Below are a couple transactions between myself and another party. I am not posting the name nor the whole of the letters from this party to myself, but what is important to the topic at hand. I do hope that it will be a blessing and edification to the body of Christ. - Tom
Perhaps the New Birth is a good starting point to discuss your thoughts and convictions regarding this issue.
There is no effort of any kind on the part of any man to be conceived in the womb. This is a picture of the spiritual birth. In saying that, something did happen in the physical world to bring conception to pass. There are means to the end. Please help me understand what you mean that the gospel does not need to be preached in order to conceive spiritual children. I realize it is not the preaching, or the style, or the popularity of the pastor, But the power of the gospel concerning Gods’ Son in the preaching that is a central part of our convictions. I agree that all God has predestined to be redeemed will run no risk of not being so. At the same time God has provided teachers and pastors, and above all the Holy Spirit to lead guide and direct.
I guess the first place that we should go is what is meant by the new birth? In the book of John, Jesus told Nicodemus that he MUST be born again but no where in that discourse does Jesus explain HOW one is born again.
John 3:3-8 “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
If the new birth had anything to do with anything that man can do, I would think that this would have been the perfect time and setting to bring it up. Yet, Jesus tells Nicodemus something that has to be but gives him no direction on how he can attain it by something that he can do. Also with looking at this discourse, notice the distinction that Jesus clearly makes in verse 6. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh;” and “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” I bring this up to ask you which of these two is referred to in the new birth. I do believe that the answer is in the previous verse. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit,...” Now I know that some have twisted these words into meaning other meanings and hyper spiritualizing them. But if you take the very basic meaning of these words, I do think that it becomes very clear what He is referring to. A child of God has two separate births. There is a natural birth which involves the water inside the womb and then there is a spiritual birth by the Spirit and we see that it has nothing to do with the flesh because of what Jesus says in verse 6. They are completely separate and cannot be combined.
If we understand the above, then we must ask ourselves a question. Can the preaching by man have anything to do with the new birth or the spiritual birth? Can anything in the flesh effect or change anything in the spirit?
You ask about my statement that the gospel does not need to be preached in order to conceive spiritual children. If we look at a verse in Hebrews, I think it will clear it up a little. “And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.” (Hebrews 8:11). Now I know that some will say that this doesn’t apply for now. I by no means want to get into any eschatology, but please bear with me. If we look at the beginning of this paragraph that includes verse 11, I think it will clear it up fairly clearly.
“¶ But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:6-13)
If verse 11 is not for today, then all of this paragraph cannot be for now either. Then that would mean that Christ has not obtained a more excellent ministry or established a better covenant. So, taken in context, this cannot be talking about a future time, but it has to be for now and applies to the present. So, then going back to verse 11: “And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.” It is very clear that it is 100% and completely a work of the Lord and that man has nothing to do with it. There is no work on man’s part. “For ALL shall know me, from the least to the greatest.” And then when we look at Ephesians, we see essentially the same thing. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) I am sure that you are very familiar with these verses. But please notice them again in light of verse 11 in Hebrews. Verse 8 says that His children are saved through faith wich is a gift of God. And then in verse 9 it very blatantly says that it is not of works. Does it specify what those works are or who does the works? No it doesn’t, but it does specifically state that it isn’t by any works whatsoever. To me, that includes our “accepting” Christ as well as someone proclaiming the truth thinking that it is an instrument (work) that the Lord has to use to save someone. And in the letter to the Philippians, Paul says this: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;” (1:29). Belief on Christ is “given” or is a “gift” of the Lord.
If there is “life giving power” when the truth of the gospel is preached, then how come more people are not quickened? What about those deaf people that can’t physically hear? What about those people who are mentally unable to physically understand the preaching of the gospel? Can we say that they are outside of God’s plan and purpose? Can we say that none of them can be children of God because of their physical limitations? Absolutely not, but that is the conclusion that one must come to if one believes that the gospel must be preached in order for God to quicken or conceive His spiritual children. To me, the preaching of the gospel is for the edification of the saints. And when those who have been given to believe and know the Lord hear the truth of the gospel, it is sweetness to their soul.
You ask, “Why preach?” Then you answer your question: “My answer is that we are instructed to and that God has given gifts to the church that include the edifying of the saints. But in that edifying of the saints men that are elect WILL be born into the kingdom. The Lord will add to the Church as he pleases. In my mind I cannot see deliverance from darkness to light without God using second causes.”
