Friday, April 12, 2024

The Vision (4.12.24): God is greater than our heart


Image: North Garden, Virginia Landscape, painting, John Borden Evans, on display at the Petite MarieBette CafĂ© & Bakery, Charlottesville, Virginia.

Note: Devotion based on last Sunday's sermon on 1 John 3:18-24.

For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things (1 John 3:20).

John raises in this verse a teaching that is meant to be applied to the Christian with an especially sensitive conscience. What if I am a believer and I desire to do what is right in God’s sight, but I am still plagued by nagging worries, not thinking I have done enough for Christ in gratitude for salvation or perhaps thinking that what I have done has been for my own glory and not the glory of God, so that my heart (that center of my emotions, passions, thoughts, and reflections) is condemning me?

John the apostle’s response is truly something amazing. He says, “God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things.” God is greater than the hyper-critical judgements of even our own hearts. He is omniscient. He knows all things. He knows your true motives and desires. He also remembers that you are but dust and that you have remaining corruptions within you. He knows that neither your salvation nor your final sanctification, in the end, depend upon you and your fitness, your ability, or your works, but it depends upon him alone.

This reminded me of a statement I recently saw on twitter attributed to Dr. Jim Renihan, “You can’t sin away God’s love.”

It also reminded me of a saying of Dr. Joel Beeke, “God has never torn up the birth certificate of any of his children.”

In Romans 8 Paul says that nothing, “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39). And John says, “God is greater than our heart.”

This is actually a quite dangerous statement, because it could be abused to promote “anti-nomianism” or lawlessness, the idea that how you live does not matter. But it could also be rightly used to give comfort and assurance to the Christian with an overly sensitive conscience. Your falling short of God’s glory and your self-condemnation cannot separate you from the love of God in Christ, because God himself is greater than your heart.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

What do Eastern Orthodox believe? A Confessional Protestant Analysis and Response to Ten Beliefs of the EOC

Note: In CRBC's midweek meetings we are currently doing a series on "World Religions" and at present are looking at Christian denominations. Last Wednesday (4.10.24) our topic was Eastern Orthodoxy. Here are my notes:


The Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC), also called the Orthodox Catholic Church (OCC), was distinguished from the Western Church by the Great Schism of AD 1054.

Though we may speak of them as one “church,” they are, in fact, a collection of various national churches (Russian, Ukrainian, Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian, etc.)  united by similar doctrines and practices.

The EOC was greatly affected by the rise of Islam, and especially by the fall of Constantinople in Ad 1453.

In Russia and Eastern Europe, they were also greatly affected by the rise of communism (especially in Russia from 1917-1990).

There has been a major resurgence of the EOC in Russia and Eastern Europe since the collapse of communism.

It is estimated that there are now c. 230 million baptized members of the various EO churches.

It is often pointed out that the EOC never experienced anything like the Protestant Reformation which took place in the West, and some have suggested it has been less affected by modern Enlightenment values than has the Western Church (both RCC and Protestant).

The EOC in the US has been a relatively small presence up to the twentieth century, attributable primarily to migration of persons from EO countries (e.g. Russians, Greeks, Egyptian Copts, etc.). EO are estimated to be less than 0.5% of the population in the US.

There is, however, anecdotal evidence of conversion growth of the EOC in recent years, especially among younger men who are attracted to the traditional beliefs and practices of the EOC. There have also been a number of former Protestants and evangelicals who have gone over to Constantinople.

They include:

Yale historian Jaroslav Pelikan (a Slovak Lutheran) converted in 1988.

Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis Schaeffer, converted in 1990 and wrote about his conversion in Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religion (1994).

Rod Dreher, a conservative political journalist and Editor-at-large for the American Conservative, raised a Methodist, converted to RCC in 1993 and the EOC in 2006. He is the author of The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (2017).

Hank Hanegraaffe, A Dutch Reformed evangelical, the “Bible Answer Man” and head of the apologetic ministry Christian Research Institute (CRI) converted in 2017.

There are also now a growing number of online advocates for the EOC known as “Ortho-bros.”

On the other hand, some have made this move later to regret it.

An example can be found in Joshua Schooping’s book Disillusioned: Why I Left the Eastern Orthodox Priesthood (2022). Read my review here.

Ten Beliefs of the EOC and a Protestant Response and prooftexts:

1.     The EOC denies the concept of the invisible church. The church only exists as a visible institution. Since there is “no salvation outside the church,” those who are outside the EOC cannot claim to be Christians.

Response: Not only is the church found in visible local churches, but there is also an invisible church composed of all genuine believers. Salvation does not come by baptism or by church membership but by faith in Christ.

Prooftexts: 1 Corinthians 12:12-20, 27; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:8-10.

