Monthly Archives: August 2012

Did John Calvin believe in limited atonement?

John Calvin: Barcelona, Spain (1554)

Courtesy Wikipedia

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Did John Calvin (AD 1509-1564) support limited atonement? In the early days of his writing when he was aged 26, he completed the first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion. In the Institutes, he wrote:

I say with Augustine, that the Lord has created those who, as he certainly foreknew, were to go to destruction, and he did so because he so willed. Why he willed it is not ours to ask, as we cannot comprehend, nor can it become us even to raise a controversy as to the justice of the divine will. Whenever we speak of it, we are speaking of the supreme standard of justice (Institutes 3.23.5).

Here Calvin affirmed that God willed the destruction of unbelievers. Calvin continues:

their perdition depends on the predestination of God, the cause and matter of it is in themselves. The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should: why he deemed it meet, we know not. It is certain, however, that it was just, because he saw that his own glory would thereby be displayed (Institutes 3.23.8)

While this description is tied up with Calvin’s view of double predestination, it is linked with the doctrine of limited atonement in that it would be impossible for God to predestine unbelievers to eternal damnation and yet provide unlimited atonement that was available to them, unto the possibility of salvation. That is the logical connection, as I understand it.

Roger Nicole has written an article on “John Calvin’s view of the extent of the atonement”. This indicates that Calvin did not believe in limited atonement, but that it was a doctrine originated by Calvinists following Calvin. But at the end of the article he stated, ‘Our conclusion, on balance, is that definite [limited] atonement fits better than universal grace into the total pattern of Calvin’s teaching’.

Calvin’s first edition of The Institutes was in Latin in 1536 and this was published in a French edition in 1560.

John Calvin did progress in his thinking when he wrote his commentaries on the Bible later in life. His first commentary was on the Book of Romans in 1540 and his commentaries after 1557 were taken from stenographer’s notes taken from lectures to his students.

Calvin wrote in his commentary on John 3:16,

Faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish….

That whosoever believeth on him may not perish. It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.

Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith (bold emphasis added).

Thus, John Calvin himself is very clear here. He believed in unlimited atonement because a limited atonement would not make sense in light of his statement about John 3:16 that ‘he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers’. If unbelievers were destined for eternal destruction by the predestination of God, they would have an excuse, ‘God destined it that way, so I have no alternative but to go to eternal condemnation’. Calvin’s language is unequivocal in John 3:16 that the ‘whosoever’ meant ‘all indiscriminately’ and that no unbeliever would have an excuse before God.

What about his commentary on 1 John 2:2? This verse states, ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’ (ESV). This is speaking of Jesus’ blood sacrifice. Was his suffering for the sins of the entire world or only for the elect, as Calvinists teach?

Calvin believed unlimited atonement

In his commentary on 1 John 2:2, John Calvin wrote:

Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world and in the goodness of God is offered unto all men without distinction; His blood being shed not for a part of the world only but for the whole human race. For although in the world nothing is found worthy of the favor of God yet He holds out the propitiation to the whole world, since without exception He summons all to the faith of Christ which is nothing else than the door unto hope.[1]

I was alerted to this content of Calvin in Augustus Hopkins Strong’s systematic theology (1907:778). I have the hardcover edition, but it is available online at: Google Books (Accessed 28 August 2012). Strong begins his introduction to this quote from Calvin in 1 John 2:2, ‘In later days Calvin wrote in his Commentary on 1 John 2:2….’ (Strong 1907:778). However, I have not been able to source this quote from Calvin online, although one poster in a Forum stated that it was from an earlier edition of Calvin’s commentaries published by Eerdmans.

However, Strong’s statement is not what Calvin wrote earlier in his commentary on this verse as the succeeding quote demonstrates.

Roger Nicole’s assessment of Calvin on the atonement is in, ‘Calvin’s view of the extent of the atonement’.

To try to uncover the original source of Calvin’s quote, I started a thread on Christian Forums, ‘Calvin on the Atonement’ (29 August 2012). The only helpful comment in trying to identify this quote has been from LamorakDesGalis:

I believe Eerdman’s was founded in 1911, so its unlikely that they were the publisher. I think it likely that Strong had access to Calvin’s Opera Omnia[2], a massive Latin work of 59 volumes, and probably translated it from the Latin.
The quote from Strong is consistent with what Calvin has stated in many places. The early Reformers – Luther, Zwingli, Bullinger – held to universal atonement. Calvin was no exception, and his comments throughout his works are very clear. For example Calvin’s commentary for Romans 5:18 where he states that Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world:

He makes this favor common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him.[3]

Also Calvin’s commentary for Mark 14:24, where Calvin clarifies what is meant by “many”:[4]

Which is shed for many. By the word many he means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race[/b]; for he contrasts many with one; as if he had said, that he will not be the Redeemer of one man only, but will die in order to deliver many from the condemnation of the curse.[5]

How would a Calvinist reply to these citations from Rom. 5:18 and Mark 14:24 in support of universal atonement? Here is one example:

This is the quote from Calvin’s Commentaries on Romans 5:18:
“He makes this favor common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him.”

What Calvin is saying is that the OFFER is to all, but all do not receive him, so even though the offer is to all, the atonement is not extended to all.

[Of Mark 14:24],

What Calvin means is simply that Christ died for the world, in the sense that He died not just for Jews, or for the French, etc. but that He died for peoples from every nation tribe and tongue, which together represent the entire human race. Similar to reading Scripture, to properly understand an author, we have to read them in their proper context. To say that John Calvin held to a “universal atonement” is simply not consistent within the context of his writings as a whole.[6]

Why would Augustus Strong do this?

It is important to understand that Augustus Strong was a Calvinist. The Reformed Reader states:

Augustus Hopkins Strong is perhaps the most notable Baptist theologian of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.  His place in a compendium of Baptist theologians is central.  In some cases he must be read in order to understand the theological writings of others.   Strong taught and wrote his orthodox theology from a committed, reformed, Baptist perspective, while at the same time rigorously engaging intellectual developments within his cultural context.  Strong’s magnum opus, the Systematic Theology, embodied the best of his own theological reflection and of Baptist theological thought prior to the momentous crisis (the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy).

The Hall of Church History: The Baptists notes that ‘Augustus Strong, another well-known Baptist theologian, was an Amyraldian (four-point Calvinist)’. Elwell’s Handbook of Evangelical Theologians states that ‘The dominant influence at Rochester Theological Seminary when Strong was a student there was Ezekiel Robinson. As a preacher and theologian, Robinson made a great impression on Strong, shaping his theology into a Calvinist mold’.

Strong was writing from a perspective of sympathy with Calvinism. We don’t know the reasons for this amalgamation of Calvin’s teaching against limited atonement (from a synthesis of comments in his commentaries), but it may have been to show that Calvin did not support limited atonement. We know this from Calvin’s commentaries on Mark 14:24, John 3:16, Romans 5:18 and 1 John 2:2.

Calvin believed limited atonement

However, Calvin’s online edition of 1 John 2:2 states:

And not for ours only He added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel.

Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ[7] suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world.

In earlier days, did Calvin believe limited atonement? See the Institutes.

See the quotes at the beginning of this article from Institutes 3.23.5 and Institutes 3.23.8. However, these have to do with double predestination and not limited atonement. In Calvin’s works, I cannot read support for limited atonement, but I have not read all of his voluminous writings.

On Christian Forums a person alerted me to this article that helps to explain how Strong got his quote, ‘Augustus H. Strong (1836-1921) on Calvin on the Extent of the Atonement’. This is part of what that author wrote:

There is no evidence that Calvin held to limited atonement early in his life, and then moved to embrace unlimited atonement later. 2) Regarding the second comment, Strong’s formatting leaves much to be desired. At first glance, it may appear that Strong is extracting a single quotation from Calvin, and that from his commentary on 1 John 2:2. Strong is quoting free separate sources from Calvin’s commentaries. Firstly, Calvin’s comments on 1 John 2:2, and then the three separate references: Romans 5:18, Mark 14:24, and lastly John 3:16. For the last, Strong appears to be citing an older unknown translation of Calvin on John 3:16, or perhaps his own translation. Early English translations of Calvin on John 3:16 translated propitium as reconciliation or propitiation. 4) Thus Strong has extracted multiple comments from Calvin and then collapsed them into an apparently single quotation string.

That helps me to understand that Calvin never believed in limited atonement and that Strong’s assessment is from a variety of Calvin’s commentaries.

Here is further information on Calvin’s teaching on unlimited expiation.

Here I update the above assessment where further research has discovered that Calvin did not believe Jesus’ death was for the whole world of sinners. See my further assessment in:

Was John Calvin a TULIP Calvinist?

Further research

In my further investigation of Calvin on his view of the atonement, I discovered he was a fence-sitter. Sometimes he believed in universal atonement for the whole world and at other times it was limited to the elect. See the further research at: Was John Calvin a TULIP Calvinist?

I am left to conclude this was his conclusion concerning the atonement:

(photo courtesy Linda Sumruld)

What did the early church fathers say?

Church Fathers, 11th century Kievan minature: Wikipedia

Quotations from the Early Church Fathers

In this link you will find quotations by Ron Rhodes from church fathers affirming universal atonement. However, Ron has gathered these quotes from secondary sources. Not once in this link does he acknowledge the primary sources for these quotes. However, he does give secondary sources (in footnotes) in ‘The extent of the atonement’, but he is quoting other Christian authors and not directly from the church fathers. In what follows, I have attempted to follow up his quotes from the primary sources available on the www. What I found in some cases was that many of these quotes from the secondary sources were not confirmed in a www search. But Rhodes’ quotes from the early church fathers seem to have been accepted by many people using his quotes from his article.[8]

Let’s check out the primary sources online to see if some of the early church fathers (the ones mentioned by Ron Rhodes) supported unlimited atonement!

clip_image002Clement of Alexandria (150-220):‘He bestows salvation on all humanity abundantly’ (Paedagogus 1.11). ‘For instruction leads to faith, and faith with baptism is trained by the Holy Spirit. For that faith is the one universal salvation of humanity’ (Paedagogus 1.6). Elsewhere it has been stated by Ron Rhodes that Clement of Alexandria taught, ‘Christ freely brings… salvation to the whole human race’.[4][9] However, I’ve been unable to find these exact quotes in the writings of Clement of Alexandria.

clip_image002[1]Eusebius (260-340): ‘the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, and of His human body…. This Sacrifice was the Christ of God, from far distant times foretold as coming to men, to be sacrificed like a sheep for the whole human race’ (Demonstratio Evangelica, Bk 1, Introduction, ch. 10). ‘His Strong One forsook Him then, because He wished Him to go unto death, even “the death of the cross,” and to be set forth as the ransom and sacrifice for the whole world…. to ransom the whole human race, buying them with His precious Blood from their former slavery to their invisible tyrants, the unclean daemons, and the rulers and spirits of evil’ (Demonstratio Evangelica, Bk 10, ch 8).

clip_image002[2]Athanasius (293-373), in The Incarnation of the Word, wrote: ‘None could renew but He Who had created. He alone could (1) recreate all, (2) suffer for all, (3) represent all to the Father’ (7, heading). ‘all creation was confessing that He that was made manifest and suffered in the body was not man merely, but the Son of God and Saviour of all’ (19.3); ‘or who among those recorded in Scripture was pierced in the hands and feet, or hung at all upon a tree, and was sacrificed on a cross for the salvation of all?’ (37.1)

It has been quoted frequently across the www that Athanasius stated, ‘Christ the Son of God, having assumed a body like ours, because we were all exposed to death [which takes in more than the elect], gave Himself up to death for us all as a sacrifice to His Father’.[5] [10]However, I have been unable to find this exact quote in Athanasius.

clip_image002[3]Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386): ‘And wonder not that the whole world was ransomed; for it was no mere man, but the only-begotten Son of God, who died on its behalf’ (Catacheses – or Catehetical Lectures 13.2).

clip_image002[4]Cyril of Alexandria (A.D. 376-444) taught that we confess that he is the Son, begotten of God the Father, and Only-begotten God; and although according to his own nature he was not subject to suffering, yet he suffered for us in the flesh according to the Scriptures, and although impassible, yet in his Crucified Body he made his own the sufferings of his own flesh; and by the grace of God he tasted death for all…. he tasted death for every man, and after three days rose again, having despoiled hell.’ (Third epistle to Nestorius). ‘Giving His own Blood a ransom for the life of all’ (That Christ is one).

