28 January 2012

A Strange Encounter Part 1

A bereaved father, and a gospel tract loaded with perversions of the Truth

I'm not fond of fabric stores. What can I say? As a male I'm just not enthralled about walking around racks filled with bolts of cloth. I'm thrilled my wife likes to sew and make things and has some ability at doing so. However it's not a store I can stand for more than a few minutes. Whenever we visit the fabric store at the nearest shopping mall (about 30 miles from our home) I usually end up on the bench out on the concourse.

So there I was sitting and minding my own business, half engaged in people watching and half falling asleep when this clean cut man in his sixties walks up and asks me my name. I could see he was carrying some literature and my guard went up. What was this...a salesman perhaps?

I answered and then he asked where I lived? Why? I asked with a slight furrow to my brow, starting to grow even more suspicious.

He sat down beside me and told me his name and handed one of the booklets to me. It was a small 4"x8" booklet about 50 pages long and on the cover was a young man in an army dress uniform.

"My son was killed in Iraq," he said, "and I want to share his story with people. I'd like you to read this."

I sighed, a flood of ideas and emotions entering my head. I said okay and opened the booklet. Tucked inside was a gospel tract. Blazoned across the front was a flag motif with the bold words...God Bless America. I quickly opened it while he chatted for a second and I recognized it was the standard Arminian type tract with Bill Bright's 4 Spiritual laws....#1 God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life....

These tracts usually also have some kind of Decisionalistic conclusion...sign your name, say a little prayer, and sure enough...you're on the road to heaven.

On the back of the tract there was something or other about International Baptist Military Missions. I remember all too well those churches. When I was in Europe it was a group called BIMI. They set up English speaking Baptist churches outside of military bases overseas. They're not really trying to target the local population, they're trying to reach the small city that is any military installation. It gets real patriotic let me tell you...a church full of nothing but American military. The pastors are often (but not always) retired military themselves. It's easier for them to live overseas next to a base because with their retiree ID card they can use the base facilities; in fact it's really like living in a Little America.

I'm sorry to say but I was actually baptized in one of these churches in 1995. I with some friends was attending there. I was quite uneasy about it even though I had only professed Christ for a matter of a few short months. In that time I had already read and studied enough to realize the Arminian Dispensational teaching of my youth, also represented in this Baptist church was quite erroneous. In addition this particular type of Baptist church was the firebrand, legalistic type which also held to King James only-ism.

There are folks who prefer the King James Bible (and often the New King James version) because of issues related to the Greek text of the New Testament. They employ the texts traditionally used by the Church. Virtually all modern Bible translations employ the Critical (or sometimes called the Alexandrian) Text based on newer found manuscripts, fragments and papyri. The Critical Text claims to be older than the Traditional text and so many have gone along with it. A problem arises when one realizes the Critical text removes a few passages of Scripture... John 7.53-8.11, Mark 16.9-20, and others, as well as clauses and fragments from many verses. But it's older, some argue. But that means for centuries the Church has been using the wrong text...others argue back. This is a pretty interesting issue that maybe I'll tackle at another time. All I'll say is that there are many conservative Bible believing Christians who knowing or unknowing have rejected the concept of Providential Preservation...the notion that God brought together the canon and has preserved it through the ages. The pro-Critical proponents have arguments as well, but as I said that's for another time.

There's another small sect which goes far beyond the Greek textual question. They actually believe the English language 1611 King James Bible is inspired. We all believe the Bible is inspired, but usually that is understood to mean the Hebrew and Greek texts are inspired...the originals, or Autographs. Our translations are inspired only in so far as they accurately reflect the original texts. Mistakes can be made in translation but that in no way harms the doctrine of Inspiration.

The King James Only movement argues the English translation is inspired. They believe the Holy Spirit was at work in the hands of the English translators and that today if you're going to translate the Bible into some obscure dialect of Swahili then you use the King James as the Autograph, the original. You don't need the Greek and Hebrew anymore.

Obviously this movement has little marketability outside the English speaking world and I don't know that it has really even spread outside of American circles. Cultish to say the least, there is a small but vibrant community of churches which hold to this frankly bizarre doctrine. You can always tell when you see the Church sign. We have a few of them around this region where I live. The sign outside their building will say something like:

Grace Baptist Church

Independent, Fundamental, Bible-Believing, Soul-Winning, KJV-only.

I immediately know exactly what they're all about. Though they decry uniform liturgy and tradition, I can assure you they are all almost carbon copies of each other.

We shall return to this a bit later in the story.


Cal said...