I would agree with the first part of your answer and I believe that it is scriptural. But how can you jump from edifying the saints (who are believers already) to having a birth (with unbelievers) by the same message? Especially when we take into consideration what scripture says about the natural man. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (2:14) and in his letter to the Romans, he makes this statement: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God.” (8:7) If the natural man cannot receive the things of the spirit and the carnal mind is enmity against God, then how can they hear the truth of the Gospel when preached? That is unless there is life there already? And they had already been given to believe. When Paul was on the road to Damascus to persecute and throw in jail those who believed on Christ, was there a preacher preaching to him? The obvious answer is no. This was completely of the Lord and did not include the filthiness of our flesh one bit. The Lord revealed Himself to Paul as He does to all of His children at His appointed time. I am not saying that the Lord strikes everybody blind like He did with Paul. But what I am saying that the revealing is strictly by Himself despite the situation or circumstances. Take my wife’s and my experience for example. We were going to an Arminian charismatic church when the Lord started revealing His truth to us. It definitely wasn’t because we were hearing the truth proclaimed at that place. But it was a working of the Lord on each of us distinctly and separately. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the Lord can’t reveal himself a split second before one hears the gospel preached. Which I realize that this can appear from outward circumstances that it is strictly because of what was preached. But again, there must be life there before one can receive the things of the Spirit. I love the way that you put it: “All I know is I was not looking for him, and he arrested me when I least expected it.” That is so true and even scriptural. “I am sought of them that asked nor for me; I am found of them that sought me not:” (Isaiah 65:1a) This clearly shows that it was an inner working of the Lord in His people at His appointed time. Getting back to Ephesians, Paul makes it abundantly clear that it is not by works. If we can take credit for hearing the truth, and that hearing is what caused us to be “born into the kingdom”, then don’t you think that equates with a work on our part? And if we have any part in it, then who gets the credit?
If we look at what Jesus said in the book of John we see a very important truth to what we are discussing. John 6:63 “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” If it is strictly the Spirit that quickens His children and the flesh profits nothing, then how can our hearing with the flesh have any effect on that quickening?
You then say a little further down: “Can God save men in other methods, I suppose he can, my question is does he??” Think about what you are saying for a minute. Do you really believe that God NEEDS to use man to accomplish His work? Because in essence, that is what you are saying and all those that claim that the gospel must be preached in order to save one are saying. Which brings up another important matter. Does a child of God “get saved” or were they saved from all eternity? I think the understanding of that really gets at the heart of what we are discussing above.
I think I will leave it at that for now.
I most certainly and dogmatically agree with your reference to revelation. Just because the goats in the world hear the truth, they will not become sheep; we are either sheep or goats when we come into this world. I do not wish to impose Paul’s experience on the Damascus road as a litmus test, but one thing is for sure, I am most certain that Christ WILL reveal himself to his sheep in such a way as they KNOW IT. (John 10:28-30) In The discussion with Nicodemus Jesus told him “We speak what we know” in reference to the new birth and the revelation that must be associated alongside the new birth. Nicodemus at the time did not have a clue.
If you have not picked up on it Tom, and I expect you have, I fear a passiveness in our ranks. We are thinkers, we study to show ourselves approved, and I myself have a frustration level for folks that will not crack the bible but take aim at anyone that disagrees with their easy believisim. I will admit no more than this. Regardless of the order of soteriological events, the Gospel should be preached. Is that Fair enough? And I liked your use of the word cemetery, it fits.
I am glad that you liked the little play on words with seminary/cemetery. I actually have used it quite a few times as well. I believe it wholeheartedly. Those institutions are breeding nothing but dead men who have a good works system and who use high and lofty words to attempt to impress people that they actually know what they are talking about. You know, it is that educating people into the kingdom of God mentality, which I abhor. If somebody has not been given eyes to see or ears to hear, no matter how much religion or theology someone is exposed to, it won’t do any good other than puff them up. A goat can never be a sheep just like a sheep can never be a goat.
The Gospel “is” preached and will continue to be preached as long as God has a people here on this earth! And when one who has been given ears to hear, hears the message of the gospel, it is sweetness and food for their soul and they rejoice in it!