On the Internet, I have read many examples of this quote, “The death of one flesh is sufficient for the ransom of the whole human race, for it belonged to the Logos, begotten of God the Father.” (Oratorio de Recta Fide, no. 2, sec. 7). I have not yet located it on the www.

clip_image002[5]Gregory of Nazianzen (324-389): ‘He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; but He redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the Price was His own blood.  As a sheep He is led to the slaughter, but He is the Shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also’ (Oration XXIX, The third theological oration on the Son, XX).

I was unable to locate the quote, ‘the sacrifice of Christ is an imperishable expiation of the whole world’, allegedly from Oratoria 2 in Pasch., i.e., Passover.

clip_image002[6]Basil of Caesarea, Basil the Great(330-379): “But one thing was found that was equivalent to all men….the holy and precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He poured out for us all” (On Ps. 49:7, 8, sec. 4 or Psalm 48, n.4). I have been unable to track down this quote on the www.

clip_image002[7]Ambrose (340-407): “Christ suffered for all, rose again for all. But if anyone does not believe in Christ, he deprives himself of that general benefit.” He also said, “Christ came for the salvation of all, and undertook the redemption of all, inasmuch as He brought a remedy by which all might escape, although there are many who…are unwilling to be healed” [supposedly from Ps. 118, Sermon 8]. I have not yet located it online.

clip_image002[8]Augustine (AD 354-430): Though Augustine is often cited as supporting limited atonement, there are also clear statements in Augustine’s writings that are supportive of unlimited atonement. For example: ” The Redeemer came, and gave a price; He poured forth His Blood, and bought the whole world. You ask what He bought? You see what He has given; find out then what He bought. The Blood of Christ was the price. What is equal to this? What, but the whole world? What, but all nations?” (Exposition on Psalm 96.5). He also stated, “For the blood of Christ was shed so efficaciously for the remission of all sins” (Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 92.1).

clip_image002[9]Prosper of Aquitaine (a friend and disciple of Augustine, ca. AD 390-455): “As far as relates to the magnitude and virtue of the price, and to the one cause of the human race, the blood of Christ is the redemption of the whole world: but those who pass through this life without the faith of Christ, and the sacrament of regeneration, do not partake of the redemption” (Responses on Behalf of Augustine to the Articles of Objections Raised by the Vincentianists, 1, part of this quote is available at, Classical Christianity). Unfortunately, I have not been able to source this online from a site for Prosper of Aquitaine.

He also wrote: ‘Wherefore, the whole of mankind, whether circumcised or not, was under the sway of sin, in fetters because of the very same guilt. No one of the ungodly, who differed only in their degree of unbelief, could be saved without Christ’s Redemption. This Redemption spread throughout the world to become the good news for all men without any distinction’ (Prosper of Aquitaine, The Call of All Nations, p. 119).

The following are citations from secondary sources for Prosper of Aquitaine, but I have been unable to locate primary sources on the www: He also said, “The Savior is most rightly said to have been crucified for the redemption of the whole world.” He then said, “Although the blood of Christ be the ransom of the whole world, yet they are excluded from its benefit, who, being delighted with their captivity, are unwilling to be redeemed by it.”

For an assessment of the biblical material, see my article, ‘Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement?

See also:


Strong, A H 1907. Systematic Theology, three vols in one. Philadelphia: The Judson Press.


[1] This quote also is cited by other writers online but no reference is given to the primary source by Calvin, examples being:





(5) /What%20Should%20Southern%20Baptist%20have%20to%20do%204884.htm;



[2] He gave this information about this source: Ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia. Edited by G. Baum, E. Cunitz, and E. Reuss. 59 vols. Corpus Reformatorum 29–87. Brunswick: Schwetschke, 1863–1900. Calvin’s Opera Omnia is available online at PRDL | Welcome to The Post-Reformation Digital Library – in Latin. I’m not really aware of any English translations.

[3] I located this quote online from Calvin’s commentary on Romans 5:18, available at: (Accessed 31 August 2012).

[4] I sourced this quote of Calvin from: (Accessed 31 August 2012).

[5] Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Calvin on the atonement’, LamorakDesGalis#18. Available at: (Accessed 31 August 2012).

[6] Apologetic Warrior #19, available at: (Accessed 31 August 2012).

[7] The footnote at this point was, ‘“It seems to me that the Apostle is to be understood as speaking only of all those who believe, whether Jews or Gentiles, over the whole world.” — Doddridge. — Ed’. This seems to be an imposition on the text in light of Calvin’s comments about “all the world”, “the whole human race”, “extended to all”, etc. in Mark 14:24; John 3:16; Rom. 5:18 and 1 John 2:2.

[8] Here are a few examples:;;

[9] Ron Rhodes 1996. The extent of the atonement: Limited atonement versus unlimited atonement (Part 2), available at: (Accessed 28 August 2012). Rhodes gives the reference as Paedagogus, ch. 11. However, there is no such reference as there are three books (online) each with a ch. 11, but the quote is not to be found in any of these chapters.

[10] One example is in Ron Rhodes cited above at: (Accessed 28 August 2012).

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 July 2019.


I can’t do it on my own – the testimony of Nick Vujicic

Nick Vujicic, courtesy Wikipedia

By Spencer D Gear

I have seen a news item on Australian TV’s ‘60 Minutes’ program about Nick Vujicic who was born without legs and arms from tetra-amelia syndrome, 4 December 1982. For limbs, he has only what he calls a chicken leg of a foot.

However, I was introduced to his victorious Christian testimony in this YouTube video, God is sufficient  (it has German subtitles but all of the talking is in English). Enjoy! And praise God for the opportunities He gives, no matter what the disability in life.

Here is an amazing story with amazing apologetic impact. My trials and difficulties, three bouts of rheumatic fever as a child and 4 mitral valve surgeries as an adult,  are trivial compared with this man’s, but his testimony for Christ is amazing. His God is sufficient for him to have a victorious life in the midst of severe disabilities.

Nick was born to a Serbian pastor and his wife in Brisbane, Australia. Read his story in Wikipedia, Nick Vujicic. This article states that ‘Vujicic graduated from Griffith University at the age of 21 with a double major in accountancy and financial planning’. Did you get it? Without arms and legs and he completed a bachelor’s degree with a double major by the age of 21? He certainly can’t do it on his own. His God is sufficient for all his needs.

On 10 February 2012, Nick married Kenae Miyahara in California, USA. See the story, ‘Limbless evangelist Nick Vuijicic  honeymoons with new wife in Hawaii’. At the time of this writing, they are expecting their first child. See, ‘Limbless Evangelist Nick Vujicic Announces Breaking News: We are Expecting!’ (The Gospel Herald, 22 August 2012).

Is there any disability that you have that could be more severe than Nick’s? I found this testimony to be an amazing testimony and defense of the vibrant Christian faith in such a practical ministry to school youth and to prisoners (in the YouTube video).

He has a developing ministry, Life without Limbs. Read some more of this inspiring man’s message in, ‘Who validates you?

Courtesy Wikipedia

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.


How bad is the downgrade in your evangelical church?

Image result for downgrade clip art public domain

By Spencer D Gear

‘I know you are aware of the contemporary nature of [our church], and this nature flows through all areas of our life, and most definitely home groups’.

A pastor’s response

What is a downgrade? provides these definitions:


[doun-greyd]Show IPA noun, adjective, adverb, verb, down·grad·ed, down·grad·ing.


1. a downward slope, especially of a road.

adjective, adverb

2. downhill.

verb (used with object)

3. to assign to a lower status with a smaller salary.

4. to minimize the importance of; denigrate: She tried to downgrade the findings of the investigation.

5. to assign a lower security classification to (information, a document, etc.).


6. on the downgrade, in a decline toward an inferior state or position: His career has been on the downgrade.

Downgrade in content at church

It has been particularly applied to the downgrade theological controversy, particularly in England. C H Spurgeon was particularly involved in what was happening in England. Erroll Hulse wrote in, “Charles Haddon Spurgeon and the Downgrade Controversy’, that

he last five years of Spurgeon’s life, 1887-1892 were troubled and saddened by the Downgrade Controversy. Spurgeon carried an enormous workload. He possessed neither the time nor the energy to pursue and remedy the widespread doctrinal decline in the B U (Baptist Union)….

The Downgrade controversy broke out when Spurgeon observed aggressive promotion of the ‘new thought’ and blatant denials of evangelical belief affecting the Baptist denomination. Calvinism, which had been the theology of both Congregationalists and Baptists, had faded away. It remained embedded in their confessional statements and in the trust deeds of hundreds of churches but not in the hearts and minds of the ministers and people. The old truths were not being attacked. They were simply ignored….

An essential part of orthodox doctrine is the truth that the impenitent will be subjected to the eternal punishment of God. With the lack of clarity this truth was undermined in three ways: 1. The teaching of conditional immortality, 2. The idea of a future probation, and 3. The universal salvation of all creation.

What is evangelical Christianity?

Here it is stated, accurately, that they are ‘the people of the Book: To know the only true God, honor and obey him, and to make him known’. It’s important to realise that ‘the original meaning of the word evangelical applied to Protestant true believers, distinguishing them from Protestant liberals and traditionalists. It had nothing to do with a specific denomination’. However, ‘it is sad to say that ‘today the word “evangelical” is losing its original meaning and does not necessarily refer to a true believer who holds to the inerrancy, authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures’.

However, I’m using the term ‘evangelical’ to mean born-again believers who are committed to the authority of Scriptures (inerrant in the originals) who who want to know the one and only Almighty God, honour Him, obey Him, and make Him known through proclamation of the Gospel and discipleship. These evangelicals will build Christ-honouring churches where the teaching of Scripture (preferably expositionally with illustration and application) is a central tenet of church practice.

I would consider that the following are core doctrines of the evangelical faith in which a born-again Christian should believe:[1]

The downgrade in Australia

This is a personal reflection. Here I reveal how pervasive this downgrade is within evangelical Christianity in Australia in 2011-2012. Even though I knew it was there when living in regional Queensland (visit one of the local seeker-sensitive churches and that becomes self-evident), I became acutely aware of it in mid 2011. My wife and I moved from a regional area to a northern Brisbane suburb to be nearer our children. Our married daughter has a significant disability and needs support and assistance as her husband works full time and I am now retired from employment.[2]

This is what we found when we went searching for an evangelical church that believed what I’ve briefly mentioned above.

Finding an evangelical church

Settling into a new area comes with its own challenges. We were praying that a church family would help us settle more easily into city life. However, finding an evangelical church in this region that does not preach and sing Bible-lite – Christianity on the downhill march – has been extremely difficult. We visited 8 churches before we came to one (North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie) that has Bible content in the hymns and preaching. However, the services are very conservative, tending towards dry traditionalism – but that’s another story. At least it is better than what we experienced elsewhere.

Highlighting this problem was a comment I received from a fellow who went to theological college with us in the early 1970s. We met up with him at a recent funeral of a dear friend. He asked where we went to church. When I mentioned a Presbyterian Church, his response was immediate, ‘You go to a church where at least they read the Bible’. What a statement about where the evangelical church is going in this region! He and his wife attend an evangelical church where the Bible is often not even opened in the service. My assessment is that it won’t remain evangelical for very long. Spurgeon’s experience is not new and the downgrade situation is happening right before our eyes. What can we do to stop it? I was hoping that I would become a voice for maturity in a local church’s house fellowship. But that won’t happen with the pastor’s refusal to give me the names of the two home group leaders and their contact details.

Please remember that these were churches whose reputation was that of being ‘evangelical’. These were not those who promote open theological liberalism.

At one of the churches we visited in our suburb, the songs and preaching (not by the pastor) were so contemporary-lite that I mentioned it to a person in a discussion we had as we were leaving the service. Since then I have emailed the pastor to see if we could join a home group in our suburb as we live in this suburb but worship in another. Here is most of the response I received (23 August 2012) in an email:

“I do remember you attending, and so I know you are aware of the contemporary nature of [our church], and this nature flows through all areas of our life, and most definitely home groups. And so if our Sunday worship service was not helpful to you in your journey with Christ, to be honest I don’t imagine our home groups would be either. Its great to see you proactively seeking fellowship outside of a Sunday and I encourage you to find yourself a group in which both yourself and [your wife] are comfortable

Blessings and peace!!”.

I did not speak to the pastor so how could he remember our attending? Somebody has blown the whistle to him about the content of our conversation at the close of the service. But this is an evangelical church in a denomination with a national reputation but the downgrade of biblical Christianity is so pervasive that it is invading the whole church milieu, including the home groups. It was rock music (I’m a former rock DJ) and the music was unsingable for me, a very average singer. The content of the lyrics could be described as nothing more than trite. They were unmemorable and, difficult to sing, and the biblical content was minimal.