2.     The EOC claims that it alone exists as a church which embodies universal unity in its beliefs and practices.

Response: The EOC does not, in fact, possess outward unity, given that several of its national church organizations are not in agreement with one another (e.g., the conflict between the bishop of Constantinople and the bishop of Moscow). True unity does not come about by institutional unity but by a common faith in Christ. Absolute unity will only come at the end of the ages when Christ returns in glory, and the saints enter the glorified state.

Prooftexts: Mark 9:38-41; John 10:16; 17:20-23;1 Corinthians 11:19; Revelation 7:9-10.

3.     Like the RCC the EOC looks to its bishops and to tradition as its chief authority over Scripture. It holds that the church chose the Scriptures.

Response: Christ alone is the Head of the church. The highest authority for doctrine and life is Scripture (Sola Scriptura). The church did not choose Scripture, but only recognized its nature and authority (i.e., Scripture chose the church.).

Prooftexts: Colossians 1:18; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21; 3:15-16.

4.     Though the EOC affirms the first seven ecumenical church councils, it has not produced its own confessions of faith which might clarify and articulate its doctrines and practices. Rather than reasonably articulated doctrine, the EOC tends to focus on mysticism.

Response: We must be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within us. Our experiences must be regulated by Scripture.

Prooftexts: Luke 16:31; John 10:35; 1 Peter 3:15.

5.     The EOC places great emphasis upon the spiritual uses of icons and religious objects. It refers to the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Second Council of Nicaea) (AD 787) as “the triumph of orthodoxy.”

Response: God alone is the only lawful object of our worship and devotion. Religious images and objects are not sanctioned by Scripture and misdirect our focus and attention.

Proofexts: Exodus 20:3-6; John 3:30; Acts 17:22-25; Colossians 2:23; 3:16.

6.     Like the RCC the EOC places great emphasis on devotion to Mary.

Response: Mary was an important early disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, but she was an ordinary sinner saved by grace. Devotion should be given to no one other than God himself.

Prooftexts: Exodus 20:3; Matthew 12:46-50; John 3:30; Acts 4:12; Romans 3:23; 1 Timothy 2:5.

7.     As with the RCC, the EOC also accepts OT books which are outside the Jewish/Protestant OT canon. Unlike the RCC (Trent) and Protestant churches (WCF) it has no authoritative declaration of the canon of Scripture.

Response: The Apocrypha are a collection of uninspired writings and are not received as Scripture.

Prooftexts: Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Romans 3:1-2; Revelation 22:18-19.

8.     The EOC accepts the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the OT) rather than the Hebrew text of the OT as authoritative.

Response: God’s Word was immediately inspired and written in the OT in Hebrew not Greek. It has been preserved by God. Translations are useful to the degree that they reflect the originals.

Prooftexts: Nehemiah 8:4-8; Matthew 5:17-18.

9.     The EOC ecclesiological structure based on national churches tends to place emphasis on ethnicity/nationality rather than faith in Christ as the standard for inclusion in the church (i.e., phyletism or ethnophyletism).

Response: Inclusion in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ comes about by grace through faith, not according to one’s familial, national, ethnic, social, or gender status.

Prooftexts: Galatians 3:27-29; Colossians 3:9-11.

10.                        The EOC practices not only infant baptism but also infant communion.

Response: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances that are established for believers alone who are part of local churches. Since infants are not mature enough to articulate faith or to be recognized as regenerate members of the church they cannot be baptized or receive the Lord’s Supper.

Prooftexts: Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 8:37; 1 Corinthians 11:23-33.


Saturday, April 06, 2024

The Vision (4.5.24): A New Friend


Image: Rainbow over the baseball fields, Madison Heights, Virginia, April 2024.

Note: Devotional taken from last Sunday's sermon on 1 John 3:7-17.

We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death (1 John 3:14).

Last Sunday I preached from 1 John 3:7-17 and suggested two main themes in this passage.

The first theme is that “the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (3:8). By his death, burial, and resurrection Christ saved sinners, changing their status from being son of the devil (John 8:44) to being sons of God (John 1:12).

The second theme is that this change in status results in a change in behaviors and actions. “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil” (v. 10). On one hand, the children of God desire to do what is righteous (see 1 John 2:29: “ye know that everyone that doeth righteousness is born of him”). On the other hand, “whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his neighbor” (3:10).

John suggests that the greatest evidence of our change of nature and status is demonstrated in our treatment of others: “we should love one another” (3:11). This begins with love of neighbor (all men) as Christ commanded (cf. Matthew 22:34-40) and extends especially to love of Christian brethren. 1 John 3:14 provides one of the clearest tests of assurance as to whether someone is truly in Christ, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.”

John’s teaching calls for us to apply a test of self-examination: Is there evidence that I have moved from death to life? Is there demonstrated in me a love for neighbor, and, especially, a love for the brethren? Or do I remain harsh, unloving, unfeeling to the considerations of others?

