Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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April 2004, Volume IX, Issue 24


Holding the Traditions (1)

Scripture (God’s hammer) is the more sure word that shall never pass away, for it is God-breathed and unbreakable. Though the Bible is an incomparable book, this does not mean that Christians should not also read other books.

Our various callings usually require other reading. Education (both of children and adults) and most forms of employment necessitate reading. Even reading of newspapers enables us to keep informed of the world in which we live.

The Bible actually refers to non-inspired books, such as "the book of Jasher" (Josh. 10:13) and the books of Samuel, Nathan and Gad (I Chron. 29:29). As well as citing the God-breathed OT, Paul quotes (without naming) some pagan authors, such as, Aratus (Acts 17:28), Epimenides (Titus 1:12) and Menander (I Cor. 15:33).

But what about "tradition?" "Doesn’t the Roman church vaunt her tradition? Surely all tradition is bad." What then do you make of II Thessalonians 2:15 (a text oft quoted by apologists of Romanism and Eastern Orthodoxy): "brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions?" Not only is there a positive reference to "traditions" in this verse, but the text also urges Christians to "stand fast" and "hold" them.

But what does Rome means by tradition? Rome believes that God’s Word consists of two parts, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Both have God as their source and they are to be received with equal respect and veneration. Either (or both) can be used to establish or prove a doctrine. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (quoting Vatican II) declares that Rome "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence" (82).

Rome’s tradition includes transubstantiation, the worship of the host, the mass as a sacrifice for the living and the dead; the immaculate conception, bodily assumption and heavenly mediation of Mary; the universal dominion and infallibility of the pope; the seven sacraments, involving auricular confession and penance; purgatory, indulgences, prayers for the dead, prayers to the saints; the rosary and the worship of idols.

Rome teaches that there is an oral transmission of God’s truth from the apostles and their successors over the centuries within the (Roman) church. Some of this tradition is now written in the decisions of the ecumenical and Roman councils, the papal pronouncements, and the writings of the church fathers and the doctors of the church. Unwritten tradition will be disclosed in future Roman dogmas. The magisterium (the Roman church’s teaching office) determines what is Sacred Tradition and what is not. But is all this what II Thessalonians 2:15 has in mind by "traditions?" Rev. Stewart

Achan’s Sin and Punishment (2)

And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath: because he hath transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel (Josh. 7:15).

A reader asks, "Would you please explain to me what was the accursed thing mentioned in Joshua 8:15, and why was the punishment to severe?"

Last time, I recounted some of the history of Achan’s sin and called attention to the fact that God had pronounced all that was in Jericho accursed. The Hebrew word "accursed" means "devoted to God." That which is accursed is also devoted to God.

Achan’s sin of stealing some of the accursed things from Jericho (a Babylonish garment, some silver and a wedge of gold) brought the curse upon him and upon the entire nation of Israel. The result was that the relatively small city of Ai decisively defeated the armies of Israel and 36 soldiers were killed.

Before we go on to answer the question which one of our readers submitted, I want to call attention to another aspect of this passage which is of crucial importance. How is it that Achan’s theft of the accursed thing brought the curse not only upon him and his family, but upon the entire nation? Clearly the nation of Israel as whole was responsible before God for Achan’s sin. Achan’s guilt came upon everyone in Israel. Achan’s curse was the curse upon the whole nation. That curse had to be removed or the nation would have perished and would never have inherited the promised land. How can Achan’s sin be the sin of the nation? That is the question. That question is underscored by the fact that the sin of Achan was secret. No one knew about it. The 36 soldiers who were killed did not know about it. No one, other than Achan’s family knew it had happened. Yet the whole nation is punished.

Remember that when God gave instructions to Israel concerning Jericho, He specifically said that anyone who took of the accursed thing in Jericho, would not only make himself accursed, but would also "make the camp of Israel a curse" (6:18).

When Israel was defeated in battle by the inhabitants of Ai, Joshua, filled with consternation, cried to God for an explanation. The Lord was rather short with him: "Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you" (7:10-12). Also God’s command shows that He lays the sin of Achan upon the whole nation: "Up sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow; for thus saith the Lord God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you" (7:13). "Israel hath sinned!" That is God’s word to Joshua.

Why does God do this? It is almost impossible for people to understand these things in our day of individualism in which the motto of people is: "Every man for himself ..." Arminianism has done this to the church. Arminianism is individualistic. It is only concerned about the individual’s relation to God, and rarely, if ever, speaks in terms of corporate responsibility and solidarity. However, Scripture is not individualistic.