However, this is the kind of church content we were exposed to, in 7 different churches in a row. They represent 2 evangelical denominations in and surrounding our suburb in northern Brisbane.

The sadness in the response of the local pastor is that his contemporary philosophy seems to have blinded him from seeing the reality of the content of the songs, the remainder of the service, and the content of the sermon. In that church service, which had music and songs that were akin to a rock concert, the songs were so unmemorable and unsingable that I can’t remember one of them. But I do remember that the Scriptures were not read in that service, not even to go with the sermon.

I expect A. W. Tozer would have a biblical heartache

Could you imagine what a person like A. W. Tozer would think of what is happening in churches of today? He died in 1963 and in his prophetic message he addressed the issues of his day, but it is just as applicable today.


Photo of A. W. Tozer, courtesy Wikipedia

In his introduction to The Best of A. W. Tozer, Warren W. Wiersbe (The Moody Church, Chicago, Illinois) wrote:

I once heard Dr. Tozer at an Evangelical Press Association conference taking to task editors who practiced what he called “super-market journalism-two columns of advertising and one aisle of reading material.” He was an exacting writer and was as hard on himself as he was on others….

What is there about A. W. Tozer’s writings that gets hold of us and will not let us go? Tozer did not enjoy the privilege of a university or seminary training, or even a Bible School education for that matter; yet he has left us a shelf of books that will be mined for their spiritual wealth until the Lord returns.

For one thing, A. W. Tozer wrote with conviction. He was not interested in tickling the ears of the shallow Athenian Christians who were looking for some new thing. Tozer redug the old wells and called us back to the old paths, and he passionately believed and practiced the truths that he taught. He once told a friend of mine, “I have preached myself off of every Bible Conference platform in the country!” The popular crowds do not rush to hear a man whose convictions make them uncomfortable.

Tozer was a mystic-an evangelical mystic-in an age that is pragmatic and materialistic. He still calls us to see that real world of the spiritual that lies beyond the physical world that so ensnares us. He begs us to please God and forget the crowd. He implores us to worship God that we might become more like Him. How desperately we need that message today!

A. W. Tozer had the gift of taking a spiritual truth and holding it up to the light so that, like a diamond, every facet was seen and admired. He was not lost in homiletical swamps; the wind of the Spirit blew and dead bones came to life. His essays are like fine cameos whose value is not determined by their size. His preaching was characterized by an intensity-spiritual intensity-that penetrated one’s heart and helped him to see God. Happy is the Christian who has a Tozer book handy when his soul is parched and he feeIs God is far away.

This leads to what I think is the greatest contribution A. W. Tozer makes in his writings: he so excites you about truth that you forget Tozer and reach for your Bible. He himself often said that the best book is the one that makes you want to put it down and think for yourself. Rarely do I read Tozer without reaching for my notebook to jot down some truth that later can be developed into a message. Tozer is like a prism that gathers the light and then reveals its beauty.[3]

What can be done?

These biblical teachings apply to today’s church:

1. Jesus warned us, ‘At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people’ (Matt 24:10-11 NIV). Some will want to make this apply only to the time of the Fall of Jerusalem, but it has broader application, as he was teaching his disciples on the Mount of Olives in this context: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you’ (24:4 NIV). We have similar warnings in 1 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 4:3-4 and Titus 1:10-16 (see an article HERE).

2. We must speak up against false teachers, as 1 Tim. 4:6 states, ‘If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed’ (NIV).

3. When churches reduce or downplay the content of Scripture in sermons and songs, they are engaging in a downgrade of biblical content. While this may not be specifically promoting false teaching, it is like calling a diseased pineapple a true, genuine pineapple that is suitable for human consumption. Diseased pineapples are sick pineapples. Thus, sick, Bible-lite churches are diseased churches and they need to be called back to their biblical base in all of life.

4. Bill Hybels has admitted what his seeker-sensitive approach has done to the churches that have adopted his philosophy. Hybels stated in 2007 that his experiment had become a failure:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.[4]

Michael Craven’s comment on the Willow Creek survey of its people was:

The shortcoming of this approach is made apparent in the fact that the “most dissatisfied” group within the church, according to the survey, was those considered to be the most spiritually mature. Their chief complaints? “They desire much more challenge and depth from the services” and “60 percent would like to see more in-depth Bible teaching”—the very things that the seeker-sensitive model diminishes.[5]

But, has this confession made any difference to Bill Hybels? Is he repentant of his past seeker-sensitive mistakes? Not at all! This report stated:

It is no new thing that Willow Creek wishes to “transform the planet.” They are part of the emerging spirituality that includes Rick Warren and many other major Christian leaders who believe the church will usher in the kingdom of God on earth before Christ returns. This dominionist, kingdom-now theology is literally permeating the lecture halls of many Christian seminaries and churches, and mysticism is the propeller that keeps its momentum. If Willow Creek hopes to transform the planet, they won’t be able to get rid of the focus on the mystical (i.e., contemplative). Their new Fall 2007 Catalog gives a clear picture of where their heart lies, with resources offered by New Age proponent Rob Bell, contemplative author Keri Wyatt Kent, and the Ancient Future Conference with emerging leaders Scot McKnight and Alan Hirsch as well as resources by Ruth Haley Barton and John Ortberg. Time will tell what Willow Creek intends to do about strengthening its focus on “spiritual practices” and “transform[ing] the planet.”[6]

Southern Baptist, James T Draper wrote in 2006,

The desire to be overly seeker-sensitive is pulling us away from proclaiming the hard truth of the Gospel. The Gospel is an offense! A righteous man was nailed to a cross. There was a beating involved, and blood shed. We must not water that down. We cannot compromise the reality of the Gospel under the guise of relevancy. Relevancy is earned when churches – Christians – acting as the hands of Christ, touch the wounded hearts and souls of those around them. When Christians act like Jesus, bear the burdens of others like Jesus, suffer with others like Jesus, then we will be more effective in verbally sharing the pointed truths of the Gospel with them like Jesus. What’s more, the lost will drink in the message like a thirsty man wandering in a desert drinks in cool, clean water.[7]

5. The key is that concerned Christians cannot continue to sit silent in the pews and let the dumbing down of biblical Christianity to continue in their churches. You need to speak up, based on 1 Timothy 4:6. To be able to do this in a strong, courteous way and remain strong in your Christian walk, you need at least one other Christian to pray with you before, during and after this action. You will become a target of the enemy of your soul, so be prepared: Ephesians 6:10-20 (NIV)


[1] Some of these were suggested on the ‘People of the Book’ website, available at: (Accessed 24 August 2012). However, I’ve reframed the points – mainly!

[2] I became a full-time student, working on a PhD in New Testament, in 2011 as a means to sharpen the ‘iron’ of my mind and to be of help in a local church or teaching institution.

[3] The Best of A. W. Tozer (online). Available at: (Accessed 24 August 2012). It was not stated which edition of ‘The Best of A. W. Tozer’ is intended. However, the Wikipedia article on Tozer stated that three volumes of ‘The Best of….’ Series have been published. These were in 1979, 1991 and 1995.’s online edition of the book indicates this quote is from Vol. 1 of the ‘Best of’ Series.

[4] Bob Burney 2007. A shocking “confession” from Willow Creek Community Church,, 30 October. Available at: (Accessed 24 August 2012).

[5] S. Michael Craven 2007, Willow Creek’s confession, Christian Foundations, available at: (Accessed 24 August 2012).

[6] Willow Creek and the new contemplative/emerging spirituality, Lighthouse Trails Research Project, available at: (Accessed 24 August 2012).

[7] James T. Draper Jr. 2006. Will Southern Baptists keep their eyes on the ball? Baptist Banner, 19(3), March. Available at: (Accessed 24 August 2012).
Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

Paul on eternal punishment



By Spencer D Gear

It is not uncommon to hear statements from uninformed or agenda—promoting ‘Christians’ that the apostle Paul did not preach on eternal punishment or hell? Here are a few examples:

  • ‘It’s an overstatement to say that the christian church has been preaching the doctrine of hell for two millennia. Paul, for one, did not preach it’ (holo).[1]
  • ‘Why not enjoy the true freedom of believing the Scriptures over traditional teaching? Why not follow Paul in a pure Grace Gospel that has no place for, nor need of a religious hell?’[2]
  • ‘This is a very curious thing. Paul, the man specifically commissioned to carry the gospel to the Gentiles, who is universally credited as the most important figure ever to interpret and expound on the gospel, never says a thing about Ghenna or Hades’.[3]

My response to ‘holo’[4]

There is little need for Paul to write on hell as he has given us enough on the “wrath of God’”. The message on hell comes from others, including Jesus. However, what Paul did write on this topic agrees with the Gospels and the Book of Revelation. Pauline verses that demonstrate the wrath of God against unbelievers include:

Romans 1:18;

Ephesians 5:6;

Colossians 3:6.

James Rosscup wrote in ‘Paul’s Concept of Eternal Punishment’,

James E. Rosscup
Professor of Bible Exposition

Paul did not deal in as much detail with eternal punishment as did Jesus in the gospels and John in Revelation, but what he did write matches with their fuller descriptions in many points. This is to be expected because of Paul’s strong commitment to Jesus Christ. In Rom 2:6-10 he wrote about God’s anger in punishing the lost and the anguish they will suffer as a result. In Rom 9:22-23 he spoke of vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, a destruction that consists of an ongoing grief brought on as a consequence of God’s wrath. Second Thess 1:8-9 is a third passage that reflects his teaching on eternal punishment. There eternal destruction represents a different Greek expression, one that depicts a ruin that lost people continue to suffer forever as they are denied opportunity to be with Christ. Paul’s failure to use a number of other words in expressions that could have expressed annihilation of the unsaved is further indication of his harmony with Jesus and John in teaching an unending punishment that the unsaved will consciously experience.

Holo has a presuppositional agenda and he doesn’t want the teaching on eternal punishment to be in the NT. It is there and that’s an embarrassment to him. So what does he do? He attempts to deny that Paul taught it. But he is wrong. Paul supports Jesus in the teaching on eternal punishment.

Holo has four major issues that come out in some of his posts, including these:

(1) He does not know his Bible very well, including the Pauline epistles;

(2) He has a low view of the Scripture when he uses his improper interpretation of the Pauline epistles to arrive at a false conclusion about Paul not teaching on hell.

(3) He engages in a hermeneutic of eisegesis. He imposes his will on the texts instead of letting the texts speak for themselves (exegesis).

(4) We gain a meaning of what happens at death for believers and unbelievers from the totality of Scripture, not only from the Pauline epistles. Even if Paul’s epistles said nothing about eternal punishment or destruction, we don’t need it as it is taught throughout OT and NT, although more specifically in the NT.

Paul on hell

For an excellent chapter on the biblical basis for hell from the Pauline epistles, see Douglas J. Moo, ‘Paul on Hell[5]. His conclusion is:

As we noted at the outset of this essay, Paul never uses the Greek words that are normally translated as “hell,” nor does he teach as explicitly about the concept of hell as do some other New Testament writers. To some extent, then, our purpose has been a negative one: to show that Paul teaches nothing to contradict the picture of hell that emerges more clearly from other portions of the New Testament. But the evidence we do have from Paul suggests that he agrees with that larger New Testament witness in portraying hell as an unending state of punishment and exclusion from the presence of the Lord. Such a fate is entirely “just,” Paul repeatedly stresses (e.g., Rom. 1:18-2:11; 2 Thess. 1:8-9), because human beings have spurned God and merited his wrath and condemnation.

Paul, therefore, presents the judgment that comes on the wicked as the necessary response of a holy and entirely just God. For Paul, the doctrine of hell is a necessary corollary of the divine nature. Negatively, Paul never in his letters explicitly uses hell as a means of stimulating unbelievers to repent. But he does—a sobering consideration!—use it as a warning to believers to stimulate us to respond to the grace of God manifested in our lives (e.g., Rom. 8:12-13).[6]

Other articles

For more of my articles on hell and eternal punishment, see:


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Philosophy & Ethics, ‘Why an eternal hell?’, holo #914, 23 August 2012. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[2] Clyde L. Pilkington Jr 2004-2007, ‘Paul’s teaching on hell’. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[3] ‘Paul, Hell & Universalism’, Running with the Lion, available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[4] OzSpen, #922, 23 August 2012. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[5] This is an updated reference, accessed 15 December 2014. Originally, the reference was, Douglas J Moo, ‘Paul on hell’, in C W Morgan & R A Peterson, R A (eds) 2007. Hell under Fire. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, ch 4. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012). Portions of this book are also available through Google Books.