In his book on witnessing to Muslims, Pastor Ibrahim Ag Mohamed wrote:

I know of an Egyptian, who when converted, was wondering how he could witness to his wife. By the grace of the Lord Jesus he completely changed his way of thinking and how he related to her. In his becoming a new creature in Christ his wife was amazed by his new conduct and life, service and love. When she asked him to account for this great change, he told her it was because of a new Friend Who now gave him good advice. She insisted on knowing about the Friend; and this is how he could then speak to her about the Lord Jesus Christ. Later, she too found the Lord (God’s Love for Muslims, 87-88).

Have we also found a New Friend in the Lord Jesus Christ who has changed our status, made us Sons of God, and given us good advice for living?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, April 05, 2024

What do Roman Catholics Believe? A Confessional Protestant Response to Ten Teachings of the RCC


We've been doing a teaching series in our Midweek Meeting at CRBC on World Religions and just started looking at Christian denominations. 

Notes from last Wednesday's Midweek Meeting (4.3.24) on the Roman Catholic Church (RCC):

Below is a summary of ten teachings of the RCC, along with paragraph references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition (1994, 1997).

Each teaching is followed by a Protestant response and Biblical prooftexts in support of the Protestant position.

1.      The Pope is the head of the church, following its founding upon Peter and his successors.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 100, 882, 891.

Response: Christ alone is the head of the church. The church was not founded upon Peter but upon his confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Prooftexts: Matthew 16:16-19; 18:18; 23:9-12; Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18.

2.      The highest authority for doctrine and life is the magisterium of the RCC and its interpretation of Christian tradition.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 100.

Response: The highest authority for doctrine and life is Scripture (Sola Scriptura).

Prooftexts: 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21.

3.      The Deuterocanonical books (1-2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch [plus additions to Esther and Daniel]) are Scripture and should be included in the OT.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 120.

Response: The Apocrypha are a collection of uninspired writings. Among the reasons they are not received as Scripture: (1) They were not accepted by Jews as Scripture; (2) They were written in Greek not Hebrew; (3) They were not cited by Jesus and the apostles in the NT; (4) They contain errors (e.g., Judith 1:1 says the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar reigned in Ninevah, the Assyrian capital).

Prooftexts: Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Romans 3:1-2; Revelation 22:18-19.

4.      Salvation is a synthesis of grace and works.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 679, 2001

Response: Salvation is a monergistic act of God alone. It is by grace through faith alone. Good works are a fruit of our faith but not the root of our faith.

Prooftexts: Jonah 2:9; Ephesians 2:8-10; Galatians 2:16; 2 Timothy 1:9.

5.      Mary is an object of special devotion as the mother of our Lord and is called a “Mediatrix.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 484-507, 964-975.

Response: Mary was an important early disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, but she was an ordinary sinner saved by grace. Devotion should be given to no one other than God himself. There is only one Mediator between God and man: The Lord Jesus Christ.

Prooftexts: Exodus 20:3; Matthew 12:46-50; John 3:30; Acts 4:12; Romans 3:23; 1 Timothy 2:5.

6.      In the Mass the sacrifice of Christ on the cross continues to be offered.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 1364-1368.

Response: Christ’s death on the cross was a once for all sacrifice, to which nothing needs to be added nor can anything be taken away.

Prooftexts: John 19:30; Hebrews 9:28.

7.      In the Mass the bread and cup through transubstantiation become the literal body and blood of Christ.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 1373-1381.

Response: the Lord’s Supper is a sacred meal for the church (“when ye come together in the church”) ordained by Christ himself. The bread and cup are spiritual emblems representing the body and blood of Christ, as Christ himself indicated in the Last Supper. The Lord’s supper is a memorial (“This do in remembrance of me”), a proclamation (“ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come”), and a recognition of Christ’s presence (“and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world”).

Prooftexts: 1 Corinthians 11:18, 20, 23-26; Matthew 28:20.

8.      The officers of the local church are “priests” who cannot be married and have families.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 1562,1579.

Response: The officers of the church are bishops (also called elders and pastors) and deacons. They are free to be married in the Lord and establish families. Peter and other apostles were married.

Prooftexts: Matthew 8:14; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; 1 Corinthians 9:5; 1 Timothy 4:3.

9.      There are seven sacraments given to the church (baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, confession, last rites, holy orders, matrimony).

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 1113.

Response: There are only two sacraments (ordinances) given by Christ: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Prooftexts: Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 22:19-20.

10. There is a place called purgatory where those who are not fit for heaven may go through a process of purgation (purification) until they are ready to enter heaven.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 1030-1032.

Response: There is no place called purgatory. At death one either enters into heaven or hell. This assignment is made based upon one’s response to Christ in this life. There is no post-mortem opportunity for salvation or progressive sanctification.

Prooftexts: Matthew 10:32-33; Luke 16:19-31; 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Hebrews 10:27.