the human deity now. He always has been. He always will be. He did not become human when He came to Bethlehem.”
"That nature in which He came to us in Bethlehem – that nature, we call it human nature—He always had it and He always will have it, and always shall be divinely human and humanly divine. Before man was made, this man-type existed in the Godhead. Before this clay was ever fashioned, this humanity existed in the divinity.”
“He always had the same human tendencies we have. He had the same human reasoning that we have.”
“The incarnation part: God brought the original down beside the degenerate copy to show me what I was meant to be.”
“God didn’t look down one day and say that man is a sinner, I think I'll make a God-man. No, He always was the God-man. Just like we’ve got those fire extinguishers over there in case of, there was a god-man in case a God-man was ever needed. And before Bethlehem, He was the God-man."
“He has my nature. He always has had my nature. He didn’t learn how to be a man when He came to Bethlehem, He already was one.”
There is so much biblically wrong with this reasoning that one editorial cannot really handle it, but note some pertinent scriptural observations. . .
Jesus was not the first man, Adam was. We are told in I Corinthians 15:45-47, “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.” It seems very clear from this that Adam possessed the first humanity, and that he was given it in creation by Almighty God.
One must have a body in order to possess complete humanity. Paul prayed for the saints in I Thessalonians 5:23, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Whole humanity consists of spirit, soul and body. If our Lord eternally possessed humanity, it was incomplete humanity because He had no physical body in eternity past. It was necessary to prepare one for Him so He could come to earth and die (Hebrews 10:5).
Hebrews 2:9 shows that His humanity was something He took on, not something He already possessed. It says, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death…." That “made a little lower than the angels” is the same word-for-word description of man’s creation in Hebrews 2:7. Adam and Jesus were both “made” men.
The same idea is repeated in Hebrews 2:16, “For verily he took not on him the nature of the angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham." What did He “take” on Himself? It was humanity, “the seed of Abraham.” As the next verse says, “Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (Vs.17). He had to be “made” like the brethren, taking upon Himself their humanity.
Probably the classic statement in the Word of God on the subject is Philippians 2:5-8, which declares: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
Here is one who already possessed “the form of God” and who “took upon him the form of a servant,” identified as “the likeness of men” and “in fashion as a man.” Dr. George Lawlor, former professor of Bible and Greek at Cedarville College, notes here, “The form of the verb rendered 'was made’ in the King James Version, is the aorist participle of ginomai, ‘to come into existence, come to pass, become, take place.’ It is rendered ‘to be made’ in the sense of who or what a person or thing is or has been made, expressed in terms of character, quality, condition, place, or rank. The aorist participle signifies entrance into a new state, and denotes what was contemporaneous with the Lord’s emptying Himself. His becoming in the likeness of men was simultaneous with His emptying Himself, part of that act but subordinate to it.” Our Lord’s humanity, then, was something that came into existence at the time of the incarnation.
The statement in John 1:14 is, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” Once again we are told that Jesus, in His Virgin Birth, “was made,” or “became" humanity, which is what “flesh” means here. This is no mere taking of a body, it is literally becoming man.
We know of absolutely no reputable orthodox theologian in the world, past or present, who teaches or has taught the eternal humanity of the Son of God. On the other hand, we can quote them by the bushel who teach that Christ became man at the incarnation. B. B. Warfield of Princeton Seminary, selected to write the section on the “Person of Christ” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, referred to the phrase “the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men” in Philippians 2, commenting: “The term ‘form’ here, of course, bears the same full meaning as in the preceding instance of its occurrence in the phrase 'the form of God.’… Our Lord assumed, then, according to Paul, not the mere state or condition or outward appearance of a servant, but the reality; He became an actual ‘servant’ in the world. The act by which He did this is described as a ‘taking,’ or, as it has become customary from this description of it to phrase it, as an 'assumption.’ What is meant is that our Lord took up into His personality a human nature; and therefore it is immediately explained that He took the form of a servant by ‘being nude in the likeness of men'." Warfield noted that God “‘assumed’ man into personal union with Himself, and has in this His assumed manhood lived out a human life on earth.”
Charles C. Ryrie, a theologian of no mean repute, sets the idea forth in very clear language: “Though the word [incarnation] does not appear in Scripture, its components (‘in’ and ‘flesh’) do. John wrote that the Word became flesh (John 1:14). He also wrote of Jesus coming in the flesh (I John 4:2; 2 John 7). By this he meant that the eternal second Person of the Trinity took on Himself humanity. He did not possess humanity until the birth, since the Lord became flesh (egeneto, John 1:14, in contrast to the four occurrences of en in vv.l-2). He was always God; He became man in the incarnation.”