[6] Moo 2007:109.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 17 April 2018.


Does the Bible support slavery?

Photograph of a slave boy in Zanzibar. ‘An Arab master’s punishment for a slight offence. ‘ c. 1890 (photograph ourtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

Claims are made that the Bible supports slavery and that the people of contemporary culture should be able to choose their own values. Here are a few examples of such statements:

  • ‘If you are truthful to the Bible, would you not agree with me that St Paul supports slavery while we today are dead opposed to it? That morality even in the Bible has changed?’ (Greneknight #64, Christian Forums, 22 August 2012)
  • ‘Except for murder, slavery has got to be one of the most immoral things a person can do.  Yet slavery is rampant throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.  The Bible clearly approves of slavery in many passages, and it goes so far as to tell how to obtain slaves, how hard you can beat them, and when you can have sex with the female slaves. Many Jews and Christians will try to ignore the moral problems of slavery by saying that these slaves were actually servants or indentured servants.  Many translations of the Bible use the word “servant”, “bondservant”, or “manservant” instead of “slave” to make the Bible seem less immoral than it really is.  While many slaves may have worked as household servants, that doesn’t mean that they were not slaves who were bought, sold, and treated worse than livestock (‘Slavery in the Bible’, Evil
  • ‘If the Bible is written by God, and these are the words of the Lord, then you can come to only one possible conclusion: God is an impressive advocate of slavery and is fully supportive of the concept.

If you are a Christian, I realize that what I am about to suggest is uncomfortable. However, it is crucial to the conversation that we are having in this book. What I wish to suggest to you is that these pro-slavery passages in the Bible provide all the evidence that we need to prove that God did not write the Bible. Simply put: there is no way that an all-loving God would also be a staunch supporter of slavery.

What does your common sense tell you about God? Doesn’t it seem that an all-loving, just God would think of slavery as an abomination just like any normal human being does? If any sort of all-knowing, all-loving God had written the Bible, shouldn’t the Bible say, “Slavery is wrong — you may have no slaves”? Shouldn’t one of the Commandments say, “thou shalt not enslave”?’ (Why does God love slavery?)

A glimpse into the Old Testament view

In the Old Testament, there were at least 6 ways in which a person could become a slave:

  1. As a captive of war: Num 31:7-35 (ESV); Deut 20:10-18 (ESV); 1 Ki 20:39; 2 Chron 28:8-15);
  2. They could be purchased. Foreigners could be purchased and sold and were considered property: Lev 25:44-46 (ESV); Ex 21:16Deut 24:7. The OT gives examples of a father selling his daughter (Ex 21:7; Neh 5:5); children of a widow were sold to pay her husband’s debt (2 Kings 4:11); men and women sold themselves into slavery (Lev 25:39, 47; Deut 15:12-17).
  3. Bankruptcy (Ex 21:2-4; Deut 15:12);
  4. A gift of a slave could be given as Leah received Zilpah as her slave (Gen 29:24).
  5. As an inheritance: Lev 25:46 (ESV). Those who were not Hebrews could be slaves from generation to generation.
  6. Those slaves from birth (Ex 21:4; Lev 25:54) (This material is based on Rupprecht 1976:454-455.)

Slavery was widespread in the secular and Hebrew world of the Near East. For the Hebrews, there were regulations concerning the release of slaves (see Ex 21:1-11; Lev 25:39-55; Deut 15:12-18). Slaves were to be freed after serving for 6 years.

For the Hebrews, the slaves were members of the household and were included with the group of women and children (Ex 20:17).

In Gal 4:1, Paul states, ‘the heir, as long as he is a child is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything’. When we go to Gal 4:7 we discover, ‘So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God’.

There are some interesting and challenging dimensions to slavery when we compare the OT and NT material.

How should we respond to these allegations?

The following is how I responded to Greneknight, as OzSpen #65, 22 August 2012.

There are some excellent assessments and I do not plan to regurgitate what others have said. See:

Concerning ‘1 Corinthians 7:17, 20 Remain in Slavery?’ (Hard Sayings of the Bible 1996. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, pp. 591-593), this writer’s assessment was:

The difficulty with which 1 Corinthians 7:17 and 20 present us arises primarily from the surrounding verses in the paragraph (1 Cor 7:17-24). In 1 Corinthians 7:21 the situation chosen as an illustration is that of slavery. In 1 Corinthians 7:17 the various situations in which persons found themselves when they were called to faith in Christ are understood as assigned or apportioned by the Lord, and they are told to remain in those situations. That instruction is given further weight in the sentence “This is the rule I lay down in all the churches” (1 Cor 7:17).
In light of these statements, Paul has often been charged not only with failure to condemn the evil system of slavery, but indeed with abetting the status quo. These charges can be demonstrated to be invalid when the paragraph which contains this text is seen within the total context of 1 Corinthians 7 and in light of the historical situation as Paul perceived it.

In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul is dealing with questions about marriage, the appropriate place for sexual expression, the issue of divorce and remarriage, all in response to a pervasive view in the church which rejected or demeaned the physical dimension of male-female relationships. In the immediately preceding paragraph (1 Cor 7:12-16), Paul’s counsel to believers who are married to unbelievers is twofold: (1) If the unbelieving partner is willing to remain in the marriage, the believer should not divorce (and thus reject) the unbelieving partner; for that person’s willingness to live with the believer may open him or her to the sanctifying power of God’s grace through the believing partner (1 Cor 7:12-14). (2) If the unbeliever does not want to remain in the union, he or she should be released from the marriage. Though the partner may be sanctified through the life and witness of the believer, there is no certainty, especially when the unbeliever desires separation (1 Cor 7:15-16).

Having recognized the possibility, and perhaps desirability, of this exception to his general counsel against divorce, Paul reaffirms what he considers to be the norm (“the rule I lay down in all the churches”): that one should remain in the life situation the Lord has assigned and in which one has been called to faith (1 Cor 7:17). In light of exceptions to general norms throughout this chapter, it is probably unwise to take the phrase “the place in life that the Lord has assigned” too literally and legalistically, as if each person’s social or economic or marital status had been predetermined by God. Rather, Paul’s view seems to be similar to the one Jesus takes with regard to the situation of the blind man in John 9. His disciples inquire after causes: Is the man blind because he sinned or because his parents sinned (Jn 9:2)? Jesus’ response is essentially that the man’s blindness is, within the overall purposes of God, an occasion for the work of God to be displayed (Jn 9:3).

For Paul, the life situations in which persons are encountered by God’s grace and come to faith are situations which, in God’s providence, can be transformed and through which the gospel can influence others (such as unbelieving partners).

The principle “remain in the situation” is now given broader application to human realities and situations beyond marriage. The one addressed first is that of Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor 7:18-19). The outward circumstances, Paul argues, are of little or no significance (“Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing”). They neither add to nor detract from one’s calling into a relationship with God, and therefore one’s status as Jew or Gentile should not be altered. (It should be noted here that under the pressure of Hellenization, some Jews in the Greek world sought to undo their circumcision [1 Maccabees 1:15]. And we know from both Acts and Galatians that Jewish Christians called for the circumcision of Gentile Christians.)

Once again, it is clear that the general norm, “remain in the situation,” is not an absolute law. Thus we read in Acts 16:3 that Paul, in light of missionary needs and strategy, had Timothy circumcised even though Timothy was already a believer. Paul’s practice in this case would be a direct violation of the rule which he laid down for all the churches (1 Cor 7:17-18), but only if that rule had been intended as an absolute.

Paul now repeats the rule “Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him” (1 Cor 7:20), and applies it to yet another situation, namely, that of the slave. Paul does not simply grab a hypothetical situation, for the early church drew a significant number of persons from the lower strata of society (see 1 Cor 1:26-27). So Paul addresses individuals in the congregation who were of the large class of slaves existing throughout the ancient world: “Were you a slave when you were called?” (that is, when you became a Christian). The next words, “Do not let it trouble you,” affirm that the authenticity of the person’s new life and new status as the Lord’s “freedman” (1 Cor 7:21-22) cannot be demeaned and devalued by external circumstances such as social status.

As in the previous applications of the norm (“remain in the situation”), Paul immediately allows for a breaking of the norm; indeed, he seems to encourage it: “although if you can gain your freedom, do so” (1 Cor 7:21; note the RSV rendering: “avail yourself of the opportunity”). As footnotes in some contemporary translations indicate (TEV, RSV), it is possible to translate the Greek of verse 21 as “make use of your present condition instead,” meaning that the slave should not take advantage of this opportunity, but rather live as a transformed person within the context of continuing slavery. Some scholars support this rendering, since it would clearly illustrate the norm laid down in the previous verse. However, we have already noted that Paul provides contingencies for much of his instruction in chapter 7, and there is no good reason to doubt that Paul supported the various means for emancipation of individual slaves that were available in the Greco-Roman world.

And yet, Paul’s emphasis in the entire chapter, as in the present passage, is his conviction that the most critical issue in human life and relations and institutions is the transformation of persons’ lives by God’s calling. External circumstances can neither take away from, nor add to, this reality. The instruction to remain in the situation in which one is called to faith (which Paul repeats several more times, in 1 Cor 7:24, 26, 40, and for which he also grants contingencies, in 1 Cor 7:28, 36, 38) can be understood as a missiological principle. To remain in the various situations addressed by Paul provides opportunity for unhindered devotion and service to the Lord (1 Cor 7:32-35), or transforming witness toward an unbelieving marriage partner (1 Cor 7:12-16), or a new way of being present in the context of slavery as one who is free in Christ (1 Cor 7:22-23).

The transforming possibilities of this latter situation are hinted at elsewhere in Paul’s writings. Masters who have become believers are called on to deal with their slaves in kindness and to remember that the Master who is over them both sees both as equals (Eph 6:9). The seeds of the liberating gospel are gently sown into the tough soil of slavery. They bore fruit in the lives of Onesimus, the runaway slave, and Philemon, his master. The slave returns to the master, no longer slave but “brother in the Lord” (Philem 15-16).

Note too that the three relational spheres which Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 7–male-female, Jew-Gentile (Greek), slave-free–are brought together in that high-water mark of Paul’s understanding of the transforming reality of being in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). As a rabbi, Paul had given thanks daily, as part of the eighteen benedictions to God, that he had not been born as a Gentile, a slave or a woman. It was his experience of Christ that led him to recognize that these distinctions of superior and inferior were abolished in the new order of things inaugurated in Christ. Surely in this vision the seeds were sown for the ultimate destruction of slavery and all other forms of bondage.

Finally, Paul’s understanding of the historical situation in which he and the church found themselves provides another key for his instruction that believers should remain where they are. He, together with most other Christians, was convinced that the eschaton, the climax of God’s redemptive intervention, was very near. Statements in 1 Cor 7:26 (“because of the present crisis”) and 1 Cor 7:29 (“the time is short”) underline that conviction. This belief created a tremendous missionary urgency. The good news had to get out so that as many as possible could yet be saved (see 1 Cor 10:33). This expectation of the imminent end was surely an important factor for the Pauline norm “remain where you are.”

The biblical view of slavery might be wrong in the estimation of some contemporary Christians, but God did not have such a view when he breathed out the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Response to the allegations against the Bible and slavery

There is an eerie silence by Jesus, the apostles and Paul in regard to rejecting slavery in a society. I would have thought that Jesus, the sinless Son of God, should have been condemning slavery outright – racial slavery like that in the USA — but this was not so. Why?[1]

  • Please don’t assign a barbaric, violent, unjust view of slaves to the Romans. Paul’s word to slave masters was that they should treat slaves with kindness and consideration (Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1).
  • Slavery had become a well-known way to become a Roman citizen throughout the Empire;
  • One study found that between 81-49 BC, “500,000 slaves were freed [by the Romans] during this period” and the city of Rome’s population was about 870,000.[2]
  • In the Roman Empire, a slave could expect freedom in about 7 years.
  • “When a master freed his slave, he frequently established his freedman in a business and the master became a shareholder in it.”[3]
  • “While an individual was a slave, he was in most respects equal to his freeborn counterpart in the Graeco-Roman world, and in some respects he had an advantage. By the first century A.D. the slave had most of the legal rights which were granted to a free man.”[4]
  • “Living conditions for most slaves were better than those of free men who often slept in the streets of the city or lived in very cheap rooms.”[5]
  • “The free laborer in NT times was seldom in better circumstances than his slave counterpart.”[6]
  • “In fact, in time of economic hardship it was the slave and not the free man who was guaranteed the necessities of life for himself and his family.”[7]

Islam and slavery

Do not confuse the Christian view of slavery in the Old and New Testaments with the contemporary view of ‘Islam & Slavery’ (Barnabas Fund). That article provides this conclusion:

Many Muslims agree that there is no place for slavery in the modern world, but there has as yet been no sustained critique of the practice. The difficulties and dangers of confronting the example of Muhammad and the teaching of the Qur’an and sharia (which most Muslims believe cannot be changed) have dampened any internal debate within Islam. Although slavery still exists in many Islamic countries, few Muslim leaders show remorse for the past, discuss reparations or show that repugnance for the scourge of slavery that eventually led to its abolition in the West. It is time for Muslims emphatically and publicly to condemn the practice of slavery in any form and to ensure that their legal codes An enslaved Pakistani Christian boy supporting it are changed.