A couple of examples will demonstrate this. First, Adam’s fall in Paradise brought sin upon the whole human race. This means not only that the effects of Adam’s sin were inherited by the whole human race, but also that the guilt of Adam’s sin is the guilt of all men. Every one, you and I included, are guilty of eating of the forbidden fruit and could go to hell for that sin alone. This is clearly the teaching of Romans 5:12-14.

Israel was very conscious of corporate responsibility. Neither Joshua nor Israel were surprised when God held the entire nation accountable for what Achan had done, even though when that great sin was committed they were unaware of it.

Second, when Daniel realized that the 70 years of Judah’s captivity was nearly ended, he made a remarkable prayer (Dan. 9). In that prayer, he confesses the sins of the nation which brought Judah to Babylon as his own sins as well as the sins of the nation. "We have sinned, and have committed iniquity" (5). "Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets" (6). "Unto us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee" (9). And so on. Read this beautiful chapter and learn from it.

We are always responsible for the sins of the corporate unity to which we belong, whether of our families, our church, or our country. God visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him. Wives and children suffer for the sin of drunkenness in a wicked father. Whole families suffer from the adulteries of one of the parents.

This important truth lies at the foundation of the text in Joshua. Achan’s sin is so terrible because, by it, he brought grief and sorrow upon the whole nation. Think of a father who, although he knows what grief and anguish he will bring on his wife, his children, his parents, his fellow members in the church and his acquaintances by consorting with other women, nevertheless commits adultery with them. He is certainly guilty of the adultery which he committed; but he is also guilty of the suffering he brought upon those who are part of his life. That makes his sin all the more terrible. Achan was responsible for the death of 36 soldiers.

In other words, although the guilt of Achan’s sin was the guilt of the entire nation, Achan’s sin stood as the cause of it, and his guilt was the greater. Prof. H. Hanko

The Lukewarm Church (4)

It only remains to tidy up some loose ends and flesh out further the positive interpretation of Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."

First, the "door" at which Christ stands and knocks is the heart and life of each of the members of the church at Laodicea. One could even extend this to include unbelievers who make no confession of faith in Christ, provided, of course, that Christ’s "knocking" is rightly understood.

Second, the "knocking" is the faithful proclamation of the Word of God. By this means, Jesus Christ Himself summonses men. God is holy and you are polluted before Him. There is a rap at your door to leave your carnal mindedness and vain delusions of righteousness (17) to embrace Jesus Christ. Hell looms as a bottomless cavern that is never full. This is another loud and insistent bang on the door. The atoning death of Christ is the only way of salvation for guilty sinners. Another knock! Clearly and unmistakably, men are called and summonsed by the preaching of the gospel to repentance and faith—the only way of enjoying everlasting life in Jesus Christ.

But does this not mean that Christ wants to save everybody? Is He not at the door of every man’s heart earnestly desiring to come in? No, the text says that He "stands" and knocks, not that He is on His knees and knocks. It is true that He does desire to come in to some men. Christ identifies them thus: "as many as I love;" not, "as many as I do not love." They are His sons, whom He chastens (19); not "bastards" (Heb. 12:8). Love is that which desires fellowship and communion. Christ does not love but hates the reprobate (Rom. 9:13). Thus He does not yearn to "sup" or dine (20) with them.

While all under faithful preaching hear the external knocking, only in the elect is it accompanied by the irresistible power of the Holy Spirit. "Many are called [externally], but few are chosen" and thus few receive the internal call (Matt. 22:14), for election and (effectual) calling are inseparably joined (Rom. 8:30). Many only hear the knocking with their physical ears, while others also hear the knocking with God-given spiritual ears (Matt. 13:14-16). To the former the preaching (Christ’s knocking) is a "savour of death unto death," but to His elect it is a "savour of life unto life" (II Cor. 2:16).

Third, Christ’s coming in to dine with men who "open" the door to Him does not mean that all men have the power to do this. Jesus declared, "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (John 6:44). God opens the hearts of His people (Acts 16:14) or "draws" them so that they "come" to Christ (John 6:44) willingly (Ps. 110:3). The elect are empowered by the knocking of faithful preaching to open their hearts and lives to Christ so that we consciously enjoy covenant communion with him. In the Spirit and through His Word, we sit together and dine together, fellowshipping with Him in the riches of His gospel. Rev. Stewart

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