Just as a note of terminology:

I don't think I would just call the typical dispensational-arminian tract 'arminian'. Decisional regeneration is not what was articulated in the Remonstrants and not necessarily something Wesley would've supported.

Perhaps a better word, to go along a similar grain, is 'hyper-arminianism'.

Protoprotestant said...

True, modern Arminianism whether Baptist eternal-security variety or Wesleyan Perfectionistic variety...are not exactly the same as the 17th century party in the Netherlands. Even they weren't quite in line with Arminius himself.

But in a broader sense, I'm simply referring to the whole doctrinal body of ideas that places the primary emphasis, usually in a systematic or rationalistic fashion on the necessity of Free Will.

And not just Free Will, but a sort of libertarian type of Free Will based on philosophical commitments.

Some have preferred Semi-Pelagian, but to be frank a lot of modern Evangelicalism and certainly the theology found in the Mainline Churches is nothing more than Pelagianism.

Just curious, have you read any of the stuff I wrote awhile back about the 5pts of Calvinism? I can agree with them, but I consider it a fruit of systematics, not text based Redemptive-Historical Theology...AND, I think the 5pts are a Reductionism. I think on at least 3 of the pts if not all 5 I can argue in some sense for the reciprocal point also being true.

Make any sense?

Cal said...

I've read some of your stuff on the 5pts, misunderstanding Amyraut, going through Scripture with the idea of Election.

My point is that what free-willism and the semi-pelagianism of some evangelical groups is not 'Arminianism' but a bastardization of it. It's 'hyper-Armianism'.

I don't think for one second Arminius was trying to sift the Scriptures with 'Free-Will' as much pushing back against the rationalized take by the Dutch in what was formulated as TULIP. Beza went in a very different direction than Calvin.

I'm not quite sure where I stand, I'm not free-willist, and TULIP is (I agree) too sytematized. I find serious problems with some of the 5 points(this is where I disagree). I'll have to do more reading on Arminius and Dort

Protoprotestant said...

I agree. The whole business got muddled. Calvinists today argue vigorously over whether or not there was a shift in Calvinism.

People like me argue today's Calvinism is really more Beza-ism or Turretinism. There's the argument over whether this is so, and then the argument over the why.

The famous quote from Arminius is rather telling...

"Next to the perusal of the Scriptures, which I earnestly inculcate, I exhort my pupils to peruse CALVIN’S commentaries, which I extol in loftier terms than Helmich himself; for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison in the interpretation of Scripture, and that his commentaries ought to be more highly valued than all that is handed down to us by the Library of the Fathers; so that I acknowledge him to have possessed above most others, or rather above all other men, what may be called an eminent gift of prophecy."

Hardly a sentiment many 'Arminians' of today could resonate with.

Dordt was definitely a turning point. I find the civil associations to be most disturbing.

I used to be a big Calvin fanatic and these subjects (both historical and theological) still interest me...but obviously vindication Calvin and his legacy is not something I'm interested in.

I think the answer is found in Dialectic mystery. I'm both a Determinist and a Libertarian Free Willer.

But in terms of salvation, many misunderstand what's being referred to. Few are really denying that man has some kind of Free Will...they're simply saying the Will is in a state of captivity to sin. It's free, but because of sin will always choose the evil and the wrong. It's in bondage as Luther said.

So then you get into the whole...can God command us or require of us something that we're unable to do?

Yes he can. But also, the Scriptures seem to speak in language representative of temporal human experience.

Sure I repented and believed in response to the gospel. Later as I learned more I realized I wouldn't have been seeking if He first had not been seeking for me. It's like we learn the back story and the inner mechanisms of what's happening.

But in terms of human experience I had to repent and believe.

Or like Judas...he was foreordained to betray Jesus, but he still did it of his own free will and was held accountable for it.

Awesome and troubling. Disturbing and comforting.

Jim said...

"The King James Only movement argues the English translation is inspired"

I have been working on a KJVO only thread for weeks in my spare time and you steal my thunder. I have some KJVO friends so I started studying this, particularly the good kings outlawing of the Geneva Bible and changes he made from Wycliff/Tynsdale/Geneva (The three existing versions translated from textus receptus that he all but abolished).

-Jim (fleebabylon)

Protoprotestant said...

Well I didn't mean to steal your thunder!

By all means keep writing about it...it's a small group, but they do a great deal of damage.

The bummer is...I've had people lump me in with them because I argue for the Byzantine Text type vs. the Alexandrian.

That's an important issue dealing with Canon and Providential Preservation of the text.

But they take it into a strange direction!