Barnabas Fund: hope and aid for the persecuted church


I do not subscribe to the relativistic presuppositions of cultures determining their own values. I have too high of a respect for the Lord God Almighty and His Scriptures to secede to that view. This is what the Scriptures state:

  • Isaiah 5:20, ‘ Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!’ (ESV)
  • Psalm 111:7-8, ‘The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established for ever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness’ (ESV).
  • Proverbs 3:5, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding’.
  • Ecclesiastes 12;13, ‘Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind’ (NIV).
  • John 17:17, ‘Sanctify them in the truth;your word is truth’ (ESV).
  • 1 Peter 1:25, ‘The word of the Lord remains for ever’ (ESV)
  • James 2:12, ‘Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom’ (NIV)


[1] The following is based on the article by A. Rupprecht, ‘Slave, Slavery’, in Merrill C. Tenney gen. ed. 1976, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 5, Q-Z, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 453-460.

[2] Ibid., p. 458.

[3] Ibid., p. 459.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p. 460.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

Three Crosses on Horizontal Bar


Is fundamentalism a theological swear word?

Image result for photograph J I Packer

(photo J I Packer, photo courtesy Vertical Living Ministries)

By Spencer D Gear

In my part of the world (Australia), to be labelled a ‘fundamentalist’ in relation to Christianity is to talk down to a person who is strict in his/her understanding of Bible doctrines. He or she may even dare to believe that the Bible in the original documents (the autographa) is the inerrant Scripture from God to human beings.

I also meet this kind of thinking on Christian forums on the Internet. Here’s one example:

Many in this forum hate me because I don’t accept the same fundamentalist views that they share. They don’t understand that outside of America, fundamentalism isn’t common and is viewed as a fringe belief.[1]

This was my response as OzSpen[2]

As far back as 1958, J I Packer[3] wrote, ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (London: Inter-Varsity Fellowship). Some of his points include:

  1. Fundamentalism ‘is a word that combines the vaguest conceptual meaning with the strongest emotional flavour. “Fundamentalist” has long been a term of ecclesiastical abuse, a theological swear-word’ (p. 30).
  2. Fundamentalism ‘is, we maintain, the oldest version of Christianity; theologically regarded, it is just apostolic Christianity itself’ (p. 38).
  3. ‘The problem of authority is the most fundamental problem that the Christian Church ever faces. This is because Christianity is built on truth: that is to say, on the content of a divine revelation’ (p. 42).
  4. ‘To deny the normative authority of Scripture over the Church is to misconceive the nature of Christianity, and, in effect, to deny the Lordship of Christ’ (p. 68).
  5. [He is responding to liberalism’s attacks on ‘fundamentalists’ when he stated that] ‘The fundamental cleavage between so-called ‘Fundamentalists’ and their critics. The latter are, in fact, subjectivists in the matter of authority. Their position is based on an acceptance of the presuppositions and conclusions of nineteenth-century critical Bible study, which are radically at variance with the Bible’s own claims for itself’ (p. 72).
  6. ‘We have seen what the real issues are: the authority of Christ and the Scripture; the relation between the Bible and reason; the method of theology, and the meaning of repentance; the choice between Evangelicalism and Subjectivism…. First principles must be first dealt with. Evangelicals should not let themselves be intimidated by the shower of explosive words–‘Fundamentalist’, ‘obscurantist’, ‘literalist’ and the rest–that is regularly poured out upon them. they should request a reasoned statement of the accusations preferred against them…. For Evangelicals are bound, as servants of God and disciples of Christ, to oppose Subjectivism wherever they find it. Defending truth, and exposing error, are two aspects of the same task’ (p. 176).

That should be a starter from someone who is a British-born Anglican fundamentalist / evangelical scholar, theologian and exegete, J I Packer. He’s a Brit and thoroughly fundamentalist, but a scholarly presenter of biblical truth.

By the way, outside of USA and here in Australia, fundamentalism / evangelicalism is seen as Bible-based Christianity with a high view of Scripture. Of course, there may be extremists who are KJV-only and somewhat sectarian, but I’ve seen that in liberal Anglicanism and Uniting Churches Down Under as well. Try being an evangelical in a liberal Anglican, Uniting or Roman Catholic Church in Australia and you’ll be on the outer – really quickly!

So, who really are the fundamentalists? Those who disagree with your Bible-believing Christianity and label you as fundamentalist!


[1] Greneknight #56 , Christian Forums, Apologetics, ‘Morality’, available at: (Accessed 22 August 2012).

[2] OzSpen #59, available at: (Accessed 22 August 2012).

[3] The InterVarsity Press website gives these CV details of Packer, ‘J. I. Packer is Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He also serves as contributing editor to Christianity Today. Packer’s writings include books such as Knowing God (IVP Books), A Quest for Godliness (Crossway), Growing in Christ (Crossway) and Rediscovering Holiness (Servant), and numerous articles published in journals such as Churchman, SouthWestern Journal, Christianity Today, Reformation & Revival Journal and Touchstone. Available at: (Accessed 22 August 2012).

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 17 January 2019.

God-shrinkers in the pulpit lead to God-shrinkers in the pew

Courtesy Google

If you want to get a picture of what is happening to God’s truth in our churches, take a read of the “Christian-only” section of threads on the largest Christian forum on the www – Christian Forums. Here is one example and the subject is, ‘What an eternal hell?’

And a god, or anybody else, acting 239486709485209873245 times worse than Hitler, for 209348759287358972304587 millennia, and then another 204587032985703485 millennia just to get you warmed up, burning you forever and ever, isn’t what I’d call a “holy” god, not in any positive, non-evil sense of the word anyway.[1]

This was my response to this person:

You are a God inventor. You are presenting your obscure, humanly depraved understanding of God. You are a God-shrinker.

Who are you to decide what eternal damnation looks like. That is the domain of the absolutely pure, holy, infinite God of love. When you begin to understand God’s almighty, holy, perfect and absolutely truthful nature, you might not run off at the mouth like this.

Not one person in this world, including you and me, will get more or less than they deserve from the absolutely pure Lord God Almighty. His justice is absolute and we ALL will get it.

“It is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18 ESV).[2]

Jim Packer summed it up in 1996:[3]

For more than three hundred years God-shrinkers have been at work in the churches of the Reformation, scaling down our Maker to the measure of man’s mind and dissolving the biblical view of him as the Lord who reigns and speaks (1996:127, emphasis added).

Packer has hit the theological nail on the head. When there are God-shrinkers in theological colleges, in the pulpits and on the printed and electronic pages, we’ll get them in the pew and in the public, and they’ll flow through to places like Christian Forums.

I’m about to give up on Christian Forums as the God-shrinkers are seen in too many threads here (including this thread). Those who take God at His word and want to listen to what the Scriptures say, instead of making the Scriptures mean what a human mind invents, are decreasing.


Packer, J I 1996. Truth & power: The place of Scripture in the Christian life. Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers.


[1] holo, Christian Forums, Christian Philosophy & Ethics, ‘Why an eternal hell?’, #712, 21 August 2012. Available at: (Accessed 21 August 2012).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #740, available at: (Accessed 21 August 2012).

[3] What follows is my reply to Blessedj01 #738, ibid.


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

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Woman caught in adultery: In or out of New Testament?



By Spencer D Gear

Are there chunks of the Bible that should not be there? Even to raise this topic may cause some some conservative Christians to doubt my salvation: ‘How dare you suggest that you know better than what is in the Bible’,a small number have said to me. What they fail to realise is that they are accepting what is in their English Bible (for many it is the KJV) as the authentic word of God – all of it. They treat their Bible version as the original, inspired text.

However, like it or not, there are issues with a few small sections of Scripture as to whether they should be in the Bible or not. One such example, which I will discuss here, is John 7:53-8:11 which deals with the woman caught in adultery.

The latest edition of the New International Version states at the beginning of this passage: “The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53” (BibleGateway).

For the English Standard Version, latest edition, immediately prior to John 7:53, there is this statement, ‘The earliest manuscripts do not include John 7:53-8:11’ (BibleGateway).

Should this passage of John 7-8 be included in the New Testament or not? Let’s look at the evidence. There are two sides to the discussion. Yes! and No! Firstly, let’s those who support the retention of this portion in the NT.

1. Support for John 7:53-8:11 to remain in the NT

Who are the supporters of this passage remaining in Scripture?

1.1 Supporters of the Majority Text of the NT

What is the Majority Text? Michael Marlowe explains that

The “Majority Text” is a statistical construct that does not correspond exactly to any known manuscript. It is arrived at by comparing all known manuscripts with one another and deriving from them the readings that are more numerous than any others. There are two published Greek texts which purport to represent the Majority readings — Hodges & Farstad 1982 and Pierpont & Robinson 1991 (in ‘What about the Majority Text?’).

The Majority Text is the Greek text behind the King James Version and the New King James Version of the Bible – New Testament. The text of modern Bible translations for the NT is known as the ‘Received Text’. This is the text behind the RSV, NRSV, ESV, ERV, ASV, NASB, NIV and NLT to mention a few. Michael Marlowe gives an excellent assessment of the issues and his summary is reasonable:

The idea that the majority of existing Greek manuscripts (i.e. the numerous medieval copies) somehow represent the original text better than any of the oldest manuscripts known to us is an idea that is very hard to defend intellectually. One would suppose, even on common-sense grounds, that a consensus of the earlier copies is likely to be closer to the original text. Against this, it is said that perhaps all of the early manuscripts known to us have derived from a deviant kind of text which gained currency only in the area around Alexandria, where these very old manuscripts were preserved on account of the dry climate. But this hypothesis fails to account for the readings of the ancient versions (e.g. Latin and Syriac) which frequently agree with the older Greek copies against the later ones. We cannot reasonably suppose that the Latin and Syriac versions were based upon manuscripts that were not circulating in Italy and Syria. And then there are the scripture quotations from ecclesiastical writers who lived outside of Egypt, which likewise often support the earlier manuscripts. It is very hard for a Majority Text advocate to overcome this evidence, and certainly it cannot all be brushed aside with an hypothesis about “Alexandrian” deviations. For this reason, very few competent scholars have argued in favor of the Majority Text.

1.2 Dean John Burgeon

Dean John Burgeon supports its inclusion in the NT. See his arguments in John 8:1-11. They include:

  • The historical circumstance and burden of proof lies with those who challenge its authenticity;
  • The Gospel context – John 8:1-11 is an integral part of the immediately antecedent and following narrative;
  • The content and meaning – it ‘carries on its front the impress of Divine origin’;
  • Style and diction – it is ‘woven on a heavenly loom’;
  • Alleged textual evidence against – in spite of the trail of opponents, ‘these twelve verses exhibit the required notes of genuineness less conspicuously than any other twelve consecutive verses in the same Gospel’.

Burgeon explains further:

Section 9: – Evidences Re-Examined: The Old Latin
Section 10: – Patristic and Versional Support

Sidebar: – The Ferrar Group (Family 13)

Section 11: – The Cause of the Omission
Section 12: – The Ancient Lectionary Tradition
Section 13: – Silence of Early Commentators Explained
Section 14: – The Voice of the Early Church Identified
Section 15: – Critical Theories Fail to Explain Facts
Section 16: – Spiritual Bankruptcy of the Critical Position

1.3 Peter Ruckman

Another promoter of this passage in John 8 to remain in the NT is long-term KJV-onlyism advocate, Peter Ruckman of Pensacola Bible Institute. See Ruckman on ‘James White’s Seven Errors in the King James Bible’. See James White’s reply, ‘A response to Dr Ruckman’.