The esteemed Presbyterian theologian of yesteryear, Charles Hodge, in his 3-volume Systematic Theology, referred to the biblical phrase “born of a woman," declaring, “This... can only mean that He was born in the sense in which other children of men are born of women. This is essential to his true humanity ...." If being born “in the sense” of’ other children was “essential” to His true humanity, He could not have possessed such true humanity prior to Bethlehem.
Floyd H. Brackman, who now teaches systematic theology at the Practical Bible Training School, expressed it like this: “From eternity God the Son was a Person who possessed the divine nature (the nature of God). Upon His incarnation He took upon Himself a human nature, divinely created of Mary’s substance.”
My own systematic theology professor, Dean Emory H. Bancroft, made our class memorize this doctrinal statement: “By His incarnation, Jesus Christ came into possession of a real, human, physical nature consisting of spirit, soul and body, which gave to Him a true humanity.” That is what evangelical Christianity has always held and believed.
Alas, our Fundamentalist leader/brother used his faulty thinking about the eternal humanity of Christ to make some sad and faulty conclusions. In fact, when he finished, he had presented God the Father as the same despot the liberals have always painted the God of the Old Testament (Jehovah), in contrast to the God of the New Testament (Jesus). Here are some verbatim samples:
“The Father and I can’t understand each other because I’ve never been like Him; and He’s never been like me. Jehovah does not reason with our reasoning. Jesus always has reasoned with our reasoning. Jehovah will never reason with our reasoning. And Jehovah looks down and sees me weak, and sinful, and frail, and imperfect. He says, ‘I think I’ll just kill old ____.' And Jesus says, ‘Father, listen to me for a minute, Father. You have never been human; I always have been. You never have been human in your nature; I always have been. And, Father, you never have been down there.’
"‘But did you hear what he said to those deacons?’
"‘Father, did you ever have deacons?’ And the Father says, ‘No, Son, you know better than that. I never had deacons.’
“And Jesus says, ‘I did.’ He said, ‘I’ve been down there.’ He said, ‘When I died, the chairman of my board was out cussing. The treasurer was committing suicide. And all the board members forsook Me and fled.’
“What He says is, ‘Father, have mercy on____.' Thank God, there’s somebody in the heavenlies who understands me."
“[Jesus] sits today at the right hand of God the Father, Jehovah God, and He says, ‘Father, let me tell you what it’s like'."
“You know why I can come boldly to the throne of grace this morning? 'Cause Jesus is there softening God the Father up for me before I get there.”
“God the Father and God the Son don’t see Heaven alike. God the Father sees Heaven as God. God the Son sees Heaven as God sees it and as man sees it. So He can reach out and fellowship with God and reach out and fellowship with man.” (Are we to understand from this that God the Father can’t reach out and fellowship with man because He has no humanity? Perish the thought! – Ed)
Is the Heavenly Father one who looks down at His frail, failing children and says, “I think I’ll kill old so-and-so”? Of course not, and it is an insult to what the Bible teaches about God the Father to infer it. David said of the Father, “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee” (Psalm 86:5). And again, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy…. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust…. But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children” (Psalm 103:8,10-14,17). Jeremiah expressed it, “It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22,23).
Instead of the Father being someone who doesn’t understand us, David declares above, “HE KNOWETH OUR FRAME; he remembereth that we are dust.” Surely no one could misunderstand that, could he? Never forget, it is God the Father who is called “the Father of mercies” (II Corinthians 1:3). This is not said to minimize the mercy of the Son, but to show that they are equal in this attribute, even as in all the others. What a wicked sin it is to portray the Father as some kind of tyrant who doesn’t understand us, yet picture Jesus as a kind, gentle, merciful friend to whom we can always turn. It is never wise to pit one member of the Trinity against another one.
There are some other things we have learned of late about this leader that trouble us, too, but we do not have the time, space or desire to deal with them now. Some of them deal with what his members have called and told us, almost weeping, things he has said from his church pulpit. And in the sermon on Christ’s eternal humanity, he sang two choruses – he wrote them himself – that were fleshly and sensual, yet he sang them to tunes of beautiful gospel songs. Things like this trouble us.
Suffice it to say, no man is so big to be followed blindly – in our Fundamentalist movement or in any other – and it behooves the least of us to examine by the Word of God, as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11), everything the greatest among us have to say. “Search the Scriptures,” Jesus said (John 5:39). “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God,” is the way John put it (I John 4:1).
The man who does not want his preaching and teaching evaluated by the Bible has no business being in the pulpit!