Monday, August 2, 2010

When The Text Says Otherwise

A friend of mine is in town to visit me for the next month as well as attend a wedding of another friend of ours. This morning, we stayed up until after 7am laughing our heads off at one another. Let’s just say that we’re catching up on all the fun moments we’ve missed in the past year (can you believe she abandoned me for a year? LOL).

In any case, today was a good day to get up and listen to some preaching done on a church podcast. The sermon my friend and I listened to today was the first sermon done in a new series on Parables. The text? Matthew 13:1-23. Let’s examine that text now:

3 Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. 6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

18 “Therefore hear the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. 20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. 23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23, New King James Version)

The sermon was on the four different soils, but I was dying to hear what the preacher had to say about the seed sown on the stony soil (“stony places”).

When the sermon arrived at verse 20, things got interesting. The preacher actually stated before the congregation that this passage referred to a believer, a Christian! In fact, he used this verse to exhort the congregation about the fact that “all who are in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” a reference to 2 Timothy 3:12. 2 Timothy 3:12 aptly supports the view that the seed on the stony places refers to a Christian (“when tribulation or persecution arises BECAUSE OF THE WORD,” v.21).

What we find in this text is that a Christian can fall away because of suffering or persecution. And “the word” in the text is “the word of the kingdom” (v.19), which is “the word of God.”

What the text tells us then, is that a believer can fall away from the faith. The question then becomes, “Why then, do we argue for eternal security?” Why is it that we come to passages in John that state that “no man can pluck them out of My hand” or passages like Romans 8 that state “nothing shall separate you from the love of God” and conclude that a believer cannot fall away from the faith?

The truth of the matter is, Matthew 13 must be considered equally on par with the other passages of Scripture that seem to argue that a believer cannot fall away. Scripture cannot (with qualification) argue for BOTH unconditional AND conditional security. The question becomes, “How can we interpret both texts such that they work together and not contradict each other?” In other words, a person can have “eternal security” if they “eternally believe” and “eternally endure” (or as Jesus says, “endure to the end,” Matt. 10, 24). In the words of Isaiah from the Lord, “The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance FOREVER” (Isaiah 32:17, NKJV). However, the basis for security in Christ is faith (Rom. 11:20ff), and if faith is thrown off (as in the case of the seed on rocky soil), then that person can have no assurance of their salvation. “Do not cast away your confidence which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:35-36, NKJV).

The preacher exposited the text correctly, and for that, I am thankful. But did he even think about how it directly relates to the Calvinistic Doctrine of Eternal Security? He may have or may not have. Still, though, the passage of the seed possessing temporary faith must be explained in the Calvinist context; and the logical conclusion arrived at in this system must be, as John Calvin affirmed, “God gives faith, and God takes it away”...and I’m not so sure that most self-proclaimed Calvinists are willing to go that far.

Surprisingly, he said that the Word is the ultimate authority source...and that, if he is wrong, then his congregation should follow the Word (according to him, it wouldn’t offend). When it comes to the Word, either Matthew 13 (as well as Mark 4 and Luke 8) regarding the Parable of the Sower is right...or wrong. If it’s true, then I think the preacher’s word on this text is correct. Nevertheless, it does contradict his view of the Doctrine of Perseverance/Eternal Security. And, do we not always say that “the Bible does not contradict”?

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