1.4 Trinitarian Bible Society

The Trinitarian Bible Society has a statement in its Constitution:

This Society shall circulate the HOLY SCRIPTURES, as comprised in the Canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, WITHOUT NOTE OR COMMENT, to the exclusion of the Apocrypha; the copies in the English language shall be those of the Authorised Version.

1.5 Gail Riplinger

See Gail Riplinger’s website, ‘Authorized Version Publications’ for her view of keeping the section on the adulterous woman in John’s Gospel.

2. Support for John 7:53-8:11 to be excluded from the NT

But there is support for excluding this passage from the NT.

D. A. Carson wrote:

“Despite the best efforts of Zane Hodges[1] to prove that this narrative was originally part of John’s Gospel, the evidence is against him, and modern English versions are right to rule it off from the rest of the text (NIV) or to relegate it to a footnote (RSV). These verses are present in most of the medieval Greek minuscule manuscripts, but they are absent from virtually all early Greek manuscripts that have come down to us, representing great diversity of textual traditions. The most notable exception is the Western uncial D, known for its independence in numerous other places. They are also missing from the earliest forms of the Syriac and Coptic Gospels, and from many Old Latin, Old Georgian and Armenian manuscripts. All the early church Fathers omit this narrative: in commenting on John, they pass immediately from 7:52 to 8:12. No Eastern Father cites the passage before the tenth century. Didymus the Blind (a fourth-century exegete from Alexandria) reports a variation on this narrative, not the narrative as we have it here. Moreover, a number of (later) manuscripts that include the narrative mark it off with asterisks or obeli, indicating hesitation as to its authenticity, while those that do include it display a rather high frequency of textual variants. Although most of the manuscripts that include the story place it here (i.e. at 7:53-8:11), some place it instead after Luke 21:38, and other witnesses variously place it after John 7:44, John 7:36 or John 21:25.[2] The diversity of placement confirms the inauthenticity of the verses. Finally, even if someone should decide that the material is authentic, it would be very difficult to justify the view that the material is authentically Johannine: there are numerous expressions and constructions that are found nowhere in John, but which are characteristic of the Synoptic Gospels, Luke in particular.

On the other hand, there is little reason for doubting that the event here described occurred, even if in its written form it did not in the beginning belong to the canonical books. Similar stories are found in other sources. One of the best known, as reported by Papias (and recorded by the historian Eusebius, H. E. III. xxxix. 16)[3] is the account of a woman, accused in the Lord’s presence of many sins (unlike the woman here who is accused of but one). The narrative before us also has a number of parallels (some of them noted below) with stories in the Synoptic Gospels. The reason for its insertion here may have been to illustrate 7:24 and 8:15 or, conceivably, the Jews’ sinfulness over against Jesus’ sinlessness (8:21, 24, 26) [Carson 1991:333-334].

Bruce Metzger’s (1971:219-222) assessment is:[4]

[John] 7.53-8.11 Pericope of the Adulteress

The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming. It is absent from such early and diverse manuscripts as Papyrus66.75 Aleph B L N T W X Y D Q Y 0141 0211 22 33 124 157 209 788 828 1230 1241 1242 1253 2193 al. Codices A and C are defective in this part of John, but it is highly probable that neither contained the pericope, for careful measurement discloses that there would not have been space enough on the missing leaves to include the section along with the rest of the text. In the East the passage is absent from the oldest form of the Syriac version (syrc.s. and the best manuscripts of syrp), as well as from the Sahidic and the sub-Achmimic versions and the older Bohairic manuscripts. Some Armenian manuscripts and the old Georgian version omit it. In the West the passage is absent from the Gothic version and from several Old Latin manuscripts (ita.l*.q). No Greek Church Father prior to Euthymius Zigabenus (twelfth century) comments on the passage, and Euthymius declares that the accurate copies of the Gospels do not contain it.

When one adds to this impressive and diversified list of external evidence the consideration that the style and vocabulary of the pericope differ noticeably from the rest of the Fourth Gospel (see any critical commentary), and that it interrupts the sequence of 7.52 and 8.12 ff., the case against its being of Johannine authorship appears to be conclusive.

At the same time the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity. It is obviously a piece of oral tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western church and which was subsequently incorporated into various manuscripts at various places. Most copyists apparently thought that it would interrupt John’s narrative least if it were inserted after 7.52 (D E F G H K M U G P 28 700 892 al). Others placed it after 7.36 (ms. 225) or after 7.44 (several Georgian mss.) or after 21.25 (1 565 1076 1570 1582 armmss) or after Luke 21.38 (f13). Significantly enough, in many of the witnesses which contain the passage it is marked with asterisks or obeli, indicating that, though the scribes included the account, they were aware that it lacked satisfactory credentials.

Sometimes it is stated that the pericope was deliberately expunged from the Fourth Gospel because it was liable to be understood in a sense too indulgent to adultery. But, apart from the absence of any instance elsewhere of scribal excision of an extensive passage because of moral prudence, this theory fails “to explain why the three preliminary verses (vii 53; viii 1-2), so important as apparently descriptive of the time and place at which all the discourses of chapter viii were spoken, should have been omitted with the rest” (Hort, “Notes on Select Readings,” pp. 86 f.).

Although the committee [that is, the editorial committee of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament] was unanimous that the pericope was originally no part of the Fourth Gospel, in deference to the evident antiquity of the passage a majority decided to print it, enclosed within double square brackets, at its traditional place following John 7.52.

Inasmuch as the passage is absent from the earlier and better manuscripts that normally serve to identify types of text, it is not always easy to make a decision among alternative readings. In any case it will be understood that the levels of certainty ({A}, {B}) are within the framework of the initial decision relating to the passage as a whole.[5]

My conclusion

Since I accept that the MSS that are closer to the originals are deemed to be the most accurate (see the arguments above), I accept that John 7:53-8:11 is an addition to the original MSS and should not be included in the NT.

Works consulted

Carson, D A 1991. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Metzger, Bruce M 1971. A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament: Acompanion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (3rd ed). London / New York: United Bible Societies.


[1] BibliothecaSacra 136, 1979, pp. 318-372; 1980, pp. 41-53.

[2] Carson’s footnote at this point was, ‘For a convenient summary of the evidence, cf. Metzger, pp. 219-222. He is referring to Metzger (1971).

[3] This was in Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16, available at: (Accessed 14 May 2012).

[4] Available at: (1) Bible Research, ‘The story of the adulteress in the eighth chapter of John’, available at: (Accessed 14 May 2012); (2)

[5] The last paragraph was not in the URL. I copied it from the actual text.


Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.



What Presbyterians can learn from Pentecostals!


clip_image002 clip_image004

(image Courtesy: Wikipedia)                     (image Courtesy: Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

When my wife and I moved to Brisbane from Hervey Bay, Qld., Australia, we left Fraser Coast Baptist Church where the senior pastor, Steve Sauvageot, was a solid biblical expositor of the Scriptures and the church sang only hymns during the services. And have a guess what? There were plenty of youth who came to the church who were part of a vibrant youth group.

When we moved to Brisbane in mid 2011 and settled in a Brisbane suburb, we set about finding a church with solid preaching and sound theology in the songs they sang. We were seeking out an evangelical church that believed the Bible, the Gospel, and preached from the Scriptures.

What did we find?

We went to seven local evangelical churches and for all of those, Baptist and Churches of Christ, the old hymns were out and contemporary, rock music was in. Loud rock music tended to dominate the music. At one church, the music introduction in one of the songs was led by the drummer. In fact, the musical interlude in this song was given by the drummer as the only means of music. Now that’s a hard way for me, a very average singer, to get a note to try to sing.

The lyrics of these songs were biblical-lite. There was nothing like, ‘A mighty fortress is our God!’, ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemers praise’, or ‘How great Thou art’. Since it was 12-months ago, I cannot remember one contemporary song that we sang in those churches.

In one church, there was not a Bible reading in the entire service. Most of the sermons were topical with no expository emphasis. The one exception was the ‘drummer’ church where an elder did give a very good expository sermon. However, we were hardly going to settle at that church as the music was superficially light and the people were not very friendly. Not a person spoke to us after the service.

We settled on a Presbyterian church

While I am not Calvinistic in my primary theological orientation, my wife and I found a Presbyterian church where there was solid expository preaching along with the singing of hymns, most of which we know. Singing is from words flashed onto a projector screen from a computer and digital camera.

But here there is another challenge. The people are friendly, the sermons are expository as the pastor preaches through the Bible, but the services, to use my language, are as dry as dust. It is traditional church order of: introduction from the psalms (generally), hymn, prayer (by pastor),  children’s talk, announcements, hymn, Bible reading, pastoral prayer (by pastor), hymn, sermon, hymn, and benediction. It is dominated by one-way communication. It is quite a contrast from some of the other Pentecostal and evangelical churches with which I have been associated down through the years.

I have been to some mid-week, evening Bible studies in the church and they are a fairly sterile environment with a Bible study gained from the Internet on 1 Corinthians, but there is no prayer and care for one another in the group. It’s a dry, academic study where interaction is allowed.

There was content that came in a sermon on 19 August 2012 on the raising of Lazarus (John 11:11-27) that caused me to think further about the nature of what is happening in this evangelical Presbyterian church. I take notes from all of the sermons I hear and this is one area of emphasis from this sermon (the pastor has been at this church for 9 years) – this is based on the notes that I took during the service:

  • (Australian) Presbyterians are a fearful people; we fear to give and we are an impotent bunch.
  • Pentecostals are more optimistic.
  • Baptists and Pentecostals are more evangelistic.

I have observed this kind of thinking among the Presbyterians in this church also.

How should I respond?

I took the time to send the pastor an email that included this content:

clip_image006 I’ve been contemplating some of the content of your sermon and the contrasts between Presbyterians and Pentecostals. Then there was a chain of people that the elder asked to be formed at the end of the service when we held hands and prayed. The elder had a personal issue that he shared.

clip_image006[1]Would you and the elders be prepared to engage with me in two areas of ministry that I believe will make a major difference at this Presbyterian Church? I’m convinced that this needs to happen at the local church level. There are two areas that I’d like to discuss with you and the elders, based on your sermon contents and the joining of hands of the people at the conclusion of the service.

What are those two areas?

clip_image007Firstly, this has to do with the pastor’s comment about the differences between Pentecostals and Presbyterians. One of the reasons many of the Pentecostals I know are so active in evangelism and vibrant in their understanding of Christian ministry is because of this emphasis: They have a biblical understanding of the need for all Christians to care for one another, weep with one another, hurt with one another, pray for one another and minister to one another. This is the biblical emphasis:

  • James 5:16: ‘Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working’ (ESV).
  • Ephesians 6:18: ‘Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints’ (ESV).
  • 1 Corinthians 12:26: ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together’ (ESV).

What happens when my wife and I go to the church’s Bible study? There is no confessing of sins one to another, praying for one another. It becomes an academic exercise without the involvement of the community of believers and the Community of the King (the language of Howard Snyder). We are the body of Christ and we need to be caring for one another when we meet. I asked for opportunity for me to discuss this with the pastor and/or elders. I believe it is an important aspect of ministry among the body of believers that seems to be neglected at this church (I await a reply from the pastor).

If the elder had not shared his personal struggles from the pulpit at the end of service, I would not have known of his personal struggles with a certain issue. This should not be so with a functioning body of believers. When we meet for Bible study, it should not be just a Bible study. It ought to be a gathering of the body of believers where all believers are able to minister to one another. If anyone is hurting, this is the opportunity to pray for one another and be healed by the power of God. I asked to be able to share further with pastor and elders.

clip_image007[1]Secondly, there is another area where Pentecostals could teach Presbyterians a great deal about biblical functioning. I’m somewhat reticent to broach this subject with the pastor as I know that he opposes this view. However, I asked him to consider allowing me to present some teaching at some elders’ meetings on the biblical understanding of the continuing ministry of the gifts of the Spirit. I was raised in a cessationist Baptist Church but when I exegeted the relevant Scriptures, I could no longer support that view.

What I observe happening at this Presbyterian Church is that it is very hierarchical and one-way communication is dominant when the church gathers. That is not what happened at Corinth and it should not be what happens with any church that believes the Bible in the twenty-first century. I’m speaking of the giftedness of the whole body of believers. We have this teaching stated clearly and overtly in Paul’s correction of the Corinthian Church. He did not condemn them for this practice but told them that this is what ought to happen when the church gathers. Here it is:

  • 1 Corinthians 14:26, ‘What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up’ (NIV).

