June 17, 2008

Essential Elements of the Gospel

Recently in our home church one of our fellow members, Bruce brought up a great discussion regarding how does one identify the "Essential Elements of the Gospel" and how does one know when not to join efforts with others as their doctrine is determined to be false.

Here is what was discussed:

In an age with so many doctrines and so many denominations it has become harder and harder to decipher what are the essential elements of the gospel?

Somethings to consider: The purpose of knowing the barest essentials of the gospel is so that we can:

1. Understand how to witness to the lost
2. Identify who are God's fellow laborers in the Truth
3. Which doctrines are mandatory for salvation and fellowship and which are not
4. Who has false hope

There are only four concepts that must be understood for salvation:

1. One must understand what sin is and why it alienates us from God
2. Who is Jesus Christ, and what did He do so that we can be reconciled to God
3. That we live by faith which means daily choosing universal benevolence
4. That only those who persevere to the end shall truly be saved

Any "Gospel" that alters or denies the above mentioned points is a false Gospel. Anyone who teaches a false Gospel is a False Teacher or Prophet.

Colossians 1:19-23 19For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. 21And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach-- 23if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.

How much latitude is there in the Gospel Message??

Galatians 1:6-9 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

What is the purpose of the Gospel?

Romans 1:16-17 16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

Romans 16:25-27 25 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him— 27to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Ephesians 1:13 13And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.


What happens if the Gospel is altered in the least degree?

1 Cor 1:17 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Is the contingency of salvation a key element in the Gospel?

2 Timothy 2:8-13 8Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained. 10Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; 12if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us. 13if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

1 Cor 15:1-2 1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

2 Thess 2 :13-15 13But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.

If the contingent nature of salvation is a key element of the Gospel, what about those who's gospel does not contain this element?

Hebrews 4:6 6It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience.

2 Thess 1:6-9 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power

2 Tim 2:19 19 Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness."

1 John 2:3-6 3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

1 John 3:7-10 7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. 9No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

If continued obedience to Christ is a key element of the Gospel, what about those who's Gospel does not demand this?

How do we identify false witnesses, and should we partner with those who do not preach the Gospel?

Jude 4 For certain men whose condemnation was written about[a] long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

Matthew 7:15-20 15"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

1 Timothy 6:3-5 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

Matthew 24:10-13 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

2 Peter 2:1-3 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

2 John 4-11 4It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. 5And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. 6And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. 7Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 9Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. 11Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.


1. Once Saved Always Saved - Denies the Contingency of Obedience and Faith!

2. Everyone Sins in Word, Thought and Deed! - Turning Grace into Licentiousness

3. Total Depravity - Turns sin into something physical and not the moral and denies the redemptive power of the cross over sin (See 1 & 2)

June 15, 2008

Original Sin, Judaism and Augustine

My VBS post from the other day generated a response from Anonymous . The response put forth by Anonymous got me thinking back to some of my studies on Judaism. A very high percentage of Christian Churches adhere to the belief Original Sin these days. But has this doctrine historically been a part of our Christian roots within Judaism?

As Christians we must always remember that our faith and doctrine is based upon the foundation of Judaism. If we deny this then we deny the very basis of our faith. Given that Jesus was a Jew and all of the apostles were Jews, understanding a little about some of the tenets of Judaism would be beneficial to understanding our own faith. For example, if one studies an ancient Jewish wedding ceremony that God gave to the Jewish people, it can teach us a tremendous amount about the Messiah and His church. Understand the different elements of the Temple and you will begin to see a picture of the Messiah.

Therefore, much of the foundations of Christianity are built upon the Jewish faith. I realize not every aspect of Judaism will line up with that of Christianity, but basics such as the nature and charcater of God, sin, faith, repentance and obedience should parallel that of Christianity.

This brings me to my first point. Many churches have accepted the doctrine of Original Sin or Total Depravity. The first logical question that needs to be addressed is "Has Judaism ever believed or embraced the doctrine of Original Sin?" Many Calvinist will claim Old Testament verses such as Psalms 51:5 or Psalms 58:3 as being proof text that Judaism held to the belief that the doctrine of Original Sin or Total Depravity to be true. But if you look into the Jewish faith one of the first things you will realize is that Judaism has never adhere to this doctrine. Historically speaking, Judaism has never believed in many of the so called "tenets" of Christianity such as Predestination or Original Sin. As a matter of fact it may surprise many Christians that Jews believe in Freewill, moral accountability, and that mankind is born morally neutral - and not "totally depraved" as put forth by many Christian churches.

I would encourage anyone to go and search the teachings of Judaism regarding this matter. To date I have found no sects within Judaism that believe in Original Sin or Total Depravity. Of course many will argue that Jews could have changed their position after Christ death and resurrection, but I feel this is somewhat of a "Conspiracy Theory" like attitude on the matter ands there is nothing historically that would support such a notion.

So where did Original Sin theology come from? The simple answer is gnosticism - Greek-Roman Pagan Philosophy. It stems primarily from Platonism. The false concepts of Predestination and Original Sin first appeared on the canvas of Christianity around the 2nd century with Augustine (AD 354-430). Augustine was a former Platonist and pagan high priest, of a gnostic sect known as the Manichean's. It is historically noted that Augustine was heavily influenced by Plato and therefore much of his philosophy and theology was also. Many Christian historians believe with the influence and heresies Constantine brought into Christianity, the stage was set for former pagan priest such as Augustine to offload much of their pagan philosophies onto Christianity. Clearly the amount of Platonic thought that Augustine brought to Christianity is proof that this theory is very plausible. Again, we must remember it is Judaism that is the foundation of Christianity, and not Greek philosophy!

To better understand what Platonism teaches regarding the matter of good and evil it is essential for Christians to understand that Platonism and Judaism stand in antithesis to one another. Plato believed in the general assumption that sin and evil are ontological, that is they are an actual "essence" or is a physical "thing". This essentially means evil and good are a "thing" rather than a moral action or choice. Gnostic's and Platonist literally believed that good and evil could be passed along physically or even "divinely" from the gods above. Whereas Jews have historically for thousands of years have believed that evil and good where not an "essence" or "a thing",it is believed it was the result of a moral choice or action. The ontological view of sin was a major if not the central factor that contributed to the basic premise of the doctrine of original sin - that is because it holds to the belief that evil or sin is an essence and therefore it can be inherently passed along to ones children. To be inherited, sin must have essence, real being; it must consist in some "thing" that causes evil choice and action, instead of being the moral character of the choice itself. With this mind set it is common to regard sin in the heart as an essence instead of a voluntary choice; hence the term "sinful nature." This evil essence is regarded as a part of human nature. Although Augustine did not originate the concept, he passed it on to subsequent generations. Calvin and Luther both built heavily upon it - as both were followers of Augustine's writings and teachings. Sadly it is still with us today and its effects can still be felt throughout the Christian faith.

If you would like to learn more of how Greek and Pagan philosophy influenced Christian theology here is a great article.