This is what should be happening in each church gathering, but especially in small groups. I asked for permission to come to elders’ meetings and present teaching on the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit in the body of believers. I am convinced this would address some of the issues raised by the pastor in his sermon about the vibrancy of Pentecostalism when compared with Presbyterianism. I am not suggesting that we adopt a philosophy of pragmatism – doing what works. But I see a biblical need to get back to the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit among us when the church gathers. This is not happening in this Presbyterian Church. Why? It is because cessationism is being promoted. I asked for permission to engage with the pastor and elders on these teachings.

I said that it may sound brazen of me to raise these topics as I’ve only been in the church 12-months, but I consider they are two vital factors in a healthy church.

For some of the articles I’ve written on these topics, I refer you to:

Appendix A: An expose on what is happening to music in the church

I only recently have become aware of this book. My wife, a pianist and vocalist, has just finished reading it. I’m impressed by what I’ve heard so far, but my wife has passed it on to another musician in the church to read. Here is the book by T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal ( 2010. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing).

For reviews, see:

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 June 2016.


Colossians 1:21-23: News! News! The in-depth news![1]


Christ Art

By Spencer D Gear

I. Introduction

News! News! All the news! The latest news! The oldest news! Good news! Bad news! You get the most in-depth news coverage by tuning into this news.

It is not Channel 7 national news. I’m not speaking about ABC radio news. You won’t get it on 60 minutes, A Current Affair, Today Tonight, or the 7.30 Report. This is not The Courier-Mail, The Australian, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age or Time magazine. This is the most in-depth news you need to live your life. I’m speaking about the news in Col. 1:21-23. These three verses read in the New International Version:

21Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

A. Let’s place this passage in context in Colossians 1

Paul has just written one of the most magnificent proclamations of the superiority of Jesus Christ. Just before he launches into today’s subject, Paul gives us the HEADLINE news in vv. 19-20.

There are three HEADLINES in the one article that tell us who Jesus is:

  • Main headline:

God’s fullness dwells in him (v. 19).

Jesus is fully God. It’s a similar expression to Col. 2:9, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”

  • Second headline:

Even though this is a wicked, hostile world, Christ will eventually reconcile all things to himself in heaven and on earth (v. 20).

  • Third headline:

How come? There will be permanent peace through Christ’s shed blood on the cross (v. 20).

This is the backdrop (context of the passage): The God-man, Jesus Christ, provides reconciliation and peace through his blood shed through death.

Now we come to Colossians 1:21-23.

B. What’s the message of this passage in a nutshell? (Proposition)

Paul wants to get through to the Colossians and to us: The gospelproclaimed is in-depth news. This is the most in-depth news you will ever discover about human beings. To be in-depth news,

II. Firstly, the gospel proclaimed must include the BAD news story (v. 21).

In vv. 21-23, we have a brief outline of some essential content of the Gospel. Please notice this in-depth news begins with bad news (v 21).

A. The bad news is this:

6pointblue-small all people are “alienated from God.” “Alienated[2] = “transferred to another owner.”[3] “As vivid a picture of the non-Christian world as in Rom. 1:20-23.”[4]

All people are in a fixed state of being alienated[5] from God. They are born as rebel sinners, whose allegiance is transferred to the devil himself. This alienation from God is not just for those in deepest darkest Africa. It describes all people in deepest, darkest, open and transparent Hervey Bay – they may be dressed in businessmen’s suits, teachers, school children , truck drivers, mothers and fathers, children.

All of the Colossians and all of us were “alienated from God” before we came to Christ in repentance, confession and faith. But the situation gets even worse. You were:

6pointblue-small “Enemies” of God. You had a hostile hatred[6] of God.

6pointblue-small Where is this hatred located according to Col. 1:21? You were “enemies in your minds.” For all people, in their thinking they are enemies of God before they come to Christ.

6pointblue-small Notice what happens with all ungodly people. When they hate God in their minds, it results in “evil behavior” (v. 21).

We know that God reveals himself to all people through creation: (the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands, Ps. 19:1-4). God reveals himself to all people through conscience: (Rom. 2:14-15).

What do we do with this knowledge? Romans 1:18-19 explains, “The godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them” (NIV).

Do you see the vicious cycle for all unbelievers?

God reveals himself in creation and conscience (leads to) ð we are enemies of God in our minds

blue-satin-arrow-small we hold down (suppress) the truth of God

blue-satin-arrow-smallwe do evil deeds

blue-satin-arrow-small God continues to reveal himself

blue-satin-arrow-small we think hostile things

blue-satin-arrow-small we suppress the truth

blue-satin-arrow-small we commit all kinds of wickedness.

And the merry go round goes on and on UNTIL God intervenes in our lives with the GOOD NEWS.

It bothers me when this BAD news is toned down or only part of the story is told. Why don’t you examine your favourite method of presenting the Gospel and see how much emphasis it places on the BAD news. It surprised me when I examined some of these methods.

The in-depth, bad news, according to Col. 1:21, is this: All unbelievers are:

ø Alienated from God;

ø Enemies in their minds, and

ø Commit evil behaviour.


“Louis Blanc, French socialist . . . historian [journalist and politician of the 19th century],[7], said shortly before his execution, ‘When I was an infant, I rebelled against my nurse. When I was a child, I rebelled against my teachers. When I was a young man, I rebelled against my mother and father. When I reached a mature age, I rebelled against the state. When I die, if there is a heaven and a God, I’ll rebel against them.”[8]

That’s about as blatant a statement as you could get. But that’s the state of all people as far as God is concerned.

How can we apply this today?

What does God require of you to reflect this biblical principle in your life?

matte-red-arrow-smallWhen you share the gospel, you must include the BAD news;

matte-red-arrow-small I counsel rebel youth, abusive parents, and marriages that are falling apart at the seams. The BAD news tells me what is going on.

matte-red-arrow-small We cannot understand Iraq, Iran, persecution of 200 million Christians worldwide, Afghanistan, Bali, Sept. 11, without understanding the BAD news.

matte-red-arrow-smallYou won’t understand adultery, the push for homosexuality, use of illicit drugs, Governments that legislate immorality through prostitution, abortion and euthanasia, without understanding the BAD news.

Brothers and sisters in Christ! There’s a very important phrase that is found at the beginning of the BAD NEWS in Col. 1:21: “Once you were.” It reminds me of I Cor. 6:11, “And that is what some of you were.”

To be in-depth news , the gospel proclaimed must include the BAD news story – once you were. But also . . .

III. The gospel proclaimed must include the GOOD news story (v. 22).

“But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”

v. 21 begins, “Once you were . . .”

Notice how v. 22 begins, “But now. . .”

A radical change comes when Christ enters your life. The ONCE bad situation becomes the NOW good situation.

A. The good news is that “now he has reconciled you” (v. 22).

  • What incredible good news that is! You who were once enemies in our mind that led to your evil behaviour. You are now reconciled to God if you have come to God in repentance and faith.
  • This word for “reconciled” appears only 3 times in the NT. Col. 1:20, 22 (here) and Eph. 2:16. It is not Paul’s usual word for “reconcile” [katallassÇ] that is used in verses such as 2 Cor. 5:17-20 and Rom. 5:10. But it is a closely related word.

Many of you will be familiar with 2 Cor. 5:17-20:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

Here in Col. 1:22, Paul attaches a preposition, apo, to the regular word for reconciliation in 2 Cor. 5 & Rom. 5, katallasso.[9] Clearly he wants to communicate “the idea of complete reconciliation.”[10] Reconciliation means: to change from being an enemy to being a friend. It suggests that rebellious enemies of God submit to God and are now in harmony with God himself.[11]

snowflake-red-small In Col. 1: 20 we are told what this “complete reconciliation”

involves: “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Through Christ’s death

snowflake-red-small “all things” will be reconciled to God. That includes the entire universe. The universe being out of harmony reminds us of Rom. 8:19-23.

The good news is that you were once hostile enemies towards God, have moved from enemy status to friendship with God — reconciled by “Christ’s physical body through death” (v. 22). “Physical body” (NIV) is literally, “body of flesh.”

It seems strange to us that Paul would use this redundant expression “physical body through death.” Physical death always includes the death of the physical body. Why would Paul mention it like this? Probably because he was addressing false teaching being promoted by the Colossian Gnostic heretics. They were teaching that reconciliation could only happen through spiritual (angelic) beings. Paul was stirred by the danger to the Colossians of false teaching of the Gnostics.

Gnostics “attached little or no value to the work of Christ in a physical body. In opposition to this, Paul stressed the importance of Christ’s physical body.”[12]

According to Col. 1:22, it was “Christ’s physical body through death” that reconciled believers to God.

snowflake-red-small How can Christ’s physical death lead to reconciliation of enemies with the holy God?

In other religions, it is the human being who does all he or she can to appease, turn aside the wrath of the gods. This is not the way it is with the law of God in Christianity. To turn away the wrath of almighty God and be reconciled with God, it takes the initiative of God himself. That’s why 2 Cor. 5:19 declares, ” God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”

The good news is that now he has reconciled you as believers. Also

B. According to v. 22, The good news is that Christ’s death, “presents you

silver-arrow holy in God’s sight,

silver-arrow without blemish, and

silver-arrow free from accusation.”

How can this be? How can you and I be holy, without blemish and free from accusation before God when we KNOW that we sin after we become Christians. We are not goody two-shoes and sinlessly perfect. Well, I’m not! Please consult my wife and children.

Yet, God says that when we are reconciled with God we are holy, without blemish and free from accusation. How does that happen? I’m glad you asked.

It would be pretty natural to think that this holiness without blemish and free from accusation would only happen when we get to heaven when we will no longer be infected with sin.

Not so, says Paul. This is what Christ has done for the Colossians and all believers in reconciling them with God. “He brought them into his presence, no longer as [unholy][13], stained by sin, and bearing the burden of guilt; but ‘holy’ and ‘without blemish and free from accusation.'”[14]

How can this happen? Christian, your legal standing before God is that “at the time of and because of the death of Christ”[15], you are declared holy, without blemish and free from accusation.

This is the message of imputation, which seems to be foreign language to us today, but a core Bible teaching. Because of Christ’s death, the believer is legally declared before God to be:

foward buttonholy = in consecration and dedication;

foward button “without blemish” translates “a technical sacrificial term (anomous), [that] was used of animals that were without flaw and therefore worthy of being offered to God.”[16] Believer, before God you are declared as being without a sinful flaw – legally before God.

foward button You are also “free from accusation” by God for your sinful, rebellious, hostile attitudes and actions towards God.

Paul could not be referring to your and my personal behaviour NOW because our actions are not always holy and without blemish. There has never been nor will there ever be a Christian who is sinlessly perfect and without blemish in actual conduct.[17] Paul is speaking about our legal standing before God because we are in Christ. We are “holy, without blemish, and free from accusation” legally with God.

It’s another way of saying what he told the Corinthians: “2 Cor. 5:21 (ESV), “For our sake he made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Christian friend, by Christ’s physical death you, who were once hostile enemies in your mind, have been reconciled with God and declared to be holy, blameless and free from accusation.


In Yorkshire in England there is a picture at Catterick Camp, “which shows a signaler lying dead in no-man’s land. He had been sent out to repair a cable that had been broken by [gun][18] fire. And there he lies, cold in death, but with his task accomplished, for in his stiffened hands he holds the broken ends together. Beneath the picture is the one word, ‘Through.’

“So too, by his once-for-all death on Calvary, Christ has brought God and [people][19] together in reconciliation and fellowship.”[20]

Let’s apply this to us today:

What does God now require of you, the reconciled? You who have been declared holy, spotless and without a guilty accusation. How can we be silent? The good news is that you must be people who proclaim the good news of reconciliation through Christ.

Where? Make opportunities. Take opportunities. This is incredible good news that the guilty can have no charge against them before God. Don’t you need to share that news with your boss, your neighbour, your enemy? What will you do this week to share such incredible good news of reconciliation?

To be in-depth news,

Blue Golden Button Firstly, the Gospel proclaimed must include the BAD news – we are hostile enemies towards God;

Blue Golden Button Secondly, the Gospel proclaimed must include the GOOD news of reconciliation and declared righteous.

Then comes a statement that is somewhat unexpected in this context. Thirdly…

IV. The gospel proclaimed must include the CONTINUING news story (v. 23).

A. The continuing news is that you must continue in your faith for it to be good news and for your salvation.

This seems like a most unusual emphasis when Paul is giving instructions about the Gospel being proclaimed. We can understand the need for the BAD news, although we tend to want to downplay that aspect. We know we need the GOOD news of reconciliation with God and righteousness by legal standing. But why this emphasis on “if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”

Why? Why?

Paul faced the problem in his day. We face it today in the church worldwide.[21] One “major denomination in the United States . . . disclosed it obtained an incredible 294,784 decisions for Christ in 1990. Yet, in 1991, it could only find 14,337 in a Christian fellowship. There were 280,447 decisions that couldn’t be accounted for. The leadership had no clue as to why this happened, but could only conclude, ‘Something is wrong!’

“The trend continued. In August 1996 a leading U.S. denomination revealed that during 1995 it secured 384,057 decisions, but retained only 22,983 in fellowship. It couldn’t account for 361,074 supposed conversions.”

Charles E. Hackett, the Division of Home Missions National Director for a large denomination in the USA[22] said: “A soul at the altar does not generate much excitement in some circles because we realise approximately 95 out of every 100 will not become integrated into the church. In fact, most of them will not return for a second visit.”

This phenomenon is not unique to the US. A pastor in Boulder, Colorado sent a team to Russia in 1991 and there were 2,500 decisions. The next year they found only 30 persevering in their faith. In Leeds, England, a visiting US speaker said that there were 400 decisions for a local church. However, six weeks later only two were going on, and they eventually fell away.

“A pastor who travelled to India every year since 1980 [said][23] he saw 80,000 decision cards stacked in a hut in the city of Rajamundry, the ‘results’ of past evangelistic crusades. But he maintained that one would be fortunate to find even 80 Christians in the entire city. That is one tenth of one percent.”[24]

Paul to the Colossians wrote that this is the gospel that you heard, “If you continue in your faith”. One of the great Bible teachers of the last century, F. F. Bruce, wrote about this verse: “If the Bible teaches the final perseverance of the saints, it also teaches that the saints are those who finally persevere – in Christ. Continuance is the test of reality.”[25]

Perhaps these Colossians were beginning to wane in their faith and there was danger of their slipping back, so there was the need for this exhortation.

The gospel of continuing faith, according to v. 23, means that you are:

  • “Established” – suggesting that your faith is secure when it on the rock of continuing salvation.
  • You are “firm” (literally, “settled”), shows that you have a “steady and firm resolve” to continue in the faith.

Hebrews 3:6 (ESV) states: “but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”

We see a similar emphasis on the need to hold fast to hope in passages such as Heb. 6:11; 10:23; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 John 3:3.

Never let us forget that continuing in the faith – genuine perseverance – is not something that is done in our own strength. Jesus made that very clear in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (ESV).

Let’s apply this to us today:

Since Col. 1:23 is an essential to the Gospel, when you share Christ with people, urge them to continue in the faith. The real test of faith in Christ is continuing to trust in Christ alone for your salvation. Never say, “Give Jesus a go!”

“Just believe,” is not the Gospel. “Raise your hand and ask Jesus into your heart” is not the Gospel. Getting back to the core Gospel is long overdue. According to Col. 1:21-23, this means:

silver buttonThe Gospel proclaimed must include the BAD news;

silver buttonThe Gospel proclaimed must include the GOOD news;

silver buttonThe Gospel proclaimed must include the CONTINUING news, and

V. Fourthly, The gospel proclaimed must be newsworthy here in Queensland AND around the world (v. 23).

The theme of these three verses in Colossians is stated clearly in the NIV translation of v. 23, “This is the gospel that you heard.” Please note what Paul goes on to say. This Gospel is to be proclaimed around the world.

A. This most newsworthy story that was proclaimed at Colossae was by Paul, a servant of this gospel (v. 23).

B. This most newsworthy story must be proclaimed around the world (v. 23).

In fact Paul says that this gospel “has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven” (v. 23). How on earth was it possible that Paul, in the days before airline travel, radio, TV, newspapers and the Internet, could proclaim the gospel “in all creation under heaven” (ESV)?

Perhaps this was Paul’s way of saying that the Gospel had been “heard in all the great centres of the [Roman] Empire.”[26] Maybe Paul was using hyperbole (exaggeration). We do know from Rom. 15:19-23 that Paul preached from Jerusalem to Rome and that it was his ambition “to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that [he] would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (Rom. 15:20).

This is a basic outline of the gospel that Paul preached. Is this the total gospel content? No! There is no mention of confession, repentance, receiving Christ “by grace through faith” when the Gospel is preached (see Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 10:9-10).

In our day of biblical ignorance, there is a need for the biblical plot-line as in Colossians to be proclaimed with Gospel presentations. Sadly, most secular people and many in the church don’t understand the major themes of the Bible – the plot-line of the biblical story.


I support the evangelist who preached an outreach series at the University of Durham in the UK. He understood the problem we face with temporary conversion. He preached 8 messages through the first 8 chapters of the Book of Romans (he was not a D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who took 13 years[27] to preach through Romans, one sermon a week). The plot-line of the Durham University presentation

“Introduced [students] to God, Creation, the nature of sin and law, the place of the atonement in God’s redemptive purposes, the nature of grace and faith, justification, and the gift of the Spirit, and ultimately the hope of a new heaven and a new earth.”[28]

I recommend this Aussie evangelistic tool, “2 Ways to Live,” that presents Christ in six steps:

1. God – the loving ruler and creator,

2. Humanity in rebellion,

3. God won’t let people keep rebelling forever,

4. Jesus – the Man who dies for rebels,

5. Jesus – the risen ruler,

6. The Two Ways to Live: Our Way OR God’s New Way.[29]

Let’s make an application to us:

Will you take or make the opportunity this week to share the Gospel? With your friend, neighbour, perhaps a stranger you meet somewhere. Please do NOT take up the boss’s time by sharing the Gospel in working hours with a work mate. That is cheating the boss.

What will you do about God’s call, through Paul, to present the BAD news of people being enemies of God, hostile in the mind? Make sure you include the GOOD news of reconciliation to God through Christ. Never forget that this Gospel is for those who CONTINUE in the faith.

I call upon you to forever give up the cheap Gospel. Don’t proclaim Gospel L-I-T-E.

VI. Conclusion[30]

Malcolm Muggeridge died in 1990. He was the famous British author, media personality and journalist, who became a Christian late in life. He “once told of working as a journalist in India as a young man. One evening he walked down to the river for a swim. As he entered the water, he saw an Indian woman from the nearby village who had come for her evening bath. Muggeridge immediately felt the allurement of the moment, and he was besieged by temptation. He had lived with this kind of temptation all his adult life, but until this moment he had fought it off out of respect for his wife Kitty. But tonight, he was weak and vulnerable. He hesitated just a moment, then swam furiously across the river toward the woman, literally trying to outdistance his conscience. But when he was just a few [metres][31] away from her, he emerged from the water and what he saw took his breath away. She wasn’t a beautiful young maiden, but old and hideous, with wrinkled skin, and worst of all, she was a leper. He said later, ‘The creature grinned at me, showing a toothless mask.’ Muggeridge muttered, ‘What a dirty lecherous[32] woman!’ But as he swam away from her, a sudden shock gripped him, ‘It wasn’t just the woman who was dirty and lecherous,’ he said. ‘It was my own heart.'”[33]

Muggeridge was once a sceptic of Christianity and even denied the resurrection of Christ. In the later part of his life he became fully convinced of the resurrection of Christ and wrote the book: Jesus: The Man Who Lives (1975).

All of us are dirty and lecherous – lustful.

  • The Gospel proclaimed must include the BAD news about Malcolm Muggeridge and all of us. We are/were wilful, hostile enemies of God.
  • The Gospel proclaimed must include the GOOD news – reconciliation with God because of Christ’s death that declares us holy, without blemish and free from accusation;
  • The Gospel proclaimed must include the CONTINUING news – you have salvation if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the fundamental doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.
  • This gospel proclaimed is the in-depth, in-depth news for Hervey Bay and around the world.

Let us pray.

  • Thank you, Lord, for declaring our true state before you. We are sinners, alienated from you and we suppress your truth.
  • Thank you for the good news that we can be reconciled to you through Christ’s death if we repent and confess our sin to you.
  • We praise you that by repentance and faith, we are declared holy in your sight, without blemish and free from accusation.
  • That’s what we are legally before you, God, when we repent.
  • In our progressive sanctification, help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Saviour.
  • Thank you for giving us the daily strength to continue to persevere in our faith.


[1] Bundaberg West Baptist Church, 31 August 2003, 8am & 10am services; Northcote Baptist Church, Melbourne, 25 January 2004; Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church, 10 October 2010.

[2] Apellotriwmenous = perfect passive participle of apallatriow..

[3] Curtis Vaughan, “Colossians,” in Frank E. Gaebelein (gen. ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (vol. 11). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978, p. 185.

[4] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament: The Epistles of Paul (vol. 4). Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1931, p. 481.

[5] Perfect tense.

[6] Old word, echthos (enemies). Robertson, p. 482.

[7] Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity: Volume II A. D. 1500 – A.D. 1975. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1953/1975, p. 1066.

[8] Roy B. Zuck, The Speaker’s Quote Book. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1997, p. 324.

[9] The word in 2 Cor. 5:18-10 and Rom. 5:10 is katallasso. In Col. 1:22 it is apokatallasso.

[10] Robertson, p. 481.

[11] Vaughan, p. 186.

[12] Vaughan, p. 187.

[13] The original said, “unhallowed.”

[14] Vaughan, p. 187.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Suggested by ibid.

[18] The original said, “Shell.”

[19] The original said, “Man.”

[20] John Wood, “Reconciliation,” in Zuck, p. 423.

[21] Christian lawyer, Bernie Koerselman, says that “years ago I began to suspect that one of the evidences of fraud in the presentation of the gospel is the high percentage of people who quickly desert the church after having ‘made a commitment.'” He says, “Ray Comfort’s book, Bride of Heaven, Pride of Hell confirmed my suspicions. Ray quotes statistics.” The following statistical details are in Bernie Koerselman, “Fraud & Deceit in the presentation of the gospel.” Vanguard, February 2000, p. 5.

[22] The Assemblies of God USA

[23] He told Ray Comfort.

[24] Bernie Koerselman, “Fraud & Deceit in the presentation of the gospel.” Vanguard, February 2000, p. 5.

[25] F. F. Bruce, “Commentary on the Epistle to the Colossians,” in E. K. Simpson and F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament, F. F. Bruce, gen. ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1957, p. P. 213

[26] C. F. D. Moule, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (The Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary, C. F. D. Moule, gen. ed.). London: Cambridge University Press, 1957, p. 73.

[27] The fly-leaf of the dust jack to the hardback edition of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans:Exposition of Chapter1, The Gospel of God. Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1985, states: “Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ exposition of Romans, the major work of his mid-week ministry in London, occupied him from 1955 until 1968. Throughout these years, no other event in the calendar of evangelicals was comparable to Friday night at Westminster Chapel.”

[28] D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996, p. 504.

[29] From “2 Ways to Live: A Bible study explaining Christianity.” Kingsford NSW: Matthias Media (PO Box 225, Kingsford 2032, Australia.)

[30] When I preached this message, a knowledgeable Christian objected to my use of Malcolm Muggeridge (see what follows), claiming that he doubted Muggeridge’s conversion as he did not believe in the resurrection of Christ. I have since checked, “Malcolm Muggeridge’s Conversion Story”, available at: (Accessed 26 January 2007). Here it is recorded that in 1966, Muggeridge stated: ” I don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ, I don’t believe that he was the son of God in a Christian sense.” This quote has the endnote, Hunter, Ian, Malcolm Muggeridge: A Life, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1980, p. 225. However, John Ankerberg and John Weldon wrote in, ‘The Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Part I—Can It Persuade Skeptics?”

Among great literary writers, few can match the brilliance of famous author Malcolm Muggeridge. He, too, was once a skeptic of Christianity. But near the end of his life he became fully convinced of the truth of the Resurrection of Christ, writing a book acclaimed by critics, Jesus: The Man Who Lives (1975; HarperCollins 1984). He wrote, “The coming of Jesus into the world is the most stupendous event in human history….” and “What is unique about Jesus is that, on the testimony and in the experience of innumerable people, of all sorts and conditions, of all races and nationalities from the simplest and most primitive to the most sophisticated and cultivated, he remains alive.” Muggeridge concludes, “That the Resurrection happened… seems to be indubitably true” and “Either Jesus never was or he still is….with the utmost certainty, I assert he still is”, available at: (Accessed 26 January 2007)

[31] The original said, “feet”.

[32] According to, “lecherous” means lustful, erotically suggestive, inciting to lust. Available at: (Accessed 2 October 2010).

[33] Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes: The Ultimate Contemporary Resource for Speakers. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, “Muggeridge in India,” p. 751.


Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 9 October 